In France, the first of April is also full of pranks in France. The tradition is poisson d’avril (April fish) – children try to stick paper fishes onto their friends’ backs and when it’s discovered, one shouts “Poisson d’avril!”. Simple but effective. On the day at Brasserie Zédel, they went all out for the event, with paper fish to stick on someone’s back at each place, fortune telling fish, and beautiful dark chocolate fish to take home. I was there on invitation – Blai and I actually find ourselves there quite regularly. It almost always has space for a walk-in for two and is priced very well for a centrally-located brasserie…and, of course, we like the food! But this…this was different. It was a one-off for a particularly French way of celebrating April Fools.

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

And I couldn’t help but giggle at the poor victims of the prank that night, many of whom were the waitstaff!

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

Then we watched as every fortune telling fish curled up in our palms…. that’s the usual thing right? That we’re all “passionate” people?!

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

For my meal, I started with Steak Tartare. It was excellent despite it being not much of a looker – all the seasonings had been mixed in with the meat already.

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

I felt an implicit pressure to have fish somewhere in my meal (actually the pressure was all self-inflicted) and chose the Daurade aux Aubergines et Sauce Verte – sea bream. The aubergines under the fish were fantastic!

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

Brasserie Zédel’s menu changes ever so slightly through the seasons and it’s most apparent in their dessert menu. I chose one dessert that I certainly hadn’t seen on the menu before: Soufflé Glacé au Café, Crème Anglaise. The thin custard was poured directly into the heart of the cold coffee mousse. I loved that the combination wasn’t too sweet overall and was a fine ending to the meal, no extra coffee required!

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

And here’s that dark chocolate fish, made in house by their chocolatier, that was presented to each of us at the end of our meal. I’ve been nibbling on it every day since and it’s ridiculously good.

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

Thank you very much to Hattie and Natalie and Brasserie Zédel for the invitation – it was a fun night! I’ve now signed up to the restaurant’s newsletter to get head’s up for their other French celebrations (I hear they do a great Bastille Day).

Brasserie Zédel
20 Sherwood Street
London W1F 7ED

We have Korean food on the brain and especially the Korean food in New Malden. I’m keen for us to try all the restaurants in the area but for our last two visits, we’ve stuck with one about which we’ve heard good things – Yami, located on the high street.

We first visited for lunch one Sunday and I was surprised to discover that their lunch menu was available all through the week. There’s no barbecue meats on it but there’s a very good range of dishes. We selected a few and to my delight, three banchan were brought to our table; there was kimchi, spicy pickled cucumber and stewed potatoes. It’s nice to get these traditional Korean little dishes; I take an immediate dislike to restaurants charging for a small dish of kimchi!

Banchan

A plate of Korean sweet and spicy fried chicken were little nuggets of fried goodness.

Korean Sweet and Spicy Fried Chicken

The seafood pajeon was excellent – not at all greasy like many pancakes I’ve come across.

Seafood Pajeon

Finally, we also split a proper stone bowl bibimbap, which came with a side of some kind of fermented bean soup. Lots of vegetables, a bit of marinated beef and a raw egg – good stuff!

Bibimbap and Soup

Bibimbap

The grand total for all of this (excluding service) was £15 – yes, only £5 each dish! But unfortunately, that was late last year and now the prices have gone up a little. And it’s still a bargain at only £5.90 each dish at lunchtime. Prices are a pound or two more at dinner time.

We knew we’d return but it was only earlier this month that we got around to it. This time, we were there for dinner and in particular for Korean barbecue. And again, banchan! The kimchi remained but we also got some soy marinated eggs and a salad with a sweet mayo dressing.

Banchan

Our first round of barbecue was unmarinated sliced ox tongue. Alongside, we ordered a basket of lettuce and there were slices of raw garlic, green chili, and bean paste too. Oh, and possibly my favourite surprisingly simple dip for the slightly chewy unmarinated thinly sliced tongue – sesame oil and salt.

Ox Tongue and Lettuce

Grilled Ox Tongue

We knew we’d need some rice with our meal and with Blai also wanting japchae, the Korean glass noodle stirfry, we were thrilled to be able to order both together at once! Japchae and rice – and I think it’s cheaper ordering them together than separately too.

Japchae and Rice

At this point, our waitress came along, scraped clean our grill and heated it again. Our marinated beef – galbi – came in a massive and intimidating Swiss roll. Not to worry: a waiter came along and proceeded to unroll the meat directly onto the grill, cutting it into bite sized pieces with scissors as he went along.

A Roll of Marinated Beef

Grilled Marinated Beef

That beef was fabulous and we were in raptures about it. Incredibly tender and flavoursome, I know we’ll be ordering it again next time! Our dinner total came to £30 for the two of us (bargain!) and we were absolutely stuffed. Keep in mind that if you do opt for barbecue you do need to have at least two orders of meat. Not a problem for us!

Yami
69 High St
New Malden KT3 4BT

Yami on Urbanspoon

There’s a bus that takes us directly from Croydon all the way to Elephant and Castle – it’s a ridiculously scenic route as the route rolls up and down a number of hills. This route has also introduced me to a number of neighbourhoods and, of course, new restaurants in those hoods. One that caught my eye on Walworth Road in between Camberwell and Elephant and Castle was the slightly absurdly named CheeMc. It turns out that Chi-Mc is the Korean compound word for Korean fried chicken and beer, an extremely popular combination there and in China, thanks to the export of Korean pop dramas. Well, that then explained their logo – a drunk looking cartoon chicken and a stein of frothing beer.

The restaurant is relatively new, opening late last year, and googling for any information brings you to forums in Korean. It sounds like Korean students love the place and there wasn’t anything for me to do but visit for a meal. I arranged to meet my friend at CheeMc one weeknight. I’m not sure what I expected but the restaurant was sparsely decorated, with a kitchen in the back and a glass case full of soju and beer in the front. Their menu is full of Korean dishes in addition to all that fried chicken.

The fried chicken list had prices for half or whole chickens and also a deal for two halves with different flavours. We went for this last half and half deal and after a recommendation from the waitress (and also her telling us what flavours weren’t available) we went with sweet chilli and sweet garlic.

Expect a bit of a wait as that chicken is fried fresh when you order it. What came out first was a sizzling hotplate topped with the fried chicken and lashings of a sweet garlic paste. And I really mean lashings. The half chicken had been cut into manageable sized pieces and fried with a batter. It was a bit different to the batterless kind I tried at Bonchon in Boston but still was welcome.

Half a Sweet Garlic Fried Chicken

Most tables were ordering the sweet chilli fried chicken. These were those glossy coated pieces, all sweet and spicy.

Half a Sweet Chilli Fried Chicken

Of the two, we preferred the garlic chicken (despite it causing poor Blai to suffer at night – garlic was seeping out of my pores!). The garlic was strongly flavoured and a bit sweet as well and went very well with the savoury chicken. The chilli chicken was a bit too sweet for our tastes but we saw later on that night a slight variant of this flavour that would solve that problem. This was a platter of the sweet chilli chicken covered in a pile of fresh spring onion slivers.

In addition to our fried chicken feast, we split a kimchi jjigae with rice. This was the usual bubbling stone bowl of red broth with sliced pork and kimchi. What wasn’t usual was the default level of heat in the broth – spicy!

Kimchi Jjigae

Overall, yeah, it’s worth a trip if you’re in the area. Between the two of us, the food and a takeaway box for the leftovers (they charged 50p for that) totaled £30.

CheeMc
310 Walworth Road
London SE17 2NA

Cheemc on Urbanspoon

I’ve been walking by the Lanzhou Noodle Bar (on Cranbourn Street, just around the corner from the entrance to Leicester Square station) without ever paying it much attention. In the window are steam trays filled with the kind of buffet Chinese food that you expect an unsuspecting tourist to order, thinking that this is what real Chinese food is like in London’s Chinatown. Well, who’s the noob now?! It turns out that behind that false front is noodle heaven. (With thanks to Lizzie as I read about the place on her blog first – and yet still couldn’t find it, sigh)

They’ve got an a la carte menu filled with various dishes – I turned immediately to the noodle chart where there’s a choice of either handpulled noodles (la mian – famous in the city of Lanzhou) or hand cut noodles (dao xiao mian), either in a soup or stir-fried. Various meaty additions are available.

On my visit there, I was placed on some strange bar-like seating which I had to share with two guys trying to keep their elbows to themselves. I ordered some tea and a bowl of hot and sour sliced beef handpulled noodle soup and waited while noodles were pulled and thumped behind me. My tea came in a styrofoam cup, which was a bit unwieldy but did its job.

Dotted on the tables were jars of ‘Shanghai red beancurd’ that turned out to be filled instead with what appeared to be homemade chilli oil. Help yourself!

Chilli Oil

After a little wait, a massive bowl of noodle soup was plonked down in front of me. There was a good spicy and gently sour broth, beautifully thin noodles (I asked for thin, I’ll probably go with regular next time), and lots of sliced beef and some token bok choy too.

Hot and Sour Sliced Beef Hand Pulled Noodle Soup

Just having it steam up my face was extremely comforting and yes, it was delicious. The noodles were slippery smooth and somehow I managed to put away the entire bowl. Don’t worry about heat levels – the hot and sour were quite gentle. For real heat, you’ve got to add that chili oil on the table.

And Lanzhou Noodle Bar is definitely not a place to linger – order, eat and go. I’m a-ok with that when the bill is about £8.

Lanzhou Noodle Bar
33 Cranbourn Street
London WC2H 7AD

Lanzhou on Urbanspoon

I’m a huge fan of Cuban food. No, I’ve not been to Cuba; my only experiences have been in Florida and what I’ve had had been fantastic. I’ve been looking for Cuban food in London but most of the “Cuban” restaurants seem more focused on the vibe rather than the food. I’d have to figure out how to cook it at home.

Luckily, there are a lot of Cuban recipes online and many Cuban recipe blogs coming out of Florida. I recently learned of one classic French-inspired braised chicken dish called fricasé de pollo. One Saturday while working from home, I realised I had most of the ingredients to make this fricasé in my fridge. The recipe (I put together from various recipes on the internet) takes a little preparation beforehand in the form of marinading the chicken but as usual, it’s worth it. All the tomatoes and chicken and raisins give a richness and sweetness that’s perfectly balanced by the citrus juices and olives and capers.

Fricase de Pollo

Fricasé de Pollo
serves 3-4.

1 kg of chicken parts (I used drumsticks and thighs)
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1 orange
3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped (I didn’t have this and left it out – it didn’t harm the dish)
2 bay leaves
1 heaped teaspoon dried oregano
1 scant teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup wine
about 200ml passata
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed green olives
a few teaspoons of capers
1/4 cup raisins
2 tbsps roughly chopped parsley
3 small-medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

In a large non-reactive bowl, mix together the juices, the garlic, a drizzle of olive oil, a large pinch of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Whisk this all together and then mix in the chicken parts, ensuring that all parts are evenly coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for at least a few hours or overnight.

In a large and deep saute pan, heat a little olive oil over medium high heat. Dab each chicken piece dry with some kitchen paper (reserving the marinade in the bowl) and brown in batches. Set the chicken aside.

Reduce the heat to medium and add a little more olive oil if required. Saute the onion and green pepper (if using) until translucent. Add the oregano, cumin and bay leaves and fry for another minute. Deglaze the pan with the wine, stirring up any chicken bits. Stir in the passata and place the chicken pieces back into the pan in one layer. Add just enough water to cover the chicken pieces. Add the reserved marinade, olives, capers, raisins, parsley, and potatoes. Bring to a simmer and cover.

When the potatoes and chicken are cooked through (mine were after about 30 minutes), serve. This is perfect over white rice and black beans if you have any.

It turns out that I’m one bus ride away from Crystal Palace, which I’ve been wanting to visit for a while to see the Victorian dinosaur models in Crystal Palace park. Of course, the Sunday I chose turned out to be freezing and wet, all the more reason to stay for a long lunch at nearby Mi Cocina Es Tuya, one of only two Venezuelan restaurants in London (and this was the only one for a long time). It’s a remarkably cosy and friendly place and the owner will happily engage in discourse on Venezuela and music and music in Venezuela.

I love the fruit shakes that one sees on the menus on South American restaurants and Venezuela is no different. I had a guanabana (soursop) smoothie while Blai had the Venezuelan version of chicha. In many South American countries, chicha is usually a maize based beverage that is usually fermented. The emphasis is on usually as there are clearly many different types of chicha. In Venezuela, chicha is a very rich and very thick rice based drink that is not fermented. It was described to us as having cooked rice and condensed milk and came out with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top, being very sweet and tasting like a thick pureed rice pudding. The chicha was almost a meal in itself!

Guanabana Smoothie and Chicha

Brought with the drinks were a pair of sauces that were on every table – I think this was a Venezuelan guasacaca, a garlicky avocado salsa, and a chilli sauce. I like good sauces and of these two, that guasacaca was very moreish.

Guasacaca and Chili Sauce

Between the two of us, we split a couple of things. First, a cachapa with chicken, and a side of cheese. This was a thick fresh corn cake topped with spiced chicken and with a side of fresh crumbly white cheese on the side. The sweet and slightly spicy and salty all went together brilliantly and I loved it with lashings of the guasacaca and chilli sauces.

Cheese and Chicken Cachapa

We also split what was described as Venezuela’s national dish – pabellón criollo. This is a plate of rice and black beans and slow cooked shredded spiced beef. We got some sweet fried plantains on top too. This was especially comforting on that cold Sunday and also ridiculously delicious. I’m a huge fan of rice and beans and this was excellent. It also comes in pork and chicken versions.

Pabellón de Carne

Dessert was always in the forefront of my mind ever since I spotted a massive cake sitting on the counter at the back. In a large casserole dish was said meringue-topped cake, sitting in a moat of the three milks, slowly soaking it all in. This was their torta tres leches and it was utterly luscious. This was indeed one of the best tres leches cakes I’ve ever had.

Torta Tres Leches, from the other side

The total for lunch came to about £30.00 and I recommend getting here either early or late on Sundays to get a table. You may not be near Crystal Palace but eating here does give you an excuse to visit the dinosaurs!

Mi Cocina Es Tuya
61 Westow Street
Crystal Palace
London SE19 3RW

Mi Cocina Es Tuya - Café Latino on Urbanspoon

I’ve been wanting to cook this Japanese dish for a long time. I say Japanese but to be more specific, taco rice originated in Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan and where the US military has a presence. I guess it’s no surprise then that this mishmash of Tex-Mex and Japanese cuisines developed there! There’s no carnitas or barbacoa here – we’re getting down and homey with seasoned minced beef. And the toppings are just as you’d find them at any proper Tex-Mex joint – shredded cheese, lettuce, tomatoes. And all of it on rice.

Taco Rice!

The dish is supremely comforting and I reckon we’re going to have it often. There’s the contrast of the hot rice and beef with the cold toppings and dare I say it? – I think it’s all even better on rice than on a tortilla!

Taco Rice
serves 2.

250g minced beef
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chilli powder/cayenne pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsps ketchup
100ml water
hot sauce to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve:
cooked white Japanese rice
shredded cheese
shredded lettuce
chopped tomatoes
chopped avocado
sour cream or Greek yoghurt
salsa

This recipe makes quite a mild taco beef mixture; increase the chilli powder and hot sauce for more heat. In a hot frying pan, heat the olive oil and fry the minced beef, breaking it up as you go along. When the beef has browned, add the cumin and chilli powder and continue frying for a bit. Add the Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, water and hot sauce to taste and let it all bubble together slowly until you get a generally dry yet moist mixture. You’ll just know. Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, place some rice into a bowl or onto a plate. Top with the taco beef mixture and then some shredded cheese. Top with the rest of the ingredients as you desire and serve.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,460 other followers