About a week ago, I made my way across the city to Old Street – to Tramontina Brindisa – to feast (invited) at their first calçotada of the year. If you’re not familiar with this term, it’s a Catalan celebration of the calçot, a long onion shoot that’s served grilled with a sauce made with peppers and nuts. Apparently it’s only in the last decade that the calçotada has become a big deal, even in Catalunya. The city of Valls is particularly known for their calçots and their calçotades (as well as their castells).

I’d never been to this particular Brindisa but I liked the slightly industrial style space – to my surprise though, I was shown through to the glowing red covered terrace out back. The red glow was due to a copious number of outdoor heaters turning a frigid January in London into a much warmer January in Barcelona!

There’s enough seating for at least 30, I reckon, and those heaters really did make things cosy.

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Now, in case you’d forgotten what the event was, the space was full of calçots and other Catalan vegetables not typically found in this city. Those dried chillies are nyoras, used to make the romesco sauce for the calçots. Do you recognise the tomatoes?

Catalan Vegetables

While everyone mingled and sipped on cava, we watched as head chef Leo Rivera started grilling the long onions over a portable gas stove – very handy! It does seem more convenient to bring out the portable butane rather than go to the trouble of charcoal whilst it’s cold and windy.

Grilling Calçots

We were then invited to find our seats (what beautiful table dressing!) and the calçotada started in earnest.

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Well, almost in earnest! First were a couple of less traditional calçot preparations that are currently featured on their a la carte menu. Fat orange stuffed olives were a nice tangy foil to rich tempura calçots, served with romesco.

Olives with Orange

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My preference was for the calçot croquetes, only because I really cannot turn down a croqueta. These large marble sized nuggets were perfectly creamy and oniony.

Calçot Croquetes

Before we got much further, Leo gave a demonstration on how to drink from a porró – a Catalan device for pouring a thin stream of wine directly into your mouth. Soon there was plenty of red wine splashing down everyone’s chests!

How to Drink from a Porró

Bundles of grilled calçots wrapped in paper were handed to us along with dishes of romesco sauce (or technically salvitxada, a thicker romesco sauce specifically for eating with calçots). After grilling, the calçots were wrapped in newspaper, allowing them to keep warm and steam a little, separating its layers.

Grilled Calçots

Romesco

Another demonstration! How to eat a calçot: Peel the charred layers of calçot skin off to reveal the tender, translucent slips of grilled calçot. Dip this into sauce and drop its length into your mouth from above. Oh, and ensure that your bib is on. I went through my pile in minutes.

How to Eat a Calçot

A massive platter of meat (to be shared between two) was then set in front of us. Grilled meats are the traditional second course after calçots; it seems natural to make use of the grill since you’ve got it fired up! Grilled botifarra (a Catalan sausage), presa iberica, lamb chops, and chorizo were accompanied by a grilled artichoke, roasted red peppers, a baked potato, plenty of toasted bread and aioli.

The Grilled Meats

Everything was of the quality we’ve all come to expect from Brindisa. Extra artichokes were brought out for us as well and I’m not ashamed to say that I managed to have an extra artichoke and an extra botifarra as well! (Botifarra are rare in London as the shops don’t tend to stock them as they perish quickly.)

For dessert, it had to be crema catalana! We were shown how a hot iron is used to burn the tops of the creams and then we stuck in. Brilliant – these were creamy and not too sweet, the sweetness provided by the crunchy caramelised tops.

Crema Catalana

It’s not too late to book a seat at one of Brindisa’s calçotadas – they take place on Saturdays and Sundays in February and March only at lunchtimes and at both Tramontina Brindisa and Morada. All the food plus a glass of cava is £35 per person. I can definitely recommend it; it’s a comfortable space and a calçotada is great fun. Book your calçotada here!

Thank you very much to Brindisa for the invitation!

Tramontana Brindisa
152 Curtain Road
London EC2A 3AT

I like fried chicken. No, I love fried chicken. And I’d been meaning to try Ma’Plucker after passing it one evening on Beak Street (ha!) and stopping in for just desserts – I knew I’d be back for their main menu and we got that chance one evening in late December. One or two of the tables were occupied that evening – perhaps its the bench seating in the front that encourages people not to linger too much after their meal. We grabbed a relatively quiet table in the back and contemplated their quirky menu. There’s a formula for their chicken meals: choose your chicken style, your carbohydrate or salad, and your sauce. There are other set chicken dishes available and sides too.

They had two or three flavoured iced teas available that evening and both those we tried (lemon and cranberry) were refreshing and tasted very natural. Thumbs up from us!

Iced Teas

We had to have some fried chicken of course and it was to be in the form of Crispy Coated Buttermilk Dipped Wings and a Waffle (£6). MP chicken skin gravy for this one. The fried chicken wasn’t exactly the buttermilk friedness that I was expecting (the coating bit threw me a bit) but y’know, it was pretty good fried chicken. Fried chicken. Yeah. The waffle already had some maple syrup embedded in it and with the savoury gravy, well, that went down a treat.

Crispy Coated Buttermilk Dipped Wings and Waffle

We also tried their Hickory Smoked Pulled Chicken in a House Bun (£7.50 for 250g pulled chicken) with Kansas BBQ sauce. Surprisingly, this may have been the winner that evening. 250g of pulled chicken turned out to be quite a bit (a 150g portion is also available for the less greedy) but it was tender and delicious and the barbecue sauce included was very good.

Hickory Smoked Pulled Chicken

We had Seasonal Greens and Fries (£4 and £3.50, respectively) on the side. Both were fine – the seasonal greens were lovely tossed in a slightly spicy butter but I wish they had been a more generous with the portion size.

Seasonal Greens and Fries

No desserts that evening but their cherry pie was lovely the first time we tried it while their apples and dumplings were alright in the past. It’s a good spot to pop into in the area, well, if you’re craving chicken of course!

Ma’Plucker
75 Beak Street
London W1F 9SS

Out of blue one day, Blai requested sushi. He hadn’t eaten it in a while and please could we go for nigiri sushi? That had me baffled as I think this was the first time he’d particularly requested nigiri and after a bit of searching, I originally thought of going to Wimbledon to try one well-known Danish sushi chain but scrapped that idea at the last minute when I found Hashi in Raynes Park. It was off on the trains there and a short walk from the station to the restaurant.

We managed to get a table without booking for Sunday lunch but it was very busy and I’ll probably book next time, just in case. One thing that immediately impressed me was our waiter bringing over two little white compressed towels in a little dish and pouring over hot water, causing them to expand. A hot towel each! I’m not sure when I saw that in London last!

And while waiting for our orders to be taken, we looked around and everything about the place and the service and the food reminded me of Kiraku, one of our favourite restaurants back in West London. Like Kiraku, there’s a variety of Japanese dishes on offer as well as good value set lunches (actually, the prices have gone up somewhat at Kiraku). We decided to split one set lunch and get a few things from the regular menu too.

After placing our orders, our teas arrived, looking all adorable in their little teapots.

Tea

Our dishes came in stages – here were the starters. Tori Kara-age (£6.90) was crisp and sitting in a thin sauce of ponzu and soy. Beautiful.

Tori Kara-age

The set lunch we shared was the Sushi Set (£14.50) and our seven pieces of nigiri were to come with miso soup, salad and two chefs dishes of the day (it’s a great deal at only 50p more than just the nigiri off the a la carte menu). The salad and two little dishes came out first – the latter were salmon and avocado maki and vegetable croquettes. All were just perfect.

Starters for the Lunch Set

Salmon and Avocado Maki

Vegetable Croquettes

Before our main courses came out, we were served miso soup. This would have been the soup we expected with our set lunch but since we were sharing, they very kindly brought out two – a nice touch!

Miso Soup

And then it was onto the mains. Here were the mixed nigiri that was part of our set lunch. Everything was wonderfully fresh and I liked the little extra touches – like the little bit of grated ginger on the tuna nigiri.

Sushi Moriawase

We had an order of Mushroom Medly [sic] (£7.00) as our ‘vegetable’. This mixture of shiitake and shimeji mushrooms, onions and peppers was brilliant, having been cooked in a sweet soy mixture.

Mushroom Medly

A Jun Special (£14.00) was a massive roll with eel, avocado, cucumber and a whole lotta other stuff. Again, excellent. There really was nothing to fault here.

Jun Special

To end our meal, we each got a beautifully presented half an orange which caused Blai to proclaim, “I’m going to cut all our oranges this way!” That reminds me, I’ve got to buy a bag of oranges.

Orange

Brilliant. This place is brilliant. Just go already.

Hashi
54 Durham Road
Raynes Park
London SW20 0TW

We’ve been eating so much Vietnamese food recently! We now have not just one but TWO good Vietnamese restaurants near us in Croydon and we recently visited the hotly anticipated Viet Food in Chinatown, the Vietnamese street food restaurant run by Jeff Tan, who used to be at Hakkasan. The address online listed Wardour Street and as a ‘hip’ new place, obviously I went in search of it down the cooler, hipper end of the street – I couldn’t have been more wrong! Eventually we had to backtrack and head towards Chinatown and there we found it…on the old site of a former, totally rubbish Vietnamese restaurant. Ha! Let’s see how this one would compare.

We waited about 5 minutes to get a seat and to hasten things, we agreed to share a table with another couple upstairs. Even with sharing, we certainly had enough space for all our dishes, though I had to swap seats with poor Blai as he could barely balance on his original tiny stool. Orders were coming out fast and the turnover was quick. Bookings are available as all the choice tables around the windows had all been reserved.

Our dishes arrived as they were ready. Our Coconut Calamari (£5) was very moreish – if you’ve ever had coconut prawns, then you can imagine this dish. Thick rings of calamari were coated with a crunchy coating with lots of dried coconut and the sweet chilli sauce served alongside was a nice complement. On the tables were a couple of other excellent homemade chilli sauces too – a red and a green – and both went well with….fried stuff.

Coconut Calamari

A Slow Cooked Haddock (£7.80) were two pieces of tender fish. I have no idea if they were slow cooked though… they were certainly tender…perhaps just cooked slowly at a very low temperature? The sauce was a slightly sweet, slightly savoury, mild brown sauce.

Slow Cooked Haddock

Our Vietnamese Sausage and Prawn Fried Rice (£5) was excellent, both chock full of ingredients and incredibly good. We’ve not yet met a Vietnamese fried rice that we didn’t like. We cleaned out this cute bamboo container.

Vietnamese Sausage and Prawn Fried Rice

Bun Thit Nuong (£8.20) was a bowl of bun (the Vietnamese rice noodles) topped with vegetables, herbs, pickles, and grilled marinated pork and grilled pork balls. The nuoc cham (the Vietnamese fish sauce dressing) needed a little more of a punch but overall, a very good dish that would be suitable for a one dish meal.

Bun Thit Nuong

Our Crispy Spring Rolls (£4.80) also arrived at about this time. Unfortunately, I wasn’t particularly fond of this new style of very crunchy wrapper. I prefer the usual rice paper wrappers that fry up all light and crisp. The filling was also unmemorable.

Crispy Spring Rolls

There were two options for dessert: a sago dessert and a jelly. We went for the former, which was Pandan Sago with Caramelised Banana (£4). They served the generously sized portion between us with little bowls for us to serve ourselves. This went down a treat, all coconut milk and pandan and sago. The only dud were the bananas which had never been near any heat – no caramelisation anywhere.

Pandan Sago with Banana

Our bill (with a juice and still water) came to £44.90, which included a surprising 10% service charge (surprising because how many restaurants go lower than the usual 12.5%, eh?). It’s certainly not a bad spot in Chinatown and is much better than what was on the site previously.

Viet Food
34-36 Wardour Street
London W1D 6QT

I found myself back in West London the past weekend and met up with friends for Saturday brunch at Bush Hall Dining Rooms, the all day eatery next to the music venue that is Bush Hall. I used to live in the area (well, down the road in Acton) and it felt good to see the Shepherds Bush area again! Anyway, on a Saturday morning, it’s pretty easy to get a table though do book if you’re looking for a guaranteed spot after noon.

Brunch (well, ordered off a breakfast menu)! A friend’s eggy bread with bacon and maple syrup kept her quite happy though we do think that sourdough doesn’t make the best eggy bread. And personally, I would have preferred a plate rather than the chopping board.

Eggy bread with bacon and maple syrup

Eggs Benedict looked and tasted excellent – no complaints there. There was a very generous amount of ham!

Eggs Benedict

My chorizo jam, guacamole, fried eggs on toasted sourdough was all the savoury, creamy, eggy stuff I needed to get through the afternoon.

Chorizo jam, guacamole, fried egg on toasted sourdough

The only downside to their breakfast menu is the inability to order a side of potato product with our breakfasts. We had to wait until noon before we could finally get our hands on a portion of skinny fries which we proceeded to wolf down. No photos of that!

But then we could also get dessert. Between three of us, we split the autumn mess – a very pretty mixture of meringue, poppyseed and orange flower creme patisserie, oatmeal biscuit, mint tea jelly and cumin chocolate fudge. Perhaps the only dud in that list was the fudge, the cumin adding a little too much of an earthy note. The jelly was the big hit for me. But it was a fun dessert to eat!

Autumn Mess

I have visited in the past for dinner and can vouch for the deliciousness of their other dishes too. Service was a little lacking when the restaurant was empty and then very harried when full – they might want to look into that a little but otherwise, it’s a good casual all day eatery in the area. We never felt rushed and with free wifi and large tables, it’s a great spot to gabble away the hours.

Bush Hall Dining Rooms
304 Uxbridge Road
London W12 7LJ

Work brought me to the Fitzroria area one weekday and as it was around lunchtime when I got out, I started looking at Google maps to see where was good to eat nearby. I found one restaurant I’d marked just a 5 minute walk away…. and it was really a canteen. The canteen of the Indian YMCA. Yes, I’d finally get to try it!

The canteen is just that… a canteen. And yes, it’s part of the Indian YMCA, which also offers short and long term lodgings. The food served is supposed to be very authentically Indian, very homestyle, and judging from that lunchtime, it’s very popular with both Indian and non-Indian people working in the area.

To get your food, you first queue at the back where you grab a tray and the dishes that interest you, before continuing in the queue to pay at the till. I loaded my tray with pilau rice, fish curry, daal, and a poppadom. Everything is priced individually and the more you pile on your tray, the more you’ll pay. Other things on offer were white rice, chapatis, chicken curry, lamb curry, a couple of other vegetable curries and dishes, yogurt, salad, chutneys, pickles. I was too late for the bhaji – that ran out. There was mango lassi on offer as well.

Lunch at the Indian YMCA

If I remember correctly, all this came to about £7.50. And it was fantastic! I couldn’t even finish that very generous portion of fish curry and the daal was excellent – highly drinkable. Everything was very fresh and I really wish it was located much closer to my regular workplace.

I’m definitely planning on making a visit on a weekend, when the lunches and dinners are served as a fixed price buffet (£8). Do check their website for opening times as they’re quite specific.

Indian YMCA
41 Fitzroy Square
London W1T 6AQ

I wish I could say that my pre-birthday lunch at Gymkhana was outstanding but that would be a lie. In a weird way I’ve been wanting to write up the meal and yet at the same time I’ve felt entirely unmotivated to do so due to our overall general experience.

I’ll start with the good. Good: the food.

We booked for lunch last Saturday – I’d been really looking forward to trying this restaurant but as they close on Sundays, finding a day that would work for both me and Blai had been a bit of a challenge. Anyway, this opportunity arose and we went for their lunch menu: 3 courses for £30.

Drinks! Our Angoor Sharbat was the better of our two nonalcoholic cocktails, being more unique, made of homemade spiced grape juice and seltzer. The Lemon Teaser was a lemon (and lemon thyme!) fizzy drink. I really liked their nonalcoholic offerings – all were interesting and there were plenty from which to choose.

Lemon Teaser and Angoor Sharbat

Our meal started (or was supposed to start with as you’ll soon read) Cassava, Lentil & Potato Papads, Shrimp Chutney & Mango Chutney. I didn’t entirely understand until we received the basket that there would be two kinds of poppadoms here, with two distinctly different textures. I loved both.

Cassava, Lentil & Potato Papads

And both chutneys served were mind blowing. The mango chutney was the finest I’d ever had while the shrimp one was an intensely savoury and unique condiment.

Shrimp Chutney & Mango Chutney

For our starters, we chose the Soft Shell Crab Jhalmuri, Samphire

Soft Shell Crab Jhalmuri, Samphire

… and the Dosa, Chettinad Duck, Coconut Chutney. Both were excellent though the dosa just pipped the crab to the post. The crab was well spiced and tasty but that duck and dosa was really something.

Dosa, Chettinad Duck, Coconut Chutney

Dosa, Chettinad Duck, Coconut Chutney

Our main courses were the megastars of our lunch. Our Tandoori Chicken Chop, Mango Ginger, Leg Chat was amazing, easily the best tandoori chicken I’ve ever had. The chicken was just perfect, perfectly spiced, perfectly grilled, perfectly tender. And I must mention that ‘leg chat’, which was a tandoori spiced mixture of cooked and chopped chicken leg topped with crispy potato bits.

Tandoori Chicken Chop, Mango Ginger, Leg Chat

Our Hariyali Bream, Tomato Kachumber was also brilliant. This incredibly tender bream had been schmeared with a coriander paste and grilled and served with a fresh tomato relish; I’ve found the recipe online and hope to replicate at home one day!

Hariyali Bream, Tomato Kachumber

To go with our main courses, our set lunches also included a side each of Dal Maharani (creamy lentils) and Saag Makkai (spinach and corn). I loved these additions, rounding out our Indian meal.

Dal Maharani

Saag Makkai

For carbs we were given a bread basket with a naan and roti and also a large bowl of basmati rice. They were particularly generous with the rice and we didn’t manage to finish that!

Bread Basket

Desserts were very good indeed. A Rose & Rhubarb Kulfi Falooda was a ball of rose kulfi with rose petal jam, braised rhubarb, jelly bits, basil seeds and vermicelli, all served with a small pitcher of sweetened reduced milk for pouring over.

Ras Malai, Tandoori Peach Chutney

Ras Malai, Tandoori Peach Chutney was probably the finest ras malai I’ve ever had (clearly a theme throughout this meal) but I only wish that they’d been a little more generous with the fabulous chutney.

Rose & Rhubarb Kulfi Falooda

Overall, this was some of the finest Indian food we both had ever had and for that we were glad we tried the restaurant. The meal ended with these excellent passionfruit and chilli jellies but we almost didn’t get these as I mention below.

Passionfruit and Chilli Jellies

Now, the bad. Bad: the service. I’m not sure what it was about us but we were clearly getting shoddy service compared to those around us. I could see everything go flawlessly around us which really rubbed salt in the wound.

What we do not tend to expect from a one Michelin starred restaurant:

  • Waiting ages to be served. Having to ask for menus.
  • Receiving the first opening dish (the poppodoms and chutneys) after the second.
  • Watching the waitpeople roll their eyes above the heads of diners.
  • Waitpeople who try to clear our dishes about 2 minutes after we received them (yes, they were still half full).
  • Waiting 15 minutes for a single espresso, especially when we have a time limit on the table.
  • Being denied petit-fours, despite every table around us getting some. I only got them (the jellies above) after asking for them (and simultaneously making a complaint about service).
  • Waitpeople who, in general, avoid you.

Now, each event taken in isolation could have been considered an honest oversight but taken all together, it was increasing clear that we had been judged for some reason and judged to be lacking in some way and thus treated differently from everyone else. I made a complaint to our waiter but his response left me feeling very uncomfortable and I perhaps regret not speaking directly to management.

The day after our meal, a generic “we value your feedback” email popped into my inbox. I took the opportunity to send detailed email feedback to the restaurant and to their credit, they apologised and said they’d spoken to the waitstaff mentioned. But the fact that it even happened in the first place….not on, Gymkhana. While the food was spectacular, the whole lunch left a distinctly bad taste in our mouths.

Gymkhana
42 Albemarle Street
London W1S 4JH

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