It was my birthday last month and I was particularly disorganised this year. Three days prior, I still hadn’t figured out how I would celebrate this now slightly depressing occasion. Noodles had to feature somewhere (symbolising long life in the Chinese culture) but didn’t necessarily have to be at dinner; I could scarf down a bowlful at lunchtime. Barbecue? Did I want meat? Comfort food? What was exciting in London? Somehow after a lot of googling and a lot of perusing lists, we fixed on A. Wong, the upscale Chinese restaurant in Victoria. The main thing was that it had space that evening. Noodles sorted then.

As I’d booked so close to the date at this clearly very popular and lauded restaurant, it was an early dinner for the two of us. And we sat in the dark basement – when I do return, I hope I get a table upstairs where it’s light and airy. Apologies then for the very dark photos.

Chilli oils, two of them, arrived at the table, both distinct but it was difficult to exactly figure out what was in them due to the lack of light. I think there was dried tofu in one and beans in the other?

Chilli Oils

We started with the fanciest prawn cracker I’d ever seen: the A. WONG Prawn cracker (£2.50), topped with various pickles and sauces and some fried ‘seaweed’ too.

A. WONG Prawn cracker

Chengdu street tofu, soy chilli, peanuts, preserved vegetables (£3.50) was a little cup of lovely delicate soft tofu all spicy and moreish.

Chengdu street tofu, soy chilli, peanuts, preserved vegetables

63 degree ‘tea egg’ with shredded filo (£5.95) was served with a smouldering cinnamon stick for some atmosphere… only ours wasn’t really smouldering and Blai grabbed it without realising that it was supposed to be a burning stick, almost causing me to scream. Yeah, more light was definitely needed. Apart from that, the egg was all melty and lovely on the crunchy filo nest.

63 degree ‘tea egg’ with shredded filo

I had heard that there was an element of theatre with the food here and it was most apparent with the Xian city ‘lamb burger’ with sesame, coriander and chilli and Xinjiang pomegranate salad (£12). This didn’t exactly work down in the basement as we couldn’t make out what exactly was in the bowl. Pulled lamb, sesame seeds, what’s that chopped stuff? Is that salad? We piled everything onto the provided buns and tucked in. Tasty but not particularly special.

Xian city ‘lamb burger’ with sesame, coriander and chilli and Xinjiang pomegranate salad

Xian city ‘lamb burger’ with sesame, coriander and chilli and Xinjiang pomegranate salad

I really enjoyed a dish of Yunnan wild mushrooms, truffles and red date casserole (£8) which came topped with a thin sheet of fried tofu skin. The flavours were strong and novel and went well with …

Yunnan wild mushrooms, truffles and red date casserole

Yunnan wild mushrooms, truffles and red date casserole

… a generously filled bowl of excellent Egg fried rice (£3). All the food up to this point had been very flavourful and we never needed to turn to the chilli oils on the table. However with the remains of the fried rice, the chilli oils proved to be fabulous.

Egg fried rice

The noodles! I had expected more noodles on the menu but there only appeared to be Singapore fried noodles and those that we ordered: Hong Kong tossed noodles with sea urchin butter and shrimp roe (£12). These very rich and buttery worms were served with a broth, like dry HK noodles typically are, and we were told to dip the noodles in the broth before slurping them. They also made a big show of sprinkling the shrimp roe on the noodles. Always one to break the rules, I ate the noodles and then drank the broth, HK style.

Hong Kong tossed noodles with sea urchin butter and shrimp roe

Dessert time! It was my birthday and there was no way this course was going to be missed! We went for the Taste of A. WONG desserts (£22), which was all of the available desserts (at a small discount). Now this is where I felt the restaurant really excelled.

Poached meringue, lychee granite, mango puree, orange sorbet and lotus roots came as two parts – a plate of the meringue shaped like a mandarin orange, filled with an ice cream and the granite and puree served separately in a tea cup. The waitress opened up a red packet and poured its contents onto our plate – lotus root crisps.

Poached meringue, lychee granite, mango puree, orange sorbet and lotus roots

Poached meringue, lychee granite, mango puree, orange sorbet and lotus roots

The Tea smoked banana, nut crumble, chocolate and caramel came as a chocolate sphere and this time our waitress poured on hot caramel from on high and yeah, sorry, the photo was taken after this. It all looks like a splodge. Oh, but it was a gloriously fantastic splodge of caramel goo and chocolate and banana puree and lots of crumble. Utterly fantastic.

Tea smoked banana, nut crumble, chocolate and caramel

I liked the order in which they brought out the desserts. Coconut, white chocolate, strawberries, yoghurt and mochi was a refreshing plate of ices and textures.

Coconut, white chocolate, strawberries, yoghurt and mochi

Overall, the food was excellent though I didn’t need the extra steps/theatre involved with some of the courses. That said, I’m keen to return to try their dim sum. Upstairs on the ground floor. With light.

A. Wong
70 Wilton Road
Victoria, London

I brought a friend to Smoking Goat on Denmark Street last month to finally try their food (it’s all about Thai-style barbecue here) and see what the fuss was all about. It did live up to expectations!

From the specials board, we chose a Grilled Pork Skirt with Nahm Prik Som (£13). This arrived first and I loved the hot and sour flavours throughout.

Grilled Pork Skirt with Nahm Prik Som

Fish Sauce Wings (£7) were, I believe, their version of the Pok Pok (hailing from Portland, Oregon) ones. These battered wings had been dragged through a sticky, umami-laden sauce and while they were good, I thought perhaps grilling the wings would have worked better.

Fish Sauce Wings

The Whole Cornish Mackerel with Nahm Prik Pao (£15) on their regular menu was recommended to us and it did live up to expectations. The oily fish is always excellent when grilled and the savoury nahm prik pao (like a chilli jam) worked well with the strongly flavoured fish.

Whole Cornish Mackerel with Nahm Prik Pao

For our veggies and to sop up all the wonderful juices and sauces, we shared an order of Som Tam Bangkok with sticky rice (£6.50). The salad was excellent and refreshing and they offered us plenty of sticky rice in little bags as the meal went on.

Som Tam Bangkok

Sticky Rice

For nonalcoholic drinks, I’d stick to their proffered pandan infused water; the flavoured waters we ordered off the menu weren’t particular interesting or worth the £3 or so. Overall, though, the food was indeed very good.

Smoking Goat

7 Denmark Street
London WC2H 8LZ

We were looking for some dinner in Soho and I had narrowed down a list of nearby restaurants to a few. From that list, Blai chose Bukowski Grill, which specialises in American grilled stuff, all cooked over charcoal on a Josper grill. It was our first time there and for some reason, in the five years that the original joint’s been open, it hadn’t really hit my radar. I’ve only just found out now that this Soho branch, their largest restaurant, only opened earlier this year.

I think it was the burgers on the menu that put me off initially – there seem to be a million burger restaurants in London and most are quite good. Bukowski Grill, thankfully, has other things on their menu as well and it was these that caught out eyes. We started with a nibble of Tasso pig cheek with pickled peach relish (£3.50). For the price, it was a generous little dish of pig cheek prepared as a hot spiced ham. In a weird way, it reminded me a little of a spicy char siu!

Dinner at Bukowski Grill in Soho. Excellent stuff!

We felt we needed to order the highlighted 72 hour beef rib with tobacco onions (£12.25) – and we had no idea what to expect. It was certainly not this beautiful beast. This massive beef rib was fantastic, all smoky and tender, and equally magnificent were the tobacco onions, which turned out to be fried onion strings. Gnawing on the rib felt a little like being in the Flintstones.

Dinner at Bukowski Grill in Soho. Excellent stuff!

A fried chicken thigh milk buttermilk waffle with green chilli maple syrup (£8.50), with a fried egg (£1.50) in our case, was also excellent. Can’t go wrong with chicken and waffles and the spicy syrup made this version quite unique.

Dinner at Bukowski Grill in Soho. Excellent stuff!

We had some chips on the side as well but… no photo of that. They were chips. They were good.

A little sweet thing was exactly what we needed now. A salted caramel soft serve ice cream with peanut butter brittle (£3.25) was near perfect. I liked the salty caramel ice cream but the peanut butter brittle needed to be in smaller, more manageable pieces (and the best peanut brittle I’ve had has been the stuff from this shop in North Vancouver, BC, Canada).

Dinner at Bukowski Grill in Soho. Excellent stuff!

I think what surprised me were the very reasonable prices for everything and all the dishes flying past us did look great – the milkshakes and, yes, even the burgers. It’s a fun little spot, with plenty of seating, and lots of Bukowski‘s NSFW poetry on the bathroom doors. I’m keen to visit earlier in the day too to try their brunch menu.

Bukowski Grill
10-11 D’Arblay Street
London  W1f 8DT

There are branches in Brixton and Shoreditch too.

I was looking for lunch around Charlotte Street one Sunday when I happened upon the simple little joint that is Pide. When I say simple, I mean there’s a menu on the wall, a little seating in the front, and an oven in the back. And, yes, they sell pide and lahmacun, all freshly made and freshly baked when you order it. Apart from those, there are ready made salads and dips and sides of kofte, falafel, halloumi and chicken wings. Everything on the menu is well-priced and if you order lahmacun (or multiples of lahmacun), as I did, you can get the salads and dips at a discount.

A small order of Shepherds salad was lovely and refreshing – tomato, cucumber, onion, Turkish peppers, all with a little sumac on top.

Lunch at Pide on Charlotte Street.

I got a dip as well – quite a generous little tub of cacik, the classic garlicky, minty cucumber and yoghurt dip.

Lunch at Pide on Charlotte Street.

That dip was indeed perfect for my lamb lahmacun, fresh out of the oven served on a large sheet of paper. This was excellent stuff, all warm and lamby and intensely savoury and with a dab of the yoghurt, gosh. Gosh, it was good.

Lunch at Pide on Charlotte Street.

I ordered chicken wings too! These were grilled (I guess in the oven?) and then tossed with a spicy sauce. They weren’t the most exciting things but they hit the spot.

Lunch at Pide on Charlotte Street.

All of this plus a Turkish tea at the end came to less than a tenner – a total bargain by my books. And with a bit of this and a bit of that, I think I put together a relatively healthy and balanced meal, no?

Lunch at Pide on Charlotte Street.

I’m keen to try their pides and the rest of the lahmacun toppings. And their kofte too!

45 Charlotte Street
London W1T 1RU

I love thin crust pizzas. Not the thinner than deep pan kinds but the really, really thin ones….the ones we had at Pizzeria La Montecarlo in Rome. While the cracker thin crust I recalled wasn’t exactly achieved at Pizza Union, it makes a good attempt at these thin crust Roman-style pizzas. And they’re extremely budget friendly!

Pick Up

The most expensive pizza on the menu at Pizza Union is £6.50; the cheapest is £3.95. For that price, you get a large thin-crust pizza that is plenty for one for a meal. If you need dessert, there’s a sweet dough ring with mascarpone and nutella (I didn’t try it but it looked amazing) or gelato from Oddono’s. We started with drinks and olives while we waited for the buzzer to go off, letting us know when to pick up our pizzas.

Olives and San Pellegrino

My Calabria, with mascarpone, spicy n’duja sausage and rocket, was excellent with plenty of each ingredient. The n’duja gave a lovely punch to the crisp pizza. Again, not the thinnest but thin enough. If you’re expecting soft, fluffy Neapolitan-style pizzas, you’ll be sorely disappointed.


Blai’s Regina, with parmesan, ham, mushrooms and olives, was a classic and I think the layer of melting cheese worked well with the crisp base. Oozy cheese, crispy base. Yes.


For dessert, we shared a tub of gelato (£2.50) which was generously filled though a little denser than we like it – unlike freshly scooped. But like everything else on the menu, it’s very good value.

The place does fill up quickly on a Saturday night (when we went) but with lots of communal tables, you’re sure to find a seat; the pizzas also fly out so turnaround is quick. I like it very much.

Pizza Union
246-250 Pentonville Road
King’s Cross
London N1 9JY

There’s a second branch in Spitalfields.

We were wandering around Covent Garden when I recalled a restaurant that a friend had recommended to me – On the Bab. We trotted over there for a light dinner early that evening and found it absolutely rammed with Korean and Chinese students. They sure can sniff out a good place for a meal!

And good it was, selling the kind of Korean food that’s a little bit junky, a little bit trendy, and a whole lot of popular. Korean fried chicken has to be on that list of course. This was their Yangyum chicken – sweet spicy (small – £5.5). Larger orders on other tables seemed to include extra salads. The chicken was good though a little swamped by the sauce. I enjoyed it though.

Yangyum Chicken - Sweet Chilli

Bab Twigim – Korean style kimchi and cheese arancini (£3.8) were very moreish and contained that very trendy combination of kimchi and mild melty cheese. Cheese (this mild stuff at least) does seem quite popular in Korea, showing up on all manner of spicy dishes.

Kimchi Arancini

Kimchi and cheese egg muffin (£3.5) came highly recommended from my friend and whatever I was expecting, it sure wasn’t this! This had been made in some mould with the kimchi and again that mild melting cheese (similar to an American mozzarella) had been cooked within a soft pancake-like batter. Excellent.

Kimchi and Cheese Egg Muffin

On the Bibimbab (£7.5) didn’t come in a stone bowl but was still very tasty with its multitude of ingredients. Of course, a hot stone bowl would have made it all better…

On the Bibimbab

In all, a solid place for a Korean meal in an unlikely location – Covent Garden. The only downside is how cramped the restaurant is, with neighbouring tables really pushed up against each other. But still, I’d like to try more from the menu! There are two other branches in addition to the Covent Garden one.

On the Bab
36 Wellington Street
Covent Garden
London WC2E 7BD

I’ve been procrastinating writing up my lunch at Hoppers because…well, it was a very meh meal. I’ve been looking for an occasion to go as I knew we’d need to queue for a table but I was really looking forward to our Sri Lankan/South Indian meal once a date was set. We waited for ages on a Saturday lunchtime for a table as we were four people – things moved quicker if you’re just two. When we finally sat down, it was at one of the tiny tables at the back and I hope they’ve been improved since our visit in late January. Drinks came quickly though watch out as the juices really are minuscule.


Our starters were a mixed bag. The Bonemarrow Varuval, Roti (£5.5) looked brilliant and while the curried bone marrow was indeed amazing, the accompanying roti was somewhat hard and chewy. Well, that didn’t stop me spooning the marrow directly into my mouth.

Bonemarrow Varuval, Roti

Mutton Rolls (£4.5) were excellent and served with a spiced ketchup-like sauce.

Mutton Rolls

Lamb Kothu Roti (£8.5) was fine – quite a nice kothu roti though this could have done with a bit more of the roti!

Lamb Kothu Roti

String Hoppers, Kiri Hodi, Pol Sambol (£4) were generally very good. The kiri hodi, a coconut milk gravy, was lovely but the pol sambol, a fresh coconut sambol, didn’t have the freshness and flavour I expected.

String Hoppers, Kiri Hodi, Pol Sambol

Chicken Heart Chukka (£4.5) was amazing – this spicy stir fry of chicken hearts, chicken bites, tomatoes and beans hit the spot.

Chicken Heart Chukka

Our plates were cleared and trays then arrived with our main dishes – the hoppers and dosas and the curries too. Hoppers! Here’s a Hopper (£3) with a Black Pork Kari (£5.5). The pork curry was excellent and had us (ok, me) scraping the bowl clean.


Here’s an Egg Hopper (£3.5) with the chutney set – Pol Sambol, Seeni Sambol, Coriander Chutney (£1.25).

Egg Hopper

And here’s a Dosa (£3) with its chutney set – Coriander Chutney, Tomato Chutney, Coconut Chutney (£1.25).


And here’s a Podi Dosa (£3.5) – it’s a dosa but with podi on its inside surface. Podi is a spicy powdered mixture of chili powder and lentils that is lovely and here it was fiery hot. Fish Kari (£6) was good but not as good as the pork curry.

Podi Dosa

Unfortunately, it was the curries that were the stars rather than the hoppers, dosas or chutneys. Their namesake hoppers were tough rather than crisp at the edges. Likewise, the dosas were hard and chewy. The chutneys were generally ok but weren’t as flavourful as the sambols I’ve had from other Sri Lankan restaurants and takeaways.

Now this is the part of the post that is like the nostalgia bit…for desserts are no longer available at Hoppers. We were told that the kitchen is very small and desserts were going to be removed from the menu for them to concentrate on the savouries. Well, we took that opportunity to share a roasted rice kulfi

Roasted Rice Kulfi

… and a Sri Lankan classic, wattalapam. Both were excellent! The wattalapam was smooth and sweet while all the bits and pieces and jellies and fruit and rose flavouring with the kulfi made it a fun eat.


Overall, it was a mixed bag which is such a shame. Well, on second thought, it’s saved me from queuing again for yet another trendy restaurant in central London!

49 Frith Street
London W1D 4SG