My Instagram feed probably gave it away but I was in Belgium last week for work. Sadly, the excitement of the novelty of Belgian food has now worn off for me – it was probably the endless chips, dairy and mayo that did it. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with chips, dairy and mayo but when encountering some combo of the three at almost every meal….well, yeah, I needed a break.

On our last night in Leuven, we were, to our relief, brought to an Italian restaurant. I think I’d been expecting an average Italian restaurant, perhaps catering for the cheap-and-cheerful student population, but what I was not expecting was a brilliant Slow Food restaurant. And that’s exactly what Ristorante Rossi is.

We had all been booked in for their €35 3-course menu; there’s also a 5-course menu, an a la carte option, and occasional themed menus that reflect one particular region in Italy. The restaurant itself is quite small and quaintly decorated with vintage Italian signs and red and white checked tablecloths. On that Thursday night, the place was packed (Leuven, being a university town, has a busier Thursday night than Friday night. On Fridays, the majority of the students go home.) and buzzing, and the food on the surrounding tables looked excellent.

Anyway, first was an amuse of vitello tonnato on crostini. I love that classic combination of creamy tuna sauce with mild and tender veal.

Vittello Tonnato Crostini

Next was a giant pea and cheese arancino sat on a bed of pea puree, drizzled with pesto. This generously-sized ball of fried risotto (about the size of my fist) went down easily and I may have also helped myself to my friend’s unfinished portion. I clearly had no idea of the size of the next few dishes to come.

Pea Arancino with Pea Puree and Pesto

The pasta course was spinach and ricotta ravioli in a fresh tomato sauce with mint. This was fabulous (such an unexpected combination) and I could have gorged on this for my entire meal. But good thing I didn’t. I was again offered my friend’s extra ravioli but I just couldn’t manage anymore, especially when I saw the fish that was to come!

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Tomato Sauce and Mint

Our main course was that fish I saw – I’m not entirely sure of the species but it was a white fish that flaked easily and had been cooked with a delicious crispy skin. This was served with a celeriac puree, a creamy gravy, green beans and to my utter surprise, seared foie gras! And that little blob of dark green in front? A pesto of parsley and pistachio, from what I could gather – gorgeous stuff.

Fish with Foie Gras and Celeriac Puree

Dessert wasn’t included in the menu and I opted to share a massive serving of tiramisu (€6,50). This was gorgeous, with lots of coffee and quite light, just as I like it. Look at those distinct layers!

Tiramisu

I forgot to get a photo of the little squares of chocolate cake that came with coffees and the bill – the two layers had been sandwiched together with cream and Nutella! Dreamy!

It’s not the cheapest restaurant in Leuven (not sure if the students from the main university go there!) – our meal (with drinks and desserts) worked out to €50 per head. I definitely recommend it and definitely also recommend making a booking before you go.

Ristorante Rossi
Standonckstraat,2
3000 Leuven
Belgium

Every so often, I need to make a trip up to Kenton (zone 4, Bakerloo line) for work and if you’re familiar with the area, you’ll know what a dearth of restaurants there is there. Luckily for me, there is Ram’s, a pure vegetarian Indian restaurant that specialises in the food of the Gujarat.

For £4.99, one gets access to the lunch buffet in the back of the restaurant. There’s always some kind of rice, salad, poppadoms and freshly fried puris brought straight to your table. There’s at least two curries and some kind of starter and some kind of sweet too. Everything tastes fresh, service is friendly and there’re always a few people tucking in. I’ve been a number of times now and here are photos from a few visits.

Bhel puri, tomato curry, channa masala, jeera rice.

Indian vegetarian buffet for lunch

Potato bhaji, mung bean curry (one of my favourites), paneer tikka masala, vegetable biryani.

Freshly fried puris at lunchtime

This was not the buffet but my friend’s lunch thali – two veg, rice, rotis. It’s a little pricier but then you get the choice of what veg curries you want. It’s now changed a little according to their latest menu and it’s £6.90 for two veg, rice, three puris, dal, papad and pickle.

My friend went with the lunch thali

Back to the buffet. Spring rolls with chutney, potatoes, chickpeas. The puris are addictive!

A late lunch at Ram's in Kenton

This was my latest meal there a couple weeks ago. I’m a bit upset that they switched their lovely compartmentalised trays for these giant platters – I like keeping my curries separate!

Dhokla, mung bean curry, dhal, green bean and potato curry. The carrot thing turned out to be dessert (gajar ka halwa), all sweet and highly scented with cardamom.

Buffet Lunch at Ram's

They’ve got an a la carte menu but I rather enjoy the lack of choice with the buffet! Don’t let the fact that the restaurant serves vegetarian food put you off – everything is wonderfully spiced and I love trying out the different curries. And come on, I mean, puris! Deep fried breads! Highly recommended if you’re in the area for lunch.

Ram’s
201-203 Kenton Rd
Harrow HA3 0HD

Ram's on Urbanspoon

I can’t believe this was my first time at Donna Margherita in Clapham – I really do believe I must be the worst and most un-up-to-date of the London food bloggers out there. Whatever. We were there one weekday night as part of a large group from work to try their Neapolitan specialities. At our table, we chose to share a few starters before moving onto mains.

A Neapolitan selection of fried goodies (A’ fritturin) kicked off our meal – I found these even lighter than those I encountered in Naples, and hence enjoyed these greatly. There were potato croquettes, bite sized arancini, fried polenta and fried matchsticks of aubergine and courgette.

A' fritturin

Meatballs (E` purpett) were fine…. sorry, not mindblowing but perfectly fine in a simple tomato sauce.

E` purpett

Finally, a parmigiana di melanzane (A’ parmigian e mulgnan) was silky and cheesy and gorgeous (have you ever encountered a bad version? I haven’t.). I could have had a large portion of this for my main course.

A’ parmigian e mulgnan

Blai and I split two main courses. Porchetta was an innovatively spiral cut bit of tender herbed roast pork belly layered with aubergine puree and served with spinach. I can never turn down a good bit of porchetta and this was indeed a most tender and crispy-edged good bit.

Porchetta

A side of friarielli was just as I remembered it in Naples. The wonderfully bitter green had been braised to melting softness in plenty of garlic, chilli and olive oil.

Friarielli

A pizza Romana was pretty solid but by this point in the meal, we were feeling a bit too full to enjoy it.

Pizza Romana

From what I could see of my colleagues’ dishes, it looked like their pasta dishes were also excellent!

I can’t believe I forgot to take a photo of the tiramisu we shared (as usual, we found our second wind for dessert)! As it was already quite late that night (our dishes took quite a while to come out as we were such a large group), there were only a couple of tiramisus left. Our tiramisu was excellent.

At our table, we ended up tucking into our friend’s Tortino di ricotta as well! This was a dense cheese cake that was utterly gorgeous.

Tortino di ricotta

It’s a fun buzzing place with excellent Neapolitan food; I can’t believe I never visited before – actually I had no idea that they served specifically Neapolitan cuisine. There are still a few things on the menu that I’d like to try and I hope to return sooner rather than later!

Donna Margherita
183 Lavender Hill
London SW11 5TE

Donna Margherita on Urbanspoon

Earlier this year, I met Vi Vian for lunch at Old Tree Daiwan Bee, the relatively new Chinatown offshoot of the Old Tree Bakery up in Golders Green. You may remember that I visited the latter once and loved their pork chop rice and I was very keen to try their more centrally located restaurant.

The place itself is tiny with only bench seating for about 20 people. The small menu is full of Taiwanese favourites and as we couldn’t decide between it all, instead of ordering a ‘proper’ lunch, we ordered a few bits and pieces to share between us. Taiwanese sausage was served with slices of raw leek and were the sweet meaty sausages that I remember from my youth (the Chinese roast meat shops in Vancouver sold long links of them).

Taiwanese Sausage

An oyster omelette was, of course, the Taiwanese kind, with the gloopy red sauce on top. This was quite tasty with its layers of oyster, vegetables, egg and fried starch. Yes, it tastes better than it sounds.

Oyster Omelette

Taiwanese style salt and pepper crispy chicken may have looked dry but was anything but. Whoever’s in charge of the deep fryer knows what they’re doing – we were popping these into our mouths like they were going out of fashion. Wow.

Taiwanese Style Salt and Pepper Crispy Chicken

We still had space for sweets! I’ll admit that Asian attempts at Viennese cream cakes are not my thing (I always find the taste and texture of the cream to be a bit odd) but I was willing to try anything. A big puffy coffee cream bun was first to be ordered. There was a good coffee flavour in the cream inside (of which there was a lot!) the big choux puff.

Coffee Cream Bun

A matcha and red bean cake was also alright – again, this is more a reflection of my taste that the cakes there. I liked the matcha and red bean combo though!

Matcha and Red Bean Cake

Service, however, is surly and you’ve got to be quite assertive to even get your order in. Luckily, the food makes up for it. Still, it would be better if they could train their waitresses a bit better (this also goes for the Old Tree up in Golders Green) as they do occasionally go out of their way to ensure that you feel like you’re being a nuisance to them. I do hope to return though to try their other rice and noodle dishes.

Old Tree Daiwan Bee
26 Rupert St
London W1D 6DH

Old Tree Daiwan Bee on Urbanspoon

Here’s another one from last year. I went to Southall one Saturday in search of a particular crunchy snack to bring back to my father in Vancouver. That search ended in failure (dammit, I can’t find that brand from Leicester anymore) but that day, I discovered a fantastic Sri Lankan place that served an a fantastic, budget-friendly lunch.

The place was Palm Palace, the lone Sri Lankan restaurant amongst all the Indian and Pakistani restaurants all around it. It’s a little grotty, a little dark…but my goodness, its food is fantastic. I ordered a seafood thali – and my choice of seafood was prawns (crab and fish were available too).

This is what arrived.

Sri Lankan Thali

This is the thali underneath the poppadom. That hard boiled egg is a good indicator of scale.

Under the Poppadom

It was fantastic! All the curries were medium-hot (which can be made Sri Lankan hot by request) and all were very uniquely spiced. The prawn curry had lots of curry leaves, there was an aubergine dish that was insanely good, that fried vadai on top was just like a gorgeous spicy lentil doughnut. And dessert! There was even a little portion of watalappam, a delicious coconut milk and jaggery custard, that you can see in the bottom left corner. There was plenty for one person and unsurprisingly, I couldn’t finish it all. Kudos to the waitstaff who offered to pack up the leftovers!

Remember that I said this was a budget meal? The thali cost £6.50. This and a glass of mango juice gave me more change than expected from a tenner. Definitely one to try if you’re not in the mood for the usual heavier grilled meats and creamy curries in the area.

Palm Palace
80 South Rd
Southall, Middlesex UB1 1RD

Palm Palace on Urbanspoon

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