Machiya

MACHIYA

Machiya is the little sister restaurant of Kanada-Ya, the ramen bar famed for its tonkotsu ramen. There are two branches of Kanada-Ya – the original on St Giles High Street, the other virtually next door to Machiya itself on Panton Street. The concept at Machiya is something like a gastro izakaya – a Japanese pub with homemade tapas-sized plates of food for sharing. That said, Machiya looks nothing like the typical izakaya joints found in Japan which are typically quaint, dimly lit, and worn around the edges. Here, with its clean cut and brightly lit natural wood and metal interior, Machiya has much more of a clinical modern feel to it. Downstairs is a bar which offers a list of cocktail delights.

Machiya’s menu is a mix of some izakaya classics and Japanese cafe staples like tonkatsu, kare-raisu, and zaru-soba. At Machiya, the chicken yakitori (£4.50) proved to be two skewers of deliciously moist and slightly crisped flesh. The chicken was well seasoned and did not need any gimmicky sauces, sometimes deployed in restaurants to hide a poor quality base ingredient.

Machiya - London Food Blog - Chicken yakitori

Machiya – Chicken yakitori

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Cinnamon Kitchen

CINNAMON KITCHEN

Cinnamon Kitchen is an upmarket Indian fusion restaurant in the Liverpool Street area. Bearing the word “Cinnamon” in its name, it is part of the Cinnamon Collection, a group of Indian restaurants run by Vivek Singh, restauranteur, and a celebrity chef regular on a number of television cookery shows such as BBC’s Saturday Kitchen. Vivek first made his name with his flagship restaurant Cinnamon Club by championing a brand of modern, innovative Indian cooking. His contemporary approach has further translated into his other restaurants including Cinnamon Soho and Cinnamon Bazaar.

As we walked into Cinnamon Kitchen, we were immediately seduced by both the aroma of the tantalising smells wafting through the restaurant, as well as by the excited murmur of happily munching clients. The interior is both smart and trendy, and gave both a happening vibe with a balanced sense of a cozy intimacy.

To begin our meal we were offered some miniature spiced potato fritters on a curly bamboo stick as the complimentary amuse-bouche from the chef. Usually, such throw-ins are an opportunity to showcase the chef’s best skills or new, novel ideas, to dazzle and intrigue customers into coming to try more next time. This one was a little bland and unassuming and tasted like a deep-fried ball made of faintly curried mashed potatoes.

Next we tried a variety of chutneys with naan. Of the three chutneys that arrived, the most memorable was the tomato one. With just the right level of hotness, it treated tomato as what it technically is: a fruit, which is that it was intensely rich with flavour and naturally sweet. The naan that accompanied the chutneys was pleasantly spliced with fennel seeds.

Cinnamon Kitchen - London Food Blog - Naans & chutneys

Cinnamon Kitchen – Naans & chutneys

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Tootoomoo Islington

Tootoomoo

Tootoomoo offers a Pan-Asian Tapas-style menu designed by Chef Ricky Pang. The restaurant appears to have more of a reputation as a takeaway; however, the Islington branch was well located (a few minutes from Highbury & Islington station) and reasonably popular on the weekday evening we visited. As the menu covers key dishes from different parts of Asia, we were eager to order dishes across the breadth of the menu.

Tootoomoo - London Food Blog

Tootoomoo

The drinks list was not extensive but covered a handful of classic cocktails, wine, beer and spirits selection enough to cover most tastes. To begin with we were offered cocktails (all priced at £7.50) and we chose the Elderflower Tootoomoo and a Lychee Caipirinha. Both were served as long drinks in glass jars. They were refreshing, quite sweet but balanced. We could not taste the lychee in the caipirinha and wonder if it was missed by accident.

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Bella Cosa

BELLA COSA

Bella Cosa is an Italian restaurant located within a few minutes walk of South Quays DLR station, close to the heart of Canary Wharf. It’s an elegant venue, split over two floors, with the first floor offering a fine dining service, and the ground floor reserved for a more casual Italian experience of antipastas, cold cuts and pastas.

Japanese born Executive Chef Kentaro Torii graduated from culinary school in Tokyo after which he made a move to Italy to follow his passion of Italian cookery. Chef Kentaro has also worked at various Michelin restaurants including Bvlgari il Ristorante in Tokyo, Els Casals in Barcelona and Keisuke Matsushima in Nice. And so it is the combination of his roots, his Italian cookery training and his grounding in fine dining that defines the elegant ‘Italian with a Japanese twist’ menu at Bella Cosa.

I attended a bloggers’ dinner at Bella Cosa recently and we were firstly treated to some excellent canapes including some delightfully fine and crispy black ink chips filled with mascarpone and salmon roe which offered an interesting contrast in flavours. Also very tasty was the cannoli with ricotta, walnut and beetroot powder, with the cheese pairing well with the nuttiness of the walnut.

The amuse bouche was cooked scallop, with cannellini puree, truffle, lardo and olive oil powder. The scallop had been beautifully cooked and contrasted well with the creaminess of the puree and the fattiness of the lardo.

Bella Cosa - London Food Blog - Scallop amuse bouche

Bella Cosa – Scallop amuse bouche

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Koji – Visit no. 2

KOJI

I first tried Koji Japanese Restaurant in Parsons Green last year, not long after it first opened and had a fabulous dining experience. Koji was a collaborative effort between Nobuhisha Takahashi, the former sushi head chef at both Nobu London and Nobu Cape Town, and Mark Barnett, the former proprietor of the now closed Mao Tai Chinese restaurant.

In January 2015 Rolando Ongcoy joined the ranks, replacing Nobuhisha Takahashi, and took the food at Koji up another notch. A Japanese chef for some 33 years, he began his career in the Philippines before coming to London. In recent years he has also been the head sushi chef with both the Nobu group and Uni in Pimlico.

The ethos at Koji is to provide diners with first class Japanese food in a highly elegant setting, but without any pretentiousness. The Koji menu centres around contemporary Japanese cooking, ranging from fresh sushi and sashimi, to meat and seafood on the robata grill, to a variety of modern Japanese dishes that draw upon European and South American influences.

Second time round, and I found Koji to be that much better than first time round – no mean feat considering that the benchmark standard had been set pretty high during my first visit. At Koji, only the finest ingredients are used. This coupled with the finest of techniques makes for splendid dining experience.

We shared a variety of dishes as is customary with Japanese food, and one of my favourites of the evening was the salmon tartare with caviar umami jelly (£19). This dish was divine. The salmon itself was fresh and flavoursome, but it was the umami jelly – a thin layer of jelly placed over the salmon – which electrified the tartare. The umami jelly was abundant with flavour and it paired perfectly with salmon.

Koji - London Food Blog - Salmon tartare

Koji – Salmon tartare

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Mestizo

MESTIZO

Last month, Mestizo, Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar, celebrated Día de la Independencia (The Mexican Independence Day) with a special gastronomic week. One of the most traditional, authentic Mexican restaurants in London, the week was designed by Mestizio to showcase the diversity and depth of Mexican food by curating a regionally inspired menu that took guests on a culinary journey around Mexico. For this purpose, the menu included such dishes as pescadillas from Guerrero, to a warming Pollo con Mole from the highlands of Puebla, to the Mexican lamb stews from Birria.

Gastronomic Week at Mestizo is long over, but it was still a good opportunity to experience one of the most authentic Mexican dining experiences one can get in London. Mestizo first opened its doors in 2004, and has long been one of the leading ambassadors of Mexican food in London, often championing this diverse cuisine through special gastronomic events such as the Gastronomic Week seen last month and other events organised in conjunction with the Mexican Embassy. Moreover, Mestizo, has the largest tequila selection in the UK (some 260+) and is proud to share the Mexican’s love of its iconic national spirit through the various tequila Masterclasses, tequila tasting experiences or ‘Tequila and food pairing experiences’ at Mestizo.

Mestizo - London Food Blog - Tequila Bar

Mestizo – Tequila Bar

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Cha Chaan Teng

CHA CHAAN TENG

Note: KK from Russian Revels and I (Agirlhastoeat) attended a bloggers dinner at Cha Chaan Teng together. This is a guest blog post written predominantly by KK, with input from myself.

Meet Jeremy Pang, the man behind School of Wok, a British Chinese guy with generations before him who have cooked and worked in Chinese restaurants. Chinese cookery is in his blood, and having opened his own Chinese cookery school, he is now also the consultant chef of Cha Chaan Teng, an unashamedly ‘inauthentic playful’ take on the popular Hong Kong tea houses (cha chaan teng translates literally as ‘tea restaurant’) which began springing up in Hong Kong in the 1950s. Effectively ‘Chinese-style Western food’ (and not Westernised Chinese food), they are a Hong Kong institution in themselves, serving a form of fast food that where diners can eat quickly and leave. Given its popularity in Hong Kong, surprisingly, this is the first ‘cha chaan teng’ of its kind in London.

Housed discretely in the basement of the never-quite-upcoming Holborn, Cha Chaan Teng is a glitzy affair, combining the comforts of booth seating with glamour of the huge mirrored bar and white lanterns. Style-wise, it is a far cry from the cha chaan tengs you get in Hong Kong. You’re not just going to be drinking tea here, darling! Already in the second week of opening, there was a buzz with an eclectic mix of people in crowd. What a great start to a new restaurant opening.

We attended a bloggers dinner, dining on a banquet chosen by Jeremy himself, around a tall round table with two lazy susans in the middle (which were a bit too lazy as they almost didn’t move too well!) Generosity and sharing are part of a traditional Chinese meal, no matter how far the recipes have travelled. There’s a huge disclaimer on the menu that the menu at Cha Chaan Teng isn’t intended to be authentic (whatever authentic ‘Chinese-style Western food’ is), and so we tried not to compare to the food might have tasted like in Hong Kong. Even so, it was fun to think back to Agirlhastoeat’s childhood years spent back in Hong Kong when she use to eat in a cha chaan teng as a child. However nostalgia can play a part in defining one’s connectedness to the food eaten. As for the menu itself, it draws inspiration from some classic cha chaan teng staples such as French toast and macaroni soup, as well as a smattering of other Chinese dishes.

Before we began stuffing our faces, Jeremy gathered us up to show how bao buns, the steamed rice buns that have been so trendy in London lately, are made. We prodded, sniffed and stretched the brilliant white dough, to get the feel for this all-important base food. Special, super fine, flour is often used (often bleached back in Hong Kong, a technique which is banned in the UK). Jeremy’s team had spent weeks perfecting that one skill of making bao. In themselves the buns are rather bland, all the better for carrying fillings with strong flavours.

We were ‘allowed’ to choose our little appetizers, either bao or a crusty roll. Our duck bao with hoisin sauce, cucumber and carrot pickle (£5.50) was a lovely mini manifestation of the classic high street staple of crispy duck. It was a good flavour, if a bit too dry.

Cha Chaan Teng - London Food Blog - Crispy duck bao

Cha Chaan Teng – London Food Blog – Crispy duck bao

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Zima Russian Street Food & Bar

ZIMA

When Zima ‘Russian street food and bar’ opened next to Ronnie Scotts in Soho, we were very hopeful. Russian cuisine has struggled to break onto London scene up until now. Maybe this is because it has taken Russia a couple of decades (after the fall of communism ) to start growing its own chef talent. But right now, the Moscow restaurant scene is frothing with people and places that dig into their Slavic roots, combining them with the techniques of the brave new world (just look at ‘White Rabbit’ in the top 100 restaurants this year).

Zima - London Food Blog

Zima – The menu

The man behind the Zima menu is Alexei Zimin, a known chef on the Moscow restaurant scene. With a bushy beard, kindly intense eyes and just a smudge of a smile, he fronts the brand perfectly –a kinda 21st century style Russian bear. Zima is located in a Grade II listed building. Originally Zima was only a bar that occupied the tiny basement, but it has since expanded and taken over the ground and the first floor in the building– a sure sign the guys were doing something right.

We sat on the first floor, which was all starched white table cloths and understated colours , with the ‘Russianness’ of the place only being hinted by some (well curated) hip and happening Russian art. The ground floor ryumochnaya (vodka bar) had a livelier vibe of mainly Russian speaking youngsters. Russian rock music and vintagy enamel bowls of homely food boded well in the bar, but upstairs seemed out of place (and was frankly a tad boring as there were so few customers – we are in Soho prime estate after all).

The service was warm and friendly, with recommendations on what to choose given with a genuine twinkle.

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