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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Noble Rot

Noble Rot Restaurant and Wine Bar is located on quirky Lamb’s Conduit in Bloomsbury and is run by Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew, the same pair who founded the well-known wine magazine of the same name, Noble Rot. Wines obviously play a key part in this Parisian-styled wine bar, but the sizeable dining room serves a seasonal British menu which changes regularly. The kitchen is headed by Paul Weaver who has worked at both St John Bread & Wine and was at The Sportsman for 5 years. Noble Rot also has another link to The Sportsman, with chef/owner Stephen Harris acting as a consultant.

Our first course of gazpacho, Lincolnshire smoked eel and lovage (£8.50) was lovely and fresh. The sweet and slightly tangy gazpacho was richly intense with flavour, and it married wonderfully with the smokiness of the delicious, fatty eel. This a wonderful dish, packed full of punch and finesse.

Noble Rot - London Food Blog - Gazpacho

Noble Rot – Gazpacho

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Social Eating House

Located in the heart of Soho on Poland Street, Social Eating House was the third restaurant in the portfolio of celebrated Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton, once a protégé of Gordon Ramsay.

Set over three floors with a basement chef’s table, a group floor restaurant and a top floor bar, Social Eating House offers a contemporary bistro menu and currently holds one Michelin star. I loved Jason Atherton’s food when he was still cooking under Gordon Ramsay at Maze, before he got financing and expanded internationally. His restaurants can now be found not only in London, but also in Asia, New York and as far afield as Sydney. It’s not easy to maintain high standards when chefs expand so rapidly. Too often I find that with such expansion the food develops a formulaic feel to it and lacks the sense of heart and substance that won the chef his accolades in the first place.

We went to Social Eating House and dined on the special prix-fix menu which was priced at £29.50 for 2 courses and a cocktail or £34.50 for 3 courses. The vibe was informal and quite buzzy, with a fun and funky energy. It was all very nice if a little too noisy. We found the experience to be acceptable relative to the price we paid, but didn’t find it particularly special for a Michelin starred restaurant. Sure we only had the prix-fix menu, but we hadn’t expected to find errors in the food.

Starter number one was the Normandy chicken with BBQ sweet corn, popcorn, strozzapreti pasta and laksa sauce. The chicken was pleasantly cooked, but the sauce was quite strong which ended up overpowering the chicken. There was also quite a lot of the sauce which didn’t help matters. Moreover the sauce hadn’t been heated up properly and so was slightly cold. I didn’t much like the popcorn in the dish either – it did not taste as it had been freshly popped. However the pasta was lovely.

Social Eating House - London Food Blog - Chicken with laksa sauce

Social Eating House – Chicken with laksa sauce

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Hoppers

Sri Lankan restaurant Hoppers is the latest successful story by the Sethi siblings, the team also behind Gymkhana, Trishna and Bao, Located on Frith Street, Hoppers takes over from what was once Koya. Hoppers is named after the Sri Lankan food of the same name, a fermented rice and coconut milk pancake shaped like a bowl which serves as the accompaniment for other Sri Lankan dishes.

Hoppers is a no-frills sort of restaurant. It operates a no reservations policy so the queues can be long. We waited for an hour and 15 minutes, but the wait times can vary of course as on a previous attempt to visit the restaurant we were told the wait was to be 2 hours.

But Hoppers was well worth the wait. The food was great, and what’s more, it was also very good value for money. The highlight of our meal at Hoppers was, without a doubt, the bone marrow varuval with roti (£6). Beautifully roasted bone marrow had been smothered with a glorious coconut based curry made from toasted rice and coconut cream. This dish was divine, with the rich, sumptuousness of the fatty bone marrow marrying beautifully with the flavoursome, well spiced and lusciously creamy curry. The roti was well made and was perfect for mopping up all the sauce. We enjoyed this so much we went for seconds. This was a 5/5 dish for me.

Hoppers - London Food Blog - Bone marrow

Hoppers – Bone marrow

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Cau St Katharine Docks

CAU ST KATHARINE DOCKS

Cau (cleverly pronounced as ‘cow’) stands for Carne Argentina Unica, a chain of Argentinian steakhouses by the same people behind Gaucho. I visited the Cau St Katharine Docks branch which is located in the newly refurbished Commodity Quay. On good weather days, the front of the restaurant opens up for al fresco dining, overlooking the West Basin of the marina.

Designed to embody the spirit of the trendy area of Palermo, Buenos Aires, the design of the Cau St Katharine Docks was sharp and funky with booth seating and bright blue sky and grass imagery. Cau has a quirkiness to it, notably with the waiters and waitresses wearing endearing ‘cauboy’ and ‘caugirl’ T’shirts.

The menu at Cau displays the best of Argentinan grass-fed beef. Dominating the menu was a variety of steaks, burgers and steak sandwiches. But for non-steak eaters, there was also a choice of twice-cooked pork belly and fresh market fish.

We began with a selection of starters, the first of which came highly recommended – the homemade jamon and manchego croquettes (£6). These were excellent, with a crispy crumb coating and a gloriously creamy filling. I would highly recommend trying these.

Cau St Katharine Docks - London Food Blog - Croquettes

Cau St Katharine Docks – Croquettes

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Picture Marylebone

PICTURE MARYLEBONE

Picture Marylebone is the second restaurant after the originally named Picture Fitzrovia, an independent restaurant venture serving small plates inspired by British seasonal ingredients. Behind the scenes is a team that previously worked at the Arbutus Restaurant Group, Alan Christie and Colin Kelly who were both head chefs at the Michelin starred Arbutus, and Tom Slegg who was the restaurant manager at the similarly Michelin starred Wild Honey.

With its minimalist interior, Picture Marylebone is a picture of pared back urban chic. For lunchtime dining, it provides a perfectly smart setting. For evening dining, the lights are dimmed for a more intimate vibe, with the dinner menu consisting of both a six-course tasting menu priced at £40 and an a la carte menu divided into three savoury sections (vegetarian, fish and meat) plus dessert.

Reasonably priced, the food at Picture Marylebone was also excellent. We began our meal with a prettily presented ravioli of caramelised onions (£9). This was a very tasty dish decadently oozing with lots of delicious butter, which for some, might have made the dish too rich. However, I really enjoyed it. The pasta was al dente and the onions were delightfully soft and sweet. A nice mixture of fresh peas, lettuce and pecorino rounded off the dish nicely.

Picture Marylebone - London Food Blog - Ravioli of caramelised onions

Picture Marylebone – Ravioli of caramelised onions

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