Tonkotsu

TONKOTSU

Tonkotsu on Dean Street specialises in ramen noodles, the tonkotsu kind from which it derives its name. Tonkotsu ramen hails from Kyushu, the most south-western of all Japan’s main islands. Tonkotsu ramen is distinctive as it is made using a pork bone broth, typically cooked for about 16 hours which gives it a rich creamy flavour and is distinct to the miso and soy broth based varieties.

There are a plethora of ramen noodle restaurants in Central London. Tonkotsu was one of the very original ones to open, before it was joined by the likes of Bone Daddies, Shoryu Ramen, Kanada-Ya, and most recently Ippudo. Having tried Bone Daddies, Shoryu Ramen and Kanada-Ya, it is my opinion that Kanada-Ya serves the best tonkotsu ramen out of the three. But Tonkotsu on Dean was one of the first in London, and I have always wanted to see how it would fair against the rest.

We began our meal with starters of king prawn katsu (£6) with a tonkatsu sauce and salt and sansho pepper squid. The prawns were delicious, with a lovely firmness and a tasty, sweet flavour. The panko crumb coating was crispy and light, and with the sauce, the crispy prawns tasted wonderful.

Tonkotsu - London Food Blog - Prawn katsu

Tonkotsu – Prawn katsu

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Randall & Aubin

RANDALL & AUBIN

I recently had a lovely Sunday Lunch at Randall & Aubin as part of a Zomato meetup. An oldie but a goodie, Randall & Aubin has been a Soho institution since it opened in 1996 and is known for its fresh seafood and fun, convivial atmosphere. I have often walked past Randall & Aubin and been deterred from going in by the queues outside. But queues can be a good thing too as that must surely mean that the food is good!

Randall & Aubin – London Food Blog

Randall & Aubin

The meetup event began with a cooking demonstration by Chef Ed Baines. He took us through the intricacies of making a good seafood sauce and the key to prepping seafood such as the cod that we had for lunch and other crustaceans. The session was really informative and enjoyable, particularly the bit where we got to try the oysters! Ed began his career at the age of 16 with an apprenticeship at The Dorchester under Anton Mosimann. Thereafter he travelled the world, spending time in Australia where he was instrumental in developing the Pacific Rim cuisine there. Ed has also cooked at Bibendum, The River Cafe, and has worked as the official chef to Giorgio Armani. Thereafter he went on to open Daphne’s in South Kensington before teaming up with Jamie Poulton to open Randall & Aubin in 1996.

Randall & Aubin – London Food Blog – Chef prepping the cod for lunch

Randall & Aubin – Chef prepping the cod for lunch

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Barrafina Frith Street – Visit No. 2

BARRAFINA

Barrafina Frith Street opened to critical acclaim in 2007 following on from the success of its sister restaurant Fino, both of which are owned by the restaurateur brothers Sam and Eddie Hart. 2014 proved to be a great year for the pair, with a second branch of Barrafina opening on Adelaide Street, also to critical acclaim, and the original Barrafina on Frith Street winning a Michelin star.

As most Londoners know, Barrafina Frith Street is a tiny establishment. There are 23 stools which line the L-shaped marbled bar. There is a no-booking policy which means that at peak times diners can expect to wait for at least an hour before being seated. I first visited Barrafina in 2010 and thought it was brilliant (you can read about that visit here). The only thing that deterred me from going back was the thought of that dreaded queue. But with a Michelin Star comes the weight of added expectation. So despite the knowledge that we would have to wait, it felt like the right time for a revisit.

And wait we did, an hour and a half no less, and this was on a Tuesday evening. The saving grace was the fact that we were able to order drinks and nibbles as we stood in line. That said, the service was incredibly slow and we struggled to be noticed or served.

We started with two old favourites, the croquetas and the tortilla. Ham croquetas (2 for £4.50) contained a deliciously creamy béchamel filling and a crunchy exterior. They were a little salty, but they were very tasty. A prawn and piquillo pepper tortilla (£7) came with a runny centre that was lovely and warm. This was also tasty, but in contrast to the croquetas, was a little under seasoned.

Barrafina Frith Street - Ham croquetas

Barrafina Frith Street – Ham croquetas

Barrafina Frith Street - Prawn & piquillo pepper tortilla

Barrafina Frith Street – Prawn & piquillo pepper tortilla

Barrafina Frith Street - Prawn & piquillo pepper tortilla

Barrafina Frith Street – Prawn & piquillo pepper tortilla

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Nopi – Visit No. 2

NOPI

Nopi opened in Soho in 2010 to a great reception, and rightly so. It was an extension of the Ottolenghi chain of delis by Yotam Ottolenghi who is famous for his uniquely innovative blend of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Asian cooking. Nopi gave Ottolenghi a presence in Soho, but it also made his delightful food accessible to a wilder audience.

I visited Nopi in June 2011, several months after it opened and loved it (you can read that post here). Little has changed in terms of the restaurant’s décor or design. Nopi is split over two floors. The ground floor is white throughout with individualised tables, and the basement plays home to shared seating with views of the open kitchen. The menu still holds true to Ottolenghi’s original and inventive fusion of Mediterranean, Asian and Middle Eastern cooking, and along with the main size plates, there are a number of sharing options and plenty of choices for vegetarians.

A dish of seared scallops (£13.90) was pleasant on the palate and worked well with the sweetness of a delica pumpkin puree and some savoury red chicory. The scallops were a touch overcooked however and slightly tough, but otherwise this was a good dish.

Nopi - Seared scallops

Seared scallops

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Arbutus

Arbutus is a one Michelin starred restaurant which offers a modern European bistro menu. Located in the heart of Soho on Frith Street, Arbutus is the brainchild of Anthony Demetre and Will Smith. The pair met while working together at Putney Bridge when Demetre was Head Chef and Smith was the restaurant manager. Demetre previously trained under the guidance of Marco Pierre White and Pierre Koffman and within a year of becoming head chef at Putney Bridge in 1999 he had earned the restaurant a Michelin star. The pair decided to venture solo and thus Arbutus was born in 2006. In 2007 Arbutus went on to win a Michelin star and Four AA Rosettes. Two other restaurants from the pair followed with Wild Honey in Mayfair which also holds a Michelin star, and Les Deux Salons in Covent Garden which offers an all day bar and grill menu.

I first visited Arbutus soon after it first won its star and was thrilled with the energy of the food as it was vibrant, fresh and accomplished, yet not too pretentious. The menu was also well priced and ever changing based on what was seasonal. I also liked the intimacy of the dining room which was simply furnished yet inviting.

Little has changed in terms of the look of the restaurant and it continues to be intimate and inviting. The menu still offers up some interesting choices although prices are of course higher than way back when. During our visit to Arbutus a couple of weeks ago we started with some Scottish scallops (£16) which were plump and beautifully cooked. There was some piquillo pepper which offered a lovely sweet contrast to the scallops. Some nicely toasted hazelnuts added a very enjoyable nuttiness and crunchiness, and pickled sea herbs provided a sense of freshness.

Arbutus - Scottish scallops

Scottish scallops

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House of Ho

The House of Ho opened in January 2014 in Old Compton Street in Soho and is the first London restaurant by Bobby Chin. Born to an Egyptian mother and a Chinese father, the food at The House of Ho echoes the influences that Bobby gained during the 18 years that he spent living and working in both Hanoi and Saigon. In July 2014, Bobby was appointed Vietnam Tourism Ambassador in Europe.

The House of Ho features a rectangular shaped dining room with an impressive frontage that looks out onto Old Compton Street. Tables right by the windows are therefore perfect for people watching. There’s a long bar area, and bamboo tables have been interspersed with a selection of Vietnamese art from Bobby’s own collection. The result is a restaurant with a modern Vietnamese feel to it that is smart yet relaxed.

The menu features lots of variety including a selection of pho cuon rice noodle rolls. We tried the one with confit of duck (£5.50) and found the duck to be dry. The noodle rolls themselves were really impressive however as these were delicious and fabulously authentic. There were also some perilla leaves in the roll which were really fragrant.

Imperial spring rolls (£6) were really yummy with a crispy wrapper and came with a delicious filling of pork, mushroom and prawn that was moist and satisfying. A sweet chilli sauce served as the condiment and it worked really well with the spring rolls.

House of Ho - Imperial & Noodle rolls with duck

Imperial & Noodle rolls with duck

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Brown Brothers Wine Ambassador Dinner – HIX Soho

A few weeks ago I attended a bloggers event at Hix Soho to sample a selection of Brown Brothers Wines which had been carefully selected to accompany our ‘HIX Oyster and Chop Feast’ menu. Our host was Andrew Harris, a wine ambassador for Brown Brothers who provided us with a great insight into the workings of the Brown Brothers vineyards as well as background information on each of the wines that we tried that night. He spoke with such passion for the Brown Brothers products that it was easy to see how much care and attention goes into the making of their wines.

A family owned business, Brown Brothers is one of Australia’s oldest wineries with vineyards in Victoria as well as the pristine farmlands of Tasmania. Each of the vineyards in the Brown Brothers portfolio have varying characteristics ranging from cool to sun-drenched plains. Consequently the grapes from each vineyard offer different characteristics which contribute to the diverse range of wines in the Brown Brothers portfolio.

For starters we were presented with a variety of oysters which included British regional rock and native oysters, some scrumptious fried rock oysters with a dittander mayonnaise and jellied oysters with cucumber and wild chervil. The oysters were meaty and delicious and accompanied by two Brown Brothers wines, a Limited Release Banksdale Chardonnay, 2012 and an 18 Eighty Nine Sauvignon Blanc, 2013.

Hix Soho - Fried oysters

Fried oysters

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Clockjack Oven

It’s such a simple concept, a restaurant that serves one key ingredient – chicken. I mean other than vegetarians, who doesn’t like chicken? The concept is grander than fast food – its chicken done with style – rotisserie style rather than deep-fried. All the chicken served at Clockjack Oven is free-range and comes in the choice of pieces, sandwiches or in salads. There is also a selection of starters and sides to liven up the menu.

It’s a pleasant, friendly looking restaurant although space is a bit of a squeeze. There is a mixture of tables including bar stools by the bar, long tables for big groups and tables outside. The most interesting part of the décor is the rotisserie that sits behind the bar. It’s in plain view of all the diners and you get to watch the chickens cooking as you eat.

For starters we tried some chicken bites (£5.95) which had been marinated in buttermilk, coated in seasoned gram flour and lightly fried. These were really moist and crispy and were scrumptious with the dipping sauces. We tried the ranch, BBQ and chilli sauces, all of which were delicious, particularly the ranch with its creamy, herby and garlicky tones.

Chicken bites

Chicken bites

The BBQ chicken wings (£4.95) were also delicious, being moist and lavished with the tastiest of BBQ sauces. The herb bites (£3.95), crispy sage and onion balls, didn’t appeal however as they didn’t deliver a great sage or onion flavour.

BBQ chicken wings

BBQ chicken wings

We moved onto the rotisserie chicken which comes in either three (£6.95), four (£8.95) or ten (£18.95) pieces. However I was also told it was possible to order one or more pieces should you wish to supplement your order.

There’s the option of brown or white meat, or both, and I went for all brown. The chicken was nice. There was a good flavour and it wasn’t dry. But then again it wasn’t superbly moist either, probably due to the fact that it had been kept warm in a holding dish for a little while after coming down from the rotisserie.

Chicken pieces

Chicken pieces

But we loved all the sides that came with it. The double cooked chips (£3.25) were absolutely fabulous and super crunchy, surprising for chips that had only been cooked twice (rather than three times). The tomato and red onion salad was also good with lots of juicy red cherry tomatoes (£3.95) and little bits of fresh, aromatic basil which helped to lift the salad. And the house coleslaw (£3.35) was really nicely done. The cabbage was crunchy and the dressing was neither too rich nor overpowering.

Salad and fries

Salad and fries

Colesaw

Colesaw

A lemon tart with crème fraîche (£4.95) proved to be a generously sized portion. The tart was zingy, but it was also too sweet and the pastry was rather soft. However the Purbeck Dorset ice cream (2 scoops £2.95) was really yummy. We tried the vanilla and clotted cream chocolate flavours and both were very good.

Lemon tart

Lemon tart

Ice cream

Ice cream

For such a small outfit I was really impressed by the care and quality behind the preparation of the food. And there were lots to like, not just in the chicken but also in most of the starters and the sides. The restaurant was super noisy when it got busy and it was a little short on front of house staff. But that aside, the food was really reasonably priced. All in all Clockjack Oven was a great low key place to scratch your chicken itch and it also seemed like a fun place for large groups.

Summary Information

Food rating: 3.5/5
Service rating: 3/5

Price range: About £20 for three courses, excludes drinks and service.

Website: http://www.clockjackoven.com/

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