Nizuni

Nizuni opened its doors at the back end of last year. Owned by the same people as nearby Korean restaurant Koba, it faces stiff competition with its location on Charlotte Street. Not only is this part of Fitzrovia one of the eating hotspots of London, Nizuni also has to contend with Roka and Tsunami, two other well-known Japanese restaurants within walking distance.

The restaurant is pretty funky and has ample seating space. Covering three floors, the basement also houses an intimate bar. The food came thick and fast, almost all at once, which was surprising considering our discussion with the waitress about what were going to be our starters and what were going to be our mains. Trying to eat four dishes at once was difficult, especially as our table was small. It also meant that the cooked food went cold quite quickly.

Still we enjoyed what we had. A nasu dengaku (£4.50), aubergine with a miso sauce, was lovely. The aubergine was soft and gooey, and the miso sauce was sweet and nicely caramelised.

Nasu dengaku

Nasu dengaku

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Enoteca Turi

Enoteca Turi is a family-run Italian restaurant in Putney which specialises in regional Italian cuisine. Opened by owner Giuseppe Turi in 1990 (hence the name), this restaurant is still going strong after two decades, and can be considered something of a Putney institution given the proliferation of chain restaurants which have emerged on the High Street in recent years. Giuseppe can still be seen walking around the restaurant floor, and you know pride and care has been placed into every detail of the restaurant. I have eaten at Enoteca Turi before and enjoyed the food very much. This time around I dined as a guest of the restaurant.

A classic Venetian dish of smoked haddock mantecato (£7.75) was lovely. Similar to a pâté blended with a little olive oil, it wasn’t particularly smoky, but the fish flavour was rich and distinctive. It was accompanied by a trio of polenta crostini with pepper, cauliflower and green beans topped with polenta crisps. The polenta crostini was a little dull, but the red peppers were sweet, and the cauliflower and green beans were cooked al dente. The beans had been finished with a drizzling of some fantastic homemade pesto.

Smoked haddock mantecato

Smoked haddock mantecato

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Vinoteca Marylebone

Vinoteca Marylebone is the sister restaurant of the original Vinoteca wine bar and restaurant in Farringdon. It opened in November last year, but unlike Brawn, the sister restaurant of that other well known wine bar, Terroirs, it has barely registered on the Richter Scale of restaurant openings. I found out about it purely by chance. Thinking I would go to the branch in Farringdon, I stumbled across the details of the Marylebone branch when I went onto the Vinoteca website. Despite the lack of PR fanfare, the restaurant is already doing a thumping trade. It was packed during our visit and justifiable so. Its concept is simple – good, seasonal food, in an ever changing menu, matched with one of the 25 wines that are available by the glass. There are also 280 reasonably priced bottles to choose from.

Vinoteca Marylebone is cosy and intimate. It does not take reservations, but there’s a bar area to drink at while you wait. Due to the lack of carpeting and rugs on the floor, its only drawback was that it was incredibly noisy which made conversation a little difficult. But this can also be construed as fantastically atmospheric.

We started with a heavenly smoked eel with celeriac and apple remoulade and wheaten toast (£8). The eel was delicate, succulent and lightly smoked, and the creaminess of the deftly made remoulade was a perfect match. There was a hint of sweetness in the well-made, flavoursome bread which made this dish all the more appetising. The suggested wine, an Austrian 2009 Kamptal Gruner Veltliner ‘Kies’, Kurt Angerer (£4.50 for 125ml) was a great accompaniment.

Smoked eel

Smoked eel

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Koya

Koya is the hottest udon-ya in London right now. In fact, it’s the only proper udon-ya in London where a man in the basement makes the noodles by rolling them with his feet for five hours every day. The restaurant is homey and simple, with tiled floors and pinewood furniture. The tables are for sharing, and it’s the kind of place that you imagine would be fantastically warm and cosy in winter. As I walked in, I couldn’t help but be taken in by the wonderful, gentle aroma of the delicious, smelling miso soup. Perfect for the onset of the autumnal weather!

Udon noodles are the highlight here, but I wanted to try some of the other dishes as well. From the specials menu, baby clams steamed in sake (£8) were nicely cooked such that they were still firm. However the accompanying broth was extremely salty which made it quite overwhelming.

Baby clams steamed in sake

Baby clams steamed in sake

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Polpetto

Having recently gone to Polpo and enjoyed it, I couldn’t wait to try its recently opened sister restaurant, Polpetto. Perched on top of the legendary Soho pub, The French House, it is a tiny imitation of its bigger sister. Not only is the dining room smaller, the décor, with its hole in the wall look, is more subdued and relaxed. Unlike Polpo, Polpetto doesn’t come with its own bar area, so I can only guess that those waiting for tables must do so in the pub downstairs.

The menu is similarly designed to Polpo’s – barcaro type eating at reasonable prices. We started with several items from the cicheti (small bites) section. Our first choice was the duck and porcini meatballs (£1.50 each) which were divine. Packed full of rich duck and porcini flavour, the only slight drawback was that I got too much black pepper in one particular mouthful as the seasoning hadn’t been evenly dispersed throughout the meat. The meatballs came out piping hot – so hot in fact that it made me wonder if they had been microwaved before serving.

Duck & porcini meatballs

Duck & porcini meatballs

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Polpo

I’ve been past a Polpo a few times, and the queues have always deterred me from going. The restaurant operates a no-reservations policy during dinner time which means if you want a table, you have to go early, wait or get lucky. So I decided to try my hand at turning up at 6.30 to see if I could avoid the queue. But alas, it was to no avail. A 45 minute wait ensued, and I have to say, it wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences. First, the bar is tiny with barely any standing space. Second, there were already loads of people waiting, which made the tiny space seem claustrophobic. Third, we were told we weren’t allowed to wait outside with drinks even though some people did. And finally, to make an unbearable situation worse, our drinks (a glass of proseco and coke) weren’t cold. The coke hadn’t been refrigerated, although we did get a glass of ice to go with it. Hmmm.

But when we finally did get a table, I found the food to be quite delightful and the prices reasonable. Polpo is a Venetian style Bacaro with tapas-style dining. We started with some chopped chicken liver crostini (£1.50 each) which was rich with the flavour of pure liver. This was very tasty but it could have done with a little acidity to cut the richness.

Chicken liver crostini

Chicken liver crostini

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L’Art du Fromage

In some respects, L’Art du Fromage is the most interesting opening to hit London this year. As the name suggests, the restaurant specialises in cheese, which you will find in virtually every dish on the menu. It might be a bit hard to imagine eating cheese with every course, but you have to admit the idea is novel. La Cave à Fromage in South Kensington offers cheese and wine tastings every other Thursday, but L’Art du Fromage is the only restaurant of its kind in London to make cheese a core ingredient.

The restaurant is the brainchild of two 24 year-old Frenchmen, Julien Ledogar and Jean-Charles Madenspacher, both from Alsace. L’Art du Fromage stocks some 100 cheeses which are brought in weekly from Lyon, a lot of which are proudly on display as you walk into the restaurant.

The restaurant is quaint, simply furnished, small and cosy. Situated on Langton Street, off the Kings Road in Chelsea, it shares the same street as that favourite haunt of the well-heeled, La Famiglia.

We started with smoked salmon and goat’s cheese roulade with fresh herbs and beetroot carpaccio (£6.40). There was a little too much goat’s cheese relative to the amount of smoked salmon on the plate, but otherwise the roulade was lovely. The classic combination of goat’s cheese and beetroot worked a treat, with the sweetness of the root vegetable cutting the creamy richness of the cheese nicely. The cheese accentuated the smoky sweetness of the fish.

Smoked salmon & goat's cheese roulade

Smoked salmon & goat's cheese roulade

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Sedap

Nyonya use to be one of my favourite cheap-eats in London. Great food is always hard to pass up, and when combined with cheap prices, makes it even harder to beat. As a bit of an ex-regular, I couldn’t help but lament Nyonya’s closing. I suspect the exorbitant Notting Hill rental prices must have had something to do with it.

But the people behind it came back to open up Sedap (which means delicious in Malayan) in Old Street about a year ago. The location is far less glamorous than Notting Hill, but the menu prices have remained cheap. The downside is that it’s harder for me to get to and I no longer call myself a regular. So this was my first visit since it opened up as Sedap, and I must say, it was definitely worth the wait.

We started with kerabu prawns (£6.50), a fresh, crunchy salad of prawns and cucumber finished with a kerabu dressing. Loving the combination of sweet, sour and salty flavours that are a hallmark of a kerabu, we polished this off in minutes. Finely chopped peanuts and black fungus added crunchiness to the salad, and the chilli gave it a nice little kick.

Kerabu prawns

Kerabu prawns

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