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Archive for October, 2008

exterior of Tomoe sushi restaurant in London

Almost a year ago, I read Krista’s rave review of Tomoe sushi and thought “hmm, it’s cheap, fresh, handy when near Oxford Street *and* it’s named Tomoe [just like my fave sushi place in NY].” There was *no question* I was going to rush over.

So. I’ve been to Tomoe five or six times over the past few months, and the thing I liked every time was that it was, in fact, cheap, fresh, and handy when near Oxford Street. No fireworks from the food. But good, honest value: no matter how much I order at Tomoe, my tab always seems to come out around £15.

Well, this evening when I dropped by, Tomoe’s sushi just knocked my socks off. The fish’s freshness was off the charts. I was so impressed! All those other visits I’ve paid were good, but today was great. When I mentioned how especially good the sushi was today, our server looked at me like I was on crack. Maybe they just got a super-good fish delivery today? Maybe the packed house (thanks to a very large party of Japanese men) meant the sushi was made especially a la minute? I wish I could figure out why today was suddenly shoulders-above all my previous visits, because I really couldn’t get enough of the fish.

I started with miso soup, as always, and drinking it down created a spot of warm comfort in these cold, dark nights. It’s good, but the food that followed was without question the highlight.

chirashi sushi at Tomoe

chirashi sushi at Tomoe

My friend ordered the chirashi sushi (aka bowl of assorted sushi toppings on rice), and look at the care that went into putting it together. It was so pretty! And £8 for this large bowl of goodness.

salmon nigiri at Tomoe

salmon nigiri at Tomoe

Salmon nigiri (£1.70 a piece) was melt-in-your mouth rich. Fresh and light tasting. Beautifully sliced and bedded on still-slightly-warm sushi rice, with an excellent balance of sweet, sour and spicy (from the wasabi). I started with just two pieces and just had to have more and more.

shrimp tempura maki at Tomoe

shrimp tempura maki at Tomoe

Maki was good as always, but played second fiddle to the raw fish. That said, I’m partial to the shrimp tempura roll (when am I not, honestly?) as well as to the unagi-avocado roll. Most rolls are £5 an order, and three orders is very filling, even if you’re a big eater comme moi.

The bill never arrives itemized, but I always end up with an average tab of £15 for seemingly-endless amounts of sushi and green tea. Service is unfailingly polite and sincere seeming. For example, today, our server apologized in advance when we sat down, because she worried that the crowds of diners this evening would mean the sushi chef would be slower than normal fulfilling our order.

The decor is drab, but endearingly un-slick. Go. Bring friends. And tell me what made today so much better than all my earlier visits.

Tomoe Sushi, 62 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2PB; 0207 486 2004; closest tube stations: Bond Street or Oxford Circus
Tomoe on Urbanspoon

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potato pizza at the Regent

potato pizza at the Regent

Since the Regent opened a year ago, I’ve been a fan. During the day, it’s a bright, airy place to park yourself with a paper or laptop, and at night, it’s a warm, friendly place to have a drink and eat good pizza.

As we all do with neighborhood places, I have my habits (ruts?) now when it comes to ordering. I always get the vegetable pizza or the spinach pizza – the latter because it’s super garlicky and has an egg in the middle, which adds yolky creaminess to mellow the garlic. Genius.

The other night, I was with friends who ordered the potato pizza, which I’ve seen on menus in Rome but have never gotten around to trying. So I tried it. And now I’m going to add the potato pizza to my Regent rotation. It’s not the bland carbo bomb I expected. In fact, the cheese has the strong salty tang of gorgonzola, and the sweet creaminess of the potatoes mellows out the gorgonzola. Balance in all things.

The pizzas can take a while to show up at your table (because there’s only one wood-burning oven), but the Regent is a relaxed place, best enjoyed when you’re not in a rush. The pizza’s no New York slice, but it’s still pretty tasty. And it’s hard to find a better dinner for £7, which is what most pizzas there cost.

The Regent, 201 Liverpool Road, N1 1LX, 0207 700 2725; closest tube stations: Angel and Highbury & Islington

Regent on Urbanspoon

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Rosa's Thai restaurant, Spitalfields

Rosa's Thai restaurant, Spitalfields

While the City is dead on the weekends, the masses of workers who linger in the area for Friday drinks can make places around Liverpool Street pretty festive. Jon and I, being lightweights and slightly anti-social, always break off from drinks at some point to find food, and so we were thrilled yesterday to find good, cheap Thai food at Rosa’s, near Spitalfields Market.

Of course, we didn’t stumble upon Rosa’s randomly. Guy Diamond over at TimeOut was enthusiastic about it a few weeks ago, and I liked this description: “Although the dishes are (mostly) the familiar roll call, there is a freshness and honesty about the cooking.” That sentence sums up our experience, too. Lamb satay was tender and the peanut sauce wasn’t the muddy glop you normally get at cheap (and even expensive) Thai places. Rather, it was sweet, tangy and slightly spicy. Actually, now that I think about it, all the dishes we tried had the heat and balance of four flavors (sour, sweet, creamy, salty) prized in Thai cooking.

Softshell crab starter was juicy and fresh; my pork green curry was filled with bamboo shoots and the most tender pork imaginable (no boiled meat-in-curry here); and Jon’s pad see eu was hot out of the wok and not greasy.

Our only disappointments were (1) the downstairs seating (You want to be upstairs where it’s warm and cozy, though some of the tables are communal. The basement feels like – um – a basement); and (2) the overcooked and overpriced side dish of vegetables. For £6 a careless side dish, you should probably just get another main course that happens to have vegetables in it.

Because the prices are low (most mains are £7-9) and the decor is inviting, Rosa’s is already drawing big groups out to celebrate, so I could see that getting annoying if all you want is a quick, quiet dinner. But overall, it’s nice to know Rosa’s is in the area next time I’m craving good-quality, inexpensive Thai food.

Our tab for two starters, two mains, a side dish and two beers was £46 with service.

Rosa’s, 12 Hanbury Street, E1 6QR, 0207 247 1093; closest tube station: Liverpool Street
Rosa's on Urbanspoon

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passionfruit souffle with blueberry ice cream at the Ledbury restaurant

passionfruit souffle with blueberry ice cream at the Ledbury restaurant

Today is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, and I’m fasting. No beverages or food for 24 hours. But at sundown today, it’s back to my piggish ways.

What better way to spend my last food-and-drink-free hours than to write about delicious delicious food? I *must* be delirious.

Jon and I returned to the Ledbury last weekend. We had such an all-around great meal there in August that it took restraint to wait even this long (six weeks) to revisit.

Perhaps inevitably, this time, I was slightly disappointed. To be fair to the Ledbury, high expectations are deadly. And I still think the Ledbury is a great restaurant. But the prices have gone up (the tasting menu is now £70 per person, not £60), and the ingredients used were noticeably budget-conscious. I assume the higher menu prices and seemingly-less-luxe ingredients can be blamed only on rising food costs, but I had hoped that restaurants would do only one or the other. Not both.

The service – such a high point last time – was still swift and accommodating: the sommelier remembered me from our last visit, and one of our servers allowed us to substitute the passionfruit souffle for the chocolate pave course on the tasting menu.

slice of foie gras terrine with mango

slice of foie gras terrine with mango

As for the food, it was all still tasty, but compared to our last tasting menu experience, it seemed skimpy and less creative. Rolls, for example. Something you can take for granted at any moderate-to-nice restaurant. Last time, we got an endless supply of them, and I had to force myself to stop eating all the bacony-cheese ones (they’re like gougeres, but better because there’s bacon). This time, we each got one roll at the start of the meal, and then another towards the end after we asked for more (and even then, our servers said they’d have to ask the kitchen to send more up).

As for the tasting menu, the slice of foie gras terrine was creamy and rich, and the diced mango and cabernet sauce added tang and sweetness, but I’d hoped for a thick slice of roast foie gras like what I remembered from our visit in August. Cold terrine just isn’t the same when you want hot, rich essence of meaty fatness.

roast cod with truffle

roast cod with truffle

Our cod is a better example of the skimpiness. Last time, we dined on moist, luscious, delicate-flavored turbot. This time, we got roast cod. It was likely as good as cod gets – firm but silky – but it’s hard for me to get excited about it. Where’s the special-occasion factor in cod?

partridge served with corn "three ways"

partridge served with corn

Our partridge with corn served three ways also seemed boring. The “corn on the cob” was crisp and sweet, but you know, it’s corn on the cob. And the corn pancake under the partridge was just tough. I guess it was there to soak up the chicken-tasting partridge juices. I admit I’m biased against partridge because I think it really does taste like chicken. And I’m a good enough home cook that chicken isn’t something I want to pay someone else to make for me. I’ll pick a lamb or suckling pig course any day above a partridge one.

Before I sound too “down” on eating at the Ledbury, I should point out the superstar passionfruit souffle. That souffle was so perfect that even if everything at the Ledbury sucked (which it most certainly does not), I’d still go back. The passionfruit (and lemon zest?) added a tanginess that matched the lightness of the souffle’s texture. As souffles are wont to be, it was hot, airy and so fresh that I thought if I didn’t eat it right away, the souffle might float away and disappear. The blueberry ice cream served tableside was an excellent contrasting accompaniment. Every bite of this dessert was sweet and sour, floral and fruity, hot and cold. I haven’t got a sweet tooth, but thanks to the Ledbury, I’ve learned I have a passionfruit souffle tooth.

Overall, I had a good meal this time ’round at the Ledbury. Prices were higher and value-for-money was proportionally lower than last time, but it’s still my favorite high-end restaurant in London. In these uncertain times, though, next time I’ll try the a la carte menu and cut back on the wines. Maybe I’ll go just for passionfruit souffle.

The Ledbury, 127 Ledbury Road, W11 2AQ, 0207 792 9090; Closest tubes: Notting Hill Gate, Westbourne Park, Ladbroke Grove. £70 tasting menu; £40 wine pairings.
Ledbury on Urbanspoon

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The Garrison gastropub near(ish) London Bridge

The Garrison gastropub near(ish) London Bridge

Last weekend was memorably sunny (I’ve lived in London long enough to say things like “I remember that sunny week in April 2007″), so Jon and I headed to the South Bank, one of our favorite places to walk in good weather. Instead of our usual walk west past the Globe and Tate Modern, we headed east towards Tower Bridge to meet our friends Andy and Maggie for lunch at one of their fave gastropubs, the Garrison.

The Garrison has a bright, cheery interior with high ceilings. It feels old and modern at the same time, and it was packed last weekend, as many good gastropubs are. Eating lunch at a gastropub on weekends is the closest ritual here to having brunch, I think.

pork-and-sage meatloaf at the Garrison

pork-and-sage meatloaf at the Garrison

The food options were homey and eclectic. You had classics like roast beef (which looked rare and good, though a bit meagre), and you had a few surprises, like Maggie’s homemade herb-stuffed ravioli.

Me, I couldn’t resist the meatloaf. I haven’t had meatloaf in about ten years. Upon ordering, I worried a bit that I’d end up with a dense brick of meat, a la school cafeteria lunches of days past. But I shouldn’t have worried. My meatloaf was almost – fluffy! There must have been a lot of breadcrumbs in there, because if I closed my eyes, I’d swear I was eating a matzoh ball made of pork. [Oh, wouldn't that be ironic!?] I enjoyed the juicy, meaty, “lightness” of it, and the slightly-firm, bright veg on the side were also great. The potatoes were stale, which was too bad. I’ll bet when they came out of the oven, they were magnificently crispy.

salmon fillet and veg at the Garrison

salmon fillet and veg at the Garrison

For the healthier among you (Jon, my make-me-look-bad husband), the fish options were good, too, but why eat fish when you can have meatloaf? Obviously.

Service was cheery, but really, really slow. Your classic two-servers-for-a-hundred people scenario. The tables looked more comfy than the booths, oddly enough. Our booth seemed proportioned for, I dunno, leprechauns(?) (and I am not a tall person), so prepare to have your knees knocked up a bit if you end up at a booth.

The Garrison was a lively, pretty place, and if it were in my neighborhood, I’d be there all the time. But it’s about a 15-minute walk from London Bridge station, so I’ll go back only if I’m taking visitors out to see the Tower of London/Tower Bridge. Andy and Maggie love the breakfasts there, but note that the Garrison stops serving brekkie at 11, which is a bit early for me.

Most starters cost about £5; most mains £14/£15. Our total tab for main courses only, coffees and (my fave) Luscombe lemonades came to about £20 a person.

The Garrison, 99-101 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3XB, 0207 089 9355; closest tube station: London Bridge

Garrison on Urbanspoon

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September 2008 Stats

In an effort to do as Krista does at Londonelicious (but without snazzy graphics because I’m a technologically-challenged moron that way), here’s my summary of September 2008 stats for this blog.

I had 15,786 page views last month, and over the last 30 days, my top five blog-only (i.e., not google or other “regular” website) sources of traffic were:

Londonelicious (by far my biggest source of traffic from a blog)

The Thoughtful Dresser (a fun and smart read, so give it a try even though it’s nothing to do with food)

Gourmet Chick (many thanks for linking to my posts on Russia and even trying out one of my recs)

Tasty Treats (whom many of you know as Charmaine Mok, an increasingly-prolific TimeOut reviewer)

New Yorker in London (not entirely a food blog, but that’s what’s fun about checking Tara’s blog)

Thanks to the wonderful bloggers above who bring me traffic, and of course, thanks to all of you for reading and commenting.

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