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Archive for June, 2009

salmon sashimi bowl at Ten Ten Tei in Soho

salmon sashimi and roe don (bowl) at Ten Ten Tei in Soho

For a couple of weeks, Jon had been telling me we should go to Ten Ten Tei. He works near Covent Garden and apparently Ten Ten Tei has become a lunch fave of his. By way of background, I should explain that Jon isn’t the world’s biggest fan of sushi, mostly because he often feels hungry soon afterwards. But lingering post-meal hunger isn’t an issue at Ten Ten Tei, which offers a lot of food for the money.

prawn and veg tempura at Ten Ten Tei

Take, for example, my order of the “tempura set dinner,” which at £19 was easily one of the most expensive items on the menu. The prawn tempura was pretty tasty – sweet prawn; crispy, greaseless panko-crusted exterior. The veg tempura, a lot less impressive, with a somewhat-soggy flour batter-based crust. But check out all the food that accompanied my tempura:

tuna and salmon sashimi

tuna and salmon sashimi

A bowl of tuna and salmon sashimi, which tasted firm and fresh, and while not the silkiest, most flavorful sashimi I’ve ever had, it was better than what I get for lunch at Itsu by a mile.

agedashi tofu

agedashi tofu

Agedashi tofu. Another accompaniment to my tempura dinner. Crispy outside; creamy, soft inside. Satisfying stuff.

chicken teriyaki

chicken teriyaki

Chicken teriyaki. Also came with my tempura dinner. Moist, dark meat with a light, simple teriyaki sauce (no gloppy, over-sugary grossness in sight, thank goodness). Oh, and I can’t forget the miso soup. Also part of my set dinner.

Really, Jon could’ve shared just my dinner alone, but instead, Jon ordered himself two main courses: first, a salmon-sashimi-and-roe bowl for £10 (pictured at top). Simple, fresh and satsifying. I hadn’t eaten so much salmon roe since our trip to Russia last year, and I’d missed the way the roe bursts in your mouth with saltiness and creaminess. How great to have a bowl of the stuff.

And then Jon also ordered himself a prawn tempura udon soup, which was, of course, enormous. And at just £6, a meal itself.

Ten Ten Tei isn’t the best sushi of your life, but I think it ranks up there for the title of “best value sushi” of your life. Our tab for a ton of food and a few beers came to £20 a person. We could easily have left with an even more modest bill if we hadn’t over-ordered.

Everything we tried at Ten Ten Tei tasted fresh; the service was helpful; and holy cow, the portions were generous. If you find yourself in Soho looking for good-value sushi, this is the place for you.

Ten Ten Tei, 56 Brewer Street, W1R 3PJ; 020 7287 1738; closest tube station: Piccadilly Circus
Ten Ten Tei on Urbanspoon

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Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi

Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi

I’d intended to do only one more post on Istanbul (a wrap-up of the good and bad meals we had there), but in looking over my notes and photos from the trip, I thought the Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi deserved a dedicated shout-out.

Left to my own devices, I would’ve avoided the place. It was (1) listed in our guidebook and (2) located in the tourist-packed neighborhood of Sultanahmet – two factors that scream “tourist-hell-to-be-avoided.”

But you see, Jon has a few Istanbullu friends (as in: Turkish friends currently living in Istanbul). And we’d asked them for recommendations. And independently of each other, two of them called this place the best koftecisi in town. [Koftecisi, in case you didn't guess, means the place serves one thing only: kofte, aka the burger of Turkey.]

kofte at the Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi in Istanbul

kofte at the Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi in Istanbul

Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi is a massive restaurant, covering at least three floors. And yet, both times we ate there (yes, it was so tasty, fast and cheap we stopped by twice), the place was packed. Yes, there are tourists. But there were a lot more Turkish-speakers than there were guidebook-toting peeps like us.

And it’s a perfect example of why it pays to be a specialist. There’s a menu, but really, it’s unnecessary, because the only decisions you’re asked to make are: (1) how many orders of hot-off-the-grill kofte you want; and (2) what kofte accompaniments do you want. Being big eaters, my friends and I ordered one plate of kofte each, and they were juicy, smokey, and addictively cuminy-meaty. Ask your server for some chili-paprika sauce, and you’ll be in heaven.

salad that accompanies your kofte at Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi

salad that accompanies your kofte at Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi

In case the meat is just too much, you can also get some “salad” – creamy white beans and crunchy lettuce and carrots – to go with your kofte.

Despite having stuffed ourselves both times, our tab for four (including soft drinks) never exceeded 80 Turkish Lira/£30. That’s about £8 a person for a fast, tasty meal in the heart of Istanbul’s tourist district. Tarihi Koftecisi is cheap, convenient and tasty. I couldn’t have asked for a better lunch break in between all the sightseeing and shopping.

Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi Selim Usta, Divan Yolu (ordu) Caddesi 12; 212-520-0566; near Sultanahmet tram station. Note all the similarly-named competitors nearby and don’t be fooled.

If you enjoyed reading this post, you might also enjoy:

  • this post about our favorite cheap meal in Istanbul at the Furran Balikcilik in the Karakoy Fish Market
  • this post about our favorite high-end meal in Istanbul at Muzede Changa

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roti canai at Rasa Sayang

roti canai at Rasa Sayang Malaysian restaurant in Soho

roti canai at Sedap Malaysian restaurant in Clerkenwell

roti canai at Sedap Malaysian restaurant in Clerkenwell

In between our trips to Barcelona, Paris and Istanbul last month (yes, I’m gloating), Jon and I would return to London craving cheap-and-cheerful Asian food. And after seeing Rasa Sayang lauded by Tamarind & Thyme (who knows a thing or two about Malaysian food), we visited there one Saturday evening with friends, and on two other occasions, we stayed closer to home to try Sedap, which got a positive writeup in TimeOut. Both Rasa Sayang and Sedap serve homestyle Malaysian food, so it seems worth comparing them directly.

First up: roti canai. While Rasa Sayang’s roti was slightly crispier and flakier than Sedap’s, I liked that the chicken curry at Sedap was meatier and more substantial an accompaniment. Still, for me, it’s all about the roti, so advantage to Rasa Sayang.

nasi lemak at Rasa Sayang restaurant

nasi lemak at Rasa Sayang restaurant

nasi lemak at Sedap restaurant in Clerkenwell

nasi lemak at Sedap restaurant in Clerkenwell

Second up: Nasi lemak. Although Rasa Sayang’s rice was (as Tamarind & Thyme said) beautifully perfumed with coconut milk and the accompanying bits and bobs were varied and tasty, I give the slight edge to Sedap’s version just because their rice was equally good, and they left their eggs slightly soft (rather than chalky like at Rasa Sayang). Advantage to Sedap.

fried pomfret, a clunker at Rasa Sayang

fried pomfret, a clunker at Rasa Sayang

And now the head-to-head comparisons end. My problem with Rasa Sayang, overall, was that the dishes varied enormously in quality. Rasa Sayang’s fried pomfret , for example, was tiny, dry and lacking meat. A total bummer. And the beef rendang – the night I ate at Rasa Sayang, the beef was tough and stringy. The sauce had a nice balance of spicy, sweet and meaty, but I suspect the beef was just dumped in at the last minute, rather than slow cooked to tenderness. Sloppy and disappointing. Oh, and the curry puffs – they were a giant ball of fried batter, pretty much. While I am a card-carrying member of the I Love Fried Food club, watching all the oil ooze out of these strangely curry-free balls was frightening.

curry laksa at Sedap Malaysian restaurant

curry laksa at Sedap Malaysian restaurant

While Sedap also had its clunkers (the vegetable dumplings were outrageously tough-skinned), overall, the food seemed more consistently tasty across the menu. The curry laksa, for example, included a generous portion of tender, sweet prawns, and the broth had a meaty taste with just enough coconut milk to cut the spice. Jon’s char kway teow was deliciously smoky and full of goodies like Chinese sausage.

Service at Rasa Sayang was chaotic and slow, while Sedap’s service was good-natured and attentive. Prices at both were comparable (£6-8 for most mains), meaning that even after ordering starters, mains and a couple of beers, I never paid more than £20 a person at either restaurant

While Rasa Sayang and Sedap are both welcome additions to the category of cheap-and-cheerful neighborhood places, given a choice, I’ll stick with Sedap. Rasa Sayang hit a few high notes, but not so many that I’d make it a destination. Especially when I live ten minutes away from Old Street.

Rasa Sayang, 5 Macclesfield Street (next door to the original Leong’s Legends), W1D 5; 0207 734 1382; closest tube station: Leicester Square

Sedap, 102 Old Street, EC1V 9AY; 0207 490 0200; closest tube station: Old Street

Rasa Sayang on Urbanspoon

Sedap on Urbanspoon

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Unknown "balik" place at the back of the Karakoy Fish Market in Istanbul

Furran "balik" place at the back of the Karakoy Fish Market in Istanbul

My favorite cheap dining experience in Istanbul was at a seriously no-frills balik (fish) place along the water, at the back of the Karakoy Fish Market. Although I have a business card telling me the place’s name is Furran Balikcilik, there’s no signage anywhere, so you’d have to recognize it by the bright red, checked tablecloths made of some type of scratchy wool synthetic (I’m assuming they don’t change table linens). We came across this particular balikcisi after having braved the scary tout gauntlet known as the lower level of the Galata Bridge. Spotting the Karakoy Fish Market, we figured where there’s a fish market, there’s bound to be a fish restaurant, and sure enough, there were several to choose from.

What this particular place lacked in style, it made up for in fresh seafood at low prices. There was no menu, but even if there’d been one, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been in English. Our server didn’t speak English, but no worries – he walked me over to a nearby fish market stall so I could pick out what I wanted: sea bream, mackerel, calamari, and anchovies.

The “kitchen” is a shack made of what appears to be blue scrap metal, and while most of the cooking is done over a fiery grill, there does appear to be some electricity coursing in there via a portable generator.

Fifteen minutes later, our server brought all our goodies, along with a basket of cheap bread, iceberg lettuce, chunks of raw onion, and wedges of lemon.

fried anchovies at an unnamed Karakoy Fish Market place

fried anchovies at Furran Balikcilik in Karakoy Fish Market

Every table around us ordered these plates of fried anchovies. So we had to have them. And these were really good. Lightly battered and expertly fried, the anchovies were meaty and juicy inside. Just a squeeze of lemon and I was set. The anchovies alone would’ve made the meal worthwhile, especially for 6 Turkish Lira (£2.40) a plate.

grilled sea bream

grilled sea bream

grilled mackerel

grilled mackerel

Grilled sea bream was one of the pricier items at 10 Turkish Lira (£4), and of course it was still the bargain of a lifetime. Those guys working in the makeshift kitchen should come over to London and open up a fish restaurant, because the perfectly salted-and-crisped skin on this thing was how fish should be made. Always. Same with the grilled mackerel (a humbler fish with a humbler price tag of 6 Turkish Lira).

fried calamari

fried calamari

Last, but not least, our fried calamari was definitive proof that the man working the fryer at this place is a genius. All the makings of dream calamari came together – fresh calamari, a light batter, and a guy who must practice making this dish hundreds of times a day.

With drinks, our lunch for four people cost 40 Turkish Lira (£16), total. Everyone traveling to Istanbul should give this place a try. It brought to mind summertime eating at lobster shacks in Maine. I loved it.

Furran Balikcilik not far from the much-written-about Tarihi Karakoy Balik Lokantasi. From Eminonu, cross the Galata Bridge and turn left. Walk through the Karakoy Fish Market, and when the fish stalls end, you’ll see this place on your left, right on the water. There’s no sign, so look for the bright red, checked tablecloths made of some type of scratchy wool synthetic. If you want to keep your lunch down, try not to look at the frantically-rocking boats moored nearby.

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views of the Bosporous at Muzede Changa restaurant in Istanbul

views of the Bosporous at Muzede Changa restaurant in Istanbul

Two weeks ago, Jon and I were in Istanbul for the bank holiday. The sites, shopping and food were amazing, but our favorite high-end meal by a wide margin was at Muzede Changa, where Peter Gordon (of Providores fame) is consulting chef.

Located inside the Sakip Sabanci Museum in Emirgan, a leafy, ritzy part of town, the restaurant is a bit of a hike from Sultanahmet, the touristy section of Istanbul where we stayed. Luckily, on the Saturday night we ate at Muzede Changa, there was a ferry running from Eminonu to Emirgan. The journey was a 45-minute cruise up the Bosporous, passing all the big palaces, abandoned yalis and the sleek Bosprous Bridge. At just 1.4 Turkish Lira (90 cents/55 pence) for the ride, the ferry journey was itself a relaxing and cheap treat. (I especially admired the ferry’s tea-seller, who was able to memorize and track dozens of orders while running up and down stairs, delivering hot tea and change, and collecting empty cups and payment).

The Muzede Changa dining room included a large outdoor patio with views of the Bosporous, which is where we settled for the evening. I loved the casual-elegant decor and the thoughtful gesture of warm blankets for everyone (for when the weather turned slightly cool after sunset). Muzede Changa had me at hello.

artichoke and snap pea mezze at Muzede Changa

artichoke and snap pea mezze at Muzede Changa

We met several friends at the restaurant, making us a party of eight, and with such a big group, we were able to share a lot of dishes. Incredibly, every dish I tried ranged from merely “classic and tasty” to “what-a-unique-mix-of-flavors and tasty.” I know it’s super trite to talk about East-meets-West when in Istanbul, but Muzede Changa’s cooking reflected this idea in an elegant, seemingly-effortless way.

cold mezze of salmon and assorted legumes

cold mezze of salmon and assorted legumes

Salmon, for example, isn’t something I normally get too excited about it. Served as one of our mixed mezze (snacks), the fish itself was silky, and the blend of tang, salt and creaminess of mung beans, chick peas and olives livened things up.

fried aubergine

fried aubergine

Our dozens of mezze included a lot of expertly-fried goodies. Aubergine, a staple in most Istanbullu restaurants we tried, turned up in sweet, smooth form under a crisp, grease-free layer of bread crumbs. Dipped in fresh, zingy yoghurt, these slices were my favorite of the many very good fried mezze we shared.

clove-flavored lamb kofte with goat cheese salad

clove-flavored lamb kofte with goat cheese salad

After stuffing ourselves on shared mezze, we each ordered main courses. Although I’d already eaten some great kofte at the inexpensive-but-brilliant Tarihi Koftecisi, I still thought Muzede Changa’s version, which was infused with the rich flavor of cloves and paired with a tangy-creamy goat cheese salad, was worth every penny.

updated baklava, served with clotted cream and quince puree

updated baklava, served with clotted cream and quince puree

Despite having eaten my weight in mezze and kofte, I couldn’t resist trying the restaurant’s take on baklava, which I normally can’t handle because it’s too dense and sticky. Muzede Changa’s version, of course, was “modern” (i.e., light). The accompanying quince puree added just the smallest bit of refreshing sweetness and moisture while allowing the phyllo to keep its crispiness.

While Muzede Changa wasn’t cheap by Istanbullu standards (mixed mezze for two: 86 TL /£33; main courses: 30 TL/£12; desserts: 15 TL/£6), the prices were reasonable by London ones, especially for the quality of the food, service and surroundings.

With a few bottles of excellent Turkish wines and several cocktails, our tab came to 130 TL/£50 a person. (You could eat for a lot less if you skipped the booze).

I’d go back to Istanbul just to relive our dinner there, but next time I’ll try to go earlier to see the museum.

Muzede Changa, Sakip Sebanci Caddesi No. 22; Emirgan 34467, Istanbul, Turkey; +90 212 323 09 01;

How to Get There: It’s a 10-minute walk to the right from the Emirgan ferry stop, which is reached via a 45-minute cruise from Eminonu (1.40 TL/55 p). The ferry doesn’t run late or even very often, but our taxi back to Sultanahmet cost about 40 TL/£15 and took only 30 minutes via the (not-nearly-as-scenic) highway.

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Moti Mahal downstairs dining area (photo from www.Londontown.com)

Moti Mahal downstairs dining area (photo from http://www.Londontown.com)

Two Saturdays ago, Jon and I were craving Indian food and saw that normally-pricey Moti Mahal was offering a £20 dinner menu, so we decided to try it out.

When we arrived, we were happy to find a sleek, warm-colored dining room buzzing with conversation.  The upstairs room was not for us, though.  Instead, we were led downstairs, which was also an attractive space, but seemingly full of families with kids.  I’m not anti-kids at restaurants, but as a sans-kid adult, I wished we could’ve stayed upstairs.  (When we asked to switch tables, our server super-politely told us the upstairs tables were already fully booked, and I didn’t have it in me to be bitchy about it – surprise, I know).

So because we’d had to let the restaurant know in advance that we were interested in the £20 menu, our server immediately handed us only that “special” menu.  And really, it was comprised entirely of dishes from your local Indian takeaway (i.e., tikka masala, lamb vindaloo).  Where were all those creative, modern takes on Indian food that we’d read Moti Mahal specializes in?

So we asked to see the a la carte menu, which seemed to take our server a while to find, and when it arrived, we saw there was no overlap at all between the a la carte and the £20 menu .   I’d expected Moti Mahal to showcase some of its tastiest, most creative dishes on the £20 menu in an effort to get diners to return and try the more comprehensive a la carte menu, but instead, it seems Moti Mahal is operating two restaurants in the same physical space.

khargosh ki seekh (rabbit kofte) at Moti Mahal

khargosh ki seekh (rabbit kofte) at Moti Mahal

So, a la carte it was.  Jon’s rabbit kofte (khargosh ki seekh) was spicy, moist and flavorful.  We liked it, but at the end of the day,  it’s minced meat on a stick, so £9 seemed a bit steep.

bhalla papdi chaat at Moti Mahal

bhalla papdi chaat at Moti Mahal

I was much more impressed with my bhalla papdi chaat, which included crisp pastry bits, yoghurt, chili, tamarind, pomegranate seeds and assorted fritters.  Although I’m pretty sure this is a cheap street dish in India, I enjoyed the variety of textures and flavors – chili heat and cooling yogurt is one of my fave food combos.

allepy konch (roasted prawns in a seafood-coconut broth) at Moti Mahal

allepy konch (roasted prawns in a seafood-coconut broth) at Moti Mahal

Jon’s allepy konch (two enormous grilled prawns in a creamy veg stew) was delicately perfumed with coconut milk.  The two large prawns were perfectly cooked (i.e., sweet and on just the right side of firmness).   The stew wasn’t visually appealing, but it was tasty.  Overall, though, an additional prawn and a smaller portion of the thick stew would’ve been ideal.  The dish was, after all, £19.

sorpotel (boar stew) with poached egg at Moti Mahal

sorpotel (boar stew) with poached egg at Moti Mahal

Our server recommended the sorpotel, which is a boar and okra stew, and while I loved the poached egg with masala seasoning (spiciness + creaminess = tastiness), half the wild boar pieces were tender and sweet, and the other half were a bit dry and stringy.   And then there was some additional puffy/spongy thing that didn’t add flavor or texture.  Disappointing for £18.

Overall, Moti Mahal as a mixed bag.  The decor, vibe and service were pluses, and the food had its promising moments, so maybe for £20 a person and an expectation for curry takeaway classics, I’d return.  But with wine and a couple of extras like rice and dal makhani (which was deliciously rich and creamy), our tab for two was £100, making our dinner a pretty mediocre value.

Moti Mahal, 45 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5AA; 0207 240 9329; closest tube station: Covent Garden
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Banzi Vietnamese restaurant in Surrey Quays, London

Banzi Vietnamese restaurant in Surrey Quays, London

Having just spent a weekend in Paris eating a lot of banh mi, you’d think I would’ve satisfied my craving for this bit of East-West sandwich deliciousness. But no, the minute I got back to London, I continued to wonder who sells the stuff here.

Cue Charmaine, who left a comment on my blog, telling me there’s banh mi to be found in Surrey Quays, which a google search revealed is not far from Canada Water station. Finally, my working in Canary Wharf turns out to be convenient to something yummy!

So, after work last Friday, I dragged Jon east on the Jubilee Line to Canada Water, and then it was a quick bus ride down to the Surrey Quays shopping center (I’ve never in my life seen such an enormous Tesco, by the way). Five minutes’ walk later, we were at Banzi.

The place is tiny and nondescript. It’s not a dive, but it’s not much to look at. The dining room’s lone server was doing her best to handle the sudden flood of diners coming in at around 7:30 pm, so Jon and I grabbed our own menus from a pile I spotted in the corner.

I eagerly scanned the menu, and there it was: a whole section of the menu devoted to banh mi, and none cost more than £4.

grilled pork banh mi at Banzi restaurant, London

grilled pork banh mi at Banzi restaurant, London

We slogged through a few forgettable appetizers – a spicy chili fried prawn dish with an unpleasantly-soft coating and a banh xeo that was all sprouts and hardly anything else inside – and then, my wish was fulfilled: a generous serving of grilled pork banh mi. Thick slices of barbecued pork, lots of pickled veg, coriander, cucumber, chili spice, and creamy, slightly-sweet mayonnaise. The baguette was of the par-baked supermarket variety (crispy and hot when hot out of the oven but otherwise too sugary). In one bite, I could taste sweet, salty, spicy, creamy and smoky flavors. The beauty of banh mi.

Banzi’s version was a tad too heavy on the mayo and overall sugariness, but I’ll definitely be back the next time I need my banh mi fix. The place is a bit of a schlepp, but it’s closer than Paris, and it appears there are other worthwhile Vietnamese places in the area. Maybe one of those other places serves banh mi, too.

Banzi Vietnamese restaurant, 237 Lower Road, SE16 2LW; 0207 394 0906. Closest tube station: Canada Water
Banzi on Urbanspoon

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