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Archive for July, 2010

Dishoom

The Dishoom PR deluge started innocently enough – a small blurb at the bottom of a Daily Candy email. But within 48 hours of my seeing that email, Dishoom was mentioned seemingly everywhere (try googling Dishoom + London).

While I was tempted to dismiss all the hype and ignore Dishoom for a while, my friend J, who grew up in south India, was immediately drawn to Dishoom’s concept of a vintage Mumbai cafe.  This enthusiasm arose even before any generally-positive reviews like this one in TimeOut had been published.

For starters, there’s the name:  Dishoom! is an onomatopoeia for gun shooting in old Bollywood movies and shows, and anyone who longs for old Batman TV episodes (packed with Ka-Pow!’s and Bam!’s) can understand the nostalgia and fun promised by a place so named.

interior of Dishoom

Happily, Dishoom lives up to the hype.  For now, the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, but when Jon and I arrived on Saturday night with our party of five, we waited only ten minutes for a comfy booth to open up. And while waiting, we were each served a glass of warm, spicy chai. The little things go a long way.

Jon and I were slackers and let our friends from India, J & N, order everything for the table:  keema pau, pau bhaji, chilli cheese toast, desi fish fingers, Dishoom roomali rolls to start, and a lot of grill items, black dal and biryani for our mains.

pau bhaji (£3.90)

I think the risk for restaurants selling nostalgia is that if the food isn’t served exactly the way someone grew up eating it, you’re sunk. For example, Jon and I really enjoyed the keema pau (a spicy minced lamb topping accompanied by rounds of buttered toast) and pau bhaji (mashed veg stew with the same rounds of toast). Both dishes were deliciously spicy and fragrant, but N didn’t like the pau bhaji because she preferred the veg to come in bigger chunks instead of mashed.

chilli cheese toast (£2.90)

"desi" fish fingers (£3.90)

Chilli cheese toast was more interesting than tasty. The layer of cheese was thick and a tad congealed, and overall it tasted dry.  But I loved the thought of all these kids in India growing up on, effectively, spicy grilled cheese. Ditto on the desi fish fingers, which were just, you know, fish fingers, the term ‘desi’ notwithstanding.  I guess it’s the tamarind sauce that distinguishes it from regular fish fingers.

Dishoom chicken roomali roll (£6.50)

My favorite of the starters was the “Dishoom chicken roomali roll,” which had a great mix of textures and flavors: moist chicken, crunchy nuts, cool crisp greens and a sweet-tangy sauce. Minor quibble was that the roti tasted pretty dry, especially at the ends where the roti bunched up, but if Mooli’s sold kathi rolls like these, I’d be there every day.

spicy lamb chops (£9.20 for three pieces)

Spicy lamb chops “rubbed with crushed black pepper and chillies” were fantastic.  I love that the kitchen didn’t hold back on the spice rub, and the chops were thick and juicy.  Our table devoured two orders of these.  Murgh malai (£6.50), a mild grilled chicken dish, was also a hit.  The beauty of chicken thigh marinated in cream before grilling is not to be underestimated.

black daal (£4.50)

Black dal (aka dal makhani) is always a treat to see on a restaurant menu because the number of hours it takes to cook up a good one is something beyond most home cooks’ schedules.  Dishoom’s dal makhani was wonderfully smoky and rich.  Try not to think about all the cream and ghee in there, of course.  We ordered two of these, as well.

chicken berry biryani (£7.50)

I’m the only one at our table who enjoyed the chicken berry biryani.  I hate when biryanis are too wet and weighed down by fillings, so that would explain why I enjoyed Dishoom’s version, which was comprised of fluffy, fragrant basmati with just a sprinkle of oil and spices.  It’s true there weren’t many berries or chicken pieces in it, but for me the joy of biryani comes from the crunchy bits of rice off the bottom of the pan, of which there were plenty in our serving.

The dining room was lively and ready-to-be-franchised attractive.  Our servers were attentive and fast, and prices were low, especially given the touristy theatreland neighborhood.  Assorted extras like raita, roti and naan were all priced under 2 quid, and most of the wine list options were less than 30.  Unlike other bloggers whose reviews I’ve seen so far, I was perfectly happy to pay £1 for large bottles of filtered water, and the fact that 20p of each bottle goes to charity was icing on the cake.

Our table of five ordered two bottles of wine for £60, so the cost of our dinner per person was £29.   Great value for the food, service and location.  I’ll be back.  The lamb chops and black dal are already calling to me as I type, and if Dishoom becomes as ubiquitous as the Cheesecake Factory, I won’t hold it against them.  They’ll have earned their popularity.

Dishoom, 12 Upper St Martins Lane, WC2H 9FB; 020 7420 9320; closest Tube stations: Covent Garden and Leicester Square
Dishoom on Urbanspoon

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Tsuru Bishopsgate/Spitalfields

I love working near Spitalfields market, partly because it means my commute is short, and mostly because the food options are about ten thousand times better than they were in Canary Wharf.  Still, I’m nothing if not a complainer, and for a while I’ve bemoaned the lack of good sushi options for lunch.  Itsu is OK in a pinch.  Japanika isn’t bad but there’s no seating.

A few months ago, I was excited to learn on “Good for Lunch” that Tsuru Sushi had opened a branch at 201 Bishopsgate.  Bizarrely, despite keeping an eye out for Tsuru while walking on Bishopsgate numerous times, I couldn’t find it.

So here’s my tip for those in search of sushi when near Liverpool Street station:  despite the restaurant’s Bishopsgate address, Tsuru’s entrance is actually off Primrose Street, and even from Primrose Street, it’s easy to miss.  You’re more likely to see the Pret a Manger next door because for some reason, Tsuru has eschewed proper signage.

salmon-avocado rolls and prawn tempura rolls (background)

salmon-avocado rolls in the foreground (£3.95) and prawn tempura rolls in the background (£4.25)

In any case, Tsuru is worth searching out.  The ready-made rolls always taste freshly made.  In fact, a couple of times, the prawn tempura in the prawn tempura rolls was still warm and crispy.  Yum.  Another plus:  the rice isn’t stone hard/refrigerated to within an inch of its life.  For ready-made stuff, Tsuru’s rolls are  good.

pork katsu curry (£6.10)

I should confess I’m not always eating healthy when I drop by Tsuru.  Pork katsu curry hits all the buttons – crispy, relatively grease-free, and generous amounts of slightly-sweet curry and rice.  You can order it in chicken, too, but given the choice, I’ll take pig every time.

chicken teriyaki (£6.35)

Chicken teriyaki (looking kind of gross in the above picture, I must say) is comprised of thigh meat, which is my fave if I have to eat chicken.  It’s not bad, but when I’m ordering a hot lunch, the katsu curries always win me over.

Tsuru’s outdoor seating on a nice day is shady and pleasant, and there’s plenty of indoor seating as well.  For a quick, inexpensive and tasty lunch during the work week, Tsuru is a great option.  You can even get tap water served in a proper glass.

Tsuru Sushi, 201 Bishopsgate (but accessible only via Primrose Street, look for it next to a Pret a Manger), EC2M 3UG; 0207 377 1166; closest tube station: Liverpool Street Station

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Hix Oyster and Chop House

Since March, Jon has been training to do a relay swim across the English Channel. Beginning tomorrow evening, he and his teammates will be waiting for their crossing boat pilot to tell them “today’s the day.” And then they’ll be setting off from the dark shores of Dover sometime after midnight, dodging tankers, jellyfish and waves to (hopefully) reach France in 12-15 hours’ time.

It’s nuts. And I’m proud of him for even getting this far, of course.

What’s this to do with food, you ask?

One of the beauties of Jon’s endless training is that he’s constantly hungry and has worked for months to *gain* weight (it helps with the chilly water, apparently). So a few weeks ago, I wasn’t surprised when Jon announced he wanted steak for dinner, and he didn’t want to travel far from our neighborhood (because of course he had early-morning swim practice the next day). Cue Hix Oyster and Chop House.

mint and pea soup (£7)

We convinced our friends, J & N, to schlepp over from Maida Vale to join us, and first impressions were good: a nostalgia-inducing tiled room with a long bar and flattering soft lighting. Service was friendly but distracted (e.g., our server gave the four of us only one menu and then completely disappeared for ten minutes), but we were forgiving as it was a World Cup match night for England.

We shared three starters – oysters, a mint-and-pea soup, and scallops – all of which were fine, but not memorable (except for the £14.50 we paid for the scallops, anyway).

beef and oyster pie (£15.95)

What *was* memorable? The beef-and-oyster pie was as good as I remembered Londonelicious describing it. A flaky crust that tasted as good as it looked, and a filling that was rich and thick and chock full of generous hunks of beef and oyster.

Websters fish fingers (£12.95)

porterhouse steak for two (£65)

Memorably disappointing were the fish fingers (much too salty) and the porterhouse steak for two, a travesty for £65. I’d thought that, because we were around the corner from Smithfield Market and were at a restaurant with the words “chop house” in the name, steak would be a good bet. Sadly, although the meat looked good (thick cut, charred exterior, rare interior), the steak was chewy, and worst of all – no flavor. Maybe it’s time for me to give up on steak in London? (Admittedly, I haven’t been to Hawksmoor, but Goodman, for example, expensive and disappointing).

Other than the decor, the excellent steak-and-oyster pie, and a bottle of tasty Douro wine for £29, Hix Oyster and Chop House was a disappointment for everyone in our group except Jon, who at least accomplished his primary goal of taking in a lot of calories. If only we all had trouble gaining weight, no?

Including wine, three shared starters, three sides and four mains, our total came to £50 a person.

Hix Oyster & Chop House, 36-37 Greenhill Rents (just off Cowcross Street); EC1M 6BN; 0207 017 1930; closest tube station: Farringdon.
Hix Oyster & Chop House on Urbanspoon

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Jamie Oliver's Fifteen (Italian) Restaurant

Having eaten a delicious dinner at Trullo last week (which was opened a few weeks ago by one of the first fifteen chef-apprentices trained at Fifteen restaurant), Jon and I thought it was about time we tried eating at Fifteen. It is, after all, just a 20-minute walk away from our house, right off the stretch of City Road between Old Street and Angel stations.

It’s hard to be tough on Fifteen because it’s such a worthy venture, offering chef apprenticeships to what Jamie Oliver‘s website calls “disadvantaged youngsters.” Additionally, all profits go towards the foundation that owns and operates the restaurant.

Eight years in, though, Fifteen offers a menu that seems too routine to justify £8 starters and £20 main courses.  Perhaps Fifteen and Jamie Oliver are victims of their own success – many of us now value knowing where our food comes from and insist on seasonal, quality produce.  So restaurants have followed suit, and so what used to be quite special now seems ho-hum.  Our dinner at Fifteen reminded me of the time I ate at Chez Panisse and left wondering what all the fuss was about. I suspect that part of the reason Chez Panisse seemed so ordinary by the time I got there is because chef-owner Alice Waters had already single-handedly changed the way we ate.

pizza bianco with buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and pesto alla Genovese (£8)

Menu descriptions seemed a bit too fussy, as if masking the ordinariness of the dishes.  A white pizza with mozzarella, tomatoes and “pesto alla Genovese” (aka regular ol’ pesto made from basil and pinenuts) was tasty but also something you could picture at any half-decent gastropub in London these days.

ravioli stuffed with smashed peas and ricotta in a butter-and-mint sauce (£10)

On a hot day, the ravioli stuffed with smashed peas and served in a mint-butter sauce sounded perfect.  But the peas were rather tough and not sweet, and the butter “sauce” appeared to have been made by merely melting a lot of butter on top of the ravioli.  (I generally like to pretend that throwing in a few shallots and white wine makes it healthier).

Italian sausage with dressed Castellucia lentils with Swiss chard and salsa rosa (£19)

Jon *loved* his Italian sausages, and I must admit that they were pretty darn good, with a sweet-spicy flavor from all the anise and fennel seeds in there.  We troll London markets regularly looking for Italian sausage (with often disappointing results), so these were a treat, though £19 seemed a bit steep for what was essentially three grilled sausages.

Angus ribeye with roast garlic-tarragon butter, rocket and pecorino (£22.50)

Ribeye was fine.  Rare.  Juicy.  You know, steak.

risotto ai frutti di mare (£14)

Risotto with ‘fruit of the sea’ was too al dente, I thought.  I think the rice could have used just a little more liquid or oil, at least – it just tasted kind of dry and unpleasant.  The tomato sauce was overly bright and didn’t provide enough moisture.  Kind of a bummer, really.

linguine carbonara - the guanciale was the best part (£15)

Last but not least – the linquine carbonara was saved from utter blandness (because of under-seasoning) by the amazingly-fatty-and-smoky guanciale.  I would have asked for salt, but as attentive as our server was in some ways (bringing plenty of pitchers of tap water to our table without our asking), she was hard to flag down.

Fifteen is still going strong, which is nice to see given its giving-back-to-the-community mission.  On a Sunday evening, the place was packed, and the room is comfortable and still stylish after all these years.  The food is better-than-average, so it’s a nice option to have if you’re in need of a mid-priced meal in Hoxton.  Then again, on the basis of food and price alone, I’d rather walk a tad further to eat at Pizza East or stay in my neighborhood and walk to Trullo.

Total tab for two shared starters, four mains and a £30 bottle of wine (i.e., more than enough to feed and water four people):   £34 a person.

Fifteen Restaurant, 13 Westland Place, N1 7LP, 0871 330 1515; closest tube station: Old Street

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Trullo restaurant

One of my favorite things about keeping a blog is to read the comments left by readers. Last week, I blogged about Palmers, an ambitious restaurant near Victoria Park, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. In the comments section of that blog post, one reader, Mike, recommended that I check out Trullo, an Italian restaurant with River Cafe connections that recently opened close to where I live. I did some googling, and this glowing Dos Hermanos review turned up, so I made a booking asap.

pigeon radicchio salad (£6.50)

Late last Friday evening, Trullo was packed and buzzy. Jon and I were offered the only available two-person table, which was wedged near the kitchen, but the maitre d’ offered to move us to more spacious quarters once tables opened up. We appreciated the offer, but our table was fine once our neighbors left. (Otherwise, the tables do seem very close together).

I started with a pigeon and radicchio salad with Moscatel dressing, which was exactly what I expected and more. The pigeon was rare and tender, and the bitter crunch of the radicchio was balanced by the sweet dressing. I was reminded of some of the outstanding radicchio dishes at Baita Pie’ Tofana in Cortina. Even better than this walk down memory lane was the toast topped with creamy chicken liver. It hadn’t been included in the menu description, so I considered it a bonus. A well-executed and generous portion for £6.50.

tagliarini with brown shrimp and courgettes (£8)

My main course pasta was deliciously simple, as the best pasta tends to be. Tagliarini were silky and delicate, matched perfectly with a giant portion of flavorsome brown shrimp, crunchy courgette slices. The glutton in me wished it had been a larger portion, but actually, it was good that we saved room for a cheese plate and dessert.

scallops grilled on a skewer with Padron peppers and borlotti beans (£16.50)

Jon chose scallops from the “charcoal grill” section of the menu and was rewarded with sweet, raw-on-the-inside, smoky-with-char-on-the-outside scallops. Creamy, firm borlotti beans were a nice, neutral accompaniment.

cheese plate (£7)

By the time we reached the cheese plate and outstanding strawberry-almond tart (£4.50), it was dark outside, so my ability to take photos disappeared.

Trullo is a *very* welcome addition to the neighborhood, and I’m looking forward to bringing friends there. The food’s good, the service is helpful, and the prices are reasonable. I have a feeling I may never get to Zucca now that I have Trullo within walking distance of my house. Actually, even if you live further afield, Trullo is worth a visit.

For two starters, two mains, cheese, dessert and a half bottle of wine for £12, our tab was £60.50.

Trullo Restaurant, 300-302 St. Paul’s Road, N1 2LH; 0207 226 2733; closest tube station: Highbury & Islington
Trullo on Urbanspoon

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Trishna restaurant

I first visited Trishna a year ago when they were publicizing a special “all crab” menu.  At the time, a friend who’d been to the original Trishna restaurant in Mumbai had told us that it was famous for its crab, so I didn’t need further convincing to drop by the relatively-new London outpost.  Sadly, though, my meal at Trishna a year ago turned out to be not very tasty *and* rather expensive.  The crab dishes tasted straight out of a can, and I remember paying through the nose for the privilege.  It was so depressing I didn’t even blog about it at the time.

Then, a few weeks ago, other friends from India told us they were craving Trishna (because they go there semi-regularly) and convinced us to go along with them.  Because we love these friends so much,  Jon and I set aside our misgivings and reluctantly met them there on a warm, Sunday evening.

Trishna fish tikka (£13.50)

First, the prices seem to have decreased since I was last at Trishna, with most dishes costing less than £15.

Second, we avoided all crab dishes on the menu and ate a *lot* better this time around.  Fish tikka (here, cod) was spicy and flavorsome, and while the portion seemed a bit small for £13.50, the four of us each managed to have a large taste despite sharing.

prawns (£9.50) and Hariyali bream (£12.75)

Crunchy, spicy prawns were addictive and something that every bar in London should have on its menu, and Hariyali bream with a coriander marinade was light and refreshing.

Aubergine (£6.75)

Jon and I had let our friends do all the ordering except for my request that we get the aubergine, which turned out to be the one dud of the meal.  More so than usual, the aubergine appeared to have sponged up a lot of oil and tasted of nothing except oil and tamarind.  Avoid.

potatoes (£6), lamb curry (£14.50) and fish curry (£13.50)

Fish curry was so good we ordered two of them, and the lamb curry had a delicate coconut scent that reminded me of Malaysian curries.  I felt transported to some breezy, tropical town in South India.

£3 per bowl of rice was a bit steep, but otherwise, no complaints this time around about the price.  The four of us ate a large amount of flavorsome, light-tasting food for just £32 a person, excluding wine. And as you expect after eating at a higher-end Indian restaurant, there was none of that bloated feeling you sometimes get after a curry house feast.

So the lesson here is that Trishna London, unlike its eponymous parent in Mumbai, while no good at crab, seems to have plenty of other charms.  At the very least, they cook a mean fish curry.  If you’re looking for a stylish spot to eat carefully-prepared south Indian dishes, Trishna is worth a visit.

Trishna London, 15-17 Blandford Street, W1U 3DH; 0207 935 5624.
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