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Archive for the ‘London Eating’ Category

Celia, very concerned about the clouds rolling in at Jamie Oliver's Feastival this weekend

I’ve been supremely distracted these last two weeks.  I’m now a parent.  Celia is two weeks old, and all I can say is that while labour is pretty rough and breastfeeding even rougher, I’m a fan of this parent gig so far.

Celia came into the world via emergency C section.  Thumbs down to the midwives who didn’t identify that Celia was a breech baby until after I’d labored for what felt like forever.  Thumbs up to the surgical team at UCH for being great communicators and total pros.

Feeling restless and with Jon on his last day of paternity leave, we spent this afternoon at Jamie Oliver’s “Feastival,”  a three-day music-slash-food festival this weekend on Clapham Common.  While I’m no music connoisseur and therefore generally characterise the bands performing this afternoon as fun for a sunny day out, I was pleasantly surprised that the food stands were as good as they were.  The restaurants represented are pretty legit from a food lover’s point of view, and the mains sold are all priced at £5.  It was good value once you forgot about the sunk cost of admission to the festival (£35 at the door, but do some googling and you’ll find a few half-price deals on-line).

porchetta muffuletta sandwich from Fifteen

popcorn shrimp from Redhook

chicken satay and roti from Awana

roast lamb and minted yoghurt sandwich from Providores

I enjoyed the food we sampled and am happy to report that La Fromagerie has its own large-ish tent selling freshly-fried donuts and chocolate chip cookies for £1 a piece, and enormous brownies for £2.50 (all of which I’ll vouch for because, umm, I ate one of each).

"cocktail bar" at the Feastival on Clapham Common

Peter Gordon (The Providores) does a cooking demo

In the “cocktail bar” area, we snagged seats on comfy outdoor sofas and enjoyed Pimms (a somewhat-pricey £7.50 a glass) in the sunshine, and then we checked out the Providores‘ Peter Gordon doing a cooking demonstration (winner tip of the day:  cook couscous in cold or tepid water so that it doesn’t get claggy).

Overall, a relaxed and tasty experience for a sunny weekend.  If you’re at loose ends tomorrow or Sunday, give the Feastival a try.  All proceeds go to charity, so even if you find the admission price a bit high, just remember the money goes to these good causes.

As for me, I’m going to take a break from this blog.  I’ll be back in three weeks (on Monday, 25 July), hopefully with an idea of what to do with this restaurant and travel blog now that I’ve got un bebe.  Suggestions welcomed!

Jamie Oliver’s “Feastival,” on Clapham Common from Friday, 1 July through Sunday, 3 July.  Admission is £35 per adult, and food and drinks are additional (but generally reasonably priced) once you’re admitted.

Half-price tickets were available earlier in the week via LittleBird, TimeOut, Lastminute.com, and Groupon, though I’m not sure which of these offers are still available.  Closest Tube station:  Clapham Common.  Look for the tents when you exit the station – it’s less than a ten-minute walk.

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dim sum platter (£12.50)

Hakkasan is well known for its sleek Christian Liaigre-designed interior and its sky-high prices.  The place has done well enough that there’s now a Mayfair location, as well as outposts around the world.  And with Alan Yau no longer the man in charge, you can’t help wondering if the food and service are still any good.

I have a slightly different image of Hakkasan, though, as a place that serves up very good Chinese food using quality ingredients at reasonable prices.  Hakkasan’s menu is huge and diverse in price and style, and the cost of your meal can very enormously depending on what you order.

Several times a year, Jon and I drop by for what can only be called a casual dinner.  The only thing that keeps us from going more often is the effort it takes to dress up a bit (though jeans and a black T seem to go over just fine on a Sunday or work week night).

Last Sunday night, for example, we were too lazy to cook and wanted to bring my visiting-from-the-US mom someplace good.  And she has a weakness for Chinese food.  So off we went to Hakkasan.

Normally, we don’t bother with starters, but we broke our own rule last Sunday and got the dim sum platter, which was overly steamed.  The rice flour wrappers on all four types of dim sum were gloopy and smooshy, and the reddish-colored one didn’t even taste good.  I think it might have been a tomato wrapper filled with tomato gel.  At least the scallop filling of the shu mai was good.

silver cod in champagne sauce (£35)

We did much better ordering mains, as always.  The one pricey dish I get sucked into at Hakkasan is the restaurant’s signature “silver cod in champagne sauce.”  I know it’s the equivalent of ordering Nobu’s miso cod, but it really is pretty tasty.  Silken shards of cod in a citrus-perfumed champagne sauce.  I look forward to it every time.

tofu, aubergine and mushroom claypot (£12.50)

Silver cod aside, in general, I love the humble claypot dishes at Hakkasan.  Maybe you’re paying a couple quid more than you would at a divey Chinatown place, but at Hakkasan, you get top-notch ingredients and a skilled, consistent hand at the stove.  The tofu and aubergine claypot is a star, with both main ingredients cooked to silky-smooth perfection, and the umami-rich mushrooms boosting an already powerful flavor mix.  Eaten with plain white rice, it’s the best.

twice-cooked Duke of Berkshire pork belly (£15.50)

Twice-cooked pork belly is now available seemingly everywhere, thanks to the growing popularity of Szechuan cuisine, but Hakkasan’s is spiced and flavored just right every time.  There’s just enough kick from the citrus-scented, tongue-numbing Szechuan pepper corns to cut the fattiness of the pork belly, and the medium-firm tofu and cabbage add great texture.  This one is another favorite of mine with white rice.

sauteed morning glory (£10)

Hakkasan always seems to be out of the sauteed snow pea shoots (yet it’s always on the menu), and I always end up with sauteed morning glory as a substitute.  Crunchy, slightly sweet, doing its wonderful vegetable thing.  You can’t have a Chinese meal without greens, yes?

With three bowls of rice at £2.50 a pop and just lots of tap water, our dinner for three people totaled a perfectly-reasonable £105 with service charge.  If we’d avoided the £35 silver cod, I’d say £70 for three people would have qualified as a particularly reasonable cost for a filling and delish dinner.  Point is, you can go to Hakkasan for more than the scene and pricey cocktails.  You can go for the food!  So try to ignore that raucous party of Russian oligarchs nearby and just enjoy the cooking.  There are some real gems on the menu.

Hakkasan, 8 Hanway Place, W1T 1HD; 0207 927 7000; closest Tube station:  Tottenham Court Road.
Hakkasan Hanway Place on Urbanspoon

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Pitt Cue Co. BBQ stall under the Hungerford Footbridge

With the weather so nice yesterday (Friday) and these three recent blog posts (by Hollow Legs, Food Stories and Tehbus) in mind, I checked out the Pitt Cue Co. BBQ stall at just after 8 pm.

Unluckily, at that hour, they’d run out of pretty much everything edible except for three orders of BBQ ribs, which we snapped up pronto.  Not going to lie, though:  I’d schlepped down there with a strong craving for pulled pork, which I’d read was amazing in texture and marinade, and I’d even stopped off at a bakery for my own buns as an accompaniment (i.e., I love pulled pork sandwiches).

But OK, I don’t want to lose *all* touch with reality, lol.   There are worse things one could “settle for” than smoky BBQ ribs, so we paid our 21 quid (£7 a serving) and found a patch of grass near the London Eye to enjoy the Thames view and our smoked goodies.

BBQ ribs served with a few pickles and slaw (£7)

Oddly, our ribs had an amazing texture, a good ratio of fat and meat, and pretty much zero seasoning.  How is that possible?  Based on the texture, the ribs had obviously been cooked for a long time.  But I tasted no spice, little salt and definitely no tang or sweetness.  Maybe we were supposed to get a separate dipping sauce?

The wonderfully tangy pickles at the bottom of the cardboard take-away box added some much-needed flavor, and I was hoping the slaw might help out, too.  But here’s what the slaw looked like:

overly-rough slaw

Whoever was on chop-up-the-cabbage duty totally slacked off.  I don’t mind the odd big piece of cabbage, but the majority of our slaw was comprised of huge chunks of red cabbage, and I didn’t taste much dressing (whether vinegar or mayo based).  A pretty pointless accompaniment to the ribs.

I almost forgot to mention the hunk of greasy grilled bread that comes in the box.  The bread is soaked in fatty pig juices, which is nice, but it’s *so* soaked in juices that it’s soggy, which is not so nice.

So maybe you have to show up earlier in the day to get the good stuff.  Or maybe this is just another summer food stand that we shouldn’t take too seriously.  But it seems that Pitt Cue Co. aims to be something better than “just another food stand,” in which case, there’s room for improvement, at least on the consistency front.

(If you try out Pitt Cue and they’ve run out of food, I’d recommend walking a bit east to the Dishoom pop-up restaurant next to Royal Festival Hall).

Pitt Cue Co. BBQ, under the Hungerford Bridge near Royal Festival Hall from 1pm to about 10pm (but the later you show up in the day, the more likely they’ve run out of food), 7 days a week; closest Tube stations:  Embankment or Waterloo.

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bacon-onion roll at the Ledbury (aka my beloved)

Considering how often I recommend the Ledbury to friends (and how often they report back that they’ve had a marvelous time there), I don’t know how I let over *two years* go by since I last ate there.  It’s sad, really.

Two weeks ago, Jon and I met four close friends for Sunday lunch there.  We were joking about how far we’d all traveled to get to Notting Hill (coming from Islington, Hoxton and Shad Thames).  But you know, the Ledbury is well worth the schlepp.

I’d never been to the Ledbury’s Sunday lunch before, which is a shame because at £40 a person for three courses and several amuses, it’s great value.

The downside for food lovers when ordering a la carte, though, is that a lot of bargaining and bickering breaks out over who orders what.  This is where the Ledbury’s stellar service made its first appearance of the day:  our server noticed several of us wanted to try the Saint-Nectaire truffled toast with buffalo milk curd and onion broth, so with grace and style, she stepped into our conversation and offered that course as an amuse for the table.  This gesture freed us up to try out the other starters.  We both laughed at ourselves for having drawn her attention and loved that she solved our “dilemma” of who would order which starter.

my Sunday lunch starter: courgettes, crab and frozen parmesan

The weather being warm and sunny, and having eaten about five of the Ledbury’s outrageously-delicious bacon-and-onion rolls, I ordered the courgettes, crab and frozen parmesan starter.  The dish was, indeed, super refreshing, though the frozen parmesan wasn’t as interesting a texture or flavor as I’d thought it’d be.  My bad for ordering what amounted to the “chicken option” on the menu.

my friend's Sunday lunch starter: turbot roe, fried turbot and stunningly-good radish

My friend J’s starter of turbot in multiple forms and served with assorted root veg deserves mention for being both visually attractive and surprisingly delicious.  Who would’ve thought radish could steal the show?

a starter the Ledbury threw in as an amuse: Saint-Nectaire (cheese) and truffled toast

Fresh curd of Hampshire buffalo milk with wild mushrooms, and a broth of grilled onions

The major highlight among the starters, though (perhaps of the entire meal) was the truffled, cheesy (Saint-Nectaire) toast served as an amused to our table.  You dip the truffled toast (wonderfully nutty, floral and earthy on its own) into the curd and it’s like the ultimate comfort experience, bringing to mind egg-and-soldiers.  What an outstanding dish.  Next time you eat at the Ledbury, make sure to have this course.

crisp pressed suckling pig with white carrot, Pedro Ximénez and toasted grains

My main course of suckling pig was lovely, though as I get older, I have to say I become less excited about main courses.  It always has to be a sizable portion of protein, so is it just me, or do you feel like the creativity of most kitchens shines in the starter courses?

Jon opts for the (generous) cheese course (£7 supplement)

Dessert time.  Jon goes for the groaning, tempting cheese cart.  He’s a greedy one, but the Ledbury doesn’t hesitate to plate his sizable selection.

wild and Gariguette strawberries, meringue, ewe's milk yoghurt and beignets

Me?  I’m stuffed by the time we get to dessert, but I’m thinking beignets are calling my name.  (Donuts fresh out of the fryer!)  Turns out the beignets of my strawberry, meringue and yoghurt dessert are the least interesting.  I thought I was in for a competent tarting up of Eton mess, but actually, my dessert was mind-blowingly intense and refreshing.  The tangy, creamy ewe’s milk yoghurt was a great foil for the sweet, fragrant strawberries.  Crunchy meringue bits for texture.

Rave reviews around the table for desserts, especially the Ledbury’s creative pairings of creme brulee flavors and ice creams.

caramelised banana galette with salted caramel, passion fruit and peanut oil parfait

Our server noticed that we failed to try one of the desserts on the menu, so once again brought it out as an amuse for our table.  It’s the banana galette with salted caramel, passion fruit and peanut parfait.  A great mix of textures and flavors, but most of all, we love the gesture.  Although we were here for a 3-course Sunday lunch menu, we feel like we’ve gotten a tasting menu.

Our spirits high and our tummies full, we all rolled out of the Ledbury four hours later wondering why we hadn’t been back sooner.  With all the trimmings (aperitifs, wines and coffees), our meal came to £75 a person.  If you’ve eaten out reasonably often in London, you know that there are too many places charging a lot more money for a much lesser experience, so on that basis, I’d call the Sunday lunch at the Ledbury a great value.  Go!

The Ledbury, 127 Ledbury Road, W11 2AQ, 0207 792 9090; Closest tubes: Notting Hill Gate, Westbourne Park, Ladbroke Grove. £40 Sunday lunch menu.  Best deal in town.

The Ledbury on Urbanspoon

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Bea's of Bloomsbury at One New Change near St. Paul's Cathedral

Last weekend, my lovely friends and family in London threw me a baby shower.  Baby showers aren’t big here, but from the name, you’ve probably guessed that the occasion revolves around “showering” the mom-to-be with gifts.  Essentially, this means the shower was tons of fun for me and required tons of goodwill and patience on the part of friends and family who attended.

My friends couldn’t have chosen a better venue for the shower:  afternoon tea at the newish Bea’s of Bloomsbury location at One New Change.  Unlike neighboring restaurant, Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa, which is large and loud and mediocre, Bea’s is quiet, relaxing and maintains the same high standards that you’ll find at the original Bea’s of Bloomsbury location.

meringues, 'mallows, brownies, blondies, scones . . . oh my!

The decor at Bea’s at New Change is sleek and chic, and what I most appreciated was how everything tasted as good as it looked.  The cheeky serving tiers at our tea held buttery, crumbly scones, rich brownies and chewy meringues.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the blondies, which tasted unpleasantly under-baked, but happily that was the only clunker at our tea.

cupcakes and savouries

Most cupcakes in London bakeries rely on frosting to cover up the fact that the underlying cake is dried out.  Happily, this isn’t the case at Bea’s, whose cupcakes were moist and came in interesting, delicious flavors like passion fruit and Bailey’s.  Savoury baguette sandwiches were also fresh and delicious.  We shared platters piled high with vegetarian and meat-lover’s sandwiches and washed it all down with individual pots of Jing tea.

the end of the affair (fantabulous wellies and flowers courtesy of friends)

It was a great afternoon tea, and when you compare the generous spread at Bea’s with that of London hotels charging 2-3 times the price, you’ll see why I was so impressed with Bea’s version.  Considering how tourist-friendly Bea’s location is, they could probably get away with serving mediocre food, but I’m glad they don’t.

Afternoon tea at Bea’s is £15 per person and £22.50 with a glass of Moet.

Bea’s of Bloomsbury One New Change, 83 Watling Street (aka the side of the One New Change mall that’s closest to the Thames/Millennium Bridge), EC4M 9BX; 0207 242 8330; closest Tube station:  St. Paul’s
Bea's of Bloomsbury on Urbanspoon

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Zucca restaurant

Zucca opened on Bermondsey Street back in March 2010, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve unsuccessfully tried once every month or two to get a table there.  If you think Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner is a hot ticket these days, Zucca is still going strong 14 months later. Last week, I finally gave up on snagging a weekend table and took a Tuesday evening spot.

So what’s Zucca’s appeal?  Oh, I don’t know.  Chic decor; good service; simple, fresh Italian cooking and low prices?  A dime a dozen in London, right?  Sure.

zucca fritti (£3.95)

There were plenty of tempting-sounding starters on the menu.  Jon and I ordered three to share, and while all of them were good, if I had to prioritize, I’d put the zucca fritti (fried pumpkin) at the bottom of the list.  Sure, they’re a house specialty, but diminishing returns kicked in after just one or two of these.  Perhaps better to order them if you’re with a bigger group.

grilled asparagus, egg, parmesan (£4.75)

Grilled asparagus, egg and parmesan was as described on the tin.  Each component was fresh and well-prepared (the egg and asparagus, that is), but the flavors never came together.  Maybe it needed a sauce?

mozzarella lentils garlic shoots (£4.25)

Loved the creamy fresh mozzarella complemented by the earthy, meaty lentils.  The garlic shoots lacked bite, but I’m biased towards scare-away-your-date strong garlic flavors, I must confess.  The mozzarella and lentils could have easily taken on stronger garlic taste, though.

casarecce with bolognese (£7)

Highlights of our dinner were definitely the pastas and the main we shared.  Rustic casarecce pasta retained a chewy al dente texture, and the pork ragu was stunningly good with a great balance of acidity, sweetness, salt and meatiness.

taglierini with fresh ricotta and spring herbs (£7)

The taglierini with fresh ricotta and spring herbs was lifted from ordinariness by a slight citrus flavor.  If I had to complain, I’d ask that the kitchen go a little lighter on the olive oil next time.

grilled veal chop (£14.75)

And the veal chop is as good as everyone says it is.  Tender, juicy, charred.  Unbelievably good value for £14.75.  I contrast Zucca’s version with the similarly-excellent one I ate at Paris’s L’Agrume a couple of months ago, which cost 32 euros.

affogato (£4.25)

I couldn’t resist ending dinner with affogato, which was a generous serving but how sad that there were bits of ice/freezer burn in the scoops of vanilla.

The room is large and comfortable, and while the furniture isn’t quite as luxurious as that of L’Anima, the all-white contemporary look of the two restaurants is similar.  And Zucca is about 1/3 the price of L’Anima.  With a couple of glasses of prosecco and wine, our total for two came to £65.

If you can afford to be choosy about tables (i.e., you’re not like me and just incredibly grateful to have finally landed a reservation), avoid the one or two right in front of the kitchen pass.  The servers hover there waiting to ferry dishes to customers, and you’ll end up feeling like there are four pairs of eyes watching your every move (which I assume you agree is a minus, but if you consider it a plus, then by all means request it).

Zucca, 184 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 31Q; 0207 378 6809; closest Tube station:  London Bridge (it’s still a 15-minute walk from the Tube station, though).
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Over the last three weeks, I’ve been eating out at a lot of cheap Asian places, and while none of them have been so stellar that I felt like blogging about them, there have been a couple of stand-out dishes worth mentioning.  So with the caveat that the following restaurants don’t constitute destinations on the basis of all their menu offerings, if you happen to be craving a good example of a particular dish, they are worth a visit.

pad thai with prawns (£6.95)

First up:    Charuwan Thai in Tufnell Park/Archway, which benefits from a rave review in TimeOut.  It’s hard to find good Thai food in London.  I’m not sure why.  Usually, I end up at Busaba Eathai or Rosa’s, which aren’t perfect, but are cheap, serve a spicy-sweet green curry and are conveniently located near my home and office.

Charuwan Thai is a bit of a schlepp to reach, but it’s a nice-looking place with super friendly and attentive service.  While the two curries we ordered (a green curry and chu chee pla — crispy fried fish topped with red curry in coconut milk) were overly-sweet and not very spicy, Jon and I really enjoyed Charuwan Thai’s pad thai.  The rice sticks had great texture (not oily or clumpy the way it too often is served in restaurants), and the sweet, sour and salty flavors of the sauce were perfectly balanced.  Prices were cheap with most mains costing less than £9.

Charuwan Thai, 110 Junction Road, N19 5LB; 0207 263 1410; cloest tube stations:  Archway or Tufnell Park (Northern Line)
Charuwan on Urbanspoon

Assa is one of the several Korean restaurants lined up around Centre Point.  The atmosphere is cheap and cheerful.  Highlights were the starters (banchan), particularly the pickled radish and sesame spinach (skip the flavorless bean sprouts).  Although Assa’s beef dolsot bibimbap was bland and the pajeon was greasy, limp and filled with flavorless seafood, the kimchi hotpot was excellent.  Spicy, filling and warming the way great hot pots should be.  (Koba, by the way, remains my fave place in London to eat crispy pajeon).

Assa, 53 St Giles High Street, WC2H 8LH ; 020 7240 8256; closest tube station:  Tottenham Court Road
Assa on Urbanspoon

Peking Duck at Zen China (£26 for a half and £42 for a whole)

Zen China, near the London Eye and Aquarium, is the last place I’d try out, except that once again blogger Mr. Noodles shared a valuable tip that the restaurant serves excellent Peking Duck.  The restaurant is spacious and comfortable and has great views of Big Ben.  Fellow diners were a mix of camera-toting tourists and groups of Chinese.  And in case there was any doubt Mr. Noodles would lead you astray:  the Peking Duck really is outstanding.  Crispy skin, succulent meat, freshly-made pancakes and carefully-julienned cukes and scallions.  Each element is excellent and together make a sum greater than the whole.  The duck is served tableside, so when you order it, don’t let the waiter disappear with 1/3 of the duck left on the bone.  Our waiter claimed he’d be using the rest of the duck to create another dish for us, but the additional dish was a meagre portion of diced duck meat in lettuce wraps.  Bland and skimpy.  The Peking duck was the priciest item on the menu, but worth every penny.

Zen China, County Hall, Riverside Building, Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7PB, 0207 261 1196; closest tube station:  Westminster
Zen China on Urbanspoon

Garlic chili fish

Last but not least, there’s Golden Day Hunan restaurant in Chinatown.  Jay Rayner gave it a glowing review in this April 2010 review and in the same month, TimeOut’s Guy Dimond also had flattering things to say.  Our group of four ordered several of the dishes highly recommend in both reviews, like the dry pot chicken, and we were underwhelmed by its lack of spice and flavor.  What was wonderful, though, was one of the chef’s specials, a garlic-and-chili fish.  The fish’s flesh was tender and silken, and the garlic-and-chili topping was the sort of thing you’d gladly eat with plain white rice.

Golden Day, 118-120 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 5EP; 0207 484 2381; closest tube station:  Leicester Square

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Ba Shan restaurant interior

Like many readers of food blogs, I’m ruled by my stomach.  Like many Americans, I miss the American-Chinese classic known as “the General.”  Put the two characteristics together, and it makes sense why, when Mr. Noodles announced the appearance of General Tso’s chicken at Ba Shan (the former Szechuan restaurant now revamped as a Hunan place), I high-tailed it to Ba Shan immediately.  It hardly mattered that the last time I was at Ba Shan, it was just another inconsistent Szechuan restaurant.

pickled spicy cucumbers (£4.90)

The hard part was deciding what else to order besides the General.  This being a Hunan place, we figured it’d be wise to try the pickled goodies, and Ba Shan’s spicy cucumbers were highly addictive.  Crisp, refreshing, and with a chili kick alleviated by soy sauce and sesame oil.  We felt virtuous eating vegetables prior to the arrival of the General.

General Tsos chicken (£7.90)

Like most highly-anticipated things in life, Ba Shan’s General didn’t quite meet expectations.  For starters, the chicken pieces are too small, and the sauce wasn’t intensely sweet and salty enough.  This being a Hunan-inspired dish, I was expecting more chili spice.  And there really shouldn’t be any stir-fried vegetables in there (at most, you usually see big chunks of broccoli on the side).

Click here to see how the General is supposed to look and taste.

Still, even if the dish wasn’t quite General Tso’s chicken, it was tasty.  I mean, battered-and-fried chicken pieces dumped in a lightly-sweetened soy-based sauce.  Hard not to like it.

Pengs fried tofu (6.90)

And for the tofu lovers out there, Ba Shan’s version of Peng’s fried tofu was excellent.  Large, meaty slices of tofu slathered in chilis and sauce.  Perfect over plain white rice.

Overall, Ba Shan has improved a lot by becoming a Hunan restaurant, so I’ll be back to try some of the other dishes.

Alas, the search for the General continues . . . .

Ba Shan, 24 Romilly Street, W1D 5AH; 0207 287 3266; closest Tube stations:  Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus.
Ba Shan on Urbanspoon

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lobster and hand-rolled linguine at Murano

You’d think that after my recent disappointment with dinner at Locanda Locatelli that I’d swear off high-end Italian restaurants for a while, but it was my friend L’s birthday, and a celebration was in order. We figured we were due for a revisit to Murano, Angela Hartnett’s flagship restaurant in Mayfair, so off we went.

Despite my having only good memories of both a lunch and dinner at Murano, I haven’t been back in over a year.  The place still feels cozy and plush, and happily, while you’re scanning the menu, Murano still serves fresh-from-the-fryer, truffle-perfumed arancini, great breads and silky charcuterie.  It’s nice when the good things haven’t changed.

In the past, I hadn’t noticed a contrast between the tasting menu offerings and those of the a la carte.  This time around, though, the tasting menu read a lot more Italian with its appealing-sounding scapece, bresaola and vitello/veal courses.  Unfortunately, having arrived for a late seating and having already filled up on snacks at the nearby and excellent Connaught Bar, our group chose the a la carte.  Three courses for £65; four courses for £75.

My starter of lobster linguine (pictured at top) was the highlight of dinner, with generous chunks of juicy, sweet lobster served with gorgeously al dente linguine.  There was chili and garlic kick, smoothed out by the sweet tomato sauce.  This beat Locanda Locatelli’s version by a mile.

sweetbreads with cauliflower puree and smoked maple dressing

A friend’s sweetbreads ticked the silky-meaty box, though the piece I tried didn’t taste much of the smoked maple dressing, which I’d been curious about.  L’s carnaroli leek risotto with braised oxtail had great balance between meat and creamy starch until the last overly-sweet notes of vinegar kicked in.

Middlewhite pork belly, braised cheek and chervil root puree

Not to get too possessive, but “my” pork belly was also outstanding, though lacking in identifiably Italian characteristics.  The braised cheek added texture and meatiness to the lusciously fatty pork belly (with skin crisped to perfection).  If I had to choose only one adjective to describe the best parts of our meal, it’d be silky.  So yes, the pork belly was silky silky silky.

monkfish Meuniere, lardons, squid ink, fregola

Jon’s monkfish Meuniere was the only real clunker I remember from the evening.  The ingredients sounded brilliant on the menu, but nothing really blended in actuality.  A crispy lardon here, a perfectly-battered piece of fish there . . . .

pistachio souffle

Pistachio soufflé, served hot and airy.  Picture perfect and tough not to love, though it was a tad too sugary for me.  The warm bittersweet chocolate helped balance out the sugar, though.

Overall, while we had a few misses this time on the a la carte, Murano remains my fave of the high-end Italian restaurants in London, though admittedly it is the most Frenchified of the Italian restaurants.  (The cheese cart is a wonder).  If you stick with the tasting menu, the place will feel more Italian, though.

Murano’s service was attentive and friendly as ever, though entertainingly a couple of servers must not have noticed I was preggars because they kept pushing the wine (“Oh come on, it’s Friday night! You should have another glass!”).  I guess the spacious table miraculously hid away my enormous self and the servers don’t communicate this sort of thing with each other, but I could have done with less pressure as I was already feeling a little guilty about two large glasses I’d enjoyed.

Murano, 20 Queen Street, W1J 5PP; 0207 495 1127; closest Tube station:  Green Park.

Murano on Urbanspoon

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view of St. Paul's cathedral from our table at Barbecoa

When Barbecoa opened last fall, Jamie Oliver’s name got thrown around a lot.  For me, though, the draw was his partner, Adam Perry Lang, whose BBQ shows and cookbook many of my barbecue-loving friends in the US swear by.

Early blog reports were not good.  Neither Cheese and Biscuits nor Food Stories enjoyed their meal there, but because their reviews were written so early and left me with the impression that they’d hated their steaks, I thought perhaps over time things might improve on the barbecue front.  After all, when I go out for barbecue, I’m not looking for a steak.  In fact, I’d be surprised if a barbecue place in the US even offered steak on the menu.  So query why reviews like this one in TimeOut seemed to suggest a good barbecue place should be serving lots of steak?  (“For a barbecue restaurant, the choice of beef steaks is very limited . . . .”)

Jon and I turned up on a Friday night.  It was my first trip to the shiny New Change shopping mall (where Barbecoa sits).  In that sense, it definitely felt like America.

Barbecoa is a huge space with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking St. Paul’s Cathedral.  But I’m sad to say that like many places with fantastic views, Barbecoa should work a little harder at its food.

crispy calamari, smashed avocado, lemon and mustard greens (£10)

When Jon and I looked over the menu, we were disappointed to see relatively few barbecue dishes.  I can now see why people have been ordering steaks and burgers — the menu offerings are really heavy on those.  That’s fine for a steak place, but this is supposed to be a barbecue place!  Why are baby back ribs served only as an appetizer?  Why, for that matter, is only one style of ribs served?  And where’s the fried chicken?  Buttermilk biscuits?  Now, I’m not claiming Blue Smoke in New York is the paragon of barbecue places, but this is more what I was expecting from Barbecoa.

Jon and I tried to zero in on the more “American” looking dishes, like the crab cakes.  Alas, our server informed us that no crab cakes were offered that evening and tried to push us towards a crab salad instead.  When we ended up ordering the fried calamari, the waiter asked us why we didn’t want the crab salad, which I thought was a funny thing for him to do.  He was surprised to hear that crab cakes, in our opinion, are a special American treat – hard to find in London.  Crab salad, on the other hand, not so special.

It was probably for the best that we ended up with fried calamari given the non-existence of jumbo lump crab meat in London.  And the calamari, while a relatively small portion for £10, were good.  Greaseless and not rubbery.  The smashed avocado was pretty useless, though.

baby back ribs with an apple cole slaw (£9)

Baby back ribs as a starter had its high and low points.  It was pretty weird.  A few of the ribs were very good, with the right amount of spice and tang and a falling-off-the-bone texture.  Other ribs, though, were a bit dry and tough.  From one point of view, it’s remarkable that ribs right next to each other could taste so differently.  But it didn’t make for a pleasant dining experience.

pulled pork shoulder with jalapeno corn bread (£16)

Finding nothing else among the mains that looked “barbecuey,” both Jon and i ordered the pulled pork shoulder.  I’d hoped the cornbread would be served in a way where you could make a pulled pork sandwich (which is *the* way to eat pulled pork, imho).  But no.  The cornbread was just damp and oily, so nothing much has changed on that front since Food Stories and Cheese & Biscuits ate at Barbecoa.

Jon and I ordered the “bread board and butter” for £4 in order to make our own sandwiches topped with the cole slaw that accompanied our pulled pork.  That improved things somewhat, though the bread board, as you’ll see below, isn’t ideal for making sandwiches:

bread board and butter (£4)

With just two glasses of wine, our total came to £86 for the two of us.

Service was polite and extraordinarily fast (Barbecoa’s slick-looking ordering systems waste no time in ensuring your food gets to the table asap, and the tables turn at dizzying speed), but based on our experience, the staff don’t seem particularly enthused or knowledgeable about barbecue.

So go for the views of St. Paul.  Bring your out-of-town friends and drop by for drinks.  But don’t go for the barbecue.  *Sigh*

Barbecoa, 20 New Change Passage, EC4M 9AG; 0203 005 8555.


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hotel entrance to Locanda Locatelli

It’s Friday, and we’re talking to our friends about where to meet for dinner on Saturday.  They feel like having Italian food.  “Good luck with that,” I think.  I can count on one hand the reliably-good Italian restaurants in London, and they’re always fully booked on Saturday night.

Well, the last laugh’s on me, because our friends worked some magic:   Saturday night dinner reservations at Locanda Locatelli at 9:30 pm.  I’ve never been to Locanda, but I know it’s expensive, and the food is supposed to be good.   So off we go.

First impressions are good.  The room is large, but the layout allows for lots of inviting nooks and crannies.  Our table has a nice, curved banquette.  I love banquettes.

beef carpaccio (£15)

Pork sausage, Savoy cabbage and saffron risotto starter (£13.50)

Generally, the menu offerings sound pedestrian, but most of them are well executed.  Take, for example, the beef carpaccio and platter of cured meats.  There’s a generous serving of both and the ingredients are fresh and delicious.  Still, they seem more a reflection of top-notch sourcing than of top-notch cooking.

Sadly, the one starter we ordered that was served in an unexpected way (i.e., the pork sausage and risotto) wasn’t especially tasty.  I wasn’t expecting the risotto to be a fritter, and while I am normally a lover of all things fried, having a crispy wedge of fried risotto to accompany a massive ball of sausage, all drizzled in a rich sauce, was just unrelentingly heavy.

And an artichoke salad with rocket and Parmigiano Reggiano was a total disappointment, especially for £15.  There was no interesting blending of flavors or textures.  It was as if it were a plate with three separate ingredients on it, which just reinforced my impression that it’s tough to get a decent salad in London.

We did much better with mains, which I’d say were the highlight of our dinner:

lobster linguine (£24.50)

Thanks to ingenious use of lobster stock, the lobster linguine was packed with lobster flavor despite a very stingy portion of lobster meat.  I greatly enjoyed this one, though the presentation was a little scary.  What’s with the random lobster leg jutting out like that?

Potato and mushroom gnocchi with black truffle (£19.50)

Potato-and-mushroom gnocchi with black truffle was my second-fave pasta course of the evening.  Pillowy-soft gnocchi perfumed with truffle.  Perfect.  Presentation is what you’d call rustic if you were being generous, though.

orecchiete with turnip tops, garlic and anchovies (£18)

Orecchiete was the low point of our pastas.  It was a giant plate of mush, really.  The pasta tasted as if it’d been sitting around a while, and again, the flavors didn’t blend at all.  Jon and I make a much better version of this dish at home.

braised lamb neck with polenta (£27.50)

The braised lamb neck with buttery polenta ticked all the boxes for a good braise:  fork tender, lots of rich fatty bits and a strong sauce for you to mop up.  A little more polenta to accompany the enormous portion of meat would’ve been ideal.

Contorni were a very mixed bag.  The fried artichoke (£6) was masterful, with each artichoke leaf perfectly battered and crisped, but the rest of the contorni were skippable.  Fried potatoes (£4.50) were just crispy cubes of potatoes – dressed up chips, really.  Regular ol’ broccoli and chili was £4.75 and lacking both kick and flavor.  Sauteed spinach (£4.75) was satisfying, but it’s garlic and spinach, yes?

terribly un-tasty tiramisu (£6.50)

Worst menu moment was the tiramisu.  A total crime.  Stale ladyfingers doused in a runny mascarpone and drowned in amoretto.  Despite sharing one portion among four people, we didn’t come close to finishing it, and I was mildly disappointed none of our servers bothered to ask why a little martini glass of tiramisu went only half-eaten.

With extras like a £77 bottle of a very tasty Sicilian red wine and a couple glasses of digestifs, our total for four came to £300 (£75 a person).  It was a fun evening out with friends, but given the generally-pedestrian and unven food, I wouldn’t recommend a visit.  And I definitely can’t help comparing our dinner at Locanda with my repeat dinner at Trullo just this past Monday night.

At Trullo, I paid £26 a person for a starter, an excellent pasta, a shared main of braised lamb neck, and a shared dessert (i.e., the tastiest caramel pannacotta, ever).  Service at Trullo was friendly and helpful, so the only thing that was superior about Locanda was its comfortable seating and dining room, and that’s not worth the price premium, I reckon.

Locanda Locatelli, 8 Seymour Place, W1H 7JZ; 0207 935 9088; closest Tube station:  Marble Arch

If you’re looking for Italian restaurants in London, you might also be interested in:

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The chalkboard menu on the wall at #Meateasy

First, I saw this interview in January by Helen @ Food Stories and this post by Lizzie @ Hollow Legs.  The former gave me all the background context behind temporary burger joint, #Meateasy,  and the latter let me know that I could easily (i.e., using the Tube system) reach New Cross on the new East London line.  Fair or not, I figure anything that requires use of National Rail is a lot of hassle.

Soon after I saw those blog posts, there was this rave review by the anonymous pros over at TimeOut.   And yet #Meateasy remained one of those things that sounded good but which I never motivated to visit, and then I was recently reminded of it by this post by Critical Couple.  So off we finally went.

Jon and I arrived last Friday at 6:40 pm and were given raffle ticket number 80.  When the lovely people at the till call your raffle ticket number, you place your order.

At the time we arrived, raffle ticket #20 was just getting called, so we were glad we showed up 2 hours before we normally eat dinner.

We snagged the last two open seats at a communal table and Jon set off for the bar.   Drinks were great (the much-praised bartenders there def live up to the hype) and cost just £4.50 each, but I’d definitely recommend going to #Meateasy with more than two people so that one person isn’t sitting alone at the table for long stretches while the other is at the bar.  On that Friday evening, the wait was at least 30 minutes to order a drink, so with a bigger group, you can rotate that responsibility around.

#Meateasy’s allure stems largely from its relaxed, lively honky-tonk atmosphere.  It’s fun just to be there.   Servers were young and attractive, though a bit careless and insensitive when one server tried to get me to give up my seat at the table “because people need to eat.”

Lady, I’d be glad to eat if you let me place my order so that I could do that (at that point, we’d been waiting an hour for our number 80 to get called).  Plus, did anyone notice I’m 27 weeks’ pregnant?  In case you’ve never seen a 27-week-old pregnant lady before . . . at this point, I’m huge and it’s getting uncomfortable.  I’m not saying people have to give up their seats for me, but kicking me out of a seat that I claimed fair and square seemed particularly harsh.

Mild rant aside, feeling weird about playing the pregnancy card (she obviously didn’t care), I just said our number was about to be called anyway and we’d be eating soon, so she moved on and kicked out another would-be diner.

Bacon cheeseburger at Meateasy (£7)

Finally, at around 8 pm, about 1 hour 15 minutes after our arrival, our number was called and we ordered our food.  15 minutes later, our food was served, and 15 minutes after that, we were done eating and there was a long queue out the door and down the stairs.  #Meateasy was now operating a one-in-one-out system.

How was the food?  Delish.  But you’ve probably already heard that from others.  I just thought I’d give you a sense for what the experience is like.  It’s crowded, it’s fun, but it has its downsides.

Philly cheesesteak (£7), fries (£3) and onion rings (£3)

My favorite part of the cheeseburger is how #Meateasy lightly steams the bun.  It’s all soft and hot and soaks up all the meat juices and melted cheese.   Philly cheesesteak was impossible to eat as a sandwich, but I mean that as praise.  The cheese, onions, peppers and chopped steak were bursting out of the bun.  Onion rings were good and fries were fine.

ending on a visual high note: an extra sh*t photo of macaroni and cheese (£5)

Mac ‘n’ cheese was the one thing I tried that I wouldn’t order again.  It lacked bite.  As if it were all bechamel and milk and not enough sharp cheese.

Go for the atmosphere and a good time with a group of friends.  Think of it as a great place for drinks with some excellent food as a side benefit.  Arrive two hours before you normally get hungry.  And try to save room for the milk shake. You have until Saturday, 16 April 2011.

However, if you’re interested just in the food (which was good, but in the end not worth all the waiting and hassle), then just stick with your local Byron Burger.

And yes, I know all these photos are sh*t.  I blame the deadly combo of mobile phone camera + #Meateasy’s dark interior.

#Meateasy, 1st floor of the Goldsmiths Tavern, 316 New Cross Road, SE14 6AF; no phone number but it’s no reservations anyway.  Cash only.  Closest Tube station:  New Cross (East London line);  Open until Saturday, 16 April 2011.

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Food bloggers are an eclectic bunch, but one thing I’ve noticed is that many of us are not parents.   Which makes sense as I’d imagine that parents either don’t want to or can’t afford to eat out five times a week.  Or a combination of both.

As the title of this post suggests, I’m several months away from joining the parent club, and on the long list of things I’m nervous about is the question of what’s going to happen to this restaurant/travel blog.  (Suggestions?)

For now, though, I thought I’d talk about all the food restrictions I’ve been trying to observe these last six months.

I consider myself an omnivore with all sorts of cravings (even when not pregnant).  So the long list of pregnancy-related dietary prohibitions have chafed, to say the least.  I especially dislike how, most of the time, the prohibitions don’t even bother explaining *why* something is prohibited, which is so patronizing that I get angry all over again thinking about it.

Let’s start, for example, with the following excerpt from  the NHS guidelines on eating when pregnant (which of course overlaps with, and occasionally conflicts with, several other pages on the NHS site, like this one and this one):

  • Do cook eggs thoroughly until the whites and yolks are solid. Avoid any foods that contain raw or lightly cooked eggs, such as home-made mayonnaise, sauces and puddings.
  • Do make sure that all meats are cooked thoroughly. This is especially important with poultry (such as chicken and turkey) and food made from minced meat (such as burgers and sausages). Make sure that they’re very hot all the way through, and there’s no trace of blood or pink meat. Treat all meat at barbecues with caution.
  • Don’t eat mould-ripened soft cheese, such as brie and camembert, or blue cheese, such as stilton or Danish blue. You can eat hard cheeses (e.g. cheddar, parmesan), cottage cheese, mozzarella, and processed cheese (such as cheese spread).
  • Don’t eat any kind of paté, including vegetable paté, because it can contain listeria.
  • Don’t eat liver or liver products, such as liver paté or liver sausage, as this is a very rich source of vitamin A (which can harm your unborn baby).
  • Don’t eat more than two portions of oily fish a week (for example, mackerel, trout or fresh tuna), or more than four cans of tuna (around 140g per can). These contain high levels of mercury, which can harm your baby’s developing nervous system.
  • Don’t eat marlin, shark or swordfish. These can contain high levels of mercury, which can damage your baby’s developing nervous system.
  • Don’t eat raw shellfish, as they can contain bacteria and viruses that can cause food poisoning.

If you’re aything like me, the list above might as well be titled “Delicious Things You Love and Eat Regularly That You Can’t Eat for 40 Weeks . . . for No Clearly Articulated Reason (other than “trust us, it’s bad for your baby”).”

Being a naturally skeptical person, I started googling around to find out what risks really underlie all these Dietary Do’s and Don’ts.  God bless google because on my first search, I came across this July 2007 piece in the New York Times, which opened with this compelling paragraph:

“WHEN my wife was pregnant with our son, her obstetrician gave her a list of food dos and don’ts. Chief among the don’ts: alcohol, unpasteurized cheeses and raw fish. Meanwhile, every French mother I know consumed alcohol and unpasteurized cheese in moderation during her pregnancy, and my friends in Japan laugh at the notion of avoiding sushi when they’re expecting.”

And at least with regard to sushi, I was encouraged by this bit:

“Healthy women who’ve been eating sushi are not at increased risk when they become pregnant. The same resistance and immunities function before, during and after pregnancy.

But rational analysis doesn’t hold sway with the pregnancy police.

“Why take any risk?” they ask. The medical establishment and the culture at large have twisted logic around to the point where any risk, no matter how infinitesimal, is too much. So powerful is this Puritanical impulse that, once a health objection is raised, however irrational the recommended behavior, it’s considered irresponsible to behave any other way.”

And then, as is the way with google research, that New York Times article led me to this blog post, which started me on the path to the way I’m currently eating:

“First, I did a lot of research about every prohibition. What was the reason for it? And what was the risk and the consequence? I found that you could divvy up the guidelines into two groups:  illnesses that crossed the placental barrier and affected the fetus, and those that didn’t. To put it another way, would eating something make me any sicker because I was pregnant than if I weren’t? Or would the outcome be the same?”

So I did pretty much what the blogger-author did — I started researching each and every prohibition, particularly on the foods I eat all the time, and I decided to avoid foods that are banned because they contain listeria and continue eating foods that are banned because they cause food poisoning. For example, to the lovers of poached eggs who happen to be pregnant, see this March 2010 Guardian Word of Mouth blog post on eggs and salmonella risk:

Not only is the risk of catching salmonella small, the risk of it affecting your unborn child is almost unheard of. The infection won’t pass through the placenta to the foetus, unlike listeria which can do untold harm. However, after reading on the New Zealand government website that in very rare instances it can cause stillbirth, I thought it best to double check.

According to Patrick O’Brien, consultant obstetrician at UCH and a spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, in severe cases of salmonella the related dehydration and high fever in the mother could cause a problem for the foetus, just as with any other infection, but these are generally symptoms which are well managed by medical professionals. He has dealt with some extremely severe cases of salmonella and none have caused any harm to the foetus. It is worth noting, however, that in the spirit of never say never he would not completely rule out an instance in which salmonella could cause harm directly to the foetus. It seems that it is all very low risk, and it has left me questioning the official advice which still recommends that pregnant women avoid raw or partially cooked eggs, and wondering whether it’s worth being quite so assiduous.

So.  Bearing in mind that I’m no doctor and that for a lot of people, it’s not a big deal to just follow the Dos and Don’ts as prescribed by most pregnancy books and websites, I thought I’d share the above.  Just in case you’re pregnant and have been dying for oysters, sushi, dolsot bibimbap or eggs benedict.

Currently,  however, I remain very excited by the future prospect of a bloody rare burger, some extra-runny Saint Marcellin cheese, a platter of jamon iberico, a good pate and gallons of champagne when la bebee finally arrives.  But I have a feeling that when that day is finally upon me, “sleep” will leapfrog to the top of that list of desired things.

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Yashin sushi restaurant, High Street Kensington

Like many food lovers, I regularly crave high-quality sushi.  Sadly, though, I’m often disappointed by the hyped-up spots in London.  For example, in 2010, Sushi of Shiori sounded like the second coming.  But when I finally snagged a counter seat there, I was disappointed.  Never again will I allow my expectations to rise like that, I vowed.  I’ll stay content with my perfectly good, friendly, local sushi joint, Sa Sa.

But then Yashin appeared.  I saw this glowing review by London Eater, and this one by Tamarind & Thyme, and my vow didn’t stand a chance.  Blow torch sushi.  Have you heard of it?

Jon and I had an 8 pm booking last weekend, and sadly, although there were open seats upstairs at and near the sushi bar, we were told we could only sit downstairs.  Oh well.  The downstairs is wood-panelled, small and kind of quiet.  You’re close to the bathroom and coat check, though, in case those are pluses for you.

sake taster "Set C" (£8.20)

Sake tasters are available at reasonable prices.  My takeaway:  test tubes are weird to drink out of.

prawn tempura roll (£6.80_

Yes, I know I’m visiting a restaurant staffed by skilled itamae.  But I still want a prawn tempura roll.  Yashin takes pride in flavoring its rice and sushi so that you *don’t need or want to drown it in soy sauce*.  This first taste of what the kitchen could do lived up to that promise.  The prawns were sweet and still slightly warm, and the rolls were packed with peppery and citrus-yuzu flavor.  No need for mayo, much less soy sauce.

soft shell crab salad (£8.40)

I haven’t had a soft-shell crab this juicy  and fresh in *years*.  The crispy mizuna greens and accompanying rice wine vinaigrette were a perfect foil.

8-piece omasake (£30)

And then the main attraction – omakase.  Jon and I had foolishly eaten a late-day snack, so we played it safe with Yashin’s smallest omakase option:  the eight-piece.

Much has been written about Yashin’s omakase, so I’ll just note generally:

1.  The blow-torch thing is genius.  It adds a wonderful charred, smoky flavor to silken raw fish.  Let me emphasize: the fish does not get ruined/cooked.  It’s just flavored.

2.  The different seasonings pair well with the various fish.  Salmon with some ponzu-and-wasabi kick, for example.  Delicately-sweetened eel.  The guys doing the flavor pairings are spot on.

Overall, I loved our food.   Definitely worth the pricetag.  We paid £94 for two people, and that’s without drinking much.

Downsides:  the downstairs room is kind of depressing, and the service, while seemingly well-intentioned, was not the best.  We were in and out in under 40 minutes, partly because our sushi arrived quickly, and mostly because the second we took our last bite of sushi, a woman cleared our plates and then nobody asked us if we wanted anything else.  In fairness to Yashin, we really didn’t want anything else that night, but blowing almost £100 for a 40-minute meal just feels really weird.  As if you just stopped in for a quick bite to eat in the neighborhood, yes?

Yet clearly Yashin aspires to be more of a destination restaurant, so turning a table in less than an hour just seems wrong.  i know this is going to sound petty and slightly weird, but it would have been nice of Yashin had spaced the food out a little more and made us feel like we were welcome to linger over a coffee or tea.

So.  Fresh, creative, delish sushi.  Decent decor and buzz if you’re upstairs.  Polite-but-too-fast service.

I’ll be back for the food, and next time, maybe I’ll line up a movie or show after dinner.

Yashin Sushi, 1A Argyll Rd, W8 7DB; 0207 938 1536; closest Tube station:  High Street Kensington
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Dumplings Legend

Happy Year of the Rabbit!  (Of course, I keep thinking that Rabbits get a bum deal for having *just* missed being a Dragon – which everyone knows is much cooler).

By coincidence, LondonEater also blogged today about Dumplings Legend, the latest Chinatown offering from the Leong’s Legend people.  And I completely agree with him that DL is aiming to be the Din Tai Fung of London.  Having recently visited the original Din Tai Fung in Taipei, I can say that  Dumplings Legend certainly looks the part, from the white-chef-hatted cooks assembling the xiao long bao in the window down to the xiao long bao-headed cartoon character.

I’d gone to Dumplings Legend hoping it was a dumpling house.  The sort of place that specializes in all that is beautiful in the world of filled dough, from baozi to jiao zi to xiao long bao.  Instead, it’s a place that serves several types of xiao long bao and then offers a long menu of totally random and generic “Chinese” dishes.

pork and crab xiao long bao at Dumplings Legend (£6.50)

It sounds like LondonEater had dim sum at DL, whereas I was there recently for dinner.  That said, we both ordered the star attraction at Dumplings Legend:  the xiao long bao.

The XLB we ordered were visually unattractive, but at least they were super soupy.  They were no better than what you’d get at Leong’s, though, so considering the rest of our experience at Dumplings Legend, I’d return to Leong’s.  (Note that even at Leong’s the quality of XLB has gone downhill over the years.  Click here to see how gorgeous the XLB used to be there, way back in August 2008.  It as if the more XLB are offered in London, the worse their quality becomes.  That makes no sense, until you figure most of the XLB seem to be offered by restaurants that share the same ownership as Leong’s.  A mere facade of competition).

steamed crab and sticky rice (£16.50)

In any even, while the XLB tasted alright, I wouldn’t stray too far from the dumpling offerings at DL.  The space is large and sits on Gerrard Street, so I reckon it’s a commercial necessity to appeal to the many diners who are randomly picking a place to eat in Chinatown.  Which means it’s not surprising the rest of the food is pretty mediocre.  The menu blurb at Dumplings Legend talks up the seafood offerings, so we gave the steamed crab a go.  And while the crab was large, the meat was a bit tough and not very sweet.  And the sticky rice pretty dry, failing to absorb any delicious crab flavors.

sweet and sour spare ribs (£7.50)

I had hoped that sweet-and-sour spare ribs might be the real deal, but instead it was just cloying orange sauce poured over tough bits of fried spare ribs.  Classic Gerrard Street fare.

Service, while rushed, was fine up until the end of our meal, when the waitress dumped vinegar and soy sauce all over my shirt while clearing our table.  She tried to wipe at it (always dab, people!  dab!), and when I asked her to just give me napkins so I could dab myself, she disappeared and was replaced seconds later by another server who just handed us the bill.  You could only laugh, really.  We paid the bill, and while Jon was using the gents’ upstairs, another server swooped in to change the table cloths while I was still sitting there.  It’s not like there was a queue of people waiting to sit down, either.

So, for food and service, thumbs down.  For xiao long bao, Dumplings Legend was fine, but for the same quality of XLB, just go around the corner to Leong’s Legend.  They offer better food, generally, and the service is better.

Dumplings Legend, 15-16 Gerrard Street, W1D 6JE; 0207 494 1200; Nearest Tube station:  Leicester Square.

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