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Jon and I arrived in London exactly six years ago today.  It was a bright, sunny day then, too.  Little did we know then how much to appreciate weather like today’s.

Little did we know we’d still be here six years later, with a UK-born kid, no less.  There are so many things we love about London – the friends and colleagues from around the world; the vibrant restaurant scene; the ease of European travel; the work-life balance.  In fact, the list of good things seems pretty endless once you start thinking about it, and it all outweighs the famously-sh*t weather and the fact that Jon and I (as is standard for Americans who live abroad) will be hassled by the IRS for as long as we continue to carry US passports.

We did a little less travel in the last 12 months than we normally do.  Chalk that up to being preggars and having a baby, but we did our best.  Here are the highlights:

August 2010:  We spent an indulgent and relaxing weekend at Cowley Manor in the Cotswolds, and we enjoyed one of the best meals in recent memory at La Grenouillere in La Madeleine-sous-Montreuil, just across the Channel.

September 2010:  Despite having traveled to Paris often, we managed to entertain ourselves for another weekend (and found excellent restaurants that opened before la rentreeLe Chateaubriand and Spring being great choices even when all of Paris’s restos are open for biz) and then cycled through Burgundy for a week.  If I had to choose between cycling in the Cote de Beaune and the Cote de Nuits, which are both beautiful, I’d recommend the Cote de Beaune.  The picturesque towns and vineyards in the Cote de Beaune seemed slightly closer together (ideal when you’re a lazy cyclist comme moi).  And of course you don’t travel to Burgundy without a few good meals.  Chezy Guy in Gevrey-Chambertin and La Ciboulette in Beaune were two of our faves – sometimes bib gourmand is as fancy as you want to get.

October 2010:  We spent a beautiful, sunny weekend in County Wicklow, Ireland, attending a friend’s wedding, and then a week later, we traveled to Montreal, Canada for another friend’s wedding, where we sampled the delights of poutine, Montreal bagels, and maple syrup (separately).  Who knew October was the new June?  Feeling a bit tired and sick and blaming it on all the travel, I learned I was preggars just before accepting a 3-star freebie at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester.

November 2010:  Jon and I sampled the deliciousness of Taipei, Taiwan and Hong Konggua bao, nightmarkets and dim sum, oh my!  (Truly, if you go to only one nightmarket in your life, for food, make it the Shilin).  And despite spending only 48 hours in Hong Kong, we managed to hit only high notes dining out:  dim sum at Lei Garden and Tim Ho Wan; noodle soups at Tsim Chai Kee; and the name attraction at Under Bridge Spicy Crab Restaurant.  All were excellent and hard to resist.  I lucked out with an easy first trimester (when you’re most likely to be nauseous and suffering from morning sickness).  On the home front, we made our first of many trips to the nearby Delhi Grill.  I can’t be bothered to go to New Tayyabs anymore, now that the DG is so close by.  We also hit the much-vaunted Sushi of Shiori near Euston Station, which I’m much happier with as a takeaway customer.  In fact, while recovering at UCH, Sushi of Shiori was my go-to.  (It certainly beat the hospital food by a million miles).

December 2010:  After enjoying a festive time (though underwhelming food) at Bob Bob Ricard, we made our annual pilgrimage home for the holidays and got trapped in a world of gorgeous snow, travel nightmares and the worst puns imaginable (Snowpocalypse, anyone?).

January 2011:  Having learned over the years that traveling in most of Europe in January is kind of a bummer (the weather is uniformly dreary), we stayed home and just kept up the “usual” restaurant going.  I learned I much preferred Hiba to the more-well-known Yalla-Yalla and that Dumplings Legend doesn’t hold a candle to the Din Tai Fung chain on which it’s “modeled.”  Antepliler has become my Turkish of choice in Islington, and Kopapa is now my best alternative to the Providores when I want those eggs changa without the Marylebone queues.

February 2011Off to Paris for the sales.  Dining out, Rino was the sleeper hit, and Bistrot Paul Bert turned in another solid performance.  Get thee to the 11th, food lovers.  Sadly, I also ate the worst dim sum of my life on this trip.  I should have known better, but it was Chinese New Year!  Back in London, I loved the blow-torch sushi at Yashin but hated sitting in the basement and being shuttled in and out in under an hour.  Having started to meet lots of other pregnant women bemoaning their inability to eat sushi, I wrote this post about the fiction of many eating restrictions during pregnancy.

March 2011:  Jon and I enjoyed ourselves (and felt really old) at the pop-up burger joint, #Meateasy, which could teach a thing or two to the highly-disappointing Barbecoa (though hats off to the beautiful views of St. Paul there).  I also finally tried out the grande dame of London Italian restos, Locanda Locatelli, and for better or worse, it was what I expected.

April 2011:  Lots of golden oldies this month.  Back to Cowley Manor for another lovely weekend, though upgrading room types wasn’t worth the money.  Back to Ba Shan (now Hunanese) in search of the elusive General Tso’s chicken; and back to Murano, whose freebies are still the same and still delish.  Jon and I took a 10-day trip to the Italian Riviera from Genoa through the Cinque Terre.  And of course I never got around to putting up my Italian Riviera post because of the impending bebe craziness.  Maybe I’ll do that next month, lol.

May 2011:  I was weeks away from my due date in May and therefore uncomfortably enormous.  Still, feeling it was my last chance to get out and about easily, I ate out a storm.  I’m still thinking about that Peking duck at Zen China, the casarecce with bolognese at Zucca, the afternoon tea at Bea’s, and pretty much everything at the Ledbury.

June 2011:  My last few days as a child-free lady saw me waddle over to the Pitt Cue BBQ, ordering my favorite clay pot dishes at Hakkasan, and then, baby time.

July 2011:  Jon and I mustered all the energy we had left and took our then-two-week-old daughter, C, out for Jamie Oliver’s Big Feastival in Clapham.  The outing exhausted us, but we were glad we finally left the house.  We’ve since taken C out to lunch at the Michelin-starred pub, the Harwood Arms, which was a success, and I’ve managed to sneak out to a good meal or two at the Pollen Street Social and old-time favorite, Bocca di Lupo.  Now I just have to find time to blog about it.

Last weekend, we took C to Brussels (she’s two months old), and that was both harder and easier than I expected.  Again, lots of fodder for a blog post, though perhaps not for my usual blog audience.  Next week, we’re taking her to Paris.  She won’t appreciate it, of course, but I’m looking forward to seeing an old favorite from a new perspective.

Five years of blogging.  I couldn’t have imagined I’d keep it up this long, and it really is thanks to you, dear readers, that I feel encouraged to try for another year of this blogging gig.   Let’s see how this goes . . . .

For the 12-month lookback of previous years:

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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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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
Yashin Sushi on Urbanspoon

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Morito

Moro is a great restaurant, but if you want to eat just tapas, you have to sit at the bar.  Cue Morito, a small tapas-only sibling next door.  Almost half of Morito is comprised of bar seating (thumbs up for the under-counter bag hooks), and the other half is made up of table seating.  It’s casual and buzzy and often crowded.

Still, on a recent Monday evening, I was able to snag a table for three, though it was wedged awkwardly in the corner near a waiter’s station.

Morito is a lot of fun.  The tapas are small and most are priced under £4 per plate.  The service was friendly, and most dishes I tried were excellent.  The perfect place to have a drink and catch up with a friend.  (I wouldn’t go with a bigger group – you’ll never get a table).

quail's egg and jamon £4

Winners:

Pepper potato and onion tortilla:  The classic dish, and a good measure of the rest of the tapas to come, I think.  Morito’s had a good firm texture, creamy with potato, sweet from the peppers and onions, and finishing with  a little chili kick.  (£3.50)

Quail’s egg and jamon – Eggs and ham.  It’s salty; it’s creamy.  What’s not to love?  Its prettiness is icing on the cake.  (£4)

spiced labneh with aubergine £4

Spiced labneh with aubergine – tangy, rich labneh perfectly complemented the slightly-sweet-and-smoky aubergine.  (£4)

Puntillitas (aka baby squid) – the perfect bar snack.  Seasoned, breaded and fried.  (£6.50)

Good, but not great:

Red prawns and alioli – Shell-on prawns were sweet but kind of lacking in meat.  And I would love if they’d been more garlicky.  (£6.50)

Salt cod croquetas – I like more creamy bechamel in my croquetas.  Also, bacalao is not my fave.  (£4)

Crispy aubergine with miel de cana – These were way too sugary.  Miel de cana has the strong flavor of molasses.  (£3.50)

Patatas mojo (aka salt crusted potatoes with green chilli and coriander sauce) – Despite the delicious-sounding menu description, these were a bit bland.  (£3.50)

There was an impressively large number of dishes to choose from, and generally, all were pretty good.

With cheap and cheerful tumblers of wine, each of us paid £20.  And because I still had room for dessert, I treated myself to an affogato down the block at Caravan, which is great on atmosphere, coffee and desserts.  (Dinner there, however, was underwhelming, in case you were wondering).

There’s lots of other dishes I wish I’d tried at Morito, including the mussel and chorizo empanadilla, the lamb chops with cumin and paprika, and the spiced lamb with aubergine, yoghurt and pine nuts.

So I’ll be back.  But only with one friend.

Morito, 32 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QL; closest tube stations:  Angel or Farringdon, but it’s a healthy 10-15 minute walk, so try to catch a bus like the 38.
Morito on Urbanspoon

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The original Hawksmoor steakhouse location near Spitalfields Market

Back in August 2010, I joined omnivorous food bloggers, the Critical Couple, for lunch at the original Hawksmoor steakhouse near Spitalfields Market.  The Critical Couple were not the first food lovers to have sung the praises of the Hawksmoor, and given how close by my office sits, it seemed silly that I hadn’t yet been there.  Unfortunately, as the Critical Couple noted at the time in their blog post, the steaks we ordered (a bone-in prime rib for an eye-watering £61 and bone-in sirloin for £29) were disappointing, as was the Hawksmoor’s signature burger (served only at lunch).  The two steaks looked beautiful but tasted a bit tough and lacked char.  Definitely not what you’d expect at those prices.  And the atmosphere at lunch?  A bit too spare and utilitarian.  I wasn’t sure I’d ever return.  (To the Hawksmoor’s credit, the restaurant contacted the Critical Couple after they blogged their review and offered them a free lunch to redeem itself, which it sounds like the Hawksmoor accomplished).

Hawksmoor burger with chips (£15)

bone-in prime rib (950g for £61 @ £6.50/100g)

bone-in sirloin (600g for £29)

Fast forward four months, and Jon tells me he’s craving steak for dinner.  Unfortunately, I’ve been temporarily swearing off rare meat.  And to go to a place like the Hawksmoor and order a well-done steak is synonymous with flushing money down the toilet, yes?  A cow will have died in vain, that’s for sure.  So Jon asks the Hawksmoor if they’re willing to serve their lunch-only hamburger at dinner to accommodate me, and you know, they were totally lovely about it.

When we showed up for dinner, the room felt completely different from lunchtime.  With the lights dimmed and candles burning, the room is warm and inviting.  The place is full but not loud, and Jon and I ordered the grilled bone marrow (£6), which arrived silken and smoky with char.  The bone marrow’s accompaniment of sweet grilled shallots complemented the acrid char.  More toast (also tasting beautifully of char) was no problem when we asked for it, and although we could easily have shared this starter four ways, I’m glad it was just the two of us.  I liked this bone marrow even more than I like St. John’s version, which I think is saying a lot.  For starters, because the bone is cut lengthwise, Hawksmoor’s version is easier to eat, but mostly, I loved the mix of acrid and sweet flavors.

My cheeseburger was served well-done, and before you raise a hue and cry that I would do such a thing, I will say that if all well-done burgers tasted this tender and flavorful all the time, then I might be willing to order it that way more often.  And oh what char!  The mayo, cheese, pickles melt into the burger patty, and it’s deliciously messy.  So much better than the prim and proper medium-rare burger I recall from my last visit to the Hawksmoor.  Jon’s medium-rare rib-eye (£26) was very tasty, so he tells me.

Service at dinner was friendly and attentive.  Tap water refills were fast and furious. Overall, I had a really nice experience at the Hawksmoor this time around.

No question that eating at the Hawksmoor is pricey, with our simple dinner costing us £90 for bone marrow, a burger, a rib-eye steak, two glasses of wine and coffee.  What a difference welcoming service, glowing decor and beautifully-blended toppings on a burger can make.   I’m still wary of returning to Hawksmoor for lunch because I felt so burned the first time around, but when I’m back to eating rare meat, I’ll look forward to dinner there again.

Hawksmoor, 157 Commercial Street, E1 6BJ; 0207 247 7392; closest Tube station:  Shoreditch High Street or Liverpool Street Station.
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Antepliler Turkish restaurant in Islington

There’s no shortage of Turkish restaurants on Islington’s Upper Street. It’s just too bad that most of them serve as mere pit stops for the crowds who come to my ‘hood on weekends to get pissed.  Imagine my excitement when I saw this glowing November 2010 review in TimeOut for Antepliler.  It’s always a good thing when a mid-range, delicious restaurant opens in your neighborhood, yes?

Happily, the service and decor at Antepliler lived up to expectations.  And the food was generally good, though based on my one meal there, I wouldn’t say Antepliler is a destination restaurant.  It’s more of a “great choice if you’re already in Islington” kind of place.

ripped-open puff of bread at Antepliler

Jon and I loved the breads, which arrived soon after we sat down.  Steaming hot and flavorsome, especially with the accompanying free chutneys and the cacik (£4.50), which was not free but when is strained cucumber with garlic and mint not a good plan?  

Patlican Soslu, a fried aubergine and tomato tapenade (£4.50)

Patlican Soslu, a fried aubergine with tomato tapenade, was too sugary.  Too bad as I love fried aubergine and was looking forward to this cold starter.

borek, fried cigars of feta cheese in a filo pastry (£4.20)

Borek were delicious.  Zippy feta cheese and crisp, greaseless filo pastry, all fried.   I’m afraid this dish isn’t going to keep away the crowds planning to get pissed on Upper Street, but its greatness as a bar snack cannot be ignored.

Ali Nazik, diced lamb on an eggplant puree (£10.50)

Listed under the category “Signiture Gaziantep Food” on the menu,  the diced lamb in Jon’s Ali Nazik was a bit dry.  We’d thought the lamb would be cooked as a large piece first and then diced, but it seems the lamb was diced and then cooked.  Hence the dryness.  The smoky eggplant puree helped give moisture to the dish, of course, but still, this is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes?

Simit Kebab, aka kofte (£10.50)

My Simit Kebab, kofte to you and me, was exactly what I like in a kofte.  The cracked wheat and abundant herbs in the minced lamb added a crunchy, earthy texture and flavor to the minced lamb.  The accompanying rice and salad were fine, but it was the generous portion of juicy kofte that was the star attraction.

With a beer each, our tab for two totaled £50.  Service was fast and friendly, and the interior was cheery and buzzing.  A very welcome addition to the neighborhood.

Antepliler Restaurant, 139 Upper St, N1 1QP, 0207 226 5441; closest Tube station:  Highbury & Islington (10-minute walk) or Angel (15-minute walk)

To read about other restaurants in Islington, click here.

Antepliler on Urbanspoon

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interior of Kopapa restaurant

Despite the fact that I have, for several years now, eaten Sunday brunch at the Providores about once a month (Turkish eggs changa with a side of chorizo, I love you), when Peter Gordon’s name comes up, I think immediately of Muzede Changa, a restaurant in Istanbul where Gordon is consulting chef.  I remember initially being skeptical that a London-based Kiwi chef serving as a consultant to an Istanbul restaurant could result in anything worthwhile, but the food was delicious, and the easy blend of Turkish and other cuisines left me a life-long fan of Peter Gordon’s.

Fellow resto bloggers Gourmet Chick and Greedy Diva proposed Gordon’s latest venture, Kopapa, as the meeting spot for our days-before-Christmas catch up, and I didn’t need any persuading.  Gourmet Chick’s writeup is here, and I’m pleased to report that Greedy Diva appears to be as big a procrastinator as I am and still hasn’t posted yet about our dinner there!  (For an anonymous pro opinion, see the review in this week’s TimeOut).

Overall, I liked Kopapa.  The service was friendly and attentive, and the dining room is casual and welcoming.  Most of the dishes we tried were good, with just a small minority of forgettable, “skip it” clunkers.  For sure, it’d be a great place to drop by for coffee and dessert, and it was a perfect spot for a friendly catch-up.

It took the three of us a while to scan the menu, partly because three food bloggers tend to talk a lot about what to order, and partly because the dish descriptions are so long.  Also, because most of the dishes are small, you end up having to make a lot more decisions than if you’d just gone with a starter-main-dessert structure.

The three of us shared 7 small plates, 1 main, and 2 desserts, and that was just the right amount of food.

The five tasty dishes:

tuna tartare (£6.00)

“Sesame infused tuna tartare with soy and wasabi tapioca, crispy lotus root and shiso” – that’s the menu description, and it’s long, yes?  This was the sort of dish that characterized much of what we tried on the Kopapa menu.  Boring, safe tuna tartare well prepared with just enough “twist” to lift it out of boring land.  Here, we had firm chunks of raw tuna served in a refreshing and well-balanced dressing with nut, citrus and salty flavors.  I didn’t taste much heat from the wasabi, but the texture and prettiness of the lotus root was a nice touch.

duck breast with pickled pineapple and goats curd (£6.50)

“Indonesian marinated magret duck breast, goats curd, beetroot confit and pickled pineapple” – you have to admire Kopapa for bucking the current fashion of over-simplifying descriptions to the point of unhelpfulness (e.g., a restaurant’s labeling an elaborate salad as just “greens”).  But there really is such a thing as TMI.  Anyway, similar to the tuna tartare, the rare duck breast was good but boring on its own, however, it was livened up by the sweet-and-sour pickled pineapple and creamy-tangy goats curd.

coconut sticky pork ribs (£5.80)

“Coconut sticky pork ribs” were crowd-pleasingly sweet, sticky and fall-off-the-bone tender.

duck liver parfait (£5.60)

“Grilled duck liver parfait with tamarind raisin chutney and grilled flat bread” — loved that there was no shortage of flatbread to accompany the creamy liver parfait.  And the caramelized sugar crust was clever, complementing the liver with its texture and sweetness.

parmesan bone marrow toast (£5.20)

“Parmesan and bone marrow on toast with horseradish” – Gourmet Chick noted that this distinguished itself from the bone marrow at St. John, which I agree with, but strangely, was thinking at the time that the flavors brought to mind St. John’s welsh rarebit.  In any case, as you’d expect, this dish was rich and comforting, and I wish there’d been more horseradish.  I crave spicy kick, apparently.

And now for the three “skip it” dishes:

grilled aubergine

“Grilled aubergine with tamarind caramel, coriander, pickled ginger and za’atar” – I found this whole dish bland despite all the flavor-packed-sounding accompaniments.  Normally, I love anything aubergine.  But this dish was just mush with occasional and imbalanced flashes of sweetness and ginger.

butternut squash (£4.20)

“Five spice and cumin crumbed butternut with coconut cucumber raita” – Breaded and deep fried.  I thought it’d be right up my alley.  But again, oddly bland and still-too-firm butternut squash.  Maybe if the squash had been boiled longer before frying so that it was softer and sweeter?

pork belly (£15.80)

“Cripsy pork belly on almond skordalia and buttered kale with moromi miso & tarragon dressing” – It just tasted like pork belly.  Well-prepared pork belly with a good, shatter-with-a-fork crispy crackling.  But when you read the menu description, you expect something more spectacular than plain old pork belly.

Desserts – simple and delicious.  A good ending.

boiled-orange cake (£5.80)

“Boiled-orange and almond cake with passionfruit custard” – we wondered if it was the orange that was boiled, or the whole cake.  Gourmet Chick did some digging around and tells me it’s steamed.  I’ll go with that.  Incredibly moist and infused with citrus, complemented by the tartness of passionfruit.

“Double-chocolate and macadamia nut brownie with Golden Crunch ice cream” – sure, it was a lame-sounding choice, but sometimes you just want a brownie with ice cream.  And the ice cream with its honeyed crunch was outstanding.

Total spend:  £109, including service and a modest bottle of wine, meaning we paid £36 each for a generally-tasty, relaxed evening out.  I look forward to going back.

Kopapa Restaurant, 32 – 34 Monmouth Street, Seven Dials, Covent Garden, WC2H 9HA; closest tube stations:  Leicester Square or Covent Garden, though I hoofed it over from Tottenham Court Road, and the walk didn’t take much more than 10 minutes.
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meat pelmeni (£12.50)

I’ve heard a lot about Bob Bob Ricard.  The restaurant’s savvy owners have hosted a number of blogger events, which have resulted in positive reviews like this one and this one.  The place has always sounded like a lot of fun, and the Russian-British comfort food menu, intriguing.  However, much as I longed to test out that famous “press for champagne” button, the stars never aligned for me to pay BBR a visit.

Last Sunday night, at a loss for where to meet friends for dinner (it turns out that finding a desirable London restaurant open on a Sunday night is only marginally easier than it is in Paris), I was happy to see that Bob Bob Ricard was open for business.  So off we went.

High points of the evening (other than catching up with friends, obviously)?  (1) super attentive service; (2) glitzy OTT decor and private booths; (3) the huge and reasonably-priced wine list; and (4) the meat pelmeni (photo above) and potato vareniki (£12.50).  Juicy beef-and-lamb meat inside a thick doughy skin (the meat pelmeni) were well complemented by the tang of vinegar, and the creamy potato vareniki (like a spherical pierogi) was similarly well matched with sour cream.  Both were better than any of the pelmeni/dumplings I had in Russia two years ago, though they cost about 12x more than in Moscow and St. Petersburg, so I’d expect no less.  The dumplings made a great starter for four to share.

veal holstein (£21.50)

BBR’s menu is an interesting mix of Russian and British comfort food (the latter having a retro slant).  I’d heard much about BBR’s veal holstein, which is theoretically a veal escalope, pounded, breaded and fried, and then topped with a fried egg and anchovies.  That’s exactly what I got, except the veal had been pounded a little too thin, I thought.  So the breading-to-meat ratio was a bit too high. The truffled mashed potatoes underneath the veal holstein arrived lukewarm, and so much as I love the buttery-cream decadence of a mash, it was hard to enjoy the decadence when it had cooled and congealed somewhat.

My friend’s beef onglet was over-sauced, as if the kitchen were worried this cut of meat wouldn’t be flavorful enough on its own.  Jon’s chicken kiev (£18.50) was the best of the mains we ordered – juicy and comforting, with plenty of parsley butter oozing out.

Side dishes were generally so-so:  truffled mash (£5.50) was lukewarm like the pile under my veal holstein; spinach (£4.25) was buttery and hot, so that was alright; and macaroni-and-cheese (£5.50) was hot and delightful, though the purist in me objects to the inclusion of a gooey mozzarella-like cheese in the sauce.

lemon pot (£6.50)

Portions at BBR were generous, so I was the only one of our group who was up for dessert.  The lemon pot was a refreshing and deceptively-light-tasting choice.  The lemon custard and raspberry compote are a classic pairing, and the pastry “soldiers” were a great texture and handy for dipping into the custard.  Simple and fun.

With a cocktail each (£8.50 each), a £43 bottle of wine, our tab came to £60 each.  We had a fab time at BBR, but £60 seemed a lot for what came down to really good meat and potato dumplings in a glitzy dining room.  I’d go back to BBR to sample more of their wine list and to sample more of their starters and desserts, but I’d give the mains and side dishes a pass.

Bob Bob Ricard, 1 Upper James Street (just off the Golden Square), W1F 9DF; 0203 145 1000.  Closest tube station:  Piccadilly Circus

  • To read a few other blog posts about BBR, click here to read this positive review (March 2010) by Londonelicious, and here’s a negative review (August 2010) by A Girl Has to Eat.
  • To read more about my May 2008 adventures in Moscow and St. Petersburg, click here.
  • To read about Bocca di Lupo, one of my favorite restaurants nearby in Soho, click here.

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Sushi of Shiori near Euston Station

Jon, our friend J and I arrived at Sushi of Shiori last week with high expectations.  London Eater, who eats a lot of sushi, loved it so much he visited three times over a two-month period; Hollow Legs, never one to hold back if she dislikes a place, raved about her £50 omakase (chef’s choice) dinner there.  And of course, pros, too, are fans.

We’d called ahead to ask for an omakase dinner for £40 a person.  I was expecting mind-blowingly-fresh fish and a relaxed evening catching up with J, but when we left Sushi of Shiori two hours after we’d first arrived, I felt like both my expectations were half-met.

Sitting at the 3-person counter facing the chef, (who’s ex-Umu, if you hadn’t heard), the three of us found it mildly awkward carrying on a conversation.  One of the differences between Sushi of Shiori and other sushi counters is that there’s nothing separating you from the sushi chef.  It didn’t help that for the first 30 minutes or so, we were the only diners in the restaurant (there are five other seats, which isn’t much, but having even just two other people around can help the atmosphere).  

crabmeat and baby courgette

A mouthful of delicate, sweet crabmeat was a good start.

miso soup with fried flowers

Fragrant, umami-rich miso soup was possibly the best version I’ve ever tried.  The chef’s wife, a one-woman front-of-house, told us the rice-krispy-looking garnish were deep-fried flowers.  They added nice texture, but the soup would have been excellent even without them.

sea bass

The sea bass sashimi was beautifully fanned out, peacock style, with each “feather” dotted with sticky plum sauce.   We dipped each delicate slice of sashimi in a small bowl of ponzu sauce, which did its citrus refreshing thing.  All very good, but the fish seemed to rely heavily on the sauces for flavor.

sashimi platter

Highlights of the sashimi platter were the scallop and the prawn, both wonderfully sweet.  Low point was the not-so-fatty tuna, which had been seared to the point of becoming a lukewarm cube of flavorless protein.

nigiri and maki platter

Rice-based nigiri and maki are usually my favorites at sushi restaurants.  On the plus side, the rice was slightly warm, not too sticky, and a good balance of sweet and tart.  The downside was that none of the fish was memorable.

Wagyu beef nigiri

The seared beef nigiri was very nice, topped with spring onion and a  ponzu jelly.

green tea ice cream

And for dessert, the green tea ice cream with a crispy, nutty biscuit would’ve been a perfect end to our dinner sans mealy chestnut.

At around 9 pm, a wave of people arrived at the restaurant to order takeaway, which made me think Sushi of Shiori would be a *brilliant* place to order takeaway sushi.   But for a transcendent sushi restaurant experience?  Not so much.  Maybe £40 a person wasn’t enough to experience fireworks, but I left Sushi of Shiori disappointed.  High expectations are a bitch.

Sushi of Shiori, 144 Drummond Street, NW1 2PA; 020 7388 9962

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interior of Banh Mi Bay

Not too long ago, I’d have to go to Paris to satisfy my craving for banh mi.

What a difference twelve months can make!  While I wouldn’t say London has a huge banh mi scene now, there are at least half a dozen places to find those porky-savory-sweet-spicy sandwiches I love.  Most recently, I tried out Banh Mi Bay in Holborn, which is just a ten-minute cycle ride from my house thanks to those snazzy Boris bikes.  Score.  (If anyone from TFL is reading this, by the way, we’re dying for docking stations around Islington Green.)

I’ve actually visited Banh Mi Bay twice over the last month.  Not because it was that amazing, but only because the first time I showed up, it was dinnertime, and when I tried to order banh mi, the restaurant told me they’d  “run out” of banh mi during the afternoon.  I was pretty crushed.  I mean, the restaurant’s named Banh Mi Bay, and they ran out of banh mi?

I regret not having asked why the restaurant couldn’t make more banh mi during the intervening hours between lunchtime and dinnertime.

cha gio (£4) and summer rolls (£3.50)

So, involuntarily, I’ve had more than just the banh mi at Banh Mi Bay.  Cha gio and summer rolls were good, but I still felt like I’d been cheated somehow.

shredded caramel pork com dia (£6.50)

char-grilled pork bun (£6)

Jon and I ordered basic rice vermicelli (bun) and rice (com dia) dishes.  Pluses:  plenty of chilis on the side to liven up the otherwise-bland nuoc cham; good non-clumpy texture to the rice vermicelli noodles.  Minuses:  much of the grilled pork had been burnt to a crisp.  I wouldn’t return to Banh Mi Bay for these.

chargrilled pork banh mi (£3.50)

Learning from the mistake I made during that first visit, I showed up for lunch the second time around.  To maximize the odds that Banh Mi Bay would be serving banh mi, of course.

And you know what?  It was good.  The bread, too often the downfall of banh mi, had a light, crackly crust, and a soft, pillowy interior.  Plenty of chili kick and a good amount of sweet-crunchy pickled veg.  Worth the second trip.

"meatballs" (£5)

Not satisfied with just banh mi, Jon couldn’t resist seeing what the “meatballs” listed on the menu were.  And these were pretty good – a DIY deal.  You assembled your own rolls using pre-softened rice paper wrap.

Vietnamese coffee (£2)

Ending our banh mi lunch with some sticky-sweet Vietnamese coffee (who knew condensed milk could be good?), we left happy and full and only £15 lighter in wallet for the two of us.   The cafe is pretty, the prices low, and the service attentive.  I’ll be back, though only for the banh mi.

Banh Mi Bay, 4-6 Theobald’s Road, WC1X8PN; 0207 831 4079; closest Tube stations:  practically a tie among Holborn, Farringdon and Russell Square.

For other posts about banh mi in London:

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fried goodies: suppli (£2), bocconcini (£2.50), artichoke a la Giudia (£5), and in the background, a fried courgette flower (£4)

When I was at Bocca di Lupo a year ago, I had a lot of fun, but the service and food were a mixed bag.  I left thinking that while I wouldn’t object to going again, I also wasn’t dying to revisit.

However, not having been to Bocca di Lupo and being a lover of all things Italian, Jon has long wanted to go, and with the recent buzz around good-quality, low-to-mid-priced Italians  opening in London, the time seemed right to revisit BdL.  Which is how we found ourselves there for dinner last week.

First impressions were great.  Still the warm, exciting atmosphere that I recall from my last visit, and the flattering lighting never hurts, either.  The bar seats were packed with diners who appeared to be having a good time, and the few tables at the back of the room were also full.  Not too shabby for a Tuesday evening.

Jon and I started with assorted fried goodies, which you order by the piece.  Fried artichoke (carciofi alla giudia) was especially good, with a nutty crunch to the exterior, and a moist, buttery heart.  Fried courgette flower included a powerful kick of anchovy, which I love, and both snacks brought back memories of Rome, a definite bonus.  Suppli and fried bocconcini were fine, but the bland comforts of fried cheese inevitably paled in comparison to the flavorsome artichoke and courgette flower.

nettle and ricotta ravioli in a pansotti walnut sauce (£6)

orecchiette with tomato and spicy salami (£7)

Our pasta courses were both very good, though I slightly preferred the spicy sweetness of the orecchiette to the creamy nuttiness of the nettle-and-ricotta ravioli.  The walnut sauce on the ravioli was a bit too heavy given that pasta was just a “course” for us (i.e., there was still a meat course to follow).

foie gras sausage and fregola (£9)

Foie gras Italian sausage was a revelation.  Usually, I’m skeptical of any dish where foie gras is an ingredient – it usually turns out to be a waste of foie gras.  But here, the foie’s creamy, rich meatiness was matched perfectly with the crumbly, fennel-scented pork of the sausage.  Without the foie gras, the sausage would have been pretty lean and dry, in fact.  The coarse, slightly-nutty fregola absorbed and blended with the sausage’s intense flavor.  This is a dish I’ll be craving as the days get darker and colder.

We skipped dessert in order to walk across the street to BdL’s gelateria, Gelupo, which is a worth a visit in its own right

With a couple of sides priced at £5 and a £40 bottle of wine, our dinner for two totaled £98, which I thought was great value given the quality of our food.  If you skipped the wine, all this food for £30 a person would be almost a steal, really.  In fact, Bocca di Lupo is what nearby and much-loved Polpo could be if Polpo took reservations.  And had good lighting.  And a happenin’ bar.

I’m already looking forward to going back.  This time, it won’t take me a year.

Bocca di Lupo, 12 Archer Street, W1D 7BB; 0207 734 2223; closest Tube station: Piccadilly Circus.

Gelupo gelateria, 7 Archer Street, W1D 7AU (i.e., across the street from Bocca di Lupo); 0207 287 5555.  Open until 1 am on weekends!  And at the back of the gelateria, there’s a small grocery where you can buy foie gras sausage to cook at home.  What’s not to love?
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TenShi in Islington

I’ve lived in Angel Islington for close to five years now, and I love this ‘hood.  The many food-shopping options and shopping options, generally, make me happy.  As does running along the Regent’s Canal and being able to walk to work.

What holds Islington back from Best Neighborhood Ever status, I think, is its high percentage of mediocre restaurants.  So whenever I hear about a new place in the ‘hood with good reviews, I show up with high hopes, and honestly, I’m usually disappointed.  The latest example of this cycle of disappointment:  TenShi sushi, which opened earlier this year and has gotten recommended a number of times by TimeOut for being good value.

prawn tempura roll

I didn’t order anything very unusual, and yet it was all sub-par.  The prawns in my prawn tempura roll were flavourless, and instead of including crunchy cucumber slices with just the right dab of sweet mayo and wasabi, the rolls were flavored only with soy sauce. In fact, everything at TenShi that I tried tasted of soy sauce:  agedashi tofu, udon noodle soup.

yaki soba

Yaki soba, again, tasted mostly of soy sauce with a dollop of grease mixed in.   Whoever worked the kitchen that night was a lover of soy sauce, for sure, and I kept thinking of that scene in the Joy Luck Club where the clueless dinner guest destroys his food by dousing it in soy sauce.

Service was attentive and fast, and the prices were low (four mains and two shared starters totaled £60).  But if I’m craving sushi and want to stay in the ‘hood, I’ll  stick with Sa Sa Sushi (which is closed on Sunday evenings – hence why I was at TenShi on a Sunday evening).  So without further ado . . . .
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Sa Sa Sushi

I’ve meant to do a blog post about Sa Sa Sushi for ages.  It’s one of those places where I eat very often and take for granted, and I feel very protective towards the kind and welcoming people who work there, so I suppose a part of me didn’t want to subject them to potentially-unfriendly scrutiny.  But you know, after eating the fish here at least three times a month for a couple of years, I owe them a shout out, no?

assorted nigiri and rolls at Sa Sa Sushi

Jon and I don’t vary our orders much here.  It’s our prerogative to avoid exploring the menu when it’s just a quick bite out in the neighborhood.   Which is all to say, I vouch for the rolls and the nigiri and have no opinion either way on Sa Sa Sushi’s other dishes.   Prawn tempura roll, of course, is one of my favorites, as are the crunchy-and-spicy [insert any fish here] rolls.  I like, for example, that when you order a spicy tuna roll, you don’t end up with a mayonnaise-chili-mash of last-week’s tuna.  Instead, the roll includes a hefty piece of identifiably-fresh tuna that is delicately spiced with chili.

udon noodle soup at Sa Sa Sushi

Jon’s an udon noodle lover, so he gets this a lot.  I’ve had a taste of his a few times, and it’s good, but when I show up at Sa Sa, I’m there for the fish.

Service at Sa Sa can be slow, but most times the slow-ness is due to the care with which the sushi chefs are making each roll and piece of nigiri (I’ve watched them while sitting at the sushi counter up front).

The restaurant’s decor is bright and inoffensive, if a bit charmless, and prices are reasonable (£4-6 a roll), so the tab usually comes to £20 a person if you’re sticking only with the sushi options (which you should).

I’m not claiming the place is a destination restaurant, but I confidently assert that Sa Sa is one of the best places to eat in Islington and miles better than what I’ve tried at TenShi.

Sa Sa Sushi, 422 St. John Street, EC1V 4NJ, 020 7837 1155; closest tube station:  Angel (exit the station and make a left, away from Upper Street and towards City Road).
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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.
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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
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