Archive for the ‘Islington’ Category


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


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.
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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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Delhi Grill in Chapel Market, Islington

Like most city dwellers, Jon and I receive a lot of unwanted takeaway menus dropped through our post slot.  And like most people, we recycle the vast majority without a second glance.

Unusually, though, back in August, I saved the Delhi Grill‘s takeaway menu from the recycling bin because of (1) its limited, focussed menu options; and (2) its statement that they wanted to bring Whitechapel to the ‘hood.

A few days after I saw Delhi Grill’s menu, I was walking through Chapel Market and spotted an outdoor grill set up by Delhi Grill — clearly a cosmic signal that I ought to try out the stand’s offerings of custom-order kati rolls and potato-onion pakoras.

lamb kati roll at Delhi Grill's Chapel Market stall on Sundays (£3)

potato-and-onion pakoras

I ordered a lamb kati roll, which was basically sheekh kebab hot off the grill, wrapped in warm, soft roti.  It wasn’t as deliciously-dense and flavorful as the ones I’ve had at the Kati Roll Company, but it was pretty darn good.  At £3 a roll, it’s a filling lunch, especially if you add an order of pakoras, which you should do.  Somehow the pakoras retained their crispiness despite not being fresh from the fryer, and I enjoyed the hint of sweet spiciness from the paprika and chilli mixed in.

Despite our positive experience with Delhi Grill’s Sunday grill stand, it took me months to finally return to Delhi Grill for dinner.  Last Saturday, we gave it a go.

sheekh kebabs (£2.50 for two pieces)

chilli chicken wings (£1.95 for 4 pieces)

grilled lamb chops (£2.95 for 2 pieces)

Grilled items as starters were generally very good.   Sizzling, juicy, well seasoned.   The lamb chops could have used more marinade and fat, but I say this as someone who always prefers a wet marinade to a dry rub.

fish pakoras (£3.50 for 4 pieces)

Fried foods were very good, too, though you could accuse all the fried dishes of tasting the same because the chilli-paprika seasoning in the batter seems to stay the same, whether the pakoras are fish or onion.

biryani (£7.50)

Chicken biryani was a special of the day, and this was the low point of our evening.  The biryani had wonderfully-fragrant flavoring and texture, striking a nice balance between being moist and fluffy, but the dish was inexplicably served lukewarm.  Considering how hot and straight-from-the-kitchen everything else tasted, we were surprised that the biryani had been allowed to cool off before being served.

roti (£1) and naan (£1.50)

Overall, our dinner at Delhi Grill was delicious and cheap (£30 for two, including beers), and I’m thrilled that it opened in the ‘hood.  Special shout out to the guy making the rotis right in the dining room.  The set-up is saved from gimmick by the simple fact that the rotis are excellent.

Delhi Grill, 21 Chapel Market, N1 9EZ; 0207 278 8100; closest Tube station:  Angel

To read about other restaurants I like in Islington:

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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 . . . .
Tenshi on Urbanspoon

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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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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Bistro Bruno Loubet dining room

Last week, I met Gourmet Chick and Londonelicious for dinner at Bistrot Bruno Loubet in Clerkenwell.  I’d been there once before, back in March, soon after the bistro had opened in the Zetter hotel, and that time, the food had been very good.  Clerkenwell is perfectly located between work and home for me, so I was glad to pay it a return visit when the three of us were debating where to eat.  (The beauty of dining out with other food bloggers is that choosing the venue is half the fun).

bread served in a flowerpot - a super charming touch

Things got off to a bumpy start when the day of our reservation arrived.  The bistrot called to confirm, and in classic passive-aggressive fashion, they asked if it’d be “OK” that they’d need the table back after two hours.  I asked if I really had a choice and added that it would have been nice to know this policy in advance (for example, when I was making the booking originally).  The restaurant’s response was that it was hard for them to know in advance that they’d need the table back at a certain time, which is kind of crap.  How do other restaurants – who don’t limit the amount of time you can have the table – estimate turnover times?

Anyway, to make a long story short, at the two-hour mark, we were asked to pay our bill or  move to the hotel bar.  I was supremely non-plussed and felt like I was getting booted out.  The first time I ate at Bruno Loubet, I enjoyed a leisurely and delicious meal with family friends, and this second time around, I left feeling kind of cranky, which is too bad, because our server that evening was attentive and helpful and generally everything you want in a server, really.

revised Lyonnaise salad (£7)

On to the food – like Gourmet Chick, I chose the revised Lyonnaise salad for a starter, and although I remember loving it the first time I ate at Bruno Loubet (poached egg and bacon on greens – what’s not to love?), this time around, I thought the greens-to-toppings ratio could’ve been a lot higher.  The generous amounts of crispy, salty bacon overwhelmed the frisee, and the egg was overcooked and not runny.   Sad.

Guinea fowl boudin blanc with leek fondue and chervil sauce (£7)

Guinea fowl boudin blanc (white sausage) was both impossibly light and heavy.  The texture was memorably fluffy, but halfway through, the salt got to me, and I had trouble finishing the boudin.  Good thing my dining companions wanted to try some, because otherwise, I would’ve been embarrassed that I hadn’t finished a meal comprised of a mere two starters.

lamb shoulder confit (£16)

Confit lamb shoulder was served in an unappetizing ball shape.  And disappointingly, the lamb was dry and underseasoned, so I’m 100% in agreement with Gourmet Chick there.

wood pigeon breast, cauliflower, almond, quinoa and giblet sauce (£15.50)

Gourmet Chick’s pan-fried breast of wood pigeon was a winner, though the presentation was pretty hideous.  Pigeon is too often served tough, but at Bruno Loubet, it was juicy, rare and had the richness that only offal can provide.  If I weren’t so annoyed about the service, I’d say I’d return to BBL just to order this dish for myself next time.

Things being what they are, though, it’d take a lot to get me to return to Bistrot Bruno Loubet.  Bar Boulud, where I’ve also been twice, delivers better service than BBL does; prices are similar, and Bar Boulud’s chop chop salad with lobster is still calling out to me.  So, as handy as Clerkenwell is for me, Knightsbridge will be my destination the next time I’m looking for a casual bistro meal.

With a £30 bottle of wine and glasses of dessert wine, we paid £50 a person for dinner at BBL.

Bistrot Bruno Loubet, Zetter Hotel, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, EC1M 5RJ; 0207 324 4455; closest Tube station: Farringdon
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Byron burgers in Islington

There are lots of foods I miss from the US – New York-style pizza, bagels, General Tso’s chicken – but burgers don’t make the list of things I miss most. It’s not that burgers in London are so fantastic, but at least they show up here in a form that’s better than say, bagels, do, so I don’t feel as deprived. Take, for example, the star item on the menu at Byron Burgers, which now has seven locations in London, and on the basis of its not using a rock-hard bun, has firmly crushed Hache, where I formerly went for a reasonably-cheap, decent burger.

Despite walking daily through Camden Passage, it wasn’t until last week that I finally noticed Byron Burgers had opened in my neighborhood. Because I’m always looking for something quick and cheap before a film at Vue Cinema or Screen on the Green, or even when I’m splashing out on a show at the Almeida, I had high hopes that Byron would fit those purposes. And happily, it does.

cheeseburger with American cheese (£7.25)

I loved that I could order my cheeseburger with that miracle of industrial-food-production: the American slice. It’s born to melt. And the burger bun was softer than it appeared and easily sopped up all the meaty juices from my medium-rare beef patty. It was a fast-food burger made with good-quality ingredients. I was one happy camper.

fries, onion rings and macaroni cheese, each £2.75

Thumbs up, too, to the onion rings, which were slightly greasy, but crispy on the outside and tasting of firm, sweet onions on the inside. Sadly, our French fries weren’t crispy, and the macaroni and cheese was downright horrible, comprised of macaroni noodles with cheese melted on top. Where was the thick, rich bechamel-based cheese sauce? Or the gratineed topping?

chocolate milkshake (£3.75)

Instead of dessert, I ordered a chocolate milkshake, which was thick, bittersweet and ginormous. Just like home!

Service was fast and friendly, and pitchers of tap water were brought to our table and replaced without our asking. Good stuff.

With a refreshing American-style lemonade (£2.25), a double espresso (£2.00) and a large glass of California pinot noir (£7.40), plus tip, our total for two was £45. Pricey for a burger dinner, but not bad for a tasty dinner out. Plus, if I exercise just a little more willpower next time, I suspect I can get in and out for just over a tenner, which *would* be cheap.

You’re very welcome to the ‘hood, Byron.

Byron, 341 Upper Street, N1; 0207 704 7620; closest tube station: Angel
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crab claw (£8) at the Well gastropub in Clerkenwell

There are very few things I miss about working in Canary Wharf, and lunch at the Gun is one of them. So two Fridays ago, when our friends suggested we meet for dinner at the Well, whose owners also own the Gun, I was thrilled.  A quick glance at TimeOut’s review of the Well revealed that the Well was running a 50% off food promotion, which sweetened the deal.

roasted scallops (~£9)

Several of the tables at the Well (including ours) are extremely close to the door.  Which means it’s cold what with all that traffic in and out.  But the place was lively, and pints with good friends have a way of warming you up.

The food, though, was worthwhile once we took 50% off the menu price.  At menu prices (starters at around £8 or £9 and mains were £15 to £20), the Well strikes me as too expensive for the quality.  I appreciate how, once you get the discount, it’s tough to imagine paying double what you did, but my roasted scallops, for example, weren’t great and weren’t awful, either.  How do you put a price on that?   £4.50 seemed alright for this level of cooking, but at £9, I’d be upset.

rabbit pie

My rabbit pie was similarly alright.  The filling was more soupy than I like, and I had to dig around to find the bits of rabbit, so again, at £7.50, I’m tolerant, and at £15, I’m outraged.

For starters, mains, shared desserts and drinks, we paid £31 a person, which felt fair.  And if the food hadn’t been 50% off, I would’ve felt ripped off.  The Well may share owners with the Gun, but I think that’s about all they have in common, as I recall the Gun being pricey, but worth the price.

Which is all to say:  go to the Well only for drinks with friends, or if you can get the 50% off food deal.

The Well, 180 St. John Street, EC1V 4JY; 0207 251 9363; closest tube station;  Farringdon
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foggy photo of chicken liver pate (£8ish) at the Duke of Cambridge in Islington

Yesterday, Jon and I moved from the Barnsbury side of Upper Street to the Saint Peter’s side. Although the two areas are only a 10-minute walk apart, Upper Street might as well be the Great Wall, because in the 4 1/2 years we’ve lived in Islington, we very rarely crossed that divide.

Jon and I have spent weeks packing in preparation. For two foreigners, we seem to have a lot of “stuff” with us – the American Way, perhaps.

Our movers (the amazingly-strong, polite and prompt Aussie Man & Van) arrived at 8 am, and by 2:30 pm all our boxes and furniture had been unloaded in our new place. Drowning in a sea of boxes and bubble wrap and not sure what to unpack first, we decided to go for lunch at our new local, the Duke of Cambridge Pub.

Although it was late for lunch, the pub’s tables were packed. Jon and I found a table in the pub’s skylighted annex and ordered off the blackboard in the back.

Despite having been to the Duke of Cambridge once before in March 2009, I’d forgotten that (1) the place is all-organic; and (2) the prices are high. Chicken liver pate with chutney and gherkins, for example, was deliciously creamy — as chicken liver tends to be — but a rather expensive £8+. I know it’s organic, but chicken liver is supposed to be one of the cheaper ingredients in the world, no?

beef mince pie and mash (£15ish)

My beef mince pie was delicious and tasted made-from-scratch. The crust shattered at the tap of my fork, and I liked that the pie filling was neither too runny nor too thick. In fact, the gravy tasted like the result of a long braise.

Jon’s fish and chips was similarly well-prepared and flavorsome, though I wondered what was up with the oven-baked chips. Can they still be called chips if they’re not fried?

Service was friendly; tap water not a problem; and the food was pretty good. The place has all the makings of a fine local — except for the price. At £45 for a starter, two mains and a pint, our lunch at the Duke of Cambridge was too expensive for it to be a regular habit. Luckily, this side of Upper Street appears to be packed with pubs, so we’re looking forward to exploring the other local options.  Recommendations warmly welcomed!

Duke of Cambridge Pub, 30 St. Peter’s Street, N1 8JT; closest tube station: Angel.
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dan dan noodles at Chilli Cool (£4.80)

A few weeks ago, I ate at Sichuan-heavy Ba Shan, where, except for the kung pao chicken, everything I ordered was mediocre and relatively pricey. And then I read this positive review of Chilli Cool Sichuan Restaurant by blogger, Mr. Noodles, who is a regular there, and I knew I’d have to try it out before the year was over.

Cue Londonelicious and Gourmet Chick, who proposed that we eat someplace cheap and cheerful after our last blowout get-together at Kai Mayfair.  Chilli Cool fit the bill, so we met there yesterday evening.

gong pao chicken at Chilli Cool (£7.50)

I have a weakness for peanuts, which translates into a weakness for gong pao chicken.   Londonelicious remarked that the dish was a bit on the sugary side, which is true, but I didn’t mind too much.  There was enough vinegar flavor to keep the sugar in check.  I loved that the peanuts were salty and crunchy, but I was disappointed that there were no Sichuan peppercorns in our dish.  The red chillis on the plate, while attractive, didn’t add any noticeable heat.

Speaking of non-spicy:  Chilli Cool’s dan dan noodles (photo at top) were a million times better than the lukewarm spaghetti noodles served to me under the guise of dan dan mien at Ba Shan.  I loved that the noodles had the soft bite of fresh wheat noodles, and the pork had the saltiness of preserved veg mixed in, but where was the heat?  I don’t think there were any Sichuan peppercorns or chili oil in there.  I’m no spice masochist, but I like kick.  That’s why I wanted to eat Sichuan!

sliced beef Sichuan style (£8.80)

The winner of the night was a dish recommended as “must order” by Mr. Noodles, listed as “sliced beef Szechuan style” on the menu.  It’s a classic Sichuan preparation of protein swimming in chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns.  The beef was remarkably tender.  My one complaint:  seriously not spicy.

mapo tofu (£6.80)

Mapo tofu and dry-fried beans rounded up our order of all the Sichuan classics.  They were fine, but without much spiciness, they were even less interesting than our gong pao chicken and dan dan noodles.

The room looks and feels like a greenhouse, with a high glass-paneled ceiling and a matching high temperature.  Good thing cool Tsingtao beers were readily available.  Our servers were efficient and good about bringing drinks and tap water (as well as packing up our leftovers).  Obviously the company at dinner was unbeatable, and the prices were good.  With three beers each, our tab came to £21 each.

Given Chilli Cool’s low prices and proximity to King’s Cross (and by extension, to my ‘hood, Angel Islington), I’ll be back.  But next time, I’ll bring along my own chili peppers.

Chilli Cool Sichuan Cuisine, 15 Leigh Street, London WC1H 9EW; 0207 383 3135; closest Tube station: King’s Cross St. Pancras
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The Compass Pub, Islington

The Compass Pub, Islington

Despite the good number of tasty gastropubs in Islington, it’s still nice when a new one opens in the ‘hood. The Compass has been open about three months, and for a place that doesn’t want to be known as a gastropub (they insist they’re a pub that happens to serve food – whaaat?), the place is packed with dining tables.

Jon and I have eaten at the Compass twice now. Once on a Friday night, and another time for Sunday roast. On a busy Friday night, despite having booked a table for 9 pm, Jon and I stood around near a till for several minutes trying to figure out who to speak to. When someone finally made eye contact, we were shown to a table that already had someone sitting there. Uh, no thanks.

So we had a drink at the bar (the beers on tap are varied – I was especially happy to see a hefeweizen) and waited for a table to open up. I wasn’t in a rush to go anywhere, but really, what was the point of making a booking?

roast foie gras starter at the Compass

roast foie gras starter at the Compass

Seated with our menus, I could see that the Compass is trying to be much more than a pub. For example, they offered a roast foie gras starter for £8. Not a slice of terrine, but a whole slab of foie. At that price, I had to try it, and you know, it was really good. The accompanying roast peach and fig were sweet and smoky complements to the salty. rich meatiness of the foie gras. I should’ve stopped eating right there because it was a meal in itself.

mussels steamed in cider and chilis

mussels steamed in cider and chilis

Jon’s chili-cider mussels arrived in a small portion and tasted much less interesting than the description on the menu suggested. The mussels were plump, but I didn’t taste any chili kick in these, and there didn’t seem to be much difference in cooking the mussels in cider versus a white wine. Still, they were good steamed mussels.

Speaking of wine, the Compass offers at least a dozen wines by the glass or by the 500 mL carafe. I like places that do that.

roast partridge with mushroom cream sauce

roast partridge with mushroom cream sauce

My main course of roast partridge was also straightforward and comforting, with tender meat and crispy skin. But the accompanying mushroom cream sauce had congealed over a bit, so the visual put me off eating it. What little I tried tasted intensely of mushrooms, but I couldn’t get past the gloppy appearance.

Compass roast rib eye

Sunday roast rib eye

On Sundays, the Compass offers a more limited menu. Last weekend, the choices were a roast rib eye, a risotto, and a pan-fried skate. I was glad my roast arrived looking pinkish-red, and the meat was tender and juicy. The horseradish sauce was much welcomed, and the steamed veg and Yorkshire puddings were tasty and attractive sides served separately to keep them crunchy, I guess. The Yorkshire pudding could’ve tasted more of pan drippings, but I suppose I do like my YPs on the oily side.

The pumpkin risotto was also a (surprise) winner, with the rice perfectly al dente but creamy and the pumpkin adding just the right amount of sweetness.

Yorkshire pudding and veg at Sunday roast

Yorkshire pudding and veg at Sunday roast

Overall, the Compass is a nice addition to the neighborhood. The decor and service aren’t stand-outs, but the food – while simple – is well cooked. With drinks and service, both our meals cost about £30 per person.

The Compass, 58 Penton Street, N1 9 PZ (towards the end of Chapel Market away from the M&S and Waitrose); 020 7837 3891; closest tube station: Angel

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roti canai at Rasa Sayang

roti canai at Rasa Sayang Malaysian restaurant in Soho

roti canai at Sedap Malaysian restaurant in Clerkenwell

roti canai at Sedap Malaysian restaurant in Clerkenwell

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

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

nasi lemak at Rasa Sayang restaurant

nasi lemak at Rasa Sayang restaurant

nasi lemak at Sedap restaurant in Clerkenwell

nasi lemak at Sedap restaurant in Clerkenwell

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

fried pomfret, a clunker at Rasa Sayang

fried pomfret, a clunker at Rasa Sayang

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

curry laksa at Sedap Malaysian restaurant

curry laksa at Sedap Malaysian restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

Rasa Sayang on Urbanspoon

Sedap on Urbanspoon

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Waitrose at Angel station, Islington

Waitrose at Angel station, Islington

Some of you know that I live in Islington, near Angel. There are many reasons I love my ‘hood, but with the opening of the new Waitrose at Angel station last Thursday, I thought I’d take the opportunity to explain why Angel is a dream for grocery shopping.

I mean, Waitrose is nice to have (though what’s up with the congested cash register situation and the closing at 9 pm?), but it’s far from the only game in town around these parts. For example, we already have a trusty M&S and an enormous Sainsbury’s bookending the Waitrose. Then there are two Tescos (one at Islington Green, and the other at Highbury & Islington station), a Budgens and a Sainsbury Local in the “middle” bit of Upper Street, and that’s just the big-chain supermarkets.

For 10kg bags of jasmine, basmati or sushi rice, as well as rice sticks, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil and other Asian pantry basics, there’s the small, tidy and unfailingly-friendly Thai-An just behind the Sainsbury’s.

I get my ripe-and-ready-to-eat avocados, enormous bags of nuts, and cheap, huge bunches of herbs at the Chapel Market (which looks seedy and lowbrow at the Liverpool Road end, but gets more interesting, food-wise, the further back you go).

The otherwise charmless N1 Centre hosts outdoor French and Italian food markets every other weekend, which can be handy if you’re craving a crepe or cannoli, though of course the goods there are no match for the fresh pastas and classic Italian biscuits at Monte’s Italian Deli off Upper Street on Canonbury Road.

Jon and I happily queue up on Saturdays at the Steve Hatt Fishmonger, where the prices are high, but the quality is unbelievable. I’ve even thought about learning to be a sushi chef so I can really appreciate the beautiful freshness of their inventory. As the weather gets warmer, we can’t think of anything more mouthwatering than throwing a few of Steve Hatt’s king prawns on the grill.

Special-occasion, special-order meat comes from either E. Wood on Liverpool Road, or James Elliot, next door to Steve Hatt (handy).

For super-high-quality butters, eggs, well-chosen charcuterie, cheeses and olive oil you can buy in bulk (just bring your own container), we hop over to the Barnsbury Grocer on Liverpool Road.

And last but not least, Jon and I live for the Islington Farmer’s Market. While nothing will ever replace the variety, color and excitement of Borough Market, Jon and I are always pleased by what we find at our local market on Sundays behind Islington Town Hall. We always hit the goat cheese guy (the garlicky one is the best, imho) and the Perry Court Farm guys all the way in the back (they’re generally the cheapest of the bunch). We pick up our eggs from the meat guys across the way from the egg-specialist lady (bc the meat guys sell their eggs for only £1.50 per half-dozen and the egg lady charges £2 . . . we seem to be the only ones who’ve noticed?), and we love the buffalo-milk cheese guy who sets up near Kingcup Farms. When we’re feeling really flush, we buy fruit from the ubiquitous Chegworth Valley people and pork goodies from Downland Produce peeps.

So, Waitrose, welcome to the neighborhood. But you’ve got your work cut out for you.

Now, here’s the gauntlet throwdown: if you think your nabe can compete with Angel Islington for food-shopping greatness, drop a comment below explaining why.

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Thanksgiving at mine - gluttony on a plate, first servings

Thanksgiving at mine - gluttony on a plate, first servings

First of all, happy Thanksgiving (four days late). I had a fab one, though this year Jon and I made our lives a little easier and had friends over on Saturday, not Thursday. The only downside we found on the Saturday option was that our nearby butcher, E. Wood, couldn’t give us a turkey on a Saturday (only on weekdays, apparently). So we had to schlepp a tad further to James Elliott, who kind of screwed us over with a 4.9 kg bird, instead of the 6 kg we’d ordered. But the turkey we got sure was Mmmm Mmmm good, so no complaints on quality (and it was worth every pence).

Anyway, what I’m most thankful for, in addition to the obvious list of friends, family and health: all of you who take the time to read my blog and keep me sane and happy. (Query what kind of personality loves blogging as much as I do, though).

This month, my wordpress stats tell me I had 16,842 page views, translating to an average of 562 page views a day. In actuality, I get about 700 page views on weekdays, and big, sad dips on weekends. Which tells me that most of you are reading while procrastinating at work. : )

Because I learn so much about building traffic just from seeing where Krista at Londonelicious gets her referrals, I figure I’ll share mine, too (though mine are quite humble in comparison).

My top 5 non-google-directed referrers for the month:


Eat Like a Girl


Tamarind & Thyme

Gourmet Chick

Urbanspoon isn’t a blog, but since Krista highlighted how much readership the site can generate, I’ve learned (1) it’s super easy to contribute content; (2) the site links to your restaurant review in a prominent place; and (3) it also comes in a handy iPhone application form, so when you’re walking about, you can check on Urbanspoon to see what’s highly-rated nearby. Pretty cool, and I’m not even an Apple dork like a certain husband of mine. I’m so hooked on contributing that I (along with other bloggers you’ll recognize) have made it onto Urbanspoon’s London blog leaderboard.

Again, thanks for visiting and commenting!

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potato pizza at the Regent

potato pizza at the Regent

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

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

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

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

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

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