Posts Tagged ‘Borough Market’

interior of Hiba Lebanese restaurant

For reasons not worth going into here, last week, I ate Lebanese food three nights in a row.  Yalla Yalla on Thursday.  Hiba on both Friday and Saturday.  Both places enjoy positive TimeOut reviews, with Yalla Yalla enjoying some extra buzz after the recent opening of its Oxford Circus branch.

Still, I left Yalla Yalla thinking it was a nice option to have when shopping on Oxford Street, but otherwise, I wasn’t super impressed.  The service was a bit pushy (my friend and I ordered seven mezze to share and the server still asked us “are you *just* having mezze?  no main courses?”), and the food, while attractively presented, ranged from not-good (e.g., squeaky, over-salty halloumi) to good-but-not-memorable (e.g., fattoush).

24 hours later, I’m at Hiba Restaurant, an oasis on an otherwise forlorn stretch of Borough High Street.  Where Yalla Yalla was spare and Wagamama-cafeteria-dining like, Hiba aims for chic, nighttime atmosphere.  It’s warm and inviting, and I was glad we’d made a booking, because the restaurant was packed on both Friday and Saturday nights.  Minor hiccup when a server told us we’d have to wait a few minutes for a table “because you were 14 minutes late for your booking.”  I swear we were less than 5 minutes late for our booking, but in any case, I could have done with less accusation, generally.

best grilled halloumi, ever (£5.50) at Hiba

Star attraction at Hiba:  Halloumi.  There were many tasty, memorable dishes at Hiba (e.g., crispy, fragrant falafel, refreshing grilled aubergine with tomato, onion, parsley and mint (bazenjan al-rahib)), but for me, the halloumi stole the show.  I ordered it both nights I was at Hiba, and it was superb on both nights.  Yielding, almost-juicy tofu-like texture.  No squeakiness.  Mild, creamy almost-mozzarella flavor with a hit of smokiness from the grill.

salty grilled halloumi topped with even saltier olives at Yalla Yalla

Contrast with Yalla Yalla’s version, which looked pretty.  But the halloumi was a bit squeaky and grilled to dryness.  Worse still, the halloumi’s saltiness was further compounded by the salty olive topping.  My friend and I, lovers of halloumi, couldn’t finish it.

fattoush (£4.95), kibbeh (£5.50) and labneh (£4.75) at Hiba

chicken wings at Hiba were saved by the garlic labneh (£5.50)

Order anything at Hiba that comes with labneh, a thick cheesy-tangy yoghurt.  The chicken wings at Hiba, for example, were a bit scrawny, but they were saved by the garlicky labneh served on the side.  Hiba’s kibbeh, which was better/more moist than Yalla Yalla’s version, still benefited from the rich labneh we’d ordered.  Labneh can transform any dish for the better, it seems.

slight advantage to Yalla Yalla's fattoush, which was beautiful and well dressed

I will say that Yalla Yalla does a better job of plating than Hiba does.  Everything at Yalla Yalla was visually prettier, especially the fattoush.  Salads usually taste better when they look pretty, I think.

Yalla Yalla's sfihe, pastry filled with minced lamb, onion, tomato and pomegranate molasses

But it takes more than good looks to win me over.  Take, for example, Yalla Yalla’s sfihe, whose menu description sounded perfect.  But in reality, the “pastry” was really just a stodgy, thick bread filled with very little lamb/onion mince.  The pomegranate molasses had such a strong flavor that more savoury mince filling was desperately needed to balance things out.

Yalla Yalla's baklava (not pretty and about £5)

Hiba's baklava - lovely to look at and lovely to eat. And free!

Ending was no competition.  Pale, stolid-looking baklava at Yalla Yalla for about £5 versus delicious, flaky baklava for free at Hiba.  Advantage Hiba, obviously.

Prices at both restaurants were similar, with most mezze costing less than £5 and most mains at £12.  None of my three meals cost more than £25, including service and wine.  If you’re looking for a relaxing, tasty night out with friends or a date, Hiba fits the bill perfectly.

Hiba, 134-138 Borough High Street, SE1 1LB; 0207 357 9633; closest Tube station:  3 minutes’ walk from Borough

Yalla Yalla, 12 Winsley Street, W1W 8HQ; 0207 637 4748; closest Tube station:  5 minutes’ walk from Oxford Circus

Hiba on Urbanspoon
Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food on Urbanspoon

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Shipp’s Tea Rooms, Borough Market

While it’s true that nobody moves to England for the weather, the wetness and coldness of this “summer” has set new records for crappiness, methinks.

One result of all this poor weather has been that I’ve increased my appreciation for hot beverages, and tea in particular.

With our friends Alyssa and Seth in town this week, I thought we should go the extra mile and have a proper afternoon tea.

Afternoon tea, in case you wondered, is basically a meal eaten between 4:30 pm and 6 pm, and it traditionally includes sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a pot of tea, and scones served with clotted cream and jam.

Usually, I recommend the Claridge’s afternoon tea, which serves tea goodies on Bernardaud china (yes, I flipped the china to peek – sue me) in a plush art-deco tearoom hung with Chihuly chandeliers. I particularly enjoy the hotel’s live music, the dozens of teas offered, and the ability to order as many beautiful pastries, pots of tea and sandwiches as you want.

The only (and admittedly, major) downside to Claridge’s is the £31 per person price tag. The photo below shows a few of the pastries and scones served for tea at Claridge’s:

Claridge’s Tea pastries

So, to mix it up a little, we decided to try Shipp’s Tearooms, which just opened in Borough Market, next door to Neal’s Yard Dairy. It got a good writeup in this week’s Time Out, the location is convenient, and at £17.50 a person for afternoon tea (as well as an a la carte menu), it sounded like a steal.

First, let me be clear that tea in a “grand” hotel and tea in a stand-alone tearoom are very different creatures. And now that I’ve tried a stand-alone tearoom, I think I’m a hotel tea fan, despite the price hike for the hotel version.

I’d give Shipp’s another try, because the service was friendly and efficient, but the decor is not my style, and the food tasted a little stale. The tearoom is high-ceilinged and dressed in shabby-chic, which I think is a difficult look to pull off. Most times, I think shabby chic looks just shabby. The tearoom’s tables and chairs are different styles and shapes, as are the table linens and tea things. And while I’m not saying happiness is a matching set of everything, a few of the table linens looked kind of straight-from-the-attic, which made me (imagine?) a musty smell in the air.

Afternoon tea at Shipp’s Tearooms

There are about ten teas that you can order by the pot for £3 or as part of the afternoon tea prix fixe. Of the sandwiches, slice of cake and scones that made up the afternoon tea, only the homemade strawberry jam stood out as a big winner. A slice of chocolate cake was dry and saved only from cardboard status by the thick frosting, and the sandwiches were all disheveled-looking, as if they’d just survived an earthquake.

I wouldn’t be so picky if I thought serving sandwiches with straight edges were a difficult thing to pull off, or if it hadn’t cost £17.50 to put cucumbers and salmon between two slices of white bread.

In any event, the company was fantastic, the buzz in the room very relaxing, and the service was good. So like I said earlier, I’ll try the place again, but not before I try another tea room I’ve heard about in Notting Hill, the Tea Palace.

Ahh, the search for a cuppa’, how very English.

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Birthday Cake, February 2007

Well, first of all, Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m celebrating this evening by eating the last slice of birthday cake (see photo above) from a fabo dinner party that Jon cooked up for me this past Saturday.

“Where’s Jon tonight on this most important of Hallmark holidays,” you might ask?

He’s at the Brit Awards, of course. I’m not exactly sure what the Brit Awards are, but Jon claims it’s the British version of the Grammys. He was invited because he’s such a famous musician (if by “famous musician” you mean the event is sponsored by MasterCard so credit card industry types get invited along on a junket). Depending on his experience there tonight, maybe I’ll allow him to guest post!

So anyway, this past weekend, we celebrated the birthday of yours truly by inviting a few friends over for a Saturday night repast. It was an Italian-themed dinner, and the menu for the evening of course included aperitifs with snacks, a pasta course, meat course, and the Cake.

Party Before, LondonI can’t believe I failed to take photos of the food! Think about all those other moments I bust out my camera under inhospitable circumstances (e.g., Hakkasan), and here in the comfort of my own home, I totally flaked. I have only a “before” photo taken of our table (see left) and an “after” one included towards the bottom of this post.

Nonetheless, here’s my inadequate substitute for photos (“I’m painting a verbal picture!”):

Aperitifs and snacks:

Bellinis – Peach juice and prosecco. Juicy and bubbly. Whiffs of la dolce vita. What’s there not to like? And yet, finding peach juice was not the breeze we expected it to be. The supermarket aisles included dozens of beverages with peach as an ingredient, but peach on its own? No can do. In desperation, I almost bought something called “Robinson’s Peach Barley Water.” It looked like peach juice in a glass bottle. And there were lots of other flavors of this “barley water” on the shelf, so I thought maybe barley water was just a fancy British way of saying “juice.” But it turns out barley water is soda made with barley (like, the wheat-y plant)! Our friend Emmet informed us that barley water has a long-standing association with Wimbledon, but of course Gatorade is coming on as a strong challenger. Rehydrating salty beverage vs. Wheat-y-tasting-soda . . . who will win? [We ultimately found peach juice at our local Italian deli, Monte’s, so it turns out there was no need to search far and wide for it!]

Nibbles – Jon fried up a dozen arancini (fried risotto balls filled with mozzarella) which were crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside. You’ll be glad to know they really do look like golden oranges as the name suggests in Italian. (It turns out there’s a good reason why I have always been confused between ordering these fried goodies and aranciata, San Pellegrino version of the incomparable Orangina. If you click on the links in the preceding sentence, be sure to turn up the sound on your computer. It’s hilarious).

Charcuterie included fresh pecorino and assorted goats cheeses, red-wine salami and fennel salami, and then of course we needed crostini with roasted eggplant tapenade or olive tapenade. We threw in some rosemary bread (baked using that amazing and much-discussed Mark Bittman-publicized “No-Knead Bread Recipe”) for those looking for bread that wasn’t first brushed with olive oil and baked to a crisp.

Pasta Course:

Jon spent days before the dinner picking up specialty items all over London, and particularly intense was his quest for ingredients used in the pasta course. I’d been having cravings for bottarga (aka mullet or tuna roe that’s cured in salt) since eating at Olivo’s a few weeks ago to celebrate Cathy’s birthday. For those of you dying to know, we found our bottarga at Gastronomica in Borough Market. If you want to buy it pre-grated and in a small jar, the Sardinian cheese seller with a stall close to Southwark Cathedral in Borough Market is your woman, but if you think buying blocks of it is expensive, on a per-gram basis, the jar is ridiculous!

Anyway, spaghetti alla bottarga is exactly as it sounds. You cook the spaghetti and then you mix in some butter and grated and/or sliced bottarga. The result is salty, creamy and fishy. YUM.

Meat Course:

Jon’s specialty over the past few months has been a braised short rib recipe he’s gaga over in Mario Batali’s Babbo cookbook. For my birthday dinner, Jon cooked this short rib recipe for 12. He preordered the short ribs from E. Wood, our local butcher, which required Jon to print off photos of the short rib from the Internet because our English butcher had no idea what a short rib was. Take note, in England, this bit of cow is called fore rib.

Standard procedure for a braise is that you sear the meat first and then bake it in liquid (tomatoes, chicken broth) for ten thousand gazillion hours with tons of herbs and vegetables. Our UK-standard-sized oven, unfortunately, makes baking all those short ribs quite a challenge, but undaunted, Jon did it in batches until it all reduced enough to fit in a single French Oven. He’s a patient guy, I’m telling you.

The ribs were falling off the bone (i.e., perfect). I love how the bits of fat soak up all that braising liquid flavor. A little onion here, some red wine there, thyme and rosemary popping in for a visit. Cheers to the braise on a wet, winter night.


My one contribution of the evening was to bake my own birthday cake. Jon was planning to order a cake (baking is not his thing), but I insisted. There’s a yellow cake (“1-2-3-4 cake”) recipe that I love from The Perfect Cake, by Susan Purdy. So hey, it’s the least I can do to contribute to the evening, right?

Thanks to the brilliance of springform pans, my four-layer cake came out of the oven perfectly flat and even. I whipped up some buttercream (and next time, I’m using less confectioner’s sugar and more valrhona chocolate), and voila, a cake with a crumb and sweetness to my taste.

And that’s the dinner Jon cooked for me for my birthday. I overindulged in fabo Italian vino, and our home Birthday Party, After, London 2007was a total disaster for days afterwards, but I figure there’s no more gratifying a sign of a fun party than a hangover and detritus as far as the eye can see.

Thank you to everyone who came to dinner, called or wrote on my birthday, and/or shared a funny-touching-thoughtful birthday video. I am one super-lucky girl, sans doute.

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Mushrooms for sale at Borough Market, London

It’s now 11:15 p.m. and my iTunes is on shuffle mode, and how disturbing is it that I am loving a song whose refrain is “I see you baby, shaking that ass – shaking that ass.”

Well, I never claimed to have any taste in music.

We had a great weekend – a busy Saturday and a lazy Sunday. Balance in all things

On Saturday, after my always-highly-anticipated 12 noon step class with the world-famous (well, maybe not now, but surely one day) Julian, Jon and I met at Angel and decided to visit Borough Market for lunch. I really can’t remember the last time we went there by ourselves. Not that it’s better or worse without friends in tow, but it is definitely different. We felt like we were seeing the market like first-time visitors, rather than as people who go there once a month to show it to guests.

The Brindisa chorizo guys are kind of wearing out their welcome, I think. The line crawled, and it’s not like it was ever a particularly speedy line. How do all these people know about the Brindisa chorizo guys? Still, I waited, and yeah, the chorizo line was long, but the sandwich is still definitely worth the £3.25. The spicy, salty, juicy chorizo balanced by the cool, crunchy, bitter arugula and sweet, slick red pepper on a freshly-toasted roll dripping in olive oil – mmmm. Definitely still the sandwich to beat, even if it’s not a secret.

Thai chicken wrap from Fusebox, borough Market, LondonJon and I tried a very good Thai chicken wrap from the Fusebox across the street from Brindisa (gotta do something while waiting on line). The chicken is crispy on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside, and it’s grilled fresh, right in front of the Fusebox shop. The chicken gets wrapped in with crunchy greens and a nice sweet and spicy peanut sauce. Totally worth the £3.50, so a good option to keep in mind when next I am tired of the chorizo guys milking their fame.

Encouraged by our trying out this “new” ready-made food, we tried a few others, which ranged from incredibly gross (i.e., the allegedly “New Orleans style” oyster po’ boy sandwich from the Wright Brothers Oyster & Porter House). Costing an outrageous £4, the four meagre oysters are battered and fried fresh (good) but then drowned in a sauce that tastes like thousand-island from a bottle (nasty). And then the baguette on which the oysters are served is tough and stale (the worst). Nothing delicate or fresh about it. So Jon and I picked out the four oysters, tried to savor them, and then tossed the rest of that giant, hard baguette slimed in bright-orange sauce. Avoid at all costs.

You’d think we would just get another Thai chicken wrap or maybe wait on line again for another chorizo sandwich. But we figured that after such a miss, the cosmic balance of eating justice meant we were bound to find another hit. Plus it’s been over a year since we tried anything new at the Market. So we walked over to an Indian stand that seemed to be doing brisk business. It looked like a family-run gig, and the grandma-looking lady seemed to be running a tight ship. So we ordered a chicken tikka wrap, and I guess I was hoping it’d be like the lunches I’d grab in DC from Naan and Beyond. But in fact, the wrap was a flour tortilla (i.e., not naan), and the chicken inside was just dry and flavourless. No amount of chilli paste and coriander is going to mask that kind of dryness. Another £3.50 down the drain.

Well, at least we tried. Borough Market is still a great place to go for ingredients, but my feeling is that a lot of the ready-to-eat food is not worth the money.

Jon and I had a nice time wandering Salt Beef sandwich at Roast to Go, Borough Market, Londonaround the Market and spotting some of the new openings (e.g., Fish! has started a fish & chips stand and Roast does takeaway salt beef sandwiches that were, according to Jon, delish), and then we walked along the South Bank to enjoy the mild weather and catch the Thames River Festival.

In front of the Tate Modern, there were flamenco demonstrations and a group offering a go on a trapeze for £7 a pop. So Jon decided to give it a try. He had to wait forever because of course each person trying the trapeze gets a lot of individual attention, so it’s not like the line moves quickly. I won’t tell you what happened, but let’s just say Jon’s not joining the circus anytime soon.

On Saturday night, we threw a party with Jane and two other friends. Well, more like we rented a room at a pub and asked people to come by. And the party really worked out. Lots of people came, and the room had a nice buzzy, crowded feel, but still comfortable. It was a little too warm in there, but otherwise, I had a great time. Cathy, of course, was there, and I caught up with Tai and Daphne; Sam and Jamie, Trent and Tanya, and Cheryl. Jill and Emmet came by after their dinner plans, as did Chloe and Steve, even though the Tap was already darkened by then. We closed the place down, leaving around 2 a.m., which annoyed the pub workers, I’m sure, given that last call was at 1. But we were having such a great time, and the evening definitely left me with the warm and fuzzies. It really amazed me how many new friends I know. I love it.

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