Posts Tagged ‘Covent Garden’

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

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

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

interior of Dishoom

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

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

pau bhaji (£3.90)

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

chilli cheese toast (£2.90)

"desi" fish fingers (£3.90)

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

Dishoom chicken roomali roll (£6.50)

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

spicy lamb chops (£9.20 for three pieces)

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

black daal (£4.50)

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

chicken berry biryani (£7.50)

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

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

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

Dishoom, 12 Upper St Martins Lane, WC2H 9FB; 020 7420 9320; closest Tube stations: Covent Garden and Leicester Square
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Moti Mahal downstairs dining area (photo from www.Londontown.com)

Moti Mahal downstairs dining area (photo from http://www.Londontown.com)

Two Saturdays ago, Jon and I were craving Indian food and saw that normally-pricey Moti Mahal was offering a £20 dinner menu, so we decided to try it out.

When we arrived, we were happy to find a sleek, warm-colored dining room buzzing with conversation.  The upstairs room was not for us, though.  Instead, we were led downstairs, which was also an attractive space, but seemingly full of families with kids.  I’m not anti-kids at restaurants, but as a sans-kid adult, I wished we could’ve stayed upstairs.  (When we asked to switch tables, our server super-politely told us the upstairs tables were already fully booked, and I didn’t have it in me to be bitchy about it – surprise, I know).

So because we’d had to let the restaurant know in advance that we were interested in the £20 menu, our server immediately handed us only that “special” menu.  And really, it was comprised entirely of dishes from your local Indian takeaway (i.e., tikka masala, lamb vindaloo).  Where were all those creative, modern takes on Indian food that we’d read Moti Mahal specializes in?

So we asked to see the a la carte menu, which seemed to take our server a while to find, and when it arrived, we saw there was no overlap at all between the a la carte and the £20 menu .   I’d expected Moti Mahal to showcase some of its tastiest, most creative dishes on the £20 menu in an effort to get diners to return and try the more comprehensive a la carte menu, but instead, it seems Moti Mahal is operating two restaurants in the same physical space.

khargosh ki seekh (rabbit kofte) at Moti Mahal

khargosh ki seekh (rabbit kofte) at Moti Mahal

So, a la carte it was.  Jon’s rabbit kofte (khargosh ki seekh) was spicy, moist and flavorful.  We liked it, but at the end of the day,  it’s minced meat on a stick, so £9 seemed a bit steep.

bhalla papdi chaat at Moti Mahal

bhalla papdi chaat at Moti Mahal

I was much more impressed with my bhalla papdi chaat, which included crisp pastry bits, yoghurt, chili, tamarind, pomegranate seeds and assorted fritters.  Although I’m pretty sure this is a cheap street dish in India, I enjoyed the variety of textures and flavors – chili heat and cooling yogurt is one of my fave food combos.

allepy konch (roasted prawns in a seafood-coconut broth) at Moti Mahal

allepy konch (roasted prawns in a seafood-coconut broth) at Moti Mahal

Jon’s allepy konch (two enormous grilled prawns in a creamy veg stew) was delicately perfumed with coconut milk.  The two large prawns were perfectly cooked (i.e., sweet and on just the right side of firmness).   The stew wasn’t visually appealing, but it was tasty.  Overall, though, an additional prawn and a smaller portion of the thick stew would’ve been ideal.  The dish was, after all, £19.

sorpotel (boar stew) with poached egg at Moti Mahal

sorpotel (boar stew) with poached egg at Moti Mahal

Our server recommended the sorpotel, which is a boar and okra stew, and while I loved the poached egg with masala seasoning (spiciness + creaminess = tastiness), half the wild boar pieces were tender and sweet, and the other half were a bit dry and stringy.   And then there was some additional puffy/spongy thing that didn’t add flavor or texture.  Disappointing for £18.

Overall, Moti Mahal as a mixed bag.  The decor, vibe and service were pluses, and the food had its promising moments, so maybe for £20 a person and an expectation for curry takeaway classics, I’d return.  But with wine and a couple of extras like rice and dal makhani (which was deliciously rich and creamy), our tab for two was £100, making our dinner a pretty mediocre value.

Moti Mahal, 45 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5AA; 0207 240 9329; closest tube station: Covent Garden
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