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Posts Tagged ‘Liverpool Street’

Xinjiang lamb skewers at My Old Place

Xinjiang lamb skewers at My Old Place

Back in January, I first visited the divey-but-certain-dishes-are-delicious Gourmet San, and so I was thrilled to learn that Gourmet San has a sister restaurant near Spitalfields Market called My Old Place (now that I work near Spitalfields, I’d like to find a nearby Chinese restaurant that’s good for lunch).  So two weeks ago, four friends and I gave My Old Place a try.

On the plus side, the restaurant’s decor is slightly nicer than that of Gourmet San, and the portions are enormous and cheap (i.e., most dishes on the menu cost £7-8, and the one or two “pricey” dishes – like crab – cost only £12).

On the down side, the dishes ranged from mediocre to very good, and the service is chaotic (e.g., even after our main dishes arrived, we waited almost twenty minutes for our server to bring us white rice – her explanation was that the kitchen had run out of white rice, which I’m sure was true – but query WHY a Chinese restaurant ran out of white rice at the beginning of a Friday lunch rush?).

Just like at Gourmet San, the cumin-dusted Xinjiang lamb skewers were loved by everyone at our table. Juicy and fatty “in a good way,” as one friend said.  They’re definitely the star of the show at My Old Place.

ginger scallion crab

ginger scallion crab

The ginger-scallion crab was great value for £12 except that we had to crack the shell ourselves with no tools except our hands and chopsticks.  Even though the crab meat was sweet and firm, it took a lot of very messy effort to get at it, and the slippery over-corn-starched sauce was an especially challenging obstacle standing between me and the crab meat. I’d be willing to pay a few more pounds if someone at the restaurant would do some pre-cracking for us. Or at least: give us better napkins and more of them.

Fried tofu

"House" fried tofu

I liked the fried tofu dish despite the generic brown sauce, but I confess I have a soft spot for the texture of fried tofu. I can see why one friend thought the fried tofu had the texture of “old socks,” but personally I love that slightly juicy, spongy interior. All the better to soak up delicious sauces with.

twice-fried pork belly

twice-fried pork belly

Twice-fried pork belly was too salty and dry, and I’d also hoped that the pork fat would be soft and silky, but instead it was chewy. I wouldn’t order it again even though a few members of our group enjoyed it and I generally love pork belly.

We rounded out our meal with a fifth dish: some dry-fried French beans, which were fine.

Ordering five dishes for five people was way too much, and we rolled out of there stuffed beyond belief. It was a sh*t load of food for just £10 each, including service.

Would I recommend making a special trip to eat at My Old Place? Not unless all you want to eat are the Xinjiang lamb skewers. Rather, it’s a cheap-and-cheerful lunch spot if you’re already in the area, and if you order carefully, My Old Place can offer a very good meal for very little money. (Like Gourmet San, My Old Place has its flashes of brilliance).  But you can also order very poorly (the kung pao chicken at another table looked horrendously bad), so caveat emptor and prepare for some trial and error.

My Old Place, 88 Middlesex Street, E1 7EZ; 0207 247 2200; closest tube station: Liverpool Street
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Boho Mexica near Spitalfields Market

Boho Mexica near Spitalfields Market

Two weeks ago, some of my expat friends and I read this glowing review of Boho Mexica and knew we had to check it out immediately. If you know any American expats in London, you’ll know that Mexican food is our catnip and crack, rolled into one. (It’s an odd phenomenon, of course. When I lived in the U.S., I enjoyed Cal-Mex/Tex-Mex, but eating it was no big deal. Query why I’m now regularly asking visiting American friends to smuggle in salsas and “real” corn tortillas for me).

In any case, Boho Mexica is near my office, so I’ve already visited twice for lunch in the past week. Both times, I went with friends who are originally from California (Bay Area and SoCal), so they were ladies who know their way around Cal-Mex.

three-pork tacos and chicken tacos at Boho Mexica

three-pork tacos and chicken tacos at Boho Mexica

The good news is that Boho Mexica is small, charming and cheap, with most dishes costing less than £4, making it at least 33% cheaper than the Taqueria (which I’ve never visited again after spending £50 for eight orders of room-temperature, stale, oily tacos) and Green & Red (whose carnitas tacos are great but pricey). [And since we’re on the topic, I’ve never had memorable meals at Mestizo or Wahaca, and Crazy Homies would be a lot better if they used thinner tortillas.]

The bad news is that Boho Mexica’s dishes are tiny; their tastiness varied greatly; and the service at lunch ranged from relatively-prompt (and disorganized) to disastrously-slow (and disorganized). They were, however, always polite.

“Very tasty” dishes:

Pan de Elote (£3.50), which translates as “cornbread,” is here served as a warm slice of sweet cornbread topped with vegetables in a light creamy-cheesy sauce. It was a tad sugary, but I’m a sucker for sweet cornbread.

The cochinita pibil yucatan taco (£3.25) is described on the menu as a “trio of pork served with red pickled onions,” and while I’m not sure what three pork parts are in this taco, it was tasty. The pickled onions could be crispier, but I’m splitting hairs.

Tacos de pezcao (£3.75). I remember one of the things that pissed me off about the Taqueria was paying £9 for the fish taco there (and it wasn’t even good). At Boho Mexica, they use plump bits of sea bass and pile on the all-important cabbage. Oddly, on one visit, the taco was served with a tartar sauce-like condiment, and on another visit, it was served sans sauce. I liked it better without the sauce.

Tinga poblana tacos (£3.25) are tacos filled with a smoky chicken filling and topped with a zippy green salsa. We had a bit of an issue getting our hands on extra Tabasco sauce to spice it up a little more (weird because the restaurant claims to serve specialties from the Tabasco region), but with a little extra spice, these were great both times I visited.

tacos de pezcao (fish)

tacos de pezcao (fish)

“Good enough” dishes:

Carnitas tacos (£3.50). I was pretty excited about the carnitas (braised pork). While my SoCal friend enjoyed it, I found the tiny bits of crackling in the filling a bit tough, rather than deliciously crispy.

Guacamole and pico de gallo (£2 each) weren’t bad, but what ruined both of them were the stale-tasting homemade tortilla chips. Pretty unforgivable, even if the chips cost only 75p. [In the U.S. chips and salsa would be free at most restaurants.]

steak tacos at Boho Mexica

steak tacos at Boho Mexica

“Wouldn’t order it again” dishes:

Empanadas or pasties to you and me (£4.25 for two). I think of empanadas as more central/south American than Mexican, but these were stuffed with courgette blossoms and cheese, so we couldn’t resist. It turns out we should have resisted. Both empanadas, while pleasantly hot and crispy, tasted like giant pastry shells stuffed with oil.

Steak tacos (£3.50). How did this go so wrong? Where I was expecting slices of rare, juicy steak, I instead got slightly-grayish, chewy mystery meat.

Enchiladas de mole (£4.95), which I assume was on the menu to lend its Oaxacan legitimacy to the whole shebang. Now, I love chocolate-based moles, but for some reason this dish arrived at our table at room temperature. And at room temperature, the mole just *looked* unappealing. It turns out it tasted forgettable, too. Overly bitter and not enough chili smoke in there.

Agua Fresca

If you’re not in the mood for alcohol, you’ve got three interesting choices in the agua fresca section. I would’ve loved it if Boho Mexica offered a watermelon agua fresca, but the other options aren’t bad: a lightly-sweet-and-cinnamon horchata, a sweet-tangy tamarind juice, and an iced-tea-like Jamaica.

With a few juices and almost three dishes per person, our tab was £10-12 per person both times I visited. At those prices, I’ll keep trying out Boho Mexica because I have a feeling they’re capable of consistently good cooking. Improving the timing of when dishes emerge from the kitchen (so that they’re always hot when they reach your table) would be a good start.

Boho Mexica, 151-153 Commercial Street, E1 6BJ, 0207 377 8418; closest station: Liverpool Street.
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