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Posts Tagged ‘South Kensington’

murtabak ayam (chicken-filled roti) at Awana Mayalsian restaurant

murtabak ayam (chicken-filled roti) at Awana Mayalsian restaurant

A month ago, Jon and I checked out the Malaysia festival near City Hall with our friends Andy and Maggie. Generally, I’m never excited about the food sold at outdoor festivals. Regardless of what culture or event the festival celebrates, food stalls usually end up selling a mass of undifferentiated spring rolls, fried rice and sausages. You’d think I would just stop going to these things, but hope springs eternal, and this time, I was on a quest for roti canai (aka oily flatbread deliciousness served with curry dipping sauce).

Cue Awana, which had a stall at the festival serving crispy-yet-chewy roti, hot off the pan and served with an insides-warming yellow dal. It was tasty enough that this weekend, Jon and I went with two friends to eat at the restaurant itself.

We briefly considered eating early because Awana has a deal on London Eating that takes 50% off your food bill if you’re done with your table by 8 pm. But (a) I’m never hungry before 8; (b) it was Saturday night; and (c) we had other things going on earlier that day, so we resisted the temptation.

It’s too bad we skipped the deal, because while the food at Awana is pretty good, it’s just too much money for Malaysian basics like beef rendang (a coconut-milk-based quasi curry) or nasi goreng (fried rice). Most Awana main courses are £15-20; starters £5-8; and basics like white rice come at £4.50 per small bowl.

My favorite parts of the meal were the least expensive and roti-based. The chicken-and-spice-stuffed roti (murtabak ayam) pictured at top was delish. If Malaysia ever had to face off against Mexico in a stuffed flatbread competition, the murtabak‘s sweet-salty-spicy goodness would surely triumph over the quesadilla. The pickled onions on the side added a cool, tangy crunch.

Roti canai with yellow dal

Roti canai with yellow dal

Roti canai was no disappointment at £5.50 a portion, though the tiny bowl of dal was sad. Are yellow split peas just so expensive?

Beef rendang at Awana

Beef rendang at Awana

Beef rendang was the main courses I most looked forward to, but it wasn’t worth the £14. A little too sweet and liquidy. The coconut milk is supposed to cook out, but in Awana’s version, the beef, while tender and spicy, was still swimming in the stuff.

Fried pomfret was beautifully crispy and non-greasy, but it needed a sauce or salt; veggie chao kuew teow was inoffensive and forgettable. Red snapper curry was the best of the mains, with nice, big chunks of firm white fishiness and a spicy-sweet curry sauce.

The service was generally helpful, and the room was huge and sleek in a wannabe-hip way. We got seated in a corner that seemed reserved for tourists carrying London guidebooks, and the rest of the room was comprised of hen and stag dos. I saw more than one round of flaming shots go round. A weird vibe for a restaurant aiming for a high-end rep.

Our total for four appetizers, four mains, a forgettable dessert, and £65 of drinks came to £50 per person. I’d go back if I could get half-price food, but otherwise, I’ll keep looking elsewhere for Malaysian food.

Awana, 85 Sloane Avenue, SW3 3DX, 0207 584 8880; closest tube stations: South Kensington or Sloane Square

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Chihuly sculpture V&A Great Hall

Every month, on the last Friday of the month, the Victoria & Albert museum is open until 10 pm and hosts live music and some type of themed event.

When Jon and I first moved to London, our corporate flat was a block from the South Kensington tube station, and I had a lot of free time on my hands. So, no surprise that I dropped by the (free) V&A museum pretty often. But since we’ve moved to Islington, I’ve been back to the V&A maybe twice at most, which is too bad because the V&A is uniquely eclectic in today’s world of highly-specialized major museums. It’s a jumble in there, united only by a theme of “design.”

Kimonos and medieval triptychs just down the hall from Italian Renaissance sculptures. That sort of thing.

Well, this past Friday, Jon and I decided to check out July’s “Friday Late” theme named “The 2007 Village Fete,” which took place outdoors in the V&A’s gorgeous John Madejski Garden. The idea is to enjoy some mild summer weather with a happy crowd while playing “village fair games” with a twist.

V&A Late Friday queue

First, we waited on an enormous ticket line for over an hour. We’d thought about giving up, but like the sheep we are, we reasoned that if the line was this long, it must be good. I amused myself by taking photos of people standing on line.

Much as I love the V&A Great Hall with its super-pretty-super-phallic Chihuly sculpture (photo at top), I was unamused by the hapless ticket people at the main desk. Five people at the desk and they can’t manage to figure out an efficient system to process ticket sales.

Once in the Garden, we were disappointed (though not surprised) that it started to rain. Too bad, because some of the games looked like fun. There was, for example, the “Inflate a Mate” stall, where you drew a picture of your friend on a balloon and then inflated it with helium. Or the British party staple, the tombola.So we gamely tried to have fun (after all, we’d waited on that huge line to get in, right?), but the rain and cold were too much. Plus, we were hungry. But where to eat in South Kensington that’s not a big chain or expensive-and-crappy?

Kulu Kulu conveyor belt South Kensington

Cue the Kulu Kulu conveyor belt sushi place near the South Ken station.Usually, for our conveyor-belt sushi fix, Jon and I end up at Itsu or Yo! Sushi, and even at those places, we never walk out without spending £40 together. But it turns out Kulu Kulu is really cheap. All the dishes passing by on the conveyor belt are priced between £1.80 and £3, which I contrast with Itsu or Yo!’s prices that can hit £6 per plate.

salmon avocado roll at Kulu Kulu South Kensington

There isn’t much variety offered, and the sushi chef can barely be bothered to tightly roll and slice the maki, but for honkin’ huge and fresh pieces of salmon, tuna and agedashi tofu, you can’t pay more than £3 per dish you pull off the conveyor belt.

So even though the dining room at Kulu Kulu’s South Kensington location is small and dated, the green tea is free, and we left with tummies full and just £30 poorer. Not bad.

I have to note that the threesome sitting to our right appeared to be a budget-conscious group of high-schoolers who repeatedly asked the servers how much each dish on the conveyor belt was. Of course, this being the UK, this same group didn’t think twice about ordering several bottles of wine despite avoiding any £3 dish like the plague. I thought that was entertaining, and I was glad we left before their drinking really got under way.

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 Clotilde Dusoulier book launch event in London

I’ve never been to a book launch before, but when I saw that Clotilde Dusoulier (better known as the author of the Chocolate & Zucchini food blog) had written a book, I looked forward to attending her UK book launch party.

So today was the big day.  At 6:30, Cathy, Elizabeth, Johanna and I converged on the Institut Francais (where else would her book launch be, really?) in South Kensington.  The Institut Francais feels like someone’s home, which I thought made it a nice, intimate place for the event.  Clotilde spoke for a while about her switch from software engineer to food writer, and of course I was envious and inspired.  How to make your beloved hobby into your day job – the question of the 21st century.

Chocolate & Zucchini cookbookI waited at the end of her talk to get my book signed, and I surprised even myself by hanging around longer to have my photo taken with Clotilde.  (Ta da!  Photo at the top of this post).  I couldn’t resist – she was so personable and approachable.  Her publisher also seemed friendly and had even taken the trouble to make a few of the recipes from Clotilde’s book and serve them at the party.  How many publishers would do that for their authors?

Anyway, Clotilde’s cookbook got rave reviews in the New York Times in late April, and based on the food served during the event today, I’m already excited to try the book’s chorizo bread recipe.  I have a feeling it’s the best £9.99 I’ve ever spent.

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Isarn Restaurant interior, Islington

This past weekend, I met a few of Cathy and Bobby’s banker-couple friends for brunch on Saturday. We went to a very attractive and fun French-y place called Aubaine on Brompton Road. I see its appeal, but the food was pricey for what it was, though not bad. I guess you’re paying mostly for the ability to hoard your table for hours on end (as we did for almost three hours). Side dishes were the strong point — buttery, crunchy haricots verts and a creamy potatoes dauphinois were good.

Saturday night, I met my friend Sinead for dinner in my neighborhood. We dropped by Isarn on Upper Street, which I hadn’t been to in a while – not because I didn’t like the food, but more because the last time I went, I thought it, too, was kind of overpriced. And because the restuarant is owned by Alan Yau’s sister, I keep thinking it’s just a vanity project that became reality only because the brother is a big restauranteur in London.Green chicken curry, Isarn restaurantStill, it’s a pretty restaurant (see photo of the interior at top) and it’s nearby.

This time around, I enjoyed my meal there. We ordered some mixed appetizer deal for £12, and the chicken satay was juicy and flavorful, which is always a good sign considering chicken satay is normally a throwaway item on the menu.

My green curry was the right mix of spicy, creamy and sweet (the last time I had it, it was not so well balanced) and our bottle of rose went well with our meal. So yes, I’d go back – dinner for two was £70.   [Note: I have been back several times since this post and I do still enjoy eating there. The service is friendly and efficient, which is another plus I’ve come to appreciate over time.]

We dropped by Keston Lodge and the Islington Tap and then called it a night. What’s slightly entertaining (or sad, depending on how you look at it) is that the next day, Sunday, I met other friends for Sunday roast at the Keston Lodge and then of course we spent the rest of the afternoon lounging at the Islington Tap, chatting and occasionally watching the footie on the flat screens. Very relaxing.  

A “proper Sunday roast,” by the way, means you get a huge hunk of meat, some form of potato, Yorkshire pudding and maybe some braised vegetable – all covered in a brown sauce/gravy. And the one at Keston Lodge was very good. I ordered lamb, which was tender and of course flavorful when smothered in the gravy. And the potatoes were crispy and hot. The Yorkshire pudding (which is sort of like a popover or brioche – very eggy and airy in the middle) was kind of deflated by the time my dish arrived, but it was fine once you covered it in (of course) gravy!

The big downside is that it took the Keston Lodge servers about an hour and a half to serve us. Ahhh, Sunday in London.Islington Tap

And I’ve come to really like the Islington Tap. It’s just so comfy and warm (and just down the block). I used to be annoyed that it feels as if no coffee places in London are open past 6 p.m., but it turns out that if you just want to hang out with friends or read a book or newspaper, you go to your local pub. And that’s what the Tap is perfect for. I like knowing I have a “local” where the bartender and manager recognize me and say hi. [You can hear the Cheers theme song now, I know.]

The place is nothing special, but I like claiming it as mine and always finding a seat there.

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