Posts Tagged ‘Spitalfields’

Tsuru Bishopsgate/Spitalfields

I love working near Spitalfields market, partly because it means my commute is short, and mostly because the food options are about ten thousand times better than they were in Canary Wharf.  Still, I’m nothing if not a complainer, and for a while I’ve bemoaned the lack of good sushi options for lunch.  Itsu is OK in a pinch.  Japanika isn’t bad but there’s no seating.

A few months ago, I was excited to learn on “Good for Lunch” that Tsuru Sushi had opened a branch at 201 Bishopsgate.  Bizarrely, despite keeping an eye out for Tsuru while walking on Bishopsgate numerous times, I couldn’t find it.

So here’s my tip for those in search of sushi when near Liverpool Street station:  despite the restaurant’s Bishopsgate address, Tsuru’s entrance is actually off Primrose Street, and even from Primrose Street, it’s easy to miss.  You’re more likely to see the Pret a Manger next door because for some reason, Tsuru has eschewed proper signage.

salmon-avocado rolls and prawn tempura rolls (background)

salmon-avocado rolls in the foreground (£3.95) and prawn tempura rolls in the background (£4.25)

In any case, Tsuru is worth searching out.  The ready-made rolls always taste freshly made.  In fact, a couple of times, the prawn tempura in the prawn tempura rolls was still warm and crispy.  Yum.  Another plus:  the rice isn’t stone hard/refrigerated to within an inch of its life.  For ready-made stuff, Tsuru’s rolls are  good.

pork katsu curry (£6.10)

I should confess I’m not always eating healthy when I drop by Tsuru.  Pork katsu curry hits all the buttons – crispy, relatively grease-free, and generous amounts of slightly-sweet curry and rice.  You can order it in chicken, too, but given the choice, I’ll take pig every time.

chicken teriyaki (£6.35)

Chicken teriyaki (looking kind of gross in the above picture, I must say) is comprised of thigh meat, which is my fave if I have to eat chicken.  It’s not bad, but when I’m ordering a hot lunch, the katsu curries always win me over.

Tsuru’s outdoor seating on a nice day is shady and pleasant, and there’s plenty of indoor seating as well.  For a quick, inexpensive and tasty lunch during the work week, Tsuru is a great option.  You can even get tap water served in a proper glass.

Tsuru Sushi, 201 Bishopsgate (but accessible only via Primrose Street, look for it next to a Pret a Manger), EC2M 3UG; 0207 377 1166; closest tube station: Liverpool Street Station

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upstairs dining room at the Luxe Cafe

Friday lunch with the girls.  Where to go that isn’t too crowded or too expensive, and oh, not too far from the office?

Cue The Luxe Spitalfields, not to be confused with the Galvin brothers-owned Cafe de Luxe, unhelpfully also in Spitalfields.

The Luxe has a casual cafe downstairs and a fancier dining room upstairs, and only the upstairs dining room accepts advance bookings.  So that’s where we ended up, at a table overlooking the Friday bustle of Spitalfields Market below. It felt just like eating at Roast, with its views of Borough Market.

For a sunny Friday, The Luxe was pretty empty, and I suspect that was due to the prices, which weren’t bad, but were a bit too much for a weekday lunch with friends.  The a la carte lunch menu prices starters at around £7-10, and mains mostly at £15-17.  At those prices, I wondered why, for just a little more money, I wasn’t eating at the excellent and nearby L’Anima or Galvin La Chapelle.

Each of us ordered only a main and tap water, along with a side salad of onions and tomatoes.  Our server gently recommended we order starters, which we declined, and then as a surprise, we were each served a “free” salad of fresh, crunchy greens with a generous dollop of tapenade.  I wondered what would have happened if we’d chosen to order salads – would we have each ended up with two salads and a main?

green salad with olive tapenade (free)

In any event, the green salad was lightly dressed and very good as green salads go.

ravioli of peas, morels, ricotta and chard (£15)

My main course of ravioli stuffed with peas, morels, ricotta and chard was enormous and very filling.  The ravioli weren’t bad, but they weren’t memorable except for their size.  My friends felt similarly about their mains (a pan-fried halibut for £18, and a smoked haddock and lobster mash for £17.50).

The three of us had a pleasant time and our servers were great about refilling tap water, but our bill for one main course each and a side salad of tomatoes and shallots (£5) totaled £22 a person, which struck me as too much money for what we ate.  I’d consider going back to the Luxe, but only on someone else’s dime.

PS – Having just looked up the Luxe on Urbanspoon before hitting “post,” I see I’m not the only one who gave a thumbs down to The Luxe.

The Luxe Spitalfields, 109 Commercial Street, E1 6BG; 0207 101 1751;  closest Tube stop:  Liverpool Street Station
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Galvin La Chapelle interior

I love Galvin Bistro de Luxe in Marylebone for its convivial atmosphere, its professional service, and its bistro classics served at reasonable prices. So when Galvin La Chapelle recently opened just a few steps from my office, I disregarded this negative review and, last Friday, dragged my friend BK there for lunch.

This post should be taken with a bigger grain of salt than usual because I tried only one dish, but here are my impressions anyway:

  • Prices at Galvin La Chapelle are noticeably higher than they are at Galvin Bistro. Although the gorgeous, soaring-ceiling interior of La Chapelle sets it apart from the cozy, homey interior of Galvin Bistro, I recognized one or two dishes on La Chapelle’s menu from Galvin Bistro’s menu. For example, both places offer the Dorset crab lasagne, but La Chapelle’s version costs about 20% more (based on what I remember from my last visit to the Bistro two months ago).
  • The service at Galvin La Chapelle was gracious and friendly. I initially felt slightly out of place among the business-suited crowd eating leisurely lunches, but our server chatted us up and made us feel quite welcome.  BK and I had to get in and out at a reasonable hour, so we skipped starters and shared one dish: the roast cote de boeuf, truffle macaroni and Hermitage jus for £53.

roast cote de boeuf (£53 to be shared by two)

bone marrow

  • The beef was sliced and served tableside, perfectly medium-rare. It was all quite a to-do.  The slices of beef were juicy to begin with, drizzled with the intense jus, and served with gelatinously-fatty bone marrow and sweet, creamy roasted garlic. The watercress was there to make us feel less unhealthy, I suppose.

    black truffle macaroni and cheese

  • The accompanying truffle macaroni, which I’d expected to be a throwaway item, was all comfort and earthiness. I loved the combo of bite from the cheese and the smooth cream, and I could actually taste the black truffle.  So for once, the truffle wasn’t just for show.

Our lunch cost about £31 a person for just a main course and a drink, which made for a rather pricey lunch.   I can’t say the meal was good value, but I also don’t feel ripped off.  Our cote de boeuf was delicious and filling with the well-executed sides; the room is beautiful; and the service was fast and friendly.  I’ll keep La Chapelle in mind the next time I’m in need of an elegant meal out, but I suspect my next lunch is more likely to be at the cheaper Cafe de Luxe next door.

Galvin La Chapelle, 35 Spital Square, E1 6DY; 0207 299 0400; closest Tube station: Liverpool Street
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Pilpel falafel shop in Spitalfields Market

Pilpel falafel shop in Spitalfields Market

Of the many amazing memories I have of my trip to Israel last summer, eating the best falafel and hummous of my life ranks up there. So imagine my excitement when Pilpel opened near Spitalfields Market (which is where I work). For the past three months, I’ve found it a colossal exercise of willpower to limit my visits to Pilpel to only once a week. Often I break down and go twice a week. And no, I don’t want to know what my cholesterol is.

As Londonelicious has already noted, it’s a grab-and-go type of place. On weekdays, two long queues snake out the door at lunchtime, ensuring high turnover, which is key when you’re dealing with deep-fried goodies. You can order a falafel salad for £4.49 (which is basically all the stuffings of a falafel sandwich served in a bowl with the pita bread on the side), or you can order the falafel sandwich for £3.99 (which is the way to do it, in my opinion).

The servers at lunchtime work fast, but they’re good natured and always oblige when I ask for extra tahini (if it weren’t unseemly to drink that stuff down, I would). I’ve found that paying the extra 50p for a boiled egg or feta doesn’t add much, but occasionally I can’t resist the extra topping of fried aubergine, which is evil because everyone knows that there is no better sponge for oil than an aubergine.

falafel from Pilpel

falafel from Pilpel

Although I think Pilpel should throw on some red cabbage (like they do at the Parisian institution, L’As du Fallafel), I like that Pilpel’s falafels are always hot from the fryer and that the servers are fast and friendly. The place is a little slice of Tel Aviv here in London, and as the days grow shorter, thinking of a warm, Mediterranean beach city is no bad thing.

Pilpel falafel, 38 Brushfield Street, E1 6EU; 0207 247 0146; closest tube station: Liverpool Street
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Blood cake, prunes and bacon at St. John Bread and Wine

Blood cake, prunes and bacon (£6.50)

An old friend who used to live in London and now lives in Hong Kong was back in town last week, and he wanted to eat pig products, English-style.  Obviously, that meant  St. John Restaurant.  Sadly, the Restaurant had no available tables on my friend’s only free evening, but its more casual sibling, St. John Bread and Wine, did, so off we went last Tuesday night.

Our chatty party of five felt right at home in the spare, high-ceilinged space, which buzzed with noise and good cheer.  Like the slightly-fancier St. John Restaurant, SJB&W turned out to be a fun place to meet friends (and it follows that it’s a not-so-fun place for a romantic night out).

There were about 20 small plates and three larger “mains” on the menu and blackboard.  Feeling hungry, we ordered eight small plates and two of the “mains.”  The menu, it turns out, is a masterpiece of understatement, because most dishes turned out to be much more wonderful than their one- or two-word descriptions would suggest.  For example, one of our party, perhaps feeling guilty about the meat-fest to come, ordered the menu item listed as “salad.”  It sounded like a throwaway item to me, but the salad turned out to be so crisp and beautifully-dressed that at the end of our meal, some of our group still mentioned it fondly.

whole crab and mayonnaise

whole crab and mayonnaise (£11)

My favorites of the evening were the whole crab and mayonnaise (pictured above) and the foie gras & duck liver toast (pictured below). In the first dish, the claw meat was sweet and firm, and the crab’s brown meat was decadently creamy and rich (the foie gras of the sea, anyone?).  As if the crab weren’t good enough on its own, the zippy mayonnaise was so tasty that when I ran out of crab, I just slathered it on slices of bread.

foie gras & duck liver toast

foie gras & duck liver toast (£6.70)

As St. John is the place to eat if you like offal, it was no surprise that the foie gras & duck liver on toast was excellent (though not sure what’s up with the redundant name . . . presumably the foie gras was of the goose liver variety?).  Hot, crisp bread smeared with a fragrant, rich liver.  Simple is great.

Speckled Face mutton  & carrots (for two)

Speckled Face mutton & carrots (£27 for two people)

The Speckled Face mutton was braised lamb meat at its fall-off-the-bone best, but at £27 for two, I wouldn’t have ordered it if I’d had exclusive control over the ordering at our table (a girl can dream . . . ).  I think my braises at home are just as good, really.  Same goes for SJB&W’s Cobb chicken & griolles (£13.90).

Bobby beans & duck egg

Bobby beans & duck egg (£5.90)

Two disappointments were the Bobby beans & duck egg (above) and the Stinking Bishop & Potatoes (below).  The beans were pretty dull and could have used a dressing with, say, more vinegar and anchovy for a kick that would complement the creamy egg yolks.

Stinking Bishop cheese & potatoes

Stinking Bishop cheese & potatoes (£12)

As for the Stinking Bishop – I wished the cheese had tasted as strong as it smelled.  But in fact, the beautifully-named cheese was too mild to be paired with the mild potatoes (however sweet and creamy those potatoes were).  The raw scallion didn’t rescue matters

Blood cake, prunes and bacon were a tasty-though-gelatinous accompaniment to the yummy breads, and the Lamb, Bread & Green sauce was a forgettable plate of meat-n-mint.

With £60 worth of wine and service, our tab came to £40 per person.  Having enjoyed the vibe, food and service at SJB&W, I will definitely be back, but the next time I go, I’m going to order a lot fewer dishes in order to save room for dessert.  I have, after all, heard nothing but rave reviews of the fresh-baked Madeleines . . . .

For another point of view on the place, click here for a Londonelicious review from a year ago, as well as Dos Hermanos’s recent SJB&W post (coincidentally, it appears we ate there on the same night).

St. John Bread and Wine, 94-96 Commercial Street, E1 6LZ; 0207 251 0848; 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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Rosa's Thai restaurant, Spitalfields

Rosa's Thai restaurant, Spitalfields

While the City is dead on the weekends, the masses of workers who linger in the area for Friday drinks can make places around Liverpool Street pretty festive. Jon and I, being lightweights and slightly anti-social, always break off from drinks at some point to find food, and so we were thrilled yesterday to find good, cheap Thai food at Rosa’s, near Spitalfields Market.

Of course, we didn’t stumble upon Rosa’s randomly. Guy Diamond over at TimeOut was enthusiastic about it a few weeks ago, and I liked this description: “Although the dishes are (mostly) the familiar roll call, there is a freshness and honesty about the cooking.” That sentence sums up our experience, too. Lamb satay was tender and the peanut sauce wasn’t the muddy glop you normally get at cheap (and even expensive) Thai places. Rather, it was sweet, tangy and slightly spicy. Actually, now that I think about it, all the dishes we tried had the heat and balance of four flavors (sour, sweet, creamy, salty) prized in Thai cooking.

Softshell crab starter was juicy and fresh; my pork green curry was filled with bamboo shoots and the most tender pork imaginable (no boiled meat-in-curry here); and Jon’s pad see eu was hot out of the wok and not greasy.

Our only disappointments were (1) the downstairs seating (You want to be upstairs where it’s warm and cozy, though some of the tables are communal. The basement feels like – um – a basement); and (2) the overcooked and overpriced side dish of vegetables. For £6 a careless side dish, you should probably just get another main course that happens to have vegetables in it.

Because the prices are low (most mains are £7-9) and the decor is inviting, Rosa’s is already drawing big groups out to celebrate, so I could see that getting annoying if all you want is a quick, quiet dinner. But overall, it’s nice to know Rosa’s is in the area next time I’m craving good-quality, inexpensive Thai food.

Our tab for two starters, two mains, a side dish and two beers was £46 with service.

Rosa’s, 12 Hanbury Street, E1 6QR, 0207 247 1093; closest tube station: Liverpool Street
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Canteen Restaurant, Spitalfields Market, London

Canteen restaurant is this year’s Observer Food Monthly “Best Restaurant of the Year”, so Jon and I have been meaning for a while to see what all the hype’s about. Unfortunately, Canteen doesn’t take reservations until 6 pm on the day you want to visit, and I’d heard it’s always a wait to get a seat at one of the resto’s long, communal tables.

Well, it seems the trick to getting a table at a popular restaurant like Canteen is to eat there when everyone else in the country is watching, say, a Rugby World Cup final match between England and South Africa. And that’s how Jon and I found ourselves with a choice of seats at Canteen on a Saturday night.

Big pluses for Canteen based on our visit: convenient, fun location (in Spitalfields Market, near Liverpool Street station); low prices (few main courses above £10); lots of wines served by the carafe; multiple vegetarian options; casual, helpful service; and an all-day breakfast menu (for when you just have to have eggs benedict!).

Minuses of our meal there: uneven quality of food; a carafe of Meursault served lukewarm (gross!).

Overall, the pluses outweigh the minuses, but I did have high expectations thanks to that whole Observer Food Monthly thing.

potted duck and piccadili at Canteen restaurant

Potted duck (aka shredded duck cooked in duck fat till it’s spreadable) is one of my favorite dishes of all time, and I think I might have to live in the UK forever to ensure a regular and continous feed for my addiction. At Canteen, its consistency was thick but still spreadable, and it smelled rich and meaty. Imagine my surprise when I found that it tasted kind of bland, which is why the piccalilli was so key for adding some fruitiness to all the blandness. Overall, the Albion‘s potted duck remains tops, and Canteen’s felt like a waste of calories. (more…)

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