Month: December 2009

Balan’s – Soho

Balan’s is generally known for their breakfasts. They usually get overall good reviews for food, but bad for service – which generally is how breakfast places go. I, however, went for dinner on a Sunday night. My friend and I were thinking Thai food in Soho, but Busaba Eathai was too busy. We found ourselves starved and walking down Old Compton Street and Balan’s seemed good enough.

As we walked in, I realised that this was probably the most flamboyant restaurant I’ve ever been in. I mean, if the location wasn’t a dead giveaway, the zebra-printed walls complemented by purple flourescent light certainly were.  Plus, I could never get the attention of any of the waiters, but my male friend seemed to get along just fine! I had fun teasing him about that.

We were seated and brought some delicious warm assorted breads with some sort of bitter tomato salsa that I’ll definitely avoid next time.

The dinner menu at Balan’s is a bit all over the place. No doubt, you’ll be able to find anything you think you’re in the mood for.  On the starter menu, you’ll see the Greek nibbles situated next to the Quesadillas, for example. The menu is huge too – I counted 21 different main dishes.

We skipped starters, and headed for the main course. I went with a Swordfish with black bean rice, tempura shrimp papaya mango salsa:

The swordfish was prepared medium rare, which was perfect. The black bean rice was just ok – a bit dry. While the mango salsa helped out the dryness, the dish needed more of it. I did get a second ramekin of it though, which made things a lot better. The tempura prawn was brilliant  – just wish there was one or two more of them. I could have done with less swordfish and rice, and more salsa and prawns. It’s going in the right direction, it just needs a bit more balance.

My friend, with Busaba still on the brain, went for Thai Curry with Shrimp:

I love all the colours that come in this dish. It just looks lovely.  Stir-fried Thai spices, onions, peppers, cashews, and coconut cream with egg noodles, this dish was a lot spicier than I thought it would be. That’s a good thing. Apart from the non-menu-listed cucumbers, the noodles were a winner.

Balan’s is pretty good. Not the greatest, not the worst. I do love, however, that the dining room is open till midnight (turned more bar scene after that). It’s perfect if you’re out late, but still want to sit down to a meal. Keep Balan’s in your back pocket for such an occaision, but don’t go out of your way when there are other restaurants in Soho open and not busy.

Balans on Urbanspoon

Pizza East – Shoreditch/Bethnal Green

Pizza in London compared to America, is mostly ‘just ok’.  For me, when you pick up a piece of pizza, it should be thick enough not to droop and to support the toppings that are on it – and all the pizza I’ve had in London doesn’t do that. It’s just a bit bland and thin. Perhaps that’s why it’s necessary to eat it with a knife and fork (oh, you silly Brits and your compulsive cutlery habits!).

That was, until, Pizza East came along. Pizza East was opened up recently by Nick Jones, the dude from Shoreditch House (which is incidentally around the corner). But unlike Shoreditch House, Pizza East’s food is worth all the hype.

The interior is hip. I feel comfortable in here, which is more than I can say about most places in Shoreditch.  It’s also very busy – even at 4pm on Saturday.

My friends and I sit down and order some Olives and Almonds:

Pizza East

Gorgeous. These olives were some of the best I’ve had. Firm and full of concentrated flavour. They were absolutely huge, and I could have happily snacked on them the whole meal.

For a starter, we split the mussels:
Pizza East

Very plump. There was some sort of creme fraiche on these that would have been too much if they used any more of it. It was just a touch, and it was perfect. For three of us, we could have used some more bread for sopping though.

I himmed and hawed over what to get for my pizza. I had it narrowed down to about 4 choices, but finally decided on the Veal Meatball Pizza:
Pizza East

Served with prosciutto, sage, lemon, parsely and cream, this may be the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life ever ever ever.  The crust was bubbly and soft, and it was seasoned! No bland dough! The sage and cream were absolutely made to be paired with veal. As I took a bite, the sauce just sort of bubbled up and engulfed all the other toppings. It was so good.

Others on the table included the Prawn with Garlic, Spring Onion and Marjoram:
Pizza East

This was interesting. The marjoram gave it a bit of Earthiness, which was nice. I was a tad confused by the spring onion though, and I think we all would have preferred a bit of cheese. Still, it was delicious.

The last pizza was the Speck with tomato and rocket.

(Side question: Do you know what ‘speck’ is? Neither did we. Apparently it’s like prosciutto, though I’m not exactly clear on the difference and neither was our server. It does, in fact, look a lot like prosciutto – which begs the question, ‘why call it speck, if it looks and tastes like prosciutto AND prosciutto is actually on the menu? Anyone? Anyone?)

Pizza East

This was a much more classic pizza. The speck and rocket were so amazingly fresh, it almost felt like it could be healthy. Plus, it wasn’t dripping in cheese.

The pizza here is brilliant. Every single bite is popping with flavour, and to my absolute delight – everyone I saw in the restaurant abandoned their proper knife and fork, and got down to eating pizza the way it should be eaten – with your hands.

Pizza East on Urbanspoon

Boheme Kitchen and Bar – Soho

I came to Boheme Kitchen and Bar with a couple clients and colleagues for our Christmas lunch. I’d been to the Boheme coffee shop next door, but never to the restaurant.

I had mixed impressions when we walked in. Part of it looked really cozy, but part of it looked like they just tried to spiff up a pub. All the tables were really close together (so much so that you could barely get in and out of your seat), but the chairs were all really comfy (so much so that you didn’t really want to get up).

I didn’t know how much those first impressions would foreshadow the afternoon because mixed impressions were pretty much the theme of the entire dining experience….

We ordered some wine and a sharing platter of calamari, hummus and nachos.

Impression 1: The calamari is a bit greasy. On the other hand, the breading is nice. I also love it when restaurants bring the lemon wrapped in cheese cloth.
Impression 2: The nachos are really goupy – too many toppings. But, the actual chip is light as a feather
Impression 3: The hummus is creamy and delicious. Ew… what’s that aftertaste and why is the bread kind of stale?

For my main, I went for the BBQ Ribs.

Impression 1: The ribs on top are tough and dry
Impression 2: The rack on the bottom are so moist, the meat falls off the bone
Impression 3: The chips are brilliant, but there’s not nearly enough of them.

If you hadn’t guessed, Boheme is strictly 50/50. Some stuff is going to be good, some is not. You just have to play a bit of Russian Roulette, and you’ll be fine. I’d go back, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.

Cafe Boheme on Urbanspoon

Koba – Fitzrovia

I love Korean food, and about a month or two ago, I realised it had been way way way too long since I had any. In fact, going over the back catalogue of restaurants in my head, I couldn’t actually remember if I had ever had Korean food in London.  I immediately sought to rectify what was fast becoming a tragedy.

Koba is a small Korean restaurant not too far from where I work. They have a lunch special – something like a main with a side and soup for £6.50. Score.

I opted for an additional starter: the seafood pancake

Koba London Korean

All too often these can end up being way too greasy. This wasn’t without fault, but it was still really tasty. It was more crispy than soggy, which is always better.  There was a lot more seafood on it than I was expecting, and the dipping sauce was perfect in that it didn’t overpower anything. It just gave it a little extra kick.

I had to go with the dolsot bibimbap for my main course. Only problem was I was so eager, I forgot to take a picture till half way through eating.

For those who haven’t had it before, dolsot bibimbap is essentially a dish consisting of rice topped with separated Korean veggies, beef and egg served in a sizzling hot stone bowl. Here’s a picture that’s not mine:

When it’s brought out, you have to let it sit for a little while. Only as the rice begins to crisp in the bowl, do you begin to stir everything around. You’ll often find the beef and egg to be raw on top, so as you stir, the bowl itself cooks the ingredients. Spoon in some gochuchang (a hot red pepper paste) to taste, and you’re all set.

Mine, halfway eaten:

bibimbap London

This was soooo good – especially the gochuchang. I swear, I could have it on almost anything.  My only tiny gripe is that there could have been more kimchi, but I asked for a bit more and they brought it over straightaway. Something tells kimchi isn’t in high demand in the UK…

It’s no secret that my favourite bibimbap was at Pacific Rim in Michigan on their now-defunct lunch menu. However, Koba’s is about the closest I’ve come to finding a replacement. I will be going here again and again.

Koba on Urbanspoon

Basili – Finchley Road (Takeaway)

It was one of those Fridays where I just couldn’t imagine cooking. My work permit renewal application had just been approved, and I thought a bit of a celebration was in order. Maybe my flatmate would want to go out to dinner! But then it started raining. Hard. And the idea of even walking down the street seemed reprehensible.

Delivery pizza was the only solution.

We decided to go with Basili and their Pizza Napoli: tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, italian spicy pepperoni, roasted chorizo, olives, prosciutto crudo and basilico pesto sauce. Om nom nom. The pizzas came in three sizes: 10″, 13″ and 18″. We went with the large.

Being a Friday, we knew the delivery would take a while – probably an hour, maybe more. With the rain, we were prepared for even worse. But above all odds, the pizza was delivered in under 45 minutes.

We opened up the box, and gasped. It turns out 18″ is a really f’ing huge pizza.

^^ We put a battery, a pair of tweezers and a 50p coin in the box to show the relative scale ^^

And the taste? It was pizza – it had chorizo, it had pesto. By those points alone, it had to be good. Not the best I’ve ever had, by far. But it hit the spot. And it was definitely gone in one sitting :)

Basili on Urbanspoon

Eastside Inn – Farringdon (Thanksgiving Dinner)

Eastside Inn Thanksgiving

Last year, on my first Thanksgiving in the UK and away from my family, I worked late and ended up eating buttered noodles over the sink. It sucked, and I vowed that I would never let it happen again.  So when my friend Kate told me that Eastside Inn was doing Thanksgiving Dinner this year, I leaped at the chance to go. I’d been wanting to go to the restaurant for a while anyway, and this was the perfect chance.

The restaurant has been on a lot of ‘Best of’ lists this year, and it’s no surprise why. It was delicious.

I dined with a handful of Americans, one American-born Brit and WillemChef Bjorn‘s brother and the most international guy I know.

We started out with a mini cheese and bacon toastie nibble:

Eastside Inn Nibbles

When eating this, I wondered how something could be both creamy, rich and light as air all at the same time. Yum!

The first course was pumpkin soup with cinnamon and white truffle cream.  We were served the white truffle cream first (also with croutons and pumpkin seeds.

The soup was then poured around the creamy island:

Wow. The white truffle was beautiful and the cinnamon brought out it’s more savoury qualities. The soup itself was spiced perfectly. I could have had another 3 bowls.

And for the main, turkey, of course:

A bit of white meat and dark meat, paired with a lovely salty stuffing, sweet potato puree and a bit of cranberry for tartness. There was a lot going on, but every single element worked harmoniously together. I know it’s a classic combination, but it seemed to have a new spin. I think it was the stuffing. It was superb.  Only thing I didn’t like were the sprouts. But I just don’t like sprouts.

For dessert: Pecan Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream and Golden Syrup

Just like the turkey, there were quite a few different things going on here, and they all worked together perfectly. Fruit, chocolate, honey, nutty…mmm. And on top of the ice cream was a caramel-y rice krispie treat!

In a word, the entire meal was gorgeous.

Eastside Inn on Urbanspoon

Vinoteca – Clerkenwell

I had been wanting to go to Vinoteca for AGES, and for some reason, it just never worked out. The first time it was a bank holiday, the second time they were just randomly closed and the third time, they were too busy. The fourth time I finally got in – after a 2 hour wait (which was spent at a pub down the street).

If you haven’t gathered, Vinoteca is busy. Always busy. And loud. Too loud. However, I’m willing to ignore these things because A) they have excellent food and B) They have excellent wine.

My friend Dom and I split just a couple small plates.

The cheese plate:

Vintoteca

Brilliant soft, hard and pungent cheese served with a pear chutney, sweet crackers and fresh bread. Yum!

Duck parfait, cornichons and toast:

Vinoteca

Probably a mistake on my part since I hate anything in the cucumber family… the duck was good though and the toast, fresh.

Clams and mussels in a white win and butter sauce:

Vinoteca

Absolutely delicious. Dom and I scarfed these down in minutes, I think. Gold star.

It was actually a while ago that we went here, and silly me didn’t write down what we were drinking, but the wine selection is great. It’s very nice to see different pours on a list that aren’t just Merlot, Cabernet, blah blah blah.

I can’t wait to go back and have a proper meal here.

Vinoteca on Urbanspoon