Month: February 2011

Yauatcha – Soho

I’d nearly given up on Alan Yau restaurants. Wagamama I love, Busaba is ok as long as you order the right thing, Hakkasan is decent enough as long as I’m not paying, Cha Cha Moon is not and Sake No Hana is, well, a disaster.

So allow me to have been a sceptic when my flatmate Neil kept going on and on about how good Yauatcha was. And allow me to be completely and entirely wrong. Yauatcha should be renamed Yumatcha. I loved everything.

We went for Neil’s birthday as a surprise, and even from walking in and seeing the very delicious looking mini desserts in the waiting area, we all started to get excited. The modern decor, vibrant blues and wicked exotic fish tank in reception were all witness to one of the best meals I’ve had so far this year.

The menu is immense. So much to choose from that we had a difficult time even knowing where to start. First on the list though was the Char Siu Bun:

Fluffy, slightly sweet puffs filled with tender, savoury pork. Normally Char Siu, though almost always tasty, tends to be sticky and difficult to eat, but these were perfect.

The Soft Shell Crab and Salted Egg Croquette were a favourite of mine. The crunchy crab offset by silky egg was served on top of a citrus sweet chilli sauce. There was a lot going on here, but it worked.

The Spicy Szechuan Dumpling was little gloopy for my taste. I found it a tad overwhelming, but it was a hit with the table.

Jasmine Tea Smoked Ribs were tender and delicious, only slightly accented (not overpowered) by hints of floral.

The Crispy Duck Rolls came out piping hot, nearly bursting full of proper duck meat, not just a few slivers like most places. The hoison was rich and plummy, and my only complaint is that they took it off the table too soon!

The Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf was incredibly aromatic for what is essential rice and chicken. The rice had the noticeable sweetness that comes with being drizzled with mirin, which was a nice balance for the largely soy and ginger-based chicken.

The Sweet Potato Mei-si Roll was a surprise. Similar in taste and texture to a bird’s nest, the crispy bits on the outside were a crunchy, salty bit of fun, while the inside was silky smooth. Utterly delicious.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop the love-in. Bad reviews are more fun to write (and read) than good ones anyway. I can’t wait to go back to Yauatcha though. It’s maybe not an everyday kind of place – the dim sum plates range from about £5-£15 and for three of us with drinks, we were out for under £100 – but for the special occasion or birthday meal, it’s perfect. I can’t wait to go back.

Yauatcha on Urbanspoon

Trattoria Lucca – Camden

I’ll be honest, my meal here wasn’t fantastic, but I still really loved it. Why? The place is freakin’ adorable.

Just a short walk away from Camden tube, and you feel like you’ve stepped back in time and travelled a few thousand miles east to a tiny cafe in Rome circa 1963. All that was missing was the checkered table cloths.

As we walked in, we were greeted enthusiastically by three old Italian men with varying thickness of mustaches. Instantly I felt like I was with family (and I’m not even Italian!). My friend and I sat by the window with full view of the cute bar and amazing looking dessert cart. Unfortunately we were running a bit late, so had to get stuck right into the mains.

I went with the Veal Scalloppine with Tomatoes and Garlic:

The plate came out first with just the veal, but as a nice touch, the roasted potatoes and green beans were delicately served by another server separately.  I couldn’t fault the sides, but the tomato sauce on the veal was a bit much. It was gloopy and completely overpowered the meat, which was probably quite nice, but I guess I’ll never know.

It’s cheap, cheerful, and while I wouldn’t go out of my way to rush back, I’d happily go again. I just wouldn’t get the same thing.

Trattoria Lucca on Urbanspoon

Byron – Soho

London has been obsessed with burgers for probably a couple years now. I guess the trend continues over in the States as well, or so my Michigan and New York friends tell me. But no matter what, I always seem to like the burgers over there better. Despite the enthusiasm and availability, I just haven’t quite found the right one in London. Granted, I’ve not yet been to
#MEATEASY/The Meatwagon yet (soon, I promise), but London burgers on the whole are not floating my boat.

The closest so far (apart from the excellent Hawksmoor, which I’m not counting because no one should have a £15 burger as their default meat patty) though has been Byron. I went to the Soho location on a crisp Friday evening with a few friends before Christmas, eager to see if it lived up to the hype.

I like the vibe of Byron. It’s busy, but not rushed. The menu and look of the place is very simple. Classic, almost. I also love that they have a ton of condiments already on the table, including Cholula – one of my favourite hot sauces ever.

I ordered a Burger (medium rare) with Gruyère and Fries
:

The burger came out pretty quickly. Nice and pink in the middle, fresh bun, a little sloppy, but definitely good. The fries everyone ordered, however, were nowhere to be seen, and trying to get the attention of our server was quite the task. Eventually, we all received our side dishes, but it did put a damper on the experience – most people were done with their burgers by the time the fries came.

So good marks on the burger, not so much on the service. Still, it’s the best burger I’ve had in London for under a tenner, and with 11 locations around the city, if I ever have a craving, I won’t be far away from one!

Byron on Urbanspoon

Michigan Roundup – Part 2

My trip home for Christmas and the New Year was an interesting one. It was the first time I’ve been back where I actually got to try some new places as well as the old.  Here’s a round up of all the places I didn’t get to write about a couple weeks ago in Part 1

California Pizza Kitchen – Jamaican Jerk Pizza

It’s probably quite easy to make fun of CPK. It’s a chain that charges almost $4 for a pop, after all. But it remains a decent stand-by when out Christmas shopping. It also happens that it was the first restaurant I ever worked in. There, at a sprightly 16-years-old, I learned how pizza didn’t have to mean ‘pepperoni and cheese’. My favourite pizza to this day at CPK is the zesty Jamaican Jerk. It’s spicy, onion-y heaven.

California Pizza Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Mind, Body and Spirits: Sage-crusted Pork Loin

This was my first visit to this independent Rochester restaurant. It’s a bit hippy-ish (they grow all their own produce in a covered greenhouse out back), but I liked it. The pork was coated in a sage and ciabatta crust and served with butternut squash risotto, swiss chard, cranberries and a brown butter vinaigrette. It had a presentation that reeked of the 80s (read: PARSLEY OVERLOAD), but I can’t fault the taste. Very few things in this world go together like pork, butter and dried fruit.

Mind Body and Spirit on Urbanspoon

Frita Batidos – Chorizo Frita and Twice Fried Plantains


Frita Batidos is the second restaurant from Eve Aranoff, who is really quite famous in Ann Arbor restaurant circles. She was also on Season 6 of Top Chef. Her flagship restaurant (modestly titled, eve, naturally) is one of my favourites. This new one is a departure. Inspired by Cuban street food, it promises fresh, authentic nosh. My chorizo frita was delicious; chips *ON* the patty, sweet chili mayo. Yum! The plantains were a big miss though. Apparently ‘twice-fried’ just means cooked and then doused in oil.

Frita Batido on Urbanspoon

Pacific Rim – Japanese-Style Sablefish

Oh, Sablefish, how I love thee. I could really write an essay on this dish. Instead, I will tell you that the silky rich texture of one of the best fishes on the planet is only enhanced 10-fold by the delicious soy-tamarind glaze and glass noodles. If you ever find yourself in Ann Arbor, make a special trip for this dish.

Pacific Rim By Kana on Urbanspoon

The Fleetwood Diner – Breakfast Special

Ok, it’s not exactly fine dining at the Fleetwood, but it’s good proper American breakfast, grease and all, and I love it. It was my last meal before hopping back on a plane to London, and for that (plus the streaky bacon), it was the perfect way to go out.

Fleetwood Diner on Urbanspoon

Till next year, Michigan – you were swell!

Dinner – Knightsbridge

Few restaurant openings have had the buzz that Dinner has had in the past year. Foodies have been collectively freaking out ever since it was announced that Heston, *the* Heston, would be opening up his first restaurant in 16 years right smack dab in the middle of London, and with good reason – it is pretty damn exciting.

But was it worth it?

In a word, yes. Though not the dining experience I would imagine his three Michelin star The Fat Duck to be, Dinner is excellent. I wouldn’t call it earth-shattering, but from beginning to end, there were a lot of ooh’s and ahh’s at our table.

I dined there with my pal, Gary, for what was I thought going to be a posh, but competitively priced 3-course lunch for £28. It turned out, however, that deal is only available Monday through Friday, which meant while we got to choose from the whole menu, we also had to pay quite a bit more than we thought. Starters were in the £10-£15 range, mains around the £30 mark and desserts about £8-10. Expensive, but fairly standard for a restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental hotel (home of high-class escorts and £19 martinis, it would also seem).

I decided to start out with a slightly more *cough* reasonably priced drink: The Condé Nast Traveller martini (£14):

Now I generally don’t write about my drinks, but this one was too tasty to pass up. Rhubarb puree, persimmon and a drizzle of cinnamon syrup with the smoothest vodka. You could easily drink this down in one gulp.

Starting out with food, I couldn’t pass up the Meat Fruit (£12.50) of ‘mandarin, chicken liver parfait and grilled bread’ that I’d heard so much about.

Looking suspiciously like an extra vibrant tangerine, I was almost giddy to cut into it. The skin, revealed to be more like a jelly, was supple, giving way to the most silky, richest parfait I’ve ever had. It was unique, fun and it lived up to the hype.

Gary went with the Broth of Lamb (£12.50):

This dish of lightly fired sweetbreads, celery, radish, turnip and a hen’s egg was amazingly aromatic. The array of textures and flavours were nearly over-powered by the rich broth, but they somehow managed to hold their own.

For my main, I went with our server’s suggestion of the Spiced Pigeon (£32), of which I really didn’t need much convincing:

Long-time readers will know that I have a soft spot for those ugly birds ever since I tried it at my first time at St John, and this was no exception. Served as four boneless strips alongside artichokes with an ale-based sauce, it just about melted in my mouth. The very definition of tender.

The other main was the Powdered Duck (£24):

I wish I caught what sauce the duck was served with. It was slightly sweeter than the pigeon’s ale sauce – and drizzled over the smoked fennel the duck was served upon, it was absolutely perfect. The duck, looking more like miniature legs of lamb was tender and nicely spiced.

On to desserts, and this is where Dinner really shined. I knew at first glance that I was going to go with the Brown Bread Ice Cream (£8.50) if not just because of the ‘salted butter caramel syrup’ it was served with.

Salted caramel is food of the gods. Period.

Also on the table was the Chocolate Bar (£8.50):

The rich dark chocolate was so shiny you could actually see your reflection, Gary commented on his second bite, ‘This is so good, it’s hard not to break into a smile when you eat it’. So, there you have it – a success.

The final surprise of the our posh lunch was the petite four, which wasn’t really a petite four at all. Described as an Earl Grey Vanilla Ganache and Caraway Seed Biscuit, it didn’t look like much, but heavens did it pack a punch. Just look how thick and creamy!

Had it not been completely inappropriate, I would have tried to lick the inside of the cup.

By this time, my stomach could take no more, and we asked for the bill. It hurt. A whopping £170 total for lunch. We split it down the middle, and tried not to wince as we punched in our respective pin numbers. Not the kind of thing I’d do all the time, but every once in a while, it’s worth it.

Service was perfect, and honestly there’s not a whole lot I can fault with the whole experience. The place is absolutely beautiful too. Even £85 lighter, I’m a happy camper.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon

I’m still alive…

Unfortunately, a heavy workload has forced the eating out (and blogging!) to take a back seat during the month of January, but I’m slowly surfacing, and no longer will I be forced to order Deliverance to the office at 9pm. I hope, anyway. Constantly eating Deliverance would make for a very boring food blog, indeed.

Here’s to eating out more in February…

(By the way, the picture is borrowed from this site here)