Month: October 2011

Kopapa – Seven Dials

Generally, the only time I go around Covent Garden area is when I have tickets to the ballet. Otherwise, it’s too busy with tourists and full of mediocre and overpriced restaurants. Therefore, I admit I was a little dubious of Kopapa. It’s technically in Seven Dials, which is the area north of Long Acre with the cobblestone streets, cute independent stores and restaurants (home of Neal’s Yard Cheese Shop, for example), and the tiny deathtrap of a roundabout where taxis speed by without care or regard for the fleeing pedestrians.

Kopapa is situated at the apex of the SE spoke Seven Dials spokes. It has a pretty slick, but equally comfortable interior. Despite it being Tuesday, the place was hopping and we very nearly didn’t get a table. I’m so glad we did though because I truly enjoyed the experience, not least of which the service, which from start to finish was perfect.

The menu is small plates-based, but with no particular affiliation to a cuisine. In one menu you go from pork belly to bruschetta to soft shell crab tempura. It could have been a disaster, but on the whole (barring one stand-out miss) it stood up to scrutiny. A credit to executive chef Peter Gordan and his team.

The aforementioned pork belly (£8.80) was savoury and sweet, with sweet potato dumplings and chilli pickled plums, though the crackling lacked the crunchiness that would have made it perfect.

Spring rolls of slow roasted duck leg, Sichuan pepper, feta & guindilla chillies with tamarind aioli  (£8.10) were surprisingly meaty’, not just your average duck spring roll starter.

We also enjoyed the butternut squash risotto and burger, both massive portions and altogether enjoyable.

In fact the only true miss of the night was the calamari, which was unfortunately overcooked and way too salty – a real shame as the aioli it was served with was excellent.

Desserts were lovely, although there was a distinct lack of chocolate-based treats, if I’m honest. I went with the passionfruit brûlée and palm sugar tapioca substituting a mouth-watering honeycombe ice cream for the coconut sorbet it was meant to be served with (hate coconut, sorry).

I always feel weird gushing about a place, especially if I learned about it through a PR pitch (full disclosure below), but honestly Kopapa was great. With drinks and wine and a few extras, it wasn’t a super cheap meal (£120), but anyone on a budget could certainly scale it down. I’ll definitely be back.

Full disclosure: I was given a voucher in the amount of £100 to dine at Kopapa. Though I did not personally pay for the meal (apart from the £20 we went ‘over’), I was completely anonymous and the evening represented a typical ‘off the street’ experience.

Kopapa on Urbanspoon

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Balan’s – Westfield

Balan’s – all seven locations in London – is known for their breakfasts. Nice fluffy American-style pancakes, equally fluffy scrambled eggs and streaky bacon. In short: any American in London’s dream brunch. Why then, oh why, do I insist on deviating from the norm and order something not breakfast-y?

In this instance, it was because I wanted to be ‘healthy’. I opted for a salad. BIG mistake.

My salad was made up of exactly two prawns, about 10 corns kernals, a sprinkle of black beans and three slices of avocado – all for the bargain price of £8.95. Luckily (sarcasm alert) they did not skimp on the lettuce as the bowl was overflowing with it. I reckon their overheads for this salad was probably in the region of 75p at the end of the day, which really just makes me a chump for assuming £9 would net me more than two prawns. Silly me.

On the other side of the health scale were the aforementioned pancakes DQ ordered, which were delicious and everything one could hope for in an American breakfast. Fluffy buttermilk goodness with fresh maple syrup and crispy, salty proper bacon. Well, proper for me anyway. At £6.95, they were slightly overpriced, but certainly didn’t break the bank.

You know, I really like the restaurant choices at Westfield, but I’m steering clear of  Balan’s for next time. Sorry kids, but even nice pancakes did not erase my hatred of paying £9 for romaine lettuce.

Balans on Urbanspoon

Recipe: Crock-Pot Pulled Pork Sandwiches

As a child, I was picky with my food. Veggies were out, anything with chunks, anything green – I wouldn’t eat. So when my mother insisted on making a healthy meal of Cabbage Rolls in her Crock-Pot at around age 8, I immediately turned my nose up. Stews and vegetable soup? No frickin’ way was I going near it. From about that time, I always associated her oh-so-80s Crock-Pot  with limp, overcooked vegetables and chunky soups – and even though I quite like chunky soups now, I was a little dubious about the slow-cooking machine.

As I understand it, the Crock-Pot was more of an American thing – and while they’re trying to make a comeback over there, they’re trying make somewhat of a debit over here.

Their PR team got in touch with me ages ago to try a Crock-Pot review. They sent a lovely box of veggies, which I immediately knew I probably wasn’t going to use. I had a Eureka moment instead. What better way to bring the Crock-Pot to the UK than to slow-cook a delicious American classic: Pulled Pork.

I was inspired from a few different recipes online, but for the most part, this concoction was all mine. Most of you know that I’m far from an expert in the kitchen (having things cooked for you can be so much more reliable!), but I have to say this one is a winner.

Please note, that as an American, I still have my American measuring cups. I love them, and I still think that way, so most of this recipe (bar the pork) reflects that.

Ingredients:

  • 500g pork shoulder cubes
  • 1 medium white onion, minced
  • 1/3 cup smokey whiskey (Note: MAGIC INGREDIENT. I used Jura)
  • 1/3 cup quality maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup  ketchup
  • 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce (do yourself a favour and don’t use Tabasco. Go Original Cholula or Frank’s)
  • 1 tablespoon spicy mustard
  • 1 teaspoon corse sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes
  • As many twists of ground black pepper you want
  • Fresh from the bakery onions rolls (or baps, if you will)

Method:

Add all ingredients into the pot. Turn on  the lowest setting, wait 8 hours and then shred the pork with a fork. That’s it.

Before:

And after (served with chips made from my beloved Acti-Fry):

I can not tell you how delicious and easy to make this was.  Spicy, sweet and fantastically tender. The only downside is that next time I make them, I’ll have to wait another 8 hours to eat them.

Welcome back, Crock-Pot, I imagine you will go far.

Heron – Paddington

I love how, every now and then, London can floor you with surprise. The city is an incredibly rich example of multiculturalism, but I have to say that this is the first time I ever felt like I was in a completely different country.

It was a Friday night, and I was out at after-work drinks with DQ. Slightly giggly due to too much wine and not enough food in my stomach, I suggested that instead of going home and being boring, we go out for dinner. A quick look at Urbanspoon showed Heron – a Thai restaurant within a pub just down the street. DQ remembered going there once or twice for lunch and thought it was pretty good, so we headed down.

The Heron is basically a sports pub, typical of the locals you might imagine in some small English countryside town, where the guys have nothing to do but drink a few pints and watch the footie. TVs with Sky Sports were positioned all around the bar so that wherever you were sitting, you could have a view of whatever match was featuring that night. Even worse, there was no food to be seen on any of the tables.

Just as we were about to walk out and try to find somewhere else, I saw a staircase. It couldn’t hurt to have a look. That’s when it happened. We walked through to a small room, where immediately, all eyes darted to us, like we were obviously in the wrong place and must be looking for the bathrooms. Undeterred, we sat down and our server, a nervous-looking girl with broken English asked if we’d been before because their dinner menu was just in Thai, and she could possibly try to translate it for us, but it is quite long and she might struggle.

The blasting Thai karaoke music on the big screen TVs and garish disco lanterns all around made it difficult to concentrate, but we eventually settled on a minced pork with chili, a sort of Tom Yom soup with giant prawns and spongy omelet-type squares of eggs and a dish of spicy Thai sausages. Naturally sensing that this was not exactly the type of place where you can get spring rolls with sweet chili dipping sauce, this was proper authentic Thai.

The rest of the evening was kind of a blur of fantasticness. The food was amazing. The chili in the pork was hot enough to singe your eyebrows, and the soup was a multi-layered example of the balance that Thai food should exhibit – the perfect combination of sweet, spicy, sour and bitter. The sausages were bursting – almost chorizo like in spice and flavour. It was a beautiful thing.

On top of that – the entertainment. I mentioned before the karaoke tracks playing on the TVs? Nothing compared to when one overly-keen budding star of the London/Thai karaoke circuit at the 12-top next to us, grabbed the mic and belted out a version of Mariah Carey’s ‘Hero’ that could have quite easily made the ‘train wreck’ compilation of auditions on Britain’s Got Talent. By the end of the song, everyone in the restaurant was joining in. The experience was unreal, completely foreign and so much fun. It was like we were on holiday.

The bill came to £45 for two with two beers a piece and a side of rice. It’s not takeaway prices, but it’s worth it. In fact, I’ve actually hemmed and hawed whether or not to write about this place, simply because I want it to remain a secret, but at the end of the day, Heron can not go unrecognized as the most authentic Thai experience in London.

Heron on Urbanspoon

Regular service to resume shortly!

Things have been quiet recently, I know.

The reason? I’ve been out gallivanting around China and Tibet, where there wasn’t really been a lot of internet-ing happening on my end. It was an amazing experience, but it’s put me slightly behind in terms of writing.

On top of that, I’m in the midst of flat moving hell.

These factors combined mean that writing about my dinner has sadly taken a back seat. Normal service will return shortly. I promise.