Asian

Bam-bou – Fitzrovia

In our very busy city-dweller lives, it is rare that 6 people can come together to enjoy a nice meal and drinks without weeks of planning and diary-checking. Spontaneity almost always breeds a successful night out – and the surprise of being able to get three couples together for an out-of-the blue triple date still warms my heart even months later.

Because of the spontaneity of the evening, we didn’t do much planning on where to go to eat. Bam-bou is very central, just north of Oxford Street in Fitzrovia. Walking by it as often as I do (my office isn’t too far), I’ve always remarked at how busy it always seems to be. It’s not super-cheap and doesn’t have a lot of the buzz so many of the restaurants – whether deserving or undeserving – in London have these days, but with the crowds even on random weekdays were a good sign.

The food is Vietnamese-French, which I consider to be less Asian-fusion (such a dirty word!) in the restaurant sense and more of a nod to a not-so-pleasant piece of history, since France ruled Vietnam as a colony until 1954.

But that’s not so much to the point. On to the food.

By far the best starter we had was the duck roll. Coming out of the kitchen  like little mini-burgers, the duck patty was almost flakey in texture, complemented perfectly with a fragrant plummy hoisin. Unfortunately we weren’t particularly impressed with the bland veggie summer rolls or the slightly too greasy calamari (though the spicy aioli served with the latter had a lot of pluck. I like that in a dipping sauce).

Mains across the table were made up of a combination of curries, pork skewers over vermicelli mostly reminiscent of bun cha and a lovely spiced duck with a salted plum sauce, which – despite having a similar description to our duck starter – couldn’t have been more different in preparation.

All of them were quite lovely too. The duck, though somewhat of a small portion for £15.50 (not including any sides or rice) was a bit steep, but expertly cooked. Loved it. The curry sauce was almost  intoxicating, and the pork beautifully tender.

Most of the time, restaurants with a melting pot approach to Asian food are a dime a dozen and rarely anything to shout about, but Bam-bou breaks the mould.

Bam-Bou on Urbanspoon

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Michigan Roundup – Part 1

One of my favourite parts of visiting home for Christmas are the restaurants – specifically in Ann Arbor. I’ve posted a few of my ‘must-go’ places before, so I won’t bore you with the many details. Instead, perhaps a pictorial food journey of ‘Tree Town’ is in order…

Aut Bar – Eggs Benedetto:

My favourite brunch place doubles as Ann Arbor’s only gay bar at night. Their slightly twisted weekly takes on Eggs Benedict (this one with a yummy spicy ham) is always a winner. The potatoes are especially tasty.

Aut Bar on Urbanspoon

 

Pacific Rim – Big Eye Tuna:

For mains at Pacific Rim (my favourite restaurant and former place of employment before I joined the big bad world of PR), my dilemma is always ‘Do I go for my favourite, my other favourite, or my other other favourite?’ This particular time I went with my ‘other’: the Big Eye Tuna. Seared tuna with a wasabi cream, ginger-miso and sweet soy sauce, served over crispy rice with a daikon salad. It is superb.

Pacific Rim By Kana on Urbanspoon

 

National Coney Island – Original Coney Dog with Fries

And of course, what trip to Michigan would be complete without a trip to a Coney Island? Whether Kerby’s, National or one of the many ‘off brands’, the consistency of the chili that goes on that lovely dense meaty pipe, is just something that can not be replicated in the UK.

National Coney Island on Urbanspoon


Five Guys – Cheeseburger with hot sauce, bacon and ketchup with Fries

And to balance the hot dog, we must mention the glorious burger. Five Guys is a national chain famous for the accolades of President Obama, their anything-you-want-on-it-for-free toppings and the all you can eat peanuts. They made it to Michigan shortly after I moved away, but I’ve tried almost every time to make it back when I’m home. It’s melt in your mouth goodness.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

Part 2 including fried chicken, more BIG American breakfasts and the Cuban street food place du jour coming up soon!

Asia de Cuba – St. Martin’s Lane

I had my first taste of Asia de Cuba, the most well-known (only?) tropical-Asian fusion restaurant in London and New York, at Taste of London, and I’ve been dreaming of it ever since. After one failed attempt at lunch in August, I was ready for another go – especially since they had a 2-course £15 deal going on for London Restaurant Festival.

The restaurant is located in the St Martins Lane Hotel. It’s about as well-hidden as you can get being on a busy street in tourist London. The only hint of an address number is a nearly transparent sticker at the bottom corner of the giant chiffoned window that faces the street. I walked up and down the street about three times before I figured it out.

The other thing about Asia de Cuba is that it’s expensive. And by expensive, I mean overpriced. But that does not mean it’s not fantastic – it just means I’m not normally going to go unless A) it’s a special deal B) it’s a special occasion or C) someone else is paying. My lunch obviously fell under Category A.

I started out with the beef dumplings two ways: crispy with plum sauce and steamed with coconut rice and mango ponzu.

Gorgeous presentation. A bit small on the portion, but it is only a starter. The crispy dumpling was, indeed, crispy. There was far too little plum sauce though. After one swipe it was pretty much gone and I was left with a dry dumpling. The steamed morsel was much more my taste, but unless I’m blind, it didn’t come with any coconut rice. That was a bummer.

For my main, I got exactly what I tried at Taste of London – the dish I’ve been dreaming about for four months: Honey-rhum glazed pot roast of pork.

Heaven.

The top of the roast is crispy with caramelised goodness. Underneath that, there is a nice pork belly-esque layer of fat, followed by the most supple melt-in-your-mouth pork roast ever. The dish is served on top of cubed fried plantains (gotta get the tropical theme in there somewhere), enoki mushrooms and bok choi.

This is seriously one of my most favourite dishes on the planet. It is an absolute explosion of contrasting and complementing flavours all at the same time. I can not put into words how much I love this. It was just as good as I remembered, and I will have a hard time ever ordering anything else off the menu.

The only problem with this dish is that it is monstrous. I was conflicted… it was so good I wanted to finish every last bite, but I found myself slipping into food coma after about 25 minutes of om nom nom’ing and had to stop. In hindsight, I’m glad I did. I don’t think I could even look at food for the rest of the day.

Still, I think I did pretty well…

Dessert was not an option, but I think at some point in the near future, I could be tempted with the mini mexican donuts filled with butterscotch sauce. The others I thought looked very nice as well.

Service was fine, but nothing to write home about. I didn’t find anyone to be particularly personable, but I can’t complain since the service was prompt and the meal timed correctly.

There are definitely a lot of reasons people gripe about this restaurant (value for money being number 1), but as far as I’m concerned, they’re crazy – I’d probably pay double just to have that pork over and over again.

 

Asia de Cuba on Urbanspoon

Pacific Rim – Ann Arbor, Michigan

I’ll admit that I am a biased party when it comes to this amazing Michigan restaurant. I worked for Pacific Rim for nearly three years in University and after. When I had my first job in PR, I kept on working there two nights a week for extra money. They treat their employees with respect, I made good money and I made fantastic friends there. 

This time round was the first time I really felt like I didn’t work there anymore.  The recently opened a gorgeous expansion, had quite a few new starters, and even hired some new people. I think the latter was more of a shock considering the turnover rate for that place is, like, three years at the minimum.

I dined there twice, as one should when visiting Ann Arbor.

The first night I tried some newer dishes (or at least new to me): the spiced quail for a starter and the short rib bibimbap for my main.

I always have a hard time describing quail for those who haven’t had it. (‘Sorta like chicken, but better?’).  The bird was lightly breaded and fried – a succulent little morsel perfect for wetting the appetite, but not spoiling it. It left me wanting more.

Then comes the soup: chilled avocado with crab.

They always feature this soup in the summer. It is light and refreshing, despite being made pretty much of pureed avocado.  It’s made with a tiny bit of jalpeno oil which gives it a slight kick. Lumb crab and crispy wontons garnish the dish.

For the main, here’s some background. The restaurant used to be open for lunch where they served a more low-key menu that included many more Korean dishes, including the best dol sat bi bim bop I’ve ever had in my life.  You would always be able to hear the rice suzzling on the hot stone bowl as it came out of the kitchen before it hit your table.  The ingredients were prepared fresh including the gochuchang. Mixing the veggies, marinated beef, the egg, the spicy sauce and the extra crispy rice was like heaven.

Now that the restaurant is no longer open for lunch my only chance to get anything ressembling the bi bim bop was this featured entrée:

Basically it’s a plain bi bim bop with fancy ingredients.  Lovely shortribs and all, I still miss my hot stone bowl.

My second meal at Pacific Rim was three nights later.  I went back for some old classics:

Unagi Terrine: Smoked BBQ eel served over avocado and sushi rice with a sweet soy glaze and wakami seaweed.

If you love an eel and avocado roll, you’ll love this. ‘Nough said.

Lemongrass beef: Beef skewers marinated in a spicy lemongrass served with greens and mango.

This dish is a take on a salad that used to be on the menu.  The beef is zesty, but the mango balances it out. Yum.

My friend brought with him two wines that would dictate our mains.  Both were robust reds, both called for red meat: 1989 Brane-Cantenac Margaux Grand Cru Classe and the 2004 Jean-Luc Colombo Syrah.

I went with the 5-spice duck: Duck breast marinated in grilled and topped with a Chinese 5 Spice sauce, served over duck confit risotto with bok choi, asparagus and snap peas.

My friend went with the rack of lamb: Lamb grilled and served over a spicy peanut suace with sweet potato gratin, bok choi and asparagus.

Sad to say, but both of these wines completely overpowered my duck.  It’s not that the duck wasn’t perfect (it’s one of my favourite dishes!), but it just wasn’t spicy enough to handle these ‘grow hair on your chest’ reds.  The normally-rich clove, pepper and anise flavours got lost in the mix.

The lamb, on the other hand, was the perfect choice, and I found myself stealing probably too many bites of my friend’s entrée.

Both meats were served rare/medium-rare to perfection.  Portions are on the large side, but that didn’t stop me from finishing every last bite.

Pacific rim is honestly one of, if not, the best restaurant in Ann Arbor.  But, like I said, I’m totally biased.
Pacific Rim By Kana on Urbanspoon

Recipe: Spicy tofu salad

One of my favourite quick and easy meals is a spicy tofu salad. I hesitate to call this or most of the things I make a ‘recipe’ because it usually consists of me throwing a lot of a things in a pan/bowl/receptacle and hoping it turns out well.

For this salad you’ll need:

(L-R) sweet chili, soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, ponzu, togarashi, sriracha, Soy Vay
  • Sweet Chili Sauce
  • Soy Sauce
  • Mirin
  • Sesame Oil
  • Togarashi or any other Japanese pepper blend
  • Ponzu
  • Sriracha
  • Soy Vay Island Teriyaki
  • Greens
  • Panko
  1. Take one packge of extra firm tofu and cut it up into 1 inch strips about a half-inch in width. In London I just use Cauldron. It’s cheap and you can pretty much find it anywhere.
  2. Make a mixture out of a generous squirt of sriracha, about one tablespoon of mirin, about three tablespoons of ponzu and a little bit of soy sauce. If you have it handy, you can add ginger or finely minced spring onions.
  3. Toss the tofu in the mixture.  If you have time, marinate it for a couple hours. If not, it won’t kill the salad or flavour if the tofu is only soaked for a few minutes.
  4. Lay out the tofu on tin foil and shake a generous amount of togarashi on top. Sprinkle with sesame oil.
  5. Bake at about 175C for about 15 minutes. Turn over, cover new side with togarashi and sprinkle sesame oil. Bake for another 10. Mix them all up, turn up the oven to 200 and bake for an additional 5. They should be golden and crispy, but not dry on the inside.
  6. spicy tofu

  7. In the meantime, clean and tear up some mixed leaves or spinach and toss lightly in the Soy Vay Island Teriyaki sauce. Technically you should be able to use any light teriyaki sauce or dressing, but I really prefer Soy Vay. It’s fabulous and versatile. You can find it at Whole foods for about £4.89. Seriously, go buy it now.
  8. When the tofu is done, toss the pieces in with the greens, top with panko, and  pour a few drops of sweet chili sauce on top.
  9. om nom nom.
  10. spicy tofu salad