Category Archives: London

Song Que Cafe – London

 

A bright sunny morning led us on an exploration to the east of our normal stamping ground in Islington. With mum and gourmet uncle in tow we caught the 394 bus to Homerton Hospital which weaved through well utilised parks and bustling estates to this well regarded vietnamese cafe in Hoxton on Kingsland Road. This  ‘Little Saigon’ area of London had a number of cafes huddled around the junction which tempts me back to explore further.

The room is bright and well lit. Tables are close together but it wasn’t terribly busy so we had plenty of room. Service is a little brusque but definitely not Chinatown level of just plain rude. The menu is absolutely huge so I went for a couple of favourites and a wildcard. Summer rolls and a combination of rare steak and well done flank Pho. Pho as you probably know is there utterly delicious Vietnamese noodle soup. My wildcard item was a traditional crispy pancake with prawn, chicken, salad and herbs.

Crispy Pancake

The summer rolls were very good. Nicely chilled, packed with prawns and noodles and a good spike of coriander and mint. They do not skimp on herbs here and you get a good plateful of them with each dish. The crispy pancake was delicious, like a light but crunchily crisp omelette stuffed with bean sprouts, prawns and chicken. We all dived in and polished off in no time.

Finally the Pho which came smelt incredible, The steaming soup stock topped with thin slivers of rare and well done meat, noodles, bean sprouts and herbs. Again a huge plate of herbs came to accompany it.

Wonder Pho

It was fantastic. I still dream about it now. In fact as I write this sentence I am salivating thinking about the deeply flavoured beef stock. Off course, like a lot of soups, it is all about the stock and Song Que’s is so deeply flavoured I have no idea how they achieve that level of beefiness. It is like a the contents of a drip tray after roasting a huge rib of beef. Lightly flavoured with aniseed it is immediately addicting.

I would not hesitate in returning to Song Que and I urge you all to head there immediately!

Score: Excellent 10/10

Address : Sonq Que
Address : 134 Kingsland Road
Postal Code : E2 8DY
Telephone: 0207 613 3222

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Rules – London

Dinner with friends that we met on our recent round the world jaunt tempted me to book a restaurant reflecting where we met in Peru but I remember them mentioning an affection for Covent Garden stalwart Rules and as I had never been there, that was where we booked.

The restaurant was established by Thomas Rule in 1798 and stands unchallenged as the oldest restaurant in London.

I was looked up and down by the doorman as I arrived which worried me that I was under dressed but after explaining our reservation he smiled and let us through. The entrance was very welcoming and we were taken through the eclectic dining room to our slightly awkward table for 4 near an alcove. Looking around though it seemed clear that there was a slight awkwardness to a lot of the tables so we got comfortable and took a look at the menu. Having had a few plates of tapas at Moritos at lunchtime we decided to go for main and most probably dessert.

I had the steak and kidney pudding and Rich had the Saddle of Lamb. Prices are around the £20-30 for mains so this is not cheap territory. The wines also started around mid twenties and quickly escalated though we found a decent enough Merlot for about £28 and enjoyed that.

My pudding was delicious and was packed with kidney and rich steak in gravy. Thankfully I was also given a boat of extra gravy to anoint the pudding. It was only served with a small amount of cabbage so sides are ordered which normally annoys me but they are pretty good sides and despite what they tell you are enough to share. I had excellent roast potatoes and Richard had the celeriac gratin. My pudding was so excellent that it turned a normally wary kidney eater like me to an out and out kidney fan. Sadly Richards lamb was, whilst cooked correctly a little tough and tasteless. The waiter asked his opinion before he even had a mouthful and sadly didn’t return for the verdict.

Desserts were on the whole superb especially my apple and blackberry crumble which came with a satisfying jug of custard and Brenda had a super retro white and dark chocolate arctic roll which came with extra chocolate sauce. Sadly Rich struck out again with his steamed chocolate pudding which was dense and even for him un-finishable. Being the generous man I am, I shared my crumble with him.

All in all an excellent meal if you choose wisely and I look forward to returning during game season to try the game there.

 

 

Spice Market – London

Lime Salmon Salad

Lime Salmon Salad

Sorry about the length of time in posting. This year I am taking a year of from work to travel, so far I have travelled all over Europe on an Interrail pass and have just completed a month around France. Am back now for a month before heading off to North and South America so have been eating out again in London. My wise Chinese uncle from San Francisco mentioned that Spice Market has opened in the W Hotel at Leicester Square and he missed it when he visited last. I’ve not had a great experience at the W. I took my family for cocktails there recently and found whilst the cocktails were good they were expensive even for London and meanly didn’t come with any nibbles. Also, even though the place hadn’t been open long it was pretty grubby, including bizarrely the waiters clothing.

Anyway we passed by it on the way to having a look at M&M World on the other side of the W which has 4 floors of plastic crap that you didn’t know you needed but bizarrely doesn’t sell the full range of M&M’s. Amazing!

Spice Market was advertising a 3 course lunch express menu for just £18. The room is slightly below street level so you have the odd view of peoples ankles as they walk past the window. It is done out in a pan asian / moroccan mix which shouldn’t work but does. Staff are efficient and friendly and their clothes are not grubby!

The food was wonderful. Between us we covered all the choices and they were all tasted clean and balanced. Before the starters came our waiter brought popadoms and a super spicy salsa that seemed to have a strong tang of tamarind. Thankfully they kept it coming.

Remarkable Ovaltine Kulfi

Remarkable Ovaltine Kulfi

I had Vietnamese Spring Rolls and Rich had Beef Satay. Both were subtle and satisfying. For main we had a Salmon Salad with Lime and Chicken Pad Thai. Both excellent. We weren’t going to have dessert but were intrigued by the  Ovaltine Kulfi, Banana Brulée Spiced Milk Chocolate Sauce . It was amazing. The Kulfi was malty and was garnished with a shard of Banana encased in caramel.

It seems a shame that other reviewers don’t agree but I think that this restaurant is a real find and certainly the best thing about the W. Am looking forward to going back for a bash at the full menu.

Score 8.5/10

W LONDON – LEICESTER SQUARE

10 Wardour Street, Leicester Square, London, W1D 6QF

Hare and Tortoise – London

Hare and Tortoise

Hare and Tortoise

More Sushi for ya this time at Hare and Tortoise, the oddly named mini chain of pan asian restaurants in London. The one we went to is near Blackfriars on New Bridge Street which is presumably swarming with business folk by day and was pretty full when we visited in the evening. We were given a rather grim table in the corner on a raised platform but any port in a storm.

Service was brisk and efficient, we started with two plum wine spritzers and some edamame beans.

Unagi Deluxe

Unagi Deluxe

For mains we ordered a sushi platter and an amazing unagi roll which had a huge slice of unagi draped across the top. Pretty decadent and for 6 pieces at £7.70 pretty good value.

Not keen on the dessert menu we headed across to Refettorio across the road at the Crowne Plaza and shared a great Crema Catalana and plate of cheese with two glasses of Sangiovese.

Score 7.5/10

Hare and Tortoise

90 New Bridge Street, London EC4V 6JJ.Tel: 020 7651 0266

Canteen – Spittalfield Market

Pork Scratchings

Pork Scratchings

Canteen is such a beautiful idea on paper that it should work. Traditional british grub, sensibly sourced and prepared should fill a gap that’s been missing for a long time from the restaurant scene. I’ve visited Canteen about 6 times now so they must be doing something right but the last two visits have proved to be the combined last straw and I shan’t return unless I am dragged.

I mentioned previously in a posting about how I loathed food with rules and Canteen are an offender especially with how they police their breakfast / lunch changeover in a similar way that McDonalds do. The thing is that Canteen is not awful and with some changes it could be made quite serviceable. What galls is that they seem to have disdain for their customer shown in their awful service and giddy pricing of their food.

Pie 'n' Mash

Pie 'n' Mash

We started with very a kilner jar of super crispy scratchings which was incredibly generous in size and ran the risk of filling us up before our mains came.

We ordered the roast of the day and the order was taken. Our wine arrived and was fine. 10 minutes later we were told that the roast has sold out. I like the fact that they do sell out of things as it shows that the food is freshly prepared but surely they could have told us earlier. We all switched to the chicken pie which came with mash and spring greens. When it came, to be honest it was fine but this is simple food so it should be perfect. The pastry was a little soggy and the mash a bit tasteless and underseasoned.

Treacle Tart & Clotted Cream

Treacle Tart & Clotted Cream

For dessert we had the warm treacle tart with clotted cream which was unctuous and delicious.

Hmm, its the service rather than the food that leaves the bad taste in your mouth. We were served by an eastern european waitress who was rather cold and seemed to see us as an irritation rather than a customer. There was no apology about the lateness of food, no check back that the food was ok and it took an age to get the bill.

For the first time I witheld the service charge and said that I would tip by cash which I did, but somewhat below the service charge amount. I think I’m going to start doing this as it ensures that tips aren’t taken for granted and I can adjust them accordingly.

I think I’ve had enough of Canteen now. They seem smug and take their customers for granted. The food is ok but if it has to be served so grudgingly what is the point?

Score 5/10

Canteen on Urbanspoon

Toku @ Japan Centre, London

Sexy Sashimi

Sexy Sashimi

Another sushi day. I worry that my sushi habit is quickly becoming an addiction. I don’t seem to let a week go by without having a plate of sushi, or dim sum to that matter. Lets face it, I’m just plain addicted to food. Sushi is one of the few foods that I don’t attempt to cook at home. It just seems such a faff and there are plenty of opportunities now to grab some good sushi even outside of London.

I still love the Japan Centre though, it recently moved from a rather pokey mini department store of all things nipponese to a food only store on lower regent street. It is full of every japanese ingredient you may want including sushi grade fish, finished sushi, dim sum and complete chinese lunch boxes such as pork tonkatsu. Next door is the bright and modern Toku restaurant which we visited on opening day. Presumably they didnt get their alcohol licence sorted out in time as we were prompted to buy beers next door at the store and bring them in to drink which was fine.

Tempura served with curry powder

Tempura served with curry powder

We started with a subtly flavoured miso soup with nice big chunks of smoked tofu. We then had a wonderfully fresh plate of sashimi of salmon, tuna and yellowtail served prettily on a bowl of crushed ice. We also had a super generous plate of sushi, fish was firm and fresh and rice not over chilled. The usual suspects were there including lovely salmon eggs and eel. To accompany this we had a portion of ebi tempura which was wonderfully light and greaseless and interestingly was served with the usual dipping sauce and curry powder to sprinkle on.

This is really good sushi and I will definitely be back. It was rather empty on opening day but I’m sure that this will pick up.

Score 8.5/10

Toku, Japan Centre on Urbanspoon

Zaza’s Whitechapel

Mixed Grill

Mixed Grill

Talk about bad timing. We decided to cycle from Clerkenwell to Whitechapel to sample the famous Tayyabs lamb chops. This was during Ramadan and we got there just after fasting broke and a sea of hungry Muslims headed for the green neon of Tayyabs. We were shown inside by someone I assumed worked for the restaurant and we joined the end of a huge queue that snaked around the restaurant. I had to admit that the plates of food being brought out looked spectacular but the fact that the queue so constricted the dinners elbow movements, we decided that it really wouldnt be worth it so we left disappointed.

However our man that showed us in seemed to know what to do with overflow diners and told us about a similar restaurant that had opened on the Whitechapel Road. He gave us directions and we headed there but I was a bit suspicious of his motives thinking that he probably got a kick back from the restaurant and mentioned to Rich that we should perhaps go to Lahore Kebab House, but unknown to me our man was walking behind us and literally insisted on delivering us to the restaurant. When we got there things looked up. It was full of locals enjoying breaking their fasts and we were shown to the most spectacularly wobbly table I have ever sat at.

This was soon fixed by efficient waiters and we started with a mango lassi (no alcohol allowed) which was served in the steel cups that they were prepared in, they were creamily delicious. Feeling like the only outsiders we compounded this by ordering poppadoms (I know!) and mixed grill. The poppadoms were fried and horribly greasy. The pickle tray majored on raw onion and was not particularly impressive but I’m guessing that they rarely served it to locals. The mixed grill however was spectacular. Probably not as good as Tayyabs but extremely enjoyable. It consisted of lamb chops, lamb kofte, chicken tikka and wings marinated in a spicy yoghurt sauce and grilled to a good char.

Keema Lamb

Keema Lamb

For main course we had chicken sag and keema. Both dishes appeared worryingly quickly and were disappointing. My keema was very salty and Rich’s chicken tasted pretty generic and didnt have a fresh zing.

Throughout staff were pleasant and we were made to feel very welcome. It was pretty cheap and the waiter looked suprised to be tipped. I wonder if that happened often. I probably wouldn’t go back as only the mixed grill was good and I’m sure Tayyabs do it better.

Score 6.5/10

Zaza’s Grill

108 A Whitechapel Road, London, E1 1JE

Giant Robot – Clerkenwell, London

Good 'balls!

Good 'balls!

When I first moved to Clerkenwell, one of the draws was its proximity to Islington and its numerous eateries. In truth I rarely head there to eat preferring to try out some of the fine restaurants nearby. The Clerkenwell set are notoriously cool and fickle so new bars are extremely busy for the first few weeks and Giant Robot was no exception.

We cycled down from the flat (Thanks Boris!) and parked up right nearby. It was pretty busy as expected on a Friday night but we had a hold on the next table and had our cocktails down in the bar area. The cocktail waiters are extremely diligent and made two great Mojitos and one lethal Dirty Martini. The room is achingly trendy with a 50’s diner feel and huge lit menu boards like the title boards outside of a cinema.

Inside the Robot

Inside the Robot

The menu is eclectic to say the least. Meatballs, sliders, salami, cheese. Kind of like food that you would grab from the fridge before you sit down for you favourite movie. Which is not a criticism at all especially when the food is done this well. We settled on the crostini starters and large meatballs and spaghetti for main. The crostini each had complicated toppings which I can’t recall probably because they were instantly forgettable and rather poor value. The meatballs and pasta were excellent though. Hand rolled meaty meatballs, perfectly cooked pasta in a spicy rich tomato sauce. Kind of like the sort of after work supper that a friend who knows how to cook would serve you. Again, this is a good thing! No room for pud so did wobbly cycle back to flat.

Will definitely return, especially as local residents get a discount card loaded with £20 instant credit to spend in the bar!

Score 7.5/10

Giant Robot on Urbanspoon

My Old Dutch Pancake House – London

My Old Dutch Pancakes

My Old Dutch Pancakes

A late train down to a torrential London meant shortly after meeting Simon at Holborn station we had to literally run to the nearest eatery. I used an app for my iPhone called Vouchercloud which listed the usual suspects such as Strada and Pizza Express but interestingly threw up ‘My Old Dutch’ pancake restaurant which was a short sprint away. Are the Dutch really famous for their pancakes?

We were welcomed warmly and after depositing brollies we were shown to our table in a surprisingly full room. On our way to the table I was amazed by the mind boggling size of the plates and the huge pancakes that were balanced on top.

Chilli con carne pancake

Chilli con carne pancake

The menu is decidedly odd. Split into Sweet and Savoury the idea presumably is to have one of each but the portion size would mean skipping lunch to attempt this. I went for the mexican which was stuffed with a pretty tasty home made chilli con carne and sides of tortilla chips, guacamole and sour cream. Simon had the My Old Dutch which is bacon, chicken, ham, corn cheese etc etc. Rich had the seafood special which looked pretty gross and had tuna, prawns and olives on a tomato sauce base. He also asked for capers and anchovies which I presume he regretted as I watched him scrape them off and leave them in a neat pile on the corner of the plate. Basically the pancake is turned into the base of the pizza and toppings are generously applied. Simon finished with a waffle with ice cream and hot fudge sauce which we watched him eat partly jealously, partly disgusted with him and we got the bill. They doubled up my 10% voucher to 20 so all in all it was a very reasonable deal.

Score 7/10

131-132 High Holborn
Holborn
London
WC1V 6PS

Tel: 020 7242 5200

Nearest Tube: Holborn Station – Piccadilly Line & Central Line

Opening Hours
Mon-Sat 11:00-23:00
Sunday 11.00-22.00

Viva Cantina Laredo

Salsa at Cantina Laredo

Salsa at Cantina Laredo

9.95 for a Margharita!

9.95 for a Margharita!

My, my, there has been a lot of negativity spoken on the interweb about Cantina Laredo. Not put off and urged on by the promise of hand prepared guacamole I wandered round Covent Garden trying to find the place. There was a buzz around Upper St Martins Lane as the Indian Tapas joint ‘Dishoom’ had just opened and there was a small queue outside a branch of Jamies Italian.

There were a lot of staff front of house, you were greeted as enthusiastically as you would expect from a branch of an American franchise and we were shown quickly to a table outside. Rich checked for the table being wobbly and promptly shook the pepper pot onto the floor where it smashed. Shortly, a cleaner appeared from nowhere and removed the debris with a smile replacing the pepper pot from another table. Two very good fresh salsas were offered with good substantial tortilla chips. No flimsy Doritos here.

Drinks orders were quickly taken and we both fancied margaritas. Flustered and failing to find them on the menu I just ordered the house margharitas on the rocks as the frozen variety give me an ‘ice cream headache.’ I was asked if I wanted the premium tequila but I declined. This was fortunate as shortly after sipping I read that the margaritas were  £9.95 each and it was another £7.50 for the premium spirit. Ouch!

Guacamole at Cantina Laredo

Guacamole at Cantina Laredo

We ordered the guacamole which was cutely prepared tableside. I make a pretty damn  good guacamole myself and have rarely had better in a restaurant. Possibly at Rosa Mexicana it was equal where it was also prepared table side in a stone bowl and cost about £20 I think so £6.95 seemed a bargain. Interestingly they used garlic powder rather than fresh which is probably a good idea as its not nice to come across a chunk of raw garlic. The guacamole was cubed from the shell using the hedgehog method slicing both ways across the flesh before scooping out. I made a mental note to start doing that from now on as the I liked the chunkiness. The guacamole was pretty good, in fact it was close to excellent. Really we should have stopped there as it was quite filling but we went on to have chicken fajitas and beef tacos which were pretty good but perhaps not worth the amount they charge.

Most of the criticisms charged at the restaurant are around cost and I concur re the margaritas which weren’t particularly good for the money. It was packed with big ice cubes so was rather unwieldily and the liquid was somehow tepid even though it had so much ice in it. But the food is not that bad value and its the first mexican meal that I haven’t started regretting eating part way through starting. I definately will go back for the salsas and guacamole.

Score 7/1o Would I go back? Yes

Cantina Laredo

St Martin’s Courtyard
10 Upper St Martin’s Lane
London, UK WC2H 9FB
0207 420 0630

Cantina Laredo on Urbanspoon