Shikumen (Finchley Road)

Meal courtesy of Shikumen

Written by Reuben @reubenwee91, published by Steph

Historical Background

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Shikumen, when directly translated, means “stone-framed door”. In a broader context, the Shikumen actually refers to a type of architectural characteristic that originated from Shanghai, defined by the stone walls and gates of a Shikumen house. Although shikumen houses are a  part of Shanghai, most of the Shanghai’s shikumen housing has been demolished.

overall-view-of-foodThe restaurant has applied some of this history onto its interior design: the black brick walls, intricate carvings of the walls and the wooden tables. Restaurant was decorated with random Chinese paintings and had a very simple layout. It was clean and service was quick and friendly.

The meal:

Xiao Long Bao, £4.50 for 3 pieces

xiao-long-baoI grew to love xiao long baos as I got older. The size of Shikumen’s xiao long baos were small, but that allowed you to put the entire bao into your mouth. I carefully lifted up the bao and dipped it into some vinegar and had it whole; the bao popped in my mouth and its rich broth burst out to the back of my throat. I was excited; my tastebuds were tantalised. I could not fault it, not even its size.

Yakitori Platter – Skewers of Beef with Crunch Chilli, Garlic and Sesame seed, Miso Marinated Salmon, Chicken Spring Onion, Bacon Wrapped Asparagus, Mixed Vegetables and Chicken Meatballs (£13.90)

yakitori-platterShikumen also serves skewers. I found the beef skewer the best out of the six. It was juicy and delicious, the chilli gave it a punch too. In fact, the chicken and salmon skewers were juicy and succulent too and were tasty indeed. 

Crabmeat and Prawn Dumpling (£4.20)

crabmeat-and-prawn-dumpling-2crabmeat-and-prawn-dumplingNice presentation and loved the salty pop of black ‘tobiko’ (flying fish roe). The steamed dumpling skin was thin and crabmeat and prawn were sweet and fresh. The tobiko gave contrasting texture at each bite; it was brilliant.

Prawn and Bean Curd Skin Cheung Fun (£5.90)

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Really like the cheung fun. They did not flood the cheung fun with soy sauce as the intention was to keep the fried bean curd skin as crispy as possible. The prawns were fresh and I liked how they added strands of black fungus to give it some crunch to the soft cheung fun. I thought it was one of the most delicious cheung funs I had tasted.

Grilled cauliflower with black sesame truffle oil (v) (£4.90)

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This had the strongest flavour out of the dishes served. The fragrant smell from the black sesame truffle oil and its incredibly thick and luscious sauce made it one of my favourites.

Scallop Siu Mai topped with Tobiko (£5.20)

This is actually one of my favourites too. The scallops were fresh; together with the prawns, they were perfectly steamed and came well as a combination.

Black Sesame Ball in Ginger Tea (£4.90)

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The skill is there, the filling within the ball was kept intact and the ginger soup (tea) was actually good. I liked the fiery gingery taste.

Summary:

Food is good, and should definitely order more of their dim sum when I visit the next time.

Slightly disappointed that they did not bring over the Musang King Durian Puff to the Finchley Road branch. That was one of the most anticipated dessert but it was not part of the branch dessert menu – you can try them out at the Shikumen Shepherd’s Bush (A must try, along with the Crispy Eel and Nori Cheung Fun)

overall-view-of-food-2Latest recommendation for classic dim sum with modern twists in London.

Counter Kitchen

Meal courtesy of Counter Kitchen

Visited and reviewed by Vicky from Vicky Dalton-Banks, published by Steph

Counter Kitchen is a beautiful bright space located on Goswell Road. It is airy, relaxed and comfortable meaning you could happily sit here working away if you wanted to. We arrived just after midday with a few people sat on their laptops and by the time we left all the tables were full of people eating lunch before heading back to work. There was a real buzz.

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The Food

The menu at Counter Kitchen aims to keep things simple to allow the natural flavours to shine through. From breakfast through to lunch, the seasonal menu celebrates produce at its finest.

The lunch menu serves a mix of soups, hearty bowls and nourishing salads. Honestly, when I was looking through the menu I didn’t know what to order because I wanted to try it all!

img_6850On a recommendation I ordered the Kimchi Culture hearty bowl. Wow, did the kimchi pack a punch! A bowl of stewed beef is served in a beef broth with house aged kimchi, tofu, pak choi and served with black rice.

At the time of my visit I had a stinking cold so this really felt like the best remedy. It was great to see they weren’t stingy of the portion of beef either, I enjoyed every mouthful swimming in the broth. I didn’t want the bowl of goodness to end!

As well as the main menu there are two specials each day so we decided to try the Tarka Dal. And again it didn’t disappoint! This lentil and chana dal stew was served with salad, yoghurt and again, black rice. This had lovely warm spices running through it and was really quite filling!

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In order to up the vitamin intake we also ordered a salad. The La La Land salad of coconut roasted broccoli, shredded kale, raisins and seeds was ordered with an addition of the miso salmon. How do I say this. It was awesome! Firstly, miso salmon. Love. But the salad mix was so moreish and delicious, I’m definitely going to try and recreate this salad at home.

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We squeezed in a mini gluten free brownie and a little chocolate crisp bite. Unsurprisingly, both were good, but I liked the cherries going through the brownie keeping it lovely and moist.

Overall

Prices start at £4 for soups and go up to £9 for the ‘Hearty Bowls’. The salads start at £6.50, but it’s likely you would want to add some kind of protein to them. It is not cheap. But, in my opinion, you get what you pay for here. Everything we tried was fresh and made with good ingredients. The Kimchi Culture bowl actually came full of beef!

I really enjoyed the food here and it’s a beautiful space. I’ll definitely be back to try some other salads and hearty bowls!

Est India

Meal courtesy of Est India

Eaten and written by Ed @onehungryasian

dsc_3754A sister restaurant to the more refined Mango Indian around the corner, Est India serves more “rustic” Indian dishes but with plenty of flavour attention to detail. It’s a classy restaurant but still with an intimate feel, with booths for small groups and just enough lighting in there to make you feel welcome but not dazzled by bright lights.

I came in with high expectations, with my meal at Mango Indian last month being pretty impressive with its use of fresh ingredients and attention to detail. Est India does not disappoint. The focus here is on street food, with dosas, naan rolls and small plates making up a significant portion of the menu, with other regional specialities in the curry section that deserve as much attention as the street food.

dsc_3764We kicked things off with their mixed grill, with tender lamb chops, punchy flavours and plenty of an addictive mint sauce we joyfully slathered over the meat. Tender cuts of chicken tikka and kebab also accompanied, plus 2 small naans to mop up the juices. Highly recommended! A massive highlight of the entire meal was also the keema pav: minced lamb served with pomegranate seeds along with a buttered pav bun. Probably one of the best keema pav’s I’ve had in London, and while I’m no expert, is a very good dish and the stand out item of the night!

dsc_3772dsc_3767We followed up with a mixture of curries including a classic chicken tikka, a railway lamb, a Bengal prawn curry and a North Indian fish kari. Each curry was unlike the others, and we frequently passed our bowls around to try different flavours. The chicken tikka was sweet but still well balanced, and was a big favourite of the group with it effectively being licked clean by the end. The fish kari had large chunks of fresh fish, delicately cooked but still carrying through some punchy flavours. The railway lamb was a proper hearty dish with bags of meaty flavour and a thick sauce to match, and the Bengal prawn curry was superbly cooked and spiced.

dsc_3775dsc_3781Throw in some cracking paratha and naan bread (of the more crispy variety than doughy), and Est India is a fantastic Indian restaurant that I personally prefer to their sister restaurant Mango Indian. They have the same care over the cooking of food and same fresh ingredients, but don’t pull their punches with the spicing, providing a brilliant meal at more than fair prices. I didn’t get a chance to try their dosas or rolled naans, foods more typical of their street food origins, but I’ll definitely be back again soon to check it out!

Bernardi’s London

Meal courtesy of Bernardi’s

bernardis-london-1-of-34Bernardi’s is relative newcomer to the London restaurant scene having established itself in September 2015 by the Bernardi brothers. At the heart of Mayfair, affluent locals flock together to catch up over the week with glasses of prosecco and fine wine without having to travel too far.

Spacious leather seating, a simplistic yet stylish interior and the availability of dining al-fresco.

The meal:

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Crispy potato, scamorza and rosemary pizzette

This must be one of the best inventions ever.

Crispy potato bits on top of pizza? Carb on carb are what Italians are best at! A great sharing starter but be conscious that this might fill you up to quick. The rosemary gave great fragrance to the pizzette.

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Grilled tiger prawns, garlic, parsley and peperoncino

Nick had this as his starter and I cheekily took a piece. Soft and well grilled.

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Burratina, roasted beetroot and basil

At the moment I currently have a thing about burratas. I love them, anything burrata related I will order. The beetroot and basil complemented the burrata, which was really fresh and cool. This was just as good as the burratas I had at Pulia. At Bernardi’s for £9.50 this is well worth the value compared to some of its competitors. If you’re a cheese person like me, then I would recommend having a try at this and let me know what you think.

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Alba truffle fettuccine

We ordered this as the first course, as suggested by their lovely staff, Italians like to dine big. Four courses is the norm!

At £21 this is rather steep given the size of the portion, but alba truffles are expensive to source and also expensive to serve, so in reality the price tag is no surprise. This was a good dish but not spectacular. Autumn truffles are now in season so there will be much to compare this month.

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Guinea Fowl, parmesan polenta, wild mushrooms and marsala

Nick had this for his main. I quite liked it, the aroma was strong from the wild mushrooms, the parmesan polenta was a nice addition. It had the milky taste but not quite as dense as mashed potato so this was a clever pairing. The guinea fowl, tender and well cooked.

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Lamb rump, braised shoulder, bagna cauda and queen kale
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Fine plating from the staff at Bernardi’s. Food is a thing of beauty…

The lamb rump was tender and a lot of meat is actually given for such a fine course. The kale balanced the strong flavour of the sauces which can be slightly overpowering after the first couple of bites. The lamb itself was fragrant and I particularly loved the more crispier parts, the edges are best.

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Fig mille-fueille with walnut ice-cream

Fine visuals, with the plating done well. The figs were fresh and the pastry was crisp, it made a light dessert along with nutty crunch from the walnut ice-cream, this made a nice ending to the meal.

All in all, the menu is generic and you will find many of your standard Italian traditional courses on there which are visually well presented. The food is good, not impressive and doesn’t stand out, but it is good.

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Berry Panna-cotta with honeycomb

Service: Staff were delightful and I was always met with smiles!

The price: £££

Square Meal