Smith & Wollensky

Meal courtesy of Smith & Wollensky

Written by Verna G

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“Brunch”, probably one of my favourite words in the history of existence, especially on a Sunday, when one is recovering from a deadly hangover. A few weeks back, I was lucky enough to be invited to try out the new brunch menu at the newly refurbished Smith & Wollensky, situation along the Strand, in the ever-so-grand Adelphi building in Central London.
Upon arrival at the restaurant, we were greeted by the white and green theme colours, our coats collected, and led to our table. The interior of the place is very grand, the lights slightly dimmed to a warm yellow and the patterned flooring completing the very American-esque feel of the place.

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In the spirit of trying everything, we first decided to cure our hangovers with a much-recommended Bloody Mary. Despite never liking the drink every other time I tried it, I actually really enjoyed it this time – they were well-mixed and perfectly seasoned (is that a weird way to describe a drink?) with the ideal level of pepper and not too sour with the tomato juice, which was great for waking up our hungover souls. And if like me, you decide to go for an alcohol-free version, they are referred to as the Bloody Shame ;).

image004Food wise, we ordered the Eggs Oscar, Braised Beef Hash & Poached Eggs, and also the Black-Rye Reuben SandwichBagel. Of these three dishes, my personal favourite was the braised beef hash with poached eggs. Why? Let me explain.

The Eggs Oscar (£20), described to me as the amped up version of Eggs Royale, where the usual smoked salmon is replaced with shredded crab and asparagus really caught my attention. However, when it was served, I must say I was a little disappointed. Despite looking the part, it was a little under seasoned, and most importantly, the poached eggs on top were over cooked… The yolk was no longer runny! The asparagus, though it sounded great to be paired with the crab, was actually a bit too chewy. Personally, I would have selected asparagus tips to be served with the delicate crabmeat and not the stalky parts that I was presented with.

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The second dish we were served with was the Braised Beef Hash & Poached Eggs, and you would be happy to know that the poached eggs here were runny and perfect – made up for the lack of runny yolk in the previous dish. The beef was also very tender and well seasoned, and the hash potatoes seemed to be a great match with everything else on the plate. The only thing I wished was that there was more of it, as the price of this dish was not cheap (£18) and it was listed under “Big Plates”. It certainly was not what I consider to be a big plate of food and left me still hungry…

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Lastly, the final main we ordered was the Black-Rye Reuben SandwichBagel, served with skinny fries. I have to add, this was served quite late, as the waiter seemed to have missed this dish when we first ordered, so we had to reorder it and it took a little time to arrive at the table. Nonetheless, I did enjoy this SandwichBagel mashup, it was quite special and the black-rye bread was a nice touch in terms of flavour. Though, as ever, I just wished there was more filling, as this was also not a cheap dish for essentially a sandwich (£15), so I’m a little hesitant on whether I would fork out money from my own wallet for this.

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Overall, the three mains were not too bad, but I was definitely not blown away with anything. In addition, somehow I felt the service was a little too slow? Maybe I was just super hungry so I was more than aggitated, but it took around 45 mins before any food reached our table. And when food was served, the overcooked poached egg just added to the disappointment that I desperately didn’t want to feel. Maybe things would have been different if I was reviewing their famous steaks, instead of the brunch menu? Or perhaps I simply went for the wrong dishes, despite being told about them specifically…

I guess the highlight of my visit was when the Beverages Manager, Scott, did a tour with us around the restaurant. Scott did a great job showing us the gorgeous venue, telling us the story behind Smith & Wollensky, and also showing us his beloved wine cellar and the special US wines on offer, as well as telling us all about their renowned steaks and how their maturing process enhances the flavour of the meat, despite being an expensive way of curing beef to be served as steaks.

In case you were interested, here are two cool facts I learned about S&W. 1) Did you know that the name came from the owners picking two random names from the Yellow Pages and combing them? And 2) did you know that the owners’ most successful chain of business is actually TGI Fridays? Yeah no me neither!

All in all, I enjoyed my visit, but felt a little let down by a few aspects of the place. Might have been our luck on the day, but the service was too slow for me, as even the fruit platter we ordered as dessert took ages to be served… In terms of food, I think next time I visit, I would definitely be trying the famous steaks instead of anything else. When I watched others around us dive into their meaty and juicy steaks, I was very not-so-secretly jealous of them… #thestrugglewasreal

Bubblewrap Waffles

Food courtesy of Bubblewrap

Written by Reuben (@reubenwee91)

Bubblewrap has been making the popular Hong Kong egg waffles in London since 2015 and has now officially opened a store at Wardour Street within Chinatown (Such a strategic and convenient location)! Tony and Sunny lead a small close-knit team with their venture. Incredibly inspiring people who had turned, what had started off as an Imperial College project, into a proper business.

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HOW TO ORDER:
You first take a pick from three different base waffles – plain, cocoa and matcha – and then match them with your favourite type of gelato and toppings.

Once you made your pick (and paid for it), one of the workers picks the order and starts making your waffle. Your choice of base (waffle) batter is then poured onto the unique waffle machine. It smells absolutely amazing as the pancake-like batter sizzles on the hot iron. When ready, it comes out hexagon in shape and is then folded into a cone to contain the gelato and toppings. My favourite is the matcha base, topped with dark chocolate gelato and bananas.

Crispy and light on the outside; soft and fluffy inside. You feel absolutely good about eating them on any kind of day in London.

Tang London

Meal courtesy of Tang London

Eaten/ attended by Ed @onehungryasian 

Tucked away near Tottenham Court Road – this Fitzrovia noodle bar is well worth seeking out to satisfy that noodle craving.

In its small but comfortable setting, Tang’s menu encompasses everything from its small plates of dumplings, bao and fried chicken, to bowls of soupy and dry noodles, and rice.

Commendable as well is that the majority of dishes here can be ordered gluten free or even vegan if needed – a welcome change compared to most Chinese/Asian restaurants! Gluten free buns may lack the fluffy feel of classic bao, but when stuffed with the fried chicken or tofu and slathered in homemade miso sauce, will be the last issue on your mind! In fact, the mushroom dumplings and fried tofu were so enjoyable that I’d pick them over the friend chicken or braised beef – especially when slathered in the homemade chilli oil.

And what a chilli oil! I’m dedicating a whole paragraph to it because it is simply fantastic. Made from a special recipe that uses vegetables as a base instead of just onion/garlic, this is a chilli oil unlike any you’ve had before, and packs a serious umami-punch. Addictive like anything, and totally worth asking the restaurant if you can buy a small pot of to take home!

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And onto the main event – the noodles! Tang means, in Chinese, soup, so anything less than great broth would be a bit anticlimactic. Fortunately, the noodle dishes here back it up, largely. The bases for all their noodle dishes were surprisingly light, subtle in flavour but moreish. I personally prefer a more rich base, with deep flavour from long and slow cooking, but a spoonful of that chilli oil pretty much imparted the full flavour I was looking for.

DSC_6925My preference for much punchy flavours reveals itself in that my two favourite dishes were the cold noodle salad, and the beef and rice (both lacking in soup). The cold noodle salad is a more refreshing take on zha jiang noodles (minced pork and bean sauce with noodles) and is an absolute steal for only £6.50, and the beef was tender, unctuous and falling apart in a thick sauce. Perfection.

Desserts aren’t something the Chinese are known for, so you’d be forgiven for passing on the one dessert on the menu, a sugarcane shiso sorbet. Don’t. This was the perfect way to end our meal, and was a well made balance of sweetness and refreshing flavour that brought the meal to a close.

Tang London is a great noodle spot in London, no doubt. The more delicate approach to its noodles vs the ramen overload in past years is a nice change, and it earns extra points for so willingly catering to gluten-free eaters and vegans alike! Throw in the fact it’s fairly good value for money, and the chilli oil here borders on ambrosia, and its a winning combo.

 

Pure Indian Cooking

Meal courtesy of Pure Indian Cooking

Meal eaten and written by Luxmmi

pure_6Situated on Fulham High Street, Pure Indian Cooking is a short walk from Putney Bridge station. The restaurant is surrounded by the usual high street stores and looks like your average local Indian from the outside. The restaurant being small and virtually empty (granted, it was a Wednesday evening) meant that we weren’t expecting much. Well, as we all know, looks can be deceiving.

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We started with goat’s cheese samosas, seared scallops, bhel and pani puri. Each of these dishes were bursting with flavour. The goat’s cheese samosas were especially delicious, with a beautifully crisp pastry and a variety of dipping sauces. The only dubious part of the starters was the pani puri sauce, however, this is an acquired taste anyway.

The options for mains were the usual selection. I went for the dal makhani (black dal) and garlic naan, whilst my companion went for the lasooni palak (creamed spinach and garlic) with rice. Consistent with the starters, all the dishes were delicious. The rich and creamy dal makhani particularly stood out and, to be honest, was just as good as Dishoom’s.

After the amount of food that had been given, dessert was definitely a struggle. Luckily, dessert stomach exists! Baked yoghurt in three flavours (lychee, mango and pistachio) was on the menu and we decided to give it a go. The dish was the perfect end to an Indian meal – fruity, light and smooth.

Overall it was a great experience, complemented by the attentive service. The prices are a little steeper than you’d expect, but it’s totally worth it.

StreetXO

Meal courtesy of StreetXO

Eaten and written by @onehungryasian

David Munoz – owner of 3 Michelin stars for DiverXO in Madrid, has brought its little sibling StreetXO to London. With the original branch in Madrid established and much praised since 2012, this has been long awaited after its arrival in London was announced way back in 2014.
FILE1526With a selection of dishes taking us through their menu and featuring some of their classics, things kicked off with some of the cocktails. From one featuring cotton candy to another being served in a wine glass as large as a fishbowl (literally, it was bigger than my head!) – it sets the tone for a dining experience unlike any other.

My cocktail featured jasmine, coconut shrub, lime, ginger and violet candy nectar. Where the description sounds like it could be overwhelming, the final experience of it wasn’t. The flavours work well together with nothing quite overpowering the others, and drinking from the large bowl wasn’t just for style – by doing so I was forced to stick my head in the bowl, muffling my other senses apart from smell and taste. A great start to my meal, though other cocktails weren’t quite as well thought out: a cocktail being served in a large replica of a heart; another in a strange boat and one simply in a glass with no props.

The food kicked off spectacularly, with their signature dish of Pekinese dumplings served with strawberry glaze, a fried pigs ear, gherkin and more sauce drizlzed on top. It is served on paper (of course…), with chefs liberally spraying and splattering strawberry sauce all over it to create a serving plate that’s part art, and part utterly delicious dumplings. It’s an extremely messy dish, with diners encouraged to grab a dumpling in their hands and wipe it across the paper to soak up as much sauce as possible. And it’s absolutely worth it!
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Next up was their “club sandwich” – featuring suckling pig, ricotta chilli mayonnaise, and then a quails egg placed on top. Again, messy eating leads the way with instructions to flip the quails egg yolk down into the bun, then eat. The bun is so light and fluffy it almost disintegrates under the weight of the ingredients and by merely being picked up. Again – bold flavours in careful balance make this a brilliant follow up to the dumplings.
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This was followed up by one of my favourite dishes of the evening. Hot smoked scallops with citrus ponzu, coconut-kaffir lime and apple blossom, that is testament to the skills of the chefs here. Huge flavours to play with here that could easily have led to one overpowering the others, but end up in perfect balance that made this dish outstanding. This works again with the next dish, Carabineros in a tom yum soup which was superb (a “simple” recipe the chef told us, and then took 5 minutes to explain how to make it)
Unfortunately, such careful handling of flavours doesn’t seem to be at play across the whole menu. Lamb shank in a tamarind glaze was dull and almost cliché in its presentation; a papaya salad with seafood, while fresh, was lacking in flavour and spark when sat next to the scallops and prawns; the Korean lasagne had far too much going on in one mouthful and was overwhelmingly sweet; and the Carbonara XO didn’t feel like one coherent dish, with fantastic wild boar feeling like an afterthought to udon noodles and olives. More a stir fry than a carbonara I thought, and disappointing in comparison to either classic dishes.
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Things improved with the new dessert menu, with various flavours of ice cream being served up in polystyrene boxes, with lids being lifted to carefully placed additions littering the surface like pieces of art. All of them were great, with the strawberry flavour in particular being a favourite of mine.
Overall, the experience here was a very mixed bag. The dishes are works of art, with silence inducing plating that stuns and wows diners. The flavours are there to back it up, largely, but at times it feels as if style is prioritised over substance on both the food and cocktails.
The last few dishes I ate weren’t necessarily bad or poorly cooked. Perhaps the bar had been set so high with the first dishes that I was bound to find some disappointing flavours in the menu? However, on telling the chef our thoughts he discussed how flavours can either complement, or contrast each other much like wine. I totally agree, except as with all things, finding the perfect balance is crucial, and is something lacking from some of the dishes.
FILE1532It could have been very easy to have a poor or disappointing meal here, especially at the price point they charge. On average, dishes are around £14 to £18, and will generally consist of 4 bites before they’re finished. Dishes are certainly filling given the rich flavours they play with here – but a few unfortunately ordered dishes and it could easily turn a night of excitement into disappointment.
I would definitely come back again, even if it was just for the dumplings, scallops and club sandwich. They’re also looking to run a lunch menu, with a choice of 4 dishes of 6 for £25 – well worth the money for the overall experience and a chance to try some incredible looking and tasting, food! Tip – sit at the counter to get a full view of the chefs plating up and cooking the food!

Shikumen (O2 – Finchley)

Meal courtesy of Shikumen

Attended and written by Luxmmi V

Shikumen is one of the many restaurants in the o2 centre on Finchley Road. Whilst the centre itself is pretty standard, Shikumen’s sophisticated and smart interior stands out. We were there on Valentine’s Day meaning it was also pretty busy, although not overwhelmingly so.

img_3843After the Shepherd’s Bush branch gained popularity, Shikumen became known for its great value dim sum. Knowing this, we ordered the Cong mushroom dumplings, chive and prawn dumplings, the char siu buns and sticky rice in lotus leaf.  Although the sticky rice was slightly disappointing, the dumplings and buns lived up to expectations with great flavours and textures. The chive and prawn dumplings were especially soft and delicate. Most importantly, you really do get a lot of food for your buck. The majority of dim sum dishes are £4 for 3 pieces.

The mains didn’t disappoint either. The crispy duck and pancakes were better than most we’ve had, with the duck being carved in front of us (always a good sign). The stand out dish, however, was the grilled cauliflower. The charred cauliflower was perfectly crispy and came with black sesame and truffle sauce. The sauce initially was a bit odd. It had a weird tar-like look and consistency, with an equally unusual taste. It took some getting used to but eventually it became the best thing on the table.

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The mango sorbet dessert was pretty standard and a refreshing end to the meal. Unfortunately, the great meal was marred by the fact it took almost half an hour for the bill to arrive.  The staff weren’t as attentive as they could have been, but this could have been down to the Valentine’s Day rush.

Overall, the meal was tasty and well priced; if you ever find yourself in the o2 centre, definitely give Shikumen a try.