Monday, 30 December 2013

koya, soho - review

There is something to be said about a restaurant with the guts to pare down the interiors to four walls, a tiled floor, basic wooden furniture, and a curtain at the entrance. It’s a combination that doesn't fail to pique interest as it often translates to an assurance in the offering. And Koya in Soho has just that - oodles of understated confidence. And oodles of noodles.

As is typical of Japanese aesthetics, the lack of exaggeration or pretence found inside is reflected in the honest food. Whilst the country is home to an array of carbohydrate options to accompany a bowl of steaming stock, Koya’s contribution is built around a specific type - the thick and slippery wheat flour udon.

The bulk of the menu is comprised of udon sitting beside (hiya-atsu) or swimming in (atsu-atsu) variations of hot broths, or served cold with an accompanying cold sauce to pour over (hiyashi udon) or dip into (zaru udon), the latter two typically entertained during warmer months.

Mine was to be the buta miso, a vessel housing clear miso made cloudy by the oinky umami pork paste permeating the liquid. The noodles were springy and playful, attempting to escape the grasp of my chopsticks and pleasingly snapping back onto my face, a splash of stock shared with both the table and my dining partner. The simplicity and skilled execution felt pure in its ambition, even if the miso was a little sweet. 

Prior to this, succulent kamo roast duck was a treat and sitting in a pool of spring onions and dashi (I think) with a swipe of a palate-punching paste that could have been wasabi but was more likely mustard (it was yellow). A refreshing and crisp seaweed salad dressed with sprouted things also adorned the table, as did a pot of good tea and twice the amount of plum wine

And the pickled plums, get those. What your eyes interpret as three bad olives, your mouth will translate to lip-pursing jaw-aching sour. If you like that sort of thing. Which I very much do.

Arrive at prime London-dining time (I will guess that’s around 8pm - the anticipation of eating rarely keeps me on the outside of a restaurant past 6.15pm) and expect to wait. At least for a bit. They don’t take reservations and Koya is popular, so my advice is get there ahead of the crowds. We made it for 6.30 on a weekday and were behind just one party. 

Seating proximity is intimate - most tables are communal and elbow room isn’t on the specials board. But it works fine and is neither intrusive nor awkward. It in fact feels right - it’s a typically Japanese format so just go with it. Despite a patient looking queue gathering outside, we were at no point made to feel we needed to get a slurp-on. Service was quick, warm and welcoming and clientèle is a mixed bag of faces with a good portion Japanese.

The ‘do one thing well’ format is one I will always gravitate towards; if you’re not confident in your ability, don’t do it at all (owner John Devitt’s reasoning as to why you’ll find no desserts here). A jack of all trades will sometimes do, but when it comes to food it is the masters we really seek. 

I’ve been to Koya before. I’ll be back again.

Liked lots: atmosphere, format, understated confidence, location, all our dishes
Liked less: miso broth a little too sweet
Good for: spontaneous dining, what feels like an authentic experience, smaller parties

My rating: 4/5

Find the menu on Zomato

Afiyet olsun.

Koya on Urbanspoon
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Saturday, 21 December 2013

Where to eat in NEW YORK

Despite London technically being a fair bit bigger than New York City according to all resources, the latter is more than just a big apple to me - it's a positively gargantuan piece of fruit. Perhaps it’s the wide avenues, towering buildings, generous portions and larger than life characters, but the five boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn & Staten Island feel utterly vast to me.

It also has that trait found in some of the greatest cities. It’s one big melting pot of an oxymoron - an excellent mash up of contradictions. A few trips on the subway will reveal the unique branch of humans that call it home - a whole separate species I’m almost certain. I saw a couple of fat rats down there too, slowly shuffling under their own weight from all that gourmet trash lining the tracks at their disposal - I’ve only ever seen cute mice on the London underground. The lingering aroma of urine occupies most stairwells and doorways, and as American author Fran Lebowitz once quipped, ‘When you leave New York, you are astonished at how clean the rest of the world is’.

And then there are places like Central Park, the lungs of Manhattan providing much needed oxygen and respite from the endless sirens and heavy air. Well maintained and lush, full of fit joggers and well groomed dog walkers. The glossy buildings of the Financial District. The skyline seen from Brooklyn at night twinkling like an arm of the Milky Way.

Not forgetting the heart and soul of New York, the people that live there. Just about every country in the world is represented, a mix of ethnicities and languages, faces and cultures, yet each of them New Yorkers in their own right and proud to declare themselves so. And you know what lots of people from different parts of the world concentrated in one space produces? Great things to eat, naturally.

Below are almost of all of the places I ate at during my six day visit. As is standard procedure before I go on holiday, they were all carefully researched establishments rather than places we happened to walk past on the off chance, hence the almost unanimous very good ratings I've given them.

Clinton St. Baking Company, Lower East Side
What: pancakes elevated to new heights 
Where: 4 Clinton St, Manhattan, NY 10002
Tel: +1 646 602 6263

Good things come to those who wait. And the food here is really very good indeed, with an equally enthusiastic waiting time to get at it. Some reviews report 5 hours on weekend mornings. But they do handily take your mobile number and text once a table is available, meaning you are free to wander the streets of the Lower East Side until that glorious time comes.

There is a reason for the unparalleled popularity of their breakfast and brunch. These are just about the best pancakes I've ever had, with all sorts of press accolades to support such a claim. Banana and walnut with a side of crisp sugar cured baconmaple butter and a cappuccino tasted even better than it looks below.

On the note of waiting, we arrived around 9.30 on a weekday morning and had a wait of just 20 minutes. So get there early and gloat from a window seat at the crowd quickly gathering outside.

My rating: 4.5/5

Amy Ruth's, Harlem
: Southern soul food requiring a defibrillator
Where: 113 West 116th St, Manhattan, NY 10026
Tel: +1 212 280 8779

A vast space situated six blocks from the north end of Central Park with a big following and warm service, walls adorned with murals of African American stars and political figures. Expect elderly southern matriarchs in full length fur coats with waists as large as Paraguay who, I suspect, have eaten there most days of its 17 year history.

It's understandable why. Visit for the light waffles with your choice of meat, the majority of which are elevated to new heights by an exceptional deep fry. Utterly moreish quality battered chicken laced with what I can only imagine to be crack combined with a lick of sweet maple syrup is quite the trick. The wings are huge and excellent and don't leave you feeling the aftermath of self-loathing experienced post KFC. It all comes with hunks of cornbread and fifteen packets of butter between two which are probably best avoided for the sake of functioning organs.

My rating: 4.5/5

City Sandwich, Midtown
What: creative and fresh Portuguese-Italian inspired sandwiches  
Where: 649 Ninth Ave, Manhattan, NY 10036
Tel: +1 646 684 3943‎

Chef Guerrieri has laid claim to something he calls
“ItaLisboNyorker” flavours, a mash-up forged from being born in Naples, raised in New York, cooking in Lisbon and returning back to the bright lights of the city.

There’s a thriving Portuguese community in New Jersey that Guerrieri worked with to retrace the ingredients he came to know and love during his stint in Portugal. A baker there also helped him to conquer the perfect light bread, the insides of which are removed are replaced by the interesting flavour combinations which he's brought to the residents of New York.

The one to try first is the Nuno - Portuguese morcela (blood sausage), broccoli rabe (a pungent leafy green), tomato, collard greens, melted mozzarella and garlic. Strong and satisfying and a break from the norm with great texture combinations. Oh, and any mayo is swapped for healthier yogurt sauces and a splash of olive oil in order to wet the sandwiches. Much preferred.

My rating: 4/5

Found on Real Cheap Eats NYC - a supremely useful website.

Doughnut Plant, Chelsea
What: gourmet doughnuts with inventive flavours you could easily scoff five of
Where: Chelsea Hotel, 220 West 23rd Street, Manhattan, NY 10011
Tel: +1 212 505 3700

Whilst I still struggle with the fact that many Americans regard doughnuts as acceptable breakfast items and all-day snacks, they don't half do them well. Krispy Kreme made it onto UK shores back in 2003. Get to New York and you'll find branches of Dunkin' Donuts as ubiquitous as Starbucks. Be prepared to scrap all of those any day for a doughnut or seven from Doughnut Plant.

A huge array of frequently changing inventive flavours, sizes and shapes delivered in light and airy just-made fluffiness that are neither stodgy nor too sweet. I will occasionally entertain something as sugar laden as a doughnut (with a strong coffee), but these were so good I had several.

Organic ingredients are used when available, all jam fillings are made in house and doughnuts are split into three categories - yeast, cake and filled, the first being my favourite. Flavours are seasonal and include hazelnut chocolate, peanut butter and blackberry jam, pistachio, coconut cream, and many more. The coffee is also really good - what a gem.

Here is David Lebowitz gushing over Doughnut Plant, and he's a man that knows his baked goods.

My rating: 5/5

Fatty Crab, West Village
What: Malaysian inspired fare in a lively setting
Where: 643 Hudson St, Manhattan, NY 10014 
Tel: +1 212-352-3592

A funky south-east Asian joint with high spirits and loud banter serving robust and spicy flavours. Tea sandwiches had rich and fatty lamb nestled between white bread with sweet raisins, Vietnamese mint and a hint of chilli heat. Crispy pork belly came with pickled watermelon, fresh herbs and sweet ginger and had meat falling away at the hint of pressure; where the fat was crisp it was glorious, but too much of it was soft which I just can’t bring myself to enjoy. 

The fatty duck was superb - skin dry rubbed with a spice mix and crisp, pink and exceedingly juicy meat, finely chopped hot chillies, piquant mustard greens, palm sugar and a wonderfully seasoned tamaki rice. We were encouraged to dive in with hands and teeth, advice duly followed and fully enjoyed, finishing with messy fingers and faces.

How I managed to sidestep the namesake dish I’m not sure - someone please try the crab for me and report back / rub it in.

Recommended by
Zeren from Bitten and Written.

My rating: 

Abraço Espresso, East Village
What: an espresso bar serving some of the best coffee in town
Where: 86 East 7th Street, Manhattan, NY 10003‎

With barely enough space to swing a city stray, Abraço ('embrace' in Portuguese) is an espresso bar in its truest form. Join the queue (as the interior would struggle to accommodate more than four people at any one time, expect to do so outside), place your order, and take it away. If there's space, there are a couple of stools inside with a ledge or two and further opportunities to remain stationary out the front with a wooden bar to lean on.

People visit not for the elbow-room or the chance to loiter over conversation and long lunches, but for the coffee because it is some of the best in town. And because of this, it's become a neighbourhood institution. Not to mention the seasonal pastries and snacks - of which the olive oil cake was grand. Just leave the laptop at home.

My rating: 4.5/5

Gran ElectricaBrooklyn
What: really great Mexican 
Where: 5 Front Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Tel: +1 718 852 2700

The menu at Gran Electrica offers dishes inspired by Mexican street food with a nod to authentic cooking techniques such hand-pressed tortillas, house-made queso fresco (Mexican cheese) and spicy chorizo made on site. And boy, do these guys know what they’re doing.

Chunky creamy mounds of piquant guacamole, thick and robust tortilla chips, zesty scallop ceviche with spicy herb salsas, huge black poblano peppers stuffed with melting cheeses, utterly hearty black beans easily devoured as a solo - it was all so pleasing.

And then there were the soft tacos and their fillings - chipotle braised chicken was quite something. But the slow cooked pork shoulder was stellar. Served with pots of salsa varying in heat, they were utterly glorious and everything you could want from a snack devoured in three bites. With all of the above, my Nueva York Sour cocktail contained even more lime and cachaça and the view of the New York skyline at night was just around the corner, and that’s about as good as life gets for me.

My rating: 5/5

Russ & Daughters, Lower East Side
What: quality smoked fish and caviar since 1914 
Where: 179 East Houston Street, Manhattan, NY 10002Tel: +1 212 475 4880

A lot of New York feels like the set of a film or sitcom, none so much as Russ & Daughters on a Sunday morning, a scene perfectly at home in a Seinfeld or Curb script. 

With a bustling Jewish community, the Lower East Side is home to some serious eateries (Katz is a few doors down) selling all manner of cold-curing broths, matzo ball soups, sandwiches stacked with smoked brisket and pastrami, chopped liver, and a whole lot more. The institution that is Russ & Daughters is a great example serving quality smoked fish, caviar and speciality foods since 1914.

Take a ticket and find a scrap of floor space to stand your ground until your number gets called. Watch regulars park up in huge 4x4's to jump in and pick up whole smoked sturgeons for the family dinner table.

With cream cheeses every which way possible (with horseradish, with tofu, with caviar etc), order a bagel or two with a few choice cuts of glistening salmon flirting from behind the glass for a great lunch on the move.

My rating: 4.5/5

Kitchenette, Uptown
What: charming southern comfort home cooking 
Where: 1272 Amsterdam Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10027
Tel: +1 212 531 7600

Head to this cute diner for home-cooked southern comfort. Go for breakfast and try some of the typically southern menu entries such as grits (ground corn similar to polenta) and biscuits (buttermilk bread similar to scones).

If you want to indulge your sweet tooth, they have a counter creaking under the weight of fresh baked goods including layer cakes, flaky fruit pies and cupcakes. 
Southerners in New York seek out this place for a reason.

My rating: 

Luke's Lobster, Upper West Side
What: simple, fresh New England-style seafood 
Where: 426 Amsterdam Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10024
Tel: +1 212 877 8800

A small chain with eleven locations - if you’re going somewhere called Luke’s Lobster, you want to get the lobster roll. Handsome chilled chunks of fresh meat nestled in a New England-style split top bun with a swipe of mayo, a sprinkle of lemon butter, a dash of their secret spices and a fat pickle. Hits the spot like a homing missile.

Order at the counter and when you’re done, kindly stack your tray and basket. I tried the spicy crab bisque too - it was good but nowhere close to what I had at the Sea Baron in Iceland.

Recommended in Top 10 NYC Foods You'll Miss by Young and Foodish.

My rating: 4/5

Takashi, West Village
What: Japanese restaurant for adventurous cow worshippers
Where: 456 Hudson Street, Manhattan, NY 10011
Tel: +1 212 414 2929

Not for the faint-hearted, Takashi is a no holds barred celebration of all things cow. And by all things cow, I mean all things cow. Think liver and nama-senmai (third stomach) sashimi, cow balls escargot style with garlic butter, and calves brain cream in a tube with blinis and caviar (you heard). Then there’s the range of offal available to BBQ yourself at your table. Pardon me for saying so, but if I’ve plucked up the courage to order cow aorta and premium super thick tongue, I’d quite like the chef to cook it with the expertise he has to make it taste a damn site better than it sounds.

Because of this (but mostly because I’m a wimp), the most adventurous plate we ordered was the beef tendon stew with fatty flaky meat that was really rather good. Also a well spiced oxtail and tripe curry encased in a delicate pastry; hand cut chuck eye tartare with raw quails egg and lemon that was fresh and appetising; and crab and bone marrow doused in molten hot peanut oil which was very good. As was the egg cocotte with runny yolk and salty beef and caviar.

The last ditch attempt at bravey by the other half came in the the form of a bowl of flash boiled shredded achilles tendon which felt like chewing through a baby's finger. It wasn’t finished, or really started. 

They do also offer ‘normal’ dishes for us cowards like rib-eye and short ribs and foie gras stuffed mini kobe burgers (I only notice this on the menu now?). So don’t allow me to put you off entirely.

Fortune favours the brave and a lot of them can be found in Takashi.

My rating: 3.5/5

(Chosen as it's one of Anthony Bourdain's favourite restaurants in NYC, but then he's an offal fiend.)

Dominique Ansel Bakery, SoHo
What: neighbourhood bakery shot to international fame by inventing the Cronut
Where: 189 Spring Street, Manhattan, NY 10012
Tel: +1 212 219 2773

Those who wish to join the exclusive Cronut club by eating and Instagram-ing the most talked about pastry in history can seek their thrills by queueing outside Dominique Ansel’s at 7 in the morning for at least 2 hours for the privilege of doing so. For the rest of us, we can pop-by at any other business hour and sample the rest of their equally inventive and skilled menu - pastries, cakes, macaroons, patisseries, as well as savoury lunches.

Breakfast that day consisted of a flaky, croissant-like dough with a caramelized crunchy crust called a DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann), a salted caramel éclair, an intensely chocolatey soft-middled cookie and no less than 40 miniature and magnificent madeleines, freshly piped and baked to order.

There was still a queue, but no less than one would expect from a favoured establishment and we found a table to enjoy our sugared wares with ease. As bakeries go, this place is up there with the best. Incidentally, I spotted Dominique himself dining at Takashi (see above) the same night I was. Dominique, the brave.

My rating: 4.5/5 

Like so many other cities with endless offerings to those seeking new culinary experiences, a good year or three are needed to really make a dent in the dining scene of New York. But if you need somewhere to start, you won't go far wrong with the above.

Afiyet olsun.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

gymkhana, mayfair - review

There has already been much said about Gymkhana, the Indian restaurant in Mayfair decked out to transport guests to the high-society social sports clubs (gymkhanas) of British Raj India. Most of it, if not perhaps all, consist of glowing testimonials: Jay Rayner advises getting ‘armpit deep in a menu which is not afraid to make a mark’; Grace Dent hails it as ‘one of the greatest restaurant openings London has seen in 2013’; and Fay Maschler gave it a rare 5 stars, describing the Muntjac biriyani as the best she’s had outside Hyderabad.  

The nature of my interests (food and eating it) have me devouring as many restaurant reviews as I can cast my eyes over - they greatly influence the order in which I intend to visit my ever-growing list of venues. 

Whilst I respect the opinions made by the industry stalwarts, I don’t always agree with them: Dent is in love with Casse-Croute - I thought it was marginally better than ok; I couldn’t get past the overriding flavour of ‘bland’ at Mishkin’s whereas Rayner loved the place despite acknowledging the shortfalls; not a lot of people like the filth-fest burgers from Shake Shack, however I think they are supreme

But when it comes to Gymkhana, it seems those who enjoy good food are uniting in a collective gush of, ‘yep, this place is pretty great’ - me included.

Opened in September by Karam Sethi of Michelin starred Trishna fame, Gymkhana serves modern Indian food showcasing British ingredients, with a focus on the tandoor oven and sigri charcoal grill

The restaurant is split across two levels. The lacquered dark chocolate oak floor on entrance is mirrored by the wood ceiling. The room is flanked by a handsome marble bar, furniture and booths are more heavy wood and leather, ceiling fans and wall lamps are cut glass from Jaipur, and faded sporting photographs and stuffed animal head trophies adorn the walls. Even the front door is an imposing and colossal thing of beauty. 

If the interiors were designed to make guests feel like members of an exclusive club, the service and atmosphere is well matched. Whilst inside is saturated with classy grandeur and sophistication (even the kama sutra coat tags manage this), it is an exceedingly welcoming and comfortable place to enjoy a meal.

Any intention to stick to the value early evening menu that accompanied our 17.30 reservation was forgone once we caught sight of the a la carte entries all sounding too glorious to ignore. 

Cassava, lentil and potato papads were light and crisp, tasting of their respective primary ingredients and served with a fresh and sweet mango and a spicy shrimp chutney delivered in brass pots. A venison keema (minced) naan flirting from the page is not something that can be easily overlooked - quartered and laced with fine strips of fiery green chilli it was very good for mopping up other delights on the table, but to stand on its own needed a greater presence of meat.

The butter chicken was very hot with chilli but lacked in depth to compete with the rest of what we engulfed, which were really very good indeed. Minced kid goat with methi (fenugreek) was a kadhai full of the sort of saucy deep rich minced magnificence you could easily fall face first into, topped with crisp fried potato matchsticks (salli), and served with warm and glossy soft buns to assist the scooping and devouring.

A small aromatic pile of minced duck hidden like treasure beneath a conical kimono silk thin dosa was just about as glorious in its existence as I suspect duck could ever be - heavy with a host of determined flavours jostling each other on the tongue for attention, utterly satisfying and my second favourite dish of the evening.

The number one spot was filled by the Gilafi pheasant seekh kebab - cooked to an unrivalled perfection rendering the texture of the skewed meat softer on the palate than I’ve ever experienced. Arrestingly aromatic and complex with such a well executed combination of flavours, it was simply divine. The vibrant pickled green chilli chutney it came with provided a much needed slap around my otherwise stunned face.

Sides and condiments consisted of small and perfectly round blushed pink discs of slightly sweet pickled radishes, creamy pomegranate and mint raita, red onion and chilli salad, and a metal basket of three quality flavoured naans (although one was crisp rather than soft which was a bit upsetting). 

Dessert was a heavily perfumed carrot halva tart with crisp pastry and a cardamom cream that tasted like the smell of the liquid freshener doused onto your hands during long coach journeys in Turkey - a bit too much like eating an Interflora delivery but still enjoyable.

I made an odd observation considering the favourable and recent press: there weren’t that many other diners. We left at 7.45 on a Saturday night with the ground floor area not even half full and the downstairs completely empty apart from a couple of tables. 

Perhaps my weekend dining hours are distorted and no one in their right mind eats out before 8pm. Either way, I noticed in the following couple of days Gymkhana welcomed Nigella Lawson dining with Salman Rushdie, and Yotam Ottolenghi. It’s clearly the place to eat at right now, and rightly so. With a menu as enticing as theirs, subsequent visits to work through the whole offering are imminent.

Liked lots: service, quality of design and interiors, welcoming and accommodating atmosphere, duck dosa, kid goat mehti, pheasant sheekh kebab, condiments, serving vessels
Liked less: butter chicken
Good for: higher-end Indian dining, a special occasion (or not - as Dent says in her review ‘Life is too damn short for special occasions’), interesting choices of meat for the cuisine (i.e. pheasant, muntjac, guinea fowl, partridge, duck), a really great meal

My rating: 4.5/5

Afiyet olsun.

Gymkhana on Urbanspoon
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Tuesday, 10 December 2013

see sushi, paddington - review

Walk into a restaurant in Japan and prepare to face the full force of an ‘IRASSHAIMASE!’ greeting, often yelled with enough terrifying enthusiasm to shorten life expectancy by at least a few hours, so I’m told. Meaning ‘welcome!’ or ‘come on in!’, it is the same greeting you’ll find emblazoned above the counter at the Japanese fusion restaurant SeeSushi situated at the waterside of Paddington Basin, the tranquil body of water behind the station leading to Regents Canal.

When it comes to eating out, along with themed bars and hygiene ratings of three or less, restaurants with the word ‘fusion’ on the homepage are something I actively avoid. My immediate assumption is a Frankenstein mash-up that neither fills a gap in the market nor appeals to diners – I specifically recall the uncomfortable viewing of misguided candidates from the most recent series of The Apprentice conjuring a nightmarish ready-meal combining Caribbean chicken and Thai noodles. Bleugh.

'Fusion' at SeeSushi is thankfully not about two parts of the world crashing on one plate. What it reveals is a kitchen able to produce select dishes from Japan’s neighbouring countries - think Thai and Malaysian inspired noodles and curries. But I was there for the Japanese food - it’s in my top three favourite cuisines and it’s what they do particularly well.

Fresh, crunchy and subtly sweet chuka wakame seaweed salad was delivered alongside a plate of spinach ohitashi - leaves blanched, steeped in dashi, shaped into balls and served with a sesame sauce. Salmon carpaccio and a ponzu dressing met on the plate in holy matrimony along with refreshing, crisp daikon and beetroot for texture - tart and earthy in several sublime mouthfuls.

A riot of colour and seafood on a 22-piece maki platter took up a large portion of both table surface area and stomach capacity - at least half made for a really rather good doggy bag and lunch the following day.

There were dragon rolls of tempura prawn, grilled eel and spring onions with avocado; spicy maguro of tuna, avocado, cucumber and spring onion (and with a kick); white tiger with tempura prawn, cucumber, spring onions topped with seabass and tobikko. Small piles of orange salmon roe skillfully perched atop nigiri rice looked like miniature glistening baubles, fat and rich with oil, popping in the mouth.

Tonkatsu donburi saw breaded pork in a bowl with rice, a runny egg and all manner of julienned crisp vegetables and leaves and whilst good, was slightly lacking against the flavours from the rest of the dishes. But the accompanying miso was as life-affirming as expected. Then there was the black miso cod - flesh breaking away in meaty chunks at the mere mention of cutlery, savoury and slightly sweet, succulent and really very enjoyable.

All manner of desserts were involved in the proceedings: banana fritters with crispy shells and gooey middles; chocolate and chilli (cold with heat is always a winner), green tea and black sesame ice cream; gummy mochi balls; and a very good pear and almond tart with a crisp base. Drinks came in the form of plum wine tasting like alcoholic Vimto (the perfect drink?), warm and strong sake, and quality flowering tea.

Frequenters of London’s Chinatown won’t have failed to notice the large SeeWoo supermarket on Lisle Street stocking all manner of exotic edibles from the far east. The observant may have also spotted that the supermarket and SeeSushi are part of the umbrella SeeWoo group. No doubt some of the same suppliers stock both, meaning the stuff you would cook with at home can also be found in the restaurant kitchen - a good thing.

SeeSushi is a very worthy venue to appease the need for Japanese in West London - a wonderful meal was had.

Liked lots: range of options, idyllic location, presentation, outdoor seating by the water for the summer, salmon carpaccio, black miso cod, seaweed salad, great lighting for photography.
Liked less: tonkatsu donburi
Good for: quality Japanese food made with skill, large groups, intimate meals

My rating: 4/5

Find the menu on Zomato

Afiyet olsun.

Note: I was invited as a guest to review this restaurant.

See Sushi on Urbanspoon 

Square Meal

Saturday, 7 December 2013

l'atelier des chefs cookery school, st paul's - review

I’ve often fantasized I’d take quite well to the life of a baker. Commuting in the quiet of the night, surrounded by warm ovens and glorious smells. I’d sport a tall and floppy white chefs hat like in Ratatouille, have incredible forearms, and my working day would be over by sunrise. Not to mention all that bread.

When it comes to what I could feasibly go without for the rest of my life when faced with the ‘would you rather’ conundrum, bread does not feature. The usual suspects - alcohol, pasta, potatoes, meat – are all possibilities (if it really came down to it). But bread, never. The Turkish blood in me would boil in protest.

I would go so far as to say it is near impossible to avoid bread at a Turkish meal; it’s just as well they do it so well. Bread is considered sacred in Turkey and should someone come across a piece on the ground, it is picked up and placed somewhere elevated. There is even a saying there, ‘if you step on bread, you will turn to stone’.

Fear of physical metamorphosis aside, any opportunity to hone my bread making skills is gratefully received. L’atelier des Chefs is a cookery school in London with a selection of interactive cooking classes ranging from 30 minutes up to 4 hours and covering global cuisines, food trends and favourite recipes. They have two locations - Oxford Circus and St Paul’s - with the latter hosting a half day bread making master class for myself and seven other students with chef Daniel Stevens commandeering the ship.

The first half of the session saw us making wholemeal fruit scones of two different sizes and rather glorious flat breads to accompany a yoghurt, herb and olive oil dip - all of which we devoured for a late lunch. The latter half involved rye mix loaves allowed to rise in proving baskets, a fougasse type bread achieved by snipping baguette shaped dough and splaying the segments to resemble ears of wheat, and small but perfectly formed sugared doughnuts straight out of the fryer and filled with a tart lemon curd rustled up by one of the attendees. The day saw Daniel talking us through the science behind bread making while we got our hands dirty; the process of proving, the reasons for kneading, the effect of yeast and different types of flour, the necessary ratios of ingredients in loaves, and a particular focus on shaping bread prior to proving and baking - possibly the most important skill to master in bread making according to Chef.

All the dough we used included a ladle of a one year old funky and vigorous sourdough starter, wafting all manner of acidic yeasty aromas up our noses - a sign of its prime and adding unrivalled flavour and depth to your bread. We were informed this was a mere juvenile in the world of starters, with many years under the belt being a common occurrence amongst bakers - as long as you keep feeding it (with flour and water), it keeps on living.

I fondly recall a scene from Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential where his resident and somewhat mentally unhinged bread maker calls him up in the middle of the night screaming down the phone, whilst simultaneously intimately entertaining a lady, ‘FEED MY BITCH, DON’T FORGET TO FEED MY BITCH’, referring to his starter in the restaurant kitchen. He apparently made the best bread Tony ever tasted.

The class was full of ‘I did not know that’ tips, a lot of patience from Daniel, and closed with us popping exquisite hot and fresh doughnuts into our mouths and leaving with more bread than any normal person could possibly consume before it going stale - thank goodness for freezers.

The cost of this four hour Bread Masterclass is £99 per person - good value considering the fundamental skills you will be leaving with that will stand you in good stead for life. I am no novice when it comes to baking bread, but I too learnt a great deal from the day. They also do gift cards, and Christmas is just around the corner..

Afiyet olsun.

Note: I was invited as a guest to review this class

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