In Bangladesh charred and mashed aubergine or “baigun bortha” is often eaten with rice and fish as a side dish, and is similar to the Middle Eastern Baba Ganoush. Smoky and creamy it also makes the perfect dip. A gas hob is the best way of charring the vegetables, or better still, over a barbecue. Read the rest of this entry »
25 Newport Court, Chinatown, London, WC2H 7JS
Baozi Inn is the latest offering from Fuschia Dunlop, the extraordinary chef who trained at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu and also consultant to the extremely popular Bar Shu which serves authentic Sichuanese fare. Unlike most people, I am not a big fan of the place, finding the dishes a little too spicy for my wimp of a palate. Her books are amazing though and I love the fact that she has brought and encouraged authenticity to a Chinatown that was rapidly becoming just another tourist trap.
Situated on the corner of Little Newport street, Baozi Inn is slightly off the beaten track of the brasher restaurants on Gerrard Street, and fits comfortably into the surrounding shops and restaurants. The dishes are photographed and displayed on the window in a traditional manner and the interior is cosy and enticing. I went just after the lunchtime rush so the place was fairly empty and the staff were incredibly friendly. The menu was a delight, it had “this is a real find” written all over it.
For some years now I’ve been coming to Chinatown in the day, perhaps after shopping or more often before going to watch a film at the Curzon cinema around the corner. Over these years I have progressively managed to annoy most of the restaurants in the area by going in alone and asking for just a soup and maybe another starter. And nothing else. This has caused me no end of embarrassment, eliciting a range of responses which trough from sighs, pity and dirty looks, peaking at outright disgust. But at last there is a place that caters for people like me, people who sometimes might be hungover and perhaps just want small amounts of nourishing Oriental food.
This menu was my idea of heaven, offering tapas style small dishes, an impressive salad and soup section and also slightly more substantial noodle dishes with sauces. There was even an intriguing “special drinks” section which looked like something straight out of a Club Tropicana video (in a good way). Baozi are steamed Chinese buns filled with various fillings from char sui pork to red bean paste, they were offered here with pork, egg or radish for £1.20 each. I wondered what the popular but very cheap-looking stall that has been opposite for time-immemorial made of Baozi?
I opted for the radish baozi, only to find that it had sold out. Instead I went for the hot and sour soup and a lotus and mushroom salad. The waitress was really helpful and asked me if I wanted to try their home-made soy milk drink and also explained the fact that the soup contained their own home-made tofu. My food arrived and I have to say I almost wept it was so good.
3 Great Titchfield Street,Fitzrovia,London.W1W 8AX
This tiny café on Great Titchfield Street looked promising enough, packed full of media types and office workers when I went for a rainy weekday lunch. Aptly enough it specialises in Pho; the traditional street food dish of choice in Vietnam. A broth of beef broth, noodles and thin cuts of brisket, tripe with various garnishes Pho is heralded as a hangover cure, an aphrodisiac and is eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
On the website there are some rather deceptive sound bites from the national press describing this national dish as if these glowing accolades are attributed to the restaurant. (This is a bit like opening a chippy in Laos called “fish and chips” and then creating a website full of international acclaim for the term “fish and chips” and then basking in that glow). Anyway, encouraged by the restaurant’s boast of offering a stock which takes up to 12 hours to prepare I ordered a bowl of the “vegetarian pho” with tofu and mushrooms. So many restaurants make the false assumption that just because you are ordering vegetables you must be a vegetarian and then proceed to make up for it by concocting some god-awful over-seasoned meatless stock, so I was delighted at the novelty of being able to order chicken stock with vegetarian ingredients .
Cha Cha Moon is the latest offering from Alan Yau, the man behind Yautcha and Hakkasan. I went to Hakkasan just after it had first opened in 2001 and had the most incredible meal. I recall being blown away by the reception area, the dark sexy décor a perfect dish of tea-smoked poultry and the little tobiko flying fish roe on my sashimi. I took my other half there for a birthday treat more recently only to discover that this is now a “sex in the city” recommended venue, i.e. it has been given the utter kiss of death.
Address: 25 Ganton Street, W1F 9BP
Tel: 020 7494 4170
Situated on the corner of Ganton Street, Dehesa brings what initially appears to be a welcome addition of “Italian-Spanish” food to this lively spot in Soho. On a balmy Friday night the boyfriend and I found ourselves attracted to the outside tables, and tried our best to ignore the raucous crowd from the pub opposite, who were practically sat at our table with us. Despite the fact that we couldn’t really hear ourselves think and resolutely sat through the din in the name of chilled café culture; there was actually something rather fun about sitting down to a civilised meal while people got completely rat-arsed next to us.
32 Canonbury Street, Islington, London, N1 2TB
A lot of my friends moan about how Islington has become a touristy hell in recent years, with many of its “original” residents fleeing to Stoke Newington or Crouch End. It certainly does seem to be full of pubs and wine bars, most of which are trendy enough but not exactly known for being relaxing or serving decent food. Thank god then, for The Marquess Tavern. Situated on a tree-lined side street off the Essex Road the small pub brightens up the corner like a proper local.
When I arrived the place was fairly empty, there were a few middle-aged couples but I found the atmosphere warm and welcoming. The French bar-man was particularly helpful without being overly flirty or annoying. The main dining area is a small light-filled area at the back of the pub with huge chalk boards proudly announcing classic seventies delicacies in the mode which seems to be de rigeur right now, you know things like sardines on toast and devilled lambs kidneys.
12 St George Street
Having heard wondrous things, my dear pal Matthew and I decided to give Wild Honey a whirl one rainy weekday lunchtime. As we strolled chatting and laughing into the plush mahogany toned room, stuffed with businessmen, we found ourselves suddenly uncomfortably silenced under the unflinching stares of a battalion of rich pensioners. I suddenly became very aware of my Topshop clothes, my hungover face and the old boots I was carrying in a Tesco’s carrier bag. Oh dear. Nonetheless the staff hardly batted an eyelid, and made us feel incredibly welcome. The service was in fact superlative, they fixed a wobbly table leg the second we sat down and offered several great recommendations from the menu.
70-72 Kingsland Road, N1
Hungry and hung-over in Hoxton the boyfriend and I found ourselves craving Vietnamese. Having had not one but 2 bad experiences at local rivals Cay Tre, we decided to fall back on that old favourite The Viet Hoa. I hadn’t been here for what felt like 5 years and was intrigued to see if the standards were still as high as they had been back then. I had memories of benches heaving with fashion students and an old granny in the kitchen churning out wonderful authentic Vietnamese classics, each adorned with her signature twist. I’m ashamed to admit that I had eschewed her delights in favour of the convenience of Cay Tre, which has the double whammy of proximity to both my favourite pub and yoga class. However, popularity had made the service there dismal and the food average and bland with many of the mains barely better than a cheap Chinese takeaway.
Back in the day, Viet Hoa pioneered the utilitarian bench-style eating in oriental restaurants, a style which has been much emulated notably by Wagamamas and more recently Cha Cha Moon. The crowd are generally a convivial lot, this being East London people don’t mind looking at each other and the clientele are a mix of young parents, artists, students and the odd tourist. However on our visit the place was almost empty except for a few other diners. This was less of a reflection on the restaurant’s popularity than the fact that they had only just opened for service on a Saturday afternoon.
The granny had been replaced by a young chap with a baseball cap, our smiling waitress was winningly charming and the old man behind the till was definitely a member of that original family. He didn’t seem to do much other than count the money in the till and entertain us with classics like Bach’s into the moonlight while we ate. Somehow, this didn’t seem wrong.I was pleased to see paper—wrapped prawns were still on the menu and we ordered these to begin. I also would have liked a green papaya salad but this was sadly not available so I plumped for duck salad instead.