Thursday, 20 September 2012

Tokyo Diner, Leicester Square

I was failing in my familial duties and had not met up with one of the cousins for far too long. I have a multitude of relatives in or around the London area so it was time to spend some quality time. She enjoys Japanese food, as do I, but I must say my knowledge of Japanese food in the London area is limited at best. The only thing I know for the moment is that Sushi Tetsu has opened on Jerusalem Passage and that I plan to check it out. She suggested Tokyo Diner on Newport Place just off Leicester Square to meet before we headed to the opera for the evening as it had been recommended to her by a colleague who used to live in Japan, and he claimed it to be a very authentic Japanese experience in London. So, I was sold on that.
I arrived first and was seated downstairs in this quite simple restaurant. I received a very informative menu explaining the options for those lacking an insight into Japanese food. At the same time I received some complementary tea and snacks to keep the hunger at bay. When the cousin arrived we decided to share a Nigiri set and then have a main of chicken katsu don and a curry udon garnished with chicken. The Nigiri contained an assortment of sushi presented with ginger and wasabi. The salmon nigiri and the hoso maki were the best of this very good dish.
The chicken katsu don saw pieces of chicken served dipped in beaten egg, coated in breadcrumbs and fried, served in a large donburi bowl of rice with soft cooked egg, onion, spring onion and Dashi (Japanese stock). The curry udon comprised of udon noodles, chicken and curry sauce – simple yet did the trick. We were both busy eating our mains that I failed to take pictures. I was probably too busy trying not to slobber the udon all over the place. Both mains were good solid and hearty nourishment.
The portions at the diner are large and although I had passed on lunch I could not finish all in front of me despite my best intentions.  
The diner has a no tipping policy which apparently is in line with Japanese traditions. Our dinner for two including a beer each, came to £35, really a bargain. It's simple, it's tasty, it's cheap, and it's a very good option for central London.

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Hawksmoor, Seven Dials

Having finished exams on a part-time MSc programme, I suggested to my fellow class mates that we celebrate by heading to Hawksmoor at Seven Dials to enjoy their lunch offer of two courses for £25. Bargain I thought. They even offer a three course option for £27 and I was sure, I would go for this. I felt the need to try the lunch offer given the last time I visited Hawksmoor Seven Dials with 3 friends (at my suggestion), the bill totalled £77 each and I felt guilty having being the person who suggested this midweek for a ‘regular’ dinner. Granted the steak fillet that evening was excellent, as were the sides, but I’m still not sure how the bill came to £77 a head...possibly the alcohol, where the very mediocre whiskey sour (not a patch on Pitt Cue Co) totalled £9 a pop. The starter options for lunch included a ceasar salad and, bone marrow and a confit of mackerel pate. I selected the mackerel safe in the knowledge that my friend to my right had selected the bone marrow...within striking distance of my fork to taste.
I was pleased with my mackerel. It was rich, served with baguette and cucumber and bloody good. The bone marrow too was good, but rich doesn’t seem to quite cut it when describing it. As my friend after eating one particularly fatty bit stated, that’s never coming off the arms no matter how much exercise is done. But it was good.
For my main I selected the t-bone. It’s not my favourite piece of steak. I had it cooked medium to allow the marbling of fat to cook through the centre and add to the taste. It was quite nice, though it did not compare in the slightest to the fillet I have had on previous occasions at Hawksmoor in Spitalfields and also at Seven Dials. But that was simply a matter of personal preference in terms of favourite cuts of beef.
I had a side of sweet potato which seems to have been left standing for quite a while as it was warm (at best) and had that coating on it that food has when left out too long before being served. This was disappointing as the best sweet potato I have ever had was one evening at Hawksmoor Spitalfields where the potato was served piping hot with rock salt sprinkled on top. It was divine.
I also enjoyed some of the chips my friend ordered and these were tasty. By the time it came round to ordering dessert, I shocked and disappointed myself by being too full to order anything. The glasses of prosecco to celebrate the end of exams however sufficed as dessert.
I’m a big Hawksmoor fan. Thus far, I have had the best food at the Spitalfields location (sit at the bar, the bar tenders are great), I love the decor of the Seven Dials venue, and I am determined to have the breakfast at Guildhall. They are soon to open in Air Street and I look forward to offering my patronage. In conclusion, Hawksmoor offer the best steak I have been lucky enough to eat in London. It’s a winner. Cows should be proud to die for such a good cause.
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Meat Liquor, Welbeck St.

Having just gotten off a long-haul flight from Dhaka with the horrible Emirates airways, I was craving a burger for lunch. I decided it would be a good opportunity to check out the highly regarded Meat Liquour on Welbeck St. near Bond St station. I arrived just in time for the Friday lunchtime rush hour and groups of workers piled into the large and dark restaurant. As I was a solo diner I easily managed a seat by the bar. First impressions were positive. The bar tender was attentive and polite as he brought me my fresh orange juice in a jam jar.
I ordered the double bubble from the menu which comprised of two beef patties, served in a bun which included pickles, minced white onions, ketchup and mustard. It normally also comes with cheeses but I opted out of this. As I write about the contents of the burger now I am beginning to salivate. The truth is that while it was indeed a very good burger, it didn’t quite hit the spot for me and I’m still now sure why. In fact I thought that because I had been away for a while that my taste buds would have enjoyed the burger more than normal. When I say it didn’t quite hit the spot, this was still a very good burger. It’s just that given London has some wonderful burger locations, and here in particular Lucky Chip is the torch bearer, it didn’t quite meet those dizzying heights.

I ordered a side of onion rings and slaw with the burger. The onion rings were described as light and fluffy and they were indeed this, and also nice and salty. They were excellent, truly very good. The slaw was served southern style and also was excellent. The bad news (for me) is that my imagination was too big for my appetite. It would have been ideal to have a number of people at lunch, or two at the very least to share the sides. I suppose I could have also just ordered less, but I was being greedy. Never a good thing.
In essence, at Meat Liquor, you will get some decent burgers, and some very good sides, served to you by friendly staff with some good music playing in the background. It’s very good, it’s just not great. 

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Barbecoa, St. Paul's

The cousin was in London and it was his turn to take me to lunch to compensate for our last disappointing lunch at Bread Street Kitchen (reviewed elsewhere on this blog). I suggested we stick to the St. Paul’s area and to give Barbecoa a go. I arrived on time and had plenty of time to take in the splendid view of St. Paul’s having been led upstairs and seated by the window in the spacious area sparingly interspersed with patrons. As I awaited the cousin who was late to leave his workplace and who then managed to get lost, and then refused to ask for directions, I had plenty of time to listen to the elevator music on offer and check out the mainly male patrons having lunch. First recommendation, change the music.
When the cousin arrived, as I mentioned, late, on a Monday, when one has work to do, he decided he wanted steak. Now I usually consider Monday to be a healthy day, and although steak is always a good option, the requisite chips that go with it, not so much. But I decided to go with his recommendation of the special – a fillet for 2, and we ordered it with a side of duck fat chips and carrot and swede clapshot.
Now, on the menu they offered amazing pickled vegetables and big green olives...on ice. This got me worried. Why define the pickled vegetables as amazing. Surely that should be the prerogative of the individual consuming the pickled veg? And when I saw them bring out the green olives, they were indeed on ice. Again, I failed to see the point. So that, combined with the mundane music on offer had me worried.
The steak it arrived with a hint of pepper sauce. The steak itself was very good. Probably based on what I had seen prior to its arriving, my expectations were low and they were certainly exceeded. The sides on the other hand were pretty poor. The carrot and swede verged on being inedible. They were meant to be flavoured with orange and rosemary but I could detect neither. Indeed the only flavour I could sense was the butter which was overpowering. The chips were also quite mediocre.
At this point, we should have called it quits. With the idea that you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, we decided to chance a dessert and further extend an already long lunch. We choose a warm apple and custard brioche served with muscovada ice-cream, and a ‘zingy’ lemon meringue pie served with frozen yoghurt. As lemon meringue usually has a ‘zing’ to it, I don’t know why they felt the need to call it zingy, but they did, and here we are.
I wasn’t particularly impressed with the appearance of the lemon meringue pie upon arrival and the lemon had a lacklustre look about it, but it was quite good. As was the brioche. Relatively enjoyable. 
 What was less enjoyable was the bill of £101.25 for 2 people including service charge...for lunch...on a Monday. That was for the sirloin steak for 2 (at £60), 2 sides at £4 each, 2 soft drinks at £3 each and 2 desserts at £8 each.
The lunch was at best ok, worth over £100; not a hope in hell. It’s my turn to shout lunch next time the cousin is in London. Hopefully that won’t be for a while.
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Wednesday, 12 September 2012


I’ve been busy. So I haven’t been blogging. I have continued to eat however. And now I am back (for those of you possessing a modicum of interest). Since my last post back in April I have sat exams, undertaken a half iron triathlon, worked in Uganda, climbed Kilimanjaro (overrated), worked in Ethiopia, savoured the Olympics, had weddings in New York and the Cotswolds (neither of them mine), worked in Washington D.C. wrote a dissertation for an MSc and enjoyed Bestival. So I’m not lying when I say I’ve been busy. At this point you’re also thinking I’m a bit of a wanker. And you’d have a point.
I have had some excellent and not so excellent food during this period (Ethiopia being a low point, as was eating copious amounts of Maltesers whilst writing my dissertation – they are not lighter than ordinary chocolate). I’m going to start with the best of the best however, and the subject of this blog. For my birthday, 3 of my friends and I booked into Dabbous for lunch. Now, I called Dabbous aeons ago to make a reservation and any date I suggested to eat they were fully booked out. Eventually I asked them to give me dates they could fit me in. When they suggested the 31st of August, I booked it on the spot and figured I’d find 3 friends to come with me. Within an hour I had a full complement, less about my likeability and more about the popularity of Dabbous.
I was worried however. Having read so many rave reviews about the place, the expectations were so high, that any let down would accentuate any disappointment. So we arrived for lunch on the last day of August celebrating a blue moon, the end of the summer and my birthday. Impressions were initially positive. The restaurant had a clean, industrial feel to it. Staff were pleasant as we perused the menu and offered (helpful) suggestions. Green olives were brought to the table as we made our selections.

In order to maximise our interpretation of a tasting menu, that is, we (I) like to taste what everyone has, we opted for 2 set menus and 2 from the a la carte menu. The menu seemed rather simple. By way of example, ‘peas with mint’, ‘ripe tomato in its own juice’ were on offer as a first course. The simplicity of the description had the effect of inuring excitement in attempts to conceptualise how they were going to taste. In addition to the above we selected the salad of fennel, lemon balm & rose petals.

Upon tasting each of the first plates, the uniform response from the table was that the food was stunning, not only in its presentation, but in its taste. I’m not going to detail each plate for each course as I’d be here for a long time, but the peas with mint shall suffice as the exemplar of the first round of courses.

Fresh garden peas were presented upon a mint mushy peas alongside crushed ice peas. Make any sense? Probably not. Suffice to say it was quite simply stunning. This was replicated throughout each of the plates.
Fresh and warm bread was brought out in a paper bag with the date on the bag. Bread in a bag. I don’t know, but it worked. As you do.
Next up was the braised halibut with coastal herbs; grilled mackerel gooseberries and horseradish; barbequed lamb rump, violet mustard and pickled vine leaves; roast veal rump, summer vegetables and chrysanthemum leaf in a light cheese broth; and barbecued Iberico pork, savoury acorn praline, turnip tops and apple vinegar. Each excelled.


Where sauces were served with the fish and with the veal, they were poured upon the plate at the table by the waiters, adding a simple act of theatre to the occasion. Occasion is the right word to use here as central to the eating was an appreciation of the food on offer (at least that’s what I thought). There’s a danger that this sounds total wanker, but it didn’t come across like that at all. In fact, it came across quite simple, stylish and unaffectedly charming. For me, the Iberico pork with the savoury acorn praline was just sublime and highlighted the intelligence of the menu on offer. Great food all round.  

A visit to the toilet downstairs opened up an additional world – enroute, a bar for punters that offers some food. According to one of the girls, you’d sell your grandmother for the chicken wings. And apparently it’s easier to get a space there. So that’s my recommendation. At the time of writing, Dabbous is booked out for lunch until December 2012 and for dinner until May 2013. So, head to the bar and have some chicken wings.
There was of course still time for dessert. Our table hosted ripe peach in its own juice, Mara des Bois strawberries with Tahitian vanilla ice-cream, custard cream pie, and artisanal cheese from the British Isles with baked apple and toasted sourdough. The juice was poured at the table for the peach and also for the strawberries.

Seriously, peach in its own juice, strawberries and ice-cream – so simple, but so bloody amazing. Absolutely delicious. I’m still unsure whether the custard was my favourite part of the pie or the slightly salty pastry that just offset the sweetness to perfection.
I could go on, but I’m salivating again. This food might sound simple, but it’s nothing of the sort. Clearly the concoctions are created by an individual who intimately understands flavours and winning combinations. It wasn’t just the kitchen staff who were on form however. Everyone, from the woman on the telephone who took the reservation, to the staff who welcomed us as we arrived, to the service staff, to the waiter who recommended venues for cocktails after – each were friendly, knowledgeable and made Dabbous a very comfortable, long and leisurely lunch. Certainly the best food I’ve enjoyed in 2012.

Coffees and cannele bordelaise with cherries were provided before we decided to head to Dukes for martinis. The bill for 4 including 2 bottles of red wine with our dinner came to £200. An amazing lunch, I doff my cap. This place is fantastic.

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