Tea time - that most time honoured of English traditions. For me it's the great escape from the office when the lull of the dreaded lull of the afternoon sets in and the tummy is grumbling that the puny amount of leftovers from the night before was insufficient to see it through to an 8PM dinner. Sometimes I head to Sainsbury's and cheat myself into thinking some pre-cut fruit will be good for me (along with a chocolate bar or two), sometimes it's Starbucks and other times for a little injection of intellectualism it has to be the London Review Bookshop.
The London Review Bookshop is a great little place behind the British Museum, brilliant for browsing and keeping yourself to yourself with lovely whiffs of that delicious scent of books. Adjacent to the bookshop is the London Review Cake Shop selling lovely tea and cake in a woefully tiny bit of space. Today I had a pot of Keemun Mao Feng (described as black tea with sweet orchid notes) and a polenta and lavender cookie (I asked for a biscuit the Australian waitress insisted on giving me a 'cookie'). The tea was lovely, as teas go. The cookie was a little too buttery for my liking and thank heavens the lavender was hardly distinguishable - I'm not a fan of lavender in my food.
Sunny Sundays mean late leisurely lunches and long walks. Last Sunday was relatively quiet - shoe trying and bag admiring at Selfridges before a late lunch/early dinner at Comptoir Libanais on Wigmore Street.
There wasn't much to fault my mixed maze plate - the food was nice, I enjoyed it and I thought I got myself a pretty good deal - a falafel, a spinach and cheese pastry, houmous, baba ghanoush topped with pomegranate, tabbouleh (too coarsely chopped in my opinion), mujaddara (rice and lentils), pickles (lurve pickles!) and topped with bread. Veggie goodness.
But complaints I do have (unfortunately). What is it with their menu at the counter? Half the items on their printed menu isn’t even on the board (I would later find out after I’ve been seated) and what is on there doesn’t make much sense. It was the same thing at their other branch at Westfield … ooops, no… I forget. They don’t even have a menu. Doh, silly me! Another moan would be directed at some of their staff – let me paint you the scenario: I walk in and there are 2 guys behind the counter who greet me and then leave me to it. I’m standing there studying the menu board (if you recall is really not the best written) for what must be a few minutes and they are blatantly not interested. They’re chatting and stock taking (or something like that). When I do get their attention they fob me on to another colleague who’s just appeared from the depths of the restaurant. Gee, thanks guys. Good thing this new guy seemed ok – compared to the other 2, I like him. Within seconds he’s told me that if I want to sit in they do table service. Oh, well…. Good thing the 2 guys were nowhere to be seen when I left with a full belly. I have been told that my evil stare is quite deathly.
As I slumped across my couch all day Saturday, feeling slightly worse for wear from the 2 pints of cider I had the night before (one of the most obvious signs of ageing I'm told), all I could think of was cow. Big, juicy minced up cow and served to me between a squashy bun garnished with lettuce and tomato. When SM turned up asking me what I had in mind for the evening, I jumped at the chance of going to Byron. Now, I've never been to Byron so maybe I should have suggested something safer, somewhere I was familiar with but McDonald's just wasn't going to cut it for me. And my cow between bun fantasies didn't include other high street favourites either ... Ultimate Burger, yuck. Gourmet Burger Kitchen, yuck. But I was willing to take my chances with Byron. So I grabbed the postcode of the nearest branch (Kings Road), jumped in the car and off we went. I like Kings Road. What's not to like. It's Kings Road. It's Chelsea. Enough said.
It was just past 9 when we arrived and the restaurant was still heaving with people. Not that we waited long, probably about 5 minutes in total. Our waitress was all smiles as she handed menus and took orders for drinks. She was still all smiles when SM attempted to a badly aimed, English humour laden joke. She didn't get it but she still smiled like she got half of it. Service was pretty good then.
SM got a coke float. Every time I see a coke float I remember my mother's stories about how she had her first float - or brown cows as they used to call them back in the day. My mum's über '60s - think floppy hats, flowers in the hair. The mental image I get is of her in a Mary Quant miniskirt with a big floppy hat sitting at the counter of A&W, the first US fast food chain to arrive in Malaysia, sipping from a glass of root beer float. It's a totally incorrect image, of course (the timeline is just all wrong) but that's what I see in my head when there's a brown cow around.
I stuck to fresh lemonade. I love proper lemonade. Icy cold and sour, balanced oh so slightly by a hit of sugar. Just right for a warm Spring day - it was all of 10°C yesterday.
I wanted to go for the Classic - 6 oz patty with lettuce, tomato, red onion, mayonnaise and a pickle on the side. But SM convinced me that for a whole £ more, I could get cheese too. I paid the £ and got the Monterey Jack (see the first photo). I should have stuck to my guns and just gone for the Classic. The cheese does nothing for me. Neither does the mayo. Next time I'll have to remember to tell them to hold the mayo. Other than that, the burger was pretty good. Much better than either Ultimate Burger or GBK. It had a nice grill char flavour and other than the useless cheese, it was simple and honest.
SM went for the full Monty and got the Byron - dry cure bacon, mature Cheddar and Byron sauce (whatever that is). SM winced at how pink the patty was (mine was definitely more well done and apparently had more of a charred flavour) but still managed to wolf it down in an astonishing amount of time. I didn't try it so I can't comment on how it tasted but it seemed to go down well with SM.
And we most definitely need sides, various deep fried sides. Chips. Crisp but the most boring bowl I've had in awhile. It tasted like something I could buy from the shop and fry myself. Fail.
Courgette fries - I love the idea of courgette fries but they always let me down. As SM described it - "as limp as a man's penis after 9 pints of beer". Sorry, that was very rude! SM's words, not mine. But oh so true though in the case of the courgette fries.
The onion rings on the other hand were a really winner. Ultra crisp and very yummy. Same batter used on the courgette fries I believe but there was absolutely no limpness whatsoever.
Winners: The burgers were good minus a few points of cooking inconsistencies of the patties, the onion rings, the lemonade, our waitress
Losers: Limp courgette fries, factory fries, the dirty floor (when we arrived I noticed a stray chip lying on the floor that had been stampled to death on, it was there throughout our dinner and it was still there when we left. The said chip was right by the entrance).
We went for Japanese the other week and it was delicious. Even yummier with the 30% off the food bill from Toptable. It's not often that we have a good Japanese meal other than a quick bowl of noodles and we have a lot of that and it's boring! So with the pending meal at Nizuni, I laid down a few ground rules:
No noodles (a no-no when there are so many other yummy things that we can order)
No rice (same rule as noodles but sushi is OK because sushi is sushi)
Agedashi Tofu - my order because I love it. But before I could even say "Boo!" SM had gulped two thirds of this down. Believe me I was horrified! First, I thought we were sharing this meal and secondly - keep off my special dish!! It turns out SM thought this was miso soup (SM's special order). It left me slightly speechless. Seriously, how does someone who had lived in Vancouver for a year and pratically lived on sushi and Japanese food get agedashi tofu and miso soup mixed up? Totally not impressed. The dish was nice though. Light crisp batter, yummy salty tentsuyu broth. My only little niggly complain would be the use of firm tofu. I missed the silken smoothness I would usually expect.
Beef Tataki with pear gherkins, capers and ponzu sauce - as it came so well recommended. It looked really weeny when it arrived. OK, let's go instead with 'delicate'. It sounds much nicer. The serving may have been small but it was delicious. The beef was utterly tender, the capers and gherkins lent a lovely tang. Two thumbs up.
Tempura Moriawase - because anything deep fried is always welcomed at our table. Light as air batter, crisp and none of that heavy greasiness. The vegetables retained their veggie integrity and the prawns had that lovely fresh crunch.
Nasadengaku. Aubergine, good. Miso, delicious. Aubergine with miso, vegetable bliss. SM and I are very fond of aubergine and the nasadengaku was spot on. Not too oily, not too salty, not too sweet. Just a complete balance of flavours.
I was a little surprised when SM agreed to a order of Sashimi Mori Ni - the chef's selection of 14 pieces of sashimi. Normally the closest SM would get to a piece of raw fish would on top a blob of sushi rice. Surprised as I was, I wasn't about to disagree. The serving was generous and the fish very fresh. I'm a happy bunny but there is a little matter that confuses me. No matter how many times I look back on my photos of this dish, I can't make out how the serving is 14 pieces. I'm pretty darn sure it's 15! The scallop that the chef cut into 3 pieces instead of 2 :) I gain 1 extra bit ... apparently.
The salmon skin make rolls with spicy mayonnaise (sakekawa) were a bit of a hit and miss. A hit with with SM but a miss for me. The skin was chewy and really too much of a bother to enjoy.
The Dragon Roll, on the other hand, with its fresh crab meat, cucumber and avocado topped with eel was supremely good. The roll on its own would have been nice but it was the eel that made it. Sweet, rich with a slight char from the grill. So, so good.
Our food came out in 2 lots with the maki rolls and the sashimi coming out slightly later than the rest. Not that it really mattered since the first few dishes came out really quickly but I was stuffed even before half our meal made it to us. I know SM was gleefully hoping I would concede defeat but seriously, that was never going to happen. Me? Concede food defeat? Never!
Overall it was lovely evening. Food was good and the staff were friendly but slightly slow at times. The downsides would be the table arrangements - with all their space, they could surely leave a little space between tables? I heard every bit of conversation both our neighbours were having. It gets more than a bit uncomfortable after awhile. Also, they might want to rethink their flooring. We heard and felt every thudding step every member of staff and every customer took past our table.
Other than that, it was all good. Really :) It does get a get a little better thoug. The bill came to a total of just over £70 for the two of us without drinks and with the 30% discount we paid about just over £50. Rather good I should say. Don't you?
Two large French trimmed racks of lamb- I personally like to trim some of the fat off but it's just a preference
4 tbsp Dijon mustard
Large handful of white course breadcrumbs
Small handful of grated Parmesan cheese
Small bunch of fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons of dried mint
Small spring of rosemary
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
2 anchovy fillets in oil
Put the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, fresh and dried mint, rosemary, garlic and the anchovy fillet (including the oil) in a food processor and pulse. Stop once the mint, rosemary, garlic and anchovies are finely chopped and well incorporated into the rest of the mix. Set aside.
Heat an oven proof griddle pan until hot (smoking if you dare), sear the racks of lamb starting with the fat side down (don't oil your pan or you'll very likely set your smoke detector alarm off). You don't necessarily have to sear your meat but it does give it a nice colour and I like the fact it gets rid a bit of the fat. Once lightly seared, take the lamb off the heat.
Spread the Dijon mustard over the fat side of the rack of lamb. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over and pat down gently when all the mixture is used up. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top - this will help the breadcrumbs crisp and golden. Cook at 200°C/fan 180°C for about 30 - 40 minutes depending on how well you like your meet cooked. I cooked mine to about medium, which was about 40 minutes. Rest before carving the lamb into cutlets. Serve with your sides of choice. Mine were steamed broccoli, green beans, roasted parsnips and a rather lumpy gravy made from red wine, beef stock, lingonberry jelly and a little leftover breadcrumb mixture.
Lunch at the legendary cheap and cheerful Wong Kei, the place that fed 2 generations of my family as students. Rumour has it that it closed by the health authorities a few years ago for its questionable hygiene standards. True? No idea. Business is still as good as ever and the service you will be pleased to know is as curt as it ever was. It's still cheap though.
Ngau lam (that's beef brisket to you and me) with rice
Why did they do that? Jaundiced chicken is attactive? It sure didn't look like this the last time I dined here. My first thought was perhaps it's reminiscent of the fat on organic, corn fed chickens ... but seriously, who am I kidding? I talk such rubbish sometimes. I have no idea why Uncle Lim's were intent on staining the skin of the chicken yellow but ye gads ... turmeric or not, it was still pretty tasty dish. Garlic rice, smooth pieces of chicken off the bone and the all important garlic and ginger chili sauce. I'm such a happy bunny!
Uncle Lim's Kitchen Upper North Arcade, Whitgift Centre, Croydon, CRO 1UZ
It was tea and cake this weekend for JN's birthday hosted by her lovely self at her new flat. We stuffed ourselves silly with zesty lemon cupcakes, slices of fruity passion fruit sponge, sweet crumb apricot and almond tart, crumbly scones heaped with clotted cream and jam, fudgy chocolate brownies and an incredibly huge but utterly delightful pot of ragù alla Bolognese. All washed down with steaming cups of tea, bubbly prosecco and the definitely over the driving limit lychee vodka cocktails.
Wonderful food, lovely company, a great day! Thank you.
Ragù alla Bolognese (that was all gone by the end of the evening)
I had a horrid meal recently. Between a scale of disappointing and outrageously bad, this meal probably sat somewhere in between but if I were to have written this review right there sitting in the restaurant, I would have given it a big fat zero! Why? Because the food was crap, the decor of the restaurant got on my nerves and the staff just ... well, just annoyed me.
What stopped me? Sigh .. SM did. SM who looked at me with a raised eyebrow and said, "c'mon it wasn't that bad".
I huffed out a "yeah , it bloody was" before I shut up and decided to sleep on it.
Thing is I don't usually publish many bad reviews - because they're all sitting in my outbox, just waiting for me to click on that red shiny "send" button. But I never do. Mainly because I forget and when I do remember, it never seems all that important any more. This time though, I remembered and I'm going click on that shiny button.
So Melur ... sitting on the site that used to be Mawar (where I had my share of cheap and cheerful meals when I was a student - I still remember my first meal there, kangkung belachan, tom yum soup and white rice. I thought I was in mini heaven). I have no idea when one changed to the other or why but since I fancied a bit of a taste home, I thought whichever of them would do me just fine. But it didn't. Where Melur recognised it was somewhat cheap, Melur decided to jazz things up cheaply and it showed. Cheap furnishings, damp peeling walls .. arggh! The staff were less than energetic - hey, I don't expect them to be bouncing off the walls like a fully charged energizer bunnies but some enthusiasm on the job wouldn't have hurt anyone. Example - picture this, SM and I have just walked down to the restaurant (they're located in the basement, which probably explains the damp walls) and we get a weak greeting from the waitress behind the bar. At the same time she notices us, another waiter who is faffing about with some cutlery on am empty table looks up, looks me in the eye, holds the gaze for about 2 seconds, totally ignores me and continues faffing. No smile, no greeting, nothing. Nice people they employ.
Ok, so all the above wouldn't quite have bothered me so much if the food was half way decent. The beef rendangarrives and it looks ok. Small-ish portion but ok. Then we wait .... 5 minutes pass before another dish is set down. I ordered the ayampercik but wtf was that in front of me? I know my ayam percik as well as I know my rendang and whatever that they make in this place and try to pass it off as ayam percik is horrid. A semi burnt piece of chicken sitting in watery sauce and bits of bruised vegetable floating about. The watery sauce was a bad sign, the floating bits of veg just pissed me off ... I can only gues it was pieces of iceberg lettuce the chef had attempted to decorate the plate with before ladling over the sauce. After this, we had to wait. Again. Finally 2 minutes later the kangkungbelachan and rice arrive.
The chicken itself wasn't too badly cooked, as if it wasn't overcooked. Taste wise ... what taste? Fine (I'll try to be nice!), there was a smattering of all the flavours that the dish should possess - lemongrass, turmeric, chili, tamarind, coconut (which we all know they overdosed on) but where was the 'oomph'? The punch?
The kangkungbelachan was pretty close to competing with the chicken for the bottom rung of the meal ladder. Bad enough for SM to refuse to eat it and it takes a bloody lot for SM to refuse to eat something. Where I would have been happy (and expected no extra ingredients other kangkungand belachanand well, the oil to cook the veg), the chef decided to bulk the dish up with a very large handful of dried salted anchovies. Large part chewy, part crunchy bits of salted fish (oh yes, and the kitchen may also have forgotten to remove the salt from the fish prior to cooking) in a dish which would have been perfectly adequate without the added extras.
The rice ... oh, the rice ... the rice was mushy. An Asian restaurant that can't cook rice properly.
So the winner of the evening was undoubtedly the beef, with a 5 out of 10 rating. The sauce was fine but not as good as say .... mine or my mother's (no, my recipe is not the same as my mother's) or my grandmother's (whom I believe also has her own recipe) or any other self respecting Malaysian cook who cites the ability to cook rendang.
Badly done, Melur. You could do well to buck up but I guess it doesn't matter to me because I won't be going back.
A Malaysian foodie at heart, I now live in London where, after eight years, I am still trying to come to terms with the four changing seasons. Although far from home there is never short of good food to be salivated over!Email me at email@example.com