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In 1967 London Bridge was sold to an American named Robers P. McChulloc for a new ‘English’ theme park in Arizona, soon to be the second most popular attraction in the state, behind Niagara Falls. Popular myth, albeit a particularly snobbish myth, goes that the American thought he was buying Tower Bridge and was hugely disappointed when the less iconic London Bridge turned up. That myth has since been debunked, but its credence comes from the fact that there are fewer things more iconic or impressive than Tower Bridge – why wouldn’t you want it in your English theme park?
It is next to this magnificent structure that The Tower Hotel is located and within this, The Brasserie. I spent 3 years living in Wapping so I was well aware of this building, although unfortunately in all that time I never took the time to step inside. What a shame that I’ve only just discovered this place.
My girlfriend and I were shown to a window seat upon our arrival and sat for a couple of minutes soaking in the beautiful view of the bridge. It was an effort to drag ourselves to the menu but we managed it, during which a couple of glasses of champagne turned up to help our choice.
Octopus and salad
Peas and Chorizo Scallops
We started with grilled octopus, the scallops with chorizo and slow-cooked pork belly. I know that sounds like a hefty amount of food to start with, and we definitely weren’t hungry by the end of the meal, but every bite went down with ease, testament to how good each was. The octopus in particular, served with a light cucumber and tomato salad, was excellent; the charred and smoky tentacles with the fruity salad is a brilliant combination.
Lamb and Purple Potatoes
For our main course we had the duo of Cornish lamb and the sea bass with gnocchi. Now this is where my job here becomes particularly hard. I’d just finished pretending to be vegan for a month and so the lamb tasted like a little bit of heaven in my mouth. However, I could have eaten the sea bass three times over. The tomato juice that the gnocchi swam in was zingy and the skin on the sea bass was crispy, making a load of textures and flavours that are really special.
At this stage we were definitely feeling the impact of scoffing 3 starters at the beginning of the meal. We soldiered on however and tackled the lemon tart which was delicious and the classic that is Eton mess. It’s always a good idea going for a classic dish like Eton mess when trying to get the measure of a place – there is no hiding in familiar places. The Brasserie doesn’t disappoint. I’d forgotten all about the 3 starters as soon as the first spoonful entered my mouth and happily chewed the rest down at a world record speed.
Wapping is a great place to visit. A pub down the road has an old noose by the side of the Thames used as the final punishment for captured pirates. St Katherine Docks is a great example of old London turned brand new. But it has to be Tower Bridge that steals the show and it’ll be difficult to find somewhere better to enjoy it than The Brasserie restaurant.
A mere stone’s throw from Gloucester Road Underground Station, nestled within the usual chain eateries, you will find a restaurant with a difference. The essence of Umami, meaning savoury taste in Japanese, is captured in every aspect of the dining experience. The use of natural wood in the walls and tables of the restaurant creates warm accents of colour dotted throughout the space. Shades of orange and gold give a real sense of opulence, and provide a stylish and welcome escape from the wet and rainy streets of London. With strong influences from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, Umami encourages its diners to explore both new flavours and signature dishes in a unique environment influenced by its owners. After a warm welcome from the staff, we were seated at a large table with panoramic views of the restaurant. It quickly became clear that Umami is a popular dining destination for pan-Asian food, with several of the tables taken up by returning customers – always a good sign. The staff, who employ the mantra ‘anything is possible’, are friendly and accommodating. No request is too much trouble.
We opted for the 3-course Umami Taster Menu, consisting of a myriad of both familiar and exotic dishes. To begin our dining experience, we were presented with a selection of appetisers.
Though all enjoyable, the highlight had to be the hand-made chicken tarts with their light pastry and the fusion of savoury chicken with sweet vegetables. To accompany our appetisers, we enjoyed 2 of Umami’s lychee-based cocktails; a Lychee Martini and a Red Lotus. A Chaco mocktail was also available, made up of lychee juice and cranberry juice finished with fresh mint.
These flavoursome, not-too-sweet, drinks complemented the wide array of starters; a sharing-platter consisting of aromatic dishes including succulent chicken satay with a peanut sauce, shredded duck salad, tempura lychee, and delicious handmade roti with a warming lentil-based dahl.
A full-bodied merlot set the scene for the main course, as our table became filled with hugely generous portions of beautifully presented dishes. Rice, steamed to perfection, formed the basis for coconut prawns, Gado Gado stir fry with chicken and prawns, and Gai Yang consisting of grilled chicken flavoured with Asian spices and served with a crunchy Asian style coleslaw. We also enjoyed a portion of beautifully al dente green beans with Sambal; a firm favourite that I would be quick to recommend to anyone dining at Umami.
Gado Gado stir fry with chicken and prawns
Green Beans with Sambal
The pièce de résistance came in the form of a crème brûlée flavoured with pandan.
Served in the bar, (where you can enjoy the sound of live music at the weekend) this bright and colourful end to the meal was the perfect representation of one of Umami’s greatest strengths; creativity. Served by the restaurant’s own innovative chef, Abdul, this dessert was a rich and decadent way to finish this extraordinary dining experience. Though, in true Umami style, that was not all! A selection of delicious cakes and macarons arrived at our table, theatrically presented with dry ice billowing out of the centre of the assortment.
Our evening subsequently ended relaxing in the bar area, enjoying live music, finishing our wine, and indulging in decadent cakes. A sweet end to our savoury and extraordinary Friday night visit to Asia. We will be returning to Umami and hope to see you there!
According to its own website, Plaquemine Lock’s fare is at ‘at once exciting and exotic, but at the same time comforting and strangely familiar’. On my visit I found this can be said for more than just the menu, as Plaquemine Lock is a pub down a quiet, leafy street in Islington. Cajun and Creole cuisine may not be too common for a Londoner to experience, but the boozer sure is.
Obviously there was plenty of decent beer on draught, but I decided to get in to the spirit of Louisana with the Sazerac cocktail, a neat combination of whisky, Herbsaint, Angostura & Peychaud’s bitters. My company settled for refreshing Mint Julep – ideal for palates not partial to a stronger drink.
Here lay the first joy of the evening, being able to enjoy a decent cocktail without having to suffer a cocktail bar. It felt like someone had combined my favourite ideal features of a eating and drinking out, and combined them in to one. Cheers to that!
We enjoyed some appetisers in the packed-out Plaquemine Lock – the smoked pork boudin and devils on horseback.
The duck boudin was a simple but delicious sausage made great with sharpness of the creole mustard, and a firm pickle that had the right amount of acidic moisture.
The devils on horseback – oysters deep fried with bacon & marchand du vin – is where luxury meets gluttony. The devilish feature of these being you can eat them for days, and will want to.
Alas though, on to the main event. Fried chicken is such a staple of the London appetite that ordering it isn’t necessarily an overly exciting experience. The fried chicken a Plaquemine Lock is definitely noteworthy though, the batter was well seasoned, the chicken was tender. Accompanying it was a dumpling so light that my friend managed to offend his mother by proclaiming it was the best he ever had.
Along with the fried chicken we opted for the soft shell crab amandine. Side note: If (like me) you don’t know what amandine means, the nice folk at Plaquemine Lock have translations of all foreign words on the menu. There’s also a handy diagram on how best to eat a lobster. Educational and delicious. This fried soft shell crab came in a crusty baguette, the kind of reviving food that you’ll crave when you’ve had too many Sazerac cocktails the night before.
When it came to finishing our meal, sadly us caffeine-sensitive folk had to forgo the chicory café au lait that usually accompanies the beignets. The beignets however were worth eating alone; as light and airy as could be.
The pecan pie was a great, denser alternative. The nutty sweetness was perfectly accompanied by the rich coffee ice cream. We enjoyed these sweet treats amongst many other merry folk. Evidently I’m not the only one who Plaquemine Lock ticks the boxes for. If your checklist includes moreish food, lively atmosphere and sublime drinks, then it’s probably a good spot for you too.
When I quit my job to travel southeast Asia and concentrate on my blog Sophie’s Scran, Vietnam was one of the places I was most excited about. There’s a visitors’ visa, which allows you to enter the country for 15 days free of charge, but I thought, hang on: Two weeks is not going to be nearly enough. So I bit the bullet and purchased a 30-day visa instead. I was ready for a full-on foodie adventure!
It’s safe to say, it was worth the extra spend on my already tight budget. When I touched down in Hanoi, I arrived amidst the absolute chaos that is a Saturday night in this crazy city. I knew almost instantly I’d made the right decision. This place was noisy, electric with energy and absolutely full of food. Within the first hour, I’d been offered (on the streets alone) homemade pastries, soft pork scratchings, crispy chicken feet and home-brewed beer. I knew I was in foran absolute feast in this vibrant country.
Warming up in the Corn Exchange
Which brings me to today’s review on the Bookatable blog; Pho in Manchester’s Corn Exchange. Pho is Vietnam’s version of noodle soups; authentic, healthy versions of which are served up here. If you’ve not yet been to the Corn Exchange, it’s a stunning, newly refurbished food hub in the centre of Manchester, just one minute’s walk from the Arndale Centre. It’s home to a handful of restaurants, but only a few are worth shouting about, and Pho is one of them.
Fresh Mint Tea (Vegan)
To ease us in (and warm us up) we started with hot drinks, as in typical Manchester style, the weather was rainy and cold. Longing for the luscious, indulgent cups of coffee I would devour in the hidden rooftop coffee shops of Hanoi, I went for the traditional Vietnamese coffee with evaporated milk. And Pamela went for the fresh mint tea. Both stunning, but the coffee really did take me back, and the subtle sweetness of the Evap is just divine!
Healthy, Vietnamese food in Manchester
First off, the menu sets out options that range from starters, Vietnamese salads, Pho (noodle soups), noodle dishes, ‘broken rice’ dishes and sides. Every table is also equipped with its own condiment caddy. They’re there to encourage you to taste and adjust the seasoning of the dish you choose to your own taste. And those who don’t take advantage of them are missing out! I’m not saying you should use them all, but, just a little tweak here and there can really bring the flavours up to a whole new level. And that’s what they’re there for! The garlic vinegar and chilli and garlic pastes are homemade, too!
Crispy Spring Rolls (Vegan)
Fresh Summer Rolls (Vegan)
It’s easy to order at Pho because everything (whilst displayed on the menu in its traditional Vietnamese name) is described in English too. To start, I went for the Cha gio (crispy spring rolls with lettuce and herbs) and my friend and fellow blogger Pamela had the Goi cuon; fresh rice paper summer rolls with herbs, vermicelli and pickle. Each set of rolls comes with a choice of nuoc cham (chilli sauce) or peanut sauce, and let me tell you now; both are incredible, so if you can’t decide then ask for both. The peanut one is so silky and smooth you could just lick it off the plate. And the chilli one is spicy, sweet and tart all at the same time.
The summer rolls are a favourite I order again and again, they’re so fresh, light and a great way to stock up on veggies and crunchy goodness. The crispy rolls are a little more indulgent but still light, and not at all greasy. Two fantastic starters which got us more than ready for the next course.
Vegan or meaty, there’s one pho everyone!
Super Green (Vegan)
My friend isn’t vegan but eats a lot of vegan food, so opted for the ‘Super Green’ pho. It has morning glory (a very popular green vegetable in Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand), green beans, pak choi and fresh lime in a veggie broth with garlic. To make it a little more substantial she added tofu. She loved the dish; the light broth had a depth of flavour from the garlic and a zing from the lime which she confirmed was delicious. A great new edition to the ‘house specials’ pho, but if you like it a little spicier I’d recommend the ‘Spicy Green’ version which is the same, except the broth is spicy.
Brisket Bun Bo Hue
Brisket Bun Bo Hue
Feeling adventurous, I was ready to reminisce about my time in Vietnam, where I feasted on spicy noodle broths, slow-cooked beef, chicken on the bone and all sorts of seafood dishes. I chose the Bun bo Hue (hot and spicy beef brisket served with a chilli and shrimp paste). It comes with an option of flat or round noodles. I chose round as they were the ones I remember eating in Hue (a city in central Vietnam) most. A stunning, delicious bowl of goodness, the brisket was so tender, and the broth was so rich. The side plate of extra seasonings means you can also add flavours and textures to the bowl as you go along. Another element of Vietnamese cuisine that I adore, and one that Pho capture so, so well.
Morning Glory Sugar Snap Peas (Vegan)
On the side, we had extra morning glory (as you can never have too much of a good thing, right?!) and the sugar snap peas; mainly because they come doused in that peanut dipping sauce, too!
Room for a little one?
The best thing about Pho is that it fills you up but doesn’t leave you feeling overfull. Most pho broths are light and not overly rich. Ramens or coconut milk laksas, on the other hand, can be heavy. I’ve had ramens before that have left me wanting to curl up and nap right there in the restaurant. But not Pho! So the great news was, I had room for dessert…
Passion Fruit Cheesecake
I really wanted to try the Vietnamese pancakes, but they weren’t available, so I went for the passion fruit cheesecake. It was divine. Pamela has an exceptionally well-tuned sweet tooth (being a healthy baking blogger) and she gave it the nod of approval too; sweet, tangy, light and delicious. A great way to end yet another fab meal at Pho. Authentic, healthy and delicious!
Pho – Manchester Corn Exchange
Unit 15, Corn Exchange, 37 Hanging Ditch, Manchester, M4 3TR
While everyone knows central London is the hub for funky restaurants and new spots, it is also a pleasure when you find a local gem on your doorstep in the suburbs. Especially when they serve chicken on chicken with a side of chicken!
Chicken Society, based in Finchley is a cool, trendy spot with a menu based around everyone’s favourite bird. From boneless buttermilk fried chicken to spit-roasted rotisserie-style whole chicken this restaurant has created a menu that would get any poultry lover eager to tuck in.
Chicken Society Open Kitchen
After being greeted by our lovely waitress we were sat down at our table in front of the kitchen. I personally love open kitchens as I love watching the chefs in action. This table was especially fun because I had a perfect view of the chickens turning and twisting around the spit roast. For starters, we never hold back which makes it easier when I cant chose between them.
Buttermilk Boneless Chicken with Korean Sauce and Yogurt Dip – £5
Bread Sticks with Avocado Dip £3 and Olives £2
We went for the boneless buttermilk chicken, one portion with Korean-style BBQ sauce and the other with a sweet and smoky BBQ sauce. I personally thought the Korean-style ones were incredible as they were accompanied by a yoghurt dip which was the perfect combination of hot and cool. I definitely would have ordered more but I knew how much chicken was to follow so made sure I held back. We also went for the twisted seeded breadsticks with a smashed avocado and chilli dip. Avocado is my all-time favourite food so no matter what it is, if it’s on the menu it’s always being ordered. The sticks were light and fluffy and were a great start to the meal, especially with the green goodness of the avo dip. To finish off the starters we also made sure we ordered a side of delicious, meaty Nocellara olives.
Whole Spit Roast Chicken – £17
For mains, we had the choice between 3 different types of chicken or a burger – there was also a vegan burger for the non meat lovers! After much deliberation we decided on a whole spit-roasted chicken with a side of sweet and smoky sauce and Korean sauce (like the buttermilk chicken from our starters). The chicken was incredibly well cooked and described as smoky and piquant, marinated with paprika, lemon, oregano and garlic. It was tasty and tender and was matched really well with the 2 sauces we had with it. It is also served with a grilled lemon which was an excellent touch to the dish especially because I always add lemon to everything. Although ordered whole, the chicken was served already cut up into portions which made life much easier – I don’t think I would particularly enjoy sitting at my table trying to wrestle my way through cutting up a whole chicken. Between 2 it was very hard to get through even though my guest and I are very big eaters, it was a big challenge. This may have had something to do with the amount of sides we had ordered though…
Broccoli with Miso and Sesame – £3.75
Forget starters, forget desserts – SIDES is the most important part of the meal for me no matter where I dine. Chicken Society’s lists of sides is absolutely amazing and it was a really tough decision picking which ones we were going to order. We first chose chips because surely it’s criminal to have chicken without chips right? These were not just any old chips though. The Chicken Society have got it spot on and have given their diners the option of chips topped with Parmesan, sage and truffle oil. I don’t think it can get much better than that when it comes to fries. They tasted as amazing as they sounded and had the perfect balance of truffle to cheese. To add a little bit of green to the main we went for the broccoli with miso and sesame. This side dish was so delicious that I have since recreated this at home. The sweetness of the miso mixed with the crunchy sesame is the best way to jazz up an every day boring vegetable.
Smoked Cheddar Mac and Cheese – £3.75
Finally, we of course could not bypass the mac and cheese staring at us from the menu and everyone else’s table around us. This mac and cheese was served with smoked Cheddar and was as cheesy as they come. Crispy on the top, gooey underneath, it met all expectation of how a good mac and cheese dish should be.
Chicken Society Main Course
After all these dishes we were absolutely full to the brim and chickened out of ordering dessert, but overall I was very satisfied with everything we had ordered and devoured throughout the meal. Chicken Society is a great little spot ruling the roost of restaurants on Finchley Central High Street for sure. If you love chicken, appreciate value for money and don’t fancy dragging yourself in to central London then make the trip to Chicken Society, you will not regret it! Winner winner, chicken dinner.
If you like your Italian culture authentic and your dinners subdued Bunga Bunga in Battersea is probably not for you. Indeed, Bunga Bunga’s logo proudly proclaims that it’s ‘an English man’s Italian’ and on entering the dining room you’ll find all manner of kitsch Italian memorabilia hanging from the walls and ceiling while loud, up-beat Italian pop songs provide the soundtrack. Considering this is a restaurant paying homage to a gaffe-prone ex-Italian Prime Minister with a penchant for wild parties, it seems fitting that the restaurant should be flamboyantly tongue-in-cheek.
Dressed in novelty aprons (depicting Michaelangelo’s David wearing speedos and a medallion), the front of house staff were as lively as the room as they gave guests warm welcomes and energetic menu recommendations. The dining room had a good mix of people: there was a large party celebrating a 25th birthday, a middle-aged couple having a fun night out, and a hen dinner or 2. There was even a fabulously dressed (he wore golden shoes!), slight-of-hand magician who visited each table with his crystal ball, leaving a trail of gasps and appreciative howls.
Old Fashioned £10.50 & The Bunga Bunga £13
For our aperitivos we went for a classic Old Fashioned and a more unusual choice: a ceramic cartoon Berlusconi head filled with the eponymous Bunga Bunga cocktail. Both were well made by the energetic bar staff who, midway through making our drinks, jumped on the bar to perform the ‘Bunga Bunga dance’ (I told you this place was lively).
Bruschetta trio – £6
To start we had 3 bruschettas and each of them was griddled, which gave them a smoky flavour and added crunch. The first had the classic combination of creamy goats’ cheese and sweet caramelised red onion, with an extra element of toasted pine nuts. The next had thin slices of salty bresaola (air-dried beef) complemented by some peppery rocket and a tarte balsamic glaze. The third bruschetta was topped with warm scamorza (which is sort of like a firmer mozzarella) and tangy confit tomato.
Burrata – £8
If burrata is ever on a menu it’s a hard one to pass on and this one didn’t disappoint. A decently sized portion, this cool, creamy cheese went incredibly well with the punchy salad of marinated, semi-dried tomatoes, olive oil and rocket. It was also served with slices of crostini that were perfect for perforating the outer cheesy layer to get to the creamy ooze inside.
Pizza for 2 – £21
While we ordered different pizzas, at Bunga Bunga they combine the orders to make a giant sharing pizza for up to 4 pizza orders in one go. So, our half ‘Micaela Margherita’ and half ‘Ruby Loves’ pizza came bubbling to the table and was placed on top of empty passata tins, so we could more easily tear and share. The sourdough base was thin and crispy, but sturdy enough to handle the generous toppings.
We tried the margherita first because it’s so simple but can be so easy to get wrong. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the mozzarella and swiftly devoured it. The ‘Ruby Loves’ side was topped with spicy and addictive ‘nduja sausage, slices of salty Calabrese salami and sweet cherry tomatoes. Needless to say only crumbs were left after a matter of minutes.
Tiramisu – £5
By the time our tiramisu arrived the singer was on stage, belting out crowd-pleasing power ballads and we were draining another two sazeracs. This cooling coffee-flavoured dessert is exactly what we needed.
Monta Bianco – £5
We also enjoyed the monte bianco; a bowl of slightly stewed berries (cherries, blackcurrants and redcurrants) sprinkled with chopped mint and served with a large ramekin of melted white chocolate sauce. Simple and delicious, we used our fingers to scrape the last of the chocolate from the terracotta dish.
If you’re looking for a tasteful evening filled with elegant, authentic Italian cuisine, I’d recommend that you follow the Thames to Hammersmith and enjoy the chic polish of The River Café. Loud and brash, Bunga Bunga is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s like no place I’ve ever been; with its staff dancing on tables, huge gondola-shaped trays of cocktails and sparklers, table-side magic and effervescent atmosphere, it exudes fun.
The streets of Piccadilly were free of cars this evening as Londoners stopped to admire the installations and light shows of the Lumiere London festival. It was a fitting scene from which to enter Barbecoa Piccadilly, Jamie Oliver’s steakhouse restaurant brand. He describes the restaurant, which also has a location in St Paul’s, as a place that “brings beautiful slow-cooked, dry-aged meat, amazing cocktails, great wine and probably the most outrageous desserts in London, to life”. So, I, alongside my meat-loving dining partner, was excited to see what was on offer.
As soon as we arrived, the care and attention put into making Barbecoa look as high-end as possible was clear. It was like walking into 1940s New York, with art deco chandeliers and leather banquettes. It’s refreshing in a time when stripped back, industrial chic is in vogue. At the same time, it was welcoming; there’s no dress code so you can relax and enjoy the smoky delights on offer.
And the restaurant is passionate about its history. We were sat on table 49, which has a “reserved” notice permanently stuck to the oak table. It was used to save the table for an old Baron who visited the site when it was a French restaurant at the turn of the 20th century, a fact that came to light when the reserved notice, along with other documents were uncovered when workmen were renovating the building ahead of Barbecoa’s opening last year.
Our waiter, Alex, was fantastic; he knew the food (and drinks!) menu back-to-front. We began with “nibbles” – beef croquettes with a smoked chilli mayo and cornbread with nduja and smoked crème fraiche – don’t overlook the latter. It’s also important to point out that the kitchen has a tandoor oven especially for the naan bread with toasted spices and whipped butter. We didn’t have them, but they’re a must-have next time we visit.
The starters offer a healthy split of meat, fish and vegetarian options. We had sticky ribs with a smoky barbecue glaze, apple & kohlrabi slaw. The balance was just right as the sharpness of the slaw cut through the soft, rich meat. The sea bass ceviche with pickled melon, fermented red chilli and ruby grapefruit was a highlight – the citrus was a welcome accompaniment and the fennel was a refreshing addition. It was the perfect precursor for a meat-filled main course.
I chose the rib eye steak for my main – maybe I was subconsciously trying to keep it as simple and as elegant as the surroundings. It was perfectly cooked on a robata grill and accompanied by a rich bourbon and peppercorn sauce. My partner opted for the 16-hour smoked short rib. Coated in a thick and sticky cider glaze, it dropped off the bone – perfect to scoop up with the creamy Irish mash, while the gooseberry ketchup added a much welcome acidity. And if you’re looking for a side, I recommend the broccoli. Soaked in miso and topped with almonds, it’s another fantastic take on an already delicious and versatile veg.
There are plenty of ways to finish your meal at Barbecoa. If you’re not in the mood for anything sweet, then why not peruse the seemingly infinite number of whiskeys on offer? The Barbecoa Blazer – apple and cinnamon buffalo trace bourbon set ablaze, rolled with orange peel, maple syrup, bitters and served warm in a glass laced with Laphroaig – is a show-stopper and is made in front of you.
The highlight of the dessert menu is the “Snickersphere”, a salted caramel and peanut-flavoured ice cream delight covered in chocolate – but there’s a varied menu to choose from, particularly for chocolate lovers.
Tonight the eerily quiet streets of London harked back to a golden age, of art, of style and of dining. All three are alive and well in Barbecoa.
Follow the river along the Southbank eastbound, and you’ll find a welcoming restaurant nestled next to The Globe. The floorplan follows the distinct linear curve of the Thames, but the menu has a distinctly Mediterranean vibe: here lies The Real Greek – Bankside.
Full disclosure shrewd reader, I’ve visited Greece a mere once in my time which means I am far from any authority on Greek food, never mind the authenticity of it. Authority I may be not, food lover I for sure am. Besides, I’m prepared to take them at face value quite literally, so what I ate over the course of the evening was real Greek grub.
My friend and I selected a range of small plates and they were brought out in succession, cold dishes first, hot dishes after. Given the weather in Blighty was Baltic, we crafted our meze mainly with hot dishes. But not before trying the melitzanosalata, a smoky aubergine appetiser that makes a great alternative dip to hummus. Accompanying it was Greek flatbread, olive oil and dukkah – ground nuts and seeds.
The next stage of the feast came at once, a stand laden high with the individual dishes. To be honest, I am amazed more restaurants don’t use this highly effective space-saver. But functionality aside, the food itself was equally satisfying.
It is not so easy to keep chicken breast tender, but The Real Greek slow roast their monastiraki, which took tenderness to a new level. It was on a bed of tzatziki and seasoned with Greek herbs. This gentle pairing made a wonderfully delicious dish.
The joy of selecting several small plates is not only that it appeases the try-everything and indecisive types like yours truly, moreover one can pick and choose what to complement other flavours with. The subtle-tasting chicken monastiraki worked well with the densely flavoured louikaniko, a beef & pork sausage. This Greek banger came alongside a smoked chilli relish, which enlivened the taste buds, in time to sample the cousins of the sea; calamari & octopus.
Whilst the octopus had been flavoured with olive oil, garlic & oregano, the calamari had a sweeter hit of paprika and honey marinade making the 2 happy bedfellows in flavour. How often these wobbly creatures of the sea become tough on our plates, but alas not here at The Real Greek.
For dessert we ventured in to the dairy delights that the Greeks do oh so well. The thick creaminess of the Greek yoghurt was mirrored in the caramel & pecan cheesecake.
The former was served with a classic combination of figs and syrup which made a delicious union of flavours that amounted to more than the sum of its parts.
The cheesecake simply held its own as the sumptuous end to a meal, the Aegean pecans rested alluringly on the caramel topping as well as running through the base.
When it comes to a prime location with flavour-packed dishes, The Real Greek hits the spot. When it comes to pronouncing those dishes, I must admit, it’s all Greek to me.
Italian food has always been a popular choice when it comes to dining out. Here’s a country with over 300 forms of pasta after all. And then there’s all the other stuff Italians do with dough from pizza to panettone, focaccia to cornetto via panini. In Venice they’ll take stale bread and turn it into a polenta-like peara bread sauce, while in Tuscany they’ll add it to soups such as pappa al pomodoro or salads such as panzanella. And don’t forget their dreamy ways with rice, from risotto to arancini. Yes, I could go on.
For a majority of people around the world, Italy is synonymous with pasta, pizza and wine. But having been to Italy in the summer of 2017, I can tell you there is a lot more that Italian cuisine offers. That’s why I was excited to try out Forty Dean Streetin buzzing Soho with my friend on a chilly December evening to showcase that Italians know more then just the classics.
Interior of the restaurant
Forty Dean Street, which is a small family run business, has had a glamorous make over in the past couple of months with velvet banquettes, low lightning and a new bar bringing a touch of Italian sophistication to Soho. A classic chic yet modern setting, my friend and I knew that we would be in for a treat this evening. Around us sat happy customers laughing and singing to the music.
Homemade bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar
To get us started for the evening whilst we wait for our starters to arrive, homemade crusty bread was brought to our table with a side of nutty olive oil and vinegar. A staple in tItalian culture whilst we wait for our starters!
Cocktails – yes please!
To get the evening started, we were excited to try out some of the cocktails on offer. My friend went for an Amaretto cherry sour cocktail which contained Amaretto, lemon, Angostura and cherry liqueur, and was topped off with egg white – so good. So good in fact that I had around 4 of these throughout the night! The cocktail was sweet and creamy and if you love cherry, this is the drink for you!
I am a lover of gin so went for one of their famous house cocktails – the gin basil bomb which contained gin, lemon and basil was topped off with egg white – the new trend taking the cocktail scene by storm. The egg white brought a creamy rich feeling to the drink and the basil and gin combination created a refreshing stance on this classic cocktail.
Plump fresh Italian olives
As we sipped our cocktails and dipped our crusty bread in olive oil, we were given some plump green olives.
Starter #1: Italian Antipasto
Then our mains came. My friend went for the Italian antipasto starter. It was a selection of cured meats, pickles, buffalo mozzarella and chargrilled artichokes that came on a trendy cutting board. My friend was delighted by the meat selection that contained the classic salami, prosciutto, capocollo and Bresaola. It had chunks of creamy and rich buffalo mozzarella cheese and came with a side of pickled artichokes, carrots and celery – a starter for all lovers of cured meats.
Starter #2: Italian Bresaola
For my starter, I went for my all-time favourite, the bresaola. This is an air-dried thin slice of beef that has been left to cure for 3 months. The taste is divine – salty yet sweet. It came accompanied with wild rocket, shaved Parmesan and lashings of truffle oil. I could not fault this dish. It was the perfect starter that satisfied yet left room for your mains.
Second round of cocktails!
For the second round of drinks, we went for the classic Cosmopolitan which contained Citron vodka, lime, Cointreau and cranberry. It was an elegant cocktail that had a fruity punch.
Mains: Lamb chops
Next up was our mains. I wanted to go for a non-classic dish to showcase that Italians know a thing or 2 about lamb chops! I went for roasted rosemary and honey-coated lamb chops that came accompanied with mustard crushed potatoes and green pesto. The lamb chops were cooked to perfection – tender and melted in the mouth. The honey coating gave the lamb a nice sweet after-taste and worked well with the mustard crushed potatoes. The crispy parsnips brought the dish a whole new texture and balance.
Mains: Spaghetti Aglio E Olio
My friend went for the spaghetti aglio e olio with mixed fresh seafood, tomatoes and a brandy sauce. This dish was not only beautiful to look at, it also tasted amazing. It contained king prawns still in its shell to keep all that juicy flavour, creamy calamari and perfectly cooked mussels in a garlic, fresh chilli and extra virgin olive oil sauce.
Pre-dessert: The classic cheeseboard
As a pre-dessert treat, we went for the classic Italian cheeseboard. The board contained various types of crackers with chucks of Parmesan, Percorina, Taleggio and Gorgonzola. It came accompanied with a pot of honey to drizzle over the cheese and crackers – perfection. The grapes added a nice depth of sweetness and crunch to the cheeseboard.
Dessert: homemade tiramisu
And finally, several cocktails later (that Amaretto and cherry cocktail one!), we were persuaded by the lovely waitress to try out their homemade tiramisu. On the menu this dessert is described as a ‘Pick me up!’ and boy did it pick us up. Creamy, rich and loaded with coffee and Amaretto liquor, my friend and I were fighting for the last piece.
I urge you to try out 40 Dean Street and be prepared for some tasty dishes and amazing cocktails. Let this little Italian restaurant be your hidden gem.
Middle-eastern food will always have a place in my heart. When I have cravings for my mum’s home-cooked Arabic dishes, I often have to trek all the way from east to west London to have my mezze fix.
But I recently found out about Tabun Kitchen, opened for just a little over a year now, located in the hustle and bustle of Soho on Berwick Street. Perfect!
Interior of Tabun Kitchen
Founded by Hanan Kattan, Tabun Kitchen offers authentic, fresh and affordable Jerusalem-inspired food with a modern, healthy twist. This gem is named after a traditional Palestinian oven which is made outdoors and has been used in Palestinian cuisine for centuries. Hanan wanted to bring a touch of Palestinian hospitality to London by creating dishes that allow you to share with your friends and family.
Quote inside Tabun Kitchen
Walking around the small cosy restaurant, beautiful quotes from Hanan can be seen on the walls. With amazing smells coming from the Tabun ovens near the bar, my husband and I knew that we were in for a treat. We decided to go in for the The Pasha’s Table – which is inspired by feast-like meals enjoyed at Hanan’s home in Bethlehem. The Pasha’s Table is named after Hanan’s grandfather’s generosity and love of life. He was know as ‘The Pasha’ after the title was conferred on him by King Abduallah 1 of Jordan.
To start us off, I went for a light and refreshing Cucumber Collins which was made with gin, fresh cucumber, elderflower cordial and lemon juice. A perfect cocktail for the start of the feast that we were about to enjoy.
Starter: Manaeesh – a traditional Palestinian ‘pizza’
First up on the menu was an Akkawi cheese and Za’atar manaeesh. Manaeesh is a thin and rather fabulous Palestinian ‘pizza.’ With a crispy base, soft Akkaiwi cheese (very similar to mozzarella) and topped with the amazing middle-eastern spice za’tar, this was utterly delicious and you can even see it being cooked right in front of you. The cheese was tangy and the za’tar brought a whole new level of taste to the pizza.
Starter: Jerusalem falafel
Next up was the crispy and authentic Jerusalem falafel. This excellently spiced and seasoned snack was hot and crispy on the outside and was soft and creamy in the middle. This chickpea concoction with fresh herbs is an Arabic classic and no 2 fafalel from any restaurant are the same. A spicy tomato sauce came with it – making it a match made in heaven.
Starter: Nablus grilled halloumi
One of my favourite cheese of all time is the halloumi. Whether it is fried or baked, this squeaky cheese will always be at my table in any Middle eastern restaurant. Our Nablus grilled halloumi was perfectly pan fried leaving crispy ends and the middle was perfectly firm but yet with a creamy texture. It was great for scooping the hummus with!
Starter: Baba Ganoush
Like the ubiquitous hummus, Baba Ganoush is a dish of indeterminate origins: Levantine is probably as specific as you can fairly get, because it pops up, under a variety of names, from Turkey to Egypt as a dip, a salad, or a vegetable side. I’m a massive aubergine fan and when I can get my hands on baba ganoush I’m all over it. This smoky dish was beautiful – it was creamy and had delicate smoked aubergine chunks in the snack. It was topped up with sweet pomegranate which brought the dish a whole new texture.
You can’t come to an Arabic restaurant and not order hummus. The hummus at Tabun Kitchen is out of this world. Creamy, rich and with a garlicky taste, this was delicious. Topped off with a dash of olive oil, smoked paprika lifted the whole starter.
Fresh piping hot pita bread
The pitta bread is just how I remembered it when I’ve previously had it in the middle east. Thin, light and with a creamy texture. It was perfect for scooping the remaining starters with.
Traditional Palestinian dishes
Next up were some proper traditional Palestinian dishes that I was super excited to devour. In the set menu, the mains contained the Musaskhan chicken, a lamb Makloubeh and Fatet Jaj chicken. The portions were perfect after the copious amounts of starters.
Mains #1: Lamb Makloubeh
First up was my favourite dish of all time (I could eat buckets of this stuff), the lamb Makloubeh. The dish contained lamb slow cooked for over 8 hours so the meat was succulent and packed full of flavour, served with savoury rice and thyme-grilled vegetables. The rice has been cooked in chicken stock and Arabic herbs and spices and was extremely moreish. The pomegranate might look like an odd addition to our dishes but they bring colour and texture to any dish.
Mains #2: Musakhan Chicken
The second dish was the Musakhan chicken. This was tender chicken roasted in sumac with caramelised onions and pine nuts on a flatbread. The chicken was rich in flavour and the caramelised onions juicy.
Main #3: Fatet Jaj Chicken
Finally was the Fatet Jaj chicken. This dish contained shredded chicken cooked in stock and spices with a lemony hummus sauce (used to dip the hummus in) on a bed of rice cooked in chicken stock and saffron topped with pine nuts and chopped chilli. The rice was again perfectly cooked and grainy and the hummus sauce brought a nice zing to the tender chicken and crunchy pine nuts.
Dessert #1: Muhulabieh
We were so full after the starters and mains but we of course couldn’t resist the best desserts around. First up was the Muhalabieh – a rose-scented milk pudding topped with crushed pistachios and honey. It was creamy and the rose flavour was subtle and not over powering – perfect. The pistachio brought another texture to the dessert.
Dessert #2: Knafeh
I left the best to last. The knafeh. I honestly don’t know where to start with this one. I remember trying to make it back home and it always ended in a disaster so I was so delighted when I had my first mouthful of this Palestinian dessert. It was crispy on the outside, soft and gooey in the inside – absolute perfection. The knafeh was a shredded pastry filled with salty Akkawi cheese and can be topped with any syrup you like – in this instance Tabun Kitchen used a sweet and subtle orange blossom syrup that really worked with the cheese and the pistachios. This was absolutely delicious and goes very nicely with some black tea.
Piles of mezze dishes, beautiful breads and an insistence on packing fresh vegetables, herbs and spices into everything, means that there is something for everyone when it comes to Palestinian food. These dishes not only offer a mix of cultural and foodie influences but it also brings together various cuisines from neighboring countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Jordan – creating one of the most interesting cuisines around. If this sounds like your bag, give it a try!