Street food – it’s all the rage. Which is an invitation for all kinds of foreign dishes to hit London as, let’s face it, Britain doesn’t have a street food culture. One might invoke our national obsession with the weather as an explanation for this. One might also invoke the weather as the reason to why a lot of this foreign “street food” is being sold in cafés rather than on the streets.
Yalla Yalla (1 Green’s Court, Soho) is a tiny little café that serves up Beirut “street” food where squeezing around the wooden tables is an achievement in itself. One wall is lined with cushion-filled bench and small stools provide seating for the people opposite. Be prepared to be cosy.
They serve a whole range of tasty Lebanese dishes, including casseroles, grills and meat skewers, along with mezze and wraps. We sampled the following:
Halloum Meshoue – grilled halloumi cheese with tomatoes, black olives, fresh mint and olive oil. The mint provided a refreshing contrast to the saltiness of the halloumi. And it’s hard to go wrong with halloumi. Mmm.
Makale Samak – deep fried calamari, white bait and tiger prawns with spring onions, crispy aubergine and chilli minted greek yoghurt. The batter was fairly light, crisp and well-seasoned. Overall, it was pleasant but not outstanding.
AND NOW….the WRAPS! (Can you tell that I enjoyed them?)
I took the Lamb Shawarma (£4.50) – slices of marinated lamb, sumac onion, pickled turnips, tomato and tahini sauce. It was so succulent and flavourful. And at a bargain £4.50, I thought life couldn’t get any better.
Then I attacked my sister’s Chicken Shawarma (£4.50) and realised that… yes, life could get better. The wrap was full of a fantastic garlic sauce that basically meant I had to eat half her wrap. I’ve been wistfully thinking about this chicken shawarma ever since. Highly recommended.
Yalla Yalla 4/5 – Cute and cosy café with reasonably-priced and very tasty food. It’s a winner.
Damson & Co represent a bit of a medley. Self-described on Twitter as a ‘British Deli & Coffee Shop’, their prized offerings consist of ‘London Roast Coffee & Cornish Tea, English Wine, British Charcuterie & Cheese. Ceviche and Billingsgate Oysters.’
Now, if that’s not chic and trendy, then I don’t know what is.
My friends and I popped along for their soft opening offer to see what delicious things we might sample. (How could we resist 50% off food and a free drink?)
Damson & Co do a variety of freshly pressed fruit juices (£4.00), which they can mix to your tastes in a rather cute bottle. I took an Apple & Pear combo, which was delightfully refreshing.
As it was lunchtime, there was a limited day time menu of soups, eggs, sandwiches or salads.
I chose the Poached Eggs with Dukeshill Shropshire Black Ham (£9.00) on an English muffin. This came with a hollandaise-style sauce, which was light, tasty and not too rich. The ham was fantastic – it had such a deep flavour. However, they overcooked one egg, which was a little disappointing. I insist on perfectly cooked eggs and, at these kinds of prices, I think everyone should.
Damson & Co also had a really tantalising array of sandwiches set out on the counter top. I took away a beef and pickles sandwich (£7.00), which sadly wasn’t as good as it looked – a little dry and way too vinegary.
Sandwich aside, the juice and eggs were enjoyable. But £12 for an extremely light lunch?! Guess this is what being trendy in London costs. There definitely wasn’t enough wow-factor for me, so I’ll have to settle for less chic establishments.
BRGR.CO is the London off-shoot of the Beirut-based restaurant. Judging by the amount of new burger places opening in London, the burger food trend has plenty of mileage in it yet and the wider world is not oblivious to this (US-chain Shake Shack opens in Covent Garden on July 5th). BRGR.CO themselves are expanding further into London, with a branch planned to open in Chelsea.
My trip to BRGR.CO came about due to fortunate circumstances otherwise known as Twitter competitions. I’m a Twitter novice but keeping an eye on the food tweet scene can be very beneficial. In this case, I won a late-night meal at BRGR.CO, Soho, which made me very happy indeed.
The deal is a bargain in itself: a 6oz burger, fries and a beer for £10 between 10pm and 1am.
Not being a beer drinker, I took a trusty friend who happily consumed it on my behalf, whilst I tucked into an Oreo Milkshake (£4.50), which was thick and creamy, but couldn’t quite get me over the Haché milkshake (although I suspect my current peanut fetish is biasing my opinion here).
Now for the burger itself. The patty is of the thinner variety and was, in short, really quite good. I was surprised by the pure beefyness of the flavour and it was also more succulent that many burgers I’ve sampled lately. The bun was a good consistency and the salad was served on the side, which allows any fusspots to sort out what they want to add.
The only disappointment were the fries, which were just like crispy air. Such a shame. But the burger kept me happy. And my dining partner said it was the best burger he’d eaten in a long time!
For those who don’t want burgers, there are also hot dogs on the menu, and for the veggies, two rather delicious sounding options that sound as if more thought has gone into them than the usual veggie options:
The Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich (£4.95) – Slices of grilled aubergine, courgette and mushroom, topped with fresh iceberg lettuce, rocket leaves, tomato and radish with melted Gruyère cheese.
The Falafel BRGR (£4.95) – Fava bean and spices with homemade herb tahini sauce, tomato, parsley and radish.
Interestingly, they also offer an ‘Afternoon Tea’ menu for £17, which includes mini-burgers, mini-cakes, milkshakes, and, of course, tea!
I’ve got my eye on their 8oz steak burger so I have a feeling BRGR.CO Soho and I will meet again. But hopefully not this scary giraffe-cow head on the wall.
BRGR.CO Soho 3.5/5
Food 3/5 – Burger is great but let down by fries. Value 4/5 – Late night deal is a bargain, otherwise prices are to be expected in central London. Service – 3/5 – Prompt. Atmosphere 2.5/5 – A little cramped and loud for my liking. It’s not a place where you can relax.
In contrast to my meal at The Diner, I’ll keep this review short and sweet.
The Diner is trying its hardest to live up to its namesake by being as American diner-style as it possibly can. This includes the booth seating and food served in baskets.
Now I’ve never actually been to an American diner, but I was, however, under the impression that American service involves overbearing niceness and smiles, even if it’s accompanied with a healthy dash of fakeness.
Our waitress for the evening wasn’t familiar with smiles. She wasn’t familiar with bringing items on time. And to be honest, I’m not sure she was familiar with her job. She lacked any ability to engage in a personable manner and stared at us with an expression of “Do you know how much you’re inconveniencing me by placing an order?!”
Combine this mildly hostile zombie with a large group of us sat at two cramped tables that could barely accommodate us and some poor acoustics, and the evening was not looking promising.
The food was the ray of hope. Food can make everything all right.
Not at The Diner. It isn’t terrible. It is just so distinctly average that I wouldn’t pay for it again.
I took the Arch Burger (£8.00), which involves a 6oz hamburger topped with St Louis pulled pork, Monterey Jack, coleslaw and dill pickle. Its appearance is rather aesthetically pleasing. However, it left no lasting impression at all. The burger was a little dry – disappointingly not pink in the middle – and the pulled pork contributed nothing to the overall flavour.
The fat fries (£2.90) and sweet potato fries (£3.30) were perfectly fine, and I also sampled Diner Fries (Cajun Spiced Fat Fries, £3.10), which were a little addictive in their salty spiciness.
Inspired by the divine milkshake offering from Haché, I ordered a chocolate and pistachio milkshake (£4.70) which was insipid and sickly.
To top this all off, we received a bill with an incredibly patronising “Thank you :-)” written on it. This seems to be the latest trend in some restaurants. A little personal message written on the bill. And if the service charge isn’t included, this fact is circled should we fail to notice it.
As someone who always pays service, this really, really annoys me.
In the case of The Diner, I was left speechless. How was our waitress able to draw a smile yet fail to produce an actual smile on her face?!
We debated whether to actually pay the service charge, and on reflection, we really shouldn’t have done. As was revealed in these discussions, she’d even forgotten to bring one of our co-diners’ hotdog and they’d had to chase it up.
What can save an evening is the company. It was my friend’s leaving party and she had plans. Now that she had fuelled herself on comfort food, it was gaming time. So we all piled off to the arcade in the Trocadero and shot some zombies. Much more satisfying indeed.
The Diner, Soho 1/5 – Terrible service and mediocre to below average food. Not much comfort from comfort food.
Website: http://www.goodlifediner.com/ Where: Camden, Shoreditch, Soho, Kensall Rise, Gloucester Road, Islington, Covent Garden When: Seven days a week. Exact times vary depending on the branch.
Burgers. Burgers. Burgers. These are one of the recent food trends to explode onto the London scene. I’m very happy they’ve done so because there is nothing like a decent quality burger.
I’ve already investigated Honest Burgers in Soho, sample Patty & Bun and Eliot’s Burger at Feast, devoured pop-up Two Nights Only‘s Forty Burger, and pitted GBK against Byron Burgers in Spitalfields. (Upcoming reviews: The Diner, Byron Burgers (Westfield), Meat Market and the Electric Diner.)
I decided it was time to investigate Haché Burgers, who are experimenting with a different aesthetic. Whereas most burger places are emulating American diners or promoting themselves as good quality modern chains, Haché Burgers takes a more delicate approach.
An approach that says softly, softly with sophistication. Think of chandeliers and fairy lights, light and airy decoration and plants. That was the inside of Haché Burgers Clapham. The result is a modern brasserie / stylised tea-rooms hybrid that makes for a pleasant atmosphere.
The trouble was that I was mildly perturbed by the blatant feminisation of the design. Haché are trying to call out to women and say “It’s OK to eat burgers – you needn’t enter a greasy dive!” And whilst I’m not a big fan of greasy dives, there is no need for overt girlyness as a marketing model. I am however, a bit of a hypocrite because the fairy lights …were…. so ….preeeeetty.
All burgers at Haché are served in a choice of brioche or ciabatta with some crisp salad on the side that you can add to your burger as desired. For our lunchtime feasting, my dining partner and I tackled a Steak Mexican (£9.25) with Cajun Spices, Jalapeños, Salsa, Guacamole and Sour Cream in Brioche.
The bun had a surprisingly firm consistency, which was definitely needed for containing all those sauces. The burger was cooked medium-rare and was very tasty, although I found a little dry for my liking. As for the Mexican theme, the chef hadn’t been shy with the spices but I wasn’t sure that the overall combination was the best accompaniment to a burger.
We also tried Steak Bavarian (£9.95) served with Smoked Bavarian Cheese and Caramelised Onions. This was my favourite of the two because the sweetness of the onions brought the burger alive, although the cheese was a little mild and tended to get a little lost.
On the side, we got some Potato Wedges with Garlic Mayo and Salsa (£3.50), which were really comforting, and some Sweet Potato Frites (£2.95) which could have been a bit more flavourful and required some salt!
We also tried an Oreo and Peanut Butter (£3.95) which was dangerously good. I’ve been having cravings for it ever since!
Haché Burgers 3/5 – For some unusual burger combinations with tastefully served sides and great milkshakes, this is your place.
Food 3/5 – Burgers could be a little more succulent but toppings are great. Value 3/5 – Clapham currently run a 2 for 1 offer that’s worth checking out 😉 Service 5/5 – Great. Our waiter was happy to recommend items. Atmosphere 4/5 – Chilled and friendly.
I’ve not done Michelin dining before but it was London Restaurant Week so I thought I’d splash out on a three-course for £35 deal at L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon. As it turns out, they run the same deal anyway as a pre-theatre menu. But never mind. I was off to eat at an award-winning two Michelin star restaurant in Covent Garden. The website boasts that Joël Robuchon’s restaurants have gathered a total of 25 Michelin stars, more than any other chef.
This was serious business; this was the pinnacle of gastronomy.
This was also a trip to the circus.
Why the circus, you ask? Because L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon takes pretension to the level of blatant performance, leaving the entire experience hollow at best and discomfiting at worse.
Let me explain. The inside is dark. Very dark. Green leaves line one wall. There are a few tables and a sleek counter with high, red stools, focused around a central bar and kitchen. This is the stage for the evening’s entertainment – the waiters.
Highly aware of the pretensions and expectations of their wealthy customers, the waiters camp things up to the extreme. Their accents thicken, they glance knowingly at each other before executing some flamboyant gesture, and they call out “OOH LA LA” at every opportunity. Getting louder and louder in some form of competition.
I wanted to shout “BOOBIES” very loudly because I’m pretty sure that was closer to the original version of the game. You know, the game where you start saying something random/rude and get louder and louder to see which one of you will dare to shout it the loudest. Somehow though, I think “BOOBIES” would have been frowned upon in L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon, but maybe if I adopted French swear words it would have been acceptable. In fact, I think I might return just to see how loudly I can shout “Casse-toi, con!” and get away with it.
We perched onto the counter seats and awaited some food. They provided us with a basket of bread. This is a necessity in Michelin-star restaurants: it is to ensure that you don’t faint with hunger from the small portions and can at least make it out the door without collapsing.
We were served an amuse-bouche – a Parmesan cappuccino with foie gras and a port reduction. The Parmesan flavour was strong but expertly balanced by the sweetness of the port and the richness of the foie gras. It definitely amused my bouche, although my dining partner was less amused. However, our evenings clowns were not going to be forgiving.
“Is something wrong with your amuse-bouche, monsieur?” A waiter inquired, a little too loudly and a little too directly.
My friend hastily ate up. “I got told!” he muttered.
For starters, we took “Green asparagus velouté served with goat cheese ravioli”. The velouté (a creamy sauce) was very mild and delicately flavoured and the goat’s cheese provided a stronger contrast of flavour. Definitely tasty, but three pieces of ravioli somewhat limited the enjoyment. Literally.
Then the mains. I wish – I wish – I could remember them well enough to describe them properly…but the fact I can’t probably is a good enough review in itself. I ordered beef in red miso, which was unspectacular. My dining partner took some kind of rolled veal,which was a lot tastier than my beef but a little chewy. I really can’t remember because, to be honest, the unfolding self-mocking cultural parody somewhat detracted from the food. At first, I found the scenario highly amusing, but it grew tiring.
The evening was saved by the fact that L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon was not too posh for straight up chocolate and a big portion of it. It may not have been the richest, most chocolatey dessert I’ve ever consumed, but it seriously elevated my happiness levels.
By the end of the meal, I concluded that maybe Michelin-star dining just isn’t for me. I can cope with that, and so can my wallet.
L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon 2/5 – Yawn. Unmemorable food in a ridiculous environment.
Food 3/5 – It was pleasant but not tantalising to the taste-buds. Value 2/5 – It was good quality. That’s what saves it from getting 1/5. Atmosphere 2/5 – Counter seating and smart-casual dress code means it’s not super-posh, but the weird performance by the staff awkwardly co-opts diners into the role of part-audience, part-participants. Not the most relaxing. Service 2/5 – Stop the ooh-la-las. Please. And don’t try to embarrass your customers. That is not a clever strategy.
Calling all people familiar with Vietnamese food – I need your help. I have ventured into Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Malaysian and Korean food. But I’ve yet to branch into Vietnamese food. This is where you can assist…
Pho is a Vietnamese café-restaurant chain across London, serving up its namesake, a popular street food dish. Pho is a broth rice noodles and may be made with various herbs, vegetables and meat/seafood. Thanks to the wonderful medium of Twitter and Pho’s generous giveaways, I’d managed to secure a £10 giftcard to spend.
This is where my quandary begins… because I really didn’t enjoy my pho! I really, really wanted to. First of all, Pho Spitalfields looks like a trendy, tasty place. The inside has cute, circular wooden tables and a fun luminous sign on the wall. It’s simplistic yet kind of cosy.
I ordered Phở tái lăn (£8.50) – flash fried steak with garlic (Hanoi style). I found the steak chewy and tasteless. Then there was the broth. Pho’s menu boasts about the 12 hours of preparation to create truly authentic flavours. My soup was bitter and not much else. It tasted solely of the copious spring onions that were floating around in it. It was served with bean sprouts, coriander, lime and chilli chunks, but these failed to contribute much, save for the chilli which I avoided to save my mouth from pain!
Now I can accept that they’d done a poor job on the steak…but is pho supposed to be bitter and fairly light in flavour? Do I just dislike pho??
My dining companion took Phở nấm rơm (£7.95) – enoki, shiitake and button mushrooms in veggie stock. I tried the broth and it was less bitter and slightly sweeter, but still underwhelming.
We also tried Chả giò – crispy spring rolls served with lettuce & herbs – with nước chấm (fish sauce) to dip (veggie £4.75). These were crispy but again had very little flavour!
The highlight was the freshly squeezed juice – we tried coconut, pineapple & apple (£3.30) which sounds odd, but was fantastic!
So readers, do I dislike pho or is Pho just not up to scratch? I tend to mistrust chain restaurants so I’m sure it’s not the best representation of authenticity but even so… Opinions please!
Pho (Spitalfields) 2/5 – Maybe I just don’t like pho?!
Food 2/5 – Where was the flavour?
Value 3/5 – Fairly cheap and filling, although undoubtedly not a bargain by Vietnamese standards 😉
Atmosphere 3/5 – A little cramped but always bustling.
Service 3/5 – Prompt.
After my foray into Malaysian cuisine in London at Rasa Sayang, I thought it was time to explore yet another place in Chinatown and so I found myself scurrying to C & R Café Restaurant for a spot of lunch.
This review is a bit of a tricky one to write because one dish I sampled was delicious was beyond belief and the other was… pretty dire.
So the good news first – C & R’s Nasi Lemak (£7) blew anything I’d tried at Rasa Sayang out of the water. For those of you unfamiliar with this dish, it is considered the national dish of Malaysia. C & R’s version is fairly standard – it consists of rice cooked in coconut milk with sambal chilli, anchovies, archar (pickles veg), peanuts, a hard-boiled egg and some chicken. Please don’t wrinkle your nose at this seemingly bizarre combination of foodstuffs – I guarantee that the flavours work. Actually they go beyond that; together they make seemingly ordinary food like rice, peanuts and egg come alive. Of course, the coconut milk and sambal are important – they’re mild but provide a very rich flavour. And that archar – I could have eaten platefuls of it.
This made it exceptionally tragic when our other dish turned out to be a bowl of tasteless slop. We decided to be a bit adventurous and ordered a prawn and squid noodle soup topped with peanut sauce. I can’t seem to spy the dish on the menu so I can’t tell you what it’s called. Just trust me when I say – avoid at all costs.
What you need to focus on is the following:
C & R Café Restaurant – Head here for one of the most delicious £7 lunches in town – their Nasi Lemak.
I’m sure there are other great things on the menu so I’ll continue exploring the options in the name of bringing you the tastiest food in London 😉
There is a lot to be said for marketing and the cunning choice of words. Because anything with the word “über” in it made my ears prick up. It just sounds so much fun. Eating something über has to make you super-duper. Or that might just be me.
The über-food I am referring to is the über-wrap served up by French & Grace, a tiny café in Brixton village, founded by food bloggers Rosie French and Ellie Grace. And no, despite the über in the title, they’re not serving up giant bratwurst in wraps. There’s German food in sight – expect modern Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fair and a whole lot of taste.
I actually first heard of French & Grace when I spied them at Feast, but sadly didn’t have room left in my stomach. However, I soon ventured to Brixton and squeezed onto a cushioned bench at one of the three tables in the café. I confess that I was so preoccupied with the über-wrap that I didn’t pay too much attention to the rest of the menu but you can see a sample here. It’s crammed full of tantalisingly delicious-sounding mezzes.
As for the über-wrap (£6.60), it involves a warm Lebanese flatbread filled with lamb merguez (a fantastic mildly spicy sausage), halloumi, butterbean and rosemary hummus, harissa yoghurt, and carrot and red cabbage slaw. I was worried that too many flavours would be competing with one another and that some would over-power the others. Not a bit of it – the über-wrap is a smooth taste-sensation.
For dessert, I ordered affogato (£4.20), which was a tad disappointing – the ice-cream and coffee were average and the almonds contributed no flavour at all. By contrast, my friend took a ginger sticky toffee pudding, which went down a storm and was very popular, judging by its invasion of other customers’ tables.
French & Grace 4/5 – I’m mainly basing this on the über-wrap, but I was impressed by the thoughtfulness that had gone into the flavours and, of course, its successful execution. Delish!
Website: http://saladclub.wordpress.com/ Where: Unit 19, Brixton Village Market, SW9 8PR When: Mon 12 – 5pm, Tues – Wed 12 – 11pm, Thurs 12 – 11.30pm, Fri – Sat 11am – 11.30pm, Sun 12pm – 10pm.
If Brixton is a little too far south for you, French & Grace are currently fundraising to open a hatch in Camden – and they’re offering rewards for those who give, including free über-wraps. Details here.
Basically this post is just an excuse for some chocolate porn. I stumbled across Butlers Chocolates in Westfield Shepherd’s Bush whilst waiting for a friend and something about the word “chocolate” drew me in – can’t think why! Their hot chocolate was pleasingly thick and not too milky and it comes with a mini-chocolate on the side. I’ve heard the gelato is amazing so I’ll stop by again next time I’m in Westfield!