Being a British food writer based in Japan, I have had more than a few comments about my native country’s cuisine or lack thereof. Whereas 15 years ago I would have been prepared to nod is typically awkward agreement, but not anymore. Not only do I think London is one of the most exciting gastronomic destinations in the world – indeed, its variety far outstrips Tokyo – but the quality in many other locations is soaring upwards.
As a fairly popular contender on the burger scene, I visited Tommi’s Burger Joint on a friend’s recommendation last summer. Hailing from Iceland, it takes a stripped down, minimalist approach to the burger. Continue reading “Tommi’s Burger Joint, London”
I am in love with Taipei. It’s one of those places where as soon as you step onto the street, the energy hits you. I swear it vibrates with life. If you want to know what to see and do, you should read my travel feature on it for Kansai Scene.
As for eating out, it paid off to know where you were going. A Taiwanese friend of mine and her sister took me to what they termed a traditional Taiwanese restaurant – it was nothing fancy, and seemed more like a cafeteria in appearance, but the dishes were great (stinky tofu and bitter melon aside). Taiwanese food, although similar to Chinese in many ways, incorporates garlic and coriander, which add extra variety and depth, and please me no end. Continue reading “Review: Leong’s Legend, Chinatown”
*EDIT: It’s been kindly pointed out to me that this burger is about the Brazilian Ronaldo, not the Portuguese one (which frankly makes a lot more sense) but…. being the football expert that I am *cough*, when I Googled ‘Ronaldo’ only the Portuguese one emerged. Sorry folks! It’s still a great burger so you should EAT IT BEFORE THE WORLD CUP ENDS!!*
So I might be a little slow in posting this because apparently England are pretty much out of the World Cup and that has probably dampened football fervour. Or maybe not, judging by the cheering at a screen I passed by this evening. Continue reading “Byron’s World Cup Burger – The Ronaldo”
Ladies and gentlemen, listen up! There is something new in town and it’s coming your way on June 6th.
Last month, I was lucky enough to win tickets, cocktails and food at Emporio Eivissa, an Ibiza-themed pop-up bar on the rooftop of East London’s Rockwell House, sponsored rather incongruously by Brugal rum from the Dominican Republic (thanks to London on the Inside – love their website). I guess a Spanish-speaking party island needs some Dominican rum, and who am I to question something awesome like that? Continue reading “Emporio Eivissa – Brugal Rum Rooftop Pop-up”
Sakura season – otherwise known as cherry blossom season – spreads like a fever for a couple of weeks in April. For those who haven’t been to Japan during this period, you will be unprepared for the sheer decadence of the scenery and the sheer reverence with which it’s treated. You should probably see my blog post here.
In honour of this time of year, upmarket and rather swanky restaurant Sake no Hana held their own sakura festival with their very own sakura menu. The interior was decorated with some rather realistic and beautifully lit cherry blossom trees, and with delicate sakura painted along the counter at the bar.
Please study the menu above. Study it well. Feast your eyes upon it and notice words such as ‘spicy’ and ‘beef, and – for the really observant – “thinly sliced gochuchang smoked pork.”
Then, also notice the word ‘Korea’ and understand: HOW COULD I NOT ATTEND THIS EVENT?!!!
Not only does the menu involve ridiculous quantities of meat, and lashings of spice, but it involves Korean cuisine – three courses of it for only £20. And I’m a sucker for Korean cuisine – I actually don’t remember much from my one-week trip to Korea except stuffing as much food as I could into my mouth from bulgogi (grilled marinated beef) to dakgalbi (spicy stir fried chicken with noodles, sweet potatoes and loadsa good stuff).
Actually, I lie. I also remember hiking up Hallasan and a trip to Love Land, but that’s probably a story best told another time.
We arrive at the Dead Dolls House to find a hipster dressed as a soldier(?) acting as security(?) on the door, before being led into a room, with few furnishings as most of the ‘furnishings’ have been painted onto the walls in fiddly, black lines. Cue: discussion about how ‘poor’ and ‘poorly done’ becomes hip. Cue: stomach interrupts discussion and directs attention towards menu.
Having sampled the Galbi Bros’ ramen burgers and rice burgers at Urban Food Fest, I knew we were in for a treat. Starting off, we crunched our way through lotus chips, which – to be honest – are more crispy than tasty but great fun nonetheless. Then we sampled the dukkochi – the chewy rice cakes. These were definitely very chewy – perhaps a little too much so – but the spicy sauce from Moses’ hometown Yeokkok was like a drug. I wanted to lick my plate until I wore away the ceramic. Moses – please take me to your hometown. My life will not be complete otherwise.
Next up, the main course – the ‘Invincible Admiral Yi’: ‘beef marinated in homemade galbi sauce topped with thinly slice gochuchang sliced pork, cheese, kimchi, fresh vegetables’… with some ‘secret Brother sauce’. First of all, I should say that the Admiral is indeed invincible – he was demolished well and truly. However, in the flavour stakes, he truly is unbeatable. My dining partner turned to me, brow slightly furrowed in concentration, and announced: ‘This is the best burger that I have ever eaten!’ High praise indeed.
To begin, the homemade galbi sauce, secret Brother sauce or whatever sauce was on there was sweet and delicious with just the right amount of tang to give the burger that umami moreishness (or I could just be blagging it here, but you get the gist – it was awesome). ‘Gochujang’ is the ubiquitous fermented red chilli past in Korea, and it is simply delicious and not overwhelming in its spice levels. Basically, it’s a very good thing to coat smoked pork in. Surprisingly, the kimchi (fermented pickled vegetables, usually involving cabbage) was not nearly as sour or strong as the kind I’ve previously sampled, but just provided a gentle flavour that occasionally came through the decadence of the rest. The only thing that didn’t quite work for me – whereas it was a high point for my dining partner – was the firmness of the beef patty. It had quite a dense consistency, whereas I prefer the softer kind. However, within the layers and layers of the burger, the consistency was so obscured and mixed with other items that it did not detract from my enjoyment.
The fries were topped with all kinds of amazing things – namely, more smoked pork and cheese – but sadly were a little cold by the time they reached us.
Dessert was: “A trio of handmade ice creams: wasabi with a drizzle of olive oil, almond with a splash of toasted sesame oil and roasted green tea with pine nuts”- and it seemed to divide people. Many people were very taken with the wasabi, much to their surprise, but I loved the almond, which was far less popular.
Fortunately, this didn’t cause any riffs because we were all united: the Invincible Admirable was in our hearts. And he remains there to this day.
You can find the Galbi Bros here or follow them on Twitter here.
Burgers have undergone a transformation in the past couple of years. From an unhealthy option associated – understandably – with greasy fast food chains, they are now so gourmet that Gourmet Burger Kitchen is considered fairly low-end.
As well as touting quality, newly-founded burger joints are fighting to distinguish themselves through their creativity. At one end of the scale, there is Haché Burgers. Their branches are decorated with fairy lights and flowers to add a soft, ‘feminine’ touch and boast an extensive menu with burgers ranging from the ‘Steak Mexican’ (cajun spices, salsa, guacamole, jalapeño peppers, sour cream) to the ‘Steak Louisiana’ with crunch peanut butter. At the other end of the scale, there’s Honest Burgers with its simple aesthetics and a simple menu offering just three kinds of beefburger, and one monthly special.
Of course, any meat-oriented restaurant with an eye on the market will understandably jump on the bandwagon and get their menus on trend. The Seven Dials branch of Hawksmoor, the legendary steak restaurant with four branches across London, offers three burgers – a classic beef version, a kimchi burger that taps the current popularity of Korean cuisine, and a special.
And there have been no holds barred on their most recent offering: the Five Pork Burger. If you’re a self-respecting carnivore who lives in or will visit London in the near future, take yourself to Hawksmoor Seven Dials for a proper pig-out.
I had the Five Pork Burger (£15) last night. I have narrated my experience several times over to everyone in the Wozedu office. And so here I am, sharing it with all of you.
The first thing you should know is tha,t although it’s pitched as the Five Pork Burger, the version I had was a SIX Pork Burger. Oh yes.
The burger begins with a base layer of greenery and mustard mayonnaise – a variation from the homemade apple ketchup usually served. It then has a succulent Tamworth pork patty topped with smoky, salty pulled pork. Next up is a patty almost as large, which is actually sausage stuffing. This is then topped with rashers of bacon and draped with melted cheese. All this meatiness is contained in a brioche bun and served with beautifully crispy pork crackling and peppery pork gravy. I elected to continue with the gluttony and ordered Hawksmoor’s triple cooked chips on the side.
This burger was delicious in a crazy kind of way. It was a porky flavour explosion, and very decadent and incredibly messy. Each pork product came through at different stages of the mouthfuls and at different stages of the entire eating process but, underneath it all, the subtle sage tones of the stuffing were always present.
For me, the mustard mayo didn’t quite strike the right contrast with the burger; I believe the apple ketchup would have been preferable. Also, the salt content was almost off-the-scale: the Five (or Six) Pork Burger must be consumed with at least 2 litres of water – although this definitely makes it moreish.
One final point – does anyone really need a burger this big? As my co-diner pointed out, he’d happily have paid two-thirds of the price for half the burger. And just as our waiter warned us, consuming this burger will basically write off the rest of your night – the resultant food coma is too intense to be fought.
I’m sure Hawksmoor wouldn’t encourage this, but my advice is to share the burger and order a couple more sides. That way, you can still enjoy plenty of pig and walk out of the restaurant, rather than waddle.
All things considered though, I would definitely pig-out again.
The stretch of road from Holborn station towards Chancery Lane is a bit of a no man’s land. You’ll find the standard lunch time take-out shops, a stationers targeting students and… not a whole lot else. Once the sun goes down, sleepiness properly settles in. It seems strange given that the area is a stone’s throw from Covent Garden and Tottenham Court Road. Of course, there has to be a divide somewhere… but perhaps it shouldn’t feel so much like a provincial town. Some people, somewhere, obviously agree as the area is currently part of a ‘Go To Midtown‘ campaign – an effort to rebrand and invigorate the area.
Perhaps cottoning on this, or perhaps just trying their luck, Rosewood Hotel opened in October 2013. Naturally, this also entailed an restaurant – the somewhat functionally named Holborn Dining Room.
Holborn Dining Room appears every bit the well-furnished modern brasserie in its style – bare bulbs on metal frames throw shadows over the dark wood counters and tables that are surrounded by plush red leather seating. It’s tastefully done and consistent.
Swish interior and dim light aside, on entering the restaurant, we found the atmosphere to be relaxed – Holborn Dining Room could easily be a place to go for drinks and a catch-up with friends but it would equally work for a date. So far, so good.
The staff were on their best behaviour, probably because we were visiting for the soft launch; they attended to us with wide smiles, and created the illusion of automatic doors. Service was just below the overbearing mark, and they’ve probably all calmed down a bit by now.
My dining companion and I are FIENDISH meat eaters so there was only one thing on the menu that we were going to be ordering: the Roast Rib Eye ‘Club Cut’ with pepper sauce and crispy onions (£26.50). This is a giant chunk of tender roast beef served up like a steak, topped with thin onion rings. The flavour of the meat was beautiful, but it was a tad overcooked: I asked for mine medium-rare and it came medium, whereas my companion’s came medium-rare, despite asking for it rare. Nevertheless, we happily devoured our chunks of meat with some sell-executed chips (£4.25) and some delicious steamed spinach (£5.50).
For dessert, I tucked into an absolutely brilliant Valhrona chocolate pot with sweet cream (£6.50), which was essentially a very rich chocolate crème brûlée with a fantastically crisp top.
My companion was less lucky with her Bakewell tart and raspberry ice-cream (£6.50). In an attempt at a modern twist on the classic, the chef had produced a giant puff pastry version, which inadvertently created the game of ‘hunt the filling’ in the midst of a desert. Thank goodness for the ice-cream.
Holborn Dining Room 3/5 – Whilst the food is of decent quality, it is far from exceptional and, at those prices, it can’t really afford not to be. It made us very grateful for the soft opening offer!
Just last week, I was invited to a party for the launch of Mr Trotter‘s Chestnut Ale in Waitrose. I must confess that I know very little about beer but little piggy me was intrigued by the event for two reasons.
1) The event was held at The Ape and Bird on Shaftesbury Avenue, which has a reputation for being a bit of a gastropub, run by restaurateur Russell Norman of Polpo fame. I’d been meaning to check it out for a while, if only to be disappointed by the lack of actual apes and birds. (Never believe the signs! Although this could get quite gruesome when considering The King’s Head…)
2) Posh pork scratchings. Yes, Mr Trotter produces little bags of Great British Original Pork Crackling pork crackling (basically pork scratchings) that I really wanted to try. I’m always adventurous when it comes to food, and I was curious and mildly skeptical the concept.
On arrival, my co-drinker (co-nibbler?) and I were delighted that The Ape & Bird were clearly taking their trendy, gastropub reputation very seriously. The door opens to a heavy, red velvet curtain that reveals a desk and a front-of-house. The venue, however, has all styles of dining covered: we were there for beer and bar snacks, so down to The Dive it was, an underground room, with the dim light and small wooden tables of the traditional pub.
I was a little bit distracted by the bowls of pork scratchings before my companion reeled me in to try the beer. I’m very glad he did because I have never tasted anything like it before.
Mr Trotter’s Chestnut Ale is one of the first chestnut ales to be brewed and bottled in the UK. The chestnuts mean that it has a real softness and a mild sweetness in its flavour. My co-drinker was certainly impressed:
“It’s quite a light ale, with a surprisingly subtle chestnut flavour which gives it quite a bit of complexity in terms of taste (I’d expected a much stronger chestnut flavour). The chestnut quality is brought out really well when combined with the original pork scratchings/chips – the salt seems to help that, although I didn’t think the jalapeño married especially well too it.”
Just so you know, my co-drinker is a fusspot – the calorie-paranoid kind that attempts to scrape fat off the bacon (which I always pop straight into my mouth with gleeful defiance). He therefore approached the pork crackling very tentatively, and nibbled a piece… before diving into the bowl.
For me, the jalapeño crackling was dangerously addictive – the spice is not overpowering, but gives the perfect amount of heat. Yes, I know that eating bits of crispy pig in a bag may sound unappetising, but you’ll soon convert. They basically scream “Move over, bags of peanuts! We’re here and we WILL be eaten. We’re the best bar snacks ever!” Once you’ve tried these porky offerings, there will be no turning back.
Unless you happen across Mr Trotter’s jalapeño crisps, which provides tough competition. I don’t even like crisps, but I loved these. Mr Trotter has basically turned me into Miss Piggy, who loves working her way through bar snacks.
The Ape & Bird, however, were not going to be left out of this evening and demonstrated that they were more than just a venue; the food they served up told everyone very loudly that this was, indeed, a gastropub.
A bit of back story: two weeks ago, I had had… a bad pork pie experience. (Yes, sob!) It had seemed like such a good idea at the time – Tesco Finest Melton Mowbray pork pies were reduced and I picked up a pack. Now I know that they were reduced for a reason: they’re terrible. They’re the bland stodgy kind where the meat is nothing more than suspicious grey matter. Consequently, I was really off pork pies.
The Ape & Bird rectified this. In fact, their rendition may have pushed me more towards the other end of the spectrum: pork pie addiction. The pork was… pinkish. It was textured. It was flavoursome and the pastry was perfect – thick enough to encase the meat but still beautifully light.
We missed the scotch eggs – fittingly made from trotter meat – but we also tried a very well-spiced sausage roll.
THEN CAME THE BROWNIES. Small, soft, gooey, chocolatey, dense and rich creations with bowlfuls of salted caramel sauce to dip then in. It was practically indecent.
Our minds were made up: we are going to The Ape & Bird and we pray that the rest of their menu is done as well as these porky snacks.
In the meantime, my companion – a big Waitrose fan – is pretty happy that Mr Trotter is now being sold there (£2.15 per bottle) and we’ve both become posh pork scratchings fans.