Review: Leong’s Legend, Chinatown

Lanterns pretty

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.

Delicious chicken with coriander

Delicious chicken with coriander

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: Rodells, Watford

Feast

Feast

They say the best things in life are worth some effort. If you want some excellent food, popping to the food court at the shopping centre ain’t going to make your taste buds’ dreams come true. So when I say that you all better bloody travel to Watford, you better bloody travel to Watford. In fact, I’m probably going to be shouting about this for the rest of the year. Zone 3 just became so much trendier. Watford is the place to go. Watford is the new East London. (Just with fewer moustaches and fixies.)

All of this enthusing is due to one place: Rodells.

Rodells... usually found without monkey-girl on lamp post

Rodells… usually found without monkey-girl on lamp post

Rodells

Rodells

Rodells is more than a restaurant; it’s an institution. It’s a food haven, a theatre, a family home, an evening hang-out and a democracy.

Rodells is the kind of place where you can spend five hours enjoying a meal. Which is exactly what we did.

Admittedly, I was a little sceptical when I received an email inviting me to Watford, but as I read on, my interest was piqued. Most restaurants have a speciality, even if it’s broad and regional in scope. ‘Modern European’ or ‘Pan-Asian’ might sound familiar. My most eclectic experience was probably when I visited a restaurant in Brasov that specialised in Mexican, but also served Hungarian and Romanian (and incidentally was fantastic).

Rodells takes eclecticism to a new level. The theme: world tapas. The reason: one man called Mario Tavares.

Cooking is like taking a photograph, Mario tells us. There is that one second where everything aligns and you have a beautiful shot, and a second later, the moment’s gone.

We’re sitting in a cosy upstairs room with Monty Python projected on the back wall. Rodells is a rather characterful property on the corner of some crossroads. Downstairs is a bar and some wooden counter seating, and larger restaurant tables are dotted around the two upstairs rooms.

Silent entertainment

Silent entertainment

Spending his early years in Macau, Mario moved to London just before his teens. However, the capital couldn’t contain him: he travelled the world as musician and film producer, playing for Motorhead, Paul Young and Keith Allen when he was a stand-up. During his adventures, he did what any self-respecting foodie would do and ate his way through a variety of cuisines. Yet Mario took his love of food one step further: he tracked down recipes.

‘I do a Thai green curry that’s not a Thai green curry,’ he tells us, perched at our table. ‘I learned the recipe in Kerala.’ It’s the kind of story that makes you blink twice. Whilst on the beach, he had been approached by a guy who sold three items: coconut oil, green curry and sunglasses. Brave or reckless – take your pick – Mario tried the curry and was blown away to the point where he pestered the man for the recipe.

Mario is clearly as creative as his background and the surrounds suggest. Food for him is ‘performance’; it’s an art form. Before he creates anything, he visualises it clearly in his mind. The theatrics extend to visitors’ dining experiences. Originally, each table had a blackboard built into them, each with a different menu. People had to strategically choose their menu depending on what they wanted to eat. For a past Valentine’s Day event, Mario hired an actress to sit drinking wine alone at a table. Whenever anyone went to the toilet, she would follow them and have an angry conversation on her phone at her good-for-nothing boyfriend who’d stood her up. This idea is so cheeky and hilarious that I grin every time I think of it.

As for the menu, we weren’t quite prepared for the scope of it: Korean, English, Portuguese, Louisianan, Caribbean, Cuban, Mexican, Thai, Malaysian, Indian, Spanish, Lebanese, Cantonese… the list goes on.

Arriving at Rodells, we had been greeted by a tall, good-looking young man, who thankfully insisted on talking us through the list of world cuisines.

‘I’m very into food,’ he said.

‘I’ve come to the right place,’ I thought.

Is our waiter a red hot model? Why yes. Am I posing shamelessly with him? Why yes?

Is our waiter a red hot model? Why yes. Am I posing shamelessly with him? Why yes.

Choosing what to order was agony. Today’s menu contained no less than 28 tapas dishes and three larger dishes. As an obsessive foodie, I got out my biro and began marking ‘definites’ and ‘potentials’, whilst grilling our waiter, Louis, on his preferences. The menu changes daily; Mario’s repertoire consists of 130 dishes that he has collected over the years. He has two assistant chefs, Louis informed us, but they can only cook four dishes to the right standard. We all try them and vote whether they’re good enough, he explained. What a lovely gastronomic democracy.

Pretty pretty food

Pretty pretty food

Flat iron steak

Flat iron steak

In the end, we ordered one of the ‘mains’ that Louis raved about – flat iron steak (£14.50). This was served beautifully rare with a delicate pepper cream sauce and some of the best frites that we’ve had in a while – frites that actually tastes of potatoes rather than crispy air. The steak was clearly fantastic quality but had been a little over-enthusiastically peppered, which detracted from the flavour of the beef itself. Fortunately, the cream sauce did much to alleviate any mouth-burning and was also delicious in its own right.

Mac 'n cheese sushi style

Mac ‘n cheese sushi style

Next up, we had ‘mac n cheese sushi style’ (£8). Before you wrinkle your nose with revulsion, let me state now that no raw fish was mixed with cheese or pasta! The macaroni cheese is cooked, then rolled in breadcrumbs into a cylindrical shape and sliced like sushi. Each delicate ‘sushi’ piece is then topped with a blob of sweet mustard sauce. Not being the biggest macaroni cheese fan in the world and highly wary of ordering pasta out in this country, we only chose this based on rave reviews from previous bloggers and being assured it was a ‘favourite’.

One mouthful and its popularity suddenly made sense. It was not the rubbery, chewy lump I had expected but was soft with perfect consistency. The cheese, in our opinion, was a little too strong for the dish, but we fully enjoyed the concept: it’s rare that a single dish becomes an experience in itself.

Nonya chicken curry

Nonya chicken curry

Next up, we tucked into another customer favourite – ‘nonya chicken curry’ (£6), described as the ‘sexiest curry in the world’. Nonya – or nyonya – is a Malaysian curry that’s prepared by women for women. Women feeding women? How could that not be sexy?! Seriously, and with all mildly crass jokes aside, this curry had a very sexy flavour. It was mild but rich, with faint hints of lemongrass. The chicken was a little dry, but the sauce was so amazing that I would happily eat this every day. I would drink it for breakfast.

Jambalaya with some mac n cheese sushi style to the left

Jambalaya with some mac n cheese sushi style to the left

Along came a jambalaya with prawns and chorizo (£6). The rice was cooked to perfection and pepped well with fresh oregano. Sadly, the chorizo was bland and so there was little smoky, garlicky, paprika flavour to permeate the rice. This was the only disappointment for me.

Portuguese stifado

Portuguese stifado

For the savoury dishes, we finished off with a Portuguese stifado (£6), which Mario sometimes also calls Greek stifado as the dish is also found there. This is a beef stew that’s wonderfully flavoured with cassia bark – like a warmer, less sweet and earthier variation of cinnamon. It’s a dish that is truly comforting and is popular across the ages.

The dessert menu was profoundly traumatic. There was far too many delicious things begging to be sampled. In the end, we ordered three desserts – purely for quality control purposes. Obviously. Ahem.

Marry me.

Marry me.

The brownies (£4.50) were pleasant yet unremarkable, but the lemon and ginger cheesecake (£4.50) was marriage material. The base was crisp and thin and the flavours were so expertly balanced that the lemon and ginger pulled off a perfect duet in my mouth, scoring a 10.

The best carrot cake in the world

The best carrot cake in the world

Concluding the munchathon, we delved into possibly one the tastiest carrot cakes in the world (£4.50). It was again harmonious with warm spice cut by beautiful sweet icing. This is the kind of cake that would audition other cakes to get into cake heaven.

If food is performance, then Mario has mastered his ingredients well – they sing and dance to the taste buds. Occasionally, they might miss the odd beat but the show remains a stunning success.

Rodells 4.5/5 – Brilliant tapas-style dishes from around the world in a homey setting. Bring your friends and dig in!

Food 4/5
Value 4/5
Service 5/5
Atmosphere 5/5

Web: www.itsrodells.com / @itsrodells
Where:
1a St Johns Road, Watford WD17 1PU
When:
Lunch 11 – 3pm; Dinner 5 – 11pm; Breakfast – delivery to some local post codes.

Review: Dozo, Old Compton Street, Soho

Hello sushi

Hello sushi

Originally published under my alias Queen Spatula on Tryum.com. Check out the site for more great foodie recommendations.

If, given the Christmas splurge, you’re hardly feeling flush for cash this January, it can be highly inconvenient to find yourself in central London and in desperate need of lunch. Such a situation can also ruin any new year resolutions you’ve made on healthy eating.

Let’s consider the following dilemma. You only have £6.90 to spend on lunch. You could get a burrito and screw the health repercussions. Or you could get a take-out salad and a juice. You may feel saintly but your stomach will likely be despondent within a half an hour, and the chances are that some pre-packed lettuce really didn’t excite your taste-buds.

Or how about option three: you could go to Dozo, get a delicious Japanese set lunch and feel absolutely amazing. This comes with the added bonus of getting to smugly gloat at any passer-bys with supermarket sandwiches.

Dozo

Dozo

A rather coy koi

A rather coy koi

Wedged next to Soho’s famous G-A-Y club, Dozo has a modest store front but a surprisingly authentic interior. It’s beautifully decorated – a large koi (carp) adorns the walls and low-set tables with a dropped floor replicate dining arrangements common in Japan. It’s a little dim inside but it’s an oasis  of calm in one of London’s busiest districts.

Of course, you can’t see its exquisite décor from the outside. What is really going to draw you in is the following sign:

Sign of hope!

Sign of hope!

A lunch set for £6.90? Really?

Some scepticism is perfectly understandable. That is until you’re presented with a beef teriyaki bento with perfectly cooked rice, two sets of pickles, a side salad and some miso soup. The teriyaki sauce is fantastic – full of great umami flavour and steering on the right side of sweet – and the salad is fresh with a great tangy dressing. What’s more, if you have penchant for drinking the sauce – and who would blame you when it tastes this good – the waiting staff will take pity on you and provide you with a spoon 😉

Beef teriyaki bento

Beef teriyaki bento

Beef teriyaki bento

Beef teriyaki bento

There’s a whole lot more than teriyaki dishes in the 12 – 3pm offer: crunch on some prawn and vegetable tempura, tuck into tonkatsu (deep-fried breaded pork cutlet), slurp through some ramen or dine on some sushi. Again – any of these for £6.90.

Hello sushi lunch set, we have a date!

Hello sushi lunch set, we have a date!

So my sound advice to you is… go and strand yourself in central London immediately and wait for lunchtime. Dozo will leave you with a happy and healthy body and wallet.

Website: http://www.dozosushi.co.uk/soho/
Where:
32 Old Compton Street, Soho, W1D 4TP
When:
12 – 3pm weekday lunch, also open for dinner. Details here.

Review: Hurwundeki, Korean café, Bethnal Green

Chandeliers and railway arches

Chandeliers and railway arches

This is the era of postmodernism. Gone are the days of restrictive categories and set definitions. Why should a café just serve food? And why shouldn’t a hair salon serve a decent lunch?

Welcome to Hurwundeki – a place that can take care of both your hunger and your haircut needs. Located in the railway bridge arches next to Cambridge Heath station, you might be forgiven for thinking they sold tyres rather than Korean cuisine. Even more baffling, despite the industrial store front – blue corrugated metal – the yard is filled with ancient play park toys and eclectic chairs.

Hurwundeki

Hurwundeki

The inside, however, exudes a kind of shabby cuteness. Chandeliers dangle from the brick arches above tightly packed tables. There’s a simple open kitchen, which allows you to spy on large tubs of kimchi and other dishes being freshly prepared.

Under the arches...

Under the arches…

Peeking into the open kitchen...

Peeking into the open kitchen…

A cursory glance at the menu will tell you that there’s more than classic Korean fare on offer – udon noodles make an appearance and bulgogi beef is to be found holidaying on top of bread! Hurwundeki are proud to have just launched a fusion lunch menu, which includes Korean salads and Koran curries on sourdough bread (a new kind of open sandwich perhaps?). There are both traditional and modern Korean dishes with some surprises thrown into the mix.

Bibimbap

Bibimbap

I went straight for the classic – the beef bibimbap (£6.50) served with an egg yolk on top. I love this dish in that it is fresh and filling. Hurwundeki’s version did not disappoint and, mixed with the chilli sauce, it was the perfect pick-me-up weekend lunch that I was hoping for.

My lunch partner took a chicken stir-fry on rice – simple but tasty – and we shared some chicken dumplings or mandu (£4.50) on the side.

Chicken with rice

Chicken with rice

Chicken dumplings

Chicken dumplings

We were both feeling a little sleepy on a Saturday afternoon but again Hurwundeki had us covered: we happily caffeinated ourselves with a latte and a mocha. For those fancying something a little stronger, you can bring your own wine (or maybe even some soju if you want to keep things Korean).

Pretty latte

Pretty latte

Pretty mocha

Pretty mocha

Finally, if you feel you ought to smarten yourself up, step through the arch and get yourself a haircut in a room decorated with eclectic old objects, looking more like a period set piece than a hair salon.

In the salon

In the salon

In the salon

In the salon

Hurwundeki – Reasonably priced traditional and fusion Korean dishes with a whole load of quirky charm thrown in.

Website: www.facebook.com/Hurwundeki
Where: 98-299 Railway Arches, Cambridge Heath Road, London, E2 9HA
When: Mon – Fri 8am – 10pm, Sat 9am – 10pm, closed on Sundays.

Review: House of Ho, Soho – Vietnamese by Bobby Chinn

Molton Marou Chocolate Cake

Molton Marou Chocolate Cake

When writing a review, or indeed anything at all, Wikipedia is an invaluable source of information. However, I’m a little perplexed by the Wikipedia page for TV chef Bobby Chinn, who is the man behind trendy Soho opening, House of Ho. The page [last accessed: January 11th, 2014] is sparse on information and opens with the golden line: “Bobby Chinn, born 3 April 1964 in Auckland, New Zealand, is a restaurateur and a curt and at times a disrespectful television host in Hanoi, Vietnam of mixed Chinese American and Egyptian heritage.”

Unflattering description or no, the arrival of Chinn’s House of Ho has been causing quite a buzz on the food scene in London. Chinn already has successful restaurants in Hanoi and Saigon, and expectations were high. All I can say is that, if the description of him is accurate, I pray he doesn’t read this review: despite being really, really excited, I left House of Ho extremely underwhelmed.

Oooh
Located on Old Compton Street, House of Ho is sleek, modern and beautifully decorated. Simple, sharply cut wooden tables loom through the dimly lit restaurant. The layout is particularly interesting with the space divided into corridors and alcoves for those wanting to dine in a more intimate setting.

Service was warm and friendly. One of the waitresses either did not have enough English or enough knowledge to describe items on the menu, but such hiccups are to be expected in the soft opening.

We settled ourselves down and contemplated the menu, which is divided into ‘Light and raw’, ‘Hot and grilled’, ‘Ho’s dishes’ (the house specialities), ‘Sides’ and ‘Desserts’.

Ceviche

Ceviche

It is only when we started tucking into the dishes that disappointment began to sink in.  We first tucked into Seafood Ceviche with Mangosteen Coconut Dressing and Truffle Oil (£9). Undeniably, it looked completely stunning. It included a mix of sea bass, squid and shrimp and should have been light and refreshing. However, none of the flavours settled together; it ended up overly tangy and haunting our mouths for an unpleasantly long period afterwards. I far preferred the rendition I recently had at Chotto Matte.

Pho Cuon Wild Mushroom

Pho Cuon Wild Mushroom

The general theme of the evening, however, was blandness. We worked our way through Pho Cuon Wild Mushroom (£4) (rice noodle rolls), which were completely unmemorable, followed by possibly the most unexciting pork ribs I have ever tried (£6.50). They were tamarind barbecue. Apparently.

These made me so very sad

These made me so very sad

Depressingly, my dining partner who is about as keen on food as cats are on swimming, turned to me and said, “If I’m picking up that the food here is unexciting, then there is definitely something wrong.”

Shaking beef

Shaking beef

Shaking beef - shake it and it vanishes!

Shaking beef – shake it and it vanishes!

Fortunately, there were a few dishes that broke away from this. Like the ‘Shaking Beef’ (£14) which is simply wok-fried beef with soy, but had just enough umami flavour to hook us. However, it was so small that I was afraid that a violent sneeze might vanish it.

Chicken wings

Chicken wings

Morning Glory - don't you look like this in the morning?

Morning Glory – don’t you look like this in the morning?

The Grilled Chicken Wings with Chilli and Oyster Sauce (£6) were sticky, gooey and really quite tasty, but the stand-out dish was the Morning Glory (£4) – water spinach. Yes, we couldn’t quite believe that our favourite dish was a vegetable side.

The Moulton Marou Chocolate Cake (£6.50) was also really delicious – both rich and intense – although the lemon and coffee sauce on the side jarred horribly.

Chocolate landslide mmm

Chocolate landslide mmm

It’s a shame the service slowed down towards the end of our meal. It took a while to get dessert and ages to get the bill. When it did arrive, we were so very relieved that we went during the soft opening with 50% off. I think I would have been shaking more than the beef if I’d paid full prices.

House of Ho 2/5 – Underwhelming, bland and overpriced. So very disappointing.

Food 2.5/5 – Hit-and-miss flavour-wise.
Value 2/5 – It may be Soho but I am perplexed as to why House of Ho is being marketed as affordable dining. Maybe the average customer has a very small appetite?
Atmosphere 2.5/5 – Loved the décor but the music was intrusive and completely incongruous.
Service 3/5 – Friendly, but a little slow (potentially soft opening issues).

Website: http://www.houseofho.co.uk/
Where: 57-59 Old Compton St, Soho, London W1D 6HP
When: Lunch and dinner, every day

Review: Yauatcha, Dim Sum Teahouse, Soho

Some of the dumplings we sampled...

Some of the dumplings we sampled…

A contemporary dim sum teahouse. That’s how Yauatcha describes itself on its website and how could that fail to sound like a really fun idea? Lots of small dishes to graze upon, laid back chatter in between comforting sips of tea. It’s perfect for catching up with friends or a casual date. Add a Michelin star to its credentials, however, and my former student self begins to get nervous. Visions of minuscule morsels and a monstrous bill begin to rise in front of my eyes.

That’s why I couldn’t quite believe it when I saw an eight-dish tasting menu for two for the very specific amount of £28.88. It may only be available Mondays to Thursday between 2 and 6pm, but £14.44 a head just didn’t seem credible.

A Michelin-star restaurant that is actually affordable?! Yauatcha is a creation from Alan Yau, who previously developed the Wagamama and Busaba Eathai restaurant chains, so perhaps affordability shouldn’t be that unexpected. Except from that fact that he also created the high class Hakkasan, also with Michelin star and where prices are a casual £58 for a Sunday dim sum menu.

The catch had to be in the portions. The dim sum had to be so small that they might be accidentally inhaled whilst sneezing. One sharp intake of breath and the food would vanish forever, never once grazing the tongue.

These, however, proved to be wild fantasies. I left Yauatcha comfortably full and desperate to throw my money at them again: the food, in case you haven’t guessed, was beyond excellent.

Quite frankly, I have no idea why Yauatcha has escaped my radar, and if it’s not been on your map either, sound the alarms, get out your GPS and cancel your weekend plans – dining here should be an imperative for any foodie.

Sweet potato mushroom mei-si roll and baked venison puff

Sweet potato mushroom mei-si roll and baked venison puff

Behind a front of dark blue glass lies a sleek, modern interior with dark wood-topped tables, padded chairs and cakes. That’s right – beautiful, colourful and extravagant cakes lining a bar near the front window. The temptation is so blatant that it should be illegal.

We settled in, placed our orders and awaited the goods, fortunately with the desserts out of our line of sight. They were, however, soon forgotten as a myriad of delights decorated our table.

Sticky rice in lotus leaf

Sticky rice in lotus leaf

The first dish to come was sticky rice with chicken and shrimp wrapped in a lotus leaf. Simple though this was, it was one of the highlights of the meal. It was beautifully flavoured that I would have happily been served it as an entire meal and eaten a giant bowlful without getting bored. It was so delicious that I found myself trying to save some until last.

We were then presented with a variety of dumplings which banished unfortunate past memories of stodginess and really highlighted the subtlety that is so often lost in Chinese cuisine.

Prawn shui mai and Shanghai siew long bun

Prawn shui mai and Shanghai siew long buns

Each dish was a delight and devoured with pleasure, and perhaps a little sorrow: they tasted so good that they inspired extreme greed and cravings for more.

Prawn and beancurd cheung fun

Prawn and beancurd cheung fun

Particularly worth noting was the venison puff that carefully balanced sweetness against the rich flavour of the meat. The prawn and beancurd cheung fun (steamed rice roll), whilst not the most aesthetic piece to Western eyes – indeed it is sometimes called ‘pig intestine’ due to its appearance – was firm but light, and again disappeared all too quickly.

Even though we were embarking on an extraordinary tasting journey, we were aware of the high quality service we received: our waitress had exactly the right approach – that perfect balance between professionalism, genuine interest and pride in what was being served. And, of course, why wouldn’t the waiting staff be proud? They’re serving excellent food. Yauatcha is in a class of its own. 

Yauatcha 5/5 – Stop press. I think this is my first 5/5 review ever. I cannot praise Yauatcha enough.

Food 5/5 – Go try it for yourself. Words fail me.
Value 4/5 – Perhaps a little expensive for dim sum but you can’t fault the quality.
Atmosphere 4/5 – A laid back vibe, which is good because we were squeezed quite close to the other tables.
Service 5/5 – Completely on the ball.

Where: 15-17 Broadwick Street, Soho, London, W1F 0DL

Website: 
http://www.yauatcha.com/soho/

Eat Film: Spirited Away, Jonathan Ross and a Three-Course Japanese Meal

Me, Wossy and Loz

CHI—–ZU! Me, Wossy and Loz

The proper review is below. In the meantime, here’s my personal bit gushing about HOW EXCITED I was about my favourite movie, one of my fave TV personalities and a three-course Japanese meal all in the same evening.

We arrived late and so missed the cocktails and almost missed the hirata buns, which was bad news because I was starving. I desperately asked randomers where the food had come from and was told to find ladies in red.

The bell rang to tell us to go upstairs for the movie. I charged at a woman in red, nearly knocking over a poor sane guest – ironically the same who’d tipped me off. My greed persistence paid off and I made it to the auditorium armed with three of these tasty morsels. My friend Loz and I were feeling like BOSSES with our posh water and popcorn.

BOSS

BOSS

We then watched Spirited Away for the umpteenth time (go see it if you haven’t) and devoured some seriously gorgeous gastronomic goodies.

The absolute highlight, however, was encountering Wossy himself, not only because I love his show but because WE SPOKE JAPANESE TOGETHER.

We approached him and asked for a photo. Wherever I am, if I want to take a photo, I always shout “Shashin wo torimashou!”  (Let’s take a photo!) The one and only time I refrain from doing this, Jonathan Ross says to Loz and I, “Nice dresses, ladies. Shashin wo torimasenka?” (Shall we take (not) take a photo?)

Sheer and utter delight burst from me and I practically screamed at the poor man, “Nihongo wo hanashimasuka?” (Do you speak Japanese?)

Well, the answer is YES. Maybe not fluently, but I think he might trump my rather novice level.

One photo wasn’t enough for Wossy and he asked to pose for a second as below. Needless to say, I thanked him profusely in Japanese and he told me I was welcome.

Wossy trying very hard to be cute.

Wossy trying very hard to be cute.

Cue: Phoebe and Loz skipped down the street with happiness. Sadly not into the sunset. Because it was already dark. The end.

We're famous now

We’re famous now

—————————————————————————-

It’s a pretty exciting time if you love food right now. London Restaurant Festival sees a feast of gastronomic events across London with several restaurants offerings gloriously discounted menus. The great thing about food is that it’s easily combined with other forms of entertainment, and so last week BAFTA hosted the Eat Film event combining two art forms – film and food.

Eat Film

Eat Film

BAFTA is at the grandiose location of 195 Picadilly and sees a sweeping staircase lead guests to a large reception-cum-dining room on the first floor. Guests, many of whom had gone for red carpet glam, were sipping cocktails whilst waitresses in dazzling red uniforms handed out hirata buns. Originally gua bao for Taiwan, these delicious, soft steamed buns filled with belly pork, hoi sin and sriracha, have become a major food trend in the West and have been popularised as Japanese under the term ‘hirata buns’ after the New York chef who introduced them. Music from a Japanese koto (long stringed instrument) drifted through the chatter. In the midst of the crowd was Jonathan Ross.

Sadly, Jonathan Ross was not there by accident – for that might make an amazing story – but rather he was responsible for the whole evening. He had been invited to host the Eat Film event and had determined the theme of the evening: Japan. Because whilst he may be renowned as a charismatic, if sometimes controversial, interviewer and film geek, his interests and expertise also extend to the Far East: he is huge Japanophile and he had selected tonight’s movie, Spirited Away.

Popcorn - with the occasional hint of wasabi

Popcorn – with the occasional hint of wasabi

We shuffled upstairs into the auditorium. Nestled into our seats with Voss mineral water that looked a tiny bit too swanky to just water, we munched on sweet and wasabi-flavoured popcorn – surprisingly successful – whilst Jonathan Ross took to the stage to say a few words. Not only does Wossy love Spirited Away – it’s the film his family put on if one of them is feeling unwell – but he got to meet Hayao Miyazaki, its legendary director from Studio Ghibli.  Ross asked him what made truly great animation and Miyazaki had replied the landscapes.This is certainly what strikes the viewer about Spirited Away or indeed any Studio Ghibli offering as they create some of the most startlingly beautiful animated movies that will ever grace your eyes.

Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross telling us about his pal, Miyazaki

Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross telling us about his pal, Miyazaki

Spirited Away tells the story of a sullen and annoying young girl called Chihiro, who discovers an abandoned theme park with her parents. Things start to get a little creepy when she bumps into a mysterious young boy, and then the plot fully embraces the surreal as her parents turn into pigs and she finds herself working for a witch, who runs a bathhouse for spirits. It is takes weird to the level that perforates the imaginations of the majority of us, but this is what makes it so absolutely enthralling; so richly imagined is the world that you don’t question it, but accept talking frogs and a one-way train through water, over ethereal watercolour backdrops. 

Spirited Away - my all-time fave movie :)

Spirited Away – my all-time fave movie 🙂

After our two hours of heart-warming escapism, we made our way for the three-course dinner. 195 Picadilly’s Head Chef Anton Manganaro had prepared an intricate plate of Japanese-inspired starters beautifully laid before us atop a large green, leaf. We sampled salmon temari – thinly sliced raw salmon on a rice ball- with a delicate soy dip and wasabi. Next to this was chakan-style sweet potato and the classic, and frankly addictive, miso aubergine. There was also pork belly cooked in dashi – the sweet, smoky fish stock prominent throughout all Japanese cuisine –  and chicken so tender and delicately flavoured that it took us all by surprise.

Starters

Starters

Salmon temari

Salmon temari

This chicken was so good!

This chicken was so good!

Needless to say, there was much excitement about the main, and needless to say, we were not disappointed. We were served a very sweet miso-glazed hake that was beautifully counterbalanced with the earthiness from azuki bean rice.

Sweet miso hake with azuki bean rice

Sweet miso hake with azuki bean rice

Dessert, however, was a departure from Japanese produce and a tribute to Miyazaki. When Jonathan Ross visited the director at his house, Miyazaki served up an English afternoon tea with one of his favourite sweets – ginger cake. So a moist ginger cake with chestnut ice-cream and yoghurt foam graced our plates, albeit briefly because it was so good it was hastily devoured.

Ginger cake

Ginger cake

Chestnut ice-cream

Chestnut ice-cream

All too soon the evening was drawing to a close. But there was one last thing we had yet to do. Jump Jonathan Ross for a photo of course! But he was very friendly and even gave us a few words of Japanese.

Domo arigatou Wossy. Domo arigatou Eat Film. May the event return to the next London Restaurant Festival for it was one of the most unusual and tastiest nights out we’ve had.