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: 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: Wahaca

Mexican market dining

Mexican market dining

Om nom

Om nom

SCROLL DOWN … for lots of pretty pics at the bottom!

I’ve been hearing good things about Wahaca for ages. Self-advertised as Mexican street food, it’s bound to be a winning formula. Plus they’re keen to emphasise the ethical side of the business, by buying UK-only meat from ‘trusted’ farms, although their chicken is not free-range. Their branch at Southbank is particularly interesting – it’s built from 8 recycled shipping containers and also acts as a trial location for new dishes (I don’t know if they’re still serving up grasshoppers, but from the sounds of things, we can expect some exciting stuff).

Despite my slow introduction to Wahaca, I’ve now been to both the Covent Garden and Charlotte Street branches. I enjoyed my meals both times. The décor is fresh, colourful and modern, the staff extremely helpful and food is delivered promptly and beautifully presented.

Then there’s the food. You can’t really go wrong when ordering at Wahaca, but equally you won’t have a taste-induced orgasm. The food is simple, tasty and uncomplicated, but never rises above pleasant to be really, truly moreish. As a result, it’s been a tricky review to write – for those of you who’ve been, do you agree?

There are two options for ordering at Wahaca: you can either order lots of little dishes and share (recommended) or take a large plate for yourself.

It seems to be a classic to start off with their Guacamole with Tortilla Chips (£3.85). These are perfect for preventing any table-cloth-gnawing whilst waiting for the rest of the dishes, although they never take long to arrive. The chips are fun to munch but I find the guacamole a little bland for my tastes.

Tortilla chips

Tortilla chips

Guacamole

Guacamole

One of the most popular little plates is the Pork Pibil Tacos (£3.95) – slow cooked in a Yucatecan marinade with ‘fiery’ pickled onions (it’s a lie – they’re really not that spicy). This is the option for all meat-lovers out there. And whilst I’ve ordered this twice now and would order it again, it is too salty and a little one-dimensional in its taste.

Pork Pibil tacos

Pork Pibil tacos

Pork pibil porno close-up

Pork pibil porno close-up

Black Beans & Cheese Quesadillas (£3.60) make a good veggie option but again, there’s nothing too complicated happening taste-wise.

Black bean and cheese quesadillas

Black bean and cheese quesadillas

For dessert, the Chocolate Tres Leches Cake (£4.95) with peanut butter ice-cream sounds divine but is actually pretty light on chocolate. Instead, I recommend the Salted Caramel Ice-Cream (£4.25) with shavings of shavings of Valrhona chocolate – but only if you’re prepared to lick the bowl clean in appreciation.

Chocolate tres leches

Chocolate tres leches

Salted caramel ice-cream with Vahlrona chocolate - OMG

Salted caramel ice-cream with Vahlrona chocolate – OMG

A ridiculously good value deal is the Wahaca Selection (£19.95) for two people to share. It is so generous that many may be defeated and the variety is great: 3 pork pibil tacos,1 large broad bean quesadilla, 3 chicken tinga tacos, 2 black bean tostadas, 2 new potato taquitos, and Wahaca slaw.

Check out some of the dishes below:

Feast

Feast

Feast

Feast

One final point: if you want to drink wine at Wahaca, you have to drink it out a thick glass because wine glasses don’t exist in Mexico!?!

Have you dined at Wahaca? Opinions? Is there some divine dish I’ve yet to try? Hit me with your thoughts.

Wahaca 3/5 – Great atmosphere and service. It’s a crowd-pleaser – not spectacular, but perfect for eating out in groups if you haven’t booked anywhere and need some reliable, tasty food. 

Website: http://www.wahaca.co.uk/
Where: Bluewater, Canary Wharf, Covent Garden, Charlotte Street, Islington, Soho, Southbank, Stratford, Waterloo, White City
When: Various, see website.

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Covent Garden

Covent Garden

Covent Garden

Covent Garden

Covent Garden

Covent Garden