Aaaaaages ago, I popped down to Covent Garden for the opening of Just Falafel. I’m a big fan of falafel if they’re well-made and I liked the concept of a vegetarian fast food chain. Falafel are already staple fast food across Sweden – being the quick /drunken snack of choice among vegetarians (of which there are copious amounts or so my vegetarian Swedish ex-boyfriend assures me). I personally find it quite interesting that a chickpea ball from the Middle East has spread so widely, but I’m certainly not complaining.
Just Falafel serve up a variety of falafel wraps with a variety of sides such as salad, chips or hummus. As you might have guessed, this is no pure export project – given that it originates from Abu Dhabi – but contains a bizarre mix of themed falafel wraps, ranging from Greek (with tzatziki) to Japanese (ginger, Japanese mayo). I went for the ‘Original’ which contains mint, turnip pickles and tahina dressing.
Although it’s a take-out place, there are a couple of narrow counter-style seats by the window where you can settle down and tackle your food with a modicum more decorum than shovelling it in whilst walking.
I have to say that the falafel exceeded my expectations – much less dry and far more flavoursome than I had anticipated – and I really enjoyed the turnip pickles despite myself. In fact, at £3.49 for a sandwich and £4.99 for a meal, I would possibly indulge again – beats a Pret sandwich by miles. (Let’s judge by London prices and not cry over how little falafel cost in the Middle East.)
However, the unexpected satisfaction from my quick visit was marred by the hummus/houmous. I have never tasted anything so ridiculously salty other than seawater itself. Avoid.
If you really fancy some hummus/houmous – and I mean, really awesome hummus/houmous – I’ll let you in on a sneaky secret and one of my cheap ‘al desko’ lunches. Go to Tesco and buy the sweet red pepper or caramelised onion houmous. You can get two for £1.80 so try both. They are *insanely* good. Then buy a mini-granary baguette for £0.45. Divide in half and eat with half a pot. That’s a really tasty, if bread-heavy, lunch for 67.5p! Of course, supplement with fruit/salad 😉
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.
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.
Black Beans & Cheese Quesadillas (£3.60) make a good veggie option but again, there’s nothing too complicated happening taste-wise.
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.
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:
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.
Scandinavian countries are perhaps more famous for design rather than their food. Yet this might be changing, perhaps led by Noma, a two Michelin-star restaurant in Denmark, consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in the world. It’s reputation certainly goes some way to debunking notions of Scandinavian cuisine as purely meatballs and pickled herrings.
However, much as I would like to claim to weekly dine in Michelin-star places, reality is somewhat different. So for a more accessible avenue into tasty Scandinavian treats, it’s worth seeking out a bakery. I’d previously sought out semlor (Swedish Easter buns) and had been impressed by Daniel Karlsson who ran an order-only bakery, Bageriet.
Very fortuitously, Daniel has decided to expand his business and has opened Bageriet as a little café in Covent Garden, serving flat bread sandwiches and all kinds of sweet things.
The cakes are just beautiful and there is a lot of choice. As well as the classic cinnamon buns, highly recommended are the vanilla buns/ vaniljbulle as they balance cardamom perfectly with the creamy filling.
We found the custard bun was way too skimpy on the filling, but the espresso cake was fabulous – it was like a firmer version of tiramisu.
There are a couple of small tables inside and one tiny table outside. Rose Street is fairly quiet so it’s a good escape from what can be a hectically busy area. At £2.45 for a cinnamon bun to eat in, prices are edging towards Scandinavian levels but we can’t fault the quality. So venture forth, go Swedish, and get some attractive cakes to adorn that Ikea coffee table 😉
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.
I was fortunate enough to attend the launch party of the fab new tapas bar The Port House on the Strand back in February. It’s a little shocking that I haven’t got round to blogging this already, but if you haven’t been, I recommend you give it a try.
Don’t let its unassuming entrance put you off: the inside is lined with bricks and atmospherically lit with candles like an underground cellar for storing alcohol. Take a seat to one side and line-up the tapas on your table. And the port. Don’t forget the port.
The tapas were very enjoyable – nearly everything I tried was a pleasure to eat. Vegetable tart topped with a poached quail’s egg. Amazing Iberian ham with a deep, nuanced flavour that makes me salivate at the memory of it. Succulent chicken skewers. And some kind of thicker, sweeter version of gazpacho topped with whipped cream (yes really). I actually have no idea what it is – a bit of Internet searching suggests it might have been salmorejo but I’m not entirely convinced. Can anyone help me out here?
Not everything was perfect – the aubergine tempura was bland and oily and too many of the tapas were served up on giant chunks of bread that made the dishes unnecessarily heavy and tarnished the subtleties of the other flavours. I ended up picking the toppings off!
However, overall I was impressed and would definitely head back for a second round of nibbling.
It’s pretty dimly lit inside but I hope that the dark photos below can at least suggest the tasty things that await you there…
Firstly, I need to apologise for the poor quality of the photos in this post. I promise that Dishoom’s bacon naan roll looks a lot more appetising than depicted here. In general, I’m not a very capable person before I’ve eaten in the morning. I barely managed to cycle to the restaurant without fainting. I’m going to blame it on that. Definitely.
Dishoom calls itself an old Bombay café and I’d heard good things about its breakfast. As my friend was in London town for an interview afternoon, it was the perfect opportunity to meet for a cheap, tasty and slightly unusual brekky to set her up a challenging day.
Having had dinner at Dishoom before, I knew exactly what I’d be drinking – Chocolate Chai (£2.70). To those who are now thinking, “I like chocolate, and I like chai, but together?!“, please trust me on this one. I thought the same but I love it lots – they very skillfully navigate and carve out a perfect middle route between the flavours.
To eat, all three of us ordered the Bacan Naan Roll (£3.70) which comes with chilli tomato jam, cream cheese and coriander. I met this with some scepticism – I firmly believe bacon is one of those things that doesn’t need any extra flavours because I want to enjoy all of its salty goodness without interruption. However, Dishoom have really pulled this one off. The chilli jam isn’t too sweet, the coriander provides a tantalising contrast and…well, it’s just awesome.
There was one small problem – my friends and I were less than impressed with its size. Please Dishoom – I think you could fit another rasher of bacon into that naan roll. At £3.70, one could just order two, but I’m going to resent paying £7.40 for bacon and bread, even in London.
Overall though, Dishoom makes for an unsual – and delicious – breakfast.
In case it’s somehow passed you by, it’s Fairtrade Fortnight to promote fair wages for farmers and producers in developing countries. In honour of this awareness week, Divine Chocolate is holding a pop-up shop in Covent Garden.
As well as a range of tantalising chocolates, there’s a photo exhibition of Kuapa Kokoo, Ghanian cocoa farmers who own 45% of Divine, and thus influence how the company is run and share in the profits.
I went along to have a sneaky peek and, of course, to sample some chocolate! Divine have just released Milk Chocolate Toffee and Salt, which is proving incrediblypopular. Personally, I find a little too sweet and can’t quite rival my affection for Lindt’s Dark Chocolate with Caramel and Sea Salt.
However , Divine do a wonderful job with the flavours in their new Dark Chocolate Chilli and Orange. Neither flavour is too strong and the chocolate is smooth and rich. This could be my new favourite.
Also worth sampling is their Butterscotch Milk Chocolate, which is quite frankly addictive.
The pop-up is only there until March 9th, so hurry to 71 Monmouth Street, eat chocolate and support fair trade.
For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter, you might have missed the fact that I was lucky enough to win a box of cupcakes!
There’s an awesome website called Tryum, which recommends fab places to eat in London. Just Tweet/email them if you want to know a good place for eating XYZ, and they’ll give you a recommendation. Their food features are really fun too!
They ran a Valentine’s competition for Crumbs and Doilies cupcakes and I was lucky enough to win! Being single, this was an excellent Valentine’s treat!
When I took a trip to Crumbs and Doilies Covent Garden stall to collect my cupcakes, I got very excited and you can see why…
Later that evening it was time to tuck in, although these cupcakes are almost too beautiful to eat! (I said almost!)
I enjoyed them all, but my favourite was the chocolate cream cupcake, which was lovely and moist and, of course, chocolatey! However, I’m also developing a worrying obsession with Red Velvet. My friend linked me to this article Everything You Need To Know About Red Velvet, and it has dangerous sayings such as “A red velvet cupcake makes the heart young again and wipes out the years.” Uh-oh, I better eat more!
Thanks to Crumbs and Doilies for making such gorgeous cupcakes and thanks to Tryum for running the competition!
Multicultural. The buzz word for policies, companies, employment opportunities and that sort of thing. It’s also a fairly apt description of human life in London. I’m currently studying a Master’s at LSE and, out of the 200+ in the department, I’ve so far encountered three Brits. We are rare specimens.
German, Taiwanese, Chinese, Puerto Rican, American, Thai. These were my companions and I found myself in a karaoke booth at the back of a Japanese second-hand manga store, wailing down a microphone and murdering every song I attempted.
Afterwards, it was time to eat and time to give poor India some representation: we’d reserved a table at Dishoom, self-described as a Bombay Café.
Things didn’t exactly get off to a smooth start. We were twenty minutes early so we were given a buzzer to wait at the bar whilst our table was prepared. However, we could clearly see our table, beautifully laid, across the gigantic and completely empty restaurant. We pointed this out and were very reluctantly seated, but the incident left a bad feeling like they were just trying to push drinks at the bar. To make matters worse, when our waitress for the evening arrived, she’d apparently been instructed to inform us – in a very friendly manner – that it was their policy not to seat parties until everyone had arrived, but it was OK today because the restaurant was empty. Which made no sense, because a reserved table is a reserved table – or so one would hope.
Rant over! We didn’t stay disgruntled for long and had a really good evening all round. In fact, Dishoom is the kind of place where it’s impossible not to have fun. Its décor is bright but not loud, and apparently it doesn’t stay empty for long. We were seated in an alcove table, which is perfect for groups of 6 to 10 people, and it made dish-sharing wonderfully easy. It’s the kind of place which encourages relaxed munching and much laughter with friends.
I found the menu a little strange. It focuses on Bombay snack food, grilled meat and naan bread, and includes very few vegetable side dish options. There are only three wet curries on the menu, which is bizarre given that naan bread, in my opinion, needs to be eaten with some kind of sauce or relish! However, I’ve not been to Bombay or a Bombay café so I can’t comment on how usual it is.
First off, we ordered a range of exciting drinks. I chose a chocolate chai (£2.70), which I absolutely loved. I wasn’t sure how the combination would work, but the flavour balance was perfect and they’d avoided the temptation to make it too sweet.
Also worth mentioning was the rose and cardamom lassi (£3.50). Subtle but delicious. Highly recommended.
Next up, we tucked into a range of “small plates, to be taken lightly”. We tried Pau Bhaji (£.390) – “A bowl of mashed vegetables with hot buttered pau bun, Chowpatty Beach style” – which made me want to research flights to Bombay (or should I say Mumbai?) straight away. Thick, rich and delicious, we kept on scooping the vegetable mush after the slightly-sweet bun was finished.
We also tried Vada Pau (£3.90) – a potato patty in a bun. Pleasant but unmemorable.
However, do not fail to order Dishoom Calamari (£5.20). They’re light, crispy and so moreish. They’re served with a dubiously named “Dishoom drizzle” – I don’t know what it is, but it’s seriously good.
Next up, we tucked into our grilled dishes. The Spicy Lamb Chops (£11.50) were tender and tasty enough, but fell short of being spectacular because there needed to be more effort put into the seasoning.
Similarly, the Masala Prawns (£10.50) were more salty than anything else. I didn’t feel compelled to fight with my co-diners over the last one.
Because we felt we should have a wet curry, we ordered the Chicken Ruby (£7.90) – “a mellow curry in the South Indian Style” – which I remember to be tangy, and a little dull.
Compelled to finish the meal in style, I ended with Cinnamon Ice-Cream (£2.90), which was reasonably priced for the portion-size but it was a little salty and not as smooth as I like ice-cream to be.
An enjoyable experience and enjoyable food, but it could have been executed with greater skill. I hear the Shoreditch branch is the place to go.
Food 3.5/5 – All tasty! But we weren’t bowled over.
Service 2/5 – As well as the above-mentioned saga, we had to wait a really long time in between visits from our waitress.
Value 3/5 – I paid £20 for three-courses, a drink and service, and was satisfied. But the grilled meat is pricey for what it is.
Atmosphere 4/5 – It’s Dishoom and it’s Covent Garden. It’s lively and fun!
After gorging at the wonderfully delicious and reasonably priced Cinnamon Soho, I felt full. So full that I successfully fought off my friend’s attempts to entice me into Boba Jam for bubble tea. I’ll definitely try it another day as I’m looking to see if any places can rival Lakwatsa.
However, we spent way too long chatting and strolling at a leisurely pace and perusing expensive dresses that neither one of us could afford. So by the time, I passed Daskalidès I was unable to resist a hot chocolate.
For those of you who haven’t visited Daskalidès, I recommend that you rectify this situation. There is both a shop and a café. I haven’t tried their chocolates from the shop, but they look fantastic and they’re all imported from Belgium. If you’re not a fan of chocolate, there’s a rather amazing breakfast offer that is bound to appeal to hungry coffee drinkers.
My friend and I were ogling the chocolates when a pretty blonde woman entered the shop. She wanted some milk chocolates for her husband, and asked the man behind the counter to make her up a selection. She was surprisingly indifferent to which chocolates he selected; apparently any milk ones would do. I’m a control freak who would also want to sample all the chocolates, so I would never take this approach.
Musing over the situation, I realised that I couldn’t really justify buying chocolates for myself. I spend far too much on food as it is. I needed a new strategy.
“I need a wife to buy me chocolates!” I announced to the woman and the shop assistant.
They both looked at me.
“I can’t afford to buy chocolates for myself, so it’d be lovely to have a wife to buy some for me,” I continued.
There was a short pause. The shop assistant carried on selecting chocolates, but he glanced up at me and said quietly, “Going gay for chocolate is a little extreme.”
I was unperturbed. “ Oh, I’d do anything for chocolate!… But don’t quote me on that!”
By this point, they were both smiling at the crazy girl who had just implied that she might sell herself for chocolate. That was fatal; I couldn’t hold myself back and launched into a long diatribe about the amazing lunch I’d just had and how I’d had a chocolate cumin cake with pistachio ice-cream.
“Don’t tempt me,” said the shop assistant. “Where is it? It sounds amazing.”
The poor woman patiently waited for her chocolates whilst I enthused about the lunch. (Cinnamon Soho – yes I love you lots).
The lady left, and the shop assistant directed us to the café downstairs for some hot chocolate. He was in a pretty good mood by this point though, so he gave my friend a free chocolate!
We descended the stairs and found a surprisingly large café that exudes a modern cosiness.
Here you can get yourself a cinnamon hot chocolate for £2.80 and you can choose whether you want it milk or dark (and if you’re a self-respecting chocaholic, I expect you to choose the latter!) Look how large it is:
It wasn’t the smoothest chocolate drink I’ve ever had, but it was chocolatey, tasty and satisfying. If I’m in the area and craving some cinnamon, I’ll stop by. After all, I had just been to Cinnamon Soho and had failed to actually order anything with cinnamon.
You might think I have a thing for cinnamon. And you’d be right. However, today I’ve managed to have cinnamon porridge for breakfast and an apple and cinnamon roll from Karaway in Westfield Stratford, so my cinnamon cravings are being kept in check.
Deskalidès cinnamon hot chocolate – 4/5
Yummy and good value, and with cinnamon. Happy times!