Spice Lab Tokyo, Ginza

The Spice Trail was laid out before us; our duty was simply to follow…

So began our journey through eight courses at Spice Lab Tokyo. The premise was slightly outrageous – “the perfect union of new India and Japanese sensibilities” – but definitely intriguing and, from the first mouthful – a beautiful tomato jelly presented as an “Offering” to the “Temple” – it promised to deliver.

We moved on through tamarind-spiked pineapple to a plate of street food “classics” with a twist – chaat as ooba (perilla leaf) tempura with tamarind, mint and yoghurt; the bao with tamarind chicken; the samosa with five-spiced lamb.

Heading toward the Coastline, we encountered mustard ayu, followed by a plum and cumin palate cleanser, and succeeded by the”Emperor”. This was a dish that truly deserved to rule –  pillow soft chicken breast cooked at low temperature, morels, broad beans, cashew nuts, fenugreek and saikyo miso (sweet white miso).

Then arrived the biryani cooked in bamboo and filled with summer vegetables and begging for seconds in its own right, and then thirds and fourths when smothered with its accompanying dishes of a fresh avocado and aubergine raita, a peanut and tamarind curry, and a rich and creamy mung bean dal,

If this sounds like a lot of food, you should be aware that all this comes with four kinds of kulcha (Indian leavened flatbread): butter, hojicha (roasted green tea), edamame and blue cheese, and sundried tomato and basil (the ultimate Indian pizza). Whatever combination of rice, sauce, or kulcha, the variety and depths of flavours took me down avenues of adventures, and led my Indian companions down memory lane.

By the time we got to the chocolate chickpea laddu with mango sorbet and passion fruit, I knew I needed to study – fill my ignorance of Indian cuisines. I also knew that the Spice Trail was actually a pilgrimage.

Fortunately, at the end of our meal. we were able to directly pay homage to Chef Tejas Sovani, who worked at Noma among others. He immediately returned our praise with a question: “Were you sceptical before you came?” When pressed on why he would ask, he explains that many do not believe delicate Japanese and robust Indian flavours could ever be married successfully. Indeed, it took hours of experimenting to perfect but Sovani has carved out an exciting new culinary path, and you would be foolish not to embark on the journey. 

Spice Lab Tokyo
Daily: Lunch 11:30 – 15:00 (14:00 LO); Dinner 18:00 – 22:30 (21:00 LO)

Recipe: Easy Punjabi Chicken Curry and Mixed Vegetable Dhal


I love spicy food. And when I say spicy, I don’t just mean chilli heat that burns your tongue off. I mean food that is really rich in spices, with flavours that have tantalising layers and aromatic depths.

So, admittedly, it’s quite tragic that I fell in love with Japan where flavours are clean, simple and precise – with an emphasis on minimalism to bring out the essence of the original ingredient.

This has its place, but sometimes I just want a really tasty curry. Even better if it’s one I can make in under an hour… Continue reading “Recipe: Easy Punjabi Chicken Curry and Mixed Vegetable Dhal”

Review: Kaccharu Baccharu, Shin-Otsuka – the best Indian in Tokyo?


I have had a lot of rubbish Indian food. Let’s not remember Moti in Roppongi.

There are a lot of places highly rated that I have found utterly underwhelming: Rasoi in Meguro and Dhaba in Kyobashi to name but two. SITAARA Aoyama was so bland and boring it was absolute joke, although they served possibly the nicest mango lassi I’ve ever had. Be thankful for small mercies.


However, a friend insisted I tried Kaccharu Baccharu (カッチャルバッチャル).

“I also look at the rankings on Tabelog,” she told me. “Forget about a score of over 3.5, I always try the restaurants ranked number 1.” Continue reading “Review: Kaccharu Baccharu, Shin-Otsuka – the best Indian in Tokyo?”

Review: Priya, Hiroo, Tokyo

Chef's special lunch
Chef’s special lunch

As you may remember, I get very strong cravings for Indian food lately and to say that these have yet to be satisfied would be an understatement – I was so disappointed with one meal that I refused to pay for all of it.

But I’d spied an Indian friend on Facebook dining at a place called Priya, and I thought maybe my luck was finally in. On a particularly rainy, stormy and miserable day, my accomplices and I dripped and shivered our way over to Hiroo and our noses were immediately greeted by warm, spicy and enticing scents. Continue reading “Review: Priya, Hiroo, Tokyo”

Review: Moti, Roppongi; or, Why I walked out of a restaurant without paying

It looked promising enough...
It looked promising enough…

It finally happened. I’ve reached an age where I’ve conquered my self-doubt to be confident enough to protest paying for a meal when it’s not up to scratch. Even so, it takes a bit of steeling and it can leave a taste that is worse than the food.

Drastic though this sounds, Moti was really asking for it. Moti are taking their customers for a ride so hard and so fast that you’ll reach the moon and back before you’ve blinked twice. Continue reading “Review: Moti, Roppongi; or, Why I walked out of a restaurant without paying”

Review: Rasa N16, Stoke Newington (Indian vegetarian restaurant)

Kathrikka - sliced aubergine in a spiced batter
Kathrikka – sliced aubergine in a spiced batter

I am dedicated to my carnivorous ways, despite being fully aware of my hypocrisy: I believe there is no ethical justification for eating meat, but life is just too short for me not to enjoy it. I don’t cook a huge amount of meat at home, so when eating out, it’s something I seek. Desperately. Determinedly. Especially beef, which tops my absolute most favourite food list in the whole wide world. (‘Obsessive’ doesn’t quite cover my devotion to beef.)

There are occasional moments, however, where I open my meat-crazed mind to the possibilities of delicious vegetarian fare out there, in the capital. Albeit this only occurs when dining out with vegetarians, but the point is that it does occur.

In addition to the meat bias of my blog, I try to keep it as a space for sharing food I enjoyed – even if it was just part of the meal, or one dish. Yet sometimes culinary atrocities are too great and they must leap out from my traumatised tongue onto a blank page or screen, as the case may be.

There was a veggie among our party of four and so the mission was on: find something to please all. We dined at Rasa N16 because it served Indian food – specifically south Indian/ Keralan – and that was universally popular choice. It wasn’t the easiest place for us to get to, but positive reviews online told us that we could expect some seriously tasty vegetarian Indian fare at ridiculously good prices. We voyaged out, ready to feast whilst feeling all ethical and healthy. Sadly though, these positive feelings were not enough to counterbalance the gastronomic sacrilege that was laid before us.

Mysore Bonda
Mysore Bonda

We tried four starters (£3.25 each): Kathrikka (sliced aubergine in a spiced batter); Mysore Bonda (spiced potato fried in a chickpea flour); Masala Vadai (deep-fried lentil patties); and Bhel Mix (essentially bhelpuri – a famous Bombay street snack of puffed rice, chickpeas and veg with tamarind juice and coriander). None of these were memorable or flavoursome, requiring a good deal of coconut chutney.

Masala Vedai
Masala Vedai

The Masala Vedai were particularly dry and bland and the Bhel Mix was initially interesting – coriander always adds a fresh tang – but quickly became monotonous. It was left unfinished.

Bhel Mix
Bhel Mix

Never mind, we thought. It’s hard to make a bland curry. How naïve we were. A tomato and aubergine curry appeared (Rasa Vangi, £4.50_ that was about as inspiring as X Factor reject auditions, save for the fact we couldn’t even laugh at its attempts.

Rasa Vangi
Rasa Vangi

Still, there was one more dish of intrigue – one dish onto which we could pin all our hopes. Our waiter had advised us to order Beet Cheera Pachadi (£4.50) a very adventurous beetroot and spinach curry, in a yoghurt sauce with coconut, mustard seeds and curry leaves.  This is apparently a Rasa speciality. Highly recommended.

Beet Cheera Pachadi - all kinds of wrong mixed into one
Beet Cheera Pachadi – all kinds of wrong mixed into one

My friend tasted it first. She wrinkled her nose. “It tastes like salad!”

And she was right. Somehow, the chef at Rasa has created a ‘curry’, which seems to use salad cream as its base sauce. Had it contained a few potatoes, we would have been convinced it was supposed to be salad, served up next to charred meats at a barbecue. The dish remained, untouched. None of us could stomach it.

Re-reading the online recommendations for Rasa N16 makes me wonder whether my friends and I suffered some kind of collective hallucination. Yet whilst the service was good and the prices were undeniably reasonable, the food was something that we would never pay for again.

I have been told there is some very good vegetarian food to be found in the capital. Please restore my faith. Recommendations please.

Rasa N16 2/5 – The food was appalling. Vegetarian food deserves better. The ingredients deserve better

Food 1/5 – I think this might be my first 1/5 scoring on this blog. Sad times indeed.
Value 2/5 – It was very cheap but we would never pay for it again!
Atmosphere 2/5 – It was empty yet somehow a little claustrophobic.
Service 3/5 – Prompt and efficient.

Website: http://www.rasarestaurants.com/

Review: Dinner at Dishoom (Covent Garden)


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.

Chocolate chai
Chocolate chai

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.

Rose and Cardamom Lassi
Rose and Cardamom Lassi

Also worth mentioning was the rose and cardamom lassi (£3.50). Subtle but delicious. Highly recommended.

Pau Bhaji
Pau Bhaji – Lick the bowl clean!

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.

Vada Pau
Vada Pau

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.

Spicy Lamb Chops - £11.50 really?
Spicy Lamb Chops – £11.50 really?

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.

Masala Prawns
Masala Prawns

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.

Chicken Ruby
Chicken Ruby

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.

Cinnamon Ice Cream - feeding my cinnamon cravings...
Cinnamon Ice Cream – feeding my cinnamon cravings…

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.

Dishoom Covent Garden 3/5
12 Upper St Martin’s Lane, WC2H 9FB

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!

Review: Cinnamon Soho


Having been impressed by the cooking demonstration given by Vivek Singh at Taste of Christmas 2012, I needed to investigate his restaurants. I was particularly interested in his third venture, Cinnamon Soho, which in Singh’s words is “the younger, trendier sibling” of Cinnamon Club and Cinnamon Kitchen. It strives for a casual atmosphere and serves up some interesting fusion cooking. In other words, it sounded pretty exciting!

Outside Cinnamon Soho
Outside Cinnamon Soho

We arrived at just before 1pm to find the restaurant alarmingly empty, with only a couple of parties dining. The inside is modern and swish – dark wood and plain furniture. It didn’t exactly exude homeliness but its simplicity gave it some charm – it hovered on just the right side of minimalism.

A waiter approached us and I asked him the question that had been gnawing away at me.

“Excuse me, could tell me what exactly are your balls?”

Yes, really. These were promoted by Time Out as one of London’s 100 best dishes of 2012. But what are balls? How are the various fillings – ranging from crab to potatoes – put into balls?

I don’t think I fully understood the response, but my friend and I were determined to have them anyway. The options are 4 of the same kind, or 10 of 5 different kinds. We took the latter (£9.00) and were presented with this beautiful tray of…well…balls. Our answer appeared to be light breadcrumbs!

Wild game is in the middle (order this or be miserable)
Wild game is in the middle (order this or be miserable)

We began with the Crab Cake, which was surprisingly unfishy. Moving on, we tackled the rather spicy Potato Bondas, which went well with the coriander chutney. We found that the Vegetable Shikampur was deliciously gooey in the centre.

The quail egg has gone pink!
The quail egg has gone pink!

The Bangla Scotch Egg was a disappointment, which was a shame because the British/Indian fusion concept is really interesting. The breadcrumbs were fantastically crunchy but the flavours didn’t work together and the aniseed overpowered everything.

However, the  wild game – rabbit and pigeon – with pumpkin chutney was out of this world! I admit I did wrinkle my nose at the sound of this, convinced that wild game wouldn’t be for me. But the meat was perfectly seasoned with cumin and other spices, it wasn’t too dry or too chewy, and the sweetness of the pumpkin gave a vibrancy to every mouthful.

Our waiter was aware of our fondness for food and was keen to hear our impressions, agreeing that the wild game ball was particularly good. We weren’t sure whether to feel sorry for him – given the emptiness of the restaurant, our discussion of dating disasters must have been floating through the air. But then again, maybe he appreciated the entertainment. (Our conversation was very sophisticated and went along the lines of: as there are no guys on our course, maybe we should try to become attracted to Asian females?)

Bhangra Burgers
Bhangra Burgers

Bhangra burgers
Bhangra Burgers

For the mains, we took advantage of the Lunch Express Menu. We tried the Bhangra Burgers (£6.75)  – described as a “trio of spiced lamb sliders served with…tomato chutney, green coriander and smoked chilli & garlic chutney”. These were a lot of fun to eat. The buns were soft and not too heavy, the lamb tasty, and the chutneys were great – although the flavours could have been a little bolder.

Kingly Seekh Kebab
Kingly Seekh Kebab Roll

We also devoured the Kingly Seekh Kebab Roll (£6.50). Again the lamb was beautifully spiced and tender, and the naan roll  was soft and not at all dry, despite appearances.

Chocolate cumin cake with pistachio ice-cream
Chocolate cumin cake with pistachio ice-cream

The food was so good that our gluttony did not stop there. We shared a Chocolate and Cumin Cake with Pistachio Ice-Cream (£5.50). The chocolate cake was like a very gooey brownie, and its richness was nicely offset by the pistachio ice-cream. I had been worried that the cumin and/or pistachio would have been overpowering, but the flavours blended seamlessly together. Dare I say that they were perhaps a little too subtle? Possibly, but it was a fantastic dessert and I would order it again.

All in all, our bill came to £31.22 (including service), which meant that we enjoyed a top-quality three-course meal for just £15.61 each. Wow.

Also, on their lunch menu is a £7.50 Rapid Lunch, which includes: curry of the day, vegetable fritter, chutney, raita, salad, pilau rice, garlic naan, lentils and stir-fried vegetables. How much of a bargain is that?

Cinnamon Soho – 4.5/5
Interesting and delicious modern Indian cuisine at reasonable prices. What more could you want?

Food 4/5
Service 5/5
Ambience 2.5/5
Value 5/5

Cinnamon Soho 
5 Kingly street | London W1B 5PF