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.
Have you ever been in need of an izakaya that was reasonably priced by reasonably healthy? Where the atmosphere is casual yet comfortable?
Well, Obanzai Nana is your answer…I’ve now hit up their Shibuya store (opposite BIC Camera) three times and delighted whoever I’ve introduced.
A good friend of me let me on this secret as she’s a big veggie fan. Nana will sort you out with veggies, pickles, grilled fish, tofu. Nothing is overly sweet, although I did order some grilled chicken once that could have oiled my bicycle for a year…
Obanzai itself refers to a kind of traditional cuisine from Kyoto, in which at least half the ingredients must be produced and processed in Kyoto, and be seasonal. Obanzai Nana is a very small chain, ironically with no stores in Kyoto but I guess they have plenty of obanzai restaurants there already… Continue reading “Obanzai Nana, Shibuya / おばんざい 菜な、渋谷”
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.
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.
Cue: Phoebe and Loz skipped down the street with happiness. Sadly not into the sunset. Because it was already dark. The end.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m a little slow off the mark, but I finally got round to visiting the amazing street food vendors, Yum Bun, in their new home – a take-out shop off Old Street roundabout.
Yum Bun are regulars at street food markets like Kerb, so you might already be familiar with their unbelievably delicious ‘pillow-soft’ steamed buns filled with Chinese and Japanese-inspired flavours. The team are taking break from the market scene in order to vastly improve lunch prospects in the Old Street area by setting up a take-out shop. As well as selling buns individually (£3.50 each or 2 for £6), they also offer a £7.50 bento box containing two buns, two veggie gyoza dumplings and salad, served with a cup of miso soup.
I got the classic belly pork with hoi sin sauce, cucumber and spring onions – and its tender sweetness was pure bliss.
Yum Bun have branched out and now offer mushroom, chicken, beef and salmon. I tried the braised ox cheek with coriander and peanuts, which was also tasty, but didn’t quite reach the ecstasy levels of the pork classic.
The veggie gyoza were great and the salad was fresh and crisp. One small point – the miso soup definitely needed to be stronger.
I cannot wait to stop by again. The new flavours are a challenge – gotta try ‘em all! Anyone sampled the others? Would love to hear your opinions.
Anyway, get yourself to Yum Bun ASAP. Apparently you can take your bento box next door into the long-term pop-up Rotary Bar and Diner (which I reviewed here)…. or you can end up eating it in a graveyard like I did.
Website: http://www.yumbun.co.uk/ (I think it’s a super-cute website – seriously have a look) Where: 31 Featherstone Street, EC1Y 2BJ When: Lunch Monday to Friday 11.30am – 2.30pm; Thursday to Saturday, 5pm – 10pm
Dear readers, apologies for the break! Exams have prevented me from blogging. However, you’ll pleased to know that *nothing* prevents me from eating! So I have a good two months’ backlog of delciousness.
For my return to the blogosphere, I bring you a 5/5 review (yes really) from the brilliant Shoryu ramen.
To celebrate their opening, they were offering a 3-day 50% discount. So I went twice. Then they extended their offer to the end of April so I squeezed in a third trip ( – such a chore being a food blogger, I know). So I have sampled THREE dishes for you all.
First of all, Shoryu looks like a Japanese restaurant. It has drapes over the door, the low tables, baskets for your belongings and that elegant modernism that makes Japanese-design generally revered. Having spent a lot of time in Japan, I was instantly in love. Plus there are actually Japanese people working there. Shouting in Japanese. Oh I was so happy.
Secondly, I must make a terrible confession. I have spent over 14 months of my life in Japan. And I’ve hardly ever eaten ramen. I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Noodles in soup? How exciting could that be? Turns out I was just unlucky in my choices. Because now I’ve had Shoryu Ramen, I want to eat ramen until slops out of my ears. Almost.
Shoryu serve ramen in tonkotsu broth – broth made from boiling up pork bones. The menu runs several variations on the theme. I tried their signature Shoryu Ganso Tonkotsu (£9.50) – a tonkotsu and miso broth with added spinach and garlic. Your menu will tell you: “All tonkotsu ramen comes in a rich tonkotsu pork broth with bbq pork, nitamago egg, kikurage mushrooms, beansprouts, spring onion, sesame, ginger & nori unless stated.” So expect all the works. Tender slices of pork, delicious mushrooms, the slightly sweet hard-boiled egg. Oh yes.
For me, this ramen hit the spot. The broth was rich and warming without being too heavy or oily. The sesame and garlic were fantastic. It was essentially a evolutionary flavour party and had me draining my bowl dry.
It’s traditional to eat ramen by slurping the noodles in a way that would be considered horrendously impolite in the UK. I’ve never managed the trick as I end up sucking the noodles too quickly so they whip upwards and splatter broth across my forehead. But by all means, give it a try.
On my second visit I risked the Dracula Tonkotsu (£11.50), described as “deep roasted tones from caramelised black garlic mayu, balsamic vinegar and garlic chips”. Mayu is apparently a type of garlic oil, and yes, this was garlicky! If you love garlic, then this is definitely for you. Please realise that you will be antisocial for two days afterwards (I exaggerate not). I found the garlic chips a bit bitter and just a tad too much, but the flavour of the broth was again spot on.
Third time round, I tackled Karaka Tantan Tonkotsu (
£9.90) – “
tonkotsu with a twist, rich and spicy fried minced pork in white miso & garlic with added lemon, garlic and chiu chow chilli oil”. This is actually spicy – not mouth-scorchingly so, but it has a real pleasant kick. The chilli flavour is the slightly sour spice like in Korean kimchi but a lot milder, and, although my tongue initially protested, within a few mouthfuls it gave in and begged for more. Seriously addictive. For anyone who likes spice, I highly recommend this dish. It comes without the barbecue pork but spicy minced pork on top – very tasty but I thought the portion could have been a little more generous.
My friend Sparrow was dining with me, and in a very un-Sparrow-like manner, he was super hungry and ordered Shishito (
fried padron peppers with hakata yuzu and british sea salt – and we shared some Gyoza Dumplings (5 pieces / £5). The peppers were a little underwhelming – too plain for my liking – but the gyoza were fabulous. Shoryu also do some Hirata Buns (the steamed white soft dough with tasty fillings like belly pork sandwiched in the middle) but sadly they didn’t have them the day I was there. If anyone has tried them, do let me know your opinion!
Shoryu Ramen 5/5 – Just so good. Don’t waste a single drop of that broth.
Food 5/5 – I can’t believe my scepticism in Japan has seen me reduced to this ramen-loving blabbering idiot. Shoryu have converted me. Value 3/5 – So in Japan, ramen are cheap. Seriously cheap. £5 a bowl cheap. But the thing is that Shoryu ramen are so good…so if you pretend that you don’t know about the true cost of ramen, and only know the London cost of ramen, then it’s fine 😉 Plus they have the 10%-off offer at the moment! Atmosphere 4/5 – You’re crammed in but there’s happy slurping all round. Service 5/5 – Prompt and efficient. I love the older Japanese guy who calls out Japanese greetings. Makes me miss Japan.
Website:http://www.shoryuramen.com/ Where: 3 Denman Street London W1D 7HA (30 seconds from Piccadilly Circus) When: Mon – Fri 11:45-15:00 / 17:00-00:00; Sat 11:45-00:00; Sun & Bank Holidays 11:45-21:30