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Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Kaema Sutra - Whetting My Appetite for Sri Lankan Flavours and Sunnier Days at the Shangri-La Hotel

Words and Photography by Margot Carone and Luiz Hara

Name: Kaema Sutra Restaurant at Shangri-La Colombo

Where: Shangri-La Hotel Colombo, 1 Galle Face, Colombo 2, Sri Lanka 

About: I recently embarked on a Sri Lankan journey that whetted my appetite for the taste and flavours of this country – right here in the heart of London. The Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard brought to the capital celebrity Chef Dharshan Munidasa who runs the fine dining restaurant Kaema Sutra in the group’s newly opened, sister property in Colombo.

A self-taught chef - something he is very proud of – Munidasa has managed to place two of his restaurants amongst the best 50 in Asia. Born in Tokyo to a Japanese mother and a Sri Lankan father, he fell in love with food watching his parents cook. He embraces the traditions of Sri Lankan cuisine and gives them Japanese sensitivity and elegance, he explains. He is mindful of the ingredients used in his kitchens – sustainability plays a central role in his dishes. One of his restaurants, Ministry of Crab, one of the most coveted (and dear) tables in Colombo, uses 100% locally sourced ingredients.

What We Ate: After champagne, chilled, whole King coconuts were brought to our table - a great, and delightful surprise. Native to Sri Lanka, King coconuts are bright yellow in colour and have plenty of refreshing water.

We kicked off with Spicy Ali Geta Pera salad, a tapas-style avocado filled with a preparation of Seeni-sambol (a sweet and lightly sour relish made with dried bonito flakes and seaweed). This was great - creamy, tangy, spicy, and bursting with umami.

Then came the beautiful Egg Hopper a la minute, “a bowl-shaped rice flour crepe that is crusty on the edge and soft in the middle”, a popular Sri Lankan breakfast or tea-time dish. The curries were brought at the same time, along with a Rustic coconut roti. “The way to eat a Hopper is using your hands”, advised the nice gentleman sitting opposite me, who I later found out was Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner.

I couldn’t have asked for a better person to teach me Sri Lankan dinner table etiquette - he also suggested I added the beautiful fresh water prawn curry, with its rich and creamy gravy, to the eggs. It was the first curry I tried that evening. The prawn was meaty and juicy; the gravy had a hint of kaffir lime that brought a refreshing yet peppery flavour to the dish. I was very lucky to be seated with guests who were too polite to go for a second helping. I took my chance in a flash. The prawns were too good to be left in the plate.

Next up were the dry chicken curry, made from diced, skinless dark meat and the tuna Ambulthiyal, a sashimi-grade tuna from the Indian Ocean cut into cubes and cooked a la minute with a tangy garcinia (a tropical fruit that can be used  like tamarind). We wanted to love both dishes, but in our opinion they were a tad dry and lacked some needed flavour oomph.

Better though was the Crab Kottu, a traditional Sri Lankan dish considered by many to be the ultimate comfort food of the land. This was a delicious stir-fry of crabmeat, shredded roti, vegetables, chillies and curry leaves that got me scraping my plate.

Kaema Sutra’s signature dessert – What the Hopper – is Munidasa’s sweet take on the savoury version. Described as a crunchy Pani Appa, it was a crepe filled with whipped curd, topped with fresh strawberries and drizzled with pure palm treacle. This was light as a feather and well balanced (not too sweet).

As someone who likes to travel and experience different cuisines in their original setting, I imagine all these dishes would have that tropical je ne sais quoi if I were sitting on one of Sri Lanka’s paradise beaches, or at the Shangri-La Colombo. The crafted dishes of Chef Dharshan Munidasa, however, gave me a taster of Sri Lankan flavours, of sunnier days and warmer climates, they made me want to pack my bags and head to this fascinating island.

If you are planning to visit Sri Lanka, the newly opened Shangri-La Colombo is the top luxury hotel in the country. Kaema Sutra Restaurant, serves fine dining Sri Lankan cuisine and is on the fourth floor of the hotel – to find out more about Shangri-La Colombo and Kaema Sutra restaurant, visit their website here.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Baozi Inn: Affordable and Delicious Northern Chinese Street Food and Small Eats in London’s Soho

Name: Baozi Inn 

Where: 24 Romilly Street, London W1D 5AH, https://baoziinn.com/

Cost: There is an excellent value set lunch at £8.90 of meat or vegetable main course + two cold dishes from the chef's selection of the day + a bowl of jiaozi dumplings in broth.  

Alternatively, choose grilled lobster + beer at £18.90, with choice of Asian bottled beer (Tsingtao 1903, Sapporo or Chang) or draft beer (Franziskaner, Dutch Hertog Jan or Leffe Blonde). The selection of beers is impressive.

About: Opened in March 2018 on the site of the former Bar Shan, this is the third Baozi branch in London opened by restaurateur Shao Wei. Baozi Inn’s sister restaurants include Baiwei (reviewed here) and Bar Shu, the group’s flagship at the busy corner between Frith and Romilly Streets (reviewed here).

Baozi Inn was named after the Cantonese baozi dumpling, filled with pork or vegetable, the name also refers to the communal canteens that were introduced during the time of Chairman Mao.

Baozi Inn specializes in the eponymous dumplings, and Northern Chinese street food with a smattering of Sichuanese and Shanghainese dishes like barbecued skewers, Dan Dan noodles and Kao Fu. The offering is generally of small eats intended to be shared and served with beer, although there is a very extensive menu of fine wines and spirits.

The restaurant also offers an all-day Cantonese dim sum menu with Sichuanese and Hunanese influences which I am hoping to try in my next visit. Baozi Inn is in the heart of Soho between Old Compton Street and Shaftesbury Avenue, and being originally a Georgian townhouse, has an intricate layout with many adjoining rooms.  The restaurant is set over three floors within the building.

What We Ate: We started with a selection of cold dishes. Sichuanese ginger juice spinach (£4.50), served with goji berries and soybeans was refreshing and well seasoned with a great depth of flavour.

Kao Fu (marinated wheat gluten with peanuts and black fungus), is a Shanghainese vegetarian cold appetizer (£4.80) and a personal favourite, it was sweet, savoury and exactly as my dear friend, Shanghainese foodie extraordinaire Jason Li (of the Shanghai Dreams Supper Club) makes them.

I also enjoyed the cloud ear fungus in pickled chillies and vinegar (£4.50) – this had great texture and kick of hot chilli and garlic. 

Sesame prawn on toast (£4.50 for 2 pieces) was impressive - made using Chinese steamed (mantou) buns, filled with prawn and then deep-fried, it was a far cry from the usual fare we know of. Served with a passionfruit mayonnaise, they were delicious.

The mixed skewer platter (£17.50), came with two each of cumin lamb, pork belly and chicken skewers. The northern Chinese lamb skewers were tender and sweet, with a warming heat on the finish.   For me, the pork and chicken skewers were unfortunately a tad dry.

We had two of their signature baozi dumplings, one pork and one vegetarian, the latter having a pale green colour from spinach juice (£5.20 for 2).  The vegetarian bun was filled with radish, noodles and black fungus, and both were fluffy, tender and very well seasoned.

The award-winning jiaozi dumplings included pork (£5) and prawn green jiaozi with XO sauce (£6.90). Both made on the premises by hand, and were succulent and delicious. There was a great depth of flavour and umami in the XO sauce.

Squid ball skewers (£5.20 for 4 pieces) had a crisp coating with a soft interior.

Spicy beef shin noodles in broth (£13.80) was a deliciously hearty bowl beef, noodles and smoked bamboo shoots, which imparted to the broth an intense flavour and richness. A fantastic dish.

Dan Dan noodles (£10.80) were tender and fresh, served in a spicy and flavoursome sesame and peanut sauce, minced pork and Sichuanese preserved mustard greens (Ya Cai).

The lobster in fragrant spicy chilli sauce with a choice of beer (£18.90), we went for a glass of Belgian Leffe, came with red chilli oil, Sichuan pepper, ginger, green beans, celery and onion. This is such as a good deal and I really wanted to love it, but for me, the lobster was a tad overcooked and so tough.

What We Drank: We had a glass each of the draft beers Franziskaner Weissbier (£4.50), Hertog Jan from the Netherlands (£3.80) and Belgian Leffe Blond (£3.80) as well as a bottle of Tsingtao 1903 Premium beer (£4). Baozi Inn’s range of good quality beers is impressive.

We finished with a pot of Yunnan Pu Er tea (£3.80). It is served in a tiny cup from a tiny pot, but comes with a flask of boiling water which allows for plenty of top ups. 

Likes: One of the most interesting and innovative drinks menus of any Chinese restaurant in town.  I enjoyed the Shanghainese cold starters, the baozi and jiaozi dumplings hand-made on the premises, and the great range of draft European beers.  

Dislikes: the much anticipated lobster was a bit of a let down.

Verdict: Baozi Inn serves Northern Chinese street food, Sichuanese and Shanghainese small eats that are affordable and of good quality. It is great to see this new addition to the Bar Shu group, raising the bar of Chinese cooking and drinks offering in London. Recommended.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Barbados South Coast - Where to Stay, Eat and Play

The Low-Down

A trip to Barbados may for many be all about sea, sun and rum - but dig a little deeper, and you will discover a country with a fascinating history, some of the warmest people and most importantly – great food.

With 166 square miles, the island is roughly triangular in shape, measuring just 20 miles from northwest to southeast and about 15 miles from east to west at its widest point. Thanks to Barbados’ size and good road infrastructure, it is not hard to get around and I was lucky enough to be able to travel to nearly every corner of this Caribbean island – I swam with turtles, went on a rum shop (bar) crawl, learnt about rum making and the sad history of African slaves and Indentured Irish and Scottish forced labour (more on that later). I ate with locals and even went to an opera recital, and of course, I had some downtime on the sandy beaches of the West Coast.

For such a small country, it is surprising to see just how varied the coastal regions of Barbados are. The South Coast is the most developed and the busiest side of the island - it attracts a lot of families and younger travellers looking for a great time day and night. Accommodation can range from small guesthouses to all-inclusives or larger 4 and 5 star hotels to suit every budget. Most beaches on the South Coast are suitable for swimming though algae can be an issue at certain times of the year, so do check before booking your hotel.

The West Coast is substantially more upmarket, with numerous luxury hotels, some of the swankiest restaurants, huge mansions and well manicured tree-lined streets. It attracts a more affluent and older demographic who come to the West Coast for relaxation and sun. The beaches on the West Coast are some of the prettiest, and you can swim in the sea anytime of the year. The West Coast will be featured in separate posts in the coming weeks.

The East Coast is home to the country’s National Park, which takes up most of that side of the island. Construction is highly regulated here and so the area has retained much of its native flora and fauna. The beaches are not safe to swim on the East Coast, though hardcore surfers will brave them, so visitors looking for beaches and sunshine will often travel West or South. The area is very beautiful if somewhat rugged, it is also a cooler side of the island, with a number of striking rock formations on its beaches and many attractive cottages dotted along the seafront, which visitors rent out to escape the buzz and excitement of the South Coast.

If you are planning a visit to Barbados, bookmark this page and the ones to follow for some of the best recommendations on where to eat, stay and what to do on the Caribbean island.

The South Coast

I will be sharing some experiences of the different areas of the island in The London Foodie over the next few weeks – today, I write about the South Coast of Barbados.

The South Coast is the most developed area of Barbados and is considered to be the most vibrant and lively spot on the island too. Grantley Adams International Airport is located here, and this part of the island is also home to its charming capital Bridgetown.

St. Lawrence Gap or "The Gap" as the locals call it, is a mile-long street in the Worthing area with plenty of hotels, bars and nightclubs - this is the hustle and bustle of Barbadian nightlife. It was here at St Lawrence Gap that I stayed for my part of visit at the lovely Ocean Two Resorts and Residences, see Where to Stay section below.

Not far from The Gap, the coastal town of Oistins is another major attraction. Oistin is the island's fishing capital, and at night is the place to go for the famous Fish Fry, particularly on Friday, the busiest night. Barbecued and grilled fish, and chicken, of every shape and size are cooked and served at numerous food stalls around a small arena where locals play Bajan music live. 

Where to Stay

Ocean Two Resorts and Residences

The 4* Ocean Two Resorts and Residences was our home for the first 5 days of our trip to Barbados, and what an introduction it was to the island. The hotel has an enviable location on Dover Beach, a gorgeous stretch of white sand in the parish of Christ Church.

Positioned right in the middle of buzzing St Lawrence Gap with its many nightclubs, bars and restaurants, Ocean Two offers the best of both worlds – total beach relaxation during the day, and great Barbadian entertainment on their doorstep at night.

The hotel has numerous rooms with various levels of luxury although all rooms enjoy breathtaking ocean views, they are spacious and elegantly furnished. I stayed at the two-bedroom Penthouse Suite – it was a whopper, with a huge kitchen, two large double bedrooms and massive en-suite bathrooms.

Needless to say the suite’s balcony was where I spent most of my time while in the hotel, taking in the fabulous view and the sea air. I thoroughly enjoyed this suite, it was so spacious and immaculately clean.

The view from my penthouse suite at Ocean Two
Ocean Two has two good-sized swimming pools and the length of the hotel overlooks a good stretch of Dover Beach, although no beaches in Barbados are private.

If exercising on holidays is your thing, you will be pleased to hear that the hotel has a 24 hour gym, decked out with the latest gear. I must admit I did not get to visit it.

Breakfast was a hearty meal at Ocean Two – besides the usual egg station, there was a waffle and pancake one, and another with hot dishes including Bajan specialties such as salt fishcakes and fried plantain.

I enjoyed the super-sweet, freshly cut tropical fruit, the crispy bacon sarnies and the strong coffee that set us up for a day of touring.

For more details about Ocean Two Resorts and Residences, for their room rates and address please see the Travel Essential section at the end of this feature.

Where to Eat

Waterfront Café

Overlooking the Careenage (the city’s marina), Waterfront Café was opened in 1984 and is today one of the most popular spots in Bridgetown.

We had a lovely Bajan lunch here where I got to try a few interesting Bajan dishes – firstly Barbadian ‘Melts’. These were the roe of flying fish (Barbados national fish), which were seasoned, coated in flour and deep-fried.  They were crunchy on the outside and melting inside, and so good! I have used tobiko (flying fish roe) in Japanese and Nikkei cooking a lot but it was my first time experiencing it this way

I also enjoyed the Bajan Salted Fish Cakes, much like the Portuguese ‘Bolinhos de Bacalhau’ - the Bajan (Barbadian) version was just as good and topped with their super strong yellow Pepper Sauce.

The main course ‘Pepperpot’ was also excellent – this was a mix of slow-braised, meltingly tender chicken, pork and beef, spiked with cinnamon, cloves and other spices. Pepperpot was rich and unctuous and despite the large portion, I polished it off in no time.

Locals and visitors come to Waterfront Café for the good Bajan food, rum punches, cocktails and live jazz music. It is a casual café with tables outside, friendly service and big portions. I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch at The Waterfront Café in Bridgetown and recommend it highly.

Sea Breeze Beach House

Ocean Two Resorts and Residences’ sister hotel, the Sea Breeze Beach House is also located at lively St Lawrence Gap as well as being an all-inclusive resort. With six dining options and a number of bars, I was told that the Sea Breeze was a real foodie’s all-inclusive resort, and so I was curious to give it a go.

The hotel has just recently undergone a multi-million dollar refurbishment and is looking beautifully designed and modern. Indeed, we had a delicious dinner (so the hype is perhaps deserved) at the Cerulean, their open-air restaurant overlooking the sea, a breathtaking setting.

I had my first taste of grilled Flying Fish at the Sea Breeze - it was beautifully prepared and well seasoned, accompanied by a medley of Barbadian breadfruit and vegetables.

Noteworthy also was Sea Breeze’s surf and turf option of prawns and slow-braised beef in a rich red wine and mushroom sauce.

While I did not have the opportunity to stay at the Sea Breeze Beach House during this trip, I can say that the food I experienced there was delicious and fresh.

What to Do

Rum Shop Crawl

In Barbados the name Rum Shops actually stands for rum bars. One of the most exciting activities we did on this trip was a guided Rum Shop crawl on the South Coast. We visited three different bars, each serving local rum and a specialist type of food.

Kermitt's Bar

Rum Shops are frequented by men, women and children, and are sociable places, so do not be surprised if locals come up to you and strike up a conversation about anything from politics (the presidential election campaigns were in full swing while I was there), Brexit or food - I had all these conversations during our crawl with different people at each stop.

Kermitt’s Bar was our first Rum Shop – famous for its seafood particularly the octopus known locally as sea cat, Kermitt’s Bar is a busy and atmospheric spot; we had platters of marinated seafood washed down by Mount Gay rum.

Next up was the A&G Sports Bar – here we tried E.S.A. Field white rum served alongside some delicious fried chicken wings and salted fishcakes. These were spot on and a great accompaniment to the rum cocktails.

Our last stop was at the Sand Dollar Café – this is a lively spot serving up big food portions at reasonable prices. It is frequented by travellers and locals and has a number of tables outside.

I had a fabulous Sand Dollar Salad here made of different greens, vegetables and crumbled blue cheese. We also shared a number of barbecued meat platters paired with Sand Dollar’s house Rum Punch (Barbados’ national drink). Service was very friendly and enthusiastic.

Tour of Bridgetown

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bridgetown is a charming, historic capital with a number of sites well worth a visit.

Easily walkable and relatively a small town, I recommend a self-guided walking tour of Bridgetown’s main sites like the one at GPSMYCITY - you can download the app and use the itinerary even offline.

Alternatively, join one of the many guided tours being offered by Tervette Tours & Taxi Service, see their details in the Travel Essentials section below.

Make sure to visit St. Mary's Church, St. Michael's Cathedral, Lord Nelson's Statue, Heroes Square and Queen’s Park.

But what I enjoyed mostly about Bridgetown was simply meandering along the various streets, people watching, photographing the colourful Chattel Houses and soaking up the upbeat atmosphere of the town.

Cheapside Public Market

Cheapside Public Market is the largest food market in Barbados and is a real hub of activity in Bridgetown.

Vendors and farmers sell their clothing, craft, fruit, vegetables, plants, spices and fresh meats in this grand old market hall which was recently restored by the Chinese government.

Even if you are not intending to buy, the market is a fascinating place to browse local produce, and meet and chat with the stall vendors.

Barbadian Breadfruit

We were lucky to be guided by Jason Howard, a Barbadian-born, London-based chef who showed us a number of Bajan ingredients including the Barbadian flux, an aromatic native citrus fruit that resembled a cross between an orange and lemon.

It was also fascinating to watch the freshly caught flying fish being gutted, cleaned and filleted – the vendors got through them so quickly and efficiently, I was mesmerized.

Getting Around Barbados

While there are plenty of public buses on the island (2 Barbadian Dollars per person or USD 1), the easiest way to get around Barbados is by car. Most travellers will either rent one, or take taxis.

I saw a number of dodgy-looking taxi drivers touting for custom in Bridgetown, and the fact that taxis are not metered in Barbados means that getting a ride inevitably involves a lot of haggling, which I did not want to get into.

And so I was lucky to learn of Terrvette Tours & Taxi Service run by the husband and wife team Terry and Yvette. Yvette has an encyclopedic knowledge of the island, and I learnt more about Barbadian life and culture during those trips with her than at any other time. Terrvette offers a number of tours around Barbados as well as the taxi service, and I very highly recommend them. Check their Facebook page to learn about their tours.

The #VisitBarbados campaign was created and sponsored by Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., the National Tourism Board of Barbados. The London Foodie however maintains full editorial control over all content published on this site as always.

Travel Essentials

For more information about Barbados, visit the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. website here - https://www.visitbarbados.org/

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic fly from London Gatwick directly to Grantley Adams International Airport in Bridgetown, Barbados in just over 8 hours.

Terrvette Tours & Taxi Service

Ocean Two Resorts and Residences
Dover Road, St. Lawrence Gap

Waterfront Café
The Careenage, Bridgetown,
Barbados, West Indies
Tel: (246) 427-0093
Email: waterfrontcafe@caribsurf.com

Sea Breeze Beach House
Maxwell Coast Road,
Christ Church, Barbados BB15 031
Phone: 246-428-2825
UK Toll Free: 011 44 203-868-9916 
US Toll Free: 1-888-964-0300
Email: reservations@oceanhotels.bb

Cheapside Public Market
Bridgetown, St. Michael

Sand Dollar Cafe
Highway 7, Bridgetown, Barbados

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