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Reviews of London's Restaurants, Supper Clubs and Hotels, Wine Tastings, Travel Writing, and Home to the Japanese and French Supper Clubs in Islington

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Monday 28 September 2009

**Comfort Food Special** - Chicken and Egg on Rice (Oyako Don)

Chicken and Egg on Rice - Oyako Donburi 

This is one of my favourite Japanese recipes - it is comfort food at its best, very fast and easy to prepare, a regular at our home.  There are many variations on this dish, but it is essentially rice topped with eggs, onions in a delicious dashi broth.

  • 175 ml strongly flavoured dashi stock
  • 75 ml sake
  • 4 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp mirin
  • 1tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 300g free range chicken breast, slantly and thinly sliced
  • 6 eggs slightly beaten - top quality and very fresh as briefly cooked
  • 600g cooked sushi rice - about 300g uncooked
  • 1 onion thinly sliced - lengthways
  • 4 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • To garnish - baby cress or spring onions, 1/2 sheet of toasted, crumbled nori (seaweed), red pickle ginger, black sesame seeds (all optional)
  1. Cook the sushi rice, keeping it warm in four or two separate ceramic bowls.
  2. Place mushrooms in a small bowl, cover with boiling water, let it stand for about 20 mins until tender. Drain, reserving the water, discard stems and slice caps.
  3. Gently mix the eggs in a bowl without beating them with a fork.
  4. Prepare the garnishing ingredients - thinly slice the spring onions, or wash the baby cress, crumble the nori sheet. Although optional, I would recommend using the garnish as it will add extra flavours to the dish and make it look pretty.
  5. Meanwhile, bring the dashi stock, soy sauce, mirin, sake, sugar and salt to a simmer in a largish saucepan (that has a lid!), but do not boil it to avoid making the dashi stock bitter.
  6. Add the chicken, mushrooms and its reserved water, the onions, cover and cook gently for about 3-4 mins until the chicken is cooked through.
  7. Gently pour the egg over the chicken mixture in a circling movement, from the outside inwards, covering the chicken mixture completely. Cook uncovered for 1 minute.
  8. Cover and cook for another minute. The mixture should have thickened and the eggs just began to set. Remove from the heat.
  9. Pour the egg mixture on top of the warm rice.
  10. Garnish with baby cress or spring onions, crumbled nori sheet, black sesame seeds and top it with a little red ginger pickle.
This quantity will serve 4 as a small starter or 2 as large mains. If you have any questions on any part of this recipe or just need to know where to source any of the ingredients listed, please contact me. Enjoy it!

Sunday 27 September 2009

London's Best BYO - Comptoir Libanais

Comptoir Libanais

Set in the trendy & expensive Wigmore Street, Comptoir Libanais is a gorgeous Café-Deli serving Lebanese, Syrian and other Levantine specialties. It was a runner-up in the Best Design Restaurant Category of Time Out’s Eating and Drinking Guide 2010 and reviewed previously as one of the best BYOB eateries in London.

Brightly coloured, and impeccably decorated, Comptoir Libanais has the warmest and friendliest staff I have encountered for quite some time. Following a lovely dinner and cookery demonstration by Kumiko Kurihara in nearby John Lewis, I was excited to try this little gem even if I was only to try their assortment of baklava and mint tea.


 These were both excellent, particularly the mint tea which was very aromatic with delicate hints of rose petal. It had not been previously sweetened, as it is normally served and drunk, making it a perfect partner to my plate of nutty baklava.

I got a small tab le outside and soon got chatting to some of the customers popping out to smoke. The clientele is young, fashionable and interesting giving the place a real buzz. 

I had a short but rather sweet time at Comptoir Libanais, and am now looking forward to returning & trying some of their delicious meze, and tagines (and bringing my own wine!).


Verdict – A real gem serving simple but beautiful Levantine food, cakes and tea. Impeccably decorated, and as a BYO eatery, it is also an affordable restaurant option for a full meal. I will return. Highly recommended.

Comptoir Libanais on Urbanspoon

Thursday 24 September 2009

Bánh Mì - The Vietnamese Baguette

Bánh Mì

In a delightful write-up by Charmaine Mok in Time Out (July 09), I read with great interest about Bánh Mì, a Franco-Vietnamese creation now to be found in the streets of London.

So what is a Bánh Mì? Bánh Mì is a Vietnamese sandwich made from an incredibly light and crisp French style baguette (made of 50% wheat & 50% rice flour) and stuffed with richly spiced pork/chicken liver paté, sliced pork meat (cha lua), julienned strips of sweet pickled carrots and radish (do chua), slices of crunchy cucumber, coriander and smothered in a rich, eggy mayonnaise.

Armed with my July 09 edition of Time Out and an ever so rumbling stomach, off I went to Broadway Market to visit the stall of Bahn Mi11. This delightful stall is set next to Ca Phe VN, the Vietnamese Cafe, already a fixture of that market and a real East End institution. With small tables and chairs around the stall, Bahn Mi11 is very reminiscent of similar street food eateries in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. 

I ordered a cup of the chilled green tea, and their classic Bánh Mì with extra fillings at £3.50. As expected, the baguette was incredibly light and crispy. The combination of the various ingredients was spot on – the sweetness of the liver pate, the sourness of the pickles; the sliced pork meat and herbs adding extra layers of complexity making the sandwich very nicely balanced. I was hooked!

After devouring my Bánh Mì, I had a lovely chat with the Vietnamese women behind the stall. Their enthusiasm and passion are contagious. I hope that they will be successful in popularising this wonderful Franco-Vietnamese creation to a wider audience in London.

Verdict – Street food at its best and at very reasonable prices. Charming service, and great location make Bánh Mì11, a must to anyone visiting Broadway Market.

London Supper Club – The Bruncheon Club

The Bruncheon Club

Over the coming year, I will be visiting as many of London’s underground restaurants as I can get into, and will be posting my reviews here. I have been intrigued by this new eating concept in the London food scene, and am curious to find out where this will lead us. So watch this space, more reviews to follow.

It was a Sunday morning @ 10:30am as I woke up with the most horrendous hangover in history. I had 30mins to shower, get dressed and drive to The Bruncheon Club, the new pop up restaurant/supper club at Maya and Gregg’s basement flat in Hackney.  Having waited for nearly 2 months for my booking, I was determined not to miss it.

I got to The Bruncheon Club to find a friendly bunch of twenty-somethings, all well educated professionals, mostly foodies and good conversationalists.  On that particular sitting, a podcast was being recorded for a local Hackney newspaper by one of the guests.

We were shown to our table in their spacious garden, and soon enough, I had a very generous glass of Bloody Mary in my hands. It was very well put together by Gregg and I found that all the flavours balanced beautifully – just the right amount of vodka for the quantity of tomato juice, tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice.  I could also taste the celery salt and was pleasantly surprised by the addition of horseradish which gave a real warm, lasting sensation in my throat after every sip. I love Bloody Marys and often make them at home, so I am not easily impressed. Gregg’s recipe was spot on.

We were then served a delicious berry salad containing strawberries, blackberries and blueberries with a lime and sugar syrup. The natural berry flavours were fresh and greatly intensified by the addition of the lime syrup.

The star of the day was the much anticipated Eggs Royale – toasted English muffins, topped with smoked salmon, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce.  The Bruncheon Club’s Egg Royale is made from duck eggs supplied by Spitalfields City Farm where Maya and Gregg volunteer. The eggs were perfectly poached with the orangey yoke oozing out after every forkful. The hollandaise sauce was obviously homemade and tasted tangy, buttery and richly creamy from the duck yokes used to emulsify it.  It was utterly scrumptious and I could not ask for a better hangover cure!

This was followed by coffee/tea, warm croissants and raspberry jam.

I found Maya and Gregg a real pleasure to deal with – from our initial mail correspondence through to finally waving us goodbye as we left - they were kind, friendly and very attentive. They were also very accommodating when I had a last minute request to change my sitting. They were the perfect hosts and certainly made us all feel welcome in their home. I was pleased I had finally made it to The Bruncheon Club, and will cherish this delightful experience for a long time.

Verdict – Maya and Gregg are the perfect hosts and their Egg Royale and Bloody Mary are second to none. At a suggested donation of £12 per person, Gregg and Maya are obviously not motivated by profit. I loved my brunch, the delightful company, and felt privileged to have been welcomed in their beautiful home. Highly recommended. 

Tuesday 22 September 2009

London Restaurant Reviews - Rasa Sayang

Rasa Sayang

Besides San Francisco and Shanghai, there is only one other place that I feel can rival London’s culinary diversity, and that is Singapore. I would gladly take a 12-hour flight to be able to eat there. The countless food courts, their wonderful Chilli Crab, the oyster omelettes that melt in your mouth, are just some of the many reasons why I keep going back. I love Singapore, and in my latest trip, I also discovered the most delicious Straits Chinese food. 

I first came across the concept of Straits Heritage Cuisine a few years ago in Malacca, one of the most important historical cities of Malaysia. Straits Chinese food can refer to the cuisine that has evolved from the inter-racial marriages of descendants of late 15th and 16th century Chinese immigrants with natives of the region of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Peranakan and Baba-Nyonya are also the commonly used terms in Malay to describe this marriage of cultures and food. Needless to say, that the food is superb, complex, and richly flavoured with regional spices and pastes.

Rasa Sayang is not entirely Nyonya. Their menu is predominantly Malaysian/Singaporean hawker street food, and contains some of these nations’ favourite dishes like Chilli Crab, Char Kuay Teow and Pan-fried Carrot Cake. I was glad however to see some of my favourite Nyonya dishes in the menu like “Ayam Sambal” (chicken stewed in rich coconut curry) and Stir Fried Sambal Cluster Beans.

It was with much anticipation that I arranged to visit Rasa Sayang with my delightful Malaysian friend Charmaine Chow and her partner. I have been lucky enough to have experienced Charmaine’s Malaysian cooking a number of times, and knew that I would be in very good hands when ordering.

Rasa Sayang is simply decorated, aiming at functionality as opposed to style or comfort. The restaurant is small and the lighting is searingly bright. This is not a place designed to be restful but more like a canteen or a shopping mall eatery with a high turnover of customers and pushy waitresses.

We started with Hainanese Chicken Rice (£6.90) which we both agreed was very tender and succulent. I love the simplicity of this dish and the fact that the flavours come mostly from the delicious broth the chicken is cooked in. The broth is also served with accompanying rice.

This was followed by the pan fried carrot cake (£6.50) which was superb. Despite the name, the dish has no carrots but is made of pieces of rice cake & shredded radish (Japanese Daikon). These are pan-fried and served with bean sprouts, onions and other condiments. This was delicious and one of the best dishes of the evening.

The Char Kuay Teow (£6.60) was just as I remember having in the food courts of Malaysia and Singapore. The noodles were beautifully charred and combined well with the rich, dark and sweet soy sauce giving an intense flavour I have never managed to replicate at home. The seafood was good but not as abundant as it might have been, and the rice noodles soft and slippery like a good cheung fung. This is street hawker food at its best.

The Nyonya “Ayam Sambal” (Chicken Stewed in Rich Coconut Curry @ £6.90) was again amazing. The curry base (rempah) was incredibly complex, with hints of ginger, red chillies, cumin, coriander and belacan (Malay shrimp paste). Belacan is also known as terasi in Indonesia and all South East Asian countries have their own versions of belacan. I love belacan - despite the strong fishy smell and flavour, it is definitely an ingredient with a lot of umami.

We also ordered a couple of vegetable dishes – the Stir Fried Sambal Cluster Beans and  Sambal Ladyfingers priced at £6.50 and £5.80 respectively. They were both excellent, and Charmaine and I had no trouble polishing them off with the extra portions of rice we ordered. The ladyfingers were nicely cooked, still pleasantly firm and not viscous.

Charmaine was very impressed with the quality and authenticity of all dishes that we tried, and our dinner companions and I agreed with her heartily. Our meal, at £46.20 for four people, would have been perfect had it not been for the poor level of waiting service.

Verdict – Wonderful, authentic Straits Cuisine in modest surroundings, and at very reasonable prices. The unfriendliness of the staff needs to be addressed. A place to explore the still relatively undiscovered Straits Chinese and Peranakan Cuisines in London. I will certainly return.

Rasa Sayang on Urbanspoon

Sunday 20 September 2009

London Restaurant Reviews - Yalla Yalla

Yalla Yalla

Lebanese Food is among my favourite cuisines, and I was counting the days to my dinner booking at Yalla Yalla. The combination of heady spices like cinnamon, sumac and coriander seeds, fresh herbs, pomegranate molasses and other exotic flavours make this cuisine a very sophisticated one.

There are large Lebanese and Syrian communities in Brazil and I was fortunate enough to have tried many of these countries’ main dishes. As in Beirut, sfiha and kibbe are part of the Brazilian street food culture and I had my fair share of these delightful snacks whilst living there.

Following rave reviews by Time Out and fellow food blogger World Foodie Guide, I decided to find out more. Off Brewer Street in Soho, Yalla Yalla is a small restaurant/cafe, beautifully designed in yellow, black and white. It is a warm, inviting and comfortable place, and very stylishly furnished.

It was a Friday evening at 21:15 when we arrived and we were quickly shown to our table. The place was heaving and the atmosphere was pleasantly boisterous. Their menu is reassuringly simple and short, and the accompanying wine list contains a few Lebanese options, one of these being my own favourite “Chateau Musar” at £18.75 which we promptly ordered.

Mr G, my dinner partner for the evening, and I decided to go for a selection of three meze dishes and then share a couple of mains. We started off with a plate of deep fried seafood (prawns, squid and whitebait) coated in a light crisp batter called “makalé samak”. The seafood was sitting on a bed of fried aubergines and tasted nicely of the sea. At £5.50, this was a satisfying little number.

Our second starter was by far the best of the evening – “kibbé nayyé”, a mixture of minced raw lamb with bulgur wheat, finely chopped onions, mint and coriander, priced at £4.50. We used to have this regularly at home, it being one of my dad’s favourites. Kibbe should be flattened out into a thin layer on your plate and seasoned with lime and olive oil for a few minutes prior to eating. The meat is cured like fish in “ceviche”, and should taste fresh and delicious. Very few dishes ever live up to childhood memories – but Yalla Yalla’s version was perfectly seasoned, the meat was fresh, and tasted as good as I remembered it as a child.

This was followed by another delectable starter of chicken livers cooked in pomegranate molasses called “Saeda Djej”. I was curious to try this, and found that the combination of flavours was outstanding. It was slightly sour from the pomegranate molasses but also sweet from the incredibly tender livers, a real winner at £3.50.

On my way home, I found a recipe for this dish in the “Syrian Foodie in London” blog. Kano is a real authority in Syrian cuisine and I would thoroughly recommend his blog to anyone wanting to learn more about the cuisines of that region.

The mains arrived as we were still nibbling our starters, which suited us well as we were sharing all dishes. The lamb casserole “Lahem Casserole” (£8), reminiscent of a North African tagine, was richly seasoned, the lamb was amazingly tender and went well with the spiced tomato base, swede, carrots, almonds, and accompanying rice.

 We also ordered the special of the day – Grilled Baby Chicken (£9.95). It was a nice straight forward dish, with good, simple flavours but slightly overshadowed by all other sumptuous dishes that preceded it.


Verdict – Stylish surroundings with unpretentious and authentic Lebanese food at a reasonable price. Every detail at Yalla Yalla was very well thought out - from their water jug to their food & wine lists and beautiful decor, they deserve every accolade they receive.

Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food on Urbanspoon

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