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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, 25 January 2010

London Restaurant Reviews - Salt Bar

Burns Night @ Salt Bar

I was one of the lucky Qypers and food bloggers to have been invited to the Salt Bar on Edgware Road for a Pre-Burns Night with plenty of Talisker’s whisky, Scottish food and poetry readings.

Organized by TikiChris, the event included a tasting of three different Talisker whiskies run by Colin Dunn of Diageo, and a Burns poetry reading brilliantly executed by Clark McGinn,  The Burns Supper Specialist.

After a delicious glass of “Skye Manhattan” cocktail (10yr Talisker whisky, vermouth, bitters and orange), we started our tasting with Talisker’s 10 year old single malt whisky. I enjoyed the sweet, smoky peatiness of this single malt which was the perfect accompaniment to the fatty smoked salmon it was served with.

This led to our second whisky, the Talisker Distillers Edition which was matured for 10 years in oak barrels and with an additional 2 years in muscatel barrels. This was, in my opinion, more approachable, and a little more refined, with a slight fruity finish from the years in muscatel. The Talisker Distillers Edition was partnered with haggis, neeps and tatties and went surprisingly well with the saltiness of the meat.

To accompany the third and final whisky, The Talisker 57˚North (named after the distiller’s latitude), we were served a scrumptious bitter chocolate mousse. It paired surprisingly well with the rather strong 57% whisky, helping to assuage some of the alcoholic burn.

As the evening came to a close, some of us stayed behind catching up and chatting. We were served a couple of other cocktails – “Hebrideas’ Old Fashioned” (Talisker 10 year old, ginger, bitters, honey and orange) and “Cool Walker” (Talisker 10 year old, Drambuie, lime juice, and ginger ale). These were both excellent and perfectly mixed by the very friendly bar staff.

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening at the elegant Salt Bar. This was my first experience of a “whisky bar” and was surprised by the friendly and casual atmosphere and the sleek contemporary decor. A big thanks goes to TikiChris for organising such a great event and for allowing me to take part in it.

Verdict – Salt Bar is an elegant, centrally located whisky bar, boasting some of the best whiskies on the market, with highly knowledgeable bar staff. Great cocktails. Recommended.

Salt Bar on Urbanspoon

London Restaurant Reviews - Charuwan


Charuwan (Updated on the 14th March 2011)

Alongside Japanese and French, Thai cooking is also one of my favourites, and in 2009 I was lucky to attend a week’s full time course at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School in Thailand. It was an amazing experience and I learnt a great deal about this fascinating cuisine.

Back in London, and after numerous mediocre meals at far too many restaurants I decided to give Thai food a break. I was then invited by Putachad (Nong), a Thai artist and amazing foodie, to visit her favourite local Thai restaurant “Charuwan”. I’ve known Nong for about 17 years and have enjoyed many superb meals with her, so I knew I was in for a real treat.

Charuwan is a small family run restaurant in Archway with traditional Thai decor; it boasts a large Lanna style roof which gives a warm and cosy feel to the restaurant. Service is efficient, friendly and very gentle as in most good eateries in Thailand.

Nong ordered some of her favourite dishes from the menu, starting with “Moo-Ping” (spare ribs with garlic and pepper @ £4.50) and “Tod-Mun-Pla” (Spicy Thai fish cakes @ £4.95).

Both dishes were good although the spare ribs were the better of the two. The pork had been marinated for some time and deep fried. I don’t normally order pork ribs at restaurants as I find them dry but Charuwan’s version was succulent and perfectly cooked.

We were then served a plate of “Lab-Kai” (minced chicken mixed with dry chilli, shallot, herbs and lime juice @ £5.95). Also known as “laap” or “lap”, this was sensational and exactly how I remembered it from my classes in Thailand. It had been finished off with ground roasted rice which added a delicious nuttiness to the dish. The balance of sweet, salty and sour flavours was also spot on, I loved this dish.

Another favourite Thai salad of mine, and one that I had from many food stalls on the streets of Thailand, is “Som-Tam” (or Green Papaya Salad @ £5). Charuwan’s version tasted delicious, although I remember having tiny dry shrimps in similar salads I had in Chiang Mai which added another layer of flavour to the dish.

The “Moo-Pad-Prik-Khing” (or Stir-fried pork with red curry and green beans @ £5.95) was served next. This was deliciously hot - the pork and accompanying beans were quickly flash fried and had a delicious wok/charred flavour to them.

The “Pla-Muek-Phao” (or Sweet and Sour fish @ £8.95) was in my opinion the best dish of the evening. The fish was fresh, meaty and purchased that morning from Billingsgate. The sauce had great complexity of flavour, it was sweet, tart and salty, and complemented the fish perfectly.

We also had a “”Kung-Pad-Prik” (or Prawns fried in fresh chilli and onions @ £7.25). This was one of the simplest but also one of the most successful dishes. The prawns were meaty and perfectly cooked and with just the right amount of heat for my palate.

A Thai meal would not be complete without a curry, so we ordered a “Kaeng-Panaeng” (Beef cooked in panaeng curry and coconut milk @ £6.95). The curry was thick and rich and as aromatic as the one I remember making in Chiang Mai. Similar to the more ubiquitous Thai red curry, Panaeng curry is more aromatic due to the addition of cumin, cardamom, and mace to the red curry paste.

We ordered a “Kai-Pad-Ka-Prao” (or Stir-fried chicken with basil leaves and fresh chilli @ £5.95). This was another excellent dish with the sweet and rather aniseed flavours of the holy basil permeating through the heat of the fresh chillies.

Another classic that we could not miss out was “Pad-Thai” noodles @ £6.50. This was delicious and tasted very authentic. It was studded with a generous portion of meaty prawns, and had that nice mixture of different flavours: sour (lime and tamarind juice), salt (fish sauce), sweet (palm sugar) and nutty (roasted peanuts).

To finish the meal, we shared a bowl of “Banana in Coconut Milk” @ £2.80. This was served warm and rounded off the meal nicely.

Head-Chef Non is married to Mrs Pai who was serving us throughout the evening. They both came to speak to us as we finished our meal, and we had a lovely chat about Thai cooking, and Chef Non’s in particular. Visiting Charuwan has been one of my best restaurant discoveries of the last twelve months and reminded of the joys of authentic Thai food. I now look forward to eating and cooking more Thai food in 2010.

Verdict – Authentic Thai cooking & charming surroundings with efficient and friendly service at very reasonable prices. An excellent local Thai restaurant. Highly recommended.

...What Others Are Saying....

Benjamin de Jong on 14th March 2011: I'm writing to give you some feedback on the superb Charuwan restaurant in Archway. I visited on 5/3/11 and enjoyed an absolutely splendid meal with a couple of my friends. I purposely didn't mention The London Foodie because I wanted to sample their regular standard of cooking. They did not disappoint. I shall cut to the chase: I started with Larb Kai (Minced Chicken salad with Thai spices, lime juice and mixed herbs) It packed a serious punch and balanced the sweet, sour, salty and hot exceptionally. It had flavour, texture and was a pretty big portion.

My main was Pla Nueng Ma Naow as recommended by the waitress as her personal favourite (Steamed fish with lime, garlic, coriander and chilli). Again, this was exceptional. It was a simple fillet of white fish served in a shallow dish just covered in a thin soup-like sharp sauce with chopped fresh chilli, garlic, ginger and coriander which had been added near the end of the cooking process and still had a small 'bite' to them. Delicious. I had this with sticky-rice, which was perfect for absorbing the sauce.

My two friends (females) shared Satay-Chicken. The sauce clung to the thin tender skewered chicken without being dry. It was spicy and garlic-y without overpowering the peanut. The second best Satay-chicken I have tasted in all my 23 years. (The best being that served at Kinnaree Restaurant behind The Mailbox in Birmingham).

My friends then moved on to a Green and a Red curry. The Green curry was mellow and sweet with a lime kick and a fragrance provided by the Thai basil. It seemed to fill the mouth with flavour with every mouthful whilst not actually being particularly rich.

I found the Red curry to be much the same, the only difference being that it was a little spicier and seemed to have the added richness that tomato brings. The atmosphere was lovely, the staff kind, attentive and happy to help and the food absolutely brilliant. I will be returning and I will be taking more friends.

Regardless of whether you see fit to post this I want to thank you for your good work and devotion to food and the sharing of it with others.

Charuwan on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

London Underground Restaurants #8 - Saltoun Supper Club

Saltoun Supper Club

I had nearly given up hope of ever going to the Saltoun Supper Club (SSC) when I unexpectedly heard from them at the beginning of last week. After numerous e-mails, I was very pleased to have finally secured a table, and so Dr G and I drove with much anticipation to the elegant and rather quirky flat of Arno Maasdorp in Brixton.

One of the things that first struck me about SSC was the intimate setting created in Arno’s living room with its bare brick and the open plan kitchen. From the choice of glasses and cutlery to the careful use of indirect light, the room expressed an understated elegance and refinement of taste.


The artwork was intriguing; I loved his wall installation made up of many different miniature items, as well as the beautiful antique pieces like the South American baskets dotted around the room.


I had the feeling of entering a private gallery; wherever I looked there was something intriguing to catch the eye. There were 10 diners in the room (Arno can sit up to 16); an interesting mix of people of different ages and backgrounds.

Smoked sea-salt had been sprinkled over the butter and it went very well with the excellent sourdough bread purchased that morning from Franco Manca.

We were soon served our first course, a “Winter Vegetable Salad with Mandarin Oil”. I was very impressed by this dish and the complexity of flavours that Arno managed to create out of broccoli, beetroot and cauliflower. To make a delicious dish out of such humble ingredients is the sign of a talented palate.

The vegetables were perfectly al dente, but the secret was definitely in the sauce – a sweet and sour and highly aromatic dressing made of mandarin and chervil. It complemented the vegetables perfectly and started the evening on a very good note.

Our next course was “Leek and Pecorino Gnocchi”. This was also good and very well executed – the gnocchi had been cooked and then flash-fried with the potato and leek sauce. I could also taste truffle oil, and the addition of generous shavings of pecorino cheese made for a very delicious dish.

We had a short break between the first two courses and the main, so we all decided to take a tour of Arno’s amazing flat and examine the quirky art pieces more closely. I soon got chatting to fellow guests which for me is one the nicest aspects of dining at supper clubs.


We were soon called back into the living room as our main dish was being served - “Roasted Duck Breast” accompanied by a medley of root vegetables, mushrooms, spinach and fresh green olives.

This was nothing short of sensational – the meat had been perfectly cooked, the duck skin was crisp and delicious, and the vegetables were faultless. I was struck by the effect of the fresh green olives – a slight salty tartness that provided a nice balance against the rich and fatty meat.

For dessert, Arno served what he described as a “Pear and Bramley Apple Fine Tart”. This was an intriguing and fun dish, and had very interesting flavours at play – it was served with a quenelle of vanilla cream, very fine homemade tuiles biscuits, and sea-salted caramel. I loved this dish and despite being very full, I wish I could have had seconds!


“Petit Fours” and coffee/mint tea were served – these were delightful and I think a very nice touch to end a perfect meal.

I was impressed by Arno’s attention to detail in everything that he did – from the chic and quirky decor to the high standard of the food and the time and trouble he took to engage in conversation with each diner.

Verdict – Excellent food to match some of the top restaurants in London in intimate and quirky surroundings, and at a very reasonable price. Arno was an excellent host and I would certainly like to return.Highly recommended.

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