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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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Thursday, 28 July 2011

London Restaurant Reviews – Bar Kick (Food, Beer and Table Football in Shoreditch)

I love finding good food in the most unexpected places. I visited Bar Kick a couple of years ago for a few drinks and a bit of table football, but somehow managed to completely miss their food menu.  I would have never thought of going there for a meal, until now.

Located at one of the busiest areas on Shoreditch High Street, near the intersection with Old Street and Hackney Road, Bar Kick is always buzzing and is Tardis-like in its interior dimensions, viewed from its unassuming entrance on the High Street.

The décor is quirky but casual, with vintage Formica tables and chairs, flags hanging from the ceiling, and other football paraphernalia scattered on the walls and around the room. It has a European shabby-chic feel about it, with dimmed lighting helping to create a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere.

I was pleased to be invited back as I enjoyed my earlier visit, and was curious to try their food offerings this time round. So I returned to Bar Kick Shoreditch and had the pleasure of the company of food photographer Paul Winch-Furness who kindly took all the pictures for this post.

The kitchen is completely open-plan and is headed by German head-chef Kerstin Hartwig and Japanese sous-chef Yuki Yoshioka. The menu is reassuringly short, and apart from some of the classics it changes daily (daily specials). The menu reads well making Paul and me keen to try most dishes.

The drinks menu is also decent and well priced for Shoreditch, with cocktails at £6.95 and an excellent selection of quality beers including Duvel @ £4.60, Leffe @ £3.50 and Vedett @ £3.50. The wine list is short but well thought out, and surprisingly only includes Old World choices, with house wines starting at a mere £14.20.

We started proceedings with a couple of cocktails. I went for a “Basil Grande” @ £6.95 - a refreshing vodka-based martini made with fresh basil leaves, strawberries, raspberry liqueur and Grand Marnier. I don’t normally go for fruit cocktails but was tempted by the combination of fresh basil and strawberries which tasted lovely in this drink. Paul opted for a “Fresh Fruit Daiquiri” @ £6.95 which was also delicious.

Foodwise, we kicked off with a bowl of “Salmorejo” (sml @ £1.95 / large @ £4.50) – a chilled tomato and bread soup with boiled organic egg and toasted almonds. This Andalucian soup is one of my favourites, creamier and nuttier than the more commonly known gazpacho but retaining a refreshing acidity from the tomatoes and vinegar. Bar Kick’s version was delicious.

The “Slow Simmered Chilled Pork Fillet with Tuna & Caper Sauce” @ £7 was another flavoursome dish. Served with fennel and rocket salad, we felt the presentation of the dish was stunning. I loved the combination of flavours and textures in this dish – from the pork and tuna, to the radish and capers, fennel and rocket (aniseed and peppery), it was a delightful and substantial salad.

We also tried the “Earl Grey Tea Smoked Duck Breast with Tabouleh, Grilled Orange and Pomegranate” @ £9. Another excellent dish, the duck was lightly smoked and beautifully cooked, and was accompanied by a tabouleh studded with pomegranate seeds and bursting with fresh herbs and citrus flavours.

The star of the evening in my opinion was the “Grilled Miso Marinated Salmon” @ £12 served with roasted beetroot, green beans, baby spinach salad and a deliciously soft-boiled egg. It was lovely to see the Japanese touch on the menu by sous-chef Yoshioka-san. This is one of the most popular and delicious of Japanese home-cooking dishes and Yoshioka’s was no exception. The salmon had been perfectly marinated, with the miso flavour being neither too salty nor bland. It served to cure the fish, and gave it a rather meaty texture. The roasted beetroot and greens were well seasoned and were also a good addition to the fish. A real winner, and at £12, a bargain too!

To accompany our dishes we had a bottle of the 2003 Vaga del Rayo, Rioja Reserva, @ £27.95, a blend of Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graciano grapes with blackberry and plum fruit notes and sweet vanilla from its ageing in oak barrels. It was beautifully balanced and with soft tannins. This wine retails for about £10 which implies a mark-up of less than 3-fold at Bar Kick which in my opinion is fair.

To finish off, Paul and I both had the "Buttermilk panna cotta with strawberry and basil soup" @ £4.50, which was creamy and delicious.

In the nearly 5 hours that Paul and I were at Bar Kick, eating, drinking and chatting, the place got busy at different intervals, but was never unbearably packed or rowdy. Having such wonderful food also meant that a lot of customers were eating while drinking, between table football matches, which helped to create a fun rather than booze-filled atmosphere. We had a lovely time at Bar Kick, and could not believe it was nearly midnight when we said our goodbyes.

Thanks to Paul Winch-Furness who kindly photographed all the pictures in this post. Paul is one of the best food photographers in the UK, and you can see more of his stunning photography on his website here.

Cost: The London Foodie was a guest of Bar Kick.

Likes: quirky decor, table football, good quality food at very reasonable prices, excellent cocktails, good selection of beers, and friendly service.

Dislikes: with such excellent food I wish there were more tables available.

Verdict: Good quality food, beautifully executed and reasonably priced at a popular Shoreditch bar. An ideal place to spend an evening with friends over a few bottles of beer, some excellent food and table football. Highly recommended.

Bar Kick on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

London Restaurant Reviews – Tian Fu (Szechuanese in Shepherd’s Bush)

I find there is no better way for me to discover the London restaurants I write about here than through word-of-mouth recommendation. So when Jen of Dashi Dashi called me and Dr G up to invite us to join her, Su-Lin of Tamarind & Thyme, and May of Slow Food Kitchen at her local Sichuanese restaurant in Shepherd’s Bush, I knew I was in for a treat.

The restaurant is in a good location at a busy corner on Wood Lane, close to the BBC building and Westfield Shopping Centre. Tian Fu does not look very attractive from the outside and unless you walk in, it is difficult to realise how large and airy the restaurant is. Parking, even on a Saturday afternoon, is tough and also quite pricey in the immediate area, but Dr G managed to find us some free parking spaces a couple of blocks away from the restaurant.

Service was efficient but sullen. We were not rushed, but still, I would not describe Tian Fu as a place to hang about or have a relaxed meal. Portions were surprisingly generous and well priced. We ordered a selection of 6 dishes including two of my favourites - “Dry-fried Green Beans” and “Fish Fragrant Aubergines” @ £6.80, both a must in any Szechuanese meal as far as I am concerned!

Tian Fu’s Dry-Fried Green Beans were beautifully cooked – flash-fried with minced pork and vegetables, the bean skins were slightly blistered with the intense wok heat, but still kept their bite, tasting delicious.

The Fish Fragrant Aubergines were also delectable – silky and yielding in a fantastically rich sauce. I love making this at home, and was surprised to find no trace of fish the first time I made it! I discovered that the name refers to the Szechuanese method of preparation usually associated with fish, resulting in hot (chilli bean paste), sour (Chinese black vinegar), salty (soy sauce) and sweet (sugar) flavours in equal measures.

We also ordered the “Dry-Braised Beef Tendon @ £8.50 - I never thought I would enjoy tendon as much as I did but Tian Fu has definitely converted me. The tendon had an intriguing but firm texture and was fried in a slightly sweet and chilli sauce with celery, pak choi and spring onions, a really lovely dish.

The “Cumin Lamb” @ £8.50 was another winner. Thin and tender slices of lamb fried in heaps of cumin and onion, this dish was incredibly flavoursome and beautifully accompanied by the Fish Fragrant Aubergines and white rice.

The “Grilled Sea Bass in Chef Special Chilli Sauce” @ £12 was again delicious – a whole fish battered and deep-fried and served in a rich black bean sauce with chillies, spring onions, minced pork and peanuts.

The weakest dish in my opinion was the one I chose – “Water Boiled Pork” @ £8. I love this dish at Chilli Cool (reviewed here) where it is called “Sliced Beef Sichuan Style Lavishly Topped with Chillies and Sichuan Pepper”. Unlike Chilli Cool’s, Tian Fu’s version lacked the richness and consistency of the sauce, was a little watery and had little if any Sichuan pepper. It tasted good, but not as delicious as I know it can be.

I really enjoyed Tian Fu, and was pleased to find another excellent Sichuanese restaurant in London. I would definitely return to Tian Fu if I happen to be in Shepherd's Bush. Thanks Jen for organising lunch and introducing us to Tian Fu!

Cost: £72.20 for 5 people (£14.45 per person) including tea and service - this is excellent value.

Likes: good cooking, generous portions, excellent value for money.

Dislikes: grumpy service.

Verdict: Tian Fu is a West London restaurant serving good Szechuanese food at excellent value. Portions are generous, but service is a let-down. I will definitely return. Recommended. 

Tian Fu on Urbanspoon

Friday, 15 July 2011


How It Works

Every month, I choose a theme, cookery book or cuisine, and have a group of readers of The London Foodie come to my home to cook, eat a delicious meal, drink and talk. I distribute a suggested menu a week or so prior to the event, the participants choose their dishes and I e-mail out all recipes. Each person contributes a dish and accompanying bottle of wine. There are no fees to pay.


I thoroughly enjoy these evenings as they are proving to be a great meeting place for those who stumble upon this blog and who are passionate about cooking and good wine. As much as I like eating out and finding some of the London gems I write about, I also love cooking and this was primarily the reason why I started The London Foodie.

Our next London Cooking Club evening will be on:

30th July 2011 - "Lebanon" - Recipes from the fantastic cookbook by Greg and Lucy Malouf  "Saha - A Chef's Journey Through Lebanon and Syria". The evening will be held at a secret location in Greenwich, and below is the delicious menu that our members will be cooking.

Courgette and Mint Fritters
Hummus with Spiced Marinated Lamb and Pine Nuts
Muhammara - Red Pepper, Walnut and Pomegranate Dip
Chicken Livers in Za'Atar and Parmesan Crumbs with Yoghurt, Tarragon, Cucumber Salad
Ma'hani - Spicy Lebanese Sausages with Pine Nuts
Mushroom Stuffed Vine Leaves with Herbs
Zghorta-Style Kibbeh Patties Stuffed with Cinnamon and Pine-Nut Butter

Golden Chicken Soup with Coriander, Garlic and Parsley

Confit Salmon Tarator with Coriander, Walnuts and Tahini Sauce
Lamb Shawarma - Roast Leg of Lamb in Spicy Marinade
(Served with Herb Salad, Tahini Yogurt Sauce and Arabic Flat Bread)

Lebanese Nut Rice

Watermelon and Rosewater Sorbet and Barazek*
(*Crunchy Sesame-Pistachio Biscuits)

We will also be tasting the 2004 Chateau Musar which has just been released. Chateau Musar, the top Lebanese vineyard, has kindly offered a case of wine for this event. You can read more about Chateau Musar wines here.

Other Future Dates:

20th August 2011 - "Barbecue Time!" - London Cooking Club members will bring their own favourite recipes to be shared on the barbie at Gill's beautiful home in Mill Hill. The event will kick off from 3pm.

24th September 2011 - "Canadian Cuisine by London Foodie" - It is double-trouble at the London Cooking Club as I join forces with the delightful London Foodie of Buckingham Palate  (@londonfoodie - Canadian Journalist and Foodie Extraordinaire) for an evening of Canadian food and wines.

22nd October 2011 - "Sichuan Cooking" - Hosted by Joshua of Cooking the Books, a  connoisseur and accomplished cook of Oriental cuisines, we will be cooking recipes from our food hero, the magnificent Fuchsia Dunlop.

19th November 2011 - "Burma by Mimi" - Hosted by British-Burmese food blogger Mimi of Meemalee's Kitchen, and co-founder of Grazing Asia Supper Club, Mimi will be presenting us her native Burmese cuisine.

10th December 2011 - "An Italian Christmas" - Hosted by Gina (@Gigi_nav) and Italian food blogger Fede Rilli http://twitter.com/#!/federilli), Italophiles and resident experts on their home cuisine.

If you would like to learn more about these and past events, please take a look at the London Cooking Club page on this blog. If you would like to take part in one of these evenings, please contact me on luizhara@hotmail.com using LONDON COOKING CLUB in the subject line. There are no fees to participate in any of the London Cooking Club events.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

London Restaurant Reviews - Rodízio Rico on Upper Street

When I was growing up in Brazil, going to a rodízio restaurant was one of those Sunday rituals that brought the entire family together. Every Brazilian family will have their favourite rodízio, the one they go to regularly and swear by to be the best one in town. By far the most popular style of eating in Brazil, rodízio is not confined to steak houses only, but also pizze, feijoada, sushi, cakes, and any other imaginable food. A fixed-price is paid per person which entitles you to eat as much as you like of your favourite dishes. Prices and quality of ingredients and cooking vary tremendously from place to place but are generally of a good standard and value as competition is fierce.

Rodízio derives from the word "to rotate" and is mostly commonly applied to restaurants serving barbecued meats also known as Churrascarias. In such restaurants, waiters circulate between tables holding skewers with large pieces of barbecued meat which they slice at your table. Green and red cards are given to each diner, and these are used to let the waiters know whether you still want more meat or you have had enough for now.

Good quality rodízio restaurants in Brazil will offer an endless range of different cuts of beef, pork and poultry, and sometimes fish. The buffet of salads and other accompaniments also helps to differentiate one restaurant from another and is seen to indicate the quality of such establishments - the better quality and hence pricier restaurants will offer a more sophisticated buffet. Dr G and I go to a churrascaria rodízio a couple of minutes walk from our apartment in São Paulo that charges around £6 per person - the quality of meat is excellent and the buffet, although not nearly as lavish as some other more upmarket alternatives, is also pretty good.

Due to Brazil’s size and multicultural influences, the cuisine varies hugely from North (more African/Caribbean) to South (more European/Japanese). Dishes like Lasagna and Polenta Frita are ubiquitous in every family home and Brazilian restaurant menus in the Southern states, while Arroz e Feijao are a staple food eaten everywhere.

To those unfamiliar with Brazilian cuisine, Rodizio Rico’s buffet might seem confused and lacking focus, but this is just a reflection of Brazil’s mixed heritage. Many Brazilians will happily eat Russian Salad, polenta, rice and beans, possibly a pasta dish and some meat at the same meal and without batting an eyelid!

I am pleased to see a number of rodízio restaurants opening recently in London, and so I decided the time had come for a closer inspection. Rodízio Rico opened in the UK about 15 years ago on Westbourne Grove. I used to go there whenever I craved Brazilian home cooking, but I have to admit that I had not returned for a few years until a couple of weeks ago when I visited their Upper Street branch. I was meeting Russell, the editor of Jungle Drums Online, a website that promotes Brazilian culture, music and food and where I contribute with a bi-weekly food & drinks column.

A few minutes' walk from Angel Tube on Upper Street at Islington Green, Rodízio Rico is in a great location at one of the busiest and most popular high streets in London. Their flagship restaurant is rather large and the décor, somewhat at odds with its trendy location, is rustic in style resembling an old fashioned churrascaria similar to the ones in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s most southerly state and the native land of the Gaúchos.

Rodizio Rico’s buffet was well laid out and contained some of Brazil’s most popular dishes - a great introduction to those less familiar with the cuisine, and a good opportunity to try many options at once.

Of the many salads on display, I particularly enjoyed the Maionese (Brazilian take on the Russian Salad), and the Salpicão (a salad of shredded chicken with celery, mayonnaise, matchstick chips and other ingredients). Other favourites were the Crème de Milho (sweetcorn cream), Baiao de Dois (North-eastern dish made of rice, beans, cassava flour, dry meat and spring greens) and Vaca Atolada (slow-cooked and meltingly tender rib of beef in a creamy cassava stew).

I was also pleased to see a respectable variety of meats on offer – picanha (Brazil’s favourite cut – top sirloin), chicken thighs wrapped in bacon, sausages, pork fillet, chicken hearts, and a few others. The meats had a delicious charcoal flavour, were very simply seasoned with sea salt only and well barbecued. At £23.50 per person, I felt that Rodizio Rico provides good value for money for the variety and quality they offer.

Rodizio Rico’s drinks menu is however slightly overpriced in my opinion – bottles of beer are priced at £3.95, soft drinks, including Brazilian Guaraná, cost £2.95 while only a handful of options are priced below £20 on their wine list. On our visit, we ordered a bottle of 2006/8 Miolo Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon @ £26 – we were brought a 2009 Miolo (not a Reserva) which tasted young, completely fruit-driven and uninspiring.

Cost: The London Foodie was a guest of Rodizio Rico. £23.50 per person or £19 (vegetarians – buffet only).

Likes: good variety of barbecued meats, respectable Brazilian buffet, good value for money. Great location. Friendly staff.

Dislikes: some dishes from the buffet should be served freshly cooked like Polenta, more affordable wine choices should be available, £19 for vegetarian menu (buffet only) is expensive. Décor is a let-down.

Verdict: Rodizio Rico offers a truly Brazilian experience in the heart of Islington. Good quality meats, a respectable array of popular Brazilian dishes on its buffet served with friendly Brazilian hospitality. At £23.50, it is also good value for money. Recommended.

Rodizio Rico on Urbanspoon
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