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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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Wednesday 28 June 2017

Is There Such a Thing as a Good Pan-Asian Restaurant? Chino Latino May Be Your Answer.

Name: Chino Latino

Where: 18 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TJ, http://www.chinolatino.eu/

Cost: Average cost per person is £45 not including drinks or service. The restaurant has three set menus, priced from £37 to £55 per person, offering a range of sushi, sashimi and main dishes.

About: With restaurants in Leeds, Nottingham and Cologne, the London branch of Chino Latino is situated in the beautiful riverside Park Plaza Hotel on the Albert Embankment. 

The London Foodie visited Chino Latino a few years ago, reviewed here, but the restaurant has since then been thoroughly refurbished and moved to the first floor of the hotel, with full length plate glass windows opening to great views of the River Thames and the Houses of Parliament. 

The restaurant group’s kitchens are headed by South African Executive Chef Werner Seebach formerly of Roka, Zuma and Kyashi restaurants, and offers a comprehensive modern 'Pan-Asian' cuisine.

The menu has a range of Japanese-Nikkei dishes from Peru and Brazil, and a smattering of other Asian dishes including Thai, Chinese and Malaysian. The restaurant has a long bar opened to non-residents and offers a range of great cocktails as well as live Jazz music every evening. 

What We Ate: The a la carte menu is divided into small dishes, main courses, sides and desserts, and it is recommended to order a minimum of three small dishes per person. 

We ordered a number of dishes from the a la carte menu, starting with a delectable beef salad (£11.50) with coriander, mint, chilli, shallots, cucumber and red onion – well seasoned and with many textures, this was excellent.

The seabass tiradito (£10.50) came with coriander tiger's milk, jalapeño chillies, borage flowers and chia seeds. With a gorgeous presentation, this packed quite a whack of chilli heat, which I felt somewhat overwhelmed the coriander cream – for me, the coriander’s tigers milk lacked acidity and depth of flavour.

Next up were the Taquitos Three-Ways (£20) – these were served on a dinky chrome frame, and combined crispy taquito cones filled with rare Wagyu beef and aji panca sauce, lobster with an aji amarillo sauce, and the third filled with a lovely vegetable brunoise - carrot, green bean and mushroom, with a topping of finely shredded lettuce and radish. 

The anticucho of wagyu (£14), normally a skewer of slices of beef heart, was deliciously soft wagyu flank beef served with aji panca sauce (Peruvian dried red chilli) that added a layer of smokiness and flavour.

We loved the tempura - red chilli stuffed with cream cheese, and soft shell crab tempura (£10 for 2 pieces) – it was gorgeously presented on a slice of raw daikon, and served with a refreshing ponzu dressing and green chilli aioli. 

From the sushi menu, we chose the surf and turf dragon roll (£20 for 8 pieces), filled with lobster, avocado and cucumber and topped with thin slices of lightly seared sirloin beef, spicy cream and chive. The sushi was well-made, specially the rice and the presentation, although I felt there were too many competing flavours in this roll.

From the main course menu, we chose one of Chino Latino’s signature dishes – their English sirloin steak served on hot black rocks (300g for (£29), with soy, garlic and mirin sauce. Beautifully presented, the steak was medium rare and soft and well flavoured. 

The monkfish tail was served on the bone with yuzu kosho dressing and yuzu jelly (£32.50). I loved their use of yuzu kosho in this dish, this is a wonderful condiment from Kyushu island in Japan made from yuzu rind, chillies and salt, so it is spicy, salty and citrusy all at once. I is a great accompaniment to grilled fish and meats and worked quite well in this dish. 

We had three side dishes. I love making miso aubergine with Parmesan cheese (£4.50), and this was what I ordered, though there was an excessive amount of Parmesan in my opinion. Better was the Peruvian corn sauteed in butter (£4.50) with a lovely sweet tartness from the addition of sugar and lime to heighten the flavours. And finally the cassava chips (£4) – these were fresh and crispy on the outside, they were served with a refreshing aji amarillo dipping sauce. 

Desserts are all priced at £8.50, and include options like salted caramel banana mousse, yuzu cream sugar bulb, and chocolate brownie and peanut butter parfait with blackcurrant sponge. Tempting as they were, we could not try them as we had eaten far too much by then, I will return for those one day soon!

What We Drank: Pre-dinner, we shared the Chilli and Ginger Caipirinha (£9) – this blended Sagatiba Pura cachaça with ginger wine, red chillies, fresh ginger and lime. This was thoroughly refreshing and I loved the way the chilli heat came long after swallowing. 

The Perrier-Jouet Blason Rose Champagne (£12.50) had a lovely strawberry nose and refreshing acidity. 

There is small but well thought out wine list, with 7 white and 6 red wines offered by the glass. The entry level wines are a white Nederberg Chenin Blanc from South Africa and a red Granfort Merlot from France, both priced at £27. But as we chose a variety of fish and meat dishes, we preferred to share two half bottles. We chose the Sancerre Les Collinettes, Joseph Mellot, France, and the Don Jacobo Rioja Crianza Tinto, Boedgas Corral, Spain, both priced at £17.50 per half bottle. These were both excellent, with a great depth of flavour, concentration and complexity. 

Likes: Anticuchos, tempura and taquitos were sensational. Great service and gorgeous restaurant.

Dislikes: the coriander tigers milk lacked acidity and depth of flavour, and there was far too much Parmesan in the miso aubergine. These were minor problems in a overall very good meal.

Verdict: For good quality Pan-Asian cooking, Chino Latino is my ‘go-to’ restaurant. If you are looking for great food, cocktails and a stunning setting overlooking the river Thames, I highly recommend Chino Latino.

Monday 12 June 2017

Nikkei Beef Picanha with Yuzu, Soy and Chilli Dressing - A Recipe & Competition for Your Chance to Win a Weber BBQ in Collaboration with Irish Beef

Nikkei cooking is a style of Japanese cuisine created by Japanese migrants in different places around the world with significant diasporas – South America is one of these regions, especially in Brazil and Peru.

When my Japanese family migrated to Brazil with millions of others, they yearned to eat the food they were accustomed to, but they lacked familiar ingredients in their new adopted home – so Nikkei cuisine was born, out of necessity, with Japanese inspired dishes being created at home, using the local ingredients they could find at the time.

One of these ingredients was beef picanha - but what exactly is it? 

The picanha beef cut comes from the cap lying above the top sirloin and rump areas; it is a triangular cut and just like the British rump, it has a beautiful layer of fat. It is not a muscle that moves much during the animal’s life, and so it remains tender. The picanha’s thick blanket of fat lends the meat flavour and succulence while protecting it from human error that may occur during grilling.  And because it is little known in Europe, picanha is still relatively cheap.

Picanha symbolizes the authentic Brazilian churrasco where it is grilled encased in a thick layer of rock salt and nothing else. Growing up in my Nikkei home in São Paulo, we tended to use rather less rock salt, but basted the meat in a mixture of soy sauce, lime, garlic and olive oil during grilling.

I am thrilled to discover excellent quality Irish picanha available in the UK, and share this Nikkei Beef Picanha recipe with you so you will not need to travel far to taste picanha. This is a favourite recipe of mine and one I serve often for friends and at my own #NikkkeiSupperClub. As well as being super easy to prepare, it is perfect for the Summer months and once you have tried picanha, I think you will be hooked!

This recipe was created in collaboration with Irish Beef. To learn more about Irish Beef and discover a number of mouth-watering recipes using Irish beef, visit their website here.

For a chance to win a Weber Barbecue and try this recipe out in your own garden, please enter the 'Summer Beef Encounters' competition in collaboration with Irish Beef by clicking here and vote for my Nikkei Beef Picanha recipe, please! Good luck!

Nikkei Beef Picanha 
with Yuzu, Soy and Chilli Dressing

Ingredients (serves 8):

1.3kg Irish beef picanha, whole piece
50g rock sea salt (do not use table or cooking salt or flakes)
120ml soy sauce
60ml extra-virgin olive oil
60ml yuzu juice (substitute with lime or lemon)
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 long red chilli, de-seeded and finely diced (keep ½ for decoration)

Edible flowers like wild garlic, to decorate
Micro coriander, to decorate
½ long red chilli, de-seeded and finely diced, to decorate (see above)


1. Score the fatty blanket on the picanha by making criss-cross cuts into the thick layer of fat covering one side. Cut the piece of picanha into 4 to 5 thick pieces of about 250g to 300g each about 5cm thick, keeping the fat covering the upper surface of each steak. 

2. Place the steaks on a tray and cover them thoroughly in the rock sea salt, this will help to seal in the juices of the meat. Table or cooking salt is too fine and more of it will be needed to do the same job resulting in a very salty barbecued picanha, so do stick to rock salt for this recipe. In addition, rock salt does not penetrate nearly as much as finer salts, giving a delicious and lightly salty crust to the meat. If your salt tolerance is low, you may prefer not to salt the beef and only use the dressing to season it as it is served.

3. Now make the soy & yuzu or lime dressing by mixing together the soy sauce, olive oil, yuzu or lime juice, crushed garlic cloves and ½ of diced red chilli - ½ of this dressing will be used for basting the meat while on the grill and the other ½ will be used as a dipping sauce to serve with the slices of beef.

4. BBQ Method - Get your barbecue hot and ready for the picanha, and generously brush the grill plates with oil. Grill the picanha pieces fat-side up for a few minutes until a little juice leaks out of the steaks. Turn the steaks onto their sides to grill for a few minutes more on each side.  Using a brush, baste the meat with the reserved ½ of soy and yuzu lime dressing every time your turn the steaks. Finally grill fat-side down, moving the steaks away from the hottest part of the fire to avoid over-cooking and to reduce the chance of the fire flaring up from the dripping fat. Grill to your desired doneness, it should take anything from 15 to 25 minutes depending on the thickness of the steaks and how fierce the fire in your barbecue is.  I use the ‘finger poke method’ to know when the meat is done - I like my picanha rather pink, so the meat should feel bouncy but firm cooked for about 15 to 20 minutes in total. Alternatively, you can take one steak out of the grill and cut a small piece of it from its thickest part to check for doneness.

5. Kitchen Grill Method - If you don’t have a barbecue you can still cook the picanha under a hot grill in your kitchen. Place the steaks over a rack within a roasting tin, this is important as the picanha’s fat will drip into it and not in your oven. Grill the steaks for 7 minutes flesh side up, then turn them over and grill fat side up, preferably on a lower rack or at the bottom of the oven, for another 8 to 12 minutes, basting the beef with the reserved ½ of soy and yuzu lime dressing for 2 minutes before the end of cooking time. If using the kitchen grill, a meat thermometer read is more accurate than on the barbecue – the internal temperature of the meat should be 60°C for rare, 63°C for medium rare, 71°C for medium and 77°C for well-done. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, use the finger poke method described above.

6. Let the picanha rest for 5 minutes before serving. Brush off the excess salt. The meat should be sliced thinly and served with the reserved soy and yuzu/lime dressing. In this way, guests can choose the slices they want, some will prefer more rare, others more well-done so everyone is happy!

Thursday 8 June 2017

Tsukiji Sushi – Tasting Menu Reviewed

Name: Tsukiji Sushi

Where: 38 Conduit Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 2YF, http://tsukijimayfair.com/

Cost: Average cost per person is £45 not including drinks or service charge. There is a set dinner including tempura, a main course and dessert for £45. We opted for the tasting menu at £65 per person, or £95 with a matching sake flight. Or if you fancy just an assorted platter of sushi or sashimi, they are available in platters at either £23.50 or £36.50.  

About: Set in Conduit Street inside the swanky Westbury Hotel, this intimate Japanese restaurant seats just 14 people at sleek red wood tables, plus another 6 at the sushi bar counter.

With Head Chef Show Choong at the helm, Tsukiji Sushi, oozes elegant restraint, and has a sushi chef beavering away behind the bar. 

Simply decorated with white wall panels broken up by red wood borders like a Kandinsky painting, minimalist artwork and an unobtrusive backing track of lounge music, the restaurant has a restful feel.   

What We Ate: The first dish of the Tasting Menu (£65pp) was named buna shimeji (brown beach mushroom). Simply pan-fried, these lovely little funghi were served with a fabulous green sauce of parsley, coriander and spring onions, vinegar, olive oil and garlic. The sauce reminded me of a Mediterranean bagnet vert, it was fresh and with great acidity.

Next up was hamachi (yellowtail) usuzukuri (thinly sliced), served with yuzu ponzu (a zingy citrus dressing made with soy and yuzu juice), topped with a small amount of oroshi (shredded daikon and chilli), and thinly sliced spring onion. 

The tataki chu toro (lightly seared fatty tuna), was served with a delectable and refreshing jalapeño salsa made with onion, vinegar, garlic, ponzu, and an intensely herbaceous Japanese kinomi leaf. With a rich and creamy mouthfeel I thoroughly enjoyed this dish, I just wished there was more of it!

To follow, we had the octopus carpaccio served with a truffle mustard, saikyo miso and vinegar dressing, all on a bed of fennel shavings. The octopus was softly textured, with a thrilling heat from the mustard, tart vinegar notes and sweet miso. This was another refreshing and very well seasoned dish.

A single grilled oyster with creamy sauce and tobiko egg followed. With Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise, sweet chilli and rice vinegar, this had the fresh mineral aroma of the sea, and a lovely creaminess. 

Equally good was the unakyu maki, served with a few splashes of rich, sweet teriyaki sauce. A lovely eel sushi, the rice was soft and yielding, and tasted fresh and expertly cooked. 

Better still were the nigiri sushi - the chef's omakase selection of five different types. On the evening of our visit, the chef had chosen a variety of fresh and blowtorched sushi. The tuna belly with sea urchin was exquisite - complex, minerally, with layers of texture and flavour.  The salmon belly with wasabi was also good, as was the prawn, but the seared butterfish was better still, with an aromatic, smoky finish and creaminess only highly fatty fish can give. Best of all for me though was the scallop. I have always loved the outlandishly huge and creamy scallops served in Tokyo, and the scallops at Tsukiji Sushi with black tobiko eggs were not too far off!

The last dish before dessert was a fine piece of black cod with saikyo miso sauce and a slice of grilled red pepper. There was a time in my life when I ate so much black cod that I went off it, but this dish reminded me what I had been missing. It was rich, soft as caramel, and exquisitely buttery. 

In Japanese restaurants in the West, the almost inevitable dessert is green tea ice cream. However, at Tsukiji Sushi, this was served with a lovely crisp of white chocolate embossed with a Japanese traditional floral design, plus chocolate ripple, raspberry compote, dried raspberry crumb and Cantonese cocoa nibs. 

What We Drank: We opted for a bottle of Sancerre Rose 2015, from Pascal Jolivet. Made from 100% Pinot Noir, this had peach and ripe red berry fruit, with a distinctive mineral character, with a fresh acidity and elegance. It was clean and refreshing, and made an excellent partner for the sashimi and sushi. 

Likes: I enjoyed every single dish on Tsukiji Sushi’s Tasting Menu, but some of the highlights included the omakaze sushi platter, the tataki of fatty tuna, and the octopus carpaccio as well as the grilled oyster!

Dislikes: I would have loved a little rice dish and a bowl of soup to finish the savoury part of the meal, this is knows as the shime, and is customary, specially with tasting menus like this. I must admit being still a tad hungry as I left the restaurant but this could have been avoided.

Verdict: Tsukiji Sushi is an intimate restaurant serving great quality and well-made sushi, sashimi and cooked Japanese dishes. Just by manic Oxford Circus, this is a little haven of tranquility and a real find. Recommended.

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