Thursday, 8 January 2015

Riding House Cafe : Another cool brunch place

I love the idea of brunch. What perfect timing to eat, especially on the weekends when one is too lazy to get out of bed. I have been on the hunt for great brunches in the London food scene and after much research, I discovered this cute, not so little restaurant. The Riding House Cafe shows off the desired quality of being on a quiet street but at the same time being located near a very busy and accessable place. You may have heard of this busy place... Oxford Circus?

Anyway, it was a nice casual day. I had just flown into London so all I needed was a nice welcome greeting from the London food scene. It was Saturday and the sun was still out so I thought to myself "why not brunch?"

I went on a nice walk from chaotic Oxford Circus to calm Thitchfield road and before I knew it I was in the restuarant waiting for FK to arrive. Unfortunately she was running late so I had a lot of time to observe the restuarant decor and the people around me which is always fun to do. 

The restuarant ambience was very lively and had just the right level of background noise. Not so loud that you have to talk over other people and not to so quiet that you're dying for some background music. The restaurant atmosphere is also dynamic in the sense that it suits different occasions. I could tell because there were groups of all kinds: couples, families, small friend groups and large friend groups.

Time flew by and FK arrived so it was time to eat! I ordered quickly as I had so much time to study the menu. I decided to start with the small Lobster Benedict. I couldn't help my self; it was the first time I had seen this on a menu. This starter was pleasant but, with faults. I liked how much better the dish tasted with lobster compared to traditionally putting ham. Also, the egg yolk gloriously poured onto the plate as I cut through the poached egg which is something I always look for. Although it was for the most part a nice dish, it was too cold. I believe this was the main downfall of this dish. It would have been better if it was just a bit warmer. There's just something about cold hollandaise sauce and eggs that makes me squirm. In summary, the flavours were there but the conditions weren't optimal for the flavours' execution.

Next thing I had was the grilled quail with sweet potato mash. This was aesthetically pleasing but again, it was slightly cold! Apart from this annoying fault, the quail had the strong grill taste which I enjoyed chowing down. However, there wasn't much to chow down as there was hardly any quail meat! The sweet potato mash had an odd flavour that I neither liked nor disliked. Overall, this dish wasn't memorable, it just looked pretty.

I finished my meal with the infamous pancakes. When they arrived, I was shocked. These pancakes were the thickest pancakes that I had ever laid my eyes on! This isn't a bad thing though- as long as they're fluffy, I'm good. I wasn't disappointed; the pancakes were warm, fluffy and sweet. The only problem I had was how overwhelmingly mushy the pancakes could feel in my mouth at times. Apart from that, they were absolutely fantastic. 

To sum it all up, the riding house cafe is a nice place to have a causal meal. I also think it makes for an excellent shopping-break destination. The dishes are reasonably priced as everything came down to £36 pp including drinks and service. However, if you're looking for a top-quality culinary experience, I wouldn't say this place fits the bill. 

I would also recommend heading to Kaffeine afterwards to finish off your meal. It is a coffee shop selling excellent coffee and snacks. 

PS: there are squirrel lamps everywhere!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Barrafina: Worth the wait

Hey there! I knows it's been the longest time since I last posted a review; I've been out of town for the past few months. Anyway, what's important is that I'm back in London for a bit so what follows is a few restaurant reviews! Be on the look out for two more reviews.

Before I left London for a few months, Barrafina had long been on my list. I had heard amazing things about the top-quality tapas from other bloggers so I knew that when I was back in London, Barrafina would be the first place to visit.

After visiting the Christmas markets in South Bank with my equally quirky companion, I headed back to Soho with great haste in order to get there early.  You may be thinking, "why would I want to get to a restaurant early?" One possibility is that I may be rushing to attend some event. The other possibility is the combination of a no-reservation policy and a small seating capacity. In this case, I would reason towards the latter possibility.

After arriving in Soho, it took a while for me to locate the restuarant due to the inconspicuous external design but Google maps soon aided my direction *thanks Google*. 

Upon entering the restaurant, the first thing I had in mind was to join the queue. Luckily, we were allowed to queue inside which protected us from the harsh winter weather outside. However, if you're one of those strange people who enjoy eating in the cold, you can opt to do so. The waiting time for eating outside is basically non-existent so good for you!

For the rest of us warm-blooded folk, it took about 2 hours to get a seat! One thing that kept me going was the amazing food being served to the seated customers. My theory is that the chefs work extra hard on presentation to incentivise customers to wait longer. On the other hand, this theory isn't without fault as I recall rejoicing when a party of 4 left the queue. It was like playing a game of Last Man Standing. If you wish, you can have a glass of wine or a small appetiser while waiting in the long line to sustain yourself. 

After reflecting on my years of life, our seats were finally ready! Honestly, all I was looking forward to doing at that point was sitting down.

Now... Food time! Upon glancing at the menu, I noticed that it was divided into seven sections: Cara Para, Cold Meats, Tortilla, Seafood, Meats, Vegetables and Desserts. Ms. EQP (equally quirky person) and I tried to cover most sections of the menu but we failed because the best dishes were basically contained within three sections. The very friendly and helpful waitress recommended her favourite dishes which we ordered but, with caution. 

The first thing that arrived was the octopus with capers. I didn't even want to eat it at first; it looked too beautiful. The glistening surface, the colour, the juiciness. All these observations materialised in my mouth. What a wonderful dish! I think to summarise the experience, I can call it 'texture heaven'.

Next thing that came along was the ham croquetas. This was just a pleasant starter. It wasn't anything particularly special but I enjoyed it. I think the contrast between the rich filling and the cruchy exterior made it slightly memorable. Also, the dish acted as nice buffer before the next dish came along. 

Next in line was the courgette flower. It was basically a courgette flower deep-fried and stuffed with cheese. The bold presentation is hard to forget. I enjoyed this light and simple dish. It literally disappeared so quickly. I liked the nice hint of sweeteness from the honey at the end. I usually don't try vegetable dishes because I fear they lack the powerful flavours and textures carried by the meats but my experience with this particular dish was contrary to my expectations.

Although I had just enjoyed a good vegetable course, this didn't mean I wasn't still anxiously waiting to try more meat! My carnivorous instincts soon kicked in as I salivated heavily at the look of the Wild Sea Bass that awaited my demolition. I wasn't disappointed; it was cooked to tender perfection. This dish was offered as a special so unfortunately, I don't think I'm gonna be trying this again anytime soon. On the positive side: the textures were engineered beautifully, the crispy skin nicely contrasted the tender flesh and the artichoke purée added an extra layer of richness to the entire dish. There was some olive oil splattered in some areas of the plate which combined all the different elements of the dish wonderfully. Ladies and gentlemen, you know what's coming next. Yes... The foodgasm - the climax of the dining experience. I just closed my eyes and embraced it. 

Oh... But I wasn't done yet. I still had more meat dishes ahead of me. The Morcilla Iberica with quail eggs followed. This was such a colourful dish! It made me happy just looking at it. It was different to other dishes in the sense that there were more earthy and bold tones. It was also really delicate and rich. While I really enjoyed it, it wasn't something I could have too much of. Usually after one has a foodgasm, there is a decline in one's culinary pleasure. However, this wasn't true for Barrafina! I felt like I was still on a climb towards another climax. What was awaiting me?

The final meat dish landed before us, the Pluma Iberica with confit potatoes. Those potatoes were amazing! They were full of flavour and had the perfect thickness. The pork was delicious too. It was complemented by the hint of sweeteness from the plum tomato. The oil really does add a difference; it tied all the elements of the dish together. I think I'm going to call it the gastronomic glue. The chefs here add oil to eveything; I belive it makes all the dishes reach a higher level of culinary excellence. The Pluma Iberica made for a softer climax. It sounds like a disappointment but this is the first time I've had more than one foodgasm in one dining experience so I'm very impressed.

The dessert was amazing too. I had the traditional Spanish crema catalana. Three words: simple, pleasant and gingery. It was not too dense so had the right amount of richness which is a balance that is rarely achieved. 

I have been amazed by Barrafina. Similar to my experience at the Social Eating House, Barrafina executes the finest consistency in the quality of its dishes. What sets it apart for me was how impressive all of the dishes were! Truly amazing flavours and textures. What I also love is that it isn't too pricey. The bill came down to a reasonable £45.

It's an experience in its own right: the intimate ambience, the chatty chefs and the very friendly staff. Whenever I'm in London, I will definitely be coming back here. The only problem is the long queue but it's worth the wait! Lastly, I must say that the recently awarded Michelin star is well-deserved. 

Barrafina on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Breakfast Club: breakfast done hipster style

Quite an iconic spot in Soho, the Breakfast club has received wide spread attention both in the food blogosphere and on social media networks through the likes of Instagram. I guess it's hard for one to see nicely stacked American style pancakes or an Eggs Benedict (see below) without wondering where it is made. I first visited the breakfast club through word of mouth but the stunning pictures I saw on Instagram made me go back as I wasn't heavily impressed the first time.

A fellow Old Harrovian was joining me for this meal so we were desperate to share an experience without the haunting memories of boarding-school food! I hate to break it to you guys but this place is another small no-reservations restaurant so there's bound to be a queue but try avoiding peak hours around 3pm. Luckily, we didn't have to queue for too long - about 10 minutes.

Finally, after spending several minutes scrupulously looking through an insanely good menu, we came to a decision to order three dishes.

The first of there dishes were the Pancakes and Berries. This looked so appetising! I couldn't wait to dig in. However, it looked nicer than it tasted. The pancakes were just too mushy and bland. Thankfully, the cream and berries were able to mask that flaw.

Next to arrive was the Eggs Benedict. I think was the best thing I tasted here.
I loved the rich combination of the egg yolk and the hollandaise sauce. The ham was also really tasty. 

Last but not the least to arrive was the French toast with banana and bacon. I know.... Banana and bacon? I was quite skeptical about ordering it but the waitress just said I should go for it. It looked so weird when it arrived to see both components on the same plate. I tasted it and I knew it wasn't a match made in heaven but I definitely saw where they were going with the flavours. Only problem was that there wasn't enough bacon for the generous amount of French toast provided. It did however feel quite rewarding to step outside my comfort zone. 

The food was okay but what I love about this place is the atmosphere. It's so understated and lively. The restaurant's design is quite qwerky brought about by the oddly combined eclectic furniture, the hipster waiters and the collage of postcards on the wall from all around the world! I am in love with the ambience here and that's what's gonna keep bringing me back. There is definitely value-for-money here as the meal cost about £25 between both of us which is more than enough for three large dishes.

PS: this guy makes a good companion 

Breakfast Club on Urbanspoon

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Friday, 18 July 2014

Berners Tavern: Ambience like no other

Another venture into one of Jason Atherton's restaurants definitely got me excited given the amazing experience I had at the Social Eating House. Once again, MRG was joining me so we were both in for another visit to flavour-town!

I entered the restaurant and I honestly felt this was one of the best dining spaces I have ever eaten in; the collage of portraits, the high ceiling and the tall brightly-lit bar. It was absolutely stunning and it made me even more anxious to try the food.

I started off by ordering the Egg, Ham and Peas (£12.50) which I believe is supposed to be the iconic starter here. I was a bit skeptical about the peas because I'm not really a huge fan of them but once the plate arrived, I definitely changed my mind! The dish was presented beautifully and that was backed up by the delicate and rich flavours. The risotto in the pea sauce was buttery and rich with a hint of cheese. The lardons tasted awesome and brought a variety of texture to the dish in addition to a burst of its porky goodness. It was truly an excellent starter - very small but very filling.

I then ordered the Roast rump of Romney Marsh lamb to follow (£25.50). Again it was presented in such an aesthetically pleasing manner. The rump was wonderful and tender. What made it special was some sweet and tasty parsnip mousse which was just *omg* (it really can't be put in words). The braised neck it was served with tasted weird at first but it just got better and better as I had more of it.
However, it got too rich to handle towards the end because of the high fat content. Overall, it was a fantastic main course!

MRG had the Roast Cornish turbot with a squid ink risotto (£32) which he said was brilliantly cooked. I had a little taste of the squid ink risotto which was a bit of a difficult task for me because it just seems counterintuitive to eat anything that looks black! However, it was surprisingly rich and buttery so I'm sure it went pretty well with the fish. 

My experience here was great! The food was consistently exquisite, the ambience was like nowhere else and the service was decent. It is definitely worth your money as it came down to about £45 per person.

PS: I wonder how they got all those drinks up there in that bar! 

Berners Tavern on Urbanspoon

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Friday, 11 July 2014

The Best Burgers in London.

For a long time, I've been excited to let myself explore the London food scene in terms of its basic foundations. What good is it if the fine-dining scene is spectacular but the street-food scene is uninspiring? After all, it's not like most of us can afford fine-dining experiences on a daily basis! I've always loved burgers and it is a meal pretty much everyone enjoys and loves so I thought it would make the best test of the culinary foundations of London.

In the last few years, so many burger joints have popped up in London. They tend to be small in size, have a no-reservations policy and an indie vibe. I have tried to capture all sorts of atmospheres with the restaurants from the burgers made in the dingy corners of Soho to the more decadent burgers made in glamorous Mayfair. However, there are some fantastic burger joints that I didn't include on here such as that of Tommi's Burger Joint because I've already written a review.


This was my second visit and fortunately, it was much better this time round! I think this was because I skipped all the fussy starters and desserts and went straight in for the BB which I didn't really get to try much of last time. This is probably the most decadent burger on the list as it is composed of froie gras, red wine braised short ribs and truffles. Firstly the burger when it arrived looked absolutely stunning and that made me very anxious to try it. It tasted great and it was very rich but there were a few things holding it back from culinary glory: the horseradish came off too strong and once paired with the richness of the froie gras and the short ribs actually masked the beefy flavours of the patty. To cut things short, there was too much going on! Sometimes, less is more or the ingredients have to be present in the right proportions. This concept is exemplified by the fantastic burgers I tasted later on.

Even apart from the food, the restaurant ambience was quite dull so that didn't make things any better. The BB is the most expensive burger on the list (£20) and is also last on the list so I'm pretty sure price doesn't always correlate with quality.

Bar Boulud on Urbanspoon

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So we're back to my beloved Soho. This burger joint has been buzzing in the food blogosphere so I thought it was worth my time to give it a try. It's tucked away on a cute little road off Dean Street. As expected there was a queue due to the no-reservations policy so that ended up in a 5-10 minute wait. I was dining alone so I was pleased I was placed in one of the stools in the front of the restaurant with a bar-like counter to avoid any unwanted awkwardness. Anyway, I was given the menu and I decided to go for the special which was the BrewBurger. Unfortunately, it took AGES to get my order taken. The staff are very inattentive so I can't say the service was brilliant. However, the burger did come quite quickly so that was a plus. The burger was really good; strong beefy flavours and a strong BBQ presence. On the other hand, the bacon tasted weird at times but good at other times- I don't know why! It was a very wholesome and satisfying burger but I wouldn't say it blew my socks off. I think the main star of the dish was actually the side of rosemary fries which were crispy, perfectly seasoned and aromatic. 

Although it took me ages to get the bill due to the inattentive staff, the cost of the meal as displayed on the receipt brought a smile to my face!

Honest Burgers on Urbanspoon

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I've been to Hawksmoor before and I was actually going to give it it's own separate review but the pictures I took didn't do the place justice (due to the poor lighting) so I decided not to go through with it. It's no secret that Hawksmoor serves one of the best steaks in London so they must know how to serve up a good old beef patty. 

It was quite an unexpected turn of events as I went to the Air Street branch and soon realised they didn't serve the Hawksmoor Burger. I was so desperate to try out this legendary dish that I went straight to the Seven Dials branch. Once again, I was seated at the bar counter but I was not alone as I was kept company by a very chatty bartender! I immediately ordered the Hawksmoor burger and it came quite quickly. It looked absolutely stunning and intimidating due to its sheer size. I strategically ate the burger by cutting it in half and so I could enjoy one halve without making too much of a mess. Well, that didn't work out! The extremely juicy and moist patty dripped its glorious beef juice on to the plate as I ate into the burger. The cheese was everywhere and it contributed to a deeper richness! I believe the nuggets of bone marrow really elevated the overall taste of the dish by enhancing the beefy-ness of the burger. It was simply amazing and brought to life by the basic ingredients within it. The beef patty was perfectly cooked, the bacon was salty and crispy, the tomatoes and pickles gave a nice sour citrusness. Lets not forget the triple-cooked chips that accompanied the burger which were also perfectly salted and crispy. This burger was basically the opposite of the BB; it was executed perfectly by the how well the little number of basic elements were cooked. 

Hawksmoor Seven Dials on Urbanspoon

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It was a tough call to rank Hawksmoor and Goodman next to each other but the basis on which I did that was very tiny. I had my burger at Goodman for the same reasons I had the burger at Hawksmoor. I just thought that an excellent steakhouse must be able to serve fantastic burgers... And I wasn't wrong!

I came here for a quick shopping break which was convenient as it is nicely located on the quiet part of Maddox Street which is right off New Bond Street at one end and Regent Street on the other. Once I arrived, I was welcomed by the friendly staff and was immediately given a table by the window. I knew what I came here for so the waitress quickly took my order. The food took a bit of time but wasn't too long either. The wait resulted in mass salivation when the burger finally arrived. It looked amazing especially with the beautiful egg yolk sitting on top of the patty (the edge over the Hawksmoor burger). It was a very rich burger indeed! The juice from the patty, the cheese and the egg yolk were responsible for this. It was extremely tasty and moreish because of the nice subtle kick from the bacon and the fried onions. The chips however were quite average so I didn't even finish them. However, it's not hard to say this is one of the best burgers I have ever had in London. All the components of the dish just came together in perfect harmony. The ambience like Hawksmoor is very chilled and casual. The service was excellent so I'm definitely coming back!

Goodman on Urbanspoon

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I've been here once before when it first opened. The burgers were absolutely amazing and I've been waiting for the right time to return so that I could share my experience with you guys. The restaurant is located on the ultimate alfresco-dining street of London - James Street. The street produces a very foodie vibe which infects the ambience of each restuarant within that area. Once again, the no-reservations policy is enforced at Patty & Bun so we had to wait a few minutes. MRG and Valers were once more joining me for this meal so I was quite excited. I absolutely love the atmosphere in this place; it's funky, exciting and animated. The interesting cardboard cut-outs on the wall as well as the loosely hung lamps on each table give the place a distinct character (not to mention the fantastic music selection). On to the food, we all opted for the Smokey Robinson burger which I believe I had last time. 

The burger arrived wrapped up in a basket which was very different compared to the other places on this list. I removed the wrapping and the pleasant steaming fumes were immediately released which just made me more anxious to bite into the burger. I tasted the burger and I was instantly taken away by the strong smoky flavour, the BEST BACON I have ever tasted as well as the thick juicy patty. If you come here, you must be prepared for continuous burger leakage; it is literally the most juicy burger I have ever had. The beef patty was grilled to medium-rare perfection so the moisture nicely complemented all other elements of the dish. The sides were also amazing! We ordered the crispy and tasty chips with the cold and refreshing coleslaw. A trip to the bathroom afterwards (essential) allowed me to discover more interesting designs of the restaurant such as the staircase graffiti. It's truly an amazing place and I must make myself more of a regular here!

Patty & Bun on Urbanspoon

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It's hard to accept that a Spanish tapas bar actually serves one of the best burgers in London but the No.1 place is truly deserved. It was actually quite a late-night venture here with MRG as we were both feeling spontaneous for a culinary adventure. Well, let's begin! The burgers were the third thing to arrive after we had started with fish dishes. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from the Mini Iberico Pork and Froie gras burgers but my mind was blown once the food landed on my tongue. I can't explain the sheer joy that overcame me when I tasted it. I think I actually experienced what is the envy of all foodies - the sacred FOODGASM. I almost felt so happy in those few minutes I could actually cry. It was the heavenly combination of the porky tender patty, the rich froie gras, the crispy and salty fried onions topped off with a sweet kick from a relish of some sort. The ultimate combination of flavours left me in such a state of euphoria that I got depressed when I was about to finish the burger. Truly divine... Enough said. This understated dish must be tried by everyone who reads this post. Unfortunately, the restaurant was poorly lit so the picture provided below is actually the same burger made at the Salt Yard stand at Taste of London. Note that Opera Tavern and Salt Yard are part of the same restaurant group.

Opera Tavern on Urbanspoon

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