I loved Viet Food so much I went two nights in a row. Yep, I really did!

Viet Food opened its doors in the heart of China Town – just where it meets Soho – less than two weeks before my visits, and was packed to the rafters both evenings, with queues waiting outside to boot. Some of that will no doubt be down to its superb central location, even busier than usual thanks to the unseasonably warm weather and with the beautiful red lanterns still hanging after the recent Moon Festival. But I’m sure it must also be because word has already got out about the excellent cooking and attractive setting.

The restaurant belongs to chef proprietor Jeff Tan, who was at the helm of Hakkasan for 3 years from its launch, winning a Michelin Star for the restaurant during his tenure. His aim for Viet Food is to present a menu of high quality, reasonably priced food that celebrates Vietnam’s vibrant food culture. That concept has been translated for the interior by designer Nina Kuan, who has created a very appealing space across two high-ceilinged floors. Several of the walls are exposed brick, the huge upstairs windows are fitted with woven ropes that let in light but break up the pedestrian view outside, flooring is a mixture of oak boards and vintage tiles, ducts and pipes along the ceiling are exposed, lighting is slightly retro and there are wonderful vintage decorative objects such as hanging birdcages, huge mirrors and pretty postcards. The whole effect is very welcoming and I really like it.

My first meal in the restaurant was an invitation to review, organised by the PR; a friend and I enjoyed tasty and beautifully presented food, served with a smile in a charming setting.

The next night Pete and I needed an exciting, delicious restaurant for dinner with my cousin and his wife, visiting London from Washington DC. Happily, the food and overall dining experience were just as good the second night running.

Here’s my low down on what we had; a few dishes were ordered on both nights because they were so delicious and I knew everyone would love them. Visit two was more chicken-, pork- and beef-based dishes, as we had a few non-seafood eaters.

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Image of interior provided by restaurant

Lovely to discover an appealing range of soft drinks including two mixed juice options. On the left, Coconut Slap – coconut, mango and passionfruit and on the right, Wow Wow – melon, pineapple, apple and lime. Both delicious.

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For both meals, we ordered quite a few dishes from the first page of the menu – labelled as ‘Incoming’, this consisted of smaller dishes, ideal as starters.

Crispy home made Vietnamese spring roll (£4.50) paired a succulent pork filling with super crunchy vermicelli exterior, fresh lettuce to wrap and a beautifully balanced sauce to dip. 3 in a portion, these were a favourite both nights.

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Vietnamese pancake (£5) was far thinner than I expected. Generously filled with perfectly cooked seafood, stir fried vegetables and fresh herbs and served with a sweet chilli sauce for dipping. I loved the filling but found the thinner softer pancake less appealing than the slightly thicker crunchier type I’ve had before.

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Pomelo prawn salad (£5.50) was one of my absolute favourites and another dish ordered both nights. Juicy prawns and one of my favourite citrus fruits were complemented by fresh herbs and a fantastic salad dressing – I’m guessing brown sugar, fish sauce and lime or lemon juice as a base, but it’s all about getting the balance right and this was just so good. Perhaps I shall beg Jeff Tan for his recipe, do you think that would work?

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The dressing for the Grilled beef salsa with fresh herb (£5.50) was similar, though the mix of vegetables and herbs quite different. This was another winner on night 2.

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The Vietnamese style grilled minced pork balls with lettuce and vermicelli (£5) were also one of the dishes everyone particularly liked – full of flavour, perfectly cooked and great with lettuce, lightly pickled vegetables and vermicelli.

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The Chargrilled glazed lemongrass chicken wings (£4) were absolutely delicious, with strong flavours, tender chicken and a wonderfully charred and crisp skin. However the portion was small for the price, given the unusually tiny size of the four wings served. If the kitchen could source more generously sized chicken wings, I would give this dish a bigger thumbs up.

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The next section of the menu covers ‘Greens’, from which we ordered Morning glory stir-fry with preserved shrimp paste (£5.50) the first night and Stir-fried French bean with minced beef and dried shrimp sauce (£5.50) the second night.

Both were excellent – fresh, beautifully cooked and with wonderful flavour from the preserved shrimp and dried shrimp paste. My cousin-in-law particularly loved the beans, one of her favourite dishes of the evening.

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The next four dishes are listed in the ‘Chef Signature Dish’ section. Lamb chop Hanoi style (£8.80) was one of the first dishes I decided to order, lamb chops being one of my favourite foods in the world. Some meat was left on the bone – two ribs joined together, but the rest were served as boneless fillets making the dish perfect to share with those who aren’t as happy to gnaw on the bone as me! The flavour in the glaze was super punchy, and the meat very tender. These didn’t disappoint.

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Tender pork belly (£7) was as promised – several generous cubes of belly pork with meltingly soft layers of fat and tender meat, served in its sweet thick braising liquid. This dish must surely be based on Chinese red-braised pork, much like the origins of Japanese Buta no Kakuni, but I found the flavours of the braise a little muted in comparison.

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Vietnamese grilled chilli sirloin (£8.80) turns out to be four tight rolls of thinly sliced sirloin, simply grilled (with a little pink inside) and served with okra and a thick, tasty sauce.

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Chargrilled lemongrass chicken (£6) is, unsurprisingly, somewhat similar in flavour to the lemongrass chicken wings but with less char and crispness and a lot more meat. It’s a simple but delicious dish.

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Another favourite on evening two is Bun Thit Bo Nuong (£7.90)– chargrilled beef over vermicelli noodles with a cucumber and herb salad, peanuts and fish sauce. Served with a sweet chilli sauce to pour over. The generous portion makes this one of the best value dishes on the menu too.

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On first glance, we thought the Home-style fried rice with king prawn and soy sauce (£4.80) a little disappointing, just a pot of rice with a few prawns thrown in – but as we started eating, we quickly realised it was simple but very delicious; a really tasty fried rice.

On my second visit we went for the Egg fried rice with beef ginger, coriander and Vietnamese pickled [sic] (£4.80), which was even better. Again, a simple dish when perfectly executed had us nodding in appreciation.

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There isn’t a dessert menu, but a note on the main menu promises a Chef’s daily special – ask your waiter for more information. The Pandan sago with banana (£4) was unlike anything I’ve tried before. Pandan gave the custardy pudding a subtle flavour and pretty green colour, sago pearls added a slippery, mildly chewy texture and cubes of ripe banana added sweetness. There were no punchy flavours here; rather a satisfyingly simple ending to our meal – I liked it very much.

There is plenty, plenty more on the menu to try. We didn’t order any of the 8 pho on offer, though I spotted several fellow customers digging in with gusto. There are many more fish and seafood dishes I’m keen to sample. Another return visit is surely on the cards but the difficulty will be in sidestepping so many of the dishes above, in order to give the rest of the tempting menu a fair chance!

Do yourself a favour and make your way to Viet Food soon!

Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Viet Food on the first evening, and as regular customers on the second.

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The Truscott Cellar is a wine bar and restaurant in Belsize Park, a residential neighbourhood in North London. As the name implies, it has a strong focus on wine, but food is definitely not an also-ran; the short menu offers a range of small dishes that are delicious, fairly priced and a great sop to the wine. And speaking of  wine, it’s enormously pleasing to note that every single wine listed is available by the glass, carafe or bottle.

There is also a short cocktails list and some decent soft-drink options.

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With glasses of wine served in 125 ml measures, wine lovers can try a wider range than is often the case, and staff are on hand to advise and recommend, if you wish. Pete enjoyed a Muddy Water Pinot Noir from Waipara Valley in New Zealand (£8), a Bodega Ruca Malen Petit Verdot from Mendoza in Argentina (£6.50) and a Chateau Ksara Reserve du Couvent from Bekaa Valley in Lebanon (£5.50).

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The Meat board (£7 per person, one person serving pictured) includes pressed English pork, Potted Duck and Cured beef and is served with celeriac, slices of pickled gherkins, giant capers and crisp sourdough toasts (not shown). Ours also had additional charcuterie items from those mentioned on the menu. Looking around us, this was clearly a popular way to start the evening.

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The Cornish mackerel, purple potatoes, pickled cucumbers, lemon and chervil (£8) was probably my favourite dish of the night. Everything was perfectly cooked, the salad was beautifully dressed and the combination worked wonderfully. And purple potatoes always looks so pretty.

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The beef cheek, smoked mash and crispy shallots (£10) was Pete’s favourite and a very close second for me. Cooked perfectly, the meat was fork-apart tender and rich in flavour. The smoky mash was rich and buttery and with the beef and gravy, made for a supremely comforting dish. One not to be missed!

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The Heritage Potatoes (£6) is a plate of three generously-sized potato cakes – you can order all three the same or one of each flavour. On offer are Westcome cheddar and leek, smoked haddock and spring onion and blackened Lancashire bacon with ragstone cheese and truffle oil. Given the pricing, I’d really like the option of ordering these individually for £2 or even £2.50 each; a plate of three is a lot of spud between two and most fellow diners were solo or in parties of two. Flavours were decent though I’d like a little more of the flavouring ingredients in each potato cake; the truffle oil didn’t come through at all, either on the nose or the palate.

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The chocolate mousse, honeycomb, chocolate soil (£7) dessert was decent with a rich and dark chocolate flavour, but the texture was very dense indeed and had a hint of graininess. The combination with honeycomb was simple but effective.

Although the food is very good, I’d say that Truscott Cellars is aimed at drinkers first, diners second. How so? Tables are tiny oval-topped affairs on which it’s a squeeze to fit drinks and more than two dishes. Given that the menu offers small plate dining, it’s not unreasonable to have three dishes at a time and we only managed by borrowing space on a neighbouring table while we could. As the place filled up, this became less of an option.

The space looks modern and attractive on first glance but it felt to me that it had been designed for style over comfort and without sufficient thought to how the spaces would work when the seats were full of customers – the first table we chose was spaced such that pulling out the chair enough to sit in it meant that it pushed right into the banquette seating of the table behind; we decided to move to another table instead. The decor also seems to have been done on the cheap, with some messiness visible in the finishing.

It was surprising not to have coat hooks available; I’m curious how this will work when it’s raining – will customers really be expected to keep soaking wet coats with them at their tables? When I wondered where I should put mine, a member of staff did agree to take and store it for me, but this is clearly not the default option.

That said, within less than a month of opening, the place quickly filled up on a Tuesday evening and we were told that some customers were already regulars with multiple visits under their belts.

We enjoyed our evening and would certainly recommend visiting for a few glasses of wine and some tasty dishes.


Kavey Eats dined as guests of The Truscott Cellar.

The Truscott Cellar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Square Meal


The Sky Garden is one of the latest ways to enjoy a birds eye view of London. And it’s free!

Unlike some of the other tall buildings of London, it’s not a gherkin-shaped office block with no public access nor a soaring pay-to-ascend tourist attraction. You don’t even have to book a table for dinner and drinks – you are welcome to enjoy the terrace and garden area completely free, as long as you book in advance.

The Sky Garden is on the 35th floor of the building most commonly referred to as the Walkie Talkie, though personally I think it more closely resembles an old-school mobile phone.

We booked our free visit to the Sky Garden for a sunny weekday afternoon in March and marvelled at the views but didn’t stop for a drink or snack at the Sky Pod Bar, as all the available seating was taken.

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Instagram images from our visit back in March

Those looking for a full meal can book a table at Darwin, a brasserie located on the 36th floor, or Fenchurch up on the 37th, which serves a ‘British contemporary’ menu.

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It was drizzling mid-September evening when we visited Fenchurch but the rain didn’t temper the glory of the views.

Our table, next to the windows at the West of the restaurant was one of only a handful to look out across miles and miles of London.

Other tables along the south-facing internal windows had their views almost entirely blocked by a large empty terrace just outside the restaurant. With the building’s glass roof overhead, locating tables out on to the terrace would be so much lovelier and make use of a somewhat pointless space.

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We wondered if the original name for Fenchurch was 37? The menu branding seemed to suggest so.

Fenchurch offers a regular a la carte, a Tasting Menu (£70) and a vegetarian Tasting Menu (£50). The Wine Pairing for both Tasting Menus is an additional £39. With cockles and mussels both featuring in the regular Tasting Menu, Pete decided to order the vegetarian one, which allowed us to try many more dishes between us.

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The bread was excellent. The olive bread and rosemary focaccia were superb in taste and texture, and very fresh; the butter was soft and spreadable, rather than fridge cold. So many restaurants give scant attention to these two elements so it’s always a good sign when they are given proper respect.

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Although we giggled that the popped rice amuse bouche looked suspiciously maggot-like, the tiny nibbles were delicious. My crumbed pork was fantastic, Pete’s vegetarian one a little burst of flavour.

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First course on the non-vegetarian tasting menu: Chopped mackerel, pickled cockles, sea herbs and oyster cream. I loved this delightful jumble of tastes, textures and colours. Soft fresh mackerel, sweet pickled cockles and the most fantastic crunch from crispy tempura bits scattered through the mixture. Lovely bursts of flavour and salt from the sea herbs. A super dish.

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The vegetarian first course: Pea soup, poached egg yolk, mint and sourdough croutons. This was a beautiful soup; the essence of pea and mint, crunch from the croutons and richness from the oozing yolk.

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My second course was my absolute favourite of the menu: Rabbit bolognaise, harissa, Berkswell and sourdough. Again, the balance of textures between soft pasta, meat which was tender but not pappy and crunch from the sourdough was spot on. Likewise, the balance of flavours between rabbit and harissa was superb, with the harissa giving just the right level of heat and flavour.

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Second for Pete was Burrata, peach, grapefruit and fennel. The combination was given a thumbs up but the burrata was enormously disappointing, with none of the oozing creaminess that a burrata should have, this was far more like a regular ball of mozzarella and not a very creamy or fresh one at that. Still, the flavours worked.

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Confusingly, my next dish was not the Cornish turbot described on the Tasting Menu but Dover sole with brown shrimps, capers and samphire and a single squid ink pasta parcel stuffed with scallop mousse and more brown shrimp. Once again, the combination of ingredients was very good, with sea salt and crunch from the samphire, acidity from the capers and a welcome oomph of fishiness from the brown shrimp but the dover sole was a little overcooked, giving it a texture that was on the chewy side.

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Next for Pete was a dish very poorly described as Baked potato mash, sour cream and lovage. The description in the a la carte menu of the main dish version was far more accurate: Textures of potato. I loved this more than Pete did – he enjoyed it but felt it was more of a side dish, whereas I thought it stood alone rather splendidly. Potato was showcased three ways – a rich, layered block of fondant potato, a pool of smokey mash and soaring crisps that broke with a satisfying snap. Flavours were subtle but delicious. Pete was particularly impressed with the wine pairing for this course, a Tokaji Dry Furmint Béres 2013.

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Goodwood Estate lamb, garlic, artichokes, basil and olive jus was a generous dish with lamb cooked four ways – there was loin served rare, another cut I forget, a meatball and a pulled lamb croquette. The garlic puree was a little too raw garlic pungent for me, but the rest was well presented and delicious.

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Pete’s Jerusalem artichoke and ricotta agnolotti, summer truffle, hazelnuts and sage was one of his favourites. The dish was not the most attractive but once again, textures and flavours came together nicely. The tomato sauce was delicious but the fresh tomatoes were seriously under-flavoured and lacking in oomph. Our message to the chef – if you can’t source better tomatoes, take them off the menu! Critical sourcing of ingredients, and rejection of any which don’t meet standards, is surely a basic tenet of a restaurant of this calibre?

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The two dessert courses were the same across both versions of the Tasting Menu. The first was Coconut cream, lime granita with mango and sesame, a gorgeous little pot bursting with flavours. Very intense. Rich and yet refreshing.

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Last was this Glazed peanut and chocolate bar with banana yoghurt ice cream. I loved this! Intense, rich, sweet and salty peanut and chocolate against tangy yoghurt with banana flavour, this was, as we were coming to expect, a lovely combination.

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Petit fours were a decent chocolate truffle, soft and melting in the centre, and a mouth-puckeringly sharp elderflower lemon fruit jelly – so sharp the waiter gave a warning about it as he served it. Pete liked it, finding the level of acidity quite refreshing.

Our meal at Fenchurch was certainly enjoyable and fairly priced for the City location.

The cooking was accomplished; most of the dishes were very well conceived and cooked, providing superb balance of textures and flavours, with visual appeal an added bonus.

It’s a shame the layout of restaurant and terrace doesn’t give diners the view you might expect and I’d have been disappointed had we been seated elsewhere – we were allocated one of just a handful of tables with a wow-factor outlook. Of course, you can enjoy the views by walking around the Sky Gardens before or after dinner but be warned that if you don’t get the right table, you won’t enjoy the full effect of the views while dining.


Kavey Eats dined as guests of Fenchurch restaurant.
Fenchurch Seafood Bar & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Square Meal


I’ve been visiting Shoryu for their tonkotsu ramen since the first branch opened in Regent Street in November 2012. It was diagonally opposite Japan Centre, though that’s now moved a couple of hundred yards to the South West end of Shaftesbury Avenue. There are now additional branches of Shoryu in Denman Street (a few steps from the current Japan Centre site), Kingly Court off Carnaby Street and Broadgate Circle just behind Liverpool Street station or a short walk from Moorgate. There’s also Shoryu Go, a delivery and takeaway only branch, and even a Wagon from which Shoryu sell their wares at street food market locations and festivals.

I mention Japan Centre because Shoryu, like Japan Centre, was founded by Tak Tokumine and the brands are both operated as a family-run business. Like Japan Centre, Shoryu has a strong focus on presenting real Japanese food to its customers, and certainly based on my two visits to Japan, it does a great job.

Of course, there are other purveyors of ramen in London these days – indeed it’s a niche that’s exploded in the last few years. I am also a big fan of Kanada-Ya – their ramen is fantastic but they fall down on lack of sides – onigiri is not, to my mind, a side I associate or want to eat with ramen; and these days there’s often a queue to get in. Tonkotsu are good too – it took me a long time to finally visit a branch and I enjoyed their menu when I did. There are many others too, some of which I like far less than others seem to, some of which I have never visited because I’m not a fan of queuing or waiting in a bar before I’m seated for my meal and some which have a very different slant on ramen which is cool but not for me. Shoryu is the one I keep going back to – the Dracula version of their tonktusu is a garlicky porky delight and their sides are always excellent.

Recently, I heard about the extended robata menu – food cooked over a charcoal grill – in Shoryu’s newest Liverpool Street branch, and was keen to try. Pete and I headed down after work one evening, determined to allow no ramen to pass our lips – tonight’s visit was all about the robata, with a few additional dishes for balance.

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Our visit was on a warm Monday evening in August and revealed the one big downside of the location; Shoryu sits at the lower level of Broadgate Circle – a two story development housing a slew of food and drink venues – and on a warm summer’s evening the outdoor courtyard area is rammed with office workers grabbing a drink and, more crucially, a cigarette; with the glass frontage of the restaurant completely open to the courtyard, anyone sat on a table near the front of the restaurant had better not be bothered by the stink of wafting cigarette smoke, not to mention the surprisingly loud volume of all that collected chatter!

Luckily for us we had a table at the back – tables extend in a ‘U’ shape around a central kitchen area that houses the robata grill at the front, the ramen station to one side and the rest of the kitchen on the other side and towards the back. I quite like the open kitchen approach and staff seem pretty good at keeping an eye on all the customer tables.

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First to arrive was not from the robata but an old favourite that’s also available at the other branches; Black Sesame Tofu (£6.50) with sweet miso sauce and tenderstem broccoli. Someone ranted about this dish on twitter recently and I wanted to check whether it was as delicious as I remembered – it was. Both of us loved this dish of sesame-flavoured wobby tofu in a sweet miso dressing; still a firm favourite.

You can also see my cup of Nigori Sake Cloudy Sake. A 120 ml serving is £4.80 and comes in a gorgeous wabi-sabi jug. I am a huge fan of nigori sake; if you’d like to learn more about what sake is, how it’s made and the different types available, read my recent Beginner’s Guide to Sake post.

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Very reminiscent of those often offered in Japan, the Yakitori Beer Set (£12.50 / £11) offers a discounted price for a skewer each of Yotsumi Chicken Thigh (usually £3.00), Negima Chicken Thigh (usually £3.00), the Kurobuta (usually £3.50) and either a pint or half pint of Kirin Nama draft (£5.20 / £3.10). Bought separately, these would come to £14.70 / £12.60.

The Yotsumi Chicken Thigh with teriyaki glaze was superbly grilled; the meat tender and moist and yet the surface had that pleasant texture and flavour from a touch of charring.

Likewise, the Negima Chicken Thigh with spring onion was expertly cooked and delicious.

My favourite, which I adored so much I order another skewer later, was the Kurobuta berkshire black pork belly, a skewer of succulent pork meat with generous layers of fat, grilled until the fat was melty inside and gorgeously browned on the outside.

Pete’s beer, by the way, was offered regular or frozen; the latter came cold in a chilled glass with a super cold head of foam.

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We’ve had some amazing wagyu in Japan. On our first visit, we went to a restaurant in Takayama specialising in Hida beef, and even the non-premium grade blew me away. Since then I’ve had the good fortune of enjoying more wagyu not only in Japan but here in the UK, where I tried some superb imported New Zealand wagyu.

The Shoryu wagyu skewers are pricy but that’s to be expected since wagyu is not a cheap ingredient; we gave the Wagyu Beef (2 pcs £11.00) a try.

The meat was glazed with teriyaki, though only lightly – the flavour of the beef came through clearly. And the flavour was certainly excellent, really distinct and delicious. The problem was that the texture didn’t resemble at all the highly marbled melt-in-the-mouth wagyu we’d experienced before, indeed this beef was chewy – moist, juicy, excellent flavour, but chewy rather than melt-in-the-mouth. I’m not sure that £5.50 per skewer of this is justified.

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Served joined by their crisp bottoms (formed by the starch and liquid in the pan creating a lacy pancake of sorts), the Hakata Tetsunabe Gyoza (3 pcs £4.00) were light and tasty, served immediately when ready in a hot cast iron pan. Whenever Pete and I ordered ramen in Japan, we could never resist a side of gyoza to go with.

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Kushikatsu (2 pcs £7.00) – generous pieces of belly pork coated in panko breadcrumbs and deep fried – were served with katsu sauce drizzled over; also known as tonkatsu sauce, this is based on British brown sauce. Again, the pork was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy and full of flavour.

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The Ginger Salmon Tatsutaage (£6.50) was not only a great dish but a great bargain too given the generous portion for the price. Oily salmon flesh works well with the zing of ginger, and is not at all dried out by the frying. Served with shichimi tōgarashi (a Japanese spice mixture) and mayonnaise, this is a classic dish and if it’s made traditionally (I didn’t ask), tatsutaage uses potato starch rather than wheat flour, so may be a good choice for those on a gluten-free diet.

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When asked if I like brussel sprouts (one of those universal Christmas-season questions), I usually say no but after trying Shoryu’s Brussel Sprout Tempura (£6.00) I will have to change my response. Baby sprouts were cooked to perfection inside a marvellously light and crisp tempura batter with a heady aroma and flavour of truffle oil, heightened by judicious use of the black pepper dipping salt. These really were a revelation and one of the star dishes of the meal.

In the foreground is a dish of Goma Kyuri Cucumber (£4.50). I am sure I’m not alone in occasionally fighting the urge to dismiss a dish because it’s so darn simple, and made with such inexpensive ingredients to boot, that it surely doesn’t merit my paying good money for it. But having tasted this simple dish of sliced cucumber, sesame oil and a generous topping of shichimi tōgarashi on a previous occasion, I knew it would be a refreshing balance to all the rich meat and fish dishes we ordered. Simple, sure, but a lovely balance of textures and taste.

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My second order of Kurobuta (£3.50) was also a delight. The flavour of this pork was just phenomenal, and the cooking of flesh and fat perfect.

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The Yuzu Rolled Cake (£6.00) was decent though surprisingly bland – the Japanese are so skilled at creating patisserie with elegance and flavour that I found this example a little disappointing.

But the amazing Sorbet (2 scoops £6.00) made up for it! The scoop of yuzu packed a huge flavour punch (everything the rolled cake lacked) and was refreshing, balanced and delicious. But the winner was the plum wine sorbet which not only had an incredible flavour but a strange tacky, almost chewy texture about it that I found utterly compelling.

I finished with a small pot of Gyokuro Green Tea (£3.50), a lovely shade-grown green tea with wonderfully rich umami flavours.

The menu at Shoryu has certainly grown since the launch of the first branch, and it now offers far more than a traditional ramen-ya alone – more akin to a ramen-ya-cum-izakaya (a casual Japanese pub or snack bar). Of course, the ramen is super and hard to resist, but I would urge you to give some of the other items on the menu a try, and do visit the Liverpool Street branch for the robata grill items.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Shoryu Ramen.
Shoryu Ramen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Square Meal

Sep 042015

Forgive me Celia for I have sinned. It has been 3 months since my last confession In My Kitchen. Before checking, I thought I’d missed a month, probably two but gosh, doesn’t time fly by faster than you can shake a stick at, how on earth did it get to three? Lest I mix any more merry metaphors, here’s a big catch up post of what I’ve been eating (and doing) since the last time, mostly courtesy of my Instagram account!

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Back in June I reviewed Kate Doran’s Homemade MemoriesKate Doran’s Homemade Memories for my regular column in Good Things magazine. We (mostly Pete) made her amazing bourbon biscuits, a grown up version where American bourbon is an ingredient in the filling that sandwiches the biscuits together. They were terrific (and I really do need to write a review of the book for Kavey Eats too).

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The purple rose we bought for our front garden has been flowering gloriously this year, and indeed it’s given us bursts of colour from June right through into September. Sometimes the colour veers towards pink but the bluer purple is the usual colour and what we chose the variety for.

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We had another lovely lunch at local Vietnamese restaurant, but the next time we walked by a week or two later, it had sadly closed its doors. It’s not an easy climate in which to run a successful restaurant business, especially in residential neighbourhoods like ours which don’t benefit from tourists or commuters.

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The fruits of summer 2016 have definitely been watermelon and British cherries, both of which I’ve eaten inordinate volumes of. And two of those cherries were the first ever fruit from our own little cherry tree, planted in the back garden a couple of years ago. There have been some great strawberries, raspberries and loganberries too, a brief gorge of Pakistani mangoes and the usual fruit bowls full of grapes, apples, peaches and sungold kiwifruits (a super sweet golden variety that I tried for the first time).

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My social life in the last several months has been somewhat curtailed by my longer-than-usual commute – my current contract role being down in New Malden, Surrey. But I’ve enjoyed taking some snaps of Waterloo station, where I transfer between tube and train services.

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I attended a delicious event on British lamb hosted by Cyrus Todiwala (another post still on my To Do list) and a preview launch at Yo Sushi where my friend Gary and I were able to try the Japanese Hot Dogs (thumbs up), Furi Furi Fries (double thumbs up) and an odd ice cream dumpling caramel dessert (icky thumbs down).

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This year has forced us to say goodbye to a number of loved ones, first Pete’s mum in spring, then my uncle (my dad’s younger brother) and then my dad’s own uncle too, and most recently, one of Pete’s brothers. No-one in their right minds enjoys a funeral but at the same time I’m enormously glad that we were able to be there to start the grieving process and say our goodbyes.

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Our local pub, The Bohemia, remains a favourite hang out, even if we don’t make it there quite as often as we’d like. Wings Wednesday is a firm favourite, as our Sunday roasts and the regular menu too – the barnsley chop, potato salad and tomato onion salad dish they had on recently was just fantastic.

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I will never get bored of boiled eggs and dipping toast. Or my egg cup collection.

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And I will never get bored of marzipan, especially the very best marzipan. I reviewed Niederegger here on the blog a while ago but received an additional delivery – a box of their alcoholic flavoured marzipans, which I eked out as long as I could. All fantastic but my favourites were pistachio, mirabelle brandy, apple calvados and plum armagnac.

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Pete got me a Minion cupcake kit for funs!


I went to several Christmas in July press previews and made friends with Rudolph, during a visit to Carluccio’s.

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HyperJapan was in the O2 this year. For me, my favourite part was the Sake Experience, which I wrote about recently, along with a Beginner’s Guide To Sake. The architecture of the dome itself and surrounding buildings is worth a visit in its own right, of course. Incidentally, that photo of me with my head stuck through the peepboard won me a cute little Japanese cat moneybox from Inside Japan!

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My friend Asma has been wowing diners (myself included) at her Indian supper club for the last couple of years, and rightly so. Now Darjeeling Express is in residence at The Sun & 13 Cantons in Soho, where we stopped in for a fantastic lunch a couple of months ago.

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Brita invited me to a class on using a Chemex, the iconic pour over coffee device invented by Peter Schlumbohm.

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I had a couple more fantastic meals at Yijo, our local Korean restaurant. Just so good!

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During the brief reign of summer, we enjoyed a lovely barbeque with local friends, and Pete was treated to some very fine whiskies too.

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Our allotment cabbages have done particularly well this year, as have the courgettes at home (as always). The tomatoes are just starting to come through now – Tigarellas, Black Cherries and the candy-sweet Sungold.

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I’ve been enjoying lots of picnic lunches (albeit at my desk or in the office kitchen) to try and break my addiction to the delicious Korean and Japanese cooked lunches I’ve been enjoying far too many off.

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As well as our lovely purple rose, I’ve been enjoying flowers in the local neighbourhood front gardens.

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I’ve indulged my love of the very best chocolate twice this summer (and that’s if we don’t count Niederegger as chocolate!) After reviewing Bonieri chocolates, including their top quality gianduja spread, I bought myself another two bags of their gorgeous chocolate-covered hazelnut nougat.

More recently, I couldn’t resist a box of Paul A Young chocolates – my favourites were the banoffee, the scone with clotted cream and jam and the peanut butter and raspberry jelly.

To bring it back to earth, I also tried a new limited edition kitkat in Toffee flavour, which Pete picked up in a local supermarket. I’ve been trying to track down their mocha flavour to no avail.

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I went short this summer – the shortest my hair has been since I was at school *mumble* decades ago! And here’s a recent one of Pete with a pint of Kirin draft, just because!

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Me and my mum at a recent family gathering and one of little Kavey – the fashion probably gives the decade away pretty conclusively!

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And to finish, a random set! Top row: Minon gifts (and marzipan) from my friend Anne; another minion gift as a place setting at my friend Heidi’s catered dinner party; strange and wonderful crisps from the Korean supermarket next to my office. Bottom row: strawberries, cream and meringue (the ingredients for my Eton Mess Ice Lollies); flowers in the back garden and hipster Kavey.

I’m submitting this post to the very lovely Celia’s In My Kitchen series. Check out her wonderful Fig Jam & Lime Cordial blog. Looking at the length of this one, I really need to try and participate more regularly!


Lobos Meat & Tapas is exactly the kind of place that is responsible for my recurrent idle fantasy of moving house to be in close proximity to Borough, Maltby Street and Bermondsey Markets and all the fabulous food and drink places this area of London affords. Of course, this fantasy is hugely unrealistic, not least because I’m such a dyed-in-the-wool hoarder that I’d never manage to squeeze the ‘stuff’ I’ve amassed over the decades into the minimal-storage space in the clean, modern, uncluttered and tiny city pads that we might just about be able to buy if we sold our house up in the ‘burbs! And of course, I wouldn’t actually want to give up a back garden (or our allotment plot nearby) in exchange for a shared public garden that no one ever actually relaxes properly in (if they use it at all) or a single pot of tomatoes grown on the ledge that’s rather generously described as a balcony. But still… to have so much of London’s constantly evolving, constantly improving, constantly surprising and constantly exciting food scene right on the door step must be a thing of wonder. If you live near Borough Market, or even if you don’t quite frankly, I recommend you make your way to Lobos for some very delicious treats. Lobos is folded origami-like into an arched, two-storey space carved out under the railway bridge, right next to the modern glass-fronted Market Hall that went up a year or two back and just a stone’s throw from Southwark Cathedral. Downstairs is the bar space with a couple of high tables; upstairs is the restaurant space with a handful of small tables and cosy leather-padded booths.

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Lobos – which means wolves in Spanish, so I’m told – was launched last month by three friends who met while working at Tapas Brindisa – chef Roberto Castro, Joel Placeres and Ruben Maza. Let me be clear, this isn’t a place for vegetarians or pescetarians – pretty evident from the restaurant’s name, but it never hurts to spell it out. Meat is the name of the game and the menu focuses on prime cuts of Iberico pig, Castillan lamb and beef sourced from The Ginger Pig. It’s classic tapas, beautifully cooked, served in a very cosy space by friendly and helpful staff. And of course, being a tapas bar, you can pop in for a drink and some small nibbles or make a proper meal of it, as we did.

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We settled in for an early weeknight dinner. Even in summer, with August sun keeping the sky light until late, inside was dark and cosy with bare-filament lights casting a very orange glow. Wine is available by the glass, carafe or bottle and there is a short cocktail menu as well as regular soft drinks. I’d love to see a little more thought put into the soft drinks, but then I’m one of those rare non wine drinkers. Pete was appreciative of the choice of wines by carafe and enjoyed a Tempranillo from Rioja (£6.25/ £17.75/ £34 per glass/ carafe/ bottle).

Lobos Meat and Tapas - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9344

The flavour of this Iberico Bellota Ham (£14.50) – that’s the acorn fed stuff – was terrific and somehow it disappeared from the board awfully quickly. That said, I would have liked it to be better streaked with silky white fat; the fat is always so good!

Lobos Meat and Tapas - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9345

We ordered Baked Tetilla Cheese (£ 9) on our waiter’s recommendation, not least because he described it arriving to the table as a flaming spectacle. Any brandy had already burned off before it reached us but the dish was still a big hit. Thin, super-crunchy fried toasts were served alongside this hot pan of melted cheese adorned with soft and sweet roasted vegetables.

Lobos Meat and Tapas - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9348

I always consider Croquetas (£ 7) a great test of a tapas kitchen, and subconsciously hold them up to José Pizarro’s offering – José was chef-partner in Brindisa before he launched his own restaurant in 2011, and his croquetas are to die for. Well now I can confirm that chef Roberto’s are equally fantastic – filled with ham, chorizo and bacon studded into rich, soft bechamel and served piping hot.

Lobos Meat and Tapas - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9353

With a name that translates as secret, of course secreto Iberico is still referred to as the hidden cut of Iberico pork, its natural fattiness giving fantastic flavour. Secreto Iberico, Mojo Chips (£ 9.50) pairs strips of secreto simply grilled and served with paper-thin freshly-fried crisps dressed with a herby green mojo (sauce). Super, super tasty and I liked the choice of crisps over a more mundane side.

Lobos Meat and Tapas - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9350

It’s a rare skill to be able to cook ribeye steak so it’s properly pink inside but the fat has had enough time to render down to melty goo in places and lightly charred and crisp in others but that’s how it was in the Ribeye and foiegras (£ 14.95), and same goes for the foie gras; beautifully caramelised and almost liquid inside. No sides, just adorned with slivers of soft and sweet cooked onion. Amazing.

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Yes I was just being greedy when I ordered the Double Chocolate and Pistachio Cake (£ 5) but oh, it was worth it. On a layer of dense chocolate cake sits a huge pile of chocolate mousse, equally rich and made with decent dark chocolate. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s dressed not just with a tiny sprinkle of crushed-to-death pistachios, as is so often the reality of ‘pistachio’ desserts, but a fistful of quality green nuts that are perfect against the chocolate. Dessert, doce puntos!

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Pete enjoyed the Dulce de leche Cheesecake (£ 5.00) just as much, appreciative of the restrained sugar levels; much more appealing than the sickly sweetness that so often equates to dulce de leche desserts. We’ve been fortunate to experience some wonderful meals out recently (and one much less satisfying one which I won’t be sharing with you here). Lobos provides yet another great choice in the area and has been added straight to the shortlist for places to visit when we head down to the food markets. We’ll definitely be returning for more of their tasty tapas menu. Kavey Eats dined as guests of Lobos Meat & Tapas.
Lobos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Square Meal


I know very little about Filipino food – the food of the Philippines – so I was intrigued by Luzon, a 3-month pop-up restaurant serving a modern take on Filipino cuisine. Named for one of the 7,107 islands that make up this island nation, it’s the first joint project of chef Rex De Guzman and entrepreneur Nadine Barcelona, both eager to popularise contemporary Filipino food in London.

Housed in Generator London – a funky, modern and welcoming hostel in Bloomsbury – Luzon is open for lunch and dinner on Thursdays and Fridays only, with three courses priced at £22 for lunch and £34 for dinner.

Luzon Filipino Restaurant Popup Aug 2015 - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9301

De Guzman has taken the food of the Phillipines, a “culinary conglomeration of traditional cuisines like Malay and Chinese with bold influences of Spanish, the Middle East and the New World” and presented it with a modern twist; his plating more suited to fine dining than rustic home-cooking. I can’t comment on how true to Filipino cuisine the resulting dishes might be, having never tried traditional Filipino food, but I can tell you that every dish was beautifully presented, utterly delicious and a delightful blend of familiar and unfamiliar flavours.

A short wine and cocktail list is very affordable – wines are £3.50 to £4 a glass and cocktails are between £5 and £6.50. We enjoyed our Mango Mojito (£6.50) and Apple Virgin Mojito (£4.90).

Luzon Filipino Restaurant Popup Aug 2015 - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9305

Neither of us could look past the Pork Tocino starter of 3-day marinated and pressed pork belly, spiced mango salsa, crackling and sweet tocino glaze. Tender pork with fat properly rendered into wibbly submission, sweet and fruity mango salsa, properly crunchy but not tooth-breaking crackling and fresh spring onion, all pulled together by the incredible sweet sharp glaze.

Other starters on the menu were the vegetarian Ensaladang Talong – aubergine salad – and Mackerel Kinilaw – fresh mackerel in a lime-chilli marinade.

Luzon Filipino Restaurant Popup Aug 2015 - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9314

Chicken Adobo has seldom looked so good; I may not be hugely familiar with the taste but know that it’s usually a brown stew served family-style. Here, a leg of silky chicken on the bone and a tiny breaded drumstick was drenched in a glossy adobo sauce, which skilfully balanced soy sauce, vinegar and garlic. On the side, garlicky green beans partially hid smears of dark, heady and intense spiced coconut sauce. A fried slice of chayote – a gourd related to melons, cucumbers and squashes – finished the dish. Utterly delicious.

Luzon Filipino Restaurant Popup Aug 2015 - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9310

I know we both had pork belly to start but we didn’t hesitate to order Pork BBQ as one of our shared mains. Two skewers of pork, this time with a little less fall-apart but just as well cooked, coated in another sticky glaze, these came with crunchy sweet sharp pickled vegetables known as papaya atchara. Like the chicken, these were served with a portion of steamed rice – both of us commented on how fragrant and tasty the rice was; you know it’s good when the rice raises an eyebrow for its flavour!

Two other mains were available, a Red Mullet Escabeche and Vegetable Laing – a stew of taro and tofu in a spiced coconut sauce.

Luzon Filipino Restaurant Popup Aug 2015 - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9317

As with the mains, we shared our desserts, choosing two out of the three available.

Peanut butter ice cream with coconut tuile may not sound that exciting but it was beautifully made – firm but smooth and not overly sweet and wonderful against the crunch and toasted flavour of the coconut tuile and crumbs.

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Last but not least, a phenomenal Leche Flan – like a dense crème caramel – served with a mouth-puckering lime sorbet (which we virtually licked off the plate) and a cashew nut praline. Full as I was at the end of the meal, I could have eaten another one of these on the spot!

The third dessert available was Turon served with plantain spring rolls, salted caramel cream, plantain puree, pineapple and snapdragon.

The restaurant space at Generator London is fairly spacious, comfortable and well lit and with tables decently spaced out – not always the case in other pop-up venues where communal tables pack chairs in so tightly it’s almost impossible to get in or out let alone eat without squashing one’s bosoms with one’s elbows! Not an issue at Luzon, I’m happy to say.

For both my friend and I, our meal at Luzon has sparked an enthusiasm to find out more about Filipino cooking and flavours and we’re both keen to visit again next month when the menu changes, and perhaps again the month after that!

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Luzon restaurant.


Isn’t it wonderful when a restaurant meal utterly surpasses your expectations? That’s exactly what happened when Pete and I visited the Angel branch of Jamie’s Italian for a weekday evening meal.

I’ll put my hands up and confess – one reason it was able to do so was because I had relegated Jamie’s Italian to the ranks of a mainstream, mass-appeal chain; Bella Pasta with a celebrity face-mask if you will – so I was expecting dishes that were ‘decent’, ‘satisfactory’, ‘competent’, ‘good value’ rather than ‘superb’, ‘delightful’ and ‘damn tasty’. And Jamie’s Italian serves delicious food that is way better than chain-standardised menus, spaces and services often produce.

We decided to eat the Italian way: a light antipasto, then two pastas for our primo, followed by a shared secondo meat course served with contorno vegetable side dishes. We skipped fruit and cheese and finished with sweet dolce desserts and caffè in the form of coffee cocktails!

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Jamie’s Bruschetta (£5.50) was a lovely start. That creamy buffalo ricotta flecked with herbs was rich and fresh, perfect over crunchy toast. The garlicky tomatoes were cooked and perfectly tasty – and I do like roasted tomatoes, don’t get me wrong – but both of us agreed we’d prefer the fresher flavour of raw tomatoes here. The scattering of lemon zest added an appealing citrus note, lifting all the other flavours.

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I’m giggling as I write because the Three-Cheese Caramelle (£6.95 / 11.95), we ordered the small) was so very good it made us grin as we ate! Described as ‘beautiful filled pasta with ricotta, provolone, Bella Lodi & spinach, served with creamy tomato, garlic, basil & rosé wine sauce’ it had a lightness of texture and brightness of taste that was very unexpected for such a rustic dish. I could eat this every day and be happy.

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But hang on, Jamie’s Sausage Pappardelle (£7.45 / 12.25), we ordered the small) was also fantastic. In this ’ragù of slow-cooked fennel & free-range pork sausages with incredible Chianti, Parmesan & herby breadcrumbs’ everything was spot on from the chewy folds of pasta to the soft, meaty sausage, redolent with fennel seeds, to the light crunch of the crumb topping – this dish was full-on comfort. Perhaps I’d have the caramelle every day through summer and the pappardelle every day through winter?

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We were very relieved we’d opted to share our main when this enormous Turkey Milanese (£13.50) arrived. Of course, the turkey had been properly flattened before proscuitto and provolone were added and the whole lot was bread-crumbed and fried. Served topped with a fried egg and generous shavings of black summer truffle, it was wonderful – the truffle heady, earthy and decadent. I liked the lemon zest scattered over but Pete noted that, although he liked it too, it was a little overused across the menu, such that it made dishes that are actually very different taste a little samey.

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Our first side of Garlicky Green Beans (£3.50) would have been plenty on its own, and was a perfect side for the turkey. The spicy Sicilian tomato sauce, shavings of pecorini and slivers of fried garlic made a delicious dressing for beans that were perfectly cooked to retain a little crunch – I dislike beans served either over or undercooked.

The Royal Caprese Salad (£3.95) was also delicious, but oddly presented and not very well balanced. Half of the heritage tomatoes were roughly chopped but two enormous slices were left as unwieldy slabs on the plate. Against all that tomato was plenty of basil, some sharp salty capers and lots of olive oil but disappointingly little mozzarella; just one tiny ball broken into two pieces.

Jamies Italian Restaurant - Kavey Eats - © Kavita Favelle-9270 Jamies Italian Restaurant - Kavey Eats - © Kavita Favelle-9273

Molten Chocolate Praline Pudding (£6.50) is listed on the menu as served with salted caramel ice cream, an accompaniment which swung my choice from the Epic Brownie in its direction, so I was disappointed to be told that the kitchen had run out of salted caramel ice cream only when the dish being served to the table with chocolate ice cream instead. I prefer being advised of changes as soon as the order has been handed to the kitchen, so I can switch to something else if the change is significant to me. Still, the pudding was very good – perfectly liquid within and soft and squidgy without; the dark chocolate and hazelnut combination a gratifyingly poshed-up take on Nutella.

Tiramisù (£5.95), described as ‘the classic Italian dessert topped with chocolate shavings & orange zest‘ wasn’t as classic as all that – the Cointreau-like orange flavour was all the way through rather than just in the scattering of zest over the top. That said, the texture was spot on, with lusciously liquid-laden sponge layered between light-as-air cream. The stick of cardboard stuck to the side, which we mistook for a chocolate decoration until bitten into, was a minor let-down.

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On arrival, I chose a Passion Fruit & Mango Smash (£7.95) – rum with passion fruit, mango juice, fresh lime, vanilla syrup and ginger beer; super sweet and way too easy to drink! Pete took advantage of the wide range of wines available by 500 ml carafe, enjoying his Montepulciano D’abruzzo Il Faggio (£16.05) throughout the meal.

After dessert we switched our usual coffees for some very tempting coffee cocktails, a Tiramisù Martini (£7.15) for me and an Espresso Martini (£7.50) for Pete. His was served with rather more froth than cocktail but the vodka, Kahlua and espresso combination was a hit. I judged my combination of Bacardi Gold, amaretto, Frangelico, Kahlua, espresso and double cream even better!

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Service was friendly and professional and, for the most part, pretty responsive; there were occasional moments where flagging a member of staff took a little longer than ideal – the place was busy and each waiter has a slew of tables to look after. But what I noticed much more is what came across as a genuine desire for customers to have a great experience, a willingness to give guidance on the menu and to steer customers according to their professed tastes. The usual checks that all is well after each course was served seemed less perfunctory than usual too.

The space is cavernous, which makes it a little noisier than ideal, but I know Pete and I are in the minority when it comes to our preferred balance between peaceful and buzzing. Seating isn’t hugely comfortable, though it’s far from the worse I’ve encountered. Hard seats are never as welcoming for a leisurely meal as padded ones!

On summer evenings, floor to ceiling windows let in lots of golden light, making it easy to imagine oneself in a bustling Italian trattoria.

The menu is prosaic – a solidly predictable offering of classic Italian cuisine – but the dishes themselves are anything but dull; deftly cooked with good quality ingredients that are a joy to the eye and an even bigger delight to eat. The food is pretty damn good here, and great value. I’m also comforted by the confidence that quality should be consistent across multiple visits – one of the unsung advantages of a well-managed chain, when they get the formula just right.


Kavey Eats dined as guests of Jamie’s Italian, Angel branch.
Jamie's Italian Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Islay, aaah, Islay, it’s always such a pleasure to visit your beautiful landscapes again.

Even if you made a liar out of me when I told our Islay newbie friends how we have always had gorgeous weather for Feis Ile (whisky and musical festival) week and would surely have it again.

Even in the driving winds and rains, you were beautiful.

Though the weather made me grateful for the cosiness of our self-catering house with its deep, soft sofas, small but well-equipped kitchen and comfortable bedrooms.

And its windows out across glorious views of green grass, yellow gorse, blue sea and cows. I spent long moments standing watch as baby rabbits, deranged with excitement, hopped and swallows swooped across the spring sky.

There were seven in our group this time; two crazy brave folks on bicycles and the rest of us in joyously rain-proof cars. I think – I hope – we all enjoyed the week, though I remain in awe of the cyclists’ sheer determination and tenacity!

We didn’t visit as many of your beautiful locations as we usually do – no excursions to Kilnave Chapel, the Kildarton Cross or to the ancient seat of the Lordship of the Isles, on the shores of Loch Finlaggan. Few meanders across sand beaches or stony shorelines. And a little less time sitting out in the sunshine with a whisky in hand and the merry notes of live music nearby.

Still we visited all the distilleries: Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Lagavulin and Laphroaig and Islay Ales too.

We didn’t diligently attend every distillery open day this time – since our first visit in 2006 the popularity of the festival has grown year on year and there are far more fellow visitors to contend with than ever before. Of itself, that’s no bad thing – it’s an extra pleasure chatting to locals and other travellers – but the narrow, twisting roads and limited parking at many of the distilleries makes transport logistics ever more difficult and there were a occasions when we bowed out of the long, slow queues for park and ride minibuses and pootled away somewhere else instead.

We took it easy, visiting distilleries on their quieter days and booked into only a couple of specialist events – partly be design and partly because they now book out within minutes of tickets being released. I am reliably informed that Jim McEwan’s last Bruichladdich masterclass and Dr Kirstie McCallum’s straight-from-the-cask tasting session at Bunnahabhain were both very fantastic.

Congratulations to both Ardbeg and Laphroaig, both celebrating 200 years as legally registered distilleries. Lagavulin follows suit next year. And a hearty congratulations to Kilchoman on their tenth birthday!

We made two lovely visits to my favourite Scottish pub, An Tigh Seinnse in Portnahaven, run by lovely Laura and her husband.

Of course, I gorged myself on crab claws and scallops from the Seafood Shack – no squat lobsters this time but the crab and scallops were as good as ever.

We cooked three communal dinners in the house and enjoyed two barbeques in the fantastic barbeque hut in the garden – I refer to this handsome hexagonal hut as the Hobbit House, though in reality it’s plenty large enough for the tallest in our group and seven of us had plenty of space to spread out inside. A large central barbeque is surrounded by benches covered in soft animal skins with light coming in from small windows. Next time, I shall pack a few candles for when the darkness falls. ASPorter butchers in Bowmore were the source of delicious meats, and the Bowmore co-op provided most of the rest. Plus some wild garlic foraged by Lagavulin’s car park and, later, from the back garden when we realised it was growing rampant there too.

We returned to The Lochside Hotel in Bowmore for a couple of lunches.

And we made a new discovery when we stopped into the Ballygrant Inn to a warm welcome in the well-stocked whisky bar there. Another welcome respite from the rain, especially for damp cyclists!

Even in the rain, driving around Islay afforded one stunning view after another; verges bright with blooming bluebells and tightly curled ferns, marshy grassland dotted with sheep and cattle, wide sweeping shorelines with gently lapping waters or wind-whipped, white-tipped waves, winding single-lane roads with quaint passing points that were slightly hair-raising when the island’s bus or a large lorry hurtled at speed towards you.

I did a lot of the driving as the only non whisky-drinker in the group, though I rather enjoyed it, perhaps more than my passengers did!

And when the sun came out more resolutely, for our last couple of days… oh Islay, you were, as always, glorious!

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Views from the main house


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Inside the Hobbit House


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Two visits to Ardbeg, one for Feis Ile open day and one for a quieter lunch in the Old Kiln Cafe


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A salad with foraged wild garlic; a newly discovered pleasure – cambozola cheese in Pedro Ximinez sherry; ASPorter butchers; farm-fresh eggs from the chickens by the house; my sparkling sake whisky alternative; serving up my banoffee dessert; the aftermaths of after-dinner drinking


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Laphroaig, celebrating 200 years this year


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An Tigh Seinnse (with birthday boy Pete and frenzied crab-eating Kavey); Portnahaven harbour views


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Birthday puzzle; whisky and chocolate tasting at Lagavulin; Ballygrant Inn whisky bar; one of An Gleann tablet makers resident peacocks displaying at a very disinterested peahen


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Two visits to Bruichladdich, one for Feis Ile open day and another to buy whisky when the shop was less rammed


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The boys walked to Caol Ila, I waited for the minibus and beat them there; beautiful views across to Jura


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Just some of my lunch purchases from the Seafood Shack


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Although we missed Kilchoman’s open day we did go for tea and cake on a quieter day instead, completing a quick crossword in the car and cafe


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Two visits to Bunnahabhain during the week


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Whisky tastings at Bowmore; Bowmore’s round church, Kilarrow, designed to give the devil no corners in which to hide; lunch at The Lochside Hotel


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Taking shelter from the downpour in the Islay Ales open day tent; I found cake!


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A trip to Islay starts and ends with a CalMac journey


Although this isn’t a typical entry, I’m submitting this to Celia’s In My Kitchen, since we did lots of wonderful cooking in our Islay home-from-home and the fabulous Hobbit House!

Big thanks to my friend Matt Gibson for extra photos, credited by image.


Rex and Mariano has been making quite an impression since it launched earlier this year. From the same group as famous steak restaurant Goodman and enormously successful proto-chain Burger & Lobster, the new fish and seafood restaurant is named for two key suppliers involved in the venture – Rex Goldsmith aka The Chelsea Fishmonger and Mariano, the semi-anonymous father of a Goodman employee, responsible for importing red prawns and other seafood from Sicily.

Key to the concept is serving seafood at accessible prices, certainly far lower than is the norm in Central London.

In a quiet pedestrian street that runs between Dean and Wardour, Rex and Mariano is already a Soho favourite, despite it’s tucked-away location.

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One innovation I thought I’d hate in fact worked very well; orders are placed directly by customers by way of an iPad, though a traditional printed menu is provided on arrival as well. The interface has been well designed – swipe sideways to page through the menu sections, touch a plus button to select an item, enter a quantity and tick to add to your order. An easy-to-find banner button allows you to call for assistance at any time, whether you have questions about the menu or simply need more cutlery. At any time, you can view your total bill thus far and you can review your current order before placing. It’s best to order a few dishes at a time, since most arrive very quickly indeed.

We had to laugh when, mere moments after discussing our greediness, we placed a second order only to be interrupted with a message that our order was “getting quite large” and we might like to send some through now and order more “in a bit”. We took heed and ensured each round was limited to three or four dishes.

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Most of the menu is, as you’d imagine, fish and seafood. But I am a sucker for good burrata not to mention good tomatoes. The burrata, smoked tomato, focaccia (£6) was superbly creamy, with just the right level of smoking to fresh, ripe tomatoes and the focaccia served simply to provide a crisp toast underneath.

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The raw fish page is split into Ceviche, Tartare and Carpaccio, each of which feature tuna and sea bass. Salmon and lobster also make an appearance. Our salmon carpaccio, olive oil, lemon, tomato and basil (£7.50) is fresh, simple and benefits from a light touch with the dressing.


Lobster ceviche with coriander, fennel, yuzu, orange (£12) is very generous for the price. Large and juicy chunks of lobster meat and thin slices of crunchy fennel are deliciously dressed with coriander leaves and a yuzu orange dressing – both MiMi and I are big fans.

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Oh the red prawns from Sicily! Red prawns raw/ cooked, lemon, olive oil, salt (£10) – doesn’t that make you salivate? We might have ordered this dish twice. OK, fine, we did. And to be honest, we could probably have eaten a third plate quite happily had we not agreed to restrain ourselves just a tiny bit! Also available cooked, we opted for the raw option both times and were blown away by the sweet, sweet flavour – lovely against the slightly grassy olive oil.

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Clams, white wine, parsley, chilli (£7) were simply cooked and decent. If I’m not sounding excited, don’t take it as an indication that they were anything less than delicious – they just had a lot of strong competition! Perhaps a bowl of soft fresh bread to sop up the juices might be welcome with these.

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Sicilian Large Stripe Prawns, lemon, red chilli, parsley, olive oil (£14) were another favourite. Expensive for four prawns yes, though each one was pretty large. The tails were perfectly cooked to retain their juiciness and sucking out the heads of these beauties was an absolute must! We ordered this dish twice too and although the prawns were larger second time around, there was a dearth of the delicious sauce that drenched the first plate and added such excellent flavour.

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Fritto Misto, old bay, lemon aioli (£9) – oddly listed under the Grill section of the menu – was very good, as good as I’ve had in London. It suffered in comparison against the revelatory raw and cooked prawn dishes and that lobster ceviche but that’s probably a little unfair. Ours had plenty of squid rings and tentacles (I love the tentacles best), whitebait and white fish but only one solitary prawn on the entire plate.

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We probably shouldn’t have bothered with either the fried courgettes with aioli (£5) or the triple cooked chips (£4) though again, both were very good. Our focus was firmly on the fishy goodness and the vegetables didn’t get much of a look in.

For dessert we skipped the proffered lemon sorbet or chocolate mousse and went back to the raw red prawns and cooked red stripe prawns – a fitting end to a delicious meal.

The homemade Limoncello offered by the manager (after a minor mix up over leftovers) was a fitting finale, and vastly better than cheap commercial versions.

Service was friendly throughout; although the iPad ordering system reduces staff and customer interaction to an extent, staff are attentive and readily available should you need them. A nice touch is that service is added at only 5% – presumably staff can service a lot more tables when focusing on bringing out dishes and clearing away empties.

I mentioned at the start that Rex and Mariano offers seafood at accessible prices and that’s certainly true. That’s not to say this is a cheap restaurant, especially if you’re as greedy for great seafood as MiMi and I, but the quality of ingredients is superb and the prices for what you get are very reasonable. Our bill, with one soft drink each, was just shy of £50 each, though we could have knocked ten off that and still been satiated.

Thank you to MiMi Aye for additional images.

Rex & Mariano on Urbanspoon
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