I can’t claim to be an expert in Lebanese food; not even close. It’s not even a cuisine I’ve cooked much at home.

But I did spend a most wonderful holiday in Lebanon a few years ago, in which our entire focus was to enjoy the delights of the Lebanese table.

Under the wing of our expert guides, we toured the country from north to south, from cosmopolitan city to village farm, from coast to mountain to valley, seeking out the best examples of traditional cuisine. We watched a butcher-baker make lamb filled pastries by selecting, butchering and mincing the meat, adding the requisite spices, filling the mixture into pastry cases and baking them in the wood-fired oven at the back of the shop; we sat in a casual coastal restaurant perched precariously above the waves themselves, eating fresh seafood that we’d helped select from a fishmonger only moments before; we learned how to make spicy soujuk sausages from a local chef, part of an enormous feast we helped cook; we learned about za’atar from humble expert Abu Kassem and his wife Fatima; we watched one of three sisters deftly shape and fill dough to create a spiral pastry that we devoured as soon as it was baked; we tried the best apricot jam in the world with warm halloumi, fresh out of the cooking vat and hand-strained labneh rich enough for royalty; we reeked of garlic after insisting on extra toum in the chicken wraps from our favourite Beiruti source of fast food, and followed it with ice cream from the oldest ice cream store in town, still making delicious mastic-based recipes; we visited wineries and honey farms; we wandered through markets, wondering at ingredients both familiar and un-; we ate at tiny stalls, in cosy cafes and elegant restaurants; we puffed on hookahs in between feasting on mezze and grilled meats … in short, we tasted Lebanon and we loved it!

Since that trip, I can’t say I’ve faithfully trekked around all London’s Lebanese restaurants, but the few I’ve tried have been a mixed bag. The chicken wrap with toum at Yalla Yalla took me straight back to Beirut but lacklustre mezze at other establishments have been bland and without the vitality we enjoyed in Lebanon.

Recently, I found out about a Lebanese restaurant in my neck of the woods; Southgate is just a 12 minute drive from me – far quicker than heading into central London on the tube. Warda is just a few paces from Southgate tube station and there are also a number of bus routes that service the immediate area; we were able to park just outside the restaurant, free after 6.30 pm.

The team behind Warda is an illustrious one: Pierre Hobeika and (chef) Youssef Harb first met in Beirut many years ago, working for the same restaurant. When Pierre came to London, Youssef followed shortly afterwards and the two have worked together for most of their careers since. Both worked at renowned Mayfair restaurant Fakhreldine before it closed in 2012 and jointly owned and managed another restaurant together in the noughties. Last year, Pierre and Youssef opened Warda, alongside a third partner, Mo (Alex) Housaini.

Here, they share authentic Lebanese cuisine, prepared and cooked to order using high quality ingredients.

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A few moment after we sat down, a colourful plate of salad was brought out – crunchy crudités and sharp, vinegary pickled chillies provided a lovely way to whet the appetite.

I was delighted to find Jallab (£3.50) in the non-alcoholic drinks list. Made with date and grape syrup, crushed ice and pine nuts, this sweet drink is one I enjoyed many times on our holiday. I bought some ready-made jallab syrup home with me and noticed immediately that Warda’s version has far more complexity of flavour, with a hint of smokiness that is a lovely balance against the sweet.

Pete was happy to start with a bottle of Almaza beer (£3.50) and later, a glass of Lebanese red wine called Plaisir du Vin, from Chateau Heritage. Selected by Pierre it was full-bodied, in a classic French style, and a suitably robust match for the punchy flavours of the food. The wine list is wonderfully affordable, by the way, with bottles starting at just £17 and a strong showing for Lebanese offerings.

As is traditional, we decided to start with a feast of mezze. We chose à la carte, with additional suggestions from Pierre. Warda also offers a number of set menus which include 6, 8 or 12 mezze with main courses, baklava and tea or coffee.

Several of the mezze come in a small or larger portion size, or by the piece for pastries, parcels and croquettes.

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Baba ghanoush (£4.75/ £2.75) is delightfully smoky and rich and I love the texture, with strands of silky aubergine instead of a processed puree. This is a dish that can so easily be bland or oily; this one is neither.

I’m not usually a fan of okra yet I keep going back to the Bemieh bil zeit (£4.50/ £2.50), a rich stew of okra in a garlic, onion and tomato sauce.

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The innocuous sounding Al Rahib (£4.75/ £2.50), which translates to “the monk”, turns out to be one of my very favourites. It doesn’t look pretty but oh my, there’s something magical about the combination of grilled aubergine (smoky, like the baba ghanoush) with a salad of tomato, onion, parsley, mint and lemon. If I could eat this every day, I’d be happy.

Little Soujouk (£5.50) sausages and cherry tomatoes glisten with a coating of pomegranate molasses, the sharp-sweet syrup adding an extra note to the spiced meat. Pierre mentioned that they are superb dipped into the hoummos and he’s right, the combination is fabulous.

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Hoummos awarma (£5.75) – smooth rich hoummos topped with marinated lamb and pine nuts (and a drizzle of olive oil) – is another winner. The quality of the lamb is excellent and a bowl of this and pita bread would be a fine lunch on its own.

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The distinctive shape of Kibbé mekliyeh (£1.10 a piece) is so evocative, as is the perfectly spiced lamb mince, onion and pine nut mixture within these deep-fried bulgur parcels.

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Warak inab (£4.50 /£2.50) vine leaves filled with filled with parsley, mint, tomatoes, onions & rice provide a pleasingly citrussy counter note to the richness of the other mezze.

The first bite of Sfiha pastries (£5.50) is another transporting moment, taking me straight back to the butcher-baker near Baalbeck. Pastry and spiced lamb are both spot on.

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Lastly, we try Samke harra (£6.00) – sea bass in a spicy tomato sauce, this one much lighter and fresher than the more intense flavours of the bemieh bil zeit. For a light eater, a portion of this with one or two salads would make a perfect meal.

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Already full, we intend to follow the magnificent mezze with just one grilled meat main, but Pierre is keen to add one of the non-grill specialities, steering us towards Five-spice lamb and bukhari rice (£14). This slow-cooked lamb shank dish is a revelation; like my reaction to several of the mezze, I am actually giddy and giggling with delight. The spicing is so beautifully balanced and the sauce has just a hint of sourness that reminds me of Persian meat stews. The lamb is, once again, superb quality meat and I can’t help but fall back on that old cliché – meltingly soft. As if that isn’t enough, the wonderfully savoury bukhari rice is richly jewelled with plump sultanas, cashews, walnuts, peanuts and tiny slivers of bright carrot.

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The Mixed meat grill (£12.50) gives us one each of lamb kafta (minced lamb kebab), taouk (marinated chicken cubes), lahim meshue (cubes of lamb) and chicken kafta (minced chicken kebab), served with a portion of vermicelli rice, an onion and herb salad and pungent toum (garlic sauce). Bought to the table covered in flatbread, to keep the kebabs warm, this dish is as good as all the rest.

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We had no intention of having dessert, but bow to the inevitable when we see Pierre’s crestfallen expression. When he realises that the Awamet (£4.50) fried fritters with orange blossom syrup we chose are not available, Pierre instead serves us a taster of the various desserts available.

First, Tehlayi Jnoubieh (£5), a selection of halwa, fig jam and carob syrup served with bread for dipping. Lebanese halwa is quite unlike the Indian semolina (sooji ka) halwa that I’m familiar with, which is thick, slightly sloppy when warm and a little more set when cool; instead it’s dry and firm and reminds me somewhat of nougat, albeit with a crumblier texture. Tiny whole figs preserved in an intensely sweet jam are a little too sweet for me. I am unexpectedly taken with the carob molasses, something I haven’t tried before. I’ve since discovered that it’s a speciality of the mountain region near to Beirut, and was a traditional alternative to sugar. Apparently, it’s particularly tasty mixed with tahini, something I must now try!

Also on the wooden board of treats is a half portion of Osmalyieh (£4.50), light and crunchy vermicelli biscuits with wonderfully fresh crème de lait topped with different fruit jams – orange blossom, strawberry and peach. Even as full as we are, we devour these little delights.

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To try and wake up from our feast-induced torpor, we ask for Lebanese coffee (available with or without cardamom). Like Turkish coffee, it’s served shockingly strong, to be sipped cautiously from tiny cups. Usually, this coffee would be far too intense for me, but to my surprise, I enjoy it, though I only manage one cup.

At the end, assorted Baklawa (£4.50), beautiful morsels of honey, nuts and crunchy pastry.

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It’s not often that a meal can so successfully transport me to another place – most commonly I’m disappointed by lack of authenticity and left shaking my head, wondering if the food I so enjoyed on holiday seemed special only through the euphoria of the holiday itself. At Warda, I was reminded just how excellent the food of Lebanon really is and exactly why I loved it so much.

On the short drive home, I make plans with Pete to return with family and friends “and oh, so and so would adore it too, wouldn’t they?” So it won’t be long before we are back, giggling our way through the menu.

The location right next to Southgate tube station (on the Piccadilly line) makes it an easy trip for those in other parts of town. If you’re a fan of Lebanese, I recommend you make the journey!

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Warda restaurant.

 

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Several months ago in early December, Pete and I had a lovely lunch at Rabot 1745, Hotel Chocolat’s newly-opened restaurant in the heart of Borough Market. More recently, we returned for breakfast, before a shopping expedition around the market.

My initial worries about the gimmicky nature of a themed restaurant were quickly assuaged. As we flicked through the lunch and dinner menu, it became clear that Rabot 1745’s “cocoa-centric” menu makes use of a wide range of elements derived from pod and bean – subtle cocoa accents are added via crunchy cocoa nibs, the fruity flesh of the cocoa pod, infused oils and vinegars, and only occasionally, actual chocolate.

Located in the heart of Borough Market, Rabot 1745 brings to Londoners what sister restaurant Boucan has delivered to St Lucians since 2011. The restaurant name comes from a cocoa plantation named The Rabot Estate, situated on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. First established in 1745, it was purchased by the founders of Hotel Chocolat eight years ago and has become a key part of the chain’s branding since. Although only a tiny volume of the chocolate they sell originates there, the Rabot 1745 name has been applied to their collection of rare, high quality chocolates from all around the world.

Downstairs are a Hotel Chocolat shop and a café, in which customers can order from a short menu of sweet and savoury items alongside their drink of choice – the range of hot chocolates is excellent.

Unusually, chocolate is made from bean to bar right here in the café – on site and on show. The norm is for cocoa farmers to have little involvement in the rest of the process, with most of the profits going to the big companies who buy cheap cocoa and transform it into a higher value end-product. So Rabot 1745’s farm to plate approach is particularly innovative and refreshing, especially when combined with the company’s Engaged Ethics programme to empower local cocoa farming communities.

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Upstairs, via stairs at the back of the cafe, is the restaurant, boasting a warm and elegant interior inspired by a traditional Saint Lucian plantation house. A day time visit will allow you to enjoy the sunlight flooding in through floor to ceiling windows overlooking Bedale street; or come in the evening for an altogether cosier ambience.

The menu, crafted by Executive Chef John Bentham, draws on culinary traditions from Britain and the Caribbean. This is most evident in the lunch and dinner offering – in December we enjoyed a scallop salad of perfectly seared plump Scottish scallops, colourful thinly sliced beetroot and watercress leaves in lightly curried cacao nib oil and a horseradish and white chocolate sauce; barley scotch eggs, a great vegetarian option, thanks to a non-sausage meat coating of nib-crusted pearl barley enveloping soft-cooked quail eggs, served with roasted root vegetables and a goat’s cheese dressing; an impressive 35-day aged galloway short horn rib-eye steak marinated in cacao, topped with slices of buttery marrow, accompanied by roast winter vegetables and a rich, glossy red wine and cacao gravy and roast saddle of rabbit rolled in smoked bacon, served with Armagnac-soaked prunes, roasted carrots, a white chocolate mash and another rich, glossy gravy. Desserts of Perigord walnut tart and rum baba served with cacao-infused cream didn’t disappoint.

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This time, we returned to try the breakfast menu, launched a couple of months ago.

The menu is fairly short, featuring a couple of fresh fruit and cereal options, a short list of hot dishes, a similarly brief list of bakery items and drinks. Helpfully, items that are Dairy Free, Gluten Free and Vegetarian are clearly labelled.

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We eschewed the invitation to start with a breakfast cocktail (£9 each), though the cacao bellini (featuring cacao pulp) and breakfast martini (with marmalade) might appeal if you want to push the boat out.

My smoothie power shot (£2.50) was the only disappointing element of the meal. Unpleasantly full of ice crystals, the tiny and surprisingly bland “smoothie” consisted of banana, oats and a dairy, almond or soy milk base. When it’s so easy to create smoothies that are both tasty and nutritious, there is no excuse for this offering, nor for the shot glass portion sold at a tall glass price.

A Monmouth Beans café latte (£2.50) and a hazelnut drinking chocolate (£3.50) were far more successful choices.

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Pete was very happy with his Crispy Dry-Cure Bacon, Scrambled Eggs, Roast Tomatoes, Grilled Mushrooms (£8). Served on toast, good quality ingredients were well cooked and satisfying.

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I could not resist ordering Lobster Slices, Lobster Hollandaise, Spinach, Poached Eggs (£12). For the price, I was delighted with the generous portion of sweet, succulent lobster meat at one end of my long slice of crunchy toast. Piled over spinach, perfectly poached eggs were napped with a rich Hollandaise; my only regret is that more sauce wasn’t provided, perhaps in a jug on the side.

Of course, there are many on-the-hoof breakfast options in Borough Market, from doughnuts, brownies and pastries to grilled cheese sandwiches, from fresh fruit smoothies to sausages in a hearty roll. But sometimes it’s good to relax on comfortable chairs at a nicely laid table, order delicious breakfast treats from a menu, and share a leisurely chat with your companion or read a good book or newspaper while you eat. For those occasions, Rabot 1745 fits the bill.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Rabot 1745.

Rabot 1745 on Urbanspoon
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Although I first read about A Wong on the (sadly now defunct) Eat Love Noodles blog back in spring 2013, it wasn’t until this year that I finally visited, in the company of Mr Noodles himself, as well as fellow blogger, the Insatiable Eater and his partner. It was the innovative dim sum that I was so keen to try, as it’s rare to see the dim sum classics so cleverly modernised.

We met at the restaurant one sunny Saturday lunch time at the beginning of March, buoyed by the earliness of spring sunshine and with empty bellies at the ready.

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One of the things I really appreciate about A Wong’s dim sum menu is that items are priced (and ordered) individually, making it easy to order the required number whether you’re dining alone or in a group. The usual multiples of three makes it difficult to order for parties of two or four, but here, we simply ordered 4 pieces of most of the dim sum on the menu. In addition, we ordered a couple of items from the snacks section and, later, some noodles and dessert.

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On the table, chilli oils and goji berries (respectively, too fiery and too sharp for me) but I think my friends enjoyed the chilli.

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First to arrive was the smoked duck and jellyfish and pork crackling salad (£4.95), a beautifully balanced blend of textures and tastes. This perfectly whetted our appetite for what was still to come, and didn’t last long at all!

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Pickled cucumber (£2) was less immediately exciting but I loved the freshness of cooling crisp cucumber against the heat of the chilli and the sesame dressing.

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I’ve never come across Shanxi province honeycomb noodles with coriander and chilli dip (£4.50) before; I was fascinated by the presentation, for which sheets of pasta had carefully been folded into tubes and arranged within the confines of a bamboo steamer. For me, the noodles themselves were a little dry and chewy, but the dipping sauce was a genuine highlight.

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Quail egg croquette puffs (£1.75 each) feature the familiar delicate wrapping of a taro croquette (one of my default orders for any dim sum meal). Here, the lacy coat surrounded a perfectly soft-boiled quail egg, providing another superb taste and texture combination. The ginger and spring onion dipping sauce was a winner too.

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Time for sui mai, another dim sum classic, this time updated with a crispy curl of crackling. The pork and prawn dumplings, pork crackling (£1.30 each) were pleasant enough, but for me, it was not feasible to eat the dumpling and crackling in a single mouthful. I’d prefer plain sui mai and a bowl of crackling as a side dish.

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Baked roasted pork buns with a sugared coating (£1.50 each) were a riff on pork puff pastries and crunchy-topped bolo bao (pineapple buns). They were OK, but the pork inside lacked depth of flavour; I’d rather have the regular barbecue puff pastry version or a steamed char sui bao.

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Crab, seafood and beancurd cannelloni, pickled cockles were £3.50 each but our waiter advised us to order two portions, as each one is served cut into two pieces. These looked pretty but I found them a little bland compared to many of the other dim sum.

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Har gau (shrimp dumplings) are another regular dim sum order for me. These clear shrimp dumplings, sweet chilli sauce, citrus foam (£1.30) arrived wearing bubble bath robes – pretty as a picture but the foam didn’t add much to the eating experience. Still, the "oooh" moment when the bubbles caught the sunlight was fun!

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Probably one of the most striking dishes, visually, was the scallop puff with XO sauce (£2). These vibrant orange blooms were super crunchy, and the XO sauce packed a punch, though I’m not sure I could detect much of the scallop flavour inside. Still, its silky texture was much in evidence. I enjoyed these!

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I didn’t know what to expect of foie gras sticky sesame dumplings (£2 each) so I was very happy to discover they were essentially small jin doy, a sweet pastry treat that I often buy from Chinese bakeries. The spherical shell is a sticky, chewy delight and there’s usually a pellet of sweet red bean paste inside; in this case, the red bean paste was replaced by a (sadly very tiny) piece of foie gras. I liked the aesthetic impact of using both black and white sesame seeds but the foie gras was too small to give much flavour against the glutinous rice wrapper.

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There were two variations of sui long bao on the menu – Shanghai steamed dumplings, ginger infused vinegar (£1.50 each) and Yunnan mushroom, pork and truffle dumplings (£1.75 each). All of us audibly sighed in appreciation at the heady aromas of truffle that wafted across the table as soon as the latter were delivered. With very careful lifting, I managed to retain the broth inside mine, though the wonderfully thin wrappers meant this was a challenge not all of us passed. The dumplings were utterly delicious, one of the best of the meal. The ginger vinegar dumplings were pleasant but I’m a overly sensitive to sharper flavours, so personally, I’d have preferred the vinegar relegated to a dipping sauce.

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This rather alienesque little number is the deep fried prawn ball with abalone and chilli vinaigrette (£1.75 each). These are deeply savoury, bouncy balls of protein that, once again, contrast nicely with the texture of the crunchy threads around them.

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By this stage, I was thoroughly stuffed, and had I been sensible, I would have stopped there. But I was far too easily persuaded by my eager companions, that we should continue on to some noodles and dessert. Well.. they didn’t have to twist my arm too hard!

Mr. Mak’s tossed noodles with oyster sauce and shrimp roe (£8) came with a pipette of sauce and a side dish of broth. While I enjoyed the shrimp roe flavours, I found the noodles a bit dry and the accompanying broth quite bland.

The noodles in the won ton noodle soup (£8) were better, but again, I found the dish a little lacking in depth of flavour. I would have liked more greens and wontons, both.

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Beijing yoghurt with chilli barbecued pineapple and sichuan pepper ice cream (£6.50) came with a certificate of authentication for the yoghurt, which is apparently a very highly respected brand in China. The yoghurt was OK, though I didn’t find it anything special to justify the hype (or import). But the barbecued pineapple was delicious; it paired superbly with the sichuan pepper ice cream, but what a shame the portion of ice cream was so tiny! Even if we hadn’t been sharing desserts, I’d have been disappointed in this tiny pellet.

(Incidentally, if you like the sound of sichuan pepper ice cream, here’s my own recipe for it, from last summer).

Our second dessert was tobacco smoked banana, nut crumble, chocolate, soy caramel (£6.50). This was presented with pomp, the hot caramel sauce poured onto a chocolate sphere from great height, until its warmth melted through the chocolate shell to reveal the ice cream within, Bob Bob Ricard style. For me, the overall taste was far too sweet; cloyingly, tooth-achingly so. Having enjoyed tobacco chocolates from Artisan du Chocolat, I was also disappointed that the flavour and kick of tobacco didn’t come through more clearly. Still, it was eagerly eaten by my friends, so it’s a matter of personal taste.

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Stuffed to bursting, we finally requested the bill, noticing that the previously packed-to-the-rafters dining room was virtually empty by the time we finished our long and leisurely lunch. With service, the bill came to just under £32 per person. Dropping noodles and desserts from our order (which would still have left me comfortable satiated) would bring that down to £23.50 per person.

Finally, a great and reasonably-priced dining choice in the vicinity of Victoria station!

Although I’ve expressed minor reservations about some aspects of a few of the items we ordered, in the main part, I found the meal very enjoyable indeed. The dim sum was as innovative, exciting and delicious as I’d been promised and I’m keen to visit for more soon. Based on the two noodle dishes, I’m curious about how well the rest of the menu performs; if you’ve been for dinner, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

A. Wong on Urbanspoon
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After two trips to Japan in two years, I’ve fallen even more in love with Japanese food. Both holidays gave us plenty of opportunities to enjoy traditional washoku cuisine, particularly in the multi-course kaiseki ryori meals we enjoyed at a number of ryokans.

While sushi is increasingly popular in the UK, the many, many other dishes that make up this tasty cuisine have been less widely available. But in the last few years, particularly in London, Japanese food is growing its fan base and more and more Japanese restaurants are opening their doors. It’s not that we didn’t have Japanese restaurants before, but they certainly weren’t (and still aren’t) as ubiquitous as Indian, Chinese, Italian, Thai…

I’ve written previously about London’s ramen awakening; after Wagamama popularised a simplified version, authentic ramen is now coming into its own.

Sushi remains a lunch-time favourite, sold by supermarkets and sandwich chains across the country, but Chef Toru Takahashi of Sushi Tetsu is one of a new generation bringing the higher end experience to the UK. I’ve not yet been, but it’s very high on my wish list!

Even kaiseki ryori is now available in London – another place that I’m enormously keen to visit is The Shiori, where Chef Takashi Takagi recreates a Kyoto-style kaiseki experience for enthusiastic London diners.

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I learned about Chisou Japanese Restaurant during a chance encounter at a United Ramen pop-up I went to in January. A fellow diner told me about it, having recently taken up a job with them. Recently, he extended an invitation to visit and try their Japanese menu for myself. There are actually three restaurants in this mini-chain – the original Mayfair branch which opened in 2002, the Knightsbridge location I visited, which opened in 2010, and the newest one out in Chiswick, which opened in 2012.

Each restaurant has its own head chef – at Knightsbridge, Chef Ryota Tsuji is at the helm. The core menu is common to all three restaurants, but each head chef also offers a selection of their own specialities as well.

On the website, Chisou describe themselves as closer to an izakaya (casual Japanese bars that also serve food) than to a formal kaiseki restaurant, though I’d place the Knightsbridge restaurant somewhere between the two. It’s definitely more upmarket than most izakaya but not as rarefied as a traditional Kyoto kaiseki restaurant. The website is not great – clicking on Food (in the hope of seeing the menu) takes you to a long passage about private hire, which would be far better given its own section of the menu. Scroll down, down, down past all of that to eventually find the menu, laid out in sections you have to read one at a time. Use the sub-menu on the left to navigate between these. Frustratingly, prices are not listed – one of my pet hates; a complete website revamp would be a great investment!

Still, the menu has many appealing dishes including several that I haven’t much encountered in the UK.

I take friend and fellow Japanophile MiMi with me to review.

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We are warmly greeted by general manager (and sommelier) John who is a little disappointed that we’re not wine drinkers, and that we also turn down the offer of sake, but cheers up when we ask for umeshu (plum liqueur) instead. It’s lovely to be served our sweet Ozeki Kanjuku Umeshu (£6.50 glass) with a whole alcohol-pickled plum in each glass, which I greedily eat after finishing my drink.

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Chewy, slightly fishy strands of seaweed with sesame seeds are a tasty nibble, placed on the table soon after we arrive. Edamame beans (£4.50) are served simply, in salt.

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Horenso salad (£9.90), described as “ baby spinach topped with spicy prawns and sweet carrot, drizzled in yuzu vinaigrette” is artfully presented, though a little fussy. I’d like just a few more prawns, given the price tag, but the flavours are excellent. And the yuzu comes through loud and clear, which is good news since we both love it. When the dish arrives, we’ve forgotten the mention of sweet carrot on the menu, and wonder what the strange  orange fibres are made of – their flavour doesn’t clue us in to their carrot nature but they do add an interesting texture.

Hotate Carpaccio Yuzukosho Salt (£11.95) is described as wild-caught Alaskan scallop carpaccio served with yuzukosho and ponzu sauce. The scallops are delicious, served in thin sashimi slices. I can’t detect the yuzukosho (a salty spicy condiment made from yuzu citrus) very well but the dressing, rich in sesame, is refreshing.

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Yakitori (£4.90) is disappointing. It’s offered coated in chef’s “special sauce” or lightly salted, and we choose the latter but find the yakitori woefully under seasoned. The chicken meat has very little flavour and these are a bland, chewy let-down.

Tempura Moriawase (£13.90) is another dish that I think is over-priced for the portion. The quality of the ingredients is good and the tempura is excellent – a lovely light batter cooked to a perfect crisp and not at all oily – but a plate of three prawns, one small piece of fish and a small number vegetables is not enough for the price.

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Chawan Mushi (£7.50) is an absolute winner of a dish, one of the best of the night. Within the delicately flavoured savoury custard (that has just the right wobble and silken texture) are prawns, chicken and mushrooms. It immediately transports me back to the delicious chawan mushi I enjoyed in Japan and both MiMi and I agree we’d come back to Chisou for this dish in a heartbeat.

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The menu offers lots of choice on sashimi and sushi, but we decide to leave it in the hands of the chef, and order Sanpin Sashimi (£19.90). The chef selects three different types of fish from the catch of the day and three pieces of each are served. Knowing what I pay for excellent quality fresh sashimi at Atari-ya, the mark-up seems a touch high once again, but the quality of fish is decent.

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Eel; Salmon belly

After asking about two pork belly dishes, we choose one of them along with Unagi Kabayaki (£25.80) and Aburi Sake Toro (£7.20), plus a bowl of plain boiled rice (£3) and Konomono (assorted pickles) (£4.10). In the end, we are eventually told that neither pork belly dish is available, but we have plenty with our two fish choices, so don’t bother choosing a replacement.

The unagi (eel) is beautifully cooked, coated with a traditional sweet barbecue sauce; the flesh is almost jelly like and full of flavour.

Likewise, the aburi sake toro (seared salmon belly), served with a yuzu soy sauce, is delicious and suitably fatty, as the cut suggests. Visually, they look similar, but flavours are quite distinct.

The pickles are very good: four contrasting colours, tastes and textures.

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I don’t think either of us intend to have dessert but once we glance at the menu, we can’t resist the ice creams and sorbets; two scoops (£4.90).

My yuzu sorbet is the essence of yuzu, just as MiMi’s lychee sorbet is nothing but pure fruit flavour. Her green tea ice cream is decent (though not the best I’ve tasted). My soy and brown sugar ice cream is alright but the soy doesn’t come through at all, which is a shame – I had hoped for the classic flavour of soy and sugar combined, like the glaze on mitarashi dango. I am a little surprised at presentation of the ice creams – thus far in the meal, plates have been so carefully arranged but here the scoops are sloppily shaped and my bowl is actually quite messy.

Overall, our meal has been good, with some real highlights – the spinach and prawn salad, chawan mushi, pickles and unagi. Pricing is a little variable, with some dishes providing far better value than others. Including our two glasses of umeshu and a green tea, our bill would be approximately £70 a head – a lot even given the number of dishes we ordered. Judicious ordering would reduce that – swap out the sashimi and the unagi for three or four additional small dishes and you could bring that down by at least a tenner per person. That’s still at the top edge of what I’d pay. Then again, the restaurants is within a stone’s throw of Harrods and the multi-million-pound mansions of the very wealthy, so perhaps it is simply targeting its locale clientele.

Certainly there are many more dishes I’d like to try, including Buta Bara Kimuchi (£5.90) – belly pork stir fried with garlic and kimchi, Kani Karaage (£13.50) – deep fried soft shell crab with a ponzu dip, Kodako Nanban Age (£8.20) – deep fried and marinated baby octopus, Saikyo Yaki (£12.50) – grilled black cod in white miso, Wagyu Steak & Foie Gras Truffle Teriyaki (£24.50) – featuring 50 grams of Chilean wagyu rib eye, and Sake Chazuke (£4.90/£7.20) – plain rice served in a hot soup and sprinkled with flakes of salmon.

So yes, it’s expensive but the range of dishes and the quality of most of them means it’s worthy of consideration for a little taste of traditional Japanese washoku in London.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Chisou Restaurant.

Chisou Japanese Restaurant Knightsbridge on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

Mar 072014
 

In China, Taiwan and North America, yakinuku (literally “grilled meat” *) is often referred to as Japanese barbeque but in Japan itself, it’s very much considered a Korean import. In the UK, it’s not well known at all.

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Showa Taishu Horumon in Osaka

What is Yakiniku?

Yakiniku is DIY dining at its finest! Diners gather around a charcoal or wood burner, usually placed in the centre of the table, and cook their own meal, piece by piece and at their own pace.

Many specialist restaurants have yakiniku grills built right into the tables, with extractor systems to whip away smoke and smells. Others bring portable grills to the table, quickly switching them with a hotter replacement should the coals die down during your meal.

Most commonly, thin slivers of raw meat are ordered according to the cut. A variety of vegetable accompaniments is usually available, though the choice is sometimes limited, and the vegetables are clearly secondary to the meat! Most restaurants also offer a range of side dishes (such as rice, noodles and salads) which don’t need to be cooked on the grill. Again, these are simply a supporting act to the meat.

Yakiniku is perfect for 2 to 4 diners (any more than that and you’ll need multiple grills so everyone can reach). Sit down, check the menu, order your favourites and cook them just as you like them.

Some of the raw meat will come plain – thinly sliced and ready to grill; some will come marinated in a sticky tare (sauce); you may also be given raw egg or other sauces in which to dip pieces of meat once they have been cooked.

Beef and pork are the most common choices. Some yakiniku restaurants specialise in horuman (offal), their menus listing more different types of offal than I ever imagined existed! My first choice is the fattiest and most tender cuts of beef, which work well when flash grilled for mere moments until the fat starts to melt. I’m also addicted to thin slices of fatty belly pork, cooked a little longer until the fat starts to bubble and brown.

* Yaki most commonly refers to cooking on a grill, but can also mean frying or tempering.

The History of Yakiniku in Japan

According to most web resources, including Wikipedia, yakiniku originated in Korea.

The Meiji Restoration (the revival of Imperial rule) gave rise to a burgeoning interest in western culture, including foreign food. In 1872 The Emperor broke a 1,200 year ban on meat eating, though it took some time for long-ingrained cultural taboos to dissipate. ~

Korean food became popular in Japan during the 20th century, especially in the years following World War Two. Korean restaurants advertised themselves as offering chōsen cuisine; the term came from Joseon, the name of the old, individed Korea but when Korea split into two North and South nations following the Korean War, Joseon was appropriated by the North. Businesses in Japan, more sympathetic to the South, removed all chōsen references and instead labelled their food as kankoku (South Korean).

Restaurants serving bulgogi (grilled marinated beef) and galbi (grilled ribs) were known as horumonyaki (offal grills).

Although this is the history trotted out whenever the origins of yakiniku are discussed, isn’t it a little simplistic not to take into account the fact that grilling meat was already prevalent in Japan before the influx of Korean cooking, even though beef was not widely eaten until the late 19th Century?

Perhaps it is the use of the wonderfully-flavoured marinades that mark yakiniku as a Korean-influenced cuisine? But yakiniku, as it is enjoyed in Japan today, is not wholly Korean either – the prevalence of offal and the use of dipping sauces (in which the meat is dipped after cooking, rather than before) are, apparently not common in Korea.

Regardless of the exact origins, the association between yakiniku and Korean food is a strong one and many yakiniku restaurants in Japan commonly offer a range of Korean dishes including kimchi and spicy tofu.

I’m not sure when the general yakiniku (grilled meat) term came widely into use for this kind of cooking but the All Japan Yakiniku Association was established in 1992 and proclaimed August 29 as an annual Yakiniku Day in 1993. The date is described as goroawase (numerical wordplay) because the numbers 8, 2 and 9 can be read as ya-tsu-ni-ku, an approximation of yakiniku.

Yakiniku has seen its fortunes rise and fall according to a variety of influences. In the 1980s, the introduction of modern ventilated systems, which allowed restaurants to easily eliminate smoke and cooking smells, gave open grill restaurants a big boost. So too did the easing of beef import restrictions in 1991, which resulted in a drop in the price of beef. However, the 2001 occurrence of Mad Cow Disease (BSE) in Japan was a set back.

Today, yakiniku is hugely popular and that popularity is still growing. ^

~ This (PDF) article on The Meat Eating Culture of Japan gives a fascinating, detailed history of ancient meat-eating customs, the prohibition of meat and the lifting of restrictions.
^ Here’s an entertaining article from Japan Today with a theory on why and how diners may be forming an addition to meat!

Our Yakiniku Feasts

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The best beef we had in Japan was also our first yakiniku experience, at Maruaki, a Hida Beef restaurant in Takayama in 2012.

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On that same trip, we came across this restaurant in department store restaurant floor. A sign outside invited overseas customers to tell the restaurant manager he was handsome in return for a free beer. We did, he giggled, we received our free beers!

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Gyu-Kaku is a large Korean yakiniku chain with several hundred branches across Japan (and quite a few internationally too). Many of the meats come marinated and there are various dipping sauces, including raw egg ones, to dip the cooked meat into before eating. We really liked the spicy tofu with mince meat side dish as well.

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Another visit to a different branch of Gyu-Kaku, on our second trip.

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We chose Showa Taishu Horumon in Osaka’s Dotonbori district for a number of reasons – specialising in horuman (offal), but with regular cuts also on the menu, it gave me the opportunity to try cuts I’d never normally try; I found the retro ‘50s vibe to the decor rather appealing; I liked the bucket barbecue grills; everyone inside looked happy; staff were welcoming. By the way, Showa Taishu Horumon has a a few branches in the area, this one is located at Dotonbori 1-5-9 1F, on the area’s main street. We had a great meal – I discovered that oesophagus is definitely not for me but confirmed I’m happy to eat cheek and tongue. I chose not to explore the extensive tripe menu! And the regular beef and pork cuts were delicious!

 

Next, Pete and I bring yakiniku into our kitchen for a home made Korean-Japanese BBQ. Coming soon!

 

Although we always chose Japanese breakfasts when our morning meals were included in our ryokan or hotel stays, our Kyoto accommodation was room only, so we headed out for breakfast every day.

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On the first morning, we headed out to Toji Temple (for the monthly flea market) and decided to find breakfast once we reached Toji Station. Just as I was starting to despair of finding anywhere, we came across a lovely little coffee shop called Kissa Ippongi. We were warmly welcomed and took two seats at the large communal table to one side. We noticed most of the Japanese customers eating a Western breakfast set and followed suit. This was our first encounter with the fabulously light and thick-cut Japanese sliced bread and we both really liked it. We also appreciated the crunchy dressed cabbage salad and the fresh oranges that came as part of the plate. The bill, including coffees, was just ¥880.

We enjoyed our coffee shop breakfast so much that we sought out other Kyoto cafes for more egg and toast breakfasts throughout the week. Don’t worry – we made sure to eat lots and lots and lots of wonderful Japanese food during our trip!

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Coffee Smart on Teramachi Dori clearly belongs to a true coffee lover, judging from the careful attention given to roasting beans using an impressive Probat roasting machine just inside the entrance. I couldn’t help but be charmed by its retro interior and I suspect it’s original rather than a modern-day replica. For breakfast, Pete ordered toast and egg, which turned out to be a very generously stuffed omelette sandwich. My French Toast, made with that same thick-cut fluffy sliced bread, was superbly light and served with a pot of maple syrup. A little more pricey than our Toji breakfast, the bill came to ¥2000.

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Between the nearest bus stop and Ginkaku-ji (Temple of the Silver Pavilion) we stopped at this “Morning Cafe Evening Bar” called Bear. Indeed, there were a number of soft bears inside including a large one perched on a bar stool wearing a Halloween outfit, who was our only fellow customer. Breakfast was ok but the coffee was too bitter for us here. The bill was ¥960.

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It was the resident cat that first drew us to Shiroi Hana (“white flower”), a coffee shop we passed several times during our stay, walking back and forth along Aneyakoji Dori as we made our way to and from Teramachi Dori (and its neighbouring covered shopping streets). Inside, we were charmed by the bright, polished interior and the row of fancy glass coffee syphons at the counter. Breakfast, with a particularly fine iced coffee for me, came to ¥1000.

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As we were leaving Shiroi Hana the waitress saw me taking a photo of the exterior and came running out to take our photo in front of the entrance; just another example of the proactive kindness we encountered so often in Japan.

We also tried similar Western sets in a couple of coffee chains, but they were not worthy of sharing.

 

You can read more about this and our previous Japan trip under my Japan tag. More to come soon!

Thanks to Michael for help identifying the names of a couple of these coffee shops and to Ish and Chloe for the coffee syphon know-how.

 

I really wanted to like Fable Bar & Restaurant. I really, really did. But it wasn’t to be.

The venue takes inspiration from “fairy tales and the fabulous fables of Aesop” and is described as an all-day bar and restaurant and event space. It is certainly an attractively decorated venue, spread across three floors. There are fairy-tale touches from walls papered with pages of books to a glass bell jar over a pair of shoes filled with succulents. And there’s lots and lots of light spilling in from enormous windows. Much of the seating on the top floor is at tall bench tables with tall stools to match, but if (like me) you prefer regular tables and chairs, there are plenty on the other two floors.

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Middle floor, where we were seated

Our visit was exactly a week after opening, for a weekday lunch, so the place was still quiet, though the few regular tables on the top floor were taken. Declining the bench we were initially shown to, and the enormous table for eight we were offered next, we were eventually offered seating on the floor below, though I don’t think it was really open and no one else was seated here during our visit. I found the lack of cloakroom or coat hooks annoying; the stools provided (I assume) for our bags weren’t an ideal resting place for our pile of winter coats, scarves, hats and gloves.

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Middle floor

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Top floor, where we transferred for lunch to make way for an event being hosted on the middle floor

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Bottom floor, which also provides an alternative entrance, on Farringdon Road

Fable’s cocktail offering is fun! I like the Cocktail Bull’s Eye wheel that helps you pick cocktails that best suit your tastes, but wish it listed more of the menu’s offerings. I definitely enjoyed my Russian Rose Martini (£7.25) which features vodka, lychee liqueur, ginger syrup and a rose petal garnish. Better described as lychee than rose, though.

The beer menu invites customers to “ask about our collection of small batch, artisan craft beers” so we were disappointed to be offered Meantime London Lager, Goose Island IPA and Brooklyn Lager; none of these can be described as “small batch” and “artisan craft” is meaningless marketing spiel. The international draft beer selection is more extensive, though heavily lager-based. At a time when another new London brewery is opening every few months, it’s a huge shame not to see more genuinely small and local breweries represented, and some proper British ale.

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I found the menu confusing.

The very limited selection of starters feels forcedly global with satay chicken, tempura squid and chilli and soy prawn lollipops next to soup, mushroom pesto and goat’s cheese bruschetta and lobster parmesan croquettes. I don’t entirely understand what most of the flatbreads or sharing plates actually consist of, though they too offer that same odd combination of Asian and Mediterranean influences. And then when you get to the (enormous) list of mains, the Asian influences virtually disappear – there’s a sandwich and burger section, a steak section and a posh pub grub section. Salads, “tatties” and sides make up the rest.

It’s not that there aren’t appealing dishes here, but rather that the menu appears to have been designed by committee and lacks coherency because of it.

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Lobster & parmesan croquettes (£5.95) looked glorious but were shockingly bland. Though I did spot one tiny piece of lobster in one of them, the taste of lobster didn’t come through at all. The best thing on the plate was the grated cheese underneath and the greenery on top.

Chicken satay with peanut sauce and prawn crackers (£5.95) was similarly disappointing. The chicken hadn’t been marinated first, so it was plain Jane, and really needed smothering with a rich, intense sauce. Sadly, the peanut sauce was very thin, didn’t adhere to the chicken and failed to contribute much flavour. This time, the prawn crackers were the most flavoursome items on the board and the mixed leaves under and over the chicken. My suggestion is to serve this as a chicken satay salad – that runny sauce would work far better as a dressing, tossed through the meat and leaves.

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To the basic d&m beefburger (£8.45) Pete added crispy bacon and cheese (£2.55) and chips (£2.95). He deemed it a decent burger that had retained its juiciness, though it lacked a real beefy taste.

There was a steak and lobster deal on the specials menu for £15 but no information on cut of beef or size. When I asked, I learned that it was sirloin, but decided to order my usual rib eye from the regular menu instead. To my 10 oz rib eye (£18.95) I added half a Scottish lobster (£12.95) and Bearnaise sauce (£2.95). Though my steak came with onion rings, tomatoes and mushrooms, chips were not included. It was an awful steak, incredibly tough and chewy (I usually order rib eye so I wasn’t expecting the tenderness of a fillet) and a tendon running along one edge was difficult to cut away, too. And the lobster was murdered by overcooking; I’ve never actually had such dried out lobster before. The onion ring batter was super crispy and tasted good but what a shame the onions inside were stone cold.

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Tendony steak; nicer details

By this point, we were on our own. The manager who looked after us initially was busy rearranging all the tables around us for an event (which was somewhat off-putting) and no one else had been assigned to look after us. When I was eventually able to ask for some wet wipes or a bowl (having dirtied my hands cracking lobster claws open), there was an extremely long wait before a waiter first brought me a teapot of water. After another wait, he came with a bowl of water and napkins; but he’d poured boiling water into the bowl, which would have scalded me badly had I not spotted it and checked. I gave up and headed to the Ladies instead.

We moved upstairs for the last course.

I asked for Pete’s coffee to be served at the same time as dessert. After another very long wait, coffee and my drink arrived, but the dessert didn’t materialise for quite some time again. It was sloppy and frustrating.

Instead of dessert I chose a coke float (£7.25) described as coca-cola, ice cream, spiced rum and pedro ximinez sherry. The rum came through nicely but I failed to detect even a hint of my beloved PX.

The mini pudding shots (£7.95) came in three pretty green glasses that made the tiny portions look even smaller. White chocolate crème brulee was entirely the wrong texture, had no crunchy sugar layer on top and no white chocolate flavour. The chocolate brownie was alright, but far too sweet for me and too hard to cut through with a  spoon. And the Knickerbocker Glory was completely unbalanced by a sharp frozen yoghurt in place of the usual ice cream.

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Having only been open a week, it’s not surprising that staff lack training, though many of them seemed utterly lost and confused by it all. All but the two members of the management team spoke so quietly we had to ask them to repeat themselves several times. I hope this will improve as they are given more training and gain confidence.

Given the central location, with many offices all around, I imagine Fable will be popular with the office crowd. It’s a lovely space and if I worked nearby, I’d definitely pop in for drinks happily. But the menu and the food itself need a lot more work. As it stands, Fable fails to transport me anywhere but the mundane.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Fable Bar & Restaurant.
The Fable on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

 

Following a recent invitation to discover some of the food and drink highlights available at St Pancras International station, Pete and I had a lovely morning visiting Benugo’s Espresso Bar, Searcys Champagne Bar and Sourced Market.

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Unlike the downstairs branch of Benugo, the upstairs coffee bar (near the Martin Jennings sculpture of poet John Betjeman) is much quieter and cooler. An original tile floor leads to the service counter; the seating area next door has been designed to evoke rail travel of old; gentle jazz music completes the retro feel. During our morning visit, we tried coffee and cake (the shop has one coffee blend for espresso and espresso-based drinks, and another for drip filter coffees). Manager Ondrej was on hand to give further information about all the options, including some good quality loose leaf teas, for those who aren’t in a coffee state of mind. I particularly enjoyed my chocolate, pear and rosemary tart and the biscotti served with coffee.

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Searcy’s champagne bar might seem like an option better suited to summer, given that the concourse is open to the elements at both ends. But booths have little heaters at foot level, and guests are offered blankets and hot water bottles too, so it’s actually rather cosy as a winter destination. I found my hot chocolate excessively sweet but Pete enjoyed his rose champagne tasting trio (£19 for 50 ml each of Henri Giraud Esprit Rose, Besserat Cuvee des Moines Rose and Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose). It’s also a lovely spot to admire the beautiful architecture of the station.

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Sourced Market, downstairs, was a revelation. This little store has crammed in a lot of great products into their wide but shallow floor space. As well as delicious lunch options such as a variety of pies (with mash, gravy and peas), sausage rolls, scotch eggs, charcuterie and cheese platters, soups, sandwiches, salads and more you can also buy ingredients to take home. Pete was particularly impressed by the excellent selection of bottled beers, with small London breweries particularly well represented. I loved the cheese counter and the bakery table. There were lots of delicious treats and I’ll certainly pop in again before long. My only gripe about this lovely place was that all the seating provided was stool-style chairs and table, which are really challenging for those of us with hip, back or mobility problems, not to mention difficult for small children.

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Kavey Eats were given a guided tour of the above venues at St Pancras International.

Feb 112014
 

I was really happy with our Kyoto hotel choice for last October’s stay. The previous year, we’d split our 5 nights in Kyoto between the gorgeous Shiraume ryokan in Gion and Hotel Granvia, located in the large and modern Kyoto Station building. That worked wonderfully for our first visit to Kyoto.

This time, I wanted a location near Nishiki Market, Teramachi Dori, Shijo Dori, Pontocho… I booked us into the Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa, near the corner of Kawaramachi and Oike, chuffed to nab a rate of less than ¥ 10,000 per night for a clean, comfortable and spacious double room. We didn’t take any meals in the hotel – instead we enjoyed breakfast in several different nearby coffee shops, lunch at whatever site we were near during the day and dinner at a variety of restaurants in the vicinity of the hotel.

This little ramen-ya (ramen shop) was very close to our hotel and we stopped in twice during our 6 night stay. Friends have helped me identify the restaurant from my photos – it’s part of a chain called Kairikiya Ramen and this is the Kitashirakawa branch, located on the corner of Ebisucho and Kawaramachi.

The menu includes English translations, one member of the staff had (limited) English and I had a translator app on my S4 so ordering was very simple.

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Across our two visits we ordered soya ramen, chicken kaarage (fried chicken), gyoza, cheese crisps and fried rice. (The dishes we had the first time were so tasty, we chose mostly the same ones on our second visit).

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For one visit, we got the last table. The other time it seemed quiet as we entered but the seats filled up within minutes. The majority of diners were eating alone but we never felt rushed. That said, we didn’t linger for ages, as it’s clear that this kind of business relies on a fast turnaround.

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Prices can be even lower than the menus above show, as there is also a page of Sets combining a bowl of ramen with one or more of the side dishes, for a discounted total.

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It so hard to beat a steaming bowl of rich broth, tangled noodles, soft fatty chashu pork, brightly oozing ni-tamago egg and crunchy menma fermented bamboo shoot. When you add in hot, freshly fried chicken, steamed and fried gyoza, intensely savoury fried rice and those marvellous deep fried cheese crisps, it’s virtually impossible to resist; it was only my determination to also enjoy sushi, tonkatsu, yakiniku … that stopped us visiting another few times… more of which coming soon!

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Suizenji Joju-en Park

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Suizenji Joju-en is a beautiful park in Kumamoto. When we visited at the end of October last year, it was still lush and green; the autumn colours still to descend.

Daimyo (feudal lord) Hosokawa Tadatoshi originally built a temple, Suizenji, on the site in 1632 but just four years later he replaced it with a tea house, designating the new surrounding gardens a tea retreat; he believed the natural spring-fed water (from nearby Mount Aso) made excellent tea. Tadatoshi named the garden Joju-en for a character in a poem by 4th century Chinese poet Tao Yuanming. Both titles form part of the full name of the park today.

The garden took subsequent generations of the family a further 80 years to develop and represents, in miniature form, the 53 post stations of Tokaido, the road that connected Tokyo with Kyoto during the Edo Period. The largest of the many rounded tsukiyama (artificial hills) represents Mount Fuji.

It is typical of the Momoyama period of garden design – a central lake is bordered by artfully arranged boulders and pebbles and there are stepping stones within. Paths wind through the gardens, showcasing landscapes designed to be admired from a distance; they are connected by low stone bridges over the lake.

The Izumi (Inari) Shinto Shrine was built in 1878 as a memorial to the Hosokawa rulers and the garden became a public park in 1879. The impressively thatched tea room, Kokin-Denju-no-Ma, was originally in Kyoto’s Imperial Palace but was moved to the park in 1912.

With the sun shining, we took our time to walk around, pausing to admire the view along the route and resting on benches beneath the trees. I was particularly mesmerised by the park gardeners, mowing the tsukiyama in ever-ascending circles, around and around and around…

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Inside the park, there were also a few souvenir and produce shops, including one selling “Kumamoto Banpeiyu” fruit. As far as I can tell, it’s a Japanese cross between a yellow-fleshed pomelo and a red-fleshed grapefruit.

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Sweet Potato Dumplings

Sweet potatoes – both yellow and purple varieties – are very popular in Japan. In Kumamoto, the purple kind feature in a variety of local sweets.

One type, is imokoi; imo means potato and koi can mean either love or a dark colour, so it’s either “dark colour potato” or “potato love”, I’m not sure which! And I love that the local name is ikinari dango which means “all of a sudden sweet round dumpling”, so-called because it’s said to be a treat one can make very quickly for unexpected visitors. Inside a glutinous rice wrapper is a layer of sweet potato and another of sweet azuki (red bean) paste.

Another plainer dumpling contains a sweet potato filling within a glutinous rice wrapper.

This stall outside the entrance to Suizenji Joju-en Park was selling the simpler dumplings for just ¥ 85 (56 pence) each. There were also whole sweet potatoes available, but no ikinari dango on sale, though they were shown on a laminated picture list of products. When I asked if I could take some photographs, the owner nodded, pointing out the large poster portraits hanging behind her and her colleagues; I gather her shop had been featured in a documentary or magazine.

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Entrance to Suizenji Joju-en Park is ¥ 400.

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