One for the Star Wars fans, this – an X-Wing Knife Block – created by bluw to celebrate the release of the seventh film later this year.

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The officially licensed set contains an X-Wing shaped knife block with five stainless steel knives – a bread knife, a carving knife, a utility knife, a paring knife and a cook’s knife. Each knife has a protection sheath that it slots into.

The block is frustratingly flimsy – you have to hold it with one hand to pull a knife from it with the other and the knives are very lightweight too; it’ll be interesting to see how long they last. This is much more of a novelty gift than a serious kitchen set, I’d say. However, I can’t help but smile at the idea, regardless. Prices vary considerably from £48.99 to £79.99 so it’s worth shopping around, if you want to buy one.

Kavey Eats received a product sample from bluw.

 

In the last few years I’ve discovered that I have a taste for sake. I’ve learned the basics about how it’s made and the different types available, but haven’t sampled enough to get a handle on my preferences. There’s a very distinctive taste that most sakes have in common, despite their many differences and it’s a taste I like very much. But having one or two sakes in isolation once every few months serves only to let me choose my favourite between the two – such tastings are too few and far between for me to build up a coherent library of taste memories in my head, and thereby gain more confidence on choosing well in the future. One of the outstanding items on my Food & Drink To Do list is to immerse myself more fully in the world of sake and work out which styles, regions and even producers I love the most.

The Chisou restaurant group have been running a Sake Club for about a year now, a regular evening of tutored tastings with matched Japanese snacks provided. I’ve been meaning to attend since they launched, but have singularly failed.

What finally spurred me to action was actually a deviation from the norm – a special umeshu tasting.

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The tastings are held in a private room – in Chisou Knightsbridge this was the upstairs dining room – properly separated from regular diners. We shared a table with a couple who were also first timers to the Sake Club, Gareth and Nirvana, and had a lot of fun talking about food and drink, life in London and visiting Japan.

Chisou’s Marketing Manager Mark McCafferty hosted the evening and started by giving us an introduction to umeshu, though a printed crib sheet was also provided for each guest. He introduced each of the six drinks, and the snacks that were served with them, sharing tasting tips and notes throughout.

Although umeshu is usually described in English as plum wine, the ume fruit is not actually a plum; although nicknames include both Chinese Plum and Japanese Apricot, it’s a distinct species within the Prunus genus (which also includes plums and apricots); if a comparison is still needed, the ume is a stone fruit that is closer to the apricot than to the plum.

Why did Chisou decide to hold an umeshu night as part of their Sake Club series? Because umeshu is traditionally made using surplus sake or shōchū – a distilled spirit made from a variety of different carbohydrates – or to use up batches which have not turned out quite as planned. That said, as it’s popularity has increased, many breweries make umeshu as part of their standard product range, and some use high grade sake or shōchū and top quality ume fruit to do so.

The method is very straightforward and will be familiar to those who’ve made sloe gin or other fruit-based spirits – strawberry vodka, anyone? Whole ume fruit are steeped in alcohol – the longer the period, the more the fruit breaks down and its flavour leaches into the alcohol. Some umeshu is left to mature for years, allowing the almond-flavour of the stone to become more pronounced.

In many cases, additional sugar is added to the umeshu, to create a sweeter liqueur. Many households make their own umeshu when the ume fruit is in season, as it’s a very simple drink to make.

The whole fruits are often left in the umeshu – both in home made and commercial versions – and served alongside the drink. Take care, as the stone is still inside!

The welcome drink, as everyone settled in and we waited for a few late arrivals, was a Kir-style cocktail of prosecco and Hannari Kyo umeshu. With this we enjoyed orange-salted edamame beans and wasabi peas.

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Next, an Ozeki umeshu on the rocks served with a generous plate of pork scratchings with individual bowls of an umami-explosion shiitake mayonnaise. In Japan, the highest quality of fruit is often very expensive, and Mark explained that this particular brewery use top quality ume for their umeshu. For Pete, this was “reminiscent of a sherry” and Nirvana liked the “aftertaste of almond”. I loved this umeshu, one of my favourites of the evening.

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Third was a cloudy version – Morikawa umeshumade with a ginjo sake (using highly polished rice), so quite unusual. For me, this tasted stronger than the previous one, but in fact it was a slightly lower ABV – I think this may simply have been because more bitterness was evident in the taste. Mark suggested we should “warm it up like a mulled wine, to make the most of it’s spiciness”. Gareth particularly enjoyed the “mouthfeel” of this umeshu. Pete thought it would an amazing match with a cheese – a perfect replacement for port.

With this came a small skewer of smoked duck with apple cider, miso and fresh ginger, served theatrically beneath a smoke-filled dome. I could have eaten an entire plate of these, instead of just one!

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I was surprised how much I liked the fourth option, as I couldn’t imagine the combination on first reading the menu. The Tomio Uji Gyokuro umeshu combines traditional shade-grown green tea with umeshu to add a rich umami note to the finished product. Oxidisation means the drink is amber rather than green, but the meaty and medicinal notes are evidence of the presence of green tea.

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Next was a cocktail combining Hannari Kyo umeshu with Yamagata Masamune sake, lime juice and angostura bitters. I found this a too bitter and dry for my tastes, so asked if I could taste the Hannari Kyo umeshu on its own, as we’d only tried it with mixers thus far. It’s a lovely umeshu but couldn’t compete with the Ozeki umeshu or the Tomio Uji Gyokuro umeshu for me.

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Last, we were served a cup of good quality vanilla ice cream with warm Morikawa umeshu to pour over the top, affogato-style. As you’d imagine, the sweet and sour notes of the fruit liqueur really work well with cold vanilla ice cream, making it what Nirvana called “a very grown up ice cream”. As Mark commented, “warm it up and it really comes alive”.

Pete and I decided to stay on and order a few dishes from the food menu to soak up the alcohol before heading home, umeshu-happy.

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agedashi tofu, gyoza, pork with kimchi, chicken karaage

After such a great evening, we are keen to attend more Sake Club events. Umeshu night was very well priced at £40 per person and was a great learning experience, a fun social evening and very delicious. If you book Sake Club, do take care that you go the right location. The club is alternately held at different branches of the restaurant and it’s not uncommon for regulars to go to the wrong one, resulting in a mad dash across town.

Kavey Eats attended the Umeshu tasting as guests of Chisou Knightsbridge. The additional dishes pictured at the end were on our own tab.

 

Pete and I are big fans of Salter equipment, having used a Salter scale in our kitchen for many years. And we’re already fans of Heston’s collaborations with appliance brands; I’ve recently posted about the Quick Touch microwave and Smart Scoop ice cream machine Heston designed with Sage.

So it was our pleasure to try out the Heston Precision range created by Heston and Salter, which includes dual platform measuring scales, an adjustable rolling pin, a balloon whisk, measuring spoons and cooking spatulas.

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The scales comes in a beautiful box with instructions on use printed on the inside lid. I asked Pete to review them, as they’re perfect for his home brew needs (as well as regular kitchen use):

Homebrewing makes some heavy demands on kitchen scales. Recipes can call for a total of 6kg or more of grain, and yet our standard scales can’t handle more than 5kg. At the same time, some of the minor grain ingredients can weigh as little as 100 grams – at which point, the fact that our scales measure in steps of 4 grams can introduce a significant error.

So the main platform on the Heston scale is a godsend – handling up to 10kg means that it can handle the biggest recipes in my book, and with a 1 gram accuracy I can be confident that my measurements are all spot on.

Of course, that’s only half the story; as well as grain, beer needs hops. While English hops are often measured in the tens of grams – and so can be weighed with some success on standard scales – with more powerful New World hops recipes can call for smaller quantities of 5 or 10 grams. Obviously when your scale only measures in steps of 4 grams, accurately measuring 5 grams of anything can be next to impossible.

This is where the secondary platform on the Heston scale comes in, which can weigh up to 100 grams in steps of 0.1 grams – perfect for lightweight ingredients such as hops.

Of course, you can buy separate scales for such small quantities but combining two into one is a much tidier solution – especially for a homebrewer with an ever growing pile of equipment.

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The rolling pin has adjustable depth guides to make it easier to roll to a depth of 3mm, 5mm and 8mm.

The measuring spoons have a leveller slide along the top to remove excess and ensure an accurate measure. They can be used for wet and dry ingredients, but are not intended for use with oils.

The spatulas are heat resistant to 250°C and dishwasher safe.

The large balloon whisk has a comfortable non-slip handle, is light and easy to use and is dishwasher safe.

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GIVEAWAY

Salter are giving one set of products from the Heston Precision by Salter range to a reader of Kavey Eats. The items in the set retail for over £100 and include:

  • Salter Heston Blumenthal Dual Platform Precision Kitchen Scale (RRP £49.99)
  • Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Adjustable Rolling Pin (RRP £19.99)
  • Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Adjustable Measuring Spoons (RRP £14.99)
  • Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Professional Kitchen Whisk (RRP £8.99)
  • Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Multipurpose Cooking Spatulas (RRP £14.99)

The prize includes delivery within the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 2 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment telling me what you’d make if you won the Heston Precision by Salter giveaway prize.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the exact sentence (shown in italics) below.
I’d love to win a set of Heston Precision kitchen equipment by @SalterUK from Kavey Eats! http://bit.ly/KEHestonSalter #KEHestonSalter
(Do not add my twitter handle to the tweet; I track twitter entries using the competition hash tag. And please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 10th April 2015.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The winner will be selected from all valid entries (across blog and twitter) using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions and must be followed exactly.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The prize is one Salter Heston Blumenthal Dual Platform Precision Kitchen Scale, one Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Adjustable Rolling Pin, one set of Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Adustable Measuring Spoons, one Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Professional Kitchen Whisk and one set of Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Multipurpose Cooking Spatulas.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Salter Housewares.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. You may enter both ways but you do not have to do so for each individual entry to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email or Twitter so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message. If no response is received from a winner within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received product samples from Salter Housewares. This post includes affiliate links, please see blog sidebar for further information.

 

There’s a lot to like about Northbank Restaurant, not least it’s superb location on the bank of the River Thames, steps away from St Paul’s and the Millennium Bridge and with a view across to the Tate Modern. The restaurant is spacious and elegant, tables are not too close together for a private conversation and the bar area has a very lovely outdoor terrace, though it was booked by a private party on the date of our visit.

The menu is “modern British”; the produce British too, with a preference for Cornish that befits owner Christian Butler’s home county. The kitchen is lead by head chef Jason Marchant, who shares Butler’s focus on supporting local British producers.

Window tables are in demand, though be warned that in winter you’ll feel the cold when tucked up against the huge sheets of glass. The outlook onto the river and central London skyline are gorgeous though, so wear your thermals and book for the view!

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Images by David Griffen Photography, courtesy of Northbank Restaurant

Marchant has just launched a tasting menu, 6 courses for £55 or 7 for £60, and plans to create a new menu every month. The dishes below are March’s offering, so keep an eye on the website to find out what’s to come.

There is currently no matching wine flight available which is I think is missing a trick, but Northbank’s wine list is very affordable – surprisingly so for central London – with many wines available by the glass. Pete enjoys a white Candidato from Viura, Spain and a red Mon Roc (merlot and cabernet blend) from France, both keenly priced at just £18 a bottle.

The soft drinks list is a let down, with a couple of juices and the regular sodas, it’s crying out for some extra effort. The manager was more than willing to create a non-alcoholic cocktail of my choosing, but I’d like to see non-alcohol drinkers given some attention on the drinks list, rather than leaving it to us to venture off-menu.

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First, an amuse bouche served in a little espresso cup – Carrot and Honey Soup with a drop of olive oil. This was a punchy little soup, packed full of flavour and very intense – perfect to wake up the palate, ready for the dishes to follow.

Bread, served warm, was uniformly soft with no crunch of a crust at all; oddly reminiscent of airline bread though not unpleasant.

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Truffle Chicken Tortellini with Spinach Purée and Truffle Cream was a mixed dish. There was really no texture of chicken detectable in the filling at all but the flavour of the filling was still good, as is was the rich truffle cream served alongside. I didn’t like the spinach puree (which you can just spot behind the tortellini, obscured by the pile of salad); indeed I felt its flavour clashed with the truffle and wondered if peppery watercress might fare better? For me frizzy pile of salad piled on top was not attractive, didn’t add at all to the eating experience and almost completely obscured the slices of truffle draped over the tortellini.

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From there on in, however, the meal was markedly better. Seared West Country Scallops with Burnt Leek, Celeriac, Sea Purslane was a super, stand out dish. I loved the brioche crumb with nori and capers, I loved the celeriac puree and I adored that charred burnt leek – and all of it went fabulously well with the scallops. I couldn’t pick up the taste of the sea purslane leaves, perhaps only one tiny leaf per scallop isn’t quite enough for the taste to come through? But this was a great dish.

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Next up was Rabbit Mulligatawny, another of our favourite dishes of the menu. This dish had a really robust flavour – beautifully tender rabbit (with none of the dryness that is common in rabbit dishes), cooked in a vibrant sauce with a touch of heat to it and garnished with crisp, deep-fried kale. Another really excellent dish.

Given how much of a flavour punch this packed, I think it may have worked better after rather than before the halibut, even given the meaty nature of that fish.

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Panfried halibut was served with mashed potato, charred kale and nasturtium leaves, with a dark red wine sauce. The fish itself was cooked beautifully, firm yet succulent and very fresh indeed. The charred kale was good with it, the flavour from the char adding a hint of bitterness. But the mash was unforgivably grainy and the sauce was oddly sweet and sour. Friends who dined here the night before us absolutely loved this dish but neither Pete nor I liked the sauce much at all and I’m wondering whether there was an inconsistency in flavours from one day to the next? A good dish, but not as strong for us as the two courses preceding.

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Roasted Rump of Cornish Lamb, Potato Terrine, Shallot Purée & Salt Baked Beetroot  was a generous plate of excellent quality lamb with a very subtly flavoured fruit bread crumb. The beetroot was super salty, but balanced by the sweetness of the shallot and that potato terrine was a thing of beauty! A good solid dish.

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For dessert there’s a choice of two, so we each chose one and shared both. First up the Lemon Meringue Plate, a deconstruction that worked well enough with lemon curd, lemon sorbet, meringue and a sprinkle of crumble. Good clean flavours and textures, this worked well.

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The menu listed this as Cocoa and Chocolate, though we were told on serving that it was a chocolate and hazelnut praline dish. The mousse was excellent in texture and taste, with a really rich dark chocolate flavour that is often missing from restaurant chocolate desserts. The chocolate crumb around had shards of hazelnut brittle, more caramel than hazelnut but still added a nice crunch.

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We were told this West Country Cheese Board (£5 supplement) was a serving for one, but it was such a generous portion, plenty for two after the previous courses. Featuring Yarg, Golden Cross Goat, Devon Blue and Stinking Bishop; the only weak cheese for me was the Devon Blue which I found bitter and rather lacking in complexity of flavour; the others were perfectly tasty cheeses. The fig chutney was a perfect blend of sweet, savoury and spicy. Toasts (the same fruit bread that featured in the lamb dish) and crackers were decent. Fresh apple was crisp and sweet. But the grapes were far too ripe, so squishy it was hard to pull them from the stem.

The main negative for me about Northbank Restaurant is how dark it is. Really dark. Dark enough that we were not the only guests using mobile phones as torches in order to read the menu; as far as I’m concerned, that low a level of lighting is better suited to a nightclub than a restaurant and a step too far in the name of moody and atmospheric. If you’re thinking that my images don’t look that dark, be aware that I’ve pulled the exposure significantly in processing – the reason for the level of noise grain in the images. Call me old-fashioned but I really like to be able to see what I’m eating!

Despite my little nit-picks, the meal overall was very enjoyable and the £55/£60 price point is excellent value given the location and quality of ingredients.  I think Marchant’s tasting menu is definitely one to keep an eye on, and shall certainly look out for his new menu each month.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Northbank Restaurant.

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You may also enjoy reviews by Cooksister Jeanne and Hot & Chilli Rosana, who visited the night before we did.

 

In a quiet road in the heart of Fitzrovia, Le Menar offers a modern approach to North African and Middle Eastern cuisine. The menu, developed by head chef Vernon Samuels, is predominantly Moroccan with a few Lebanese contributions and is so full of temptations that another visit is definitely on the cards to try the dishes we didn’t have space for this time around! Vernon’s twists include the skilful introduction of European ingredients and techniques plus a modern presentation style.

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Inside, the decor is traditional and customers can choose from regular tables towards the front or a colourful cushioned seating area at the back, which is altogether cosier.

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Sugared mixed nuts and plump green olives in a spicy paste are served with the menus.

The drinks list is a little disappointing – only two Moroccan wines (one of which is rather expensive) and no Lebanese ones at all, though there are some affordable French choices. Likewise a lack of Moroccan or Lebanese beers and a dull soft drinks list are equally disappointing. The drinks offering could certainly do with some of the creativity and love that’s been given to the food menu.

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Struggling to select from the Starters, our waiter suggests we take the Mezze for 2 (£18), a selection of eight mezze, selected by the chef. These are small portions, as promised, and served with warmed flatbread. Hummus is full of flavour, simple but tasty. Herb-packed Tabbouleh is fresh, though a touch lemony for me, Pete likes it more. Baby Okra Salad is always a hard sell to two okra haters but is well cooked and balanced with pomegranate seeds. Home made Falafel are crisp and light. Moussaka (not to be confused with the layered Greek version but the looser stewed style) is beautifully cooked and delicious. Moutabal (also known as baba ghanouj) is superbly smoky, silky and so good I could eat it every day. Mini Kibbeh (the Lebanese torpedos of minced lamb and bulgar wheat) are spot on though I’d like a little more of the smoked chilli jam they are served with. Neatly wrapped Waraq Enab – vine leaves with a tomato and rice stuffing – are improved by not being served fridge cold, as is often the case.

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Between two, you don’t need an additional starter, but we were so keen to try it that we squeezed in this Za’atar Burrata (£8), a fantastic fusion dish of creamy burrata, several different heirloom tomatoes (all perfectly ripe and full of flavour), fresh basil leaves, crunchy shards of baked flatbread (in the fattoush style), a light smattering of za’atar on the burrata (could have taken a touch more) and a fantastic dressing (which Vernon coyly revealed to feature merlot vinegar and pomegranate molasses at its base), sprinkled with citrusy sumac. I absolutely adored this dish!

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It was hard to choose from the main dishes too with tagines, slow cooked dishes and items from the grill competing for attention.

The Moroccan Style Sea Bass (£16) with rose harissa, za’atar, spinach, datterini tomatoes and kataifi wafers was our first choice. Isn’t the presentation beautiful, with the fish curving around the tomatoes and wearing that jaunty kataifi hat? The fish was perfectly cooked and it worked well with the selected vegetables and flavours. The cous cous served alongside was completely plain, I’d have liked a little flavoured sauce to mix into it, as there wasn’t much spare with the fish.

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Our other main dish was a neck fillet Lamb Tagine (£16.50), slow cooked until falling apart to the touch, the spices robust but allowing the high quality lamb to shine. Served with crispy potatoes, its cooking liquid as a gravy and a garnish of fried baby aubergine, this was another true winner of a dish!

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Were strawberries in season, these Mini Bingnes (£6) with rosewater, strawberries, lime, mascarpone cream and pistachio dust would probably have been wonderful. As it is, they were let down by seriously under ripe fruit, hard and sharp and lacking in strawberry flavour.

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Deep Fried Vanilla Ice Cream (£8.50) served with butterscotch Medjool dates was pretty good. The salted caramel sauce over the dates was perfect, though I’d have liked a little more of it, and of course, the dates were gorgeous. The Madagascan vanilla ice cream was good quality, no complaints on that front. The sole (and not very serious) issue was that crispy shell around the ice cream was so thick that it evidently needed quite some time to cook through and brown which meant that the ice cream inside was rather more melted than ideal. It was all delicious though, that crusty shell included.

We really enjoyed the food at Le Menar – the flavours are true to Morocco and Lebanon, British and European ingredients are used to good effect, the fusion touches are well judged and presentation is beautiful. Prices are reasonable for the central London location.

A little more attention to the drinks menu, bringing it up to the standard of the food offering, would be a welcome improvement, but even without that, this North African restaurant is well worth a visit.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Le Menar.

Le Menar on Urbanspoon
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In just a few short years supper clubs have increased in number from a mere handful across the whole of London to many more than I can keep track of; every week I hear excited talk about another one that sounds well worth a visit. The range available is enormous, and I think it’s a particularly great way to try home style cooking from other cuisines.

Prices now are higher than they were just a few years ago, and you can expect to pay anything from £25-50 per person. Of course, like regular restaurants, supper clubs vary enormously in quality and price – some are a little stingy on portions and seem very overpriced for what you get; others are so fantastic you want to shout about them from the rooftops. It’s worth doing your research, and reading reviews to make sure you book the best ones.

Recently, I attended a supper club that has been at the top of my wishlist for quite some time – Jason Ng’s Peranakan Palace. After a sabbatical of several months, Jason announced a date to celebrate Chinese New Year and I jumped on four tickets faster than you could say Peranakan Palace! With three friends in tow, I made my way to Jason’s East London and was happy to discover that I already knew 4 of the other 7 guests attending.

If you’re considering booking your first supper club, however, don’t let that put you off. You absolutely don’t need to know the other guests or the host beforehand – part of the fun is getting to know everyone during the course of your meal.

The communal seating around a large table in Jason’s living room made the experience much more like a sociable dinner party than a meal out in a restaurant and those of us who hadn’t met before were quickly chatting away, united by our shared joy in Jason’s cooking.

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Jason and menu; decorative corner – image courtesy of Jason Ng feasttotheworld

Jason introduced the meal by explaining the origins of Peranakan cuisine – Peranakan Chinese is a Malaysian term used for descendants of the Chinese who emigrated to the Malay Archipelago in the 15th, 16th and 17th century. Peranakan cuisine combines Chinese methods, ingredients and dishes with Malaysian spices, a true fusion of two culinary traditions. I asked Jason if this was like Nyonya food, which I’ve tried only a few times and he explained that the terms Peranakan and Baba-Nyonya are often used interchangeably; these terms are honorific titles – baba means man (or grandfather) and nyonya means woman (or grandmother) – and the food is often labelled as Nyonya cuisine because it is traditionally cooked by the women. So his food should rightfully be called Baba rather than Nyonya cuisine!

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Photo collage courtesy of Insatiable Eater

Over the next two hours, Jason bought out dish after dish, generously piled with tasty treats. Seconds (and thirds) of beef rendang, pork belly and herbed rice were offered, delivered and devoured before desserts were brought out, and a bowl full of mandarin oranges offered, for good fortune.

Each dish was introduced as it was served and a few tips gleaned about secret ingredients and techniques for some of the dishes; a few Jason kept close to his chest! You can find several of his recipes on his blog, Feast To The World.

Not pictured

  • Achar (Nyonya vegetable pickles with fragrant spice paste)
  • Sambal Belacan (super fiery chilli and shrimp paste sauce)

Top row, left to right

  • Kueh Pie Tee (crispy ‘Top Hats’ pastries filled with vegetables)
  • Nasi Ulam (Nyonya Aromatic Herbed Rice)
  • Jason’s signature 16 Hours Slow Braised Ox Cheek Rendang

Middle row, left to right

  • Itek Sio (Nyonya braised duck with tamarind and coriander)
  • Babi Pongteh (Nyonya braised pork belly with fermented bean paste)
  • Chai Buey (Nyonya tangy mustard greens stew)

Bottom left to right

  • Pineapple Tarts
  • Kueh Bingka (flourless tapioca cake)
  • Kueh Dadar (pandan pancakes with coconut and gula melaka filling)

Everything was utterly, utterly fabulous and at £35 a head, this feast couldn’t be beaten for value either.

Peranakan Palace CNY 2015 (2) by Jason Ng
Feasting guests – image courtesy of Jason Ng PeranakanPalace

Keep an eye on the Peranakan Palace page on Edible Experiences or email to sign up to Jason’s newsletter to receive alerts of new dates.

Read more about Chinese New Year At The Peranakan Palace on Edible Experiences

 

London’s dining scene is constantly evolving, with new restaurants opening every month to compete with old favourites. I love the way I can travel the world without leaving home, courtesy of  the culinary multiculturalism that thrives here in the capital. Pachamama, which opened in September, draws on the cuisine of Peru for inspiration, combining classic Peruvian flavours and techniques with British produce and a few modern European touches.

The entirety of the restaurant is in a spacious basement setting, so there is no natural light, but an attractive and welcoming space has been created by combining modern furniture (made by British craftsmen) with reclaimed antiques and a bright colour palette.

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The cocktail menu is a good place to start and of course, the classic Pisco Sour is featured, along with several other pisco-based cocktails. I tried the Regent’s Park – two types of rum, chestnut syrup,hazelnut liqueur, lime, orange – which was a cracker, and generous on the alcohol measures too. To my surprise, the flavours really did transport me to Central and South America too! Later we had a Rosa del Inca – pisco infused with pink peppercorns and coffee beans with vermouth, Campari and orange bitters – and a Dulce de Chasca – dulce de leche, rum, pisco and vanilla syrup, but holding the chocolate bitters with which they usually finish it. There are beers and wines too, for those who would like.

A small plates menu is designed for sharing, though go hungry – we chose 2 snacks plus 6 sharing plates and were absolutely stuffed even before dessert arrived.

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From the snacks section, tequeños (£3.50) – small pastries filled with smoked cheddar and feta – were gorgeous; light, crispy and served hot from the fryer with a yellow chilli sauce.

Salt & aji squid (£4.50) was the main disappointment of the meal, its texture chewy like the frozen squid you get at a cheap pub chain. The spicing on the surface was good, and the aji pepper mayo with it too, but the squid so poor it was left uneaten.

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The first of our non-snack dishes to arrive was Cornish sea bass, samphire and tiger’s milk (£9). Lots of beautifully fresh fish was mixed with samphire, red onion, coriander, salsify, sweet potato, plantain, french radishes and chilli and dressed in a citrus marinade – this mixed with the juices that come out of the fish, is what’s known as leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk. That list of ingredients sounds a little random and confused but actually, this dish came together very well indeed.

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Next to arrive was quinoa, avocado and granny smith (£8), the dish that has finally sold me on quinoa. Alongside the headline ingredients were tomato, coriander, red onion, cubed fresh fig and something with some crunch – finely diced cucumber or green pepper. In what quickly became the word of the day, we both marvelled at how beautifully balanced this was, and agreed that, for a dish that sounds so simple, it was actually one of the stars of the show.

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Also from the Soil section and another highlight of the meal was fried aubergine, smoked yoghurt and pecan (£8). It’s a cliché to use the word silky about aubergine flesh, but truly, it’s the word that jumped to mind – it was just so beautifully cooked – and even with the fairly strong sauce, the flavour of the aubergine was not lost. The smoked yoghurt echoed the smoky aubergine and oh my, the umami of that brown sauce – we were told it included dashi, soy and crème de aji along with a blend of spices. All that with the crunch of crumbled pecans too.

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The two meat courses came next. First to arrive was this crispy lamb belly with green miso (£9), soft and meaty batons of lamb with crisp fat and a deep sheep taste, I’d almost have thought mutton except that they had the tenderness of lamb. Underneath a green sauce packed with fresh herbs, miso and the kick of chilli, a perfect balance to the fatty meat. Dressed with micro leaves and French radish, this was another hit.

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Pete was a bigger fan of the ‘Duck on Rice’ (£13) than me. Those quotation marks are directly from the menu by the way, and I’ve no idea why this one dish is singled out that way when nothing else is, especially as it is indeed duck on rice, and not another meat or grain masquerading as such. In any case, the duck comes two ways, a cube of confit and pink slices of breast. These are both fine but the divider was that rice – I found it horribly stodgy with an overwhelming raw cumin taste but Pete said it grew on him as he ate it. For me, this didn’t merit being one of the most expensive dishes on the menu.

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Last to be served was Cornish crab, saffron dashi, purple potato (£10) which included more of the beautiful fresh samphire we enjoyed in the sea bass ceviche. I loved the saffron dashi, thin and with some spicy oil added too. The crab, a fairly generous dollop of white crab meat, was full of crab flavour, even drenched in the punchy juice. The purple potato was a little bland, though that made it a perfect partner to the crab. This was a good one to end on for the savoury courses.

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We found the dessert list a little limiting; with just four items listed, two featured passion fruit and the other two featured chocolate. Since Pete isn’t a fan of passion fruit and we were sharing everything we ordered, our two desserts were both chocolate based.

First up, the aji truffles (£1.50). The two truffles that arrived were almost as big as hen eggs – we both agreed that four or five smaller truffles would have been far more inviting, not to mention easier to eat. Sadly, these lacked a rich cocoa hit, though perhaps that’s a feature of Peruvian chocolate tastes, I don’t know. The aji also seemed to be unevenly distributed – with my first bite I couldn’t detect it at all, in the second it gave me quite a surprise.

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I’m not often a fan of deconstructed desserts – they so rarely match the pleasure of the original constructed kind – so I was a little disappointed when our order of torta de chocolate, toasted quinoa ice cream (£6.50) turned out to be a plate of crumbled ingredients with a (pretty) quenelle of ice cream on top. The balance between the chocolate and the crumble wasn’t right, with far too much of the former resulting in way too little chocolate mousse – it didn’t help that the chocolate was quite insipid; a darker chocolate might have punched through all the crunchy cereal. The ice cream was smooth, well made and quite subtle in flavour – served with an actual slice of chocolate tart, it would be the perfect foil. It’s not that I didn’t like this dish, rather that I felt it could be so much better. Pete’s description of this one made me smile: “it’s like they melted a mars bar and upended a pack of dried roasted peanuts over it, not that that’s a bad thing, I’m quite liking it…

As you can see, the stars of the show were the six dishes we ordered from the land, sea and soil menu sections – meat, fish and vegetables in regular speech. The two vegetable dishes really wowed us,  perhaps because we’re unaccustomed to being so bowled over by these kinds of dishes, the two seafood dishes were also superb, as was that crispy lamb belly. Spicing, sauces and dressings were well judged and the prices seemed very fair for the portions served.

Next time, I’d probably skip the desserts and focus on the savouries; for me, these and the cocktails are where Pachamama really shines.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Pachamama London.

Pachamama on Urbanspoon
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A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a Matcha Masterclass by Jameel Lalani, founder of Lalani & Co.

Not long before, I wrote an article about matcha for which I spoke to several retailers of high grade Matcha, Lalani & Co included. (Look out for the article in the March issue of Good Things magazine). During those conversations, Jameel recommended his recipe for a matcha and fruit smoothie, which sounded rather delicious. I was later invited to the masterclass to taste his tempting smoothie recipe and to learn how to make a matcha latte.

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Hosted by Curators Coffee near Oxford Circus, the evening class lasted one and a half hours, during which time Jameel not only introduced the class to matcha – what it is, how it’s made, how one assesses quality, how best to use high grade and regular matcha powders – but also took us through how to make matcha (both usucha thin and koicha thick style), matcha latte (with lessons on latte art from a member of the Curators Coffee team) and a matcha breakfast smoothie. Each of us made our own matcha and matcha latte, the smoothie was made in one batch, while we crowded around the blender.

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Little sweet treats were provided by Curators Coffee, very much in the matcha tradition; matcha is usually served with wagashi – Japanese confectionary. It was a lovely evening, and everyone really enjoyed it, none more so than the giggling gang of students celebrating a birthday and the latte addict who’d attended another class with Curators just the evening before.

This is an ideal class for anyone looking to learn a little more about matcha and, more specifically, how to drink it. Book via Curators Coffee. The class is priced at £40 per person, and includes a jar of Lalani & Co Matcha Gold to take home; this is a top grade stone milled Matcha that retails for £29.

Kavey Eats attended a Matcha masterclass as a guest of Lalani & Co.

Feb 212015
 

I love udon noodles! There’s something utterly compelling to me about these thick, white and slightly chewy Japanese noodles that other noodles just don’t match, though I’m a fan of pasta in pretty much all its forms. Recently launched restaurant Den describe themselves as udon evangelists’’ and their menu is suitably udon-heavy.

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In King’s Cross, but quite a walk from the station, I suspect the location will most appeal to those who live or work in the area. For me, it’s actually quicker to travel a few extra stops into Central London, where most places are nearer to the nearest tube station – particularly appealing with it’s dark and cold or wet. The restaurant sits in a former pub, and the conversion is stark and modern, attractive though a little bare, perhaps.

The sleek communal tables will no doubt enable more diners to share the space when busy, but bench seating isn’t particularly comfortable. Then again, Den seems a short visit pit stop rather than a settle-in-for-the-evening kind of restaurant.

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I visited on a really, really, really cold day so immediately asked which teas are available to warm myself up.

I enjoy a range of Japanese teas so I was a little disappointed that only a single option is available – Japanese green tea (£2). I’d have liked to choose from genmaicha, sencha/ gyokuro, houjicha and so on. Although the glass is very pretty, serving a very hot drink in such a thin glass makes it difficult to pick up until it’s cooled down a fair bit (unless you have asbesthos hands, which I sadly do not possess); I’d rather drink it when it’s hotter. And the glass doesn’t insulate its contents well so the tea is quickly too cool to enjoy. A ceramic cup would be better.

We (and other) guests were served a complimentary snack of deep-fried udon noodles, labelled as udon pretzels on the menu. These, as anyone who’s deep fried spaghetti can attest – what? it’s good! – were delicious.

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Red wine stewed pork belly (£6) was my friend’s favourite tsumami (small plate). It’s long-braised and full of flavour. I liked it a lot, though oddly the meat wasn’t as tender as I expected, given that the fat had certainly become melt-in-the-mouth soft.

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My favourite tsumami was seasonal vegetables in sesame sauce (£4.50) which, on the day of our visit, included beetroot, mange tout and green beans. These were an excellent combination of flavours and textures and the dressing, though not visually attractive, was delicious.

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Crispy mackerel (£6) was sadly not crispy at all, not even a little bit. Soggy and slightly mushy, this dish was left uneaten on the table.

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At this point, we had sufficiently warmed up that we were ready for a drink. Director, Cristoforo Santini (formerly at Matsuri St James) suggested the Nigori crème de sake (£5). Oh, this was marvellous, we both loved it! Unlike the more common clear sakes I’m used to, this one is unfiltered and thicker in texture. It’s also a touch sweeter, still with that wonderful distinctive sake flavour.

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When it comes to the main affair, the focus is – of course – on udon. The menu divides into hot noodles in hot soup, hot noodles without soup and cold noodles with dipping sauce. For many of the hot soups, diners have a choice between black and white broth (with vegetarian versions also available). The non-vegetarian broths are both dashi – an infusion of katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and konbu (seaweed) with either a little soy (white broth) or a bigger dose of dark soy added. The vegetarian versions replace katsuobushi with mushrooms for the infusion. For some of the dishes, only a white broth is recommended, to better balance with the chosen toppings.

We shared salmon miso and chinese cabbage (£9), which was full of beautifully made udon noodles, soft salmon, cabbage still with a little crunch and lots of mizuna leaves (aka Japanese mustard).

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Our other choice was a bowl of den Carbonara (£8), hot udon noodles topped with egg, katuobushi and nori. I couldn’t really detect the egg (I assumed it would be beaten and tossed through the noodles) but the simple flavours of katuobushi and nori worked well, with an added sprinkle of shichimi powder. And of course, this dish is a great way to really showcase the udon noodles, made in house.

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Diners can also order from a short selection of donburi (rice bowls topped with various items) and there are also extra condiments, or toppings, available including crispy tempura batter (£0.5), natto (£1.5) and ume (£2). I didn’t spot the natto, but would definitely order it next time – the pungent sticky fermented soy beans pack such a punch of flavour.

There are no sweet options, not even a cleansing yuzu sorbet or matcha ice cream – the stalwart endgame of so many UK Japanese restaurants, and that’s a little disappointing. We are offered a fresh fruit plate (not listed on the menu) but decline. Perhaps a future iteration of the menu will introduce some dishes for the sweet toothed?

If you’re a fan of udon noodles, Den is a great place to enjoy them, though the location may prove off-putting to some – certainly it makes me less likely to drop by regularly, during the winter months.

Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Den Udon.

Den on Urbanspoon
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Pete and really loved yakiniku dining during our two visits to Japan; I have written previously about our yakiniku experiences, along with the history of yakiniku.  Considered a Korean import, the Japanese version is no longer an exact copycat of its Korean inspiration, not least in the range of meat cuts and marinades and the selection of side dishes. While there are plenty of restaurants offering Korean BBQ in London, Kintan may well be the first yakiniku restaurant, as it claims.

Brought to London by a company that is successful across Japan as well as in Hong Kong and Jakarta, Kintan boasts a prime location on High Holborn, and was doing brisk business on the January weekday we visited for lunch.

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The interior is very attractive, simple but with beautiful details. I particularly loved the various tiles used on different walls around the deceptively spacious interior, and also the beautiful wooden booths, tables and area dividers. There are touches of tradition in the sake barrels and smiling Asahi maneki-neko (beckoning cat) but it’s essentially a modern style.

We were invited to try the Premium dinner menu, £44.50 per person. There are other dinner options at lower and higher price points, plus some very reasonable lunch deals (£8 to £18 for yakiniku, less for non-grill options) to appeal to the office workers in the area.

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We started with a sparkling sake, a brand that’s stocked by quite a few Japanese restaurants here. It has the distinctive flavour of sake but is lighter in alcohol, sweeter and with bubbles. A friend called it the babycham of the sake world, a spot on analogy!

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First to be served were the Kintan salad and edamame beans with salt. The beans were… well, edamame beans. The salad was delightful, light crunch from raw shredded cabbage, mixed salad leaves, cherry tomato and hard boiled egg all dressed in a light but richly flavoured mayo.

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Hot oil seared salmon was super, with blanched ginger matchsticks and a light sesame oil citrus dressing.

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Tuna tartar volcano was a highlight – a light tuna mayo with spring onions, chives and caviar on a crunchy deep-fried block of rice that was both crispy and chewy and a gentle kick of heat too. A real winner!

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There were seven dishes listed under “Mains” for the Premium dinner menu. We were served only five, though I didn’t realise until we’d left (when I took another look at the photo I took of the menu). On one hand, we certainly had plenty to eat, and enjoyed everything we were served; but on the other, a failure to deliver two out of seven dishes seems quite an oversight and one I’d be crosser about had I not been invited as a guest.

A fourth plate of (skirt) beef may not have been a big deal but the lack of halloumi, when I remembered it, was such a shame – I adore barbecued halloumi!

Most guests will look at the menu to order but can hardly be expected to memorise dishes, so it’s important for restaurants to serve all that is ordered (and charged for).

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Unlike the yakiniku restaurants we tried in Japan, at Kintan the grill is recessed below table level but that’s a good safety feature and we liked it. It did have the clever Japanese smokeless extraction system that whips away smoke before it rises above grill level, meaning you shouldn’t walk out smelling like a bonfire!

Be warned, the grill radiates a phenomenal amount of heat and you’ll certainly feel hot sitting around it. Perfect for winter but probably less appealing in the heat of summer.

What really surprised us was how long it took for the grill to heat up enough to cook our meat. Even after the elements started glowing red, it took much longer than expected to get even the hint of a sizzle when we placed a slice of beef onto the grill.

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Once it finally got to temperature, everything was good with the world. We loved the three different meats that were served – salt and pepper fillet, premium rib eye and premium kalbi short rib, the latter two in different sticky marinades, the fillet with an accompanying yuzu ponzu dipping sauce. There were also two delicious dipping sauces on the table.

The prawns were tasty too but the scallops were pitiful. I wondered, from the waiter’s instructions to make sure we cooked them very thoroughly for at least two minutes on each side, whether they’d been frozen and then defrosted but he assured me not. From the texture and lack of taste of the scallops, I remain unconvinced. A pity, when the beef was so enjoyable.

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Our miso soup came near the end, as we’d requested when asked earlier on in the meal. It’s listed as a starter, but more commonly enjoyed at the end of a meal in Japan, and I prefer it that way.

Also delivered quite late, when we’d nearly finished the meat and seafood, were garlic fried noodles. Also listed as a starter, I’d have preferred these to come out at the same time as the proteins were served. They were very tasty, but I must give you Pete’s description which sounds odd but is exactly right – they tasted just like garlic bread! And yet were chewy, like udon noodles! So strange, but rather good, regardless. I wondered if they were made in house, but our waiter thought not; he said that the company is quite a large one and most of their sauces and many ingredients are supplied by the chain.

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Mochi ice creams to finish were lovely. The salted caramel was Pete’s favourite but too sweet for me; I loved the matcha and sesame flavours.

At £90 for two, plus drinks and service, this is not a cheap dinner, somewhat at odds with the situation in Japan where we found yakiniku prices if not quite low budget, certainly very affordable. Some of that will be down to the central London (Holborn) location, but I suspect it’s also a case of charging what people will pay for an unfamiliar experience.

We had a good meal (albeit missing two dishes on our set menu) but I can’t help comparing the price to several Korean BBQ dinners we’ve enjoyed at our local Yijo restaurant in Central Finchley; we’ve been hard-pressed to spend more than £25 a head there and eaten at least as much as we did at Kintan. Of course, Yijo and Kintan are not exactly like for like – while the grill meats are very similar the non-grill dishes at Yijo are firmly Korean with lots of kimchi, pickles and spice; at Kintan it’s more of a modern Japanese mix.

If you’ve not tried yakiniku, this is a a good place to try and the lunch deals seem to offer a great value option.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Kintan restaurant.

Kintan on Urbanspoon

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