Friday, 28 September 2012

The Joys of Turkish Sweets (Part II)

Following on from our recent post about baklava, the other sweetie we obsessed over during our trip to Turkey was lokum, or Turkish delight. A and C really enjoyed proper Turkish delight, which is a far cry from the abomination that is Fry's.

Trays of lokum in Safranbolu

Turkish delight was invented in the eighteenth century, when Bakir Effendi moved from his home town of Kastamonu in north-central Anotolia to Istanbul to open up a sweet shop in 1776. The lokum itself is cubes or blobs of gel made of sugar and starch, and then flavoured and dusted with dessicated coconut or icing sugar. The possibilities for flavouring are almost endless, but more traditional flavours include rose, mastic and pistachio.

A successor of Bakir Efendi in Safranbolu 

We happened to travel through both Kastamonu and Istanbul during our recent trip and discovered that the area around Kastamonu, in particular, is steeped in culinary tradition. The area appears to keep the spirit of Bakir Efendi alive: Safranbolu is a little town within spitting distance of Kastamonu and is famous for its lokum and for the production of saffron (for more information on the food and drink of the area around Kastamonu, see our post on Safranbolu and Turkish breakfasts).

Koska's mixed lokum (a mix of Strawberry, lemon and mint flavours)

While we nibbled Turkish delight in various places around Turkey, we found that the best Turkish delight appeared to come from either Istanbul or the Kastamonu area (given the history of the foodstuff, this is no surprise). Safranbolu was full of little shops selling lokum, and Istanbul has a number of big-name shops selling it, popular Istanbul lokum outlets include Koska and Karakoy Gulluoglu, both of which have shops all over the city.  In addition, arguably the world's most famous lokum shop is in Istanbul: the Divan Hotel is renowned for its Turkish delight.

Koska's strawberry lokum
C really took to the apricot flavour and wolfed down more or less the entire allocation of the pieces we picked up in Safranbolu; this left A to sample the saffron offerings for which Safranbolu is famous. A was initially skeptical, but he was won over: the lokum purchased was a remarkably delicate balance of the spice, pistachio and coconut, which had a real depth and complexity of flavour.

Saffron/pistachio (right) and apricot lokum

We also found that Koska's and Karakoy Gulluoglu's were more than up to scratch. Karakoy Gulluoglu does a particularly tasty rose water offering and even their mastic lokum is good. Mastic gum has a flavour all of its own which A generally cannot stand, but Karakoy Gulluoglu do a remarkably good job of turning this disgusting plant extract into something really yummy. We found that Koska's offerings are absolutely packed with flavour and their popularity in Istanbul is well deserved. The intensity of flavour, however, can be a little bizarre at times; for example, Koska's mint lokum is distinctly similar in flavour to mouthwash and Canadian root beer. 

More lokum at Koska in Galata

There are a number of places in London where you can get real lokum.  Many nice Ocakbasi restaurants will present you with a couple of pieces after your meal (Baran in certainly does: if you are ever in NW11, this place is well worth a look!) and many of the Turkish delis in Stoke Newington sell lokum as well. Also, if you're ever feeling flush you can always go to Harrods and pick up the Divan Hotel's famous lokum (for a price).

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

C cooks: Pan-fried Mascarpone Gnocchi

Ah, gnocchi. C doesn't know exactly what it is about the stuff, but she's been obsessed with the soft potato dumplings since a trip to Rome in spring last year. Her first trip to the Italian capital with L (aforementioned on this blog), they spent the last night of their city break sitting in Piazza Navona square eating the best gnocchi you could ever imagine - a dish that was the very epitome of the phrase 'melt-in-the-mouth good'. Since then, C's had a real love of the stuff and has been on the hunt for a dish to rival the Piazza Navona version here in the UK (so far to no avail).

With this in mind, C found herself unexpectedly at home one evening recently and resolved to treat herself to gnocchi. Exhausted from a long week at work, though, she didn't much feel like spending ages faffing around with potatoes, and so found a different gnocchi recipe from Lorraine Pascale - a quick version made from mascarpone and parmesan.

Melt-in-the-mouth-mascarpone good

Serve with a salad for soft gooey refreshingness

Not only was it super quick to make (even the first time following the recipe), it was also pretty tasty too. A self-indulgent dish, it nonetheless makes a delicious, easy dinner once in a while.

So here's how she did it, if you want to give it a go yourself:

(Note: the ingredients quoted here make 4-6 portions; C halved the ingredients and still had enough to freeze over half of what she made for easy weekday dinners)
  • 100g/3½oz parmesan (or a similar vegetarian alternative), grated 
  • Small handful of fresh thyme sprigs, leaves picked (or 1 tbsp of dried oregano)
  • 350g/12oz mascarpone
  • 300g/10½oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 2 medium free-range eggs
  • Olive oil
  • 50g/2oz butter

Oregano (C had no fresh thyme)

Gnocchi lump

Sizzling away in butter (er, not so healthy)

 And here's how she made it:
  1. Tip the grated parmesan into a bowl. Add the thyme or dried oregano, along with the mascarpone, plain flour, eggs and salt and pepper to taste. Mix this all together for a few minutes to give a soft dough - you might have to put your back into it a bit! Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead together form a smooth ball.
  2. Divide the mixture into three and roll each one out into a 'sausage' about 60cm/23½ in long. Cut each ‘sausage’ into 2cm/1 in pieces to give about 30 (so 90 in total). At this stage, if there's any gnocchi that you're not eating that evening, you can place them on baking paper and on a baking tray and stick them in the freezer - and then cook them from frozen for a 5 minute mid-week dinner!
  3. Put a large frying pan on a medium to high heat with a drizzle of oil and the butter. Transfer the gnocchi into the frying pan and turn the heat down low. Leave the gnocchi to cook on one side for a minute or two, before carefully turning them over with a slice. Cook them for a further few minutes, continuing to gently turn them every so often until they're crisp and golden all over and warmed through.
  4. Once all the gnocchi are cooked, serve. It tastes really good with homemade pesto, fresh rocket or with a salad, and topped with pine nuts.

Et voila!

Monday, 24 September 2012

A Divine Late Lunch

A and C were out and about shopping the other day, and lunch was rather put on the back burner as A scurried around getting shoes and C struggled to find a blazer without outrageous puffy shoulder pads. After the the credit card had done some serious heavy lifting, C pointed out that nobody had eaten breakfast, it was mid afternoon, and lunch was really needed.  As A and C were in the Carnaby Street area, they popped into a really lovely local coffee shop called Sacred Cafe. As the sun was shining and Sacred offer an al-fresco coffee experience, we headed there for a spot of lunch.

Al fresco drinking on Carnaby Street on a sunny afternoon

Sacred (spelt with an upside-down A) is a kiwi coffee shop with a few cafes around London. The Carnaby Street outlet was the original, but they are popping up all over town, with branches in Stanford's bookshop in Covent Garden, Westfield and in Highbury, to name a few. As so often the case with kiwi coffee houses, Sacred has an extremely laid back feel: it's covered in a combination of New Zealand and Catholic kitch, which may sound incongruous, but really does work. However, while the cafe has a chilled out vibe, the baristas are serious about their drinks as they take real pains to press the perfect coffee and brew immaculate tea.

One of the cuter bits of decor inside

NZ pride is on display inside
More or less everything was excellent during our light lunch at Sacred.  A and C ordered a panini each, and while A's chicken cheese and spinach offering was a touch on the dry side, C's really was quite delicious. The sun-dried tomatoes packed some real punch and complemented the spinach and cheese in the melt perfectly, leaving A with a serious case of food envy.

A divine pesto, cheese and tomato panini
Dessert was equally lovely: the shared chocolate fudge cake was delicious and immaculately presented, looking like something off a BBC cookery programme.  The NZ lolly cake pleased A and C's vociferous inner children as it appears to be tiffin with coconut and an extra wow factor in the form of dolly mixtures. Amazing.

Almost too good to eat (didn't stop us though!)
New Zealand lolly cake
The real stars of the show, though, were the drinks. As the place is Antipodean, A put Sacred's long black to the test and it came up trumps. The steaming mug which arrived was creamy, smooth and almost chocolatey in flavour.  While A was cooing over his coffee, C's lapsang suchong turned up in a crazy teapot depicting a Victorian tennis match, which thrilled her to bits. Ours was not the only mad teapot around, as each customer seems to get a different kitch piece of porcelain with their tea. As with the coffee, the tea was of excellent quality, although C came to the conclusion that lapsang suchong was perhaps a little bit too smokey for her and she might have preferred the Ceylon instead.

Lapsang Suchong
All in all, this place is an absolute winner and is worth checking out if ever you are nearby. Those kiwis could teach a lot of folks a thing or two about cafe culture...

Friday, 21 September 2012

A pie-ping hot British lunch

C is currently working on a job about two doors down from A's firm, and in the few weeks that C has been working there, it has been impossible to grab lunch together. All this changed last Friday, when C and A agreed to set aside the full hour and go out for lunch at Leather Lane, a street market around the corner from Hatton Gardon and not too far from their two offices. A and C had originally planned for a light lunch, but they absolutely failed in this respect and found themselves sitting inside Pie Minister's cafe at the top of Leather Lane, seconds away from the Real Man Pizza Company.

Pie, up close and personal
While this was indeed an indulgent and rather calorie-heavy lunch, the pies on offer were too good to resist. Both A and C opted for the ham, leek and cheddar option. A was initially disappointed that they'd run out of venison, but he needn't have been as the ham hock available was great.

The first thing to say is the Pie Minister is FAST; as fast as any fast food joint, but miles better. We had our pies in a a couple of minutes, and sat ourselves down at one of the cafe's counter tops to tuck in. Then there is the small matter of the presentation: the stack of mash and pie and peas looks really rather tempting and fun, and neither A nor C could wait to get involved.

Calorie Free Lunch

Happily, the pies tasted as good as they looked. The pastry was firm and buttery, the mash was creamy and smooth and the peas were spot on: not too watery or grainy. A doesn't usually like mushy peas too much but for some reason he felt like them that day and the decision to add them at the last minute was the right one. The gravy was also jammed full of flavour and the result was just divine. Both A and C left stuffed and extremely happy customers.

If we have one criticism, it's that Pie Minister isn't the cheapest lunch - you don't see change from a tenner for a pie, mash, peas and a soft drink - but the pies are of good quality and if this is your main meal of the day, then it becomes a viable option. Frankly, the pies are so good that it is worth treating yourself to one.

Pie piled high

A couple of problems did arise as we left: neither C nor A really wanted lunch to end, and both ran the risk of falling asleep over their desks. A returned to his desk via the coffee machine, where he made himself an extremely large espresso to keep him awake through the afternoon.

Pie minister can be found all over the UK and on the Continent, and many supermarkets and other places stock them too. In parts of the UK, they even deliver so you don't even need to go out for one if you don't want to. However, if you do see a pie minister cafe, make the most of the opportunity and a-pie within.

The stylish, modern interior

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

C Bakes: Cardamom, Orange & Banana Bread

C's creation
C was feeling a little under the weather this week, and, a little melancholy one evening, she decided she needed some comfort food to cheer herself up. 'Comfort food' for C generally entails 'something sweet' - apple crumbles, chocolate cakes, Ben and Jerry's cookie dough and the like - and this week was no exception, with her digging out a Cardamom, Orange and Banana Bread recipe that looked delicious.

A (who suggested we renamed this post 'Food Porn' after tasting this latest batch of baked goods and seeing the pictures) told her it was too good not to share; and so here's the recipe.

Oranges, aligned

Ready to go into the oven

You will need:
  • 2 oranges 1 sliced, 1 finely zested
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 120g butter
  • 200g light muscovado sugar
  • 6 cardamom pods , seeds only, lightly crushed
  • 2 eggs
  • 260g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 120ml milk
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 
Straight out of the oven
And here's how it's made:
  1. Firstly, you need to prepare the oranges that will sit on top of the cake and give it that interesting appearance. To do this, put the sliced orange (with rind on, of course) with the caster sugar and 100ml water in a saucepan and bring it to the boil, then stir it until the sugar's dissolved. Simmer this for about 10 minutes until the orange rind's cooked and is lightly candied, then leave it to cool in the syrup for a while before draining and leave to one side.
  2. Next, onto the cake itself! Pre-heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4. Lightly butter a 900g loaf tin (if you're not sure if your loaf tin is 900g, it's worth noting that standard loaf tins generally are). Beat the butter with the sugar until smooth, then beat in the orange zest and the cardamom. The recipe calls for seeds of 5 pods of cardamom, but if you like the stuff feel free to pop in an extra one or two; the flavour will be noticeable rather than just a 'hint' of the stuff, so it's all down to personal choice. Beat in the eggs, one at a time; then sift in half the flour with the bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt and beat again. Next, mix in the milk, and then the remaining flour. Stir in the mashed banana and vanilla extract (and add extras such as walnuts if you fancy at this stage).
  3.  Tip the mixture into the loaf tin and level the top. Sit the candied orange slices in an overlapping line along the top of the cake. Bake for 1 hour (or until a knife or skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean). Note here that the top may start to brown quite quickly, and before the cake's done, so have some foil on hand to cover the top of the cake if this happens. Allow to cool in the tin for half an hour before turning it out, and leave it on a wire rack until cold. Then tuck in!
Orange topping, simmering away


And - cooked!

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Joys of Turkish Sweets (Part I)

Baklava, still in its tray

One of the consistent themes of A and C's recent trip to Turkey was the sweets.  Both A and C regularly indulged in traditional Turkish sweets and one of our fail-safe choices for desserts and snacks was baklava (in fact, we must have eaten our way around every patisserie in the parts of Turkey we visited).

A small mountain of baklava in Taksim

For those who don't know, baklava is a traditional sweet served up all over the Middle East.  It comes in all sorts of iterations, but the basic ingredients don't change too much: nuts, filo pastry and honey are all constant themes. When done properly, the result is divine. It's sweet, sticky, nutty and crunchy all at the same time and if, like C, you have a sweet tooth, you'll love this stuff.

While A and C ate their way around Turkey's baklava patisseries, A's favourites from the trip were served up in Istanbul.  Karakoy Gulluoglu is an Istanbul institution: the place looks like a traditional continental cafe with simple wooden tables and chairs, a black and white patterned floor and long counters displaying the pastries. You pay at the cashier and then you take your chit to the counter, where the desired pastries are served up.  The place is constantly packed as Istanbullus take the opportunity to get a sweet fix.

Karakoy Gulluoglu's busy interior on a Saturday night
Karakoy Gulluoglu's delicious pistachio offerings
The pastries here were possibly the best we had during the entire trip (and we ate A LOT of pastries). Pistachio baklava pieces were absolutely drowning in honey, even to the point where they were impossible to lift from the non-stick paper they came on. The nut pieces were full of flavour, the filo was puffy and the overall result was bliss on a plate.

Unusual baklava in Beyoglu

Baklava can be found quite easily in London.  Many Turkish restaurants (for example Tas, which can be found in several places) serve it up, and many Arab and Iranian places stock it too. When A was a kid, he used to get it from time to time from an Iranian place called Super Hormuz in Temple Fortune. Be aware that their website doesn't mention the stuff, but they certainly used to sell it fresh back in the day.

Divine pastries

Friday, 14 September 2012

Breakfast in Anatolia

Breakfast is one of C and A's favourite times of the day; be it weekday porridge (stay tuned for an upcoming post on A's Guide to Perfect Porridge) or more indulgent weekend alternatives, both love taking time to enjoy good food in the mornings.

During our recent trip to Turkey, one of our culinary highlights became the breakfasts; travelling through remote Eastern Turkey in particular meant that the only way to go for the first meal of the day was traditional Turkish - something which we were both more than happy to embrace. So enamoured are we with the Turkish way of eating breakfast now upon our return, in fact, that we thought it deserves its own post; and so here's our ultimate guide to breakfast, the Anatolian way.

Traditional Turkish breakfast outside our Ottoman mansion hotel in Safranbolu

Turkish breakfasts are beautiful in their simplicity; bearing similarities to breakfasts in other Middle Eastern countries (so A, who has more widely travelled there, testifies), it's both light enough to be enjoyable in hot weather, and substantial enough to be filling.

Essentially lots of small plates of food that are then eaten together mezze-style, Turkish breakfasts generally consist of a selection of the following: tomatoes (the freshest and best you'll have ever tasted), cucumber, black olives, eggs (usually boiled, but sometimes served in an omelette-type form called menemen), two types of cheese (beyaz peynir resembles feta, the other, called kashar, is similar to haloumi) and bread. Two types of bread are usually served as well; the first being something like a shorter, fatter French baguette, and the other - Simit - resembles a bagel, but with a bigger hole in the middle and sesame seeds on top.

A bagel, but not as we know it...
These are the essentials that seem to constitute even the most basic of Turkish breakfasts, although fancier breakfasts served in hotels and restaurants will more than likely also include a variety of jams and spreads, bowls of nuts and various other types of cheese as well.

This was true of what was undoubtedly the best breakfast we had while in Turkey, which we enjoyed in an Ottoman mansion in Safranbolu, a beautifully preserved historic town which enjoys UNESCO World Heritage Site status. With authentic cobbled streets, grape vines hanging overhead and an array of little interesting sites around town, it's worth taking the time to visit Safranbolu if you're in that part of Turkey - and, with many of the historic Ottoman houses now converted into hotels, it makes for an ideal romantic destination for a night or two.

Some of the Turkish breakfast spread
Our breakfast in Safranbolu was unbelievably good; enjoyed on the terrace outside the Ottoman house, we were presented with plates and plates of great food that kept coming - every time we'd finish one dish, three more would be presented to us, with a smile. Eventually beaten by the sheer amount of food on offer, we finally admitted defeat and enjoyed a few cups of Turkish black tea in the sunshine before starting our day. Bliss.

Turkish tea to start the day

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

A New Amico

Following a meat-heavy two weeks in Turkey (for those of you new to Turkish cuisine, they really love their meat. Really), C and A decided to impose a week-long detox on themselves: nothing but vegetables allowed.
Happily, this wasn't too much of a problem for either C or A who, while being big fans of the occasional Hawkesmoor steak or homemade chicken soup, are often just as satisfied cooking up veggie options for weekday dinners.

The situation, however, got increasingly problematic when C scheduled dinner with a friend for mid-way through the veggie detox programme, and was left to book somewhere suitable. In a temporary appreciation for the difficulty that vegetarians face when eating out, she found herself frustratedly scanning multiple restaurant menus looking for appealing meat-free options to no avail. All hope was not lost, though, when she remembered a brilliant Italian restaurant near Farringdon she'd been to a few months ago - and one which was solely vegetarian - and so it was with great relief that C and her friend L (who coincidentally - and happily - is a veggie herself) popped into Amico Bio for dinner.

C's Potato and Aubergine Cake with Carrot Salad - heartily recommended

The first solely vegetarian, organic, Italian restaurant in London (a fact that appealed to C, who lived in Brighton for a few years and is therefore quite a fan of this type of food), the aptly named Amico Bio is the brainchild of Pasquale Amico, who charmingly sources all his ingredients from the family farm in Capua, Italy. Subsequently, the place very much has an Italian family feel - it was opened by Amico and his two cousins - and the waiting staff in here couldn't be any more welcoming, with heavily-accented jokes and chatter aplenty. It is worth mentioning here, though, that they can sometimes be a little 'over the top' and can appear, at least, fairly insincere at times with their compliments, praise and so on.

It's the menu that makes Amico Bio: although not the most extensive you will have seen, there's a consistent selection of stuggichini (basically nibbles), antipasti, pasta and secondi on offer, apparently structured for dinners eaten in the traditional Italian way - antipasti (starter), followed by a pasta course and then a a main dish. C was also happy to learn that the menu is entirely seasonal, and every dish had changed since her last visit.

Arancini - lovely, but deceptively filling!

While C and L were tempted to go for both a pasta and a secondi, both decided they weren't quite hungry enough so settled for a main each with a shared antipasti - the Arancini di riso mozzarella, verza e pomodoro (£3.25). Essentially fairly sizeable balls of rice filled with mozzarella cheese, vegetables and tomatoes, the texture is dense, flavoursome and really very moreish - they come heartily recommended. L, who spent some time in Sicily this summer, explained that arancini are eaten there as a snack big enough for lunch - and while these are definitely a down-sized version of the stuff, it's worth considering that they do make for a filling starter.

C then opted for the crispy Potato and Aubergine Cake with Grated Carrot Salad, which was beautifully presented and tasted every bit as good as it looked - crunchy and light, with the potato cake complementing the accompanying salad and chickpea sauce. L opted for a simpler pasta option, essentially an orecchiette dish with broccoli and a cheese sauce, which she'd also recommend: al dente, full of flavour and perfect in its simplicity. With both mains priced around the £8 mark, it really presents very good value.
C and L also sampled the wines here; opting just for the house red, a full-bodied Aglianico Taburni Domus from 2008, they were very pleasantly surprised by its high quality and fruity flavour - so much so that they ordered a second glass.

The mains

The final thing to note about Amico Bio is that it's a little hard to find; it's near Farringdon, yes, but is tucked away down a backstreet (Cloth Fair) just off Smithfield Market like a well-kept secret. This perception also rings true with the clientele and atmosphere there; while relatively quiet early evening, the place soon livens up and gets extremely busy by 8pm, so booking ahead is advised most days of the week. Try to take a seat by the window to look out to the narrow cobbled street outside and enjoy your food; it's guaranteed to be one of the best vegetarian meals you'll have had in London.

Monday, 10 September 2012

A Wander Down the Pho Mile

C tweeted A a couple of days ago, asking if he wanted to check out a night time street market which is currently being held at Old Street, so after A was done at work, he met C near Shoreditch and they proceeded to check it out. Sadly, it proved to be a disappointment: half the stalls were closed and there were barely any people there, despite the warm weather, so A decided that it would be a good idea to drag C to one of the Vietnamese places on the so-called 'Pho Mile' on the Kingsland Road for a cheeky bowl of chicken soup.

It has to be said, A and C have previous history when it comes to Vietnamese food.  On their first ever date, A took C to a Vietnamese place in Farringdon, which was frankly a bit of a disaster. C was then a rookie chopstick user and being a bit clumsy at the best of times, she didn't pass up the opportunity to throw soup down herself.  C is so traumatised that she hasn't been back for Vietnamese since, but on this occasion she plucked up the courage to do so (C, who is reading this over A's shoulder, pointed out that it was quite possibly her worst ever first date experience, yet here we are a good while later).

The place we picked, Mien Tay, is a little way up from the rest and is not very much to look at.  The decor is faded and rather dingy, but it was packed to the rafters with Aussie advertising execs, slightly annoying Shoreditch hipsters and the other trendies and creatives which make up the usual E1/N1 crowd. A had been to Mien Tay before and as number of customers as as good an indicator of quality as any, A and C dived in.

Extremely Crispy Spring Rolls

The shared starter of veggie spring rolls was passable. They came out lovely and crisp on the outside, but we were left wondering exactly how much inside there was. However, the presentation was attractive and we have eaten many worse spring rolls. As you can see from the image, the portion is hardly generous, but the rolls work out about £1 each, so we're not complaining.

Chicken with Honey and Spices, without the Spices

C went for a conservative option (no soup, as still bearing mental scars of her first date with A) of chicken with honey and spices and a bowl of boiled rice.  The chicken was tender and tangy and the honey gave the meat a pleasant sticky consistency. Though it was billed as cooked with honey and spices, the spices were lacking somewhat; lovely, but not what C was expecting. The chicken was a bit chewy, the skin-to-meat ratio was pretty high and ultimately C was left underwhelmed.

Yummy Pho with herbs on the side

A went for the riskier soup option, happily managing to avoid dipping his tie in it. As ever with Mien Tay's pho, it was up to scratch: hot, tasty broth which was not over-salted, chunky prawns with a soft consistency and delicate flavour, and a bunch of pungent herbs and chilis to add to taste (A threw the lot in, along with a squirt of Sriracha for added oomph).  A finished in double quick time, which always means good things. Zero complaints in the pho department.

The drinks were also above par and C was enthusing about her lemonade. It appears to be home made, and is sweet, lemony and very refreshing; in other words, perfect for a muggy summer evening.

Overall then, results for Mien Tay were mixed: the pho and lemonade are reliable but stray too far into the more unusual parts of the menu and weaknesses show.  However, for a tenner a head, you can't complain too much. Service is remarkably quick and efficient, especially given some staff's limited English skills. The restaurant proudly displays its 5* ratings given by a number of food publications and review sites; however, we disagree with the consistently high scores. C, who writes restaurant reviews (including for one of the publications Mien Tay cited as giving a 5/5 review) would not have agreed with her colleague's rating, and would have gone for 3-4 instead. Mien Tay is reliable and cheap, but hardly a show stopper.

(Once again, apologies for the photos. We had the SLR this time, but brought a telephoto lens by mistake!)

Friday, 7 September 2012


A small confession: despite her foodie status, Korean food had somehow always passed C by. Upon learning that she'd never so much as tried this branch of South Asian cuisine, a horrified A promptly took her to his favourite Korean restaurant in London a few months back - Holborn's Kimchee.

Not a big seafood fan, C had always been put off by Korea's preference for the stuff; add to that an embarrassing attempt to eat with chopsticks on C and A's first date (a story for another time, perhaps) and she was, admittedly, a little hesitant.
Kimchee immediately won her over, though. So much of a convert was C that she's since introduced several friends to the restaurant, too - and, on her most recent trip there, C knew she had to grab a few photos for the blog.

C's lemon sole gui - as good as it looks

Put simply, the food in here is fantastic. Although not generally a 'fish' person, one of C's favourite foods is lemon sole - so seeing the Lemon Sole Gui on the menu, she couldn't resist. Marinated in a barbecue sauce with crispy noodles, it comes away in perfect flakes and is mouth-wateringly good - and pleasingly affordable.

Chicken Katsu Noodles

On this trip, C's friend opted for Chicken Katsu Noodles, which proved to be another sound choice, crispy and tender with a little kick of spice. On our trip there, A had opted for the Beef Tongue - very slightly too chewy, but full of flavour, and another good option. We'd also sampled the Kimchee, which is essentially spicy, pickled cabbage with garlic and makes for an unusual, but interesting, culinary experience.
Washed down with green tea and a glass of wine, you're looking at about £20 a head all in - excellent value.

Cute rice bowl

C also loves the décor and atmosphere in this place. Dark wooden tables, quirky lighting, trickling water features and an open-plan, shared dining experience which sees you sitting at long wooden benches next to other groups make for a perfectly relaxed weekday dinner.

All in all, Kimchee is brilliant; for the food, for the ambiance, for its affordability and, of course, for chopstick practice - after several trips, C's pleased to announce that she's mastered the art at last.

Please excuse the iPhone photos: it was an impromptu trip that proved too good not to blog!