Sunday, 28 August 2011

A Sunday Sojourn

How was your Sunday?

What with a cheeseburger and chips…my one was suitably a godsend!

My chums from Streatham agreed that the best London Burger is found here.
I would like to add that the chips I had today were a lot better than my previous visits.

Now as I hardly venture into South London I had to possess a secondary stomach and pay homage to Imran Bashir’s Elephant Café. Like all the businesses within Brixton Village Market, it’s tiny but perfectly formed.

It specialises in authentic Pakistani street food.

The chicken thali at less than seven quid.

And it came with daal, naan, rice, raita, and salad. As expected it was astoundingly delicious and cheap as nuts. But if I were allowed to be pedantic then more chillies would further the otherwise excellent chicken curry and due to health and safety standards, a missing tandoor oven obviously vetoed the freshest of flatbreads. That said, the bread was well ‘gheed’ or lubricated. Quite possibly the most accomplished thali in town.

Anne, the queues at Federation were impossible at best so the Flat White aspirations were ditched instead by tea and cakes at the wonderful Relay Tea Room. I was reliably informed that the red velvet cupcake was brill.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Kimchee Restaurant

Where’s the gochujang?

There’s absolutely nothing outstanding about the dishes served at Kimchee but the loos are admittedly rather plush and quite possibly the best amongst all the restaurants in London (but then again it was inherited from its fallen predecessor, the excellent but pricey Japanese Matsuri High Holborn). And lest I forget, the dining room was additionally worthy of a mention in the Architectural Digest. But I’m afraid that’s all folks so if you’re after something more of a mere approximation of Korean food in Central London then head here instead.

I sense that Kimchee restaurant is backed by a group of wealthy City individuals who happened to chance it with a prospect of the most opportune bandwagon. It’s simply a case of hiring a high-ranking chef from Seoul or New Malden and initiating the procedures to the non-Korean apprentices about how to concoct a bibimbap or jjigae (sod the bulgogi as anyone can do that!). Once the vocation is achieved- ‘Good bye, good night and good luck Chef, we’ll take care of the rest’. Alan Yau’s Wagamama chain thus springs to mind- a prevailing lack of heart and passion in the eventual cooking leads to the inevitable; faux ethnic food on your plate (alas, not entirely a bad thing for the undiscerning masses and in fact quite the opposite).

The following dishes ordered were clinically consistent i.e. vague, disappointing and invariably dumb-downed


The definitive 'Korma version' of any kimchi found in the capital- annoyingly mild and the word ‘kick’ doesn’t even come into it!

Beef Tongue Skewer

Their words- “Charcoal grilled beef tongue served with a hand made Korean barbecue sauce”. My words- tough as old boots and the marinade…WTF? Where’s the gochujang?

Crab Tuigim-
Deep-fried soft-shell crab in panko

I do acknowledge that crab of this ilk is inherently tasteless but at the very least Kimchee should’ve jazzed it up more, it was woefully under-seasoned and the synthetic-tasting dipping sauce negated any claimed chilli inclusion. If only I brought my own bottle of Sriracha.

Scallop Skewer-
well priced at £3.50 but the photo looked better than it tasted.

Hot Pot Bulgogi-
Thin slices of beef in a soy sauce marinade cooked with vegetables and glass noodles in a broth.

Kitchen elves, skim the sodding scum! And there was way too much sugar in there! Red dates are naturally sweet so why add more sugar? Poor!

Barbecued beef

Now if this was dish was ordered at any decent Korean joint in London a pretty young thing not too unlike her would be doing the honours at your table. But not so at Kimchee where all the grilled dishes are cooked on the robata in the open-plan kitchen. By the time it reached us the beef was plaintively lukewarm, overcooked, sickeningly sweet and the ‘charcoal’ euphoria was notably absent. Pitiable.

Seafood Bibimbap-
served with scallop, calamari, prawn and oyster sauce or so the menu claimed.

A sad dish, which contravened the Trade Descriptions Act on two counts-

i) the scallop was replaced with mussels

ii) for a Dolsot Bibimbap, the layer of rice on the bottom of the pot should be golden brown and crispy, but heck, no!

The damn thing tasted like wet soggy fried rice with an odour of sodden Golden Retrievers.


There you have it and where’s the gochujang? Not at all recommended.

71 High Holborn
London WC1V 6EA

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Shu Castle

Verily, I say unto you, for he that eateth no Sichuan food, be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea- for thou knoweth sod all about the grub of olde Cathay.

Ten years ago we would all accept that the Chinese food served in Britain is nothing more than regressive Cantonese. But now that the PRCs have arrived in droves, London town is blessed with a growing abundance of Chinese restaurants not specialising in Cantonese cuisine. The latter’s reputation in London is dangerously close to being displaced by discerning food lovers and bloggers as the one and only ‘Chinese’ when dining out. But then again these young observers are more acquainted and obsessed with the likes of Dim Sum and Roast Duck, they’ve somewhat forgotten or perhaps ignored that Chefs Leung and Tang in Chinatown are whizzes at exemplary dishes like Fish Maw Soup, Steamed Lobster with Egg White, Eel with Black Bean Sauce or Crispy Duck with Mashed Yam. Compared to all the other regional cuisines of China the Cantonese still rule the waves when it comes to full blown banqueting and bespoke dishes. That said, it’s also true for one who doesn’t experience Sichuan food is also clueless about Chinese food. The embracing of Sichuan food in London is mostly due to its macho stance of spicy and pungent flavours (courtesy of the vital base ingredients that are chillies and Sichuan peppers). It’s a tired fact that most folks misinterpret Cantonese food as greasy but the Sichuanese make that all quite tame since they like serving foods in hot (both temperature and spicy) boiling oceans of Mazola. Despite what I’ve just uttered, Sichuanese cooking is still absolutely brilliant and it’s definitely here to stay…just don’t eat the chillies neat (think of them as purely decorative) and glug the excess oil!

I was first dragged here by her and I’ve been back four times.

Its location is a bleeding good excuse as a worthwhile pit stop from a Monopoly route expedition. Mao caps were also noted on Old Kent Road, no wonder Shu Castle pitched their tent here.

The smallish restaurant is tarted up with shop fittings imported from ‘back home’, rather lavish I might add, and not because of its location on Old Kent Road but more so the grim 1* hotel it’s attached to. The service unusually for a Chinese restaurant is warm and convivial, perhaps being a mate of Kake made a difference! The diners were as expected, predominantly of ‘my kind’ with the exception of the odd Baltic tourist or Benny from Crossroads tackling the origami process re pancakes and Crispy Aromatic Duck.

Thankfully we don’t have to suffer from apartheidical menus at Shu Castle, no more separate menus for the Hans and non-Hans! Instead the highly illustrative and vaguely descriptive (minor typos withstanding) menu is pure godsend! Just don’t take the photos for granted as 15 prawns might actually mean 10 in reality and the chilli ticks (to depict the levels of hotness) are nonsensical…a zero chilli tick could end up deceivingly hot as well!

What we ordered first time around.
NB Kake can read Chinese but I struggle like hell!

Lotus Leaf Harrow-
I agree the last word is dumbfounding but these were essentially steamed Jiaozi dumplings but made with glutinous rice flour instead of the usual wheat.

The sticky and chewy ‘leaves’ (filled rather generously with well-seasoned pork mince and spring onions) were splendidly morerish.


unusually these dumplings were filled without the hot burning soup within so they are perfect for those meek individuals who are prone to matters regarding trauma of the mouth…such disappointing news for injury lawyers. Like the harrows, the steamed buns were very good.

Sautéed Pickled Beans with Minced Pork-
tangy and hot tasting; the beans added a welcome crunch to this flavourful dish.

Marinated Black Fungus (savours better than it sounds, the Chinese adore the texture thing and in this case it was moist crunchy) and the acid test dish of Mapo Tofu (authentically it should blow your socks off with help of the most natural and organic local anaesthetic that’s Sichuan pepper.) The latter was admirably and faithfully concocted at Shu Castle. Quite possibly the best Mapo Tofu I’ve had in London.

The soups-
They were brilliant but I suspect they were all made from same base stock of ‘pig-head-bone-soup’ with different ingredients added to distinguish the five choices available from Meat Ball Soup with Bean Sprout to "Kingdom" Oxtail Soup.

Fish Head & Tofu in Casserole-
an immense soup dish that also included Spam (luncheon meat), pork stomach (not to be confused with belly pork), meatball, fish cheeks, and Chinese mushrooms. For £3.90 I call that seven-treasures-in-bowl bargain!

White Gourd and Sliced Pork Soup-
a most neutral recommendation and utterly well balanced for those too stricken by the thought of offal and other strange intrusions on their plate.

Griddle Pig Feet with Chilli-

the God of Pig’s Trotter would probably pipe up in horror with ‘mon aimé, mon pied de porc, quel dommage!’ Erm, yes Pierre, the Chinese don’t bother with the dressing and disguising procedures, they’re more at home with the take-no-prisoners approach like ‘oh those trotter nails haven’t been clipped properly , nice touch’! It was the most melt-in-mouth and unctuously porky dish I've eaten to date and goes without saying it was also sadistically hot. When ordering this dish, don’t rush them give the kitchen plenty of time to create what I experienced or better still order a day in advance.

Bear's Paw Tofu-
bear's paw refers to the tofu pieces shaped like bear paws and the dish is supposedly hinting at what the real thing might taste like (think mock turtle soup). Quite simply it was just tofu braised with pork, black fungus, chillies and spring onion. It was too bland and hardly stimulating therefore I now know what bear tastes like…so no thank you.

Fire Exploded Kidney Flowers-
a most poetic name that comes down to earth as plain sautéed pig's kidney. This one of my fave dishes from the Sichuan region, if you crave earthy tasting morsels with a bit of ammonia whiff, this dish says ‘well, hello, eat me’. Delightful.

Fried Shrimps with Salted Egg Yolk-
Chinese foods in general exist with its concept of yin yang to maintain and enhance the quality of our well-being. But not this dish, it somewhat eggs on your cholesterol levels and high blood pressure readings instead. Why ffs?Because all naughty foods taste heavenly!

Sautéed Chicken with Spicy Sauce-
diced chicken on the bone, frog legs are sometimes represented in this dish but let’s be honest chicken tastes a lot more fulfilling than the watery- bland tasting amphibians. An unforgettable dish that's equally great for snacking.

Boiled Fish with Pickled Cabbage and Chilli-
I've left the best 'til last; this big-portioned dish makes an old fart like me weep shamelessly with joy. Although it doesn’t quite command the same penchant as the illustrious Sliced Fish in Hot Chilli Oil at least you can eat everything and leave the bowl dry and empty. The slices of sea bass fillets were wonderfully poached in an intoxicating stock that tasted heart-warming and for want of a better word, addictive.

Shu Castle is one impressive joint and Fuchsia Dunlop ought to take heed. Highly recommended, thank you Kake.

194 Old Kent Road,