kitchen table at bubbledogs

•January 24, 2013 • 11 Comments


Of all the new openings last year, the one that impacted me most was Sushi Tetsu (no surprise there), followed very closely by Kitchen Table. “Kitchen where?”, I hear you say. Since its launch, Bubbledogs has had a permanent throng camped outside, yet remarkably the 19-seater tucked behind a velvet curtain at the back of the restaurant has remained relatively unknown. Hot dogs may be what draws the crowds in, but the real jewel of the place is the Kitchen Table where James Knappett (ex-Per Se, Noma and Marcus Wareing) serves guests a refined 12-course tasting menu each evening. And no, none of those courses feature a dog and bun.

It’s a concept completely new to London. Diners, who take one of two sittings, perch on leather swivel chairs dotted around a sleek counter that wraps around the open kitchen, where Knappett and his team cook and plate up. Interaction is encouraged – the chefs describe each dish in detail as it is placed and happily answer any questions. Menu items change often to reflect market freshness and seasonality – on the four occasions I dined at KT there have been very few repeats. Each meal has steadily improved and the dinner below which we had towards the end of last year was truly superb.


Cornwall Shrimp with Dill Oil and Horseradish got things off to a good start – creamy raw shrimp accentuated by the gentle heat of horseradish and mild aniseed notes from the dill. The fresh hit from the horseradish snow awoke our senses in preparation for the meal ahead.


Crispy Chicken Skin slathered with Rosemary Mascarpone and Bacon Jam further whet our appetite with its bold smoky-sweet crunchy goodness.


Line-caught Mackerel with Oyster, Lemon Peel, Cucumber and Sea Purslane was a real pleasure, with great textural balance and flavours that sang of the sea.


Hand Dived Orkney Scallop boasted lovely caramelisation and contrasted well with crisp celeriac and tart apple. The pool of lush lemon verbena sauce rounded it all off nicely.


Lobster Agnolotti (stuffed with coral from the lobster head), Pickled Rock Samphire and Sea Beans was an absolute stunner, with an intense shellfish broth that left me wanting more.


I love the bouncy texture of Duck Hearts, and these offally beauties were offset perfectly by tender turnip, crispy puffed buckwheat, bitter turnip tops, sweet bon bon dates and a subtle acidity from the sherry vinegar sauce.


Venison, Rose Yoghurt, Fresh Pine, Wild Mushrooms and shaved Chestnuts was another well-considered dish, and the quality of the 1 year old roe deer meat really shone.


A cheese course of Goat’s Curd, Toast and Shallots was delicious and reminiscent (on the palate) of shallot tarte tatin.


After a refreshing palate cleanser of rose hip granita and elderflower yoghurt came the first of two desserts – a whole Caramalised Fig with Fig Leaf Ice Cream and Crème Fraîche Mousse.


Warm Apple Cake with Dehydrated Apple and Bay Leaf Ice Cream was gorgeous. The bay leaf is unexpected but works incredibly well in this comforting yet sophisticated pud.


One final sweet treat of Dark Chocolate-coated Blackberry Marshmallow (sort of a luxe teacake) brought the 3 hour meal to a delightful close.

With this dinner we opted for wine pairings, expertly chosen by Sandia (James’ wife and restaurant manager), but have also plumped for whole bottles in the past – the carefully curated list is eclectic and boasts some rare and unusual gems, especially where grower champagnes are concerned.

If you have yet to step behind the curtain, I urge you to book in for what I think is currently one of the most exciting dining experiences in town. The dinner theatre aspect is novel but in no way gimmicky, the cooking spot-on, and the service (from Jack, the head waiter) friendly yet professional and unobtrusive. If nothing else, you’ll get a kick from walking straight to the front of the queue!

Kitchen Table (at Bubbledogs)
70 Charlotte Street
London W1T 4QG

t. 020 7637 7770

Bubbledogs on Urbanspoon

lost posts of 2012

•January 21, 2013 • 6 Comments


Amidst all the flurry of travel eating last year, my beloved London didn’t get much airtime on the blog. Here are some local spots that slipped through the cracks – brace yourself, it’s gonna be a long one!


Judging by the queues snaking out of Bubbledogs there are few left in London who haven’t heard of the 4 month old hot dog and champagne bar. The dogs are great (I am partial to the Breakie with a fried egg, tomato relish and black pudding) but for me the real draw is the extensive list of rare grower champagnes. If standing in line isn’t your thing, book a seat at their Kitchen Table which offers an incredible multi-course dinner eaten on a long counter table surrounding the open kitchen.


A couple of streets from Bubbledogs you’ll find Yaki. Skip the pre-made okonomiyaki that don’t taste particularly authentic and the rice burgers, which although tasty, fall apart in the hand. Instead pop in for a Taiyaki (fish-shaped cake with various fillings) – they’re cute to look at and the one I sampled hot from the cast iron mold was pretty good (stick to the traditional azuki bean filling).


After years bemoaning the lack of ramen bars in the city, we got hit by a tsunami of them in 2012. Having tried all the main players – Tonkotsu, Ittenbari, Shoyru and Bone Daddies – I’d say the latter tops the list with a intensely-flavoured (albeit a tad too thick) broth, chewy strands and wide choice of both toppings and ramen. That said, none come close to the addictive bowls I slurped in the shoebox haunts off the side streets of Tokyo.


Despite the rising popularity of ramen, burgers were still very big news last year with more temporary outfits setting up brick and mortar outlets than ever. Oldtimer MeatLiquor is still a firm favourite (I’ve yet to try their brand-spanking-new contingent in the East), but newbie Patty & Bun is definitely giving them a run for their money with the resplendent Ari Gold.


Another pop-up that took up more permanent digs is Disco Bistro which has moved into the top floor of The Rising Sun pub for the next 6 months. I wasn’t convinced by the lacklustre over-priced lunch I had upstairs, but their trashy bar menu (which hadn’t launched at the time of my visit) does sounds interesting, although not enough to tempt me back.


Talented Ben Spalding (ex-head chef of Roganic) also started a half-year residency at John Salt but within weeks the partnership dissolved and now Neil Rankin (formerly Pitt ‘Cue) holds court. I was lucky enough to try the promising 12-courses before his departure and am glad that he’s slated to open his own place towards the end of this year – fingers crossed the brilliant 35 ingredient salad will find its way on the menu.


Further afield in Dalston, I had some delicious frozen Hibiscus Margaritas and moreish Ginger & Soy Hot Wings at the hip Rita’s Bar & Dining. Their famous Fried Chicken Roll boasted juicy thigh meat coated in a well-seasoned crunchy crust, but the bread roll it was nestled in was rock hard and cried out for more sriracha aioli.


The grilled meats at nearby (but not new) Turkish Ocak Basi restaurant Mangal excited me more. Everything from the Pirzola (seasoned lamb chops) and Adana Kofte (spicy minced lamb kebab) to the Yogurtlu Tavuk Sis (chicken breast with yoghurt and butter sauce) was tender, succulent and grilled to perfection. A meat lovers paradise.


Closer to home, I tried Lebanese joint Beirut Express which also delivered some expertly charcoal-grilled meats, as well as some excellent cold and hot mezza.


Back to a few of the newer openings. Modern Greek Mazi in Notting Hill is a sweet little space with an alfresco area perfect for balmy summer evenings. I loved the jars of Spanakopita, Tarama and Grilled Aubergine but the hot plates were less successful. Feta Tempura with Lemon Marmalade and Caper Meringue was particularly odd – the batter was thick and greasy, and the sweet accompaniments rendered it more of a dessert than a main.


Many are enamoured with Duck & Waffle, perched atop Heron Tower. The panoramic views at the all-day restaurant are indeed magnificent but I had mixed feelings about the food. Tasty sharing plates of Chip Shop Cod Tongues and BBQ-spiced Crispy Pig Ears were fun and an Octopus with Chorizo, Lemon and Capers was stunning, but the Foie Gras “All Day Breakfast” and Bacon wrapped Dates stuffed with Linguica Sausage were both too rich and heavy for my taste.


Not technically new, but it has recently changed head chefs, is Provençale bistro Cassis. Massimiliano Blasone’s (former executive chef of Heinz Beck’s Apsleys) skill shines through in the deftly-plated Southern France-inspired food. The Rum Baba, served with chantilly cream and a choice of three rums, was simply superb.


I’m eagerly awaiting the launch of Isaac McHale’s The Clove Club and am thrilled he’ll be bringing the awesome Buttermilk-fried Chicken in Pine Salt, a mainstay on the Upstairs at Ten Bells menu, with him.


With a similarly laid-back vibe but an airier, brighter space is Elliot’s near Borough Market. I enjoyed fried chicken and various puds there but the best thing by far was their cheeseburger, available only at weekday lunches.


On the higher end of the spectrum is HKK, the latest offering from the Hakkasan group. Refreshing though it was to sample a tasting menu of reworked Cantonese banquet dishes, I felt there was a slight lack of finesse for the level of cuisine the restaurant is trying to achieve. I did however enjoy the majority of the savoury courses and wouldn’t rule out a return trip.


Also swanky, but serving food from a different continent is Il Ristorante at the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge. Decked out in leather and mahogany the dining room feels cold and more like a jewellery showroom – a shame as the contemporary Italian food was quite lovely. Fresh-tasting antipasti, al dente pasta delicately sauced and thoughtfully garnished, and even a number of options specifically marked for the health-conscious which were surprisingly delicious.


One tube stop away The Grill at The Dorchester, in its tartan-clad glory, hinted at a much more traditional menu than it actually serves. Sure there is Black Angus Beef and Grilled Dover Sole but also a thoroughly modern (and very good) starter of Glazed Calves Sweetbreads, Crispy Chicken Wings and Sourdough Bread.


Fellow old-school establishment The Ritz featured well-executed French dishes (some more precisely than others) that were pleasant but didn’t leave much of an impression. The opulent but somewhat tired decor and stiff service didn’t help.


In contrast the minimal St John Hotel in Chinatown immediately sets the diner at ease and the simple, produce-led British fare is always a pleasure. You can’t go wrong with the Devilled Pig’s Skin & Smoked Cod’s Roe, anything offaly (loved the Snails, Duck Hearts & Lovage) and the freshly-baked Madeleines. Doughnuts, when available, are a must.


A less conventional hotel dining experience was the 2-week long Noma pop-up at Claridges during the Olympics. The controversial Ants and Cabbage course sparked much conversation at the table but failed to tantalise our taste buds. Better by far was the whimsical take on afternoon tea (scones with caviar, clotted cream and raspberry tea) and the melt-in-the mouth slow-roasted Romney Marsh neck of lamb.


Properly good Sunday pub roasts can be hard to come by but I was very satisfied by the one crowned with a behemoth yorkshire pud at The Thatched House. Their giant scotch eggs are pretty special too.


Slightly posher brunch venue The Wolseley served up an exemplary Full English, although those hungover may miss the grease of the standard fry-up! I was also impressed with their Cannelés Bordelais – gorgeous caramelised crust, moist centre and a snip at £1.75 for a pair!


I can’t get through a fortnight without a dim sum fix, and Dragon Palace in Earl’s Court is a worthy weekend yum cha venue. All the dumplings we tried tasted freshly-made; turnip cake had good flavour and texture, as did the pan-fried cheung fun. Admittedly their xiao long bao and fried squid cakes weren’t up to par, but all was forgiven after a spoonful of homemade Tofu Fa – a silky beancurd dessert with ginger syrup that is hard to come by here in London.


I’ve long been wary of the restaurants in Chinatown but new discovery Old Town 97 plates up the best Braised Beef Brisket and Tendon Noodles I’ve had in London. The handful of other cooked dishes I tried were good too – added bonus, its cheap and open till late.


A stone’s throw away at Quo Vadis the much-talked-about Smoked Eel and Horseradish Sandwich lived up to its reputation. Everything else for me however was just so-so, unsurprising I guess as I wasn’t a massive fan of Jeremy Lee’s cooking while he was at BluePrint Café either.


To end off, a Vietnamese I’ve frequented on and off for the past few years, Saigon Saigon. The quality at this cavernous restaurant (they even have a downstairs bar) sometimes varies, but on the whole the appetisers like chargrilled quail, sugarcane prawns and banh cuon are flavourful, and the noodle offerings (our favourites are the beef pho and bún bò huế) solid. Plus, it saves us the trek to the Kingsland Road!


Bubbledogs / 70 Charlotte Street, W1T 4QG / 020 7637 7770
Yaki / 53 Goodge Street, W1T 1TG
Bone Daddies / 31 Peter Street, W1F 0AW / 020 7287 7437
Patty & Bun / 54 James Street, UK W1U 1EU
Disco Bistro / The Rising Sun, 61 Carter Lane, EC4V 5DY / 07850 630 129
John Salt / 131 Upper Street, N1 1QP / 020 7704 8955
Rita’s Bar & Dining / Birthdays, 33-35 Stoke Newington Road, N16 8BJ
Mangal Ocakbasi / 10 Arcola Street, E8 2DJ / 020 7275 8981
Beirut Express / 112 Edgware Road, W2 2DZ / 020 7724 2700
Mazi / 12-14 Hillgate Street, W8 7SR / 020 7229 3794
Duck & Waffle / Heron Tower, 110 Bishopgate, EC2N 4AY / 203 640 7310
Cassis / 232-236 Brompton Road, SW3 2BB / 020 7581 1101
Upstairs at Ten Bells / 84 Commercial Street, E1 6LY / 07530 492986
Elliot’s / 12 Stoney Street, SE1 9AD / 020 7403 7436
HKK / Broadgate West, 88 Worship Street, EC2A 2BE / 020 3535 1888
Il Ristorante / 171 Knightsbridge, SW7 1DW / 020 7591 2442
The Grill at The Dorchester / 53 Park Lane, W1K 1QA / 020 7317 6336
The Ritz / 150 Piccadilly, W1J 9BR / 020 7493 8181
St John Hotel / 1 Leicester Street, WC2H 7BR / 020 3301 8020
The Thatched House / 115 Dalling Road, W6 0ET / 020 8748 6174
The Wolseley / 160 Piccadilly, W1J 9EB / 020 7499 6996
Dragon Palace / 207 Earl’s Court Road, SW5 9AN / 020 7370 1461
Old Town 97 / 19 Wardour Street, W1D 6PL / 0871 971 7753
Quo Vadis / 26-29 Dean Street, W1D 3LL / 020 7437 9585
Saigon Saigon / 313-317 King Street, W6 9NH / 020 8748 6887


Bubbledogs on Urbanspoon Bone Daddies on Urbanspoon Patty and Bun on Urbanspoon Disco Bistro EC4 on Urbanspoon John Salt on Urbanspoon Rita's Bar and Dining on Urbanspoon Mangal Ocakbasi on Urbanspoon Beirut Express on Urbanspoon Mazi on Urbanspoon Duck & Waffle on Urbanspoon Cassis on Urbanspoon Upstairs at the Ten Bells on Urbanspoon Elliot's Cafe on Urbanspoon Hkk on Urbanspoon Il Ristorante at the Bulgari Hotel on Urbanspoon The Grill at the Dorchester on Urbanspoon The Ritz Hotel on Urbanspoon St. John Hotel on Urbanspoon Thatched House on Urbanspoon The Wolseley on Urbanspoon Dragon Palace on Urbanspoon 1997 on Urbanspoon Quo Vadis on Urbanspoon Saigon Saigon on Urbanspoon


•January 17, 2013 • Leave a Comment


Barcelona is a fantastic city to visit. Markets overflowing with incredible produce, awesome architecture, friendly locals, bountiful sunshine, and of course, some excellent eating establishments. On our most recent jaunt there we ate well at Moments, Rias de Galicia, Tapas 24 and in particular, ABaC, which I feel deserves a special mention here.


This was our second time at the restaurant (housed in a sleek boutique hotel of the same name), but the first with chef Jordi Cruz at the helm. Having previously held a Michelin star at both Estany Clar and L’Angle de Sant Fruitós de Bages, Cruz has impressively managed to attain two coveted stars for ABaC in the short span of two years since he took the reins in 2010.


We chose “The ABaC”, one of the two tasting menus on offer (à la carte is also available) which began with amuse-bouches of Melon Mojito (mint sorbet, rum jelly, syrup-soaked melon and lime sugar-dusted sugarcane) and Iranian Caviar topped Frozen Sour Yoghurt Lollipops, made in front of us.


Bread with Tomato, Avocado and Anchovies looked sloppy, but was an appetising bite.


Liquid Parmesan Gnocchi in Bergamot Butter with Nuts, Lemongrass and Truffle Mushroom Infusion blew us away – intense fragrant broth jazzed up with fresh truffle shavings, crunchy walnuts, pretty petals and orbs of “gnocchi” that burst delightfully in the mouth.


Frozen Fig Leaf Infusion with Foie Gras, Figs and Sweet and Savoury Migas was delicate and well-balanced.


Smoked Steak Tartare with seasoned snow-like beef, cooked egg yolk, veil of mustard and pepper bread brittle was equally delicious.


Prawns cooked on a slab of heated salt at the table were beautiful on their own, but sadly overwhelmed by the accompaniments of hazelnuts (cooked to resemble chickpeas in both appearance and texture), Iberian pork nuggets, citron aioli and rich fideua jus.


Rice, Farm Chicken, Saint-Félicien Cheese, Nuts, Rocket Flowers and Egg Yolk cooked with Candied Garlic was a flavourful miniature take on paella.


Mediterranean Tuna Belly with Ponzu Sauce, Kumquat Skin, Mizuna, Zucchini with Olive Oil and Spicy Root Purée was great concept-wise but needed tweaking – the thin sheets of ponzu jelly were overly salty and didn’t allow the fish within to shine.


The star of the night was the Kid Goat, slow-cooked in cider at 63°C for 24 hours. The meat was fall-apart tender and perfectly paired with earthy mushrooms, sweet cider apples and tart apple foam. Exceptional.


Desserts were no less accomplished. A mélange of Lime, Coconut, Meringue, White Chocolate, Yoghurt and Ginger, was light and refreshing.


“On a Bed of Smoked Bread Brittle, Roast Biscuit, Banana, Coffee, Vanilla and Bourbon” came in two parts – glazed cubes of sweet bread bathed in a sea of bourbon smoke, and a plate of coffee cookie and biscuit crumbs, caramelised banana, vanilla ice cream, lightly misted with the same bourbon.


We both enjoyed this immensely, especially the bread which tasted like rum baba, but with bourbon (obviously).


To finish were a platter of petits fours and a couple of extra sweet treats – airy yoghurt granita and “lipsticks” of strawberry ice.


ABaC was a great all-round experience. Aside from the playful well-composed dishes, the service was impeccable, and the dining room beautiful. There’s even rooms or a spa to roll off to after your meal should you choose to stay at the hotel. If searching for fine-dining in Barcelona, this place should be at the top of your list.

Avinguda del Tibidabo, 1,
08022 Barcelona, Spain
t. +34 93 3196600

martha’s vineyard + cape cod

•January 11, 2013 • 5 Comments

Aquinnah Cliffs, Martha's Vineyard

With daylight hours still short as ever, my thoughts have been drifting frequently to the sunshine-soaked holidays of last year. Vibrant Miami, tranquil Maldives and the one that left the biggest impression of all – our virgin visit to New England, or more specifically the seaside idylls of Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod.

lobster, corn and potato salad at The Lobster Trap

We flew into Boston, stayed a couple of days (lovely city but we weren’t blown away by what we ate there), then jumped in a rental for the two hour journey to our one night digs in the Cape, stopping to refuel at the awesome Lobster Trap in Bourne along the way.

fried whole belly clams at The Lobster Trap

What a feast it was. Clam Chowder chockfull of shellfish, crispy fried Whole Belly Clams and of course the Lobster for which they are known, steamed, and served with corn on the cob, potato salad and clarified butter.

Lobster Roll, The Lobster Trap.

It was so good I returned for a Lobster Roll the next day after lunch at J.T’s Seafood. Warm toasted buttery brioche loaded with sweet freshly-picked lobster meat lightly dressed in mayo – delicious, and far better than the disappointing one we had at our aforementioned lunch venue.

Stuffed Lobster, Atria

A ferry ride away in Martha’s Vineyard we got stuck into more lobster at Atria. A 4 lb (2 kg) monster stuffed with scallops, crab, prawns and MORE lobster and baked with a parmesan breadcrumb topping. From its weight our dinner was roughly 15 years old, so we didn’t expect the flesh to be as sweet and succulent as it was. Definitely some of the best lobster we had ever eaten, and a steal at $100.


At the The Port Hunter we had an enjoyable casual meal of mussels, yellowfin tuna egg rolls, (yet another) lobster roll and a nice selection of local oysters.

The Bite

Quaint little clam shack The Bite was a fried seafood haven, and just a short stroll from the pretty Menemsha coastline.

Fried Clams, The Bite

After a short wait (everything is fried to order) we grabbed our brown takeout bags and got stuck in at the nearby beachside tables. The fried clams served with a small obligatory pot of tartare sauce were spot on – plump meaty morsels enrobed in a light golden batter.

Fried Chicken Wings, The Bite

Surprisingly our favourite deep-fried treat weren’t of the shellfish variety at all, but the chicken wings which were moist, juicy and coated in the same well-seasoned batter.

French Dip

It wasn’t all seafood on the trip. We fell in love with the super-sized sandwiches at Skinny’s Fat Sandwiches – their delicious marinara-slathered Chicken Parm and French Dip brimful of sliced roast beef served with two pots of gravy, were both incredible.

Cuban Sandwich

But it was the cheesy meat-packed Cuban (roasted pork loin, virginia ham, swiss cheese, pickles and chipotle mayo in a toasted french roll) that totally stole the show. YUM.

Martha's Vineyard

A wonderful wonderful trip.


Lobster Trap / 290 Shore Road, Bourne, MA 02532 / (508) 759-7600
Atria / 137 Main St, Edgartown, MA 02539 / (508) 627-5850
The Port Hunter / 55 Main Street, Edgartown, MA / (503) 627 7747
The Bite / 29 Basin Road, Chilmark, MA 02535 / (508) 645-9239
Skinny’s Fat Sandwiches / 7 North Water Street, Edgartown, MA / (508) 693 5281

Lobster Trap Co Incorporated on Urbanspoon      Atria on Urbanspoon      The Bite on Urbanspoon      Skinny's Fat Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

nihonryori ryugin

•November 14, 2012 • 3 Comments

Having dragged out these Tokyo posts for far longer than necessary, I’m finally wrapping things up today with Nihonryori RyuGin, Seiji Yamamoto’s much-lauded Roppongi restaurant that gained its third star from Michelin last year and currently holds 29th position on the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best list. The more observant among you will notice Les Créations de Narisawa and Seryna Honten have remained unwritten – those I’ve snuck onto Facebook, along with other meals both in London and abroad that for one reason or another never made it onto the blog.

Ok enough Facebook page pimping. Back to the meal at hand, and a very fine one at that.

We opened with Charcoal Grilled Horse Clam and Icefish flavoured with Ume. The clam was meaty, and the light fish tempura crisp and greaseless, with only a subtle hint of sour plum as to not overwhelm its delicate taste.

Assortment of Spring Vegetables with Simmered Abalone featured a thick slice of succulent braised abalone, umibudo (sea grapes) and crisp-tender bamboo shoots, fiddleheads, baby corn, and asparagus.

Next was a duo of dishes – White Asparagus with White Shrimp, and Fresh Sea Urchin with Lace Wrapping.

The first was elegant and restrained, while the latter – rich uni wrapped in shiso and encased in crumbly batter – was punchy both in flavour and texture. A great contrasting pair.

Ichiban Dashi Soup with Greenling Fish and Pea Egg-Tofu was a nourishing soul-warmer – fragranced with a whisper of Miyoga, it demonstrated a real lightness of touch.

The day’s Sashimi selection included Sea Bream and Soy with Cherry Blossom, Tea-Smoked Bonito with Japanese Mustard, Squid with Nori, Lime and Salt, and Squid Fins with Pea Shoots. All spanking-fresh and beautifully accentuated by their respective accompaniments.

Simmered Yakira Squid from Aomori with its Eggs, Canola Blossom, Fuki Stem and Kinome flower was yet another delicious bite, the creamy egg stuffing adding depth and substance.

Yamamoto’s signature Charcoal-Grilled Sea Perch with Roasted Rice was simply exquisite – the crunchy black vinegar-glazed puffed grains coating the skin juxtaposed brilliantly with the soft moist flaky fish beneath.

Kuroge Washu (Japanese Black Wagyu) Beef Sirloin Sukiyaki with Crispy Poached Egg and Fuki Leaves married two of my favourite things – marbled beef and molten-yolked egg. Glorious.

Rice Simmered in Sakura Tea with Sakura Shrimp from Surugawan Bay, Pickles and Shrimp Broth Red Miso Soup was again, beautifully composed. The shrimp, intensified in flavour by a brief round in the deep-fryer, complimented the fragrant mound of sticky rice.

There was the option of an extra dish before sweets, which naturally we took. And we were pleased we did – vibrant green al dente strands of handmade matcha soba noodles served with wasabi and traditional tsuyu (dipping sauce).

After the simplicity of the noodle course the skillfully-crafted whimsical strawberry dessert took me by surprise. The pretty pink “-196°C Candy Strawberry” arrived to the table whole.

We were then asked to gently tap it to break open the translucent paper-thin sugar shell, revealing nitro-frozen strawberry sherbet.

A “+99°C Strawberry Jam” was then spooned over it to complete the dish. The combination of warm strawberries, cold sherbet and crisp sugar shards made for a delightfully playful mouthful.

To finish was Roppongi Pudding (essentially a crème caramel) presented sealed in custom jars with a frothy bowl of matcha. A lovely end to an incredible dinner – impeccably sourced seasonal ingredients paired with technically faultless cooking that is both forward-thinking and steeped in tradition.

Nihonryori RyuGin
Side Roppongi Bldg, 1st Floor
7-17-24 Roppongi
Minato, Tokyo 106-0032

t. +81 (0)3 3423 8006

pâtisserie potager

•October 5, 2012 • 3 Comments

After the Omotesando Koffee post it seems appropriate to follow with something sweet, more specifically the unique vegetable-based desserts of Aya Kakisawa at the colourful Pâtisserie Potager. A vegetarian herself, the Japanese and French-trained chef only uses locally-sourced organic produce at the Nakameguro shop.

Creations such as White Asparagus and Tea Mousse Cake, Lemon and Beetroot Tart and Rocket Jelly and Black Sesame with Soy Milk Mousse, are labelled in English with more in-depth descriptions in Japanese that feature ratings of healthiness, sweetness levels and strength of vegetable taste.

Curiosity led us to try not one (or two), but five of the treats on offer. Leek Baked Cheesecake had a nice dense creamy consistency but little actual leek taste.

The moussier Avocado Cheesecake although pleasant, was again muted in flavour.

More successful were the Tomato Shortcake and Pumpkin Chiffon. The former was really rather good – the sweet tomato slices a surprisingly excellent match for freshly whipped cream and cloud-like sponge. The golden-hued chiffon was equally light and fluffy with a rich pumpkin flavour.

Potato Mont Blanc was intriguing – the traditional chestnut cream was substituted with one made with spuds. I wasn’t immediately taken with it as the previous two, but it did grow on me (I still prefer the original though).

Aside from the refrigerated cakes and pastries, there are also a wide selection of cookies, madeleines, and vegetable drinks to choose from. We sampled some savoury green vegetable and cereal cookies (pictured with the mont blanc) which were highly addictive.

Not all of chef Kakisawa’s unusual offerings may have worked, but the bustling shop is certainly worth a visit, although it is a bit of a schlep. Be sure to have a well-marked map with you – our taxi driver meandered around the area in circles for a good 20 minutes before finally locating it.

Pâtisserie Potager
2-44-9 Kamimeguro
Meguro-ku, Tokyo

t: +81 (0)3 6279 7753

omotesando koffee

•October 4, 2012 • 4 Comments

One of my favourite discoveries in Tokyo wasn’t a restaurant at all, but a coffee kiosk the size of a box room hidden in the maze of residential streets between Omotesando and Gaienmae. Sitting on the ground floor of a tiny 60 year-old abode (a rare book museum occupies the space upstairs), Omotesando Koffee was initially intended as a temporary set-up but its popularity has led to it becoming a more permanent fixture.

Owner and barista Eiichi Kunitomo originally hails from Osaka and honed his craft in Naples before returning to bring espresso back to his native Japan. He is quite a character and clearly enjoys the interaction with customers in the intimate space. Upon learning I was from London, Kunitomo spoke wistfully about his visit there and the coffees he enjoyed at Flat White and Milk Bar. According to him, despite espresso culture slowly taking off in Tokyo, filter coffee still rules the roost there.

A selection of coffees, hot and cold are available, with a couple of chocolate and booze (Baileys) enhanced numbers for the non-purists.

Design-wise everything from the logo to the kiosk itself takes its shape from a cube, and even the koffee kashi he bakes daily take that form (more about those sweets later).

My cappuccino doppio was a fine specimen indeed with a lovely aroma, slight bitter edge and light frothy head of steamed milk.

The accompanying golden cubes (deceptively named “Baked Custard”) were in actuality canelés, with a gorgeous caramelised crust and moist custardy innards. A touch sweet on its own, but perfect washed down with Kunitomo’s brew. I bit into mine and immediately ordered another.

Aside from coffee and baked custard there are bags of coffee beans available for purchase, as well as a quirky “cup of coffee” made from coffee grounds to take home and display on the mantelpiece.

We savoured our coffees in the pretty courtyard – a tranquil haven for locals or savvy tourists wishing to rest their feet after hitting the nearby Omotesando shops. If you’re planning a trip to Maisen (and why wouldn’t you be) just around the corner, definitely make a detour here for a post Tonkatsu pick-me up. Go soon too, as the owner of the house has plans to demolish the building and Kunitomo will then bring his concept on the road – his dream locations can be found whimsically listed on the opening page of his website (London, sadly does not feature).

Omotesando Koffee
4-15-3 Jingumae
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

t. (+85 0)3 5413 9422

tokyo shiba tofuya-ukai

•September 26, 2012 • 5 Comments

I adore tofu, especially that of the fresh handmade variety. So when I heard about a tofu kaiseki restaurant near Tokyo Tower, I knew I had to go. It was cherry blossom season back in April and the pathway leading to Tokyo Shiba Tofuya-Ukai was lined with breath-taking sakura trees resplendent with pink blooms.

At the entrance we were greeted by traditionally garbed waitresses, one of whom led us through the lush stone-paved gardens to our tatami room (all diners are given their own private space).

On the way we passed the restaurant shop stocked with a wide variety of bean curd products, all made on-site, and a chef grilling aburaage (deep-fried tofu) for one of their signature dishes.

We were given a choice of lunch sets ranging from ¥5500 (£45) to ¥10500 (£85) – each consisted of 8 courses, with the price variations reflected in the ingredients. I went with the most expensive, the Tsuki set, which opened with a trio of Grilled Bamboo Shoot and Rape Blossoms, Sea Bream Sushi in Sakura Leaves, and Vinegared Mozuku Seaweed with Surf Clam.

Next came the Deep-fried Tofu with Sweet Miso we saw being prepared earlier. It was incredible – soft yet crisp and so light, with a lovely charred aroma. A scant brushing of miso imparted a deep complex sweetness, which was balanced by the freshness of spring onion slivers.

I enjoyed the delicate flavour of the soothing Cod and Pea Soup but the green chewy mochi-like dumplings were a bit bland for my liking.

A small Sashimi selection, served with grated wasabi, was fresh but nothing spectacular.

Clam and Sea Urchin was more memorable – the creamy lobe of uni a nice contrast to the meaty clam beneath.

Tofu in Seasoned Soy Milk, another house special, was served table-side to us by the waitress from a large clay pot.

The simple preparation really let the quality of the tofu shine – smooth and silky on the tongue, its subtle taste enhanced by the faint savouriness of the steaming soy milk.

Grilled Red Tilefish was fine, but paled in comparison.

Steamed Rice with Bamboo Shoot was a little stingy on takenoko, but I wasn’t too bothered having overloaded on the spring vegetable the day before.

Soy Milk Jelly with Azuki Beans and Strawberries made a pleasing end – the quivering milky cube a great canvas for the rich sweet red beans.

I had expected a higher ratio of tofu dishes on the menu, and it’s such a shame the star ingredient doesn’t feature more prominently as the two bean curd offerings were clear standouts with the rest being pretty pedestrian as kaisekis go. It was a lovely experience nevertheless, thanks in no small part to the picturesque setting, and I’d definitely recommend it as a lunch venue, especially during sakura or maple season when the gardens are particularly beautiful. Perhaps opt for one of the cheaper sets – don’t worry, they all include both signature tofu dishes so you won’t miss out!

Tokyo Shiba Tofuya-Ukai
4-4-13 Shiba-Koen,
Minato-ku, Tokyo

t. +81 (0)3 3436 1028

kikunoi akasaka

•July 24, 2012 • 10 Comments

It is quite rare for Michelin-starred heavyweights in Japan to set-up outposts overseas – perhaps born of an attachment to the amazing local bounty, an uncertainty of the foreigner’s palate or just a lack of desire to expand abroad. Luckily for us, in recent years this has started to change, and two high profile Japanese chefs are set to open up here in London – Mitsuhiro Araki of Araki and Yoshihiro Murata of Kikunoi. In Tokyo we sadly we couldn’t secure a reservation at Araki, but we did manage to eat at Kikunoi in Akasaka, the two-starred sister restaurant of the more celebrated original Kikunoi and Roan Kikunoi in Kyoto that hold five Michelin stars between them.

Murata’s style of modern kaiseki is an amalgamation of Imperial palace cuisine vegetarian Shojin fare, tea ceremony tradition and obanzai (Kyoto home cooking), and takes inspiration from the four seasons. His restaurants all serve the same seasonal menu, with three sets (of differing price points) on offer at dinner. Our ¥21,000 kaiseki kicked off with a complementary cup of sake and a petit dish of Sake-steamed Sea Bream Milt with Sea Cucumber Roe and Ponzu. Sea cucumber roe was completely new to me – rich and creamy, it paired well with the sharp ponzu and milky sea bream milt.

A pretty assortment of appetizers swiftly followed – Tai (red sea bream) sushi with kinome (prickly ash leaf bud), grilled Squid with nori and egg yolk, Mountain Yam “butterflies”, Octopus, Yurine (lily bulb) petals, Udo stalk petals, Fava Beans, and a skewer of Abalone, Shrimp and Avocado. No standouts, but all pleasant.

Sashimi of Kinmedai and Tai made more of an impression. The skin of the red snapper was left intact and scorched, and the slices came sandwiched between thin slabs of ponzu jelly, the acid of which accented the fish perfectly. Translucent folds of sea bream were served with a rectangle of Suizenji Seaweed, that too was a great match for the milder fish.

Another sashimi plate of Koshibi (young bluefin tuna) came dabbed with mustard and soy-marinated egg yolk sauce for dipping. Sounds unusual, but tasted great.

Steamed Wakasa Tilefish, Cherry Leaf, Warabi Fern Heads, toasted Rice Cracker Dumpling and Ginger Juice boasted a multitude of components but each was subtle in flavour so came together harmoniously.

Takenoko (bamboo shoot) is abundant in Japan during springtime, so inevitably we saw a lot of that on the menu. The first preparation of the vegetable was grilled with kinome miso – tender, not at all bitter, and wonderfully smoky from the char.

Grilled Tasmania Salmon was cooked on such a low temperature that it ate like raw fish, the soft silky texture contrasted well with the crispy skin and grated radish seasoned with yet more kinome (which, like the bamboo shoot was also in season).

Strawberry and Wasabi Sorbet provided a sweet mid-meal interlude. There was a discernable bite from the wasabi, but only enough to make it intriguing.

Vinegared Firefly Squid and Wild Mountain Vegetables was nice and refreshing.

A do-it-yourself dish of Japanese Hot Pot with Abalone, Bamboo Shoot, Seaweed and Kinome was a steaming bowl of pure comfort.

Steamed Rice with Bamboo Shoot, Green Pea Potage, Kinome, portioned out to us table-side was delicate and satisfying, but did pale in comparison to an outrageously good freshly-shaved black truffle-topped rice we had at Kadowaki a couple of days earlier. We were also beginning to tire of both bamboo shoot and kinome.

To finish, a choice of desserts. I went with the Almond Jelly, Hassaku Orange and Thai Basil Seeds, which was was light, clean and soothing. B liked his too – a chilled Sweet Bean Paste Soup with Rice Cake and Milk Ice Cream.

As tasting menus go, kaiseki is rather virtuous – the word after all refers to the practice of Buddhist monks holding warm stones to their stomachs to subdue hunger pangs – and despite being pretty full I felt sated, not ill. I enjoyed the food at Kikunoi (the cooking was certainly skilled and the ingredients top-notch), yet somehow overall it didn’t quite do it for me. It felt a little bit too commercial – from the waiters repeatedly bringing over the restaurant cookbook to the table for us to peruse, to the merchandise (including said book) for sale at the door. The menu itself also lacked range and wow-factor, although admittedly that could be down to the time of year we visited – their winter kaiseki looks pretty spectacular.

Perhaps the more idyllic Kyoto flagship would have made a better experience, but this meal wasn’t really enough of a push for me to find out.

6-13-8 Akasaka
Minato-ku, Tokyo

t. +81 (0)3 3568 6055

burnt enz

•July 22, 2012 • 9 Comments

Another quick departure from Tokyo (it’s beginning to look like I’m a dedicated Japanese food blogger), this time to talk about the brilliant Burnt Enz in London Fields. With the sun out, there really is no better place to be than Dave Pynt’s weekend barbecue residency at Climpson & Sons roastery, and we believe this so wholeheartedly we went this both Saturday and Sunday (after a full lunch at Cornish Grill). Yes, it’s THAT GOOD.

First things first, don’t go expecting pulled pork and coleslaw – this is not an all-American BBQ spot. Instead Dave (ex-Etxebarri, so you know he means business with a grill) cooks the best available produce simply, but to absolute perfection, so they shine on their own. He does all this in the roastery’s courtyard, on custom applewood-fed grills and brick ovens.

Sweet new season garlic, the edge tempered by slow-roasting, spread like butter on the slices of grilled bread and made a fine start to our feast in the sun.

A scallop each, plump and proudly sitting in its shell, followed. Grilled complete with its coral and served with seaweed and lemon, it was soft, succulent and a real burst of flavours.

Charred Fennel wedges were cooked through but retained a pleasing crunch, their mild aniseed notes nicely complemented by sorrel cream and orange oil.

A beautiful plate of grilled Tomatoes with Goats Milk and Mint confirms that vegetables are no after thought here at Burnt Enz.

Grilled Sea Bream served with salsa verde was absolutely stunning. B and I picked at the crisp-skinned fish with relish, enjoying every mouthful of moist flaky flesh.

Dexter Forerib was equally impressive – the majestic piece of meat had a good char to it, but was still juicy and pink within. It was quite a lot for the two of us to get through, especially after all we had already eaten, but with the help of a refreshing vinaigrette-dressed side salad of wilted lettuce and onions we managed it. Just.

On Sunday, having already had lunch, we scaled back a little and only ordered two things. The first was the Bone Marrow that I had my eye on the day before. Smoky quivering gloriousness – it was all I had hoped for.

Then, a whole leg of suckling pig, meat fall-off-the-bone tender and skin that cracked against the teeth. This time, even with the accompanying citrus-spiked shaved fennel salad, we were defeated and had to ask for the rest of the piglet to go.

If you’ve yet to have the pleasure of kicking back at the Helmsley Place arch, you need to hop down pronto as Burnt Enz is only running until the end of summer. Not only is the grilling top-notch, the relaxed vibe, cool digs and friendly staff (both the servers and bar-keep at the well-stocked bar, as well as the amiable Dave himself) make it unmissable.

Burnt Endz
Arch 374
Helmsley Place
London E8 3SB

open weekends 2pm-midnight
also on Thursday nights, bookable here