Food Review: What comes to mind when one mentions Vietnamese food? Pho? Summer rolls? Well, thankfully there’s places in London that venture beyond the stereotypes with some fabulous street food from Northern Vietnam. What’s more, one of them make a vegetarian version that does not deviate in taste from the original as tried and tested by some of my Vietnamese friends. I only tried two dishes and these were enough to confirm that Nem Nem is a restaurant that I’d definitely return to.
First, I had the Chả Cá Thăng Long (also known as Chả Cá Lã Vọng and Chả Cá Hà Nội) which is a well known dish in Hanoi. This comprises of turmeric marinated fish which is first grilled and then fried table-side. It’s served with tons of fresh dill, chillies, herbs, crushed peanuts, and rice noodles. Here, I had the same but with tofu and marinated with seaweed. I began to truly appreciate this dish with it’s complex, yet well balanced flavours , especially with the strong flavour from the dill.
The next thing I tried here was interesting and something I’d like to make at home. Thịt bò nướng lá lốt or bò nướng lá lốt is a dish consisting of Vietnamese meat in lolot leaves, which are also known as betel leaves. The leaves are used in India to make paan, a digestive snack and have a distinctive taste. To see this being stuffed and grilled was very interesting. I’ve been told that this is often served or sold at barbecues in Vietnam. Mine were stuffed with tofu and tasted incredible! Something I’d really like to have again. All this washed down nicely with some beer and I’ve had a great start to my week!
Review: Fancy afternoon tea at home? Over the years, I’ve had some warming tea infusions and eaten a lot of scones and finger sandwiches in various charming spots in the city. During this extended period of lockdown and staying indoors, this is one of the experiences I was missing the most but thanks to @sejskitchen Sej’s Kitchen, I had a box of afternoon tea delights delivered to my door.
I was treated to a parade of perfectly rectangular finger sandwiches, quiches, tarts, scones and tweezer-precise cakes and meringues.
The savoury box contained the BEST egg mayo sandwiches along with some classics such as cheese and pickle, cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches. The veggie quiche was delicious and the hummus was beautifully smooth, complimenting the cheese bites and the salads.
In the sweet box, the buttery scones came with thick clotted cream, delicate homemade raspberry jam and fresh fruit. They were fluffy and flakey with golden tops and held well together in order to spread our accompaniment. The stars of this box were the salted caramel chocolate brownie and the chocolate tart- both absolutely divine and moreish. There were also other gorgeous sweet treats such as mini doughnuts (who doesn’t love mini doughnuts) cream puffs (wonderfully light and airy) and tastefully crafted meringues.
If you’d like to create your own afternoon tea experience at home, definitely get a box of these delights from Sej’s kitchen. Check out her lockdown menu here.
Food Review: Master Wei. This sister restaurant of Wei Guirong’s famous Xi’an Impression tucked behind the Arsenal Football stadium is more centrally located in comparison, in the heart of Bloomsbury to be precise.
Given the foodie that I am, I have made it my hobby to explore the best of food that London has to offer and I have never come across some of the glorious dishes such as the ones on Master Wei’s menu. Right from street food to home cooked delicacies, it’s all under one roof.
I chose nearly all the vegetarian dishes on the menu except for the vegetable biang biang noodles as I’ve had them before at Xi’an impression (so incredibly flavourful and delicious). I also wanted to try everything else that the lovely Shaanxi region has to offer.
My favourites were the wood ear mushroom salad and the steamed vegetable dumplings. The former served cold and the latter served hot, both with a generous amount of chilli, soy and vinegar. The salad was very moreish and cleansed my tastebuds while the steamed dumplings tasted homemade and felt like a warming culinary hug. I was also curious about the egg drop tomato noodle soup- a dish that’s very basic in many households in Xi’an and is a bowl of hearty goodness from humble ingredients of hand pulled noodles, eggs, tomatoes, greens and spices. Dessert of sweet potato balls with vanilla ice cream was unusual. I loved that it was similar in texture to a beignet, yet it wasn’t overly sweet and had a great, airy texture.
The staff are true stars here who are very attentive, knowledgeable and friendly. A big thumbs up to Wayne, Aimee and Lee. Given how much I enjoyed the regional food here, once things return to normal after Covid-19, I am certainly going to indulge in more dumplings and hand pulled noodles!
Reservations in advance: Recommended for parties of four or more.
Price for food, drinks and service for two: £40
Food Review: Wild Food Café.
Wild Food Cafe in Islington is a branch of the Covent Garden original. Unlike its sister, this vegan restaurant is airy, brighter, bigger and takes reservations which is a boon in London’s dining scene. The original, right next to Neal’s Yard has been serving up plant-based and raw-food dishes, as well as championing foraged ingredients well before the popularity in vegan dining that's taken hold in the capital lately.
The design is quite chic with pastel shades on velvet chairs, an abundance of plants, marble counters and a large open-plan kitchen where we watched our smoothies and cocktails being made.
We thoroughly enjoyed our full vegan breakfast which consisted of kale, asparagus, avocado, chickpea omelette and another main dish of peas and olives on toast. My diet being mainly vegan, I found it refreshing to have many innovative dishes on the menu, including the raw cakes for desserts- free from any refined sugar. The chocolate and raspberry cake tasted as good as it looked. It was rich, yet combined well, thanks to the smooth chocolate and sharpness from the raspberries. The banoffee pie exhibited a strong coconut flavour and had a great texture. Having been here for brunch, I highly recommend starting your day here!
Reservations: Recommended for parties of three or more and if you are planning a weekend breakfast/brunch.
Price for food, drinks and service for two: £55-£60.
I may know my whisky better than any other drink, but I do have an obsession for vineyards. Acres of green vines, spreading over slopes as they grow heavy with ripe fruits are a common sight in Tuscany, but less so in the United Kingdom. When I spotted some vineyards in Surrey last year on a steam train ride, I wondered what British wine would taste like. It has come a long way in recent years, winning accolades, growing unique variety of grapes (Bacchus) and tempting even the most discerning of drinkers. My friends and I decided to take a trip away from London for a day to enjoy the English countryside and take a stroll through the vineyards.
Denbies wine estate in Surrey was the closest to us and a good start. The estate offers indoor and outdoor winery tours. The former explores the working winery along with a cellar tasting, while the latter takes you on a toy train tour of the vineyard, boasting panoramic views of the North Downs.
After our indoor food and wine tasting tour, we dined at the gallery restaurant which looks over their 265-acre vineyard. Narrowing down what to drink (as captured in my photos) are sharing a bottle of the Bacchus Sparkling wine and the Noble Harvest dessert wine which were our favourites.
Tickets: The price depends on the tour chosen. We opted for the basic indoor winery tour which was £14.50 each for over an hour.
Food Review: Chiringuito, Bethnal Green.
For years, I’ve been searching for a restaurant in London that does a decent Pan Con Tomate and ay carramba!! Chiringuito in Bethnal Green masters this dish to perfection, topping it with my favourite- manchego cheese which makes it an instant winner.
On a warm day, you can visit Chiringuito and sit on their rooftop terrace. Take in the serenity of the park and views of St John on Bethnal Green church. The contrast between the hustle and bustle of East London to the calm, leafy views of the church is simply incredible!
The food and cocktails are fantastic and you are certain to be welcomed with friendly service. The good news is, knowing the unpredictable weather in London where staying on the rooftop may not be feasible, there’s space indoors to have an equally good time!
I ordered the Pan Con Tomate (of course), roasted Aubergine with vegetables (vegan) and had the delectable cocktails- Il Capitano with Tequila and a surprise cocktail with a whisky base that was not featured on the menu and was a daily special. Absolute gem of a restaurant for the summer!
Food Review: Coal Office, London.
This is a collaboration between British designer Tom Dixon and Israeli chef Assaf Granit and I’ve visited the latter’s restaurants in London - The Palomar and The Barbary, both fantastic and unique in their own way. Given how much I love Israeli food, I had to try this. Coal Office is more design savvy (not surprised) and is larger in comparison to the sister restaurants, making it very fitting for its location in Kings Cross.
Let's focus on the food. What blew my mind was how simple and humble ingredients such as fresh oregano and aubergine created such magic. For starters, I had the Kubaneh - Kubala bread (so fresh, fragrant and delicious) to be torn and dipped in that labneh that’s dressed with tomato confit and oregano. Then the josperised (coal/oven) aubergine with a zing of green tahini which is similar in flavour to zhoug.
My favourite was the truffle polenta. Now, I’ve had this at the Palomar before but the dish at the Coal Office was a definite winner. There was also an inspiring dish of spinach and chard with sumac. Don’t worry, if you’re not sure if what to have, the amazing staff here will help you decide.
I got the best seat here, the counter tables where you watch the chefs at work and both chefs Nitai Sevach and Guy Winner are absolutely brilliant in their creations and what they brought to the table. I highly recommend Coal Office if you’re looking for an enlightening, entertaining (some of them do the occasional dance to the Middle Eastern music in the background) and healthy dining experience.
Due to the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Covid-19, Coal Office has closed its dine in space but you can still buy their freshly baked breads and delectable salads along with fresh produce from Natoora by emailing ToYou@CoalOffice.com.
Food Review: Fatt Pundit, Soho, London.
I have been waiting for an Indo-Chinese restaurant to come to central London instead of making the trek to zone 5 and finally, there’s Fatt Pundit, right in the heart of Soho. It might not quite be the kind of food that many here associate Indian food with given the abundance of ‘curry houses’ but this cuisine brings back so many wonderful memories of home to me.
Inside, the vibe of the restaurant is a mix of Soho-sharing-plates buzzy and Indian café chic: long and narrow, exposed concrete, small tables, large dining bar, never quite enough space for all the plates that will arrive and decorated with a strong influence from Tangra, a Hakka-heavy region in east Calcutta.
Now, the food. Max and I being vegetarians, we ordered nearly everything veggie friendly from the menu - Momos, Schezuan fried rice, Hakka noodles et al. What I personally loved were the crispy okra fries and chilli paneer, they definitely got the flavours right. This may be slightly pricey but it is in central London after all. Fatt Pundit is now on my list of the top ten restaurants in London and I’m already thinking of when I’ll be back.
Selin Kiazim and Laura Christie have done a fine job in showing London that’s there’s a lot more to Turkish food than kebab shops.
Having been to their first venture Oklava in Shoreditch thanks to my foodie friend, I decided to visit the sister restaurant near Warren Street. Kyseri is named after the ancient city in Cappadocia in central Anatolia (sometimes spelled Kayseri) that is most associated with the Turkish stuffed pasta - manti. Here, they’re serving two types of pasta.
The first is manti, popular throughout Turkey and Central Asia. They’re small dumpling-style stuffed pasta bundles with fillings including beef, chickpea, mushroom, and more. I had the mushroom manti. Here they come with traditional garlic yoghurt, and tomato chilli butter sauces.The second type of pasta is the eriste, which looks like a broken tagliatelle. It’s traditionally made with walnuts, feta, garlic, and parsley, but here, they’re promising a more elaborate version of that.
Delicious pasta aside, I also tried some incredible Turkish coffee, Sparkling wine and a special mahleb (cherry based aromatic dessert) to end my fabulous meal. Well worth a visit and full points for the service and food.
As Kyseri gets booked well in advance, it's recommended to make a reservation prior to your visit. For more details on their ever-changing menu, check out Kyseri here- https://www.kyseri.co.uk/
Unfortunately, as of January 2020, Kyseri closed and re-opened as Oklava Bakery and Wine in the same location. I was meaning to go there to check out their promising breakfast, but it will have to wait for better days after the lockdown has been lifted and when it is safer to dine in.
Food Review: I ended my epic food reviewing year at Rude N Boomin, this lovely, vibrant Café near Walworth Road. Excellent coffee, smoothies and healthy brunch options where you’ll find a more snappy avocado on toast. Rude n Boomin is highly recommended if you're in Elephant and Castle and wondering where you can grab a bite to eat with some coffee or get some work done. There's vegetarian and vegan options on the food and drinks menu whats more, they’re introducing more fun additions this year. Wonderfully friendly staff and some brilliant artwork too!
My passion for food, particularly trying the vegetarian dishes from different cuisines stems from the advantage of living in London. The diversity here is remarkable. You can head to another part of town and try an authentic dish from a country that is 6000 miles away.