Xu, Soho

A few months ago, a new restaurant opened in Chinatown, this time a tea parlour that serves Taiwanese fare in a 1920’s glamorous setting!

The tea list consists of two cold and nine hot teas, with flavour descriptions such as having a slight taste of “yams.” They served the tea in a ceramic cup, already brewed, but also bring you a small teapot with tea inside (empty) and a large carafe of hot water, so that you can reserve yourself tea (I had another four servings… and it didn’t seem like it made even a dent in the water!)

I have to say, the lady that was my waitress was fantastic. The menu is large and quite ecclectic, with small bites, dumplings and different types of animal jerkies to start. She did an excellent job of navigating me through the menu, giving suggestions and making sure I didn’t over-order!

She suggested I try both the eel with tomato and the whipped cod roe on prawn toast to start, as those were her favourites (and two starters are good for one person).

I went for the tomato with smoked eel, which was incredible. Funnily enough, while I like eel, what was really good here was the tomato, apparently it comes from France and is much more flavourful… either way, the taste of that sweet tomato in the chili oil was such a treat! The texture of the eel was also good, but I didn’t find it especially noticeable next to the tomato.

Then, I went for the Xian Bing dumplings, pork dumplings pan-fried and served with a vinegar and chili oil. The waitress warned me that they are made with a tiny bit of broth, so to be careful when i bit into them… which I did tentatively… and they still squirted, a lot! The second dumpling squirted halfway across the room… oops. But the taste of the dumplings was good, pork with a bit of spring onion and coriander, with a nice pan-fried taste of the pancake outside.

Finally, the main course, the crab. She warned me that this would be spicy, but I found it mild after the chili oil in the tomato and eel dish…

The chilli egg-drop crab was something else… white and brown crabmeat in the shell, served with salmon roe, egg drop sauce, red chili, fermented shrimp, and garlic, the sauce was as delicious as the crab was, having a thick, but almost tomatoey consistency.

The waitress had recommended the white rice with this dish (and I listened, instead of ordering the mushroom glutinous rice), and she was right, there was no need for a flavourful rice with this dish, but more of a base or palate on which to eat these tasty bits.. Yum.

What a good lunch.. I’ll be back soon to try some of the other dishes on the menu, all of those smaller dishes but also the char shui pork and shou pa chicken!


Brawn, Bethnal Green

Last night, I had an appointment in Shoreditch, so figured it would be fun to stick around and have dinner nearby… since we almost never make it over there otherwise. I booked Brawn on Columbia Road, a restaurant that I had been wanting to go to for years, and just never made it to… and was SO excited that tonight was the night!

And wow, did it meet expectations. We started with two appetisers, the radishes with smoked cod’s roe (basically, taramasalata), the dip which was creamy and briny and very good…

We also ordered the rabbit terrine, which was one of the best terrines I’ve ever had. It was the perfect combination of being full of taste and still moist. Such delicious pate!

As a main, Andre got the pappardellle with beef shin ragu. I had a bit and it was quite good, as you could really taste the meat well over the freshly-made pasta.I went for the pink fur potato ravioli, stuffed with cheese and topped with another cheese (melted taleggio) that was delicious… and scattered with chanterelle mushrooms. So, the mushrooms were fine, but I didn’t find that they had tons of taste (more texture, really), but tasted very good with the ravioli and grated cheese on top!

The cheese inside the ravioli may have also been taleggio, but didn’t taste of very much, whereas the taleggio on top was dreamy… seriously, taking a bite of the ravioli with and without the taleggio topping were like tasting two different dishes!

After this, we shared the chocolate, olive oil and salt, which was just that, a chocolate mousse topped with a little olive oil (very strong and a nice complement to the chocolate, giving it a different aftertaste) and salt on the top… a simple but genius combination!

So, after all these years, what did I think? I’ll be back in a heartbeat, especially with all of the good-looking dishes that were coming out of the kitchen and that we hadn’t gotten to try yet!

Ella Canta, Mayfair

A girl’s night in early December, before the Christmas season properly kicked off… My friend Sara had been wanting to try Ella Canta, the Mexican restaurant that had recently opened in the Intercontinental Hotel by Martha Ortiz (better known for her restaurant Dulce Patria in Mexico City, which Sara had recently also been to and had an amazing experience). I am never one to say no to modern Mexican food, and expectations were high, so we tried it out!

After a margarita at the bar, we ordered a few appetisers to start… the guacamole, which was topped with ricotta and pomegranate (good, and we gobbled it up in about two seconds!) and the salmon tostadas, crispy chips topped with salmon escabeche, avocado, and a chipotle sauce. The tostadas were good, but a tiny morsel each… it would have been nice if they were slightly more substantial!

Next appetiser that came was the ceviche, which was also good but also small… sea bass ceviche topped with mango and a sangrita sorbet, it was called a vampire ceviche on the menu due to its colour!

They also kept bringing chips and salsas, both a red one and a green tomatillo one… we had about five of these, as both salsas were so good!

After this, the main dishes… Cindy had ordered the carnitas, whereas I ordered the cochinita al pibil. When our dishes arrived, we were sure that they switched them…

This was Cindy’s carnitas, which we both expected to be in shredded pieces… her pork was slow-cooked but not in pieces… served with an arbol chili sauce and a salad. I had a little taste and can attest that it was very good and very tender!

My cochinita pibil looked more like what I would have expected the carnitas to look like… as my pork was shredded… cooked in a delicious sauce with an anchiote paste on the side (the rust coloured sauce) and served with a black bean tortilla and black bean salad and some pickled onion, my dish was a good combinations of flavours!

Sara went for the soft-shell crab, served on a guajillo hummus and pineapple puree. I tasted a bit of her crab, that also was layered with tomatillos and radish, and it was much lighter and flakier than most soft shell crabs you get (that can sometimes be VERY fried). Yum!

Finally, it was dessert time, and we had a little room left, so we decided to share the cheesecake. It tasted like a US cheesecake, only more dense… we gobbled this up in seconds!

So what was the overall thought on Ella Canta? Everything tasted good, but not much was ground-breaking or amazing… it was “just” posh Mexican food. After Sara’s visit to Dulce Patria, we were expecting a bit more zing… and left dinner satisfied but not excited.

Oceans, Fort Cochin, Kerala

After Varanasi ,we switched it up and headed down south to Kerala. Kerala is very different from the north, much less hectic, more tropical, and with completely different food… Kerala is the most educated state in India, with a 93% literacy rate, and has the most diverse religious makeup, with only 50% Hindus.

Colonized by both the Portuguese and the Dutch, the old Fort area of the Cochin still has many buildings with colonial architecture and houses some of the oldest Catholic churches in India.


After walking around the old town, we decided to stop for a bite and checked out our options… A curry place and Oceans were the two that people kept recommending… and as we walked up to Oceans (we liked the idea of some seafood!), it was already pretty packed and had a “no reservations” sign on the door… probably a good sign.


And we ordered a feast. I must say, it took quite a while to get to us, Andre ordered a coffee and that took about 25 minutes… and the rest, about an hour… but the food was worth the wait.

First in line with the okra fry, okra cooked with crispy shallots… we gobbled this down in a few minutes and ordered another batch right away – it was probably just the taste of the fried shallots that got to us, but cooked that way, the okra wasn’t slimy (a bit issue cooking okra) and had a nice crunch to it as well… this is a dish I’d like to be able to make at home!

On the side, I got the king prawns in a green mango curry, which the waiter recommended (the curry, not the prawns… they list the prawns then about ten different ways that they’ll serve them to you, so it was difficult to decide…) and the curry was fine… to be honest, nothing especially exciting, it tasted like some sort of tomato-y gravy that the prawns had been cooked in. But the prawns themselves were delicious, if only I had chosen the right sauce…


Andre’s dish was a bit better, he picked the tuna in a traditional coconut cream and pepper sauce with tamarind… I am not a huge fan of tuna, so found the fish itself just okay, but the sauce was like crack… I’d steal spoonfuls of it to have on my rice, it had such a nice flavor.


So thoughts about one of the most highly recommended restaurants in Fort Cochin? Definitely go, it’s worth the vast seafood menu (and frankly, the veggie dishes stand up by themselves!) of different flavors… along with the number of local and Goan dishes, you can even pick from Portuguese or Italian dishes as well!

Baradari, Jaipur City Palace, Jaipur, India

Next, on to Jaipur, we walked all morning and visited a surprisingly interesting outdoor museum of sun-dials and other astrological feats, then went to visit the Jaipur City Palace. By the time we were done, we were starving, so went to check out the restaurant within the palace walls. And I’m glad we did!

There’s a small veranda with outdoor seats, some covered and some out in the sun, with some dining tables and a bar… very civilised!

We both ended up going for iterations of paneer and veggie dishes… Andre had the vegetarian soyta with haryali paneer… basically, a mix of spices and vegetables cooked in a grain (that Andre said basically tasted like a more moist quinoa), a sambar and the main, a skewer of roasted paneer, onions, peppers and tomatoes in a green chili marinade. I enjoyed picking this off this plate 🙂

I went for a similar dish, with roasted paneer and veggies in a red chilli marinade, with falafel, hummus and moutabal (aubergine dip) on the side, along with an herbed couscous.

My red chilli and Andre’s green chilli tasted pretty similar… and were both very good, moist paneer and crispy veggies.

… so much so, that the next day, at a loss of where to go for lunch, we came back to the same place! Andre got his meal again, and I got this below… I can’t remember what it’s called, but its basically plant stalks (erm, no idea what kind…) with black beans in a curry sauce with cashews… and it was very good.

Then we hiked up to the fort on the hill and took all the pictures…

The Royal Afghan, ITC Windsor Hotel, Bangalore, India

That night, we ate at our hotel, the ITC Windsor, which is an old English colonial building with grand drawings and pictures of the times when the British were still in India. The hotel has several restaurants, including our favourite, the Royal Afghan, a tandoor restaurant where most of the dishes are roasted.

They ask you to eat with your hands, so as you can see, our napkins are actually large bibs that go down to our knees… by the time my meal was over, I had used up all the clean space on the napkins!

And the food? Really good. All of it. We ordered a feast, or roast shrimp, chicken and lamb, all with different marinades, along with roast cauliflower (in a special fried shell) and potatoes (very soft and stuffed with mash, raisins, cashews, coriander and green chilis…) I’m not usually a potato person (unless it’s in mashed form!) but these were incredible.

On the side, we had a 24-hour roasted daal, which we scooped up with paranthas… and were in heaven.

Then some kulfi “ice cream” to finish off… we waddled back to our room very happily.

It should probably be mentioned that we flew out of Bangalore and back to London at the end of our trip… we stayed at the same hotel and ordered the exact same menu the last night there 🙂

The next morning, we hit up the breakfast buffet, which is one of the better ones I’ve seen at a hotel… and I got my beloved masala dosa. This is a rice and lentil batter “pancake” that you can either eat plain, or stuff with different foods (usually, it’s potatoes in a masala spice, for a masala dosa). Then, you get several chutneys, a red (spicier), white (coconut) and green chutney, and a veggie sambar, basically a liquidy sauce with veggies in it. This one was especially good, maybe because it had been a few years since I’d had one!

Cocottes de Constant, Paris, France

A weekend in Paris, and it was just before Christmas, so we were going for broke! Heavy meals at lunch and dinner for all meals, after a similar week in London, I started feeling a bit sick with the heavy food by lunchtime on Saturday.

But, the show must go on (especially with all of these amazing restaurants!). Shopping on Rue Saint Dominique, we stopped at Cocottes, a restaurant by Christian Constant (who has several restaurants on the same street).

I started with the shredded lettuce, crab and prawns, which were delicate and served with a bit of chilli pepper. Very delicate tastes, the salad was quite good.

Andre had gone for the langoustine ravioli, served in a langoustine bisque… and this was really delicious… the ravioli were very delicate and thin, with small pieces of shellfish inside, but the real winner was the creamy bisque, foamy so that it wasn’t too heavy, and the puree served underneath. What a dish. As Andre was feeling generous (or overwhelmed?) we shared our starters, so I was fully able to enjoy this dish.

Then, he ordered the potatoes stuffed with pig’s feet. I was slightly jealous when he ordered this, and even more so when it showed up!

The potatoes were well-cooked, and the stuffing was so good… the meat was fatty but very well-seasoned, and the smooth potato evened out the fattiness to make these SO good.

I went for the chicken, which was served in a cocotte with carrots, onions and pasta. It was ok, but not more than that… the chicken was pretty dry (surprising for a place that is used to cooking in cocottes!) and served with pasta (not mentioned on the menu) which made me think they were just trying to fill the dish up or had run out of whatever it usually came with… The juice that the chicken was in was good, so at least I could get the chicken a bit jucier that way…

Overall a very good meal, I just mis-ordered my main dish (and am still surprised at what a miss it was!) Also, they took 45 minutes between us finishing our starters and serving our mains… I think that something was off in the kitchen that day. But it will stay with me… and with all of the other good choices in Paris and even on the same street, it may be a while before I come back.