Old Town 97, Chinatown

The weather’s been pretty crappy, rainy and cold the past few days, which is a real change from the 30 degree, sunny weather we’ve had for most of the summer. It almost feels good for a few days, until you’re sick of having wet feet…

One of these days, I headed down to Chinatown for a bowl of noodle soup to warm me up. Seeing the roast duck and char siu hanging in the window, I walked into Old Town 97 to have a bowl there.

The place is quite simple, not very decorated, and the staff is quite busy, so it took me a good ten minutes to order. Then much longer to get my food.

But when the soup came, it really hit the spot. The duck was good, large pieces with a good amount of fatty duck skin and not much bone (my pet peeve is ordering roast duck, and being given the scraggly pieces with lots of bone and not much meat, what’s the point!?!) – but the real winner of the soup was the noodles; soft, springy and almost fluffy, these were the lightest noodles I’ve had in a while, all while not being mushy or breaking apart. I usually notice bad noodles, but never good ones, and these ones were really that good.

At £7.50, this was a perfect lunch break that warmed me up, and the noodles brought that extra little bit more that will make me come back here for noodle soup again.

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Kiln, Soho

I finally had some time to steal away and grab lunch at Kiln, which received an award for best restaurant in the UK this year! On a Monday in August, I came and sat at the bar with no wait… they even put me at the kitchen table to watch the prepping!

The restaurant is called Kiln, as most of the cooking is done on grills, either through a big industrial grill (left side), or in smaller pots filled with charcoal, that are topped with a wok. The food mostly has a nice grilled, blistered taste to it that adds a smokiness to the flavour!

As I was on my own, I didn’t get to order everything that I would have otherwise… so I started with a skewer, then got one curry with some rice and veggies on the side.

The skewer that the waitress suggested was the lamb skewer wtih cumin… it was juicy, with bits of fat still on the meat, and with a very cumin-like taste, but also something slightly spicier that reminded me of Sichuan pepper (it tingled in my mouth)… it was much more subtle than just a cumin taste. I finished this in about two seconds!

Then, the rest of the meal. The brill in sour turmeric curry was to die for… briny and, well, sour tasting, it had a good punch of tangyness. To the point that I wanted to keep drinking the sauce. The brill was lightly fried, which helped it to not get too sogy in the curry, and there was also a vegetable that I think might have been gourd inside too… whatever it was, it was light and crunchy.

Served with some Jasmine brown rice and greens on the side, this was the perfect amount of food.

A side note about the greens, that were special in themselves… they were stir-fried in a sweet sauce that caramelised the greens sligthly. Mixed in were some yellow beans, which I love, that gave a soft texture next to the almost crunchy greens… these would have been a good meal on their own with the rice!

So there we go. That’s all I had. I wanted to try everything on the menu, but it’ll have to wait until next time!

Shuang Shuang, Soho

A while ago, I saw that a new hot pot place was opening in Chinatown, and took note, but it was only recently that I actually made my way there. Shuang Shuang’s claim to fame is that not only is it a hot pot restaurant, but it also has a conveyor belt… so you can choose your hot pot ingredients! Genius.

Everyone gets their own individual hot pot station, with the pot, a dipper, dish, spoon and a sieve spoon to catch your cooked food.

Shuang Shuang has a Market Lunch Special for £10.5, where you get to choose three green or white dishes, one black dish (intended to be noodles, but they also have a few other black dishes floating around), a side dip, and broth.

I went for the original broth, the Black Bird broth which is a chicken broth that’s especially fragrant, with jujubes floating in it… and the House Sauce, wihch has a blend of sesame butter, red beancurd paste, and a dab of chili oil… the chili oil wasn’t very apparent, and the sauce tasted much more creamy, and less spicy than I wanted… so I added a good extra dash of sesame oil to it!

So, here’s what I tried out. Lots of greens (cabbage, boy choy), some tofu, and some slices of beef… all which came under the green and black dishes (there are other coloured dishes which are more… in the end, you pay per dish, so you can have as little or as much as you want).

I was impressed with the beef slices, doused in the creamy, spicy dip… and the tofu was delicious once it had soaked in the hot pot broth for a while… also dipped in the sauce!

Now, I’ve been back again, so I’ve been here twice at this point, and both times, took the Market Special and ended up getting two extra dishes of food to feel full.

This is a perfect place for lunch, where you can come with someone else but choose exactly what you want to eat – and, healthier than other Chinese dishes with sauces or noodles, you’re cooking you lunch in a hot broth and adding a bit of sauce at the end if you want… an easy, interactive and heatlhy lunch!

Eat by Chloe, Covent Garden

A few months ago, by Chloe opened up in the UK… for those of you that don’t know it, by Chloe is a vegan “fast food” joint that has popped up all over the US. When I saw that they were opening a store in Covent Garden, I was pretty excited…

So were a lot of other people… I waited in line for more than five minutes… checking out the surroundings and the Grab + Go section (that has salads, juices, and other beverages.

The seating area is also quite cool, and well-decorated… doesn’t it make you want to sit and spend some time here?

And the cash registers… four total, with a place to pick up your meal on the left. Like at Shake Shack, you get a beeper that lets you know when your meal is ready to pick up…

So what I liked was that every employee I saw in the store was a woman… both up at the counter, but also in the kitchen. I’m not sure if this was intentional or just by chance?

Here I am with my takeaway bag… made with eco-friendly ingredients.

Then, back at my desk, I got to check the food out… I went for the Guac Burger (a sweet potato, quinoa and black bean burger served with a corn salsa, guacamole, tortilla strips, onions, and topped with a chipotle sauce, served on a whole grain bun).

And it was pretty delicious. The patty itself was very tasty, with a good amount of flavour and spice, not tasting like meat, but like the best veggie burger patty I’ve ever had (and I’ve actually had quite a few!)

The corn gave it crunch, the guacamole gave it creaminess, and the lettuce and tomato gave it the normalcy of a typical burger… all encased in a really nice, firm but soft bun… impressive!

The sweet potato air-baked fries were also very good… I ate the entire box!

So, my overall thoughts? This is a new, exciting place to visit in the neighbourhood, especially as I’d like to try their vegan macaroni and cheese with shitake bacon, along with some of their tasty-sounding salads.

At the same time, I was stuffed after eating the burger and fries, in a way that I’m not typically, even after having eaten a bigger meal. Maybe it was the extra-fluffy bread? It wasn’t the protein, as there wasn’t too much of it in the patty (or elsewhere…) so who knows!

One of the things I always wonder about with vegan food is how healthy it really is. Everyone goes on and on about the lack of meat, and I agree that it’s healthier to mainly be eating plants… but when you think of the cashew cream and all the other very fatty foods you end up substituting for things like milk or meat, you can end up eating many more calories… and even if they are healthier, it can make a difference over time.

I had checked out the calories for this food, out of interest, on the website, and no information is listed… other than a note saying that the focus is that “By eating carbs from veggies, healthy fats, and plant-based proteins you will stay full longer, maintain your blood sugar levels, and experience increased energy” – I agree with that, but it still doesn’t give us much information. They suggest that you go talk to one of the employees in-store about it. And that’s what I’ll do next time!

Zuaya, Kensington

A few weeks ago, I noticed that a restaurant near us had closed down (and old Italian place) and that in its place, they were building a place called Zuaya. I was guessing it was going to be Lebanese food, but when it opened, we realised it’s Latin American food!

Turns out the chef is Basque, but has spent years working in Argentina, Peru and Colombia… and this restaurant has influences from all of his stops!

We ordered some food, but then the chef came out and told us his favourites… so we ordered way too much… luckily, the soft opening is offering 50% off until July 18th, so it didn’t hurt our wallets too much!

One of the chef’s favourites was the ceviche a la brasa, which was pretty tasty… and Andre’s favourite. Sea bream with red onions, some large Peruvian corn, a sweet potato ice cream, and Rocoto pepepr Tiger Milk (coconut milk pepper ceviche “juice”).

The crunch of the corn (crunchy outside but soft inside, firm sea bream and tangy coconut milk, the sweet potato ice cream (which didn’t melt over the fifteen minutes we talked to the chef… hmm… )… it was all cut by the sharp red onion on top… perfect!

Then, the corn bread brulee… made with large corn and sweet corn, topped with burrata. The corn bread was slightly undercooked in the best way, that it still tasted a bit doughy, and with nice pieces of sweetcorn in the dough, and the burrata on top was slightly charred (making the brulee). Frankly, the corn cake was good enough on its own that it didn’t even need the burrata… but it certainly didn’t hurt!

And what a pretty presentation!

And the octopus, grilled to perfection, sitting on a bed of potato fume and topped with a chimichurri and mint, and an aji Amarillo chilli sauce, this was a really nice dish! It was no Mykonos octopus, but otherwise, as good as I’ve had in London!

The creamy, mushy potato worked well with the spicy Amarillo sauce and chimichurri (which was much more herby and less oily than most), and the garlic chips on top gave a nice crunch and differing texture.

The turbot was a real winner… the waiter told us about all fo the different things topping the turbot (coriander, mint, Thai basil, ginger and lime keffir), and we couldn’t taste the nuances of any of them, except for the big pieces of basil… but it didn’t matter, because this (large) piece of turbot was perfectly cooked, super moist and nicely seasoned, which made us gobble it down. I would go as far as to say that the best turbot I’ve had was at the River Cafe, and that this is a close contender…

The tuna tartare with avocado was quite good, marinated in a sesame oil and Asian sauce (but, lightly, not overly sauced), the bits of guacamole and the crunchy leaves on top (I’m not sure what these were, but they had a slightly smoky taste, maybe they were some sort of seaweed?) made for a good combination.

We had a few margaritas…

My favourite dish of the meal was the purple tacos… they were lamb neck cooked for 18 hours, mixe dwith ras el hanout, coriander, and smoked cinnamon… and a little pineapple. The meat was SO tender and you could really taste the flavour… Andre was not as wow’ed as I was, but it’s been a while since I’ve had meat where the flavour came out so much!

And finally, the Amazonian prawns, that were grilled and put over a passion fruit coulis… the prawns were fine, though they tasted more soggy than crisp, and the little bits of cunch (grilled shallot, perhaps?) on top was also a bit soggy because of the coulis. The combination of flavours was nice, but the dish just wasn’t spot on.

So, we’ll be back. Apart from being a stone’s throw from our flat, the food was good, and varied. Nex time, I’ll pass on the prawns and order extras of the purple tacos and turbot… and try some of the other dishes on the menu!

Tarsanas, Tinos, Greece

That night, we tried out a restaurant in town that had many good reviews, and we weren’t disappointed. Tarsanas is located slightly off from the main port of Tinos but still on the water. As it was very windy, they hadn’t kept any tables outside, so we were all indoors, and the atmosphere was lovely. A mix of locals, young and old, along with tourists, some chilled music and great decorations (check out this painter!) made for a great environment.

Andre tried the local beer, which he really liked… And once again, we ordered a feast. We started off with some grilled, local cheese (not haloumi) that was served with a delicious tomato jam (the jam was more revolutionary to us than the cheese, but both were good).

Then, a good classic, a Greek salad, which as you can see was served to us in a HUGE bowl… again, after these two dishes, we would have probably had enough to eat. But no, we ordered on…

The grilled, local sausage. This was also a generous portion, as we were expecting maybe a 1/6 of this. It was nicely grilled, had the same texture as a saucisse de Toulouse but a taste closer to a Corsican figatel. A mix of Andre and I, go figure 🙂 We managed to eat this whole plate.

And then, some fresh fish (again, we thought that we were under-ordering by just getting starters…) The fish was very fresh and perfectly cooked… but the real winner?

The accompanying rice, mixed with dill, charred spring onions, and probably a lot of butter. It was delicious and addictive. Even after everything else that we ate for dinner, we managed to wolf down this rice… and I can’t wait to make it again at home! What a great meal…

Elia, Tinos, Greece

After a great few days in Mykonos, after family and friends had departed, we newly weds headed to Tinos, a neighbouring island, for a few days of R&R. Very different from Mykonos, Tinos is quiet with fewer restaurants, bars and even hotels… and much more open space. We spent the few days swimming in the sea, napping, eating and hiking.

Our first lunch, we headed near the hotel (a 30 mins walk) to Elia, a restaurant that is near the water but back a bit from the beach.

It’s a lunch place that has a pool, but it doesn’t look like anyone uses it, as there are no beach chairs or parasols anywhere…

We ordered a feast… first of all, a chicken salad, which had quinoa, corn, tomatoes, and lettuce in it… in a nice, creamy sauce. This alone could have made for a complete meal, but we were ordering with our stomachs…

Next came the fava bean puree, a favourite of mine. Topped with caramelised onions that broke up the creamy taste of the puree, this was as good as expected… but a much larger serving than expected!

Then, the feta wrapped in filo dough and drizzled with sesame seeds and honey. This sounded a lot better on the menu than it tasted. The feta wasn’t esepcially salty and the honey wasn’t especially sweet or tasteful… so the whole thing tasted kind of…blah.

And the zucchini fritters, which we wanted to try after having had the ones at Hippie Fish and loved them! These were okay, compared to at Hippie Fish, also served with tzaziki on the side… but my guess is, they had no feta mixed into the fritters themselves (maybe this is what really made the taste for the ones at Hippie Fish), and the zucchini and egg mixture on its own wasn’t especially seasoned, so we were left with a veggie eggy mix that was just… okay.

Overall, it was a lot of food, but none of it was great. We still made a pretty good dent in each dish, though, as we sat and tried to plan our route home along the coast.

Right as we were paying the bill, the waitress came out with something much better… their chocolate cake (and for free!) This was as chocolately, moist and decadent as it looks… a total winner! I would come back just for the cake!