Saturday, 29 March 2014

Guanabara: entertaining Brazilian club, restaurant and bar

Guanabara is an all-in-one entertainment venue, combining music, food, shows and a club-like atmosphere.  Part of its appeal is that it's a bit different; for example, during the evening there is a singer, a burlesque dancer, samba dancers, martial artists and a circus act.  All entertaining stuff!

What's the food like?

The girlfriend and I went with the Set Menu - a two-course menu including a Caipirinha cocktail for £24.95 - plus £4 if you fancy dessert.

The girlfriend started with the flame grilled chorizo in cachaça with caramelised onions and Brazilian cheese bread.  She loved it; the onions combining well with the contrasting flavours of the chorizo and bread.

Flame grilled chorizo in cachaça with caramelised onions and Brazilian cheese bread.

I started with the salt cod croquettes with mixed leaves & mango salsa.  This was delicious; the croquettes were wonderfully crispy and well-seasoned, and the salsa complemented it well.  My only complaint was that I wanted more!

Salt cod croquettes with mixed leaves & mango salsa.

So the starters were spot on.  Could the mains be as good?

The girlfriend went with the Brazilian feijoada (black bean, chorizo, smoked pork and beef stew) with rice & seasonal greens.  Our Brazilian waiter advised to mix all the ingredients together, which is apparently what they do in Brazil.  The presence of the orange seems strange at first, but works well against the savoury flavours of the stew.  As with other bean-based dishes, it can get a bit dry over time, though.

Brazilian feijoada (black bean, chorizo, smoked pork and beef stew) with rice & seasonal greens.

I went with the grilled ribeye steak (rare) with hand cut fries and ‘chimichurri’ sauce.  The steak was OK - a bit fatty in places so I probably should have ordered it medium or medium-rare in hindsight.  The fries were a delight though - very crispy and well-seasoned.

Grilled ribeye steak with hand cut fries and ‘chimichurri’ sauce.
The meal did come with a Caipirinha cocktail included, but it was also 2 for 1 Happy Hour when we went.  Despite their small size, they were quite strong (though my oriental blood does mean I am a massive lightweight when it comes to alcohol)!

Overall, Guanabara is a pretty entertaining place to have a night out.  While the food isn't always exceptional, it isn't bad and must be seen in the context of the whole package; it's got good food and decent entertainment rolled into one.
Nearest Tube: Holborn

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Sunday, 23 March 2014

Tonkotsu: tasty ramen noodle soup

I'm a massive fan of noodle soup.  So when the girlfriend suggested we go to Tonkotsu - a Japanese ramen bar in Soho, London - I was there straight away.

According to one of Tonkotsu's blog posts, their ramen bar is London's first.  They also take their food seriously, proudly displaying on their menu and website that they make their own noodles from their Japan-imported machine.  But is it any good?

The short answer is yes - the noodle soup is very good at Tonkotsu!  And judging by the queue at the door, they've clearly built up a healthy following too.

The menu is simple: there's only four ramen dishes to choose from (plus side dishes) - quality over quantity.  All the ramen are between £9 and £11, so you won't break the bank eating there.

I went for the 'Tokyo Ramen', a ramen noodle soup with a seasoned boiled egg, pork belly and bamboo shoots.  The pork was soft and well seasoned, and the egg was perfectly cooked with a lovely soft centre.  The noodles had a good bite to them, while the soup broth had a wonderful smoky and intense flavour to it.

Tokyo Ramen: soy sauce base, pork and chicken stock and medium thick noodles topped with mirin and soy marinated pork belly, half a seasoned soft-boiled egg, menma and spring onions. 
The girlfriend ordered the 'Tonkotsu', the distinctive feature of which was the rich and milk-like soup broth.  The taste was completely different to the Tokyo, and tasted creamy in comparison.  It was a softer flavour in my opinion, but the girlfriend was equally impressed.  In fact, she usually hates mung beansprouts (the type in the Tonkotsu ramen), but she ate them all on this occasion because, such was the flavour of the broth, it masked the sprouts.

Tonkotsu: rich, sea salt-based pork stock and thin noodles topped with slices of melt-in-the-mouth pork belly, half a seasoned soft-boiled egg, menma, bean sprouts and spring onions
Overall, I really enjoyed the food at Tonkotsu and will be eager to try their other ramen bowls.

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Monday, 17 March 2014

Layla - good Lebanese food in Wimbledon

Over the weekend, the girlfriend and I visited Layla - a Lebanese restaurant situated along the High Street in Wimbledon, London.  I was really looking forward to it; I had a look at the menu beforehand (as I often do) and I knew there would be things there that I wanted to try. 

Inside, the restaurant is spacious, clean and modern (though still retaining a Lebanese theme), which is not a surprise given that it's only been open for a few months.  But more importantly, how did I find the food?

I decided to go with the tasting menu for two (at £25 per person).  Variety is good, right?  

We started off with a mixture of hot and cold mezzes:

  • Lebanese bread.
  • Vine leaves filled with rice, herbs and spices.
  • Hommus - chick pea and garlic dip.
  • Patata harra - diced potatoes spiced with coriander and garlic.
  • Tabouleh - parsley salad.
  • Kibbeh - cracked wheat shells filled with lamb and pine nuts.
  • Cheese bourak 
It was a very good start and all the mezzes were delicious.  The kibbeh was my girlfriend's favourite.  It's like a croquette filled with meat and, while it looks dry from the picture, the inside is soft, moist and well-flavoured.

My personal favourite was the tabouleh (shown in its own picture below); I really liked the fresh and tangy flavour and it seemed to go really well with the other mezzes.

The hommus was beautifully smooth (like in Haz and Fora - so the supermarkets must be doing it wrong!), while the patata harra was mildly spicy, complementing the other flavours.  I also really liked the vine leaves, while the cheese bourak was not bad, despite me not normally liking deep fried cheese.

Next up were the two mains.  The kafta dish - with two generous-sized pieces of lamb - was well-seasoned (and meaty!), and the sauces worked well with the meat, while the vegetables were flavoursome.

Kafta - lamb shish kebab and roast vegetables, mint yoghurt and tomato salsa. 
However, the chicken curry was our favourite out of the two mains.  Though not particularly meaty, the sauce made the dish stand out.  It was not oily (as with some curries), nor particularly spicy, but there was a unique fruity taste and pleasant texture to it.  My girlfriend raved about the sauce!

Layla's chicken curry.
As the meal drew to a close, we were given a selection of baklawa with strawberries and cream.  Though a bit greasy, the baklawa were crispy and had a nice bite to it.  I've never been a big fan of things that are too sweet, but the baklawa's sweetness was countered by the cream, while the strawberries were refreshing - a good combination.

Baklawa - layered pastries with almonds, pistachios and pine kernels.
Overall, the tasting menu gave us lots of choice and we really enjoyed our time at Layla.  The flavours were generally good and portion sizes were generous, leaving us satisfied as we left  The restaurant was full and I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes more popular in the future as it builds up its reputation.

Nearest Tube: Wimbledon

Disclosure: my girlfriend and I were offered a free meal at Layla in return for this review.  However at no point were we encouraged to provide a positive review.

Layla on Urbanspoon

Friday, 7 March 2014

Wonderful cakes from Wonderful Patisserie | 名品中西餅屋

Are you in need of a decent cake for a special celebration? Head to Wonderful Patisserie in London's China Town.

As you may have guessed, it's a Chinese bakery selling all sorts of goodies. I recently needed to buy a cake for a family occasion and decided to get this bad boy:

As with many Chinese cakes, the cake is very light and airy - certainly less heavy than most Western cakes. Very spongy.

This particular one was pandan flavoured, producing a green cake with a subtle vanilla-like taste and aroma. It was covered in cream - not icing - and lots of fruit on top.  Almost healthy.

For £18 for this cake, it's not cheap. But it yielded around eight slices of cake and it's much better than any cake you can get in a supermarket, so it's worth it.

Nearest Tube: Leicester Square

Monday, 3 March 2014

Come to Kulu Kulu for good quality sushi at reasonable prices

I love Japanese food. I like the delicate flavours, the variety and the presentation. Things look so simple, yet so complex.

It's no surprise then that I was really looking forward to eating at Kulu Kulu - a Japanese sushi bar in Covent Garden, London. It's a conveyor belt-style restaurant, typical of many other Japanese sushi eateries.  The surroundings and décor are welcoming and the selection of sushi is good.

As well as sushi, you can also order various noodle soups and fried noodles from a menu; just ask the waiter and s/he'll help. Here's one example - and probably my favourite dish of the evening.

Tempura prawn and vegetables in noodle soup.
Plate after plate, I wanted more - even though the portion sizes were reasonable. I obviously couldn't try it all, so I decided to take a short video of the conveyor belt to give you an idea of what's on offer.  Do scroll down for my pictures too though!

A lot of people aren't too sure about tofu, but I'm a big fan, whether it's in soups, stir-fries or stews. Do give the agedashi tofu a go. It really was excellent - the skin was thin crispy on the outside and the sauce was well seasoned.

Agedashi tofu - this was excellent.
Deep-fried soft shell crab is a general favourite of mine, so I had to order this. Oddly, I didn't see it on the menu - and it certainly wasn't on the conveyor belt - but I checked with the waiter and he prepared a few of them for my party.  Soft and crispy, it was - delicious.

Soft shell crab hand roll.

Tuna nigiri.

Miso soup.

Scallop nigiri.

Squid nigiri.

Outside Kulu Kulu.
Overall, it was a great evening with old friends and tasty sushi at reasonable prices. There was also a 10 per cent discount on the night I went; I'm not sure how we qualified or whether it is a long-term deal, but it was a pleasant surprise.

Nearest Tube: Covent Garden and Holborn.

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Sunday, 2 March 2014

An Italian dinner: fried whitebait, parma ham & rigatoni, veal and tiramsu

The girlfriend managed to bag a three-course meal for two people for just £28 from Groupon - bargain!  We obviously looked at some reviews first; the location was Il Castelletto - an Italian restaurant near Holborn, London.  It had some positive (albeit limited) feedback and we had the whole a la carte menu to choose from rather than being restricted to a set menu, so the deal looked worth trying.

I started off with deep fried whitebait, which is one of my favourites.  Deep fried fish - what's not to like? Il Castelletto's whitebait was not bad; it could have been a bit crispier, but still a good start.

Whitebait with tartar sauce.

The girlfriend went with the Amore Proscilitto Di Parma, which is rigatoni with parma ham and olives in a tomato sauce.  It received a solid report; well-cooked pasta, tasty sauce, nicely presented - and the parma ham worked well.

Amore Proscilitto Di Parma

Sadly, I really disliked my main - the Saltimbocca Alla Romana (veal with parma ham and sage).  It sounds really good on paper, hence why I ordered it, but it had an overbearing sickly sweet taste - almost candy-like.  It's difficult to describe, but I've not experienced that taste before.  I like sweet meats (Chinese char siu being a favourite), but this took it to another level.

Veal - too sweet!

Onto desserts, we got a generous-sized tiramisu.  I'm not a tiramisu fan, so I'm yet to taste one that I would describe as spectacular, but this one was at least on a par with most others I've tasted - so no complaints.

For £14 per head, I'd definitely consider it again (even with the sickly sweet veal) and it's ideal if you're in London and looking for a place to meet friends after work.

I'm not sure if the deal is still available, but keep checking Il Castelletto's page on Groupon if you're interested in the deal we got.

Closest station: Holborn 

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