Bam-Bou

Why go here:

If you want to eat Vietnamese, Chinese or Thai but can’t make your mind up, go to Bam-Bou. It offers dishes from each of these cuisines as well as fusion dishes combining these styles.

What it looks like:

It’s spread across four floors where the top floor is a cosy cocktail bar and the remaining floors are for dining and the decor inspired by colonial times in the East with dark wood panelling and reddish hues adding the oriental touch.

The food:

For starters, we tried the Hanoi style short ribs and the scallops with kimchee butter since most of the other dishes were quite generic such as the prawn dumplings, crackers and the fragnant Thai salads. The chilli, garlic ribs were so good that I’m not sure I can go back to eating the standard sticky ribs…The scallops were soft and fresh and the kimchee butter added a great flavour but I think it slightly overpowered the tender flavour of the scallops.

For mains, we tried the whole bream and the charcoaled duck. The spicy, sweet and tangy shrimp jam with the hint of coriander was the highlight of the dish for me. I could have had just the jam with rice as my main. Nonetheless, the bream was also done well and had a lovely crispy skin. The charcoaled duck had a deep smokey flavour and the meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender.

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The coconut panna cotta was quite the work of art with the scattering of lavendar petals and the spiced pineapple twirls, albeit all quite Western.

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Verdict:

This is a good place to go to if you’re looking to have Vietnamese, Chinese or both. The dishes aren’t very high on the innovation scale but they definitely tick most or all boxes on the taste test, so take you’re date here if you want to look adventurous but want to still play it safe. And the addition of their late night cosy bar means you can continue discussing the great dinner you had over hand mixed cocktails.

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Lima Floral

Why go here:

Sister restaurant of the Lima, the first Michelin star Peruvian in Europe. So, you get lower prices but closely matched quality and innovation in the food.

What it looks like:

The place looks like a bistro in a navy blue and white theme and with a mural adorning one of the walls to add that Latin American touch.

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The food:

While London has quite a few noteworthy Peruvian restaurants, Lima Floral stands out because the focus of the menu is on the use of South American ingredients rather than on the standard Peruvian style of cooking such as with ceviches and anticuchos. You’ll instead find twists on European dishes through the use of exotic vegetables and herbs. The lamb rump came with fluffy ‘eco dry potatoes’, black quinoa flavoured with the Huacatay herb and fresh Latin American cheese! The potatoes were definitely the star component for me.

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The sea bass ceviche with sweet potato and hot tiger’s milk was a welcome variation to the chilled raw seafood ceviche I’d had before and very beautifully presented too.

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Verdict:

If you are looking to try Peruvian food made using real Peruvian ingredients incorporated into contemporary  European dishes then this is the place to go. However, if this is the first time you’re planning to have Peruvian, it might be better to start with one of the more traditional Peruvian eateries to get better introduced to the flavours before moving onto the more subtly Peruvian dishes at Lima.

Steam and Rye

Why go here:

It’s a one of a kind – there’s cabaret, railway carriage seating and a mechanical bull. The cocktails are pretty jazzy too. Oh, and it’s set up by model and actress Kelly Brook.

What it looks like:

Walking into the bar is a bit like walking into a movie set- very decadent and inspired by 1940s New York. Modelled on the New York Grand Central Station, there is a staircase leading to the mezzanine where you’ll find cabaret dancers performing. It’s all very Gatsby-style.

The drinks:

My ‘Mississippi Lullaby’ was made of a fruity lychee liqueur, peach and rum combo but what made the drink really stand out was the fire. Yes, the drink was literally on fire. Definitely one to have earlier in the night rather than later when you run a greater risk of burning your hair while downing your drink.

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The Monika Lewinsky was basically alcoholic ice cream while the ‘Mazie Balls came with caramel popcorn syrup and in a popcorn carton.

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The food served here is American style and the steak is supposed to be very good, but we never go to the food, so I’m unable to fairly comment on it.

Verdict:

The cocktails are mostly sweet, so those looking for sharp clean martinis should probably choose elsewhere. But for those like me who love unique combinations, flashy presentations and drinks that are so-sweet-you-can’t-taste-the-alcohol, this is the place to go. Plus, where else are you going to get a mechanical bull and Gatsby-esque performances thrown in for free.

Bone Daddies

Why go here:

If you like ramen, this is one of the best places to have it in London. If you haven’t had ramen before, you must make a trip to this restaurant and you’ll no doubt be converted to a devotee.

What it looks like:

The place is quite small and works on a no-reservations basis, hence expect to queue for a while. But service is fast and the high stool seating as well as the lack of a bar mean that this isn’t a venue where people would eat and chat for hours, so you will  certainly get in under half an hour in most cases. The decor is rock inspired and so is the music. Oh, and they have bibs for those that might be worried of spilling their ramen broth onto their clothes. I think they are a great idea since the ramen is pretty tricky to eat without the spilling and splashing.

The food:

We tried two of the highly recommended dishes- Tonkotsu Ramen which uses a base broth made using pork slowly cooked for 20 hours and the Tantenmen, a sesame flavoured chicken broth. Both of the ramens lived up to the hype- the broth was creamy, the noodles were thick and bursting with flavours of sesame oil, spring onion and garlic and the eggs on top were just the right level of runny.

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Verdict:

Due to the queuing, the stool-only seating and the loud rock music, this is probably not the place to take your mum or your first date but it’s perfect if you’re out for a meal with your friends or on one of the later dates or even if you’re dining solo. This is one of the most authentic ramen bars in London and is a must try for all noodle lovers out there!

Busaba Eathai

Why go here:

If you’re looking for Thai food that is oozing in flavour and in a modern setting but at prices friendly to the pocket.

What it looks like:

There are a few branches of Busaba Eathai but I was at the one in Stratford. Stepping into the restaurant, you’re hit with the strong smell of sandalwood from the burning incense. Statues of Buddha and floating lotus arrangements adorn this Thai eatery and the square, polished furnishings add quite a modern touch to it. The tables are communal so unless you are in big group, be prepared to be making friends with the other diners.

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The food:

If there is one dish you must try here, it’s got to be the Thai Calamari- it’s tastier and even more addictive than Pringles.

The portions are all quite large, hence if you like small platters like me, opt for one of the soup noodles. I opted for the Tom Kha Chicken which reminded me of the one I had in Bangkok.

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For those that want to try a feisty dish instead, I highly recommend one of the dishes from the chargrilled section or the Massaman duck curry, which are all much more meaty and more spicy.

The rice and noodles section are a bit boring in my opinion because I get similar offerings in most other Asian restaurants.

The jasmine smoothie is a great accompaniment for those that have a lower tolerance to the chillies, although most of the dishes here are mild and you can just ask the waiters to make sure they get your dish ordered with fewer chillies!

The teas were the only disappointment for me since they aren’t the traditional kind which is creamy and luscious and sweet. Rather, the teas served were water-based and I found the lemongrass flavour to be a bit too strong of a flavour to complement the rest of my meal. Hence, I’d suggest sticking to the smoothies or the wine.

Verdict:

If you like Thai food, you should definitely go here since it is definitely one of the best budget-friendly Thai restaurants you can get in London. It helps that there are 12 branches of the chain, so even if you didn’t want to queue for the one in Soho for an hour, you can dine at the one in Westfield Stratford, next time you’re out there shopping.

Boisdale

Why go here:

To try out some great quality Scottish food with live jazz in the background and for some of the best whiskey, since this happens to be the biggest whiskey bar in the whole of Europe.

What it looks like:

The restaurant is nestled right in the middle of the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. You go up the elevators into the circular dining room, with ceiling to floor glass windows, lots of group tables with merry, dining bankers and with the aforementioned whiskey bar and the jazz band forming the backdrop.

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The food:

The dishes can be hit and miss. The Truffle Aberdeenshire rib-steak hamburger and the dishes from the Grill are slightly less exciting but all very well-executed. My starter of the ham hock and fois gras terrine was a bit dry and the presentation seemed to lack color and looked a bit disjointed.

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The salmon fillet in my main course was not seasoned well enough but the taste of the accompanying juicy shrimps, soft leeks and hot butter sauce definitely made up for it.

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My favourite has to be the dessert – sticky toffee pudding. It was warm, gooey and the most indulgent caramel-y toffee sauce and partnered with a scoop of home-made smooth, white clotted cream.

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Verdict:

You should go here for the steak or the burgers if you want to play it safe. Or you can try out some of the more adventurous Scottish dishes and be rest assured of the quality of the ingredients. The flavours may not always be as top notch but are usually very decent. Overall, if you’re looking to go to impress your clients and love jazz and/or whiskey, this is the place to go.

Happiness Forgets

Why go here:

For the well-crafted cocktails and for the speakeasy experience. It helps that the entrance isn’t as hard to find as for most other speakeasies.

What it looks like:

You go down some narrow stairs to this dimly lit basement in Hoxton. The place is small yet cosy with lots of wooden benches so you’ll be sitting squished right into your date – that may or may not be a good thing. The background music is jazzy and the lighting is oriental red. You could also choose to sit at the bar to speak to the very amiable and talented mixologists.

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The drinks:

The menu is short but the choices are varied enough to tick the fancy of even the hippest of cocktail snobs. Most of their cocktails have atleast 5 different components including 2 or 3 different liqueurs. So, if you’re not sure of what to order just ask the staff. I like sweeter drinks and was recommended the Dirty Sanchez which includes port, rum, sherry, banana liqueur and more, which lived very much upto the mark.

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Verdict:

Contrary to the name, you are likely to leave feeling happy and if there’s anything you forget, it’ll only be your name since it’s likely that you’ll have more of these superb cocktails than you intended to.