Koya

Why go here:

For authentic Japanese udon noodles

What it looks like:

Its styled like a Japanese cafe with the long wooden sharing tables, white walls with wall hangings comprising mainly of the regular menu and daily specials written on scrolls and an open kitchen. Last time I went, I observed that a lot of my fellow diners were Japanese which I took as a sign for the food being authentic. The cafe only has 25 seats though and doesn’t take reservations, so expect to queue for a while.

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The food:

Having waited in the queue for more than half an hour, we were starving so went straight for the udon. There are cold or hot udon noodles which are served in hot or cold broths. I ordered the Kinoka Atsu-Atsu (hot udon in hot broth) which came in a mushroom and walnut miso flavoured broth. The udon was served with in a clear broth loaded with fresh, crispy mushrooms. The walnut miso was provided as a thick paste in a little bowl on the side, so one can add it in as per their taste. The paste was warm, earthy and sweet and the ground walnut had a pleasant, distinctive taste. I added in all the paste to my broth and was hoping there was more since I couldn’t taste the walnut as strongly anymore. Alas, there was no more and so, I had to make do with some chilli soy sauce instead. Here’s a tip- don’t eat the paste on its own before adding it to your noodles, because then you’ll always find the flavour to be too mild in this diluted form.

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The dish was filling and yummy nonethless and felt not too rich. It was almost like a healthier version of ramen for me. The noodles were also thicker and prepared more al-dente. I also ordered some Japanese tea which was nicer than the standard Green tea served in Chinese eateries and came in a cute little kettle.

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My friend opted for the Kitsune udon dish that was filled with fresh, sweet tofu and zesty spring onion.

Koya also serves an English Breakfast Udon with eggs, bacon and mushrooms- one for the morning people.

Verdict:

Koya focuses on only one thing and excels in it. Prices are cheap for Soho and the portion sizes are big. You do feel like you’ve been transported to Tokyo when dining here. Noodle lovers- get yourselves to Koya.

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Chotto Matte

Why go here:

For fusion Japanese and Peruvian food. What a unique combination!

What it looks like:

Stepping into Chotto Matte feels almost like stepping into a VIP club. The glossy black floor, the funky wall art, the disco ball like bulbs and the stylish diners all add to this high-end club like feel to the place.

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A special mention for the toilets- most interesting of any London hotel or restaurant I’ve ever been to. You are led to the toilets through a corridor with fluorescent lights projecting artwork onto the walls. Once inside, the cubicles themselves have all shiny, black doors but more importantly, are extremely heavy! I almost got stuck in the cubicle but was able to push after five, painfully long minutes of extremely wrestling with the door knob and panicking.

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The food:

The dishes are all small plates – some primarily Japanese or Peruvian and some combining the two. Since we’d had Japanese as well as Peruvian on their own before, we decided to order the fusion dishes, i.e. those of Nikkei cuisine. We started with the Tostaditas- small tacos but with a confluence of Japanese and Latin American toppings. First up was the Tuna Tostadita- with Tuna sashimi, jalapeno, coriander and wasabi. It was pretty amazing to see how all these different ingredients had been packed on top of one of little taco and also how well the flavours worked together.

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Our second one was the Tomato and Kumquat Tostadita with coriander and chive oil, which was as colorful and as fun a mouthful as the first one.

Our next dishes were from the Nikkei BBQ section- the Pollo den miso and the Maize Huancaina. The Miso chicken came with a yellow chilli salsa and a fine slaw of carrot and daikon, which is a mild sweet-sharp Japanese radish. The Maize was cooked in coriander and garlic butter and served with a yummy cheesy dip.

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Our favourite dish, however, was the Barriguita de chanchito, which consisted of tender pork belly barbecued with Peruvian chilli peppers and garnished with a pear and tomato salsa. The pork was soft and superbly crisp-skinned and the marinade was absolutely gob-smacking.

We also ordered some Yuca Frita, i.e. bowl of Cassava chips served with  a smoked panca (Peruvian pepper) dip. These were some of the chunkiest and largest chips I’d ever had, not to mention very tasty, since Cassava is sweeter and more flavourful than potatoes. This is a good side because the rest of the dishes are pretty small.

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Verdict:

Nikkei cuisine is colorful and fun and very delicious. The extensive menu together with the unique dishes and the snazzy vibes of Chotto Matte, makes eating here a must-have dining experience.

Yauatcha

Why go here:

It’s the only Michelin starred Dimsum restaurant in London and sister restaurant to the sexy, Michelin-starred Chinese, Hakkasan.

What it looks like:

A Taipei tea house that has been styled into a sleek bar and restaurant with deep blue spotlights producing a starry-sky like ceiling, frosted glass walls and a giant fish tank used to separate the dining area from the kitchen.

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The models of sheep, adorning the bar and corners of the dining area, did seem a little random initially but we realised eventually that this was because the restaurant gets styled each year in line with the Chinese calendar and year 2015 happens to be the Year of the Sheep.

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The food:

We started with drinks at the bar. I tried the Lalu which was made with Belvedere Vodka, Oolong Tea, Lychee and Lemongrass. The drink was very refreshing and you could taste every single component.

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Getting onto food, we started with Pork and Prawn Shui Mai and Char Siu Cheung Fun.

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The dishes were both carefully prepared and very delicious but my favourite was the dish I had next – the Pork Wontons.

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These were sweet and spicy and were served in a bowl of tangy garlic and peanut sauce.  The roast Duck and Pumpkin Puffs with Pine nuts, one of Yauatcha’s signature dishes, were also very delish- the pastry was sweet and crispy and the filling of warm, roast duck and crispy pine nuts had great texture and flavour.

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Verdict:

While Hakkasan may remain my favourite of these Michelin-starred sisters due to the more extensive and experimental menu offered, Yauatcha is a must try in every right because the Dimsums here are beautifully crafted and some of the most delectable ones you can find anywhere in the country.

Royal China

Why go here:

Known to be one of the best dimsum serving places in London with prices which match its much less-worthy Chinatown counterparts.

What it looks like:

I visited the Canary Wharf branch of the restaurant which is situated right next to a ferry pier and offering a stunning view of the Thames. The restaurant has definitely got the royal feel to it with the black, red and golden tones and the alternating mirrored and painted walls.

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The food:

You can’t go to a dimsum joint and not order dimsum. Instead of discussing all the different dimsum dishes we ordered, I’ll mention the ones that stood out the most for me. The steamed prawn dumplings with coriander and the roast pork cheung fun were morsels of deliciousness. The coriander enhanced the flavour of the prawns in the dumplings and the roast pork was sweet and smoky. The peanut sauce served with the cheung fun was so good, I could have had a bowl of rice with the sauce alone.

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Besides dimsums, we also tried the Chiu Chow Chicken, which was chicken prepared using authentic preserved chillies from the Chiu Chow cuisine of south-east China. The chicken was quite hot but the aroma of the garlic and the vibrant chilli peppers really makes this a tongue tantalising dish.

The green tea served here seemed to be one of the only things that disappointed me. You are better off ordering wine or just water. Service is similar to the standard Chinatown eatery- rude and rapid. I didn’t see any of the waitresses smiling and chatting to the guests, but I think this is more of a cultural difference. At Chinese restaurants, the service is all about speed and efficiency and they must have a very hard job at Royal China, since its supposed to be always brimming with dimsum lovers.

Verdict:

The dimsum as well as the al-a-carte dishes are of great taste and quality while being a fraction of the price compared to other Canary Wharf eateries. Come here for a weekday lunch with colleagues or clients if they love Chinese or you could come over for a date during the weekend. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations though, so you’ll have to come early or be prepared to queue.

Koba

Why go here:

For traditional Korean BBQ served in glam settings in Soho

What it looks like:

Unlike London’s other Korean joints which are mostly canteen-like and run in small homely spaces, Koba is a modern restaurant with wooden panelling along the roof, a black and golden color scheme and an elegant decor. The tables come fitted with grills and the place is always buzzing not just with the voices of the excited diners but also with the sizzling sounds of the BBQs from all the tables. Personally, I could not have asked for any better background music!

The food:

We started our meal with Kanpooggi- the famous Korean style stir-fried chicken which was served with a sweet chilli sauce and Pajeon- Korean pancakes made with spring onions and chopped seafood. My friend who has been to Korea  confirmed that the quality and the taste of the Kanpooggi here was similar to what she had in Korea.

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The Pajeon was fluffy and with a crisp exterior and a soft and chewy interior, and was packed with chopped prawns and scallops. Yum!

For mains, we tried the Daeji Bulgogi and the Seafood Bibimbap, a Korean fried rice prepared in a hot stone pot and topped with a runny egg.

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The Daeji Bulgogi was spicy, marinated pork barbecued at our table.

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Both were delicious, although I did feel that Bibimbap could have been a bigger portion size considering the price. Kimchi was also not included and had to be ordered separately, something that’s unheard of in traditional Korean restaurants.

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Verdict:

Koba is a bit pricey in comparison to its more traditional, smaller counterparts but it definitely doesn’t compromise on quality and is a must try if you wish to enjoy some delicious Korean BBQ prepared right before your eyes and at your table- a true sensory delight in every way!

Archipelago

Why go here:

To try exotic meats – there’s kangaroo to alpaca to crocodile on the menu.

What it looks like:

The restaurant is filled with cultural artefacts from all over the world. There are antiques like wooden giraffes, peacock feathers, Moroccan wall hangings and other random knick knack in every nook and corner of the place.

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The food:

You’ve got to be adventurous if you’re coming to eat here. While the menu does include some ‘safe’ dishes like the Massaman Chicken or the Malaysian-style Confit Duck, I was intent on trying the dishes I couldn’t get anywhere else. So, going in with that mindset, I ordered the Crocodile in Vine leaves and the Python Carpaccio for starters. The Crocodile meat was soft and flaky and was served with honey poached plums and pickled samphire, a crisp vegetable that grows in coastal areas.

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The Python looks like banana slices and tastes like chicken except much tougher. The accompanying green tea and wasabi crackers with olive puree were definitely the easier to digest components of the dish.

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For mains, we tried the Kangaroo Skewers and the Jerked Alpaca. The kangaroo was marinated in an Israeli sauce made of peppers and garlic and was served with candied beetroot and a red onion farofa, which happens to be a Brazilian dish made with maize-flour couscous. I found the kangaroo meat to be similar to lamb and quite succulent from the marination.

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The jerked alpaca came wrapped in a leafy bowl and topped with a cornmeal slice. There were plantain chips or Patecones on side along with a slab of buttermilk jelly, which tasted very much like Tofu. The alpaca was pretty fiery but the heat was offset pretty well by the creamy cornmeal slice and the buttermilk jelly.

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While we couldn’t brave the love-bug salad, we did order some coconut rice with a sprinkling of ants on the side, which were  surprisingly nice and crispy and tasted almost like breadcrumbs.

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Dessert was the Medieval Hive, which consisted of brown butter ice cream served with a beautifully silky honey and butter caramel sauce and all topped with a baby bee, the latter of which I very kindly let my friend enjoy all to himself. The ice cream and caramel sauce were to die for though!

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Verdict:

This place is a gem for all the adventurous foodies out there. The fusion of cuisines and the use of understated and unexplored ingredients makes the food here all the more fun. Dining here is definitely an experience and it explains why the restaurant has been referred to as one of London’s most romantic settings.

Hakkasan

Why go here:

This is London’s first Chinese restaurant to have been awarded a Michelin star and still remains one of the city’s best high-end Chinese restaurants.

What it looks like:

Hakkasan has often been described as the sexiest restaurant in London and you start feeling the seduction the moment you step into the slate-walled corridor with dim lighting that leads into the dining room which has a mysterious icy blue gleam and flickering candles all around. This is definitely a venue to be dressed up for. After all, you don’t want the restaurant to look sexier than you, right?

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The food:

I had heard mixed reviews regarding the value of money for the food here. In my opinion, the dishes are well worth every penny and I am not even including a markup for the ambience. What does tend to shoot the bill up for most people is admittedly the alcohol. I recommend ordering Sake by the tokkuri- the small flask fared me well for the entire meal and was quite reasonably priced. For starters, I ordered the crispy duck salad with peanuts which was sticky, crunchy, sweet and spicy, all at the same time! The dish is a lot more than a salad and a must try in my opinion, if you like duck.

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For mains, I had the Jasmine tea Smoked Chicken and the Morning Glory stir fry with the Singapore Vermicelli with prawns and squid. Firstly, I was pleasantly surprised by how large the portion sizes were, which might have been one of the reasons I felt that the prices were actually quite justified.

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The chicken was tender and had a beautiful smoky flavour. It also had this pale salmon-like tinge from being smoked in the Jasmine tea. The morning glory, a green vegetable which looks like french beans and tastes like spinach, was stir fried in a spicy chilli and garlic chilli sauce and went well with the vermicelli.

My only complain regarding Hakkasan would be the service times – tables are required to be given up within 2 hours so it would be helpful if the food was served promptly. But it is understandable that with the preparation and skill going into each of these dishes, they can’t match fast food service times. In any case, the service was very attentive with the waiters helping guests with their coats and even walking them to the washrooms, which do have slightly confusing signs (and yes, I did almost walk into the men’s..)

Verdict:

Sexy settings and innovative, delicious Cantonese food make this a must try. Given the time limit on the tables, I advice you to decide what you wish to get in advance to maximise the time you have left to enjoy your food.

Barshu

Why go here:

One of the only places in London offering traditional Sichuan food (from Southwest China), which happens to be known for its use of the famous and fiery Sichuan pepper.

What it looks like:

The restaurant is furnished with traditional Chinese wooden decorations including wall-to-floor engraved golden panels with dragon heads and adorned with multiple red lanterns. Be careful not to confuse it with the sister restaurant Ba-shan which is right across the street, also serves Sichuan food and has similar decor, only smaller and less popular (I did get it wrong the first time, by the way).

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The food:

Traditional Sichuan food includes spicy dishes only but the menu here has been adapted to cater to the British audience, so you can ask the waiter’s recommendations for the milder dishes if you have a lower tolerance for chillies. It helps that the menu includes photographs of all the dishes so you can opt for the dishes that look either the most appealing or the least spicy to you, although I would suggest you to be adventurous and go for the former!

I started with the Dan-Dan Noodles, a traditional Sichuan street food consisting of noodles served with minced pork, chilli oil and topped with spring onions and crushed peanuts., This was not only one of the tastiest but also one fo the cheapest dishes on the menu at only 4.50!

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Next came the mains. We had ordered the Gong Bao Chicken with Cashew Nuts, the Fish fragrant Pork Slivers and the Fish fragrant aubergines.

The ‘Fish fragrant’ dishes on the menu are some of the most traditional ones and I’d highly recommend you to order one. Don’t be put off by the name- there is no use of fish flavourings like fish sauce or anchovies! The term refers, instead, to the use of fragrant combinations of garlic, ginger, spring onions and pickled chillies that were used primarily in Sichuan cuisine when preparing fish to overpower the strong smell.

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Coming back to the dishes, the Fish fragrant Pork slivers was tongue tantalising. The flavours are vivid and vibrant but the chilli does give one quite the lip tingling sensation – so might be good to order a cocktail on the side!

The chicken and cashew nut dish was a classic done well and I was glad to see that there was no skimping on the use of the pricy nuts.

The aubergines in spite of being from the Fish fragrant section were less spicy. They came in a Morter & Pestle, so you could crush the garlic and spring onion a bit more and get a fresh release of flavours going right before you eat the dish! The vegetarians out there might be pleased to know that the aubergines were so well prepared, they’re almost tastier than the pork equivalent of the dish.

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Verdict:

This place is highly recommended for anyone who loves the flavours used in Chinese cuisine, wants to try something very authentic and different to the standard offerings of the Chinatown eateries and is willing to brave the Sichuan chillies!

Kopapa

Why go here

If you want to try eclectic food which combines Asian, European and Middle Eastern cuisines.

What it looks like:

Situated in the heart of Covent Garden, the place has a modern feel to it. A square room with parallel lined tables and minimalist decor. But it is quite small which is why if you come for brunch, you’ll most likely be seated outside since the place is pretty popular among brunch lovers for its Turkish eggs.

The food:

While there is a good value pre-theatre menu available, you’re best placed in ordering multiple small plates and sharing them because there is much more choice available with these. Of course this also means you can maximise the number of new things you’ll get to try (I can guarantee that you’d not have had the majority of the dishes on the menu before).

The dishes we ordered were the Tempura-spiced Dhal Pocket; the Sesame Chilli Salted Squid; the Prawn and Chorizo Scotch Egg and the Caramelised Onion, Feta and Pesto Tortilla.  Our favourite was the dhal pocket, a mildly spiced lentil cake stuffed with a mix of caramelised coconut and pickled papaya. The dish had a subtle blend of Indian and Thai flavours.

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The pesto tortilla reflected a confluence of Greek and Spanish with the caramelised onions adding a French touch. But what wins one over is the super gooey and runny inside – it has for forever changed my expectations for what a tortilla should look and taste like.

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Every dish was an explosion of flavours and the brains behind the menu definitely have a very good idea of what combinations work, no matter how unusual they are.

Portions are pretty small, so you’re recommended ordering five or more plates for sharing between two people. Service was quite attentive even though the restaurant was crowded, with the waiter taking the time to walk us through what the different dishes entailed.

Overall

Great location, unique and very delicious food merging cuisines from different parts of the world. Ideal for brunch or for an evening tapas style meal.

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.