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.

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.

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.