Dean Street Townhouse

Why go here:

To enjoy British classics served in lavish settings inspired by the Georgian era.

What it looks like:

Part of a five storey hotel, the dining room makes you feel like you’ve travelled back in time to the grand era of the Georgians. A long dark bar, leather banquettes, vintage candelabras and velvet cushions. Due to the bar being adjacent to the dining area, it can get quite loud but watching the shenanigans at the bar is the added benefit.

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The food:

The dishes are all British classics- from roast chicken with stuffing to fish and chips, they have it all covered. I start off with the twice baked haddock soufflé which arrives looking like the biggest soufflé I have ever seen! The taste is equally impressive- light yet indulgent, with the hint of haddock and an accompanying zesty, buttery sauce.  The dish feels so indulgent, I felt almost guilty eating it, as I’d feel tucking into a creamy chocolate cake.

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For mains, I opted for the spring lamb with artichoke and broad beans. The lamb, although rarer than I usually opt for, was tender and juicy. The side of beans and artichoke complemented the meat well, without dominating the dish. This was a pleasant change to what I observe at a lot of popular restaurants these days, where there seem to be more greens on my dish than the meat which in turn can make the price tag of the dish seem unjust.

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For dessert, we tucked into a classic treacle tart which came with a dollop of fresh clotted cream. Treacle tart is one of my favourite  British desserts and brings back memories of fun dinners at my university, but this dish was miles apart from what I have had before. The pastry was super thin and crisp and the filling was smooth and silky, yet managed to feel light and fluffy.

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Service was polite but slow. We waited for more than half an hour to even get the menu and there were quite significant delays between the different courses. The restaurant was quite busy, to be fair yet there did also seem to be quite a few waiters. Hence, the slow pace wasn’t quite justified.

Verdict:

If you’re a fan of traditional British food, this place is a must try, If not, this might be one of those places that could change your mind. The extravagant settings, comparatively reasonable prices and the happy buzz from the diners and drinks definitely all make the experience worth it.

Iberica Terraza

Why go here:

To enjoy tapas in a relaxed al-fresco settings in Canary Wharf

What it looks like:

The restaurant is set in Cabot Square, fenced in by man-made waterfalls and floral shrubbery and seating all under cool, shady trees.

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The food:

I found the selection of tapas to be a bit lacking in variety and creativity. The dishes centred more around the use of eggs, home-made breads and cheese instead of meats and seafood, which was personally, a bit disappointing.

I started with the Tortilla which was nice and fluffy and served with a streak of chives and cream.

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Next came the Huevos rotos, i.e. fried eggs with chips and Iberico ham. The ham was of really good quality but I found the dish too big to enjoy as a tapas- this is definitely more of a Spanish breakfast spread.

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Next came a selection of pinchos:-  spiced anchovy & cheese served on a bed of relish on toast and a prawn & cheese-stuffed mushroom with roast garlic sauce. Both were delightful and well-presented and my favorite items on the menu.

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Service was a bit patchy with my dishes arriving at very different times and in no particular order.

Verdict:

The settings are wonderful for summer time dining. They don’t have as extensive choice of tapas as I’ve seen  at some of London’s other Spanish eateries but the ingredients used are all fresh and of very high quality. Great place for brunch if you’re craving something different to the standard English fry-up : the bocadillos or the huevos rotos would be perfect!

Hoi Polloi

Why go here:

All day modern brasserie housed in the Ace Hotel, sister restaurant of the famous New York hotel chain. This restaurant offers musical performance at the piano and the violin every Sunday.

What it looks like:

It might take you a while to find the entrance if you didn’t know that it was through this little flower shop on the high street. Going in through the tiny door, you emerge into a spacious venue which resembles a modern canteen with the wooden paneling, the long communal tables and the staff dressed up in matching jumpers and sneakers. The menu looks more like a newspaper with a page dedicated to the each of the different meals of the day- breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktails and snacks.

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The food:

We went on a Sunday morning and opted for some classic breakfast options. The avocado and poached eggs was a simple dish done to perfection- the avocado had a nice hint of chilli and lime and the poached egg was so smooth, it could have been a ball of mozzarella!

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The Pancakes with blueberries was an equally successful dish with the soft, fluffy pancakes drizzled with warm blueberry compote and topped with a very generous dollop of mascarpone.

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My only complaint would be that the pancakes were too big and there were about five or six of them, which meant that there wasn’t enough of the delicious blueberry sauce to coat them all in. We also tried some of the healthy shakes on offer. Cacao Shaker made with raw cacao, avocado, almond milk, dates and coconut oil was yummy but could constitute a meal by itself.

Verdict:

Hoi Polloi might attract more of the young and hip clientele but the food, service and the all-day menu are bound to tick the boxes for people of all ages and interests. The music performances, healthy shakes and the cute uniform clad waiters are definitely the things to most watch out for!

Barnyard

Why go here:

To enjoy some comfort British food in a ‘barnyard’!

What it looks like:

As you’d have guessed from the name and the tagline above, the place has been made to look like a barnyard- wooden and corrugated iron walls, rickety tables, fences and even a tree can be found adorning the venue. The servers in their lumberjack shirts were friendly and attentive- just as you’d expect if you were dining at your local farmer’s!IMG_9414  IMG_9402

The food:

Dishes are supposed to be simple and hearty but they all come in small portion sizes, so you are advised to order two or more plates per person. We ordered a mix of vegetarian and meat dishes which all arrived at about the same time. The best of the veggie ones for me was the charred broccoli vinaigrette.

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The broccoli chunks were charcoal grilled and drizzled on with a tangy, lemony dressing which helped balance the richness of some of the greasier dishes we’d ordered such as the chicken wings. These were light and crispy and had a subtle hint of paprika, garlic and lemon. My complain with it was, however, that the coating seemed a bit too thin and also a bit too greasy. Unfortunately, KFC would win here for me.

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The suckling pig with caraway and celeriac was much better – super crispy crackling with soft and tender meat underneath. The chicory salad with lovage, mint and lemon was fresh and the taste of lovage lingers on your tongue for a while. The cauliflour cheese failed to impress on account of not having enough of the cheese sauce.

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Moving onto desserts, the popcorn ice cream which came with a pot of heavenly fudge ice cream was an absolute winner. The crunchy popcorn, milky ice cream and gooey fudge formed a concoction of amaing tastes and textures.

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The apple and cloudberry crumble was also done well- satisfying, homely goodness.

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Verdict:

This is comfort British food done well, although some of the dishes like the cauliflower cheese are certainly still better at your Grandma’s. The barnyard themed venue and the friendly ‘farmers’ serving you do really make up for it though and  make the place definitely worth a try.

Ember Yard

Why go here:

For tapas with Italian and Spanish influences and with a focus on charcoal grilling.

What it looks like:

The place has a rustic feel to it. Wooden tables, low lighting that you are bound to bump your head against them,  banquettes and more traditional bar seating. Service is very quick and attentive.  Waiters were friendly and happy to walk us through the menu.

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The food:

We started with the courgette flower stuffed with goat’s cheese and drizzled with honey. The courgette flower was soft and with gooey goat’s cheese in the middle, all fried up in a light fluffy batter that was thin and golden and crispy. The honey enhanced the mild, sweet taste of the courgette flower and added some very pleasant addition to the textures in the dish. My only complaint is that they didn’t tell me the dish was piping hot- I almost burnt my tongue with that first bite!

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Next we chose something the seafood section- the smoked & grilled Cornish Mackerel which was dished with Fennel Escabeche, thinly-sliced fennel in an orange and vinegar dressing, and a fresh Saffron Aioli. The fish was crisp skinned and white, flaky inside. The combination with fennel made a surprisingly scrumptious dish.

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The roasted and chargrilled Ibérico Pork Ribs with Quince Glaze and Celeriac Purée was the best ribs dish I’ve ever had. The portions were all large but the ribs were particularly massive.  Gloucester Old Spot Pork Belly, coated in a sweet and sticky sauce chargrilled and a hint of apple. The celeriac helps balance the richness of the roasted belly. This is dish you can’t quite eat with cutlery- get in there with your hands. It’s worth it.

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Finally, we had the burrata- a Spanish cheese similar to Mozzarella which was stuffed with garlic pesto and served atop a toasted ciabatta and roast tomatoes. Maybe because the ribs were so good or maybe because after all the dishes my expectations were set very high, I was disappointed in this dish. The roast tomatoes weren’t seasoned enough and there wasn’t enough pesto.

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Verdict:

Really delicious tapas, good portion sizes and an extensive range of wines, make this a must try tapas bar. It was ranked the best restaurant in 2014 by people’s choice and you can see why. Perfect for a date night with the rustic, romantic vibes, the delicious plates to share and the flowing wine.

Arabica

Why go here:

For Levatine food which means it serves a combination of Moroccan, Turkish, Lebanese, Egyptian and Syrian dishes. It’s the best of the middle east under one roof.

What it looks like:

Fortunately, the restaurant isn’t like some of its fellow restaurants in terms of atmosphere, which are decked with belly dancers and shisha pipes. Arabica, housed right next to Borough Market has more of an industrial décor with the bare brick walls, candlelit tables and lean, geometric ceiling chandeliers. The restaurant also has seating outside which is popular in the summer for brunchers.

The food:

We definitely over ordered. I blame the menu since there were too many dishes that seemed too good to forego. But I don’t regret it one bit!

We started with Hummus with Herdwick lamb fillet. This simple but delicious dish is a must try! The fried, smokey minced lamb was served in a pool of ghee in the middle and topped with crunchy pine nuts and came with some freshly made pitta bread served in a little paper bag. The dishes here are all quite oily- they don’t taste greasy but you see the oily residues left in each plate as you finish up the food.

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Next we went for the courgette and three cheese manousheh, which was a very thin flatbread with courgette and lots of cheese- mascarpone, halloumi cheese, Westcombe ricotta and topped with roasted garlic oil, black sesame and red chilli. So much cheese, garlic and fresh, crispy bread. What’s not to like?

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We then moved on to the grilled wood pigeon prepared with pomegranate molasses and oregano and served with fresh radicchio, parsley and mint. The pigeon was juicy and tender and the sweet, sticky pomegranate molasses significantly boosted the taste.

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Finally, we got the Lamb Meshwi- lip-smacking, aromatic lamb kebabs served with a delectable walnut and harissa marinade and sumac salad.

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My Arabica Shake was Arabica’s take on a Frappuccino- coffee, cardamom, cocoa and halva ice-cream. It was sweet and indulgent but a bit heavy. The Lebanese lemonade or wine would be better accompaniments to the food. The Turkish coffee was great though- identical to what I’d had in istanbul’s cafes a few months back!

Verdict:

This is one of the best levante restaurants in London. The menu is extensive and every dish we ordered was beautifully prepared and delicious. It makes you realise that there’s a lot more to these cuisines than kebabs and falafel!

Riding House Cafe

Why go here:

If you’re out shopping in Oxford Street and are looking for a good place for brunch, this is the place to be. Also, this is definitely not a café but a restaurant.

What it looks like:

The place has been designed carefully to accommodate all ranges of diners. There is seating at the bar, at long communal dining tables or in cosy couches in a more intimate dining room.  The décor ranges from vintage lampshades to showcases stacked with antique tea sets and books.

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The food:

Their dishes are anything but regular. They have offerings like Mac n Cheese fritters to Octopus carpaccio. I decided to go for three of the small plates – the smoked chicken ballotine, the Moorish lamb and the slow roasted pork belly.

So… I knew I ordered small plates but these were the smallest portions I have ever been served in a restaurant for this price. The bigger plates are definitely better value because even after finishing my three plates, I found myself not full.

Moving onto how the dishes actually tasted. The smoked chicken ballotine dish included slices of chunky chicken sausage made of chicken, beans and mushrooms and served with a Caesar salad. I didn’t find this dish to be that good, maybe it would have been better if the chicken was hot. The mushrooms and beans were far and few, so I couldn’t really taste them.

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The lamb was much more of a success. The barbecued pieces of succulent lamb partnered beautifully with the smoked aubergine base.

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The slow roasted pork belly was, however, the winning dish with the super succulent pork covered in a cumin flavored sauce.

For dessert, my friend I shared the flourless chocolate cake which was dense and indulgent and served with a generous dollop of crème fraiche.

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Verdict:

The place is in a good location, has great vibes and offers some very creative twists on popular crowd pleasers. Prices do seem a bit skewed, especially with the small plates. So you’re best advised to order both small and large plates and then to share.  You can come here any time of the day and give yourself a well-deserved break from all the shopping!

Roka

Why go here:

To try out Japanese Robatayaki dishes. For those that don’t know, Robatayaki cuisine means fire-side cooking and involves slow grilling meats and fish over hot charcoal. It’s like a version of barbecue, only without the overly sweet and sticky additives.

What it looks like:

The Canary Wharf branch that we went to was surprisingly big. The corridor to the dining area is lined with jars of sake. The walls were specially cool- they were like wooden motifs with the light behind the panels streaming in through the micro-pores. From a distance, you’d think they are just pretty floral-designed golden walls. Only when you come closer do you observe the thousands of mini crevices that have been drilled in to give the appearance of the patterns.

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The food:

The menu is quite extensive and we found ourselves ordering a bit too much because we were too keen to try all the different dishes! We started off with some maki rolls of crispy prawn, avocado, soy and chrysanthemum. The roll comes sliced up, so it looks just like sushi. The combination of the crispy prawn with the creamy avocado worked really well. The chrysanthemum leaflets were stuck around the  rice case and added a subtle floral hint to the dish.

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Next came the Butterfish tataki with yuzu shallot dressing. This dish felt like a bit of a rip off because for the price, the amount served was too small. The butterfish was sliced so thin that I could hardly taste it. However, this really was the only disappointing dish I had., so I’m not holding it against Roka!

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Our final starter was a dish of spicy fried soft shell crab with chilli and garlic. This is a must try. The crab was very crispy on the outside and oh so soft, juicy and sweet on the inside! The dish is also quite well presented, with the entire crab being fried up into a blooming flower-like structure and placed in a bowl of the red, tangy chilli-garlic sauce.

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Moving onto mains, I ordered the seam bream robata which had been marinated in ryotei miso and then grilled to produce the best seabream I’d ever had. The fish was melt-in-your-mouth and had a slight smoky flavor which went well with the red onion salad on the side.

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My friend ordered the robat beef ribeye was equally mouth-watering.

Finally, we go onto desserts and you don’t usually expect Japanese places to have that good desserts but Roka’s was some of the best I have ever had- both in terms of presentation and taste. I would go back just to have some of their desserts. I ordered their dark chocolate and green tea pudding with pear ice cream. The attention to detail in the dish was surprising. A square block of dark chocolate pudding with ‘Roka’ written all over the chocolate glaze on top. As you cut into the pudding, the gooey insides flow out and amazingly, the green macha tea and the chocolate come out separately and with the colors totally intact! The earthy sweet flavours of the creamy macha tea mix complement the what-appears-to-be molten chocolate sauce beautifully!

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My friend orders a meringue bomb which as you break into, you discover the caramel, chocolate ganache, ice cream and more! This is really is a kid’s ultimate dream come true. How they would have prepared such a dish, I have no idea!

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Verdict:

This is my favourite Japanese in London currently. The presentation, technique and taste of the dishes is really impressive. Highly recommended for those that would like to try Japanese food beyond sushi, specially Japanese BBQ. Of course, you can go here just for the desserts- they really are works of art!

Shaka Zulu

Why go here:

To have Braai cuisine in a South African themed underground restaurant complete with 60 feet tall warrior statues.

What it looks like:

The restaurant is probably the largest I have ever seen. They have escalators to take you from the entrance to the bar and then down to the dining area. Wood-carved armies of Zulu warriors, walls with African reliefs and plenty of real-looking animal models, including a tiger right by the bathroom entrance.

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The food:

The menu includes grilled game and steaks as well as more traditional Braai preparations. We ordered a few dishes to share. The first was the Zebra fillet served with a red wine jus and fries. The meat was cooked medium rare and was quite tender but I felt that greens or more tomatoes would have been better sides instead of fried for the already heavy dish.

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 Next was the Lamb Bobotie. This traditional dish came in a pot of mince cooked in Cape Malay spices and a creamy, egg-based topping and served with rice. The lamb was much better than the zebra but the spices in the lamb were pretty mild, which meant that the dish tasted more like a creamy Italian chicken casserole. There was a mango dip on the side but I found it to be too similar to the Indian style mango chutney and didn’t think it complimented the lamb much.  

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The final dish was the spit roast of the day which was roast suckling pig which was our favourite. The meat was juicy and the skin was crisp. It was served with Chakalaka, a South African style relish made with lots of onions, garlic, tomatoes and chilli.

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Dessert was an array of ice creams- vanilla bean, dark chocolate, banana,  mango, butterscotch etc.

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Verdict:

Shaka Zulu is quite overwhelming- the size of the place and the elaborate décor  are really impressive and you feel like you’re at some grand movie set. The food isn’t as authentic but you can try a wide range of meats from crocodile to zebra. If you’re not as fussy as me, you’ll really enjoy dining here and if you are, the vibes and the look make up for any complaints you might have with the food!

Rasa

Why go here:

To try out authentic South Indian food.

For those who link Baltis and Kormas to Indian food, the food here might be a bit of a surprise because  Southern Indian food is worlds apart, but equally delicious, albeit spicier than the more popular North Indian curries.

What it looks like:

This branch is located in Oxford Circus, just five minutes’ walk from the station on a little lane off the main street. Even though the restaurant is spread across three floors, the tables are jam-packed together and buzzing with diners with loads being turned away. The décor and the walls are all very pink and the air was heavy with the smell of incense.

The food:

The menu is quite extensive but  the structure is a bit confusing because they have the small plates featured under both ‘Pre-meal snacks’ and ‘Starters’ and the bigger plates are present under ‘Dosas’, ‘Main meals’ and ‘Vegetarian curries’.

The starters are all deep-fried dishes but as we all know most great dishes in the world tend to be heart attack inducing, so you’re rest assured these will be tasty. I tried the Medhu Vadai for starters. These are spongy balls, crispy on the outside are made with urad (which is a kind of Indian lentil) and with specks of chili and served with a fresh coconut chutney.

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For mains, I tried the Masala Dosa. For those that don’t know, Dosas are savoury pancakes, made with a rice and lentil batter and can come with or without a filling. Mine came with a spicy, potato filling tempered with onions and mustard seeds. The dosa was crispy and pretty large, with the dosa extending out on both sides of the plate. The dish was served with Sambar, a lentil dish with vegetables and curry leaves.

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My friend ordered the Calicut Chicken Kurma and the Varutharacha Kozhy Curry. The former is creamy and made with cashew and coconut and is perfect for those who want to try a flavoursome curry that isn’t hot. The latter is a spicy tomato based curry bursting with flavours with roasted coriander seeds, fresh grated coconut and dried red chillies. Very delicious but quite fiery. The curries go really well with rice or parathas. The Malabar Parathas, a multi-layered bread is a must try.

For dessert, I opted for the Pal Payasam, a rich rice pudding flavoured with jaggery and full of nuts. The Banana dosas ordered  by my friends were also good – cute little pancakes made with bananas  and with a hint of cardamom.

Verdict:

The restaurant is definitely one of the best valued placed I have eaten at. For the prices, the potions are pretty large and of great taste. Service can be a little patchy due to their being not enough waiters given the number of diners and the pink walls can be a little hard to get accustomed to. But, the restaurant is definitely a must try for those that like Indian cuisine and want to try out what Southern India offers since the quality and choice offered here is at par with what’s made locally, just modified a bit to make them more palatable for those less tolerant to chillies!