30 August 2014

Tonkotsu East

I used to walk past Tonkotsu in Soho every day on the way to and from work, watching the bubbling vats of broth in the window and people queueing to sup and slurp on the noodles from beautiful black bowls. I never made it there as Koya always steals the prize for best ramen in Central, but catching up with H meant we decided to give its East outpost in Haggerston a try.


Tucked under the railway arches, this is a busy little place. An open bar kitchen along one side is lined with bottles and bowls, steaming and spitting over the stoves, whilst the back of the restaurant makes a feature of their prized noodle machine. We were shown to a tiny table tucked away at the back and threw ourselves into ordering almost straight away.

Ramen was a given so we decided to share the Tokyo - pork and chicken stock with medium thick noodles, mirin and soy pork belly with the classic soft-boiled egg and menma (bamboo shoots). This came out last, thankfully, as we'd also decided to order some sides to tuck into first that meant we could catch up without splashing the broth all over ourselves (or myself, as it turned out). The noodles had a great firm bite and the pork belly was melt in the mouth good; the only gripe I'd have would be the broth itself. I eat a lot of Vietnamese pho which is packed full of flavours, herbs and spices and is a world ahead in terms of depth of flavour so I felt the broth here was a little lacking and underwhelming, but of course Japanese and Vietnamese cooking are very different from one another.


But broth aside, onto the rest: we chose the prawn gyoza first (which came out last) and loved the perfectly cooked dumplings that split open to reveal the really moreish filling that cried out for its soy accompaniment, then the crab korroke which is described as a Japanese version of a crab croquette (read: crabcake) with homemade tartar sauce. Nicely seasoned and with three huge balls, this was a perfect little serving. Next up, the yellow tail sashimi with jalapeno and yuzo ponzo sauce and I have to admit, this may be the best yellow tail I've had with the expertly thin slices and the bite from the accompanying pickled veg that added that little bit extra. Last up was the salt and sansho pepper squid (always one to order) with lightly fried proper squid (no shop bought rings here) in a tangy lemon batter that could have benefited from something to dip on the side but no great loss nevertheless.

Drinks were pints of kirin ichiban, naturally, and dessert was the creme brulee. Decidedly unJapanese but the note on the menu admits they're bored of green tea ice cream so I applaud them for not taking themselves too seriously at all and I do love a good creme brulee. Our waitress was really friendly and apologetic when explaining a bit of a kitchen backlog and the wait between dishes wasn't too onerous anyway so more than happy to concede to a popular kitchen. Would I be back? For the ramen, maybe not but for the sides, yes. Four out of five. 

29 August 2014

Bones

House hunting is hungry work. Whilst we're almost over the final hurdle (you wouldn't believe how stressful - and expensive - this past week has been), last Thursday saw the end of solo viewing as A was back from holidays. Off we traipsed to Clapton to view a place that inevitably wasn't quite right so we declared ourselves done for the day and headed off to meet a friend for uni and to commiserate.

We ended up at Bones - a newish opening on Kingsland Road. Its name suggests a whole manner of predictable Americana with ribs aplenty but the menu pleasingly describes itself as 'Modern European' instead. I'm all for a dirty burger (many forays into MeatMission and BRGR.Co have been well documented) but I'm a little over the underwhelming shouting of meat everything.


So we rocked up and were seated at one of the crazily tight booths above that even the most familiar of friends like us found a bit of a squeeze. Nevertheless, we pored over the menu and ordered the sourdough bread to sate our hunger whilst I was on her way. We also decided what we were all going to have during this wait - you snooze, you lose after all.

Rather than opting for a main each (of which there are six such as a whole roast chicken for two, or seabass for one) we went for the small plates to dig in and share starting with the breaded crab claws with chipotle mayo. As a recent convert to crab, I was a little nervous but the meat was juicy and tasty and slipped off the bone.

Plates came out as and when, as is the oh-so-easy on the kitchen trend at the moment, so picking was definitely the order of the day. The burrata with garlic pesto on sourdough was always going to be a must-order and was nice enough, the baby gnocchi with courgette spaghetti and chorizo was tasty but could have done with a bit of an extra kick of heat from both chilli and the oven, and the aubergine with feta and pomegranate would have been divine if the aubergine wasn't cold and soggy - instead a quick flash under the grill would have kept a nice bit of bite. I'm going through a mac and cheese moment so naturally had to order their version with leeks (nice and cheesy but not as tasty as The Advisory's version with blue cheese folded in), accompanied by fries and crispy kale.

Everything was great on paper and I really wanted to love everything but the finesse wasn't quite there on the dishes. Don't get me wrong, we polished everything off and left pleasantly full but it wasn't as fulfilling as Licky Chops, say. We did, however, stay until they were almost throwing us out because you just can't leave when I's telling you a story about how she hiked up Mount Bator in leather shorts with a clutch bag, can you?

Three and a half out of five for Bones.

26 August 2014

Where have I been?

I've been a little AWOL recently and for that I'm sorry. I've been caught up in the stress of househunting (it always starts off fun then gets progressively less enjoyable) but have finally found a place and we're moving at the weekend! It's been a total whirlwind and I have a bazillion tabs open with bed frames, sofas and other very important things that the house doesn't have and I need to buy. Coupled with many a Pinterest session, I think it's going to be an expensive month.

I've also spent two days on a course for work that had me standing up and presenting no less than four times (two were videoed which is highly embarrassing and entertaining in equal measure), took our new American team member to Burger & Lobster and spent half an hour trying to get us all looking normal for an updated team photo. Harder than it seems, I tell you.

Yesterday was spent in a fetching yellow poncho at Notting Hill Carnival. Despite having lived in London for seven years, I'd never been - so of course I went on the wettest day of the year. But it was great! We danced in the parade, dodged a lot of twerking and made friends with lions. Summer may well and truly be over but what a way to see it out.

11 August 2014

The Shed, Notting Hill

Following the disappointment of last week's meal at 21, I was on the hunt for somewhere to knock me completely out of the water. After a Friday night filled with beer and ferocious games of Articulate (we're wild), Saturday called for some civility and dinner was the perfect answer so I left rough-and-ready East to meet Sophie on the other, more pristine side of town.

After a couple of gin and tonics at hers, we decided to jump on the bus to Notting Hill and try for a table at The Shed (somewhere I'd chosen, having imaginatively googled 'restaurants Notting Hill'). Tucked off the main drag, The Shed's a tiny barn of a building hidden behind trellis and creepers that if you weren't looking, you'd probably miss. But miss it we didn't and managed to bag one of the last tables before the 9pm rush.
The interior is deceptively small, but with the help of cleverly placed wall mirrors at either end of the restaurant you'd be forgiven that there were double the number of diners with you. And as you'd expect from a place called The Shed, the decor's quite rustic - lots of wood and old school metal bar stools, gardening implements strung across the ceiling and colourful oil drums standing as table bases. They have a combination of individual tables, bar type benches and the bookable Butcher's Table to choose from and suit your mood - we chose the benches for a proper catch up and with twee-sounding Twinkles in hand, dove straight into the delicious sounding menu.

Like many a place these days, The Shed's built on sharing plates, and split further into mouthfuls (canape type bites), cured meats (self-explanatory, from Nutbourne Manor in Sussex), slow cooking and fast cooking and they recommend two or three of the daily-changing dishes apiece. We chose from each section of the menu and were definitely not disappointed.

First up, thick wedges of The Shed's sourdough bread. Light and fluffy and perfect for pulling apart and smothering with butter whilst we waited for the broad bean hummus, heritage carrots and dukkah to arrive. We dove straight in to it - chunky and green and spiked with the minty flavours of the dukkah. Crisp purple carrots and the thinnest of crisp bread were ideal for spooning and scraping this fresh little starter for ten.

Soon after, the Nutbourne air-cured ham arrived. These were deliciously thick slices of deep red ham (none of that anaemic meat you find in supermarkets) with ribbons of salty fat around the outside and peppery rocket to offset it all, carved straight from the joint by the resident butcher. Then came the hake with lemon potato vinaigrette, peppers, samphire and dill which was one of the stand-out dishes (amongst all the other stand-outs) of the evening with the crispy-skinned fish sitting plump on the tangy yet creamy lemon potatoes. I could gladly eat this for the rest of my life and have every intention on attempting to recreate it at home as soon as I can.
Then - and we started to wonder if the kitchen times their 'courses' with perfect precision - came the black tagliatelle with Portland brown crab that we'd been warned was very fishy. Fishy it was, but perfectly so. The wide ribbons of pasta were coated in the tasty, salty crab meat and finished with a kick of chilli and garlic that just melted altogether in the mouth. As a recent convent to crab, this dish could have been completely overwhelming and off-putting but I loved its bold flavours even more.

The penultimate dish was the pan fried goats cheese with honey, thyme and hazelnuts. With a nod to French cuisine and their penchant for serving cheese halfway through the meal, this was a tangy little palate cleanser that's had me aching over it for days. Honey and goats cheese is a classic combination but the added crunch of the hazelnuts really brought this to life. Ideal ahead of the Sussex lamb, rainbow cauliflower, spinach, rosemary and almonds that came out last. I never eat lamb so ordering this dish could have been a real mistake but the perfectly pink meat coupled with the rich rosemary jus and florets of cauliflower were a match made in heaven that even the hardiest of non-lamb lovers (me) couldn't fault. Whether I'm completely converted remains to be seen, however.

We were so full after this so didn't manage the coveted cheese or puddings, but instead went for another cocktail each. I chose the to-die for 'Daily Loosener' of Sipsmith vodka, summer berries (a devilishly soaked cherry), lemon, cardamom and soda. Order it everywhere you can as this drink is a keeper.

Everything was on absolute point at The Shed this evening. The atmosphere was buzzing, music was whimsical (Hot 8 Brass Band's cover of Marvin Gaye, for example) and the service impeccable. From the warm smile when we walked in to the constant top up of our water, the waiters and waitresses were really friendly and unobtrusive and an absolute delight to have buzzing around.  Our meal worked out at £51 each (including the 12.5% tip) but is definitely one of the best I've ever had in London, so I'll definitely be back. Five out of five, for sure.

7 August 2014

Blackstreet

Summer


No surprises here. It may be summer but I'm still sticking to my one true love of black, whatever the weather. We're planning a night on the opposite side of town this weekend which calls for some serious style. I can't get enough of this black duster at the moment (although it does make me feel a little like Neo from The Matrix when standing on the tube platform) but coupled with a playsuit, some chunky heeled sandals and a slick of Prepare For Pleasure, I think I'll be just fine.

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