The deliciously different taste of Taiwan at Xu

Xu in London’s Chinatown

I’ve been rather absent from the blogosphere in recent days – there’s been a lot going on! I’ve been travelling to new lands and enjoying new food so there’s plenty of interesting stuff to come. Starting off with a Taiwanese experience – right here in London. Love that you can travel the world without leaving our great capital.

Xu (pronounced Shu) is wonderfully welcoming with warm wooden panelling, wooden ceiling fans, a marble bar and booths with plush leather seats to sink into. It oozes style and luxury, the perfect setting to absorb some Taiwanese culture and cuisine.

The menu is absorbing. I love ordering dishes when you really don’t know what to expect – despite detailed answers to any queries from the waiter. First up a selection of bak kwa, served intriguingly like an offering of After Eight Mints. Bak Kwa is the Taiwanese name for jerky and today there were three types – 40-day aged beef, spicy pork and lamb jerky – served with a selection of shallot and sichuan relish and pickles.

As a person of Southern-African descent, I love biltong and jerky’s of the same family. These little meaty morsels were beautifully flavoursome and the Asian accompaniments definitely added that little bit extra. Full marks for inventiveness.

The jerky in its box with tasty accompaniments

Xu: jerky

Close up on the meaty treats

From the Mian Shi section we went for the Beef pancake. A shredded short rib and bone marrow combo is served in the bone with pickles, spring  onion, potato crumb and of course pancakes on the side. Sort of like a beef version of crispy duck pancakes with more exotic extras! Delicious.

Xu: beef pancake

The beef comes shredded and stuffed into a marrowbone

And then it’s time to assemble your pancake. Love the whole ceremony of this and the result was scrumptious.

Xu: beef pancake

Creating the perfect pancake

It seemed appropriate to try a dish from the Classics section so we went for the Shou Pa Chicken. Described as marinated chicken with drippings, ginger and spring onion, white pepper and chicken skin dip, this is on of the most chicken-y chicken dishes I’ve had in a very long time. The intensity of flavour was fabulous. Real comfort food with a tasty brothy sauce.

Xu: Shou Pa Chicken

A bowl of chicken packed with flavour

Xu: menu

The stylish mix of dark wood and crisp linen

Xu is the sort of place I can see myself whiling away many hours in. The bar area looked very inviting, and I feel there are more dishes that need to be tried. And those cocktails…

Today’s price point

We paid £32.50 for our three dishes which was ample for lunch.

Wine starts from £28 a bottle (both white and red).

There’s a great range of exotic cocktails from £9.

Xu is at 30 Rupert Street, Soho, Chinatown, London W1

Talli Joe for tasty Indian tapas

Talli Joe in Shaftesbury Avenue

Today I’m heading for Talli Joe on what I think of as the border between Soho and Covent Garden. The buzzing street called Shaftesbury Avenue. What a good place to be to try some Indian food with a difference.

The restaurant describes itself as serving Indian half plates and full drinks. It’s a stylish, modern little eatery with an intriguing menu. This one took a lot of perusing – thank goodness for the half plates idea, it gave us the chance to try more of the exciting options.

I love Indian food which means I’ve eaten it all over the world (though I haven’t been to India yet – must be remedied). Today’s interestingly different menu meant time to experiment and explore new flavours and dishes.

What’s on the menu

Lentils are usually beautifully done in Indian cuisine so the Moon daal Pahari seemed like a good place to start. The lentil fritters (described at Delhi’s favourite) came with grated radish and green chilli chutney. Flavoursome and crispy with the raw veg adding freshness and the chutney bringing a real chilli bite. A stunning vegetarian dish.

Talli Joe: lentil fritters

Lentil fritters nestle under freshly grated veg

The Kohapuri Chop is a tenderly tasty tandoori lamb chop served with a potato salad with mustard dressing.

Talli Joe: Tandoori lamb

Succulent lamb and a mustardy salad

Because they sounded so good, today we seemed to order more vegetarian dishes than usual. And the good news is that the Halve ki Mutter Kachori tasted even better than it sounded. Soft bread parcels were stuffed with a spicy pea mix and served in a butternut and potato curry.

Talli Joe: Pea and butternut

Pea-stuffed bread and a rich butternut sauce

Now this is an exciting and unusual dish. The Parsee Venison Keema Ghotala offered a richly satisfying spicy venison mince which was served with an organic egg yolk, lightly toasted sweet-flavoured bread and a side of pao (a chopped chilli and onion mix). We mixed the egg through the mince, making for an almost creamy delicacy and spread it liberally on the bread. Wow! The chefs here have certainly mastered those complex spice balances that make for the very best Indian cuisine. Every dish popped with a delightful roundness of flavours.

Talli Joe: Venison mince

A magnificent mix of spices for a fabulous mince

Talli Joe: Venison mince

Close up on the mince and yellow yolk

The Bohri Chicken was cooked with a combination of masalas and served with a pretty fenugreek flatbread. Another perfect spice blend for the melt-in-the-mouth drumsticks. Love a good Indian flatbread –  and doesn’t this look lovely with its herby greens and seeds.

Talli Joe: Bohri chicken

Spicy chicken drumsticks with fenugreek flatbread

Time for dessert – and fabulous dessert, too. The berry malai was a warm, creamy bowl of baked yogurt topped with fabulously zesty seasonal berries.

Talli Joe: baked yogurt

Sweet creaminess combined with great berry flavours

I love a bit of rose flavouring so couldn’t resist the rose-flavoured ice cream. A little glass of perfect pinkness with flavours that danced on my tongue. The perfect refreshing finish to a wonderful lunch.

Talli Joe: rose ice cream

Two tasty puds made for the perfect ending

Today’s price point

Our seven dishes cost £38.75 – really great value for delicious food.

Wine starts from £21 a bottle and there’s a good selection of spirits and cocktails.

Talli Joe is at 152-154 Shaftesbury Avenue.

Download the CAKE up and get £5 free

I used my CAKE app to book and pay at Talli Joe. A really simple and quick way to eat out in London – yes there’s an app for it. CAKE has a wide range of restaurants on its books and you can also earn credit when you eat out with plenty of chances to get a percentage of the cost of your dinner back.

Download the CAKE app now at thecakeapp.com and quote the referral code EATINGCG to get £5 credit for free and start exploring London’s wonderful restaurantland.

 

The CAKE app for easy eating out in London

Today I’m trying out the new CAKE app which really is an app meant for me. It’s an app which makes it easier to find, book and pay at London restaurants. And there’s a wide range of establishments already on its books.

I loved the fact that when you turn it on shows you nearby eateries and how far away they are – and you can book instantly. Or of course you can select any of their restaurants in advance and make your booking at any time.

On arrival at your chosen restaurant, simply open up a tab on your phone using the app and inform your waiter. Then when you’re done it’s quick and easy to pay. You can even set it up to instantly split the bill between your party.

You can also earn credit back when you eat out with special offers, just select somewhere with credit on and you’ll get a percentage of the cost of your dinner back (usually 15-20%). The more you eat the more you save! And of course as your credits build up you’ve got a great excuse to be going out and about again.

£5 for free

If you download the CAKE app to your phone you’ll get a £5 gift from me to get you going on your exploration of London’s restaurantland. Just use the referral code EATINGCG when you download the app. Happy dining.

Find out more and download your app at thecakeapp.com

The restaurants

My first outing using CAKE I visited Talli Joe in Shaftesbury Avenue. A buzzing little Indian tapas-style restaurant with great food. Full review coming soon, here’s a taster, the spicy venison mince served with an organic egg yolk atop.

CAKE app

The delectable Parsee Venison Keema Ghotala

Among the myriad restaurants you can use CAKE at here are three of my London favourites.

Ember Yard in Soho serves up a great range of dishes cooked over fire. Like what’s possibly the best cauliflower dish I’ve ever eaten.

CAKE app

Delightful spicy, grilled cauliflower

Lima Floral in Covent Garden transports you to Peru with an amazing array of truly different dishes. Peruvian ingredients are like no other and make for an exciting eating experience.

CAKE app

Tender beef Peruvian-style

And then there’s the grandeur of Brasserie Zedel. Sitting right by Piccadilly Circus, it’s a glamorous Parisian-style brasserie of marble and glitz serving great-value French food.

CAKE app

Style and sophistication at Zedel

And that’s just four lovely restaurants to tempt you – London is teaming with them after all. And eating there with CAKE makes life easier.

 

The tastiest Thai food at Busaba

Enjoying Thai food at Busaba

Today’s rainy summer day started with an amble down Oxford Street. The street of myriad shops, frenzied tourists getting in their retail therapy and streams of London buses slowly making their way. I love a bit of time in Oxford Street, but a word of advice – go in the morning – by afternoon it can get unpleasantly packed.

On one of my first meanders down Oxford Street I was surprised that I couldn’t find one of those famous London pubs I’d read so much about. I was too nervous to go off the main drag in case of getting lost! In fact there is one pub on the street which is right near Tottenham Court Road tube station. It used to be called The Tottenham but has recently been renamed The Flying Horse. Not sure why. But of course if you step down any of the side streets off this great London thoroughfare there’s no shortage of pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants to enjoy.

And as London’s restaurant scene gives you the opportunity to enjoy the whole world’s cuisine, just a hop and a skip off Oxford Street is Busaba where you can tuck into the flavours of modern Bangkok. It’s a beautiful, contemporary space with large tables and benches for convivial sharing. We tucked into some tasty, crunchy prawn crackers served with sweet chilli sauce while we pondered the comprehensive menu.

Busaba: prawn crackers

A bowl of crunchy crackers with a sweet and spicy sauce

What’s on the menu

There are several sections to consider – snacks, small plates, stir fry, wok noodle, curry, chargrill, soup and salad – and everything sounded delicious. A hard place to make choices but it had to be done.

We started with the Pandan chicken – tender, fried chicken pieces wrapped in pandan leaves and served with dark soya and sesame dipping sauce. It’s amazing just how tender and flavoursome this chicken was – and I do love the pandan leaf idea, it’s like unwrapping a gift. A very tasty one, too.

Busaba: pandan chicken

Delightful little chicken parcels

Busaba: inside chicken pandas

The luscious parcel contents

A different take on prawn tempura – where the prawns are tossed in Thai-seasoned mayo and topped with chopped mango and chilli. A wonderful combo of textures and flavours with quite a serious chilli bite.

Busaba: prawn tempura

Crunchy prawn tempura and creamy Thai mayo

From the stir-fry section we chose the ginger beef. Strips of bavette in garlic and ginger sauce with mushroom, Thai pepper, fresh chilli and spring onion. The beef was lovely and tender and the sauce packed plenty of gingery flavours.

Busaba: ginger beef

Tender beef in a zingy ginger sauce

I do love a Thai curry. Today’s was one with a difference – red mullet, pineapple and betal leaf -with the fillets poached in the light red coconut milk curry. Mullet is so sweet and tender and goes perfectly with this creamy sauce.

Busaba: Red mullet curry

Double reds: mullet and curry

Busaba: red mullet curry

Sweet fillets of mullet atop egg fried rice

We enjoyed our mains with a fluffy portion of egg fried rice.

Busaba: egg fried rice

Perfect fluffy egg-fried rice

As a regular consumer of Thai food I was happy to discover that the menu offered some interestingly different dishes. And there’s a vast selection of Asian beers and Thai spirits – perfect for cocktails. I didn’t get round to any cocktail sampling this time around, think I’ll have to go back for a refreshing guava bellini or how about an Asian mojito with kaffir lime leaves? Yes please.

To finish off, here’s a shot of the stylish room through our delicious wine. Why not?

Crackers and wine to get started…just perfect

 

Today’s price point

Our two courses cost £38 without drinks or service.

Wine starts from £17 a bottle.

Cocktails are £7.50 and there’s a wide range of fresh juices starting from £2.50.

Busaba is at 52-53 Eastcastle Street W1, just off Oxford Street. Oxford Circus tube station is a few minutes walk.

There are twelve branches across London, so there’s bound to be one near you.

The flavours of Greece at The Hungry Donkey

Today we’re heading for East London. Home to Jack the Ripper, East Enders (real and fictional) and the London Olympics. And now to The Hungry Donkey. There’s a lot going on in the East End.

The menu at this contemporary little Greek restaurant is inspired by Greek street food with the emphasis  on simple dishes made using the best ingredients. Reading the menu transported me back to a sunny island somewhere. Well, almost. It was a particularly grey day and drizzly day in London Town which made me yearn for the sparkling blues and whites that only Greece captures so perfectly. At least I could tuck into some sunny food.

What’s on the menu

Dips are an integral part of Greek cuisine and I love them. This colourful plate of fava – yellow split pea puree was served topped with vibrant, juicy tomatoes, finely chopped onions and crunchy, salty capers.

The Hungry Donkey: Fava

A vibrant dip of split peas

And I can never resist the salty fishiness of a tasty taramas (as it was called on this menu) – made from cod roe and lemon juice. Served with the most perfectly soft, warm pitta bread for satisfying dipping. The greens in the blue dish – we could enjoy some of Greece’s blueness with their azure decorated crockery – were served fried and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.

The Hungry Donkey: taramas

Taramas and little pillows of pitta

The Hungry Donkey: greens

Close up on the greens in blue

Also in the Mezedes and Salads section, the Greek sausage is a mix of wild boar, pork and leek. Delightfully meaty and herby, served simply fried with a dollop of mustard.

The Hungry Donkey: sausages

Meaty, herby sausages

Feta is another Greek staple and here the feta bougiourdi is oven baked with tomatoes and paprika and topped with oregano. A great mix of Greek flavours with the saltiness of the cheese combining perfectly with the sweetness of the tomatoes and the earthiness of the oregano.

The Hungry Donkey: feta and tomato

Creamy, salty feta and sweet tomatoes

As well as the smaller plates, the menu also offers full main-course  portions. In the Plate Me Up section there’s a choice of meat (lamb, chicken or pork) served with handcut chips, salad and tzatziki. I’ve sampled many a grilled skewer (souvlaki) both in Greece and outside and today’s lamb ones were up there with the best. Beautifully flavoured by the marinade and cooked to amazing tenderness. Served with crisp, piping hot chips and traditional yogurt dip, this is a wonderful plate of Greekness. Just looking at that lamb makes my mouth water.

The Hungry Donkey: Lamb

A plate of the tenderest of lamb

The menu also offered a section titled “Traditional Greek dishes just like Mama used to make” which includes classics like moussaka and beef stifado. But we’d already had quite a feast! Even dessert seemed a step too far until George offered us takeaways to enjoy later. I’m so pleased he did as the semolina, custard filo pie with cinnamon is now one of my favourite desserts.

The restaurant also prides itself on its all-Greek wine and spirits menu. I haven’t drunk much Greek wine but have always been impressed on the occasions I have. Today we enjoyed a lovely white – Spiropoulos – Mischofilero – Mantina.

The Hungry Donkey is a welcoming Greek oasis in the burgeoning Aldgate area where new complexes seem to be springing up on every corner. Lovely service, tasty food and great value – and a chance to feel like you’ve had a little Greek mini-break. Well, it will have to do me until I can head to those sunny isles again.

Today’s price point

Lunch for two cost £55 for three courses.

Wine starts from £17.50 a bottle

The Hungry Donkey is at 56 Wentworth Street, London E1 7AL.

Post Wimbledon dinner at The Fire Stables

So this week I’ve been in post-Wimbledon withdrawal. Yes, it really is a thing! For a fortnight you spend way too long in front of the TV and the sound of tennis balls being hit rings in your ears. And then suddenly it’s all gone. Well the tournament is anyway.

Of course Wimbledon is also a place and that’s around all year. I particularly love Wimbledon Village. It’s believed to be the original nucleus of Wimbledon with documentary evidence of the area going as far back as 967. I’m sure those locals wouldn’t recognise their little village in 2017 –  abuzz with cafes, restaurants and quirky shops. A lot of the players rent houses here for the tournament and during that magical fortnight the place is heaving. I think the eating establishments heave a collective sigh of relief (after counting up their money with glee) when things calm down to normal.

Anyway, what better way to get over withdrawal symptoms than to enjoy dinner in the Village. Tonight we’re visiting The Fire Stables which is on Church Road, the main road leading up to the Village from the legendary courts.

It’s a bright contemporary space with stone floors and exposed brick walls. At the front glass doors open up the restaurant to the street and Wimbledon life. Perfect for a warm summer evening. There’s a cosier section at the back with leather banquettes and glowing lamps.

The food is modern British using seasonal local ingredients with an emphasis on fish. There’s a good selection chalked up on the blackboard, including crab, lobster, salmon, hake, monkfish, sea bass and sea bream. The comprehensive menu also offers good meat options, including steak. Our choices were pretty fish-focussed.

The classic prawn cocktail came retro-style in a large stemmed glass.

Fire Stables: prawn cocktail

An abundance of prawn cocktail

My seaside extravaganza of a starter included scallops, lobster bisque, samphire and a crab fritter. The tastes of the sea in a bowl – the crab fritter was particularly good – crunchy outside, soft inside and full of fishy flavours.

Fire Stables: scallop starter

Fishy joy with crabs and scallops in a lobster bisque

Fishermans pie was baked and topped with buttery mashed potatoes. Served in a stylish pan with a side of greens.

Fire Stables: fish pie

Creamy fishermans pie topped with golden mash

For my main I moved away from the fish options. I don’t know why but I seem to be ordering pork a lot in restaurants these days. Maybe because it’s so good. Today’s dish was described as T-bone of pork, so I was kind of expecting a bone but instead got these lovely chunks perfectly cooked and served on a warm puy lentil salad with apple puree and apple crisps.

Fire Stables: pork and lentils

Tastily tender pork on a bed of lentils and pureed apple

I couldn’t resist ordering this side of peas, broad beans, shoots and goats curd. It’s got to be the sweetest combination of vegetables you can get – like a taste of sunshine.

Fire Stables: vegetable side

Sweet and crisp summery vegetables

The desserts definitely helped with Wimbledon withdrawal – well, they brought all the flavours of Wimbledon back to me. The Pimms jelly was served with raspberry sorbet, strawberries and shortbread. Now there’s something I’m definitely making one hot summer day – bring on the Pimms jelly!

Fire Stables: Pimms Jely

The flavours of Wimbledon in a dessert

The strawberry and cream Eton mess was served with lemon sorbet. You can’t have Wimbledon without strawberries and cream after all – around 30,000kgs are eaten of them during the fortnight – I’m surprised there are any left!

Fire Stables: Eton Mess

Creamy meringue with strawberry topping

To finish off it seems appropriate to leave you with an image of the King of Wimbledon. Roger Federer notched up his eighth win this year – the only man in history ever to claim so many. Roger we love you!

Today’s price point

Three courses for two people cost £104 without wine or service.

The Fire Stables is at 27-29 Church Road, Wimbledon SW19.