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.

Scandinavian delights at Nordic Bakery

Today I’m having an indulgent lunch at Nordic Bakery in Covent Garden. Being back in my favourite part of London always makes me smile. This is one of four establishments in London that sells a fabulous range of Nordic baked goods, like cinnamon buns, rye bread and cakes…and more.

They describe themselves as a beautiful Scandinavian cafe and peaceful meeting place in a frantic city. There are certainly many Scandinavian touches about the place (like the wood-clad walls) which exudes a sense of coolness and calm. I’m loving the Scandi vibe that’s popping up around London. This would certainly be the perfect place to visit in the middle of this amazing heatwave London’s having.

Service is welcoming and friendly and then you’ll discover  all manner of deliciousness to choose from.

Nordic Bakery Covent Garden

Welcome to Covent Garden’s Nordic Bakery

Cinnamon buns are a quintessential Scandinavian treat and these are among the best I’ve ever seen or tasted. They are made fresh on the premises throughout the day. Just looking at this picture makes my mouth water.

Nordic bakery: Cinnamon buns

Up close on the perfect cinnamon buns

As I was there around lunchtime I simply had to try some of the savoury delicacies. Like these open sandwiches. Gravadlax and cucumber or smoked salmon on traditional rye bread.

Nordic Bakery: Open sandwiches

Smoked salmon tastes amazing on rye bread

One of my favourite Nordic ingredients is herring. They have so many ways of preparing this wonderful fish – one I simply do not eat enough of. Here it is in a mild curry sauce served with hard boiled egg on that rye bread again. Such a great combination.

Nordic Bakery: open herring sandwich

You have to try the herring if you’re anywhere Nordic

The spinach and feta quiche was light and tasty with its melt-in-the-mouth pastry.

Nordic bakery: spinach and feta quiche

A slice of creamy, tasty quiche

Berries are a big part of Nordic cuisine – blueberries and lingonberries are perfect in these tasty buns.

Nordic Bakery: berry buns

Berry buns and more to choose from

Or how about pastries with an apple, almond or custard filling. See what I mean, there’s a lot of choices going on here.

Nordic Bakery: apple, almond and custard

More sweet flavours to savour

And here’s a sweet surprise. It’s called an oven pancake and is cooked in a baking tray. And although it doesn’t look like it, it certainly tastes like a pancake and was wonderful with their home-made berry jam. What a great idea – fuss-free pre-prepared pancakes without the stress. I’m going to be making these at home, that’s for sure.

Nordic bakery: Oven pancake

The surprising oven pancake with delicious berry jam

The great news is that even if you don’t live in London or can’t get to Covent Garden, there’s a fabulous recipe book. So you can get baking at home and fill your home with Scandinavian delights. Now doesn’t that sound good?

Time for some home-baked goods

 

Nordic Bakery is at 55 Neal Street, Seven Dials, Covent Garden, London.

Mexican fare at El Pastor in Borough Market

Today’s London story is about my visit to El Pastor alongside Borough Market for some Mexican delights. But first, something less pleasant.

I write this two days after the horrendous attacks in London when three murderers in a van ploughed down pedestrians on London Bridge and then ran through Borough Market stabbing people. In fact, one of them stabbed a woman in the chest in El Pastor before customers managed to push him out of the restaurant by throwing chairs and bottles at him. At  last count there are seven people dead and 48 injured.

This carnage happened on a warm summer Saturday when Londoners were out and about enjoying the many pleasures the area has to offer. I’d eaten in El Pastor the Thursday before, followed by a meander through the wonders of the market. Two days later people were being stabbed on those same streets. I admit it, it makes me scared. Are our lives in danger every time we step out onto the streets of this great city?

I was on the Underground on Thursday 7 July 2005 when four Islamist extremists separately detonated bombs on three Underground trains and a bus. 56 died and 784 were injured. Luckily for me I wasn’t on one of the targeted trains – it was still a truly awful day. And I was scared then, too. In the weeks following I got off trains several times because I felt someone looked “suspicious” – whatever that means. As it happens it was just me being paranoid and, well, scared. So while we all #wearenotafraid I am standing up and saying yes, I am scared but it’s not going to stop me. Being scared is okay.  Being sad at the random hatred is okay. Shedding tears over lives lost is okay.

Ken Livingstone was Mayor of London in 2005 and  after the bombings he said: “You will see that people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential. Nothing you do, however many of us you kill will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. ”

That speech was about me (among many others). I moved here 32 years ago and have built my life in a city that offered me myriad opportunities, freedom and a home. I plan to visit Borough Market again soon and pay tribute to the bravery of the police and medics and ordinary people who helped fight off these fanatics. They are the sort of people we should aspire to be. To show that we can fight the evil around us. And that while we may be afraid, we will stand together and show these madmen we will not let them win. It’s the best that we can do.

After all the city offers many delights, especially if you like eating out. London’s restaurant culture reflects the wide diversity of people who have come together to create an exciting, vibrant city with  much to savour. So it seems fitting that today I’m writing about a new Mexican addition to the London scene – El Pastor.

And what better than a chunky guacamole to start with? Served with two-tone tortillas (or totopos as they call them here) and some extra salsa for dipping.

El Pastor: guacamole

Chunky guacamole to keep avo lovers happy

The core of the menu is a tacos choice. Well, you are in a taqueria after all, where all the tortillas are made fresh on-site every day. The signature tacos, Al Pastor, is made from 24-hour marinated pork shoulder, caramelised pineapple, guacamole vaquero, white onion and coriander. Melt-in-the-mouth pork with the crunch of fruit and veg all makes for a wonderfully zesty little package.

Es Pastor: Al Pastor taco

Luscious and tasty pork with crunchy veg

In the choripapa, your taco is filled with chorizo, potato and salsa verde. I hadn’t thought that chorizo and potato could be such a stunning combination, it’s the perfect mix of soft and spicy richness.

El Pastor: chorizo and potato taco

Potato and chorizo – a heavenly taco combo

Today’s pudding sounded so exotic we had to give it a try. The fresh pineapple is served with hibiscus granita, chilli and mint. You bite into the sweet juiciness of the pineapple, get a touch of mint flavour and are then hit by the chilli. It’s certainly a dessert with impact.

Borough Market: pineapple dessert

Pineapple, hibiscus and chilli dessert – how exotic!

Today’s price point

We paid £27 for our food selection (not including drinks).

Wine starts from £18 for a bottle and cocktails from £8.

And here are a couple of my favourite images from my visit to that wonderful market.

Borough Market: Saucisson

The prettiest Saucissons ever

I can’t leave Borough Market unless I’m clutching a bottle of the delectable truffle honey. It’s irresistible.

Borough Market: Truffle honey

You simply have to treat yourself to some truffle honey

El Pastor is at 6-7A Stoney Street, London SE1.