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 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.

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.

Delightful dishes down by the riverside at Bistro Vadouvan

I’ve lived in London for most of my adult life (so far) and totally feel like the city is my home. It’s a bustling, somewhat crowded city but I love its energy and attitude and the fact that there is so much to do and see. And I particularly love it in summer – well in summer when the sun comes out. Which it did this week! And what better way to spend a sunny summer evening than dining overlooking the River Thames.

Bistro Vadouvan is set on Putney Wharf’s Piazza and on such a lovely evening it felt more like we were dining in Spain than England. It’s the brainchild of two friends who grew up in the same town in India but only got to know each other years later at college (weird how that does happen)!

What’s on the menu

Their interesting dishes combine classic French cuisine with Middle Eastern and Asian flavours – making for some wonderful plates of food. The prawn, crab and cucumber salad was served with yuzu kosho and a hint of green chilli. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit and this is a simply stunning, summery dish. So light and zesty with plenty of crunch and beautifully fresh seafood. Reminded me of some of the beautiful salads I ate in Vietnam last year. And doesn’t it look amazing too.

Bistro Vadouvan: crab salad

The spiced Bouillabaisse Provencal was a classic with a twist. Plump rope mussels, chorizo and Middle Eastern flavours gave the fish soup added depth. Love the fish-shaped bread, too.

Bistro Vadouvan: Bouillabaisse

Bouillabaisse made even better with Middle Eastern flavours

It seemed like it was going to be hard to follow those starter choices – two of the standout dishes of the summer so far. However, this fishy main was stupendous. Cornish brill was poached in coconut milk and served with prawn ravioli, gnocchi, shiitake, spring onion and chilli salad. I can’t say I’ve eaten much brill – I certainly plan to in the future. It was beautifully soft and sweet, the broth was creamy and was topped with a fabulous combo of mushrooms, salad and herbs.

Bistro Vadouvan: brill and prawn ravioli

A wonderful fish concoction with fresh Asian flavours

One of today’s specials was a rib eye steak topped with salsa verde. It was served with what the restaurant calls well-dressed whole baby gem lettuce topped with an incredible dressing and a bowl of perfectly crisp chips with rosemary and garlic.

Bistro Vadouvan: Ribeye steak

A lusciously juicy steak with amazing salad and chips

Bistro Vadouvan has a wonderfully intriguing list of desserts on offer, we just couldn’t resist. I opted for the mango soup which was served with basil leaves and seeds. A bowl of refreshing, liquid mango with luscious little chunks inside and topped with a mango sorbet. Mango and basil is a heavenly contribution and as a lover of both this is a pudding that’s right up my alley!

Bistro Vadouvan: Mango soup

My absolute dream dessert – a cornucopia of mango

The other delight that caught our eye was called Floating Island. Basically a soft meringue floating in creme anglaise and topped with crunchy, caramelised nuts. Wow, what joy! We even tried combining the two and the fruity, sweet  and creamy result was incredible. What wonderful summer desserts.

Bistro Vadouvan: Floating island

A floating masterpiece of creamy sweetness

Today’s price point

A three course dinner for two cost £70 not including wine or service.

Wine starts from around £20 a bottle.

Bistro Vadouvan is at 30 Brewhouse Lane, Putney Wharf SW15 on the river near Putney Bridge.

Square Meal