Friday, 31 July 2009


I have a backlog of reviews that need posting before I buzz off for a month’s holiday in September. Some of the places I’ve visited have been rather wearisome and I would like to get them out of the way during the quiet blog-reading period of August. Unfortunately Asadal is one of them.

I’ve decided that I’m not qualified on the cuisine of Korea. I’ve always been perplexed by the lack of integrity or to put it bluntly, the gist of this type of cooking. Perhaps the stalling of any desire to enjoy a Korean meal is down to my South East Asian upbringing. The diversity and complexities of the dishes from places like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are near limitless and for want of a better description, the food always satisfy a majority of people. Whereas the monotony of Korean food, whilst not bland, is enough for me to declare it boring. In order to avoid the risk of being lynched or the worst case scenario of being stalked, I shall not rant further negative comments about the food of the good Korean folks.

The visit to Asadal was down to this guy’s write-up here. Being Korean, his say-so must be worth more than a pinch of salt. Asadal is located by the side of Holborn tube station and its entrance is small and unassuming (blink and you’ll miss it). The basement dining room is large (apparently the largest Korean restaurant in London) and no signs of dankness or a stuffy atmosphere that’s normally associated with subterranean dining were found. For a basement restaurant, it was rather swish and comfortable. I was impressed to find that the restaurant was well patronised by a substantial amount of diners on a Sunday evening (this part of London is generally comatose during the weekends). Asadal touts itself as a Korean barbecue restaurant, every table has its own gas grills built into the centre. The service was competent but not naturally friendly, I’m convinced that it improves immeasurably if we were regulars instead.

I brought along Jin with me, he’s from Harbin in Northeast China. He claims that he enjoys Korean food, but then again he’s Manchu after all. What we ordered-


The barbecued dish of Joo Mool Luk Kui- slices of sirloin marinated in sesame oil and garlic.

What was an otherwise average tasting dish, it was certainly trumped up by the novelty feature of someone cooking the meat in front of you. I’ve said it elsewhere before, the tenner charged for a few slivers of sirloin is perplexing, it simply makes the epic steak dinners at either The Palm or Hawksmoor positively good value for money.
Pa Seng Che- side dish of dressed spring onions that accompanies the above was an extra £1.80! What a rip-off!

Sul Lung Tang- a milky noodle soup concocted with oxtail and beef slices served with a second carb of rice.

Strongly seasoned with loads of white pepper, possibly to even out the strong tasting oxtail. I quite enjoyed this dish but couldn’t help fussing about the size of the small portion.

Once again I must have ordered this countless of times at different Korean restaurants in London, like the Spanish tortilla it’s consistently ho-hum! Jin wanted it. Disappointing yet again. Jin was confident that he could drum up a better one at home. As far as Asian pancakes of this ilk are concerned you can’t beat the Vietnamese bánh xèo (MSG withstanding) for completeness and ultimate elation.

Neng Myun- cold buckwheat noodles in chilled soup.

Like most Asian cuisines, puddings and desserts are not usually part of the equation. The Koreans like the Japanese end their meals, redemption of one’s palate I may suggest, with noodles. The toothpaste manufacturer, Sensodyne, should’ve endorsed this dish. Here Sensodyne 'will relief the pain of sensitive teeth' from this utterly cold cold dish! All five flavours were present in dish and besides being the largest dish of the meal, it was also my highlight of the night.

I may be wrong but this type of food is perfect with alcohol especially beer, since I no longer drink I shall pass on it. For a high end Korean restaurant the bill for two was reasonable. I’m sure that there are a lot of readers who are reading this will no doubt enjoy Asadal and for that matter Korean cooking, as for myself I’d rather stay at home and cook a packet of Korean instant ramen instead; I find that more tantalising.

227 High Holborn
London WC1V 7DA

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Abu Zaad, Edgware Road


Grilled sea bass with rice and tahina sauce
simple and delicious beyond words...

Quite possibly the best restaurant in Little Beirut aka Edgware Road.


I pigged out this evening, on a most wonderful takeaway of the following-


Finely chopped grilled aubergine mixed with sesame oil and lemon juice.

Warak Inab-

Rolled vine leaves stuffed with rice, tomato and parsley cooked in water, lemon juice & olive oil.


Salad with the usual cos plus cucmber, tomato, mint, sumac, fried pitta bread with lemon and gallons of olive oil dressing.

I skipped the bread this time, in fact what I'm saying, I skip out on most carbs anyway!

Frika with Chicken-

Fried wheat, spiced Chicken, onion. Served with yoghurt

Outrageously delicious, loved the wheat and barley combo, beats couscous any day!


Abu Zaad, swoon! now my de facto resto for all things Middle Eastern

Edgware Road is THE hub of the Arab community in London and do correct me if I’m wrong, the majority of the location's Middle Eastern restaurants are owned and managed by the Lebanese. It is also possibly the only place in the country where everything remains the same on Christmas Day; the buzz, the bustle, incessant smoke from the shisha pipes and of course the said restaurants that never close on any given national holiday. As for the latter I should know, this the road I've been going to for my Christmas Dinner during the past couple of years. For the sake of argument Lebanese food defines and embodies the term Middle Eastern cuisine, somehow examples like Bahraini and Jordanian sound wholly restrictive in comparison. First and foremost I love grilled meats and I still stand by the fact that the Turks are the absolute best when it comes to kebabs (such a Voldemort type word these days); what with their cuts of meat, the marinades and the most important of all, the art of grilling (often overlooked by foodie connoisseurs). Well I don’t reside near Stoke Newington, as W2 is my domain the Lebanese are the next best thing and I’m perfectly content with that. Meze is another important feature of the restaurants in Little Beirut and to the annoyance of yours truly this selection of appetisers is best enjoyed by a group of diners. Unfortunately most of my dining companions hardly have a craving for this type of cuisine, which ultimately results in takeaways instead of me dining alone at these establishments.

Abu Zaad is one of the newest restaurants on Edgware Road, the premises was previously occupied by one of my favourite places for roast chicken and butter rice, Meshwar. Abu Zaad is also the sibling of the well-known Shepherds Bush hangout of which I’ve already written about here. The difference between the two is obvious; the older restaurant is suitably done up in a shabby but endearing Old Damascus style whereas the Edgware Road branch is as sterile and desperate as Dubai. Abu Zaad bills itself as a Syrian restaurant, erm…to all intents and purposes I think Lebanese is more accurate. I can’t vouch for the dining experience here but what I can confirm is that my takeaway dinners have been rather excellent.

I don’t do TV dinners, but I read instead. Books are one of the three things that I overindulge in, the other two are walking and of course gluttony. The above is my current crop of to-reads and I wouldn’t bother asking about borrowing books from myself; the stains and spillages left on the pages are appalling.

MsMarmitelover and fellow veggies, look away!

Takeaway Dinner One-

Mixed Grill:
Skewers of lamb cubes, chicken cubes and minced lamb (kofte) with rice (an option of chips is available, but why fuss as they’re only the frozen variety and besides rice is more authentic).

No complaints, excellent!

Takeaway Dinner Two-

Glorious Meze:
consisting of the following-

Finely chopped parsely, tomato, fresh mint, onion, a touch of white pepper and crushed wheat mixed with olive oil and lemon dressing
One of my favourite salads ever

Aubergine cooked with tomato, onion, chickpeas and sweet pepper.

Foul Mukalla:
Broad beans cooked with fresh coriander, garlic & olive oil.
Here foul (broadbean) is pronounced 'foo'

Farrouj Abou Zaad :
Grilled boneless baby chicken

For those who lambaste Col Sanders and co., please stop it right now. Most if not all of the halal chicken served in this country are of the battery species. If prepared and cooked well, you’ll be rewarded with a fine tasting but ethically dubious bird.

The poussin was excellent.

Chilli sauce is important for this dish, unlike the Indians or the Turks, the Lebanese version, which is tomato based is comparatively mild and delightful.

Takeaway Dinner Three-

Couscous Lamb:
Served with mixed vegetables and gallons of broth

Moroccan dish in a Syrian/Lebanese restaurant? I deliberated with suspicions before I took the plunge and ordered anyway. I’ve never been to Casablanca so I can’t comment on the authenticity of the dish. I was a bit at loss on how to tackle the dish, in the end I just chucked the entire watery broth onto the couscous.

The lamb was excellent, tender and flavourful. The veg was just veg, ratatouille comes to mind, typically unexciting for meat eaters.

When it comes to staples like rice, pasta, bread or even polenta, I can tolerate them, as for couscous…I dunno, I really dunno, I think I’m not crazy about it. Overall reaction- mixed.

Abu Zaad is more than au fait with me, the menu has enticed me enough. I’ve risen to the bait. Highly recommended.

128 Edgware Road
London W2 2DZ (Currently Shepherds Bush site only)

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Thăng Long (formerly Phở Sweet Basil)

Updated 04/03/12

The above restaurant is now known as Quán Nuóng
(the name vaguely means grill shop)

Updated October 2010

Re-branded as Thăng Long. The restaurant is family run, friendly but the service is sadly erratic when the the place becomes a little over half-full. Case of Mum and Dad cooking in the kitchen, sons struggling with front of house and nan sitting in the corner masquerading as a piece of furniture. Alas, the food served here is at best poor but Thăng Long should survive because it thrives on the unfortunate souls who simply give up queuing at the other restos (offering superior cooking) that are found on The Phở Mile.

Summer Rolls- basic and textbook like, bland and forgettable. If Tesco were to stock up on summer rolls alongside their approximate sushi, this would be it.

Vegetarian stir-fried egg noodles- sad and a rip-off at six quid. The noodles basically came from one of those instant ramen multi-packs. This is the sort of the dish found demonstrated endlessly in Jamie Oliver's American Food Revolution but worse. Big fail.

The so-called Chef's Special Pho- special because it contained two extra prawns and three slices of bleached white chicken in addition to the regular beef noodle soup. The whole dish lacked substance and depth, and on top of that I had to remind the young chap serving us what happened to the garnishes of basil, lime, bean sprouts, and chilli peppers. His facial response suggested was- oh didn't know phos came with garnishes! I'd been had. £7.50 for the crap.

Peeps, sorry to say but avoid Thăng Long. Just persevere with the queues at the other nearby restaurants at all times.


I watched the recent episode about Vietnam with Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey on BBC’s iPlayer and was rather disappointed that he merely skimped on the important aspects of this wonderful cuisine. At the very least Clarkson and the boys sampled more exotic dishes than he did when Top Gear: Vietnam Special was aired. Rick Stein, let’s face it you couldn’t wait to escape to Thailand, I’m sorry but Anthony Bourdain makes you look like a right sheltered little boy.

No apologies for yet another review of a Vietnamese restaurant. It’s a duty unto myself to complete the task of eating my way through The Pho Mile and all the other Vietnamese joints within the M25. Phở Sweet Basil has three disadvantages compared to the others on Kingsland Road:

The name- it’s dourly lame and hardly significant. If I were a branding dork I would suggest something like The Deer Hunter (arouses sure-fire curiosity!) or Aphocalypse Now! but certainly not Pho Real or Phở Sweet Basil.

Location- it’s on the wrong side of the road and the consequences make its presence forlorn. Those diners who are tired of queuing up at the Time Out place (Song Que) are unlikely to cross over the road to PSB as they have this or that within a few doors
instead .

The menu- it’s got Chinese (ok, just about forgivable, only just) and Thai dishes mingling with the usual Vietnamese standards. Now why would anyone want to have a Thai Green Curry or Tom Yum Soup in a Vietnamese restaurant. That is clearly a sign of desperation on PSB’s behalf and my initial expectations were extremely worrying.

PSB is around nine months old. One can tell by the décor that it’s still very young. Credit has to be given to PSB for the effort made to include an all-mod-cons take on the room. However having studied architecture, I find those chequered chairs misguided. We showed up on a Sunday evening, the restaurant was nearly empty save for a couple attempting to have romantic evening and a table of some lively Vietnamese folks chatting away (friends of the owners I dare say as they weren’t eating). The service from the lone waiter was exemplary, well he doesn’t have that many options left!

As always, Iced Vietnamese Coffee and Homemade Lemonade.
Both were ok and passable.

Oh how unusual, gratis prawn crackers.
Nice touch, but I'm not into Chinese prawn crackers (bland and I often wonder where the prawn flavour has disappeared to!), I find that the Thai and Indonesian versions are the best.

Not so always, Muc Chien Don or fried calamari.

PSB didn’t have either the bánh cuốn (filled rice rolls) or chả chiên (Vietnamese sausage) on their menus so we resorted to the squid dish instead. Well cooked tender pieces but the overall taste lacked kick. Just passable.

As always, the phở bò.

Good stock and the last minute addition of raw beef slices was certainly praiseworthy. The pho was let down, rather sacrilegiously, by the blanched noodles for sitting too long in a colander; you do not want clumps of noodles in your dish! Just passable.

As always, the bun thit nuong or vermicelli bowl.

This was the full monty version with Vietnamese spring rolls, and chargrilled of the following: sirloin steak, pork and chicken. This is one dish that’s consistent with all the other restaurants along the strip, it simply cannot go wrong and as a result, wonderful. Passed with flying colours.

PSB passed. Although it’s not in the same league as its illustrious neighbours, it can only get better, like the service it has no other choices and someone has to pay the rent. Best of luck PSB. Recommended with slight apprehensions.

97 Kingsland Road
London E2 8AH
I insisted on a receipt, one can't beat a hand-written one!