Thursday, 30 April 2009

Tây Đô Café

By way of a combination of both Vietnamese and Shoreditch whispers, Tây Đô, I was swearingly informed is ‘wet capital’ in Vietnamese. Well be forewarned that these kinds of whispers are ever so misleading and also a source of misinformation. Thank you Uncle Wiki for clarifying things, Tây Đô means "western capital" instead.

The dining room of a Vietnamese restaurant in London is divided into three categories. The first is often indicative of contemporariness and a willingness to comply with what’s currently ticking (the Viet Grill and That Vietnamese Place come to mind). The second one is let’s move into an existing restaurant and not spend a single penny on it (my beloved Loong Kee Café). The third is the most common in Pho Mile, it’s a template jobbie that can be obtained from the Vietnamese section at Restaurants ‘Я’ Us. Expect lurid colours, mismatched furniture, Vietnamese art ill adorned on the walls and a confusing mix of fluorescent and halogen lighting. Tây Đô belongs to this illustrious category (a Pho Mile ilk).

The inclusion of young, cocky male waiters is a sure-fire sign of authenticity in London’s Vietnamese restaurants. By enlarge these chaps speak little or no English, but expect this deficiency to change whenever conversations of the Premier League are engaged. Efficiency at this place has been observed but friendliness doesn’t really figure. Like most or all of the restaurants on Pho Mile, there is the usual redeeming feature of no service charge added to the final bill.

First thing to order is the Cà Phê Sữa. This is iced Vietnamese white coffee. It’s quite common in South East Asia to have a coffee drink accompanying one’s meal. Vietnamese coffee is inherently rich, strong and chocolate tasting; the addition of condensed milk (one of the few good things left by colonialism) turns this into a wonderful non-alcoholic rival to Baileys. Suitably addictive.

Gỏi Cuốn- Summer Rolls of Prawn and Pork.

Three important factors define this dish, they have to be tightly packed (they were here), served at room temperature (fridge cold here-tut) and have at least two whole prawns per roll (box ticked).

These were ok tasting, but I felt they needed more coriander with the pork and prawn filling. The dipping sauce tasted of bog standard hoisin sauce.

Rice vermicelli with chargrilled prawns.

This one dish meal comes with a dipping bowl of nước chấm (a concoction of fish sauce, lime, water and sugar). The idea is to tip the latter in its entirety to the bowl of noodles, essentially to flavour and wet the noodles. A joyous dish to behold.

The generosity of the amount of beautifully cooked prawns that’s included makes this wonderful dish incredibly good value as well.

My recollection of the benchmark dish of Phở Bò (Beef Pho) here was cursory. I need to come back here again try the pho but I doubt it’s in the same league as Loong Kee Café. Otherwise no cause for complain, this place warrants a safe recommendation from me.

NB I found this review funny and somewhat desperate.

65 Kingsland Road
London E2 8AG

Monday, 27 April 2009

The Pho Mile

The Phở Mile that's also Kingsland Road, E2
To date I've been to all eleven of them and only a few have been blogged. The general gist is that none of the eleven twelve joints are bad, they can't afford to be, but anyone of them can also be hit-or-miss. The Vietnamese staff hate getting wound up by whim-hungry diners, and in any case one shouldn’t ask for the earth anyway, the food served is dirt cheap and nearly, always delicious. Please do let me know if there are new restaurants that crop on this road and you're more than welcome to contribute any testimonials for any of the restaurants listed below. Send your comments and I'll caption them with the relevant photo.

FYI, my favourite is Loong Kee Café.

Viet Grill – The Vietnamese Kitchen
58 Kingsland Road London E2 8DP

Tây Đô Restaurant

60-64 Kingsland Road E2 8DP

Tây Đô Café
65 Kingsland Road London E2 8AG



Viet Hoa Café
70-72 Kingsland Road E2 8DP




Third time lucky- Quán Nuóng, previously Thăng Long (in itself, formerly known as Phở
Sweet Basil).

97 Kingsland Road London E2 8AG

Hanoi Café

98 Kingsland Road London E2 8DP
Que Viet
104 Kingsland Road London E2 8DP

Anh Đào
106-108, Kingsland Road London E2 8DP

Miền Tây

122 Kingsland Road London E2 8DP

Sông Quê Café

134 Kingsland Road London E2 8DY


Hung Việt (aka That Vietnamese Place)134A Kingsland Road London E2 8DY

Banh Mi London
134B Kingsland Road London E2 8DY

Loong Kee Café
134G Kingsland Road London E2 8DY

by enlarge
A nigh on loveless place Kingsland Road is...

A gentle reminder on 'The Pho Mile', it was coined here first by yours truly.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

The Harwood Arms- Revisit

It’s only a gastropub.
It’s only a gastropub.
It’s only a gastropub.
It’s only a gastropub.
It’s only a gastropub.

Yeah but no but...

This one stands out!

So astonishingly excellent, it deserves a second posting.

Signature One of The Harwood Arms- The most heavenly home-baked bread in a bag.
I think these guys have shot themselves in the foot, most of us would just overdose on it and leave no room whatsoever for the pudding!

Signature Two of The Harwood Arms- ''THE'' Scotch Egg

You haven’t been here if you didn't order this. Treat this bar snack as your pre-starter. (It doesn't appear on the restaurant menu, so do whatever it needs to be done in order to get this dish on your table) Achingly delicious and together with the one found at The Ginger Pig; the best Scotch Eggs reside in London!

Companion's starter of Scnitzel and rissole of wild rabbit with mustard mayonnaise and bitter leaves
The rissole on the right was skewered using a rustic twig.

My starter of Warm onion tart with Montgomery cheddar and watercress

An absolutely marvellous quiche tart, no overpowering dominance from either the onion or cheese, just a perfect execution in providing nuance on a plate. I thought aloud, it’s only a tart FGS!

Companion's Cornish cod with brown shrimps, grilled spring onions and sea purslane

My Loin of rabbit with white beans, smoked bacon, spring cabbage and liver on toast

Bugs in my humblest, is one of the most neutral tasting meat available; it doesn't have the boar taint that you find in some pork nor the 'coop' underones of chicken. Tonight's rabbit dish helped by the smoked bacon was spectacular! That liver toast gently reminded me of a game bird dish- swoon!

Unfortunately no pudding pics as we were too full after the three courses (to include the bread and egg). For a more detailed report on this place please see my first review. Just as well, this place is a bit out of reach for me otherwise I'll bankrupt myself and come here week in and week out. Stephen Williams, chef, I salute thee and I hope you don't have to wait years to get your first star! By enlarge highly recommended.

Walham Grove

London SW6 1QR

Saturday, 25 April 2009


The start to the day was frustrating to say the least and as we all know bad things come in threes. First I had to pull out an entire post from the blog, secondly I made a grammatically challenged comment here (by enlargeI’m known for errors, some deliberately and others doubly so, but I try to avoid them when commenting on other peeps’ blogs) and thirdly I forgot to top up my Oyster card, causing me to be late with opening the shop and missing my caffeine fix at Cwtch. Arrgh, Lizzie roll us one please!

Mishaps are often rewarded with good things to come. Boy did that ring true, today was indeed blessed. Saturday is 'get to see daughter day', my favourite day of the week and also ultimately costly as well. When I meet up with her I insist that we eat well despite her protestations; you see teenagers prefer places like Bodean’s (a resolute no for me), Nando’s (I’ve never actually been, if you must know!) and of course burger bars like Byron. However if she adheres with my decision on where to go for lunch she’ll be rewarded with some clothes shopping thereafter. Works both ways, I get fed well and she enhances her 'distressed and shredded' jeans collection.
Let’s just say Wavey (my daughter from now on) and I were fed very well today and it was also possibly the best lunch we’ve had this year.
I heard about Iberica here. They’ve been opened for the past eight months, it somehow got past me and I think it’s probably down to the PR dorks, obviously the submission of free meals to both press or bloggers didn't figure. As a result this place is still relatively unheard of.
The corner premises can only be described as of flagship aspirations or maybe even pretensions; it’s huge. The location here is like the City during the weekend, it’s pretty much deserted, in fact one only ventures into Great Portland Street for three things; The Portland Hospital for all baby matters, get stitched up at the Villandry or a guaranteed parking space here if you’re heading towards Oxford Street. Iberica is divided into three sections, a posh restaurant situated on the mezzanine known as Caleya Ibérica , a well-to-do mini food hall, La Tienda, which if marketed properly might trouble Brindisa more than a bit and the last section, La Barra, the tapas bar on the ground floor/main entrance, this is where we had our lunch.

La Barra is my kind of dining space, high ceilings, no elbow2elbow rage (including the bar!), and comfy at best.
This place is also ideal for daylight photography, no white balance issues here.
One minor quibble is that the dining tables are too high for the chairs or vice versa. The all Spanish staff speak decent English! They were friendly and efficient and frankly they also deserve every penny of the 12.5% gratuity.

The tapas menu is huge, I think there were fifty or so dishes listed. When we were here today the following two were gratis-
Olives with anchovies- to think I don’t even like olives but hell these were very tasty.
Bread with olive oil- I know it’s only baguette, but it was actually baked properly (no whitish crusts) and moreish. My advice is not to scoff too quickly on the bread as the Spaniards have a way with serving their other dishes with more carbs like potatoes.
Ostentatious by nature and ostentatious by choice. I ordered the Jamon Iberico. The platter consists of ham from three different places. This £20 plate of bellota ham is the best we’ve had, it was far-reachingly droolworthy (it came from the heart, serious!).
All three as expected were delicious but the bottom of Guijuelo D.O. (also the fattiest) was the best; sweet, intense and you don’t even have to chew it. Wavey and I agreed it’s extremely difficult for either of us to become vegetarians now after this plate of ham.
Next came White tuna, roasted pepper and caramelised onion salad. On paper this is just a cold salad dish. It was so full of flavour it was enough blow anyone away.
The sweetness from the peppers and onions was simply profound. A* dish, I can picture this dish on the menus of the likes of Le Café Anglais or Quo Vadis. I’m sure the chef would be flattered if his tuna dish is replicated elsewhere.
Grilled Baby Lamb chops served with panadera potatoes. Do you know these things weren’t even intentionally pink inside, in fact the sliced up chop were uniformly lightish brown in appearance. Dull looking, truth be told.
We’ve never had such tender tasting meat before and it was ever so superb. For those who don’t like lamb, well they will now for there’s little indication of lamb taint anywhere. Masterstroke and beyond.
Fried fresh squid with alioli- yes it’s only squid, but it’s strange how we take this fish for granted especially with a degree a chewiness being inevitable whenever it’s ordered elsewhere.
No excessive mastication needed here, like the lamb these fine battered morsels were tender and beautifully seasoned. That alioli I believe betters Barrafina in every respect. The bestest calamari to date.
"Broken" Eggs with panadera potato and Iberico Ham- the last dish to appear. Like most Spanish dishes I’ve encountered, they’re not the most photogenic. Although this dish didn’t blow us away like the other four it was still very good.
This Honest John of a dish relies on the freshness of the egg to have the last say in ‘comfort eating begins here’. This dish beats the pants off the oft ordered tortilla.

As they say, by this time we were both suitably stuffed and happily satisfied. No room for the puddings (all surprisingly under £4) but we’ll try them out next time. Chef Santiago Guerrero, you deserve a standing ovation.

Based on today’s lunch, this is currently my reference for the best tapas in London and I sincerely hope it wasn't a one-off experience. I’m coming back here to try out the rest of the menu and their ‘paella’ Sundays. Like all Spanish eating places in London, Iberica is not cheap but it’s worth it. Recommended with no reservations whatsoever.

NB Oh, like mishaps, good things also come in threes; good company, good lunch and good coffee. We walked off the lunch excesses to come here for coffee.

195 Great Portland Street

London W1W 5PS