Saturday, 31 March 2012

Burger & Lobster

If I were an animal I'd be a lobster because I’m noble (self-assessed no less) and fancy a bit of negligible senescence. But then again-

'Tis the voice of the Lobster: I heard him declare
"You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair."

As a duck with its eyelids, so he with his nose

Trims his belt and his buttons, and turns out his toes.

When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark,

And will talk in contemptuous tones of the Shark;

But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,

His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.

Lewis Carroll

Oh dear, tremulous and whatnot, the lobster is therefore hellishly foolish and thus a condemned creature. That said; its deliciousness which will never pass into nothingness, has its ‘easy prey’ tag to thank for (or not).

Lobster is an ancient creature
Eating lobster is a luxury

Luxury is an ancient notion

Burger & Lobster needs no introduction and if I’m to sum it up, it has to be one of London's best cheap eats.

Where else can you find a lobsta dinner for less than 20 quid?

There’s the Thermidor for £19.99 from Marks and Sparks...

...or the dressed Canadian for the same price.

Lest I forget, the £16.80 Lobster Noodles from Hung’s in Chinatown...

...augmented with enough noodles to feed more than 1 person but sadly let down by the flavourless lobster that was quite plainly harvested out of the the freezer.

Or the most complete caboodle of joy for 2 tenners plus 12.5% service.

The lobster came with crunchy greaseless chips, a wonderfully dressed salad, and the ambrosia quality of the lemon and garlic butter. The crustacean, first steamed and finally grilled was outstanding. It was delectably sweet, fresh and generously large (it must have taken the poor so and so at least four to five years to reach the size). And to think, there I am gloating about this magnificent beast and it wasn’t even native but Nova Scotian.

The Burger or a Goodman one by any other name.

It too came with the excellent chips and salad that accompanied the lobster. The burger was ordered medium rare with optional cheese and bacon requested at no extra premium (I know, the world’s your oyster for £20!). It arrived mooingly rare and was frightful enough to put my dining companion off. Which meant all the more for me and I happily scoffed the whole thing. It was a very good burger but not quite as good as this.

If I were an animal I'd be a pig at Burger & Lobster instead. Highly recommended.

29 Clarges Street
London, W1J 7EF

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Busaba Eatviet

Just a little over two years’ ago Viet Hoa embarked on a total re-branding exercise and abandoned the canteen-for-the-proletariat identity it had thrived on for about eight years. Whilst the majority of its contemporaries on The Pho Mile remained faithful to this formula Viet Hoa decided to attract more of the Hoxton’s and Shroeditch’s hipsters to its doors instead and proclaim-

We proudly welcome fans of Aphex Twin and the Gavin Turk brigade to our family-run restaurant that serves freshly cooked ethnic food and a service which complies with your lifestyle and every whim.

IOW- free WiFi, music playlists, exotic Beerlao, and amongst other things, the loo…a latent one that is but cunningly executed.

If Alan Yau were to start a chain of Vietnamese joints then the above would be it right up his street but Viet Hoa have nipped it before he can utter Busaba Eatviet. Viet Hoa is divided into two sections, Café on ground level (where I have always dined) and the Mess in the basement, which adopts a plusher dining experience to take on the likes of Viet Grill. I must say that two years on it still looks pretty ok and almost none of the wear and tear that are normally associated with the use of cheap and compromised shop fittings
were evident.

I don’t care much now for the the rest of the food served at Vietnamese restaurants in London but at the very least the pho has to be good.

Banh cuon-
It was woeful and poor. Discarded strips of nondescript hor fun
noodles thrown in with a tiny amount of juliennes of Vietnamese sausage and a nominal ‘yawn yawn’ salad. A good and proper bánh cuốn should and always be presented like this (cannelloni form) and taste out of this world but sadly the above took the piss.

Chả cá Hà Nội-
Grilled fish Hanoi style (or for the occidental diners you’ll be offered sizzling salmon instead) served with a generous rice vermicelli salad.

The fish in question, like tilapia, is one of the world’s most intensively farmed varieties otherwise known as basa, pangasius or plain catfish. The dish whilst potentially good was beautifully seasoned and ‘herbed’ but badly let down by the fish that tasted as if it had been frozen and thawed over and over again.

The pho

A good visual test for a half-decent bowl of pho is that the broth should exhibit a hue that’s similar to jasmine tea. And when it comes to matters regarding the olfactory perception and tastebuds, the bowl should also possess a perfect balance of savoury-beefy yang and aromatic fresh-herbs yin. So good things abound; for there was the depth of flavour, good beef chucked in, al dente hor fun, freshness of the ingredients as a whole, wedges of lime instead of shortcuts like lemons…it was simply a dish worth slurping loudly and deliciously.

The pho at Viet Hoa is very good but that’s all.

70-72 Kingsland Road
London E2 8DP

Saturday, 10 March 2012

New Fook Lam Moon

New Fook Lam Moon is a longstanding Cantonese restaurant in London’s Chinatown and to the Chinese the name conjures up and preserves a degree of assurance; ‘fortune arriveth at the door’. The restaurant’s strong reputation, as acknowledged by its large and loyal following of Chinese customers, is based purely on the consistently good roast meats it excels in. Unfortunately a majority of the above only come in to takeaway their favourite siu mei as opposed to dining in to avoid the dull and formulaic Cantonese dishes that only the gweilos would embrace wholeheartedly.

Thankfully the owners possessed enough foresight and invested in the talented abilities of the Malaysian Chinese kitchen staff to include a chef’s special section of predominantly but enticing Malaysian dishes like Mamite Prawns and Asam Curry. This post reflects the specials’ menu.

Few pointers-

This is a smallish restaurant and it's ideal for solo diners.
Service is pleasant for Chinatown and never condescending.
Like Wong Kei, tea should be gratis and that’s regardless of one's race, creed or colour.
Service charge at 10% duly noted.
Slices of oranges served free at end of meal.
The final bill is always itemised, clear, precise and never dodgy.

What I’ve eaten here-

Takeaway of excellent roast duck and luminescent but moreish cuttlefish on rice. £6.50

NB the roast pork here is absolutely outstanding and they’re unusually chopped up finely instead of the usual unwieldy chunks found elsewhere.

Singapore Laksa at £7.50

One can specify yellow egg noodles or rice vermicelli or both. The laksa here was ok but it lacked the usual richness (coconut milk gone awol) and the frightful looking pieces of overdone aubergine didn’t bode well. The best laksa in London still resides here.

Hainanese Chicken Rice at £6.50

This dish is off-menu. The sight of the slightly pink flesh and near-red marrow spells all kinds of mad panic but at least it was faithful to what the original Hainanese recipe of South East Asia intended. And before you scream ‘yikes!’ I’ve never experienced any food poisoning from eating Hainanese Chicken Rice anywhere in the world. Anyway the chicken was ‘slippery’, juicy and moist but if I were to be pernickety then an older hen would be more flavoursome than the juvenile battery bird found above.
Hainanese Chicken Rice comprises of four components- the said chicken, the rice, the broth and the chilli dipping sauce. Disappointingly the dish at New Fook Lam Moon came soupless and the chilli sauce was lame (devoid of ginger and garlic to give a kick and zing). However the generous portion of rice was wondrous for it was sticky, oily rich and relentlessly chickeny; the golden hue comes from the addition of chicken fat. For the all-defining chicken rice experience you’ll need to go to Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand but the one at New Fook Lam Moon is pretty commendable for London’s standards.

Nyonya-style Fried Noodles with Prawns at £7.00

It baffled me as to why the restaurant chose to call it so as it was basically Char Kway Teow spiced up with loads of belacan.
In fact there’s even Goulash on their menu and that should read classic Cantonese braised beef brisket instead (without any paprika whatsoever but soy sauce, star anise, etc.). These guys don’t do themselves any favours!
That said the above dish is potentially one on the most authentic Char Kway Teows I’ve come across in London -smoky, lardy, and unlike an overrated example like here, it was deliciously fulfilling. Furthermore, the inclusion of six juicy king prawns was enough to make the above excellent value for money.

Bak Kut Teh served with slices of fried dough sticks and a large bowl of rice at £8.50

This classic ‘meat bone tea’ soup-dish is vehemently revered by my tribe, the Hokkiens. I’m not going to dwell on it but you can read about it here. In brief Bak Kut Teh is an acquired taste that’s brings together the porky nirvana and the alarming decoction of a traditional Chinese herbal prescription in one pot. The version here was ok; a tad too sweet and so obviously made with the aid of a ready-mix herb and spice packet that can be purchased in Chinese supermarkets.

Petai Beans and Minced Pork in Sambal Sauce at £11.50

Has Anthony Bourdain tried petai beans, no I don’t tink so! In all, this pungent and spicy dish was an accomplished one- the beans were buttery, bitterish and nutty; the pork whilst not maddeningly spicy was quite luscious. You’ll need loads of rice to soak up the excellent sambal sauce. Loved it.

A note about the little known Petai Bean-

Its permeating properties make the aftermath of eating asparagus positively fragrant, the petai beans are responsible for the mother of all offensively malodorous consequences when burping, urinating, farting and pursuing number twos. Or in other words it’s a sure-fire way to be excluded from society… permanently! Best of luck pals!

Deep-fried King Prawns with Butter and Egg Threads at £13.50

Best known as plain Butter Prawns. This is one of the best dishes introduced by the Malaysian Chinese and it was only conceived during the latter part of the last century. Whole prawns fried with a coating of butter and egg yolk and topped with eggy shreds, desiccated coconut and aromatic curry leaves. If you want it spicier then the bird's eye chilli on the side is there for the taking. It was a dependably exact dish that can be described as a ‘home from home’ effort. If 10 Greek Street charges £15 for 6 simply-grilled prawns (same size and I daresay provenance) and José’s three were 8 quid then New Fook Lam Moon’s eight specimens are a massive bargain! It simply involved more work, creativity, prep, ingredients, etc…I digress.

New Fook Lam Moon is joint that might not rewrite history but it’s still deservedly a little gem. Recommended.

10 Gerrard Street
London W1D 5PW