Saturday 28 March 2015

My Favourite Asian Restaurants in London

With less than a week to go before the publication of my first cook book, Chinatown Kitchen, I thought I'd share with you some of my favourite Asian restaurants in London. These are the places I visit often; I know what I'm getting and I know the quality is consistent. Do you agree? Disagree? Have I left anything off? Let me know!

Silk Road

Serving the more unusual Xinjiang-style food, Silk Road is wonderful. I love the tomato, green pepper and onion salad, but you mustn't miss the homestyle cabbage, homestyle aubergine, TEP noodles, dumplings and lamb skewers in particular. I don't think I've ever had a bad dish there. 

49 Camberwell Church Street, London SE5 8TR - you can reserve tables. 

Baozi Skewer Stall

There isn't room to swing a cat in here. It's simply a lady behind a counter with a bubbling pot of stock, lurid red chillis bobbing around, and the sting of Sichuan peppercorns in the air. They sell skewers at £1.20 each - I love the broccoli, and Spam. Simmered to just tender, plonked in a foil container and sprinkled with coriander if you wish, it is a most perfect snack. Don't bother with the Baozi Inn restaurant - standards have slipped since it first opened and my last meal there was a bit crap (company excluded). 

27 Newport Court, WC2H 7JS

Roti King

I wrote about the rotis so recently, I won't bother repeating myself, just that - it's GOOD. 

40 Doric Way, London NW1 1LH


Atari-Ya has several branches, and I've only visited James Street which is predominantly takeaway. The sushi is always of a very high standard, and the fish very fresh. You should call up to place your order before you wander over, as when it is busy (which is seemingly always) it can take a while to prepare. The menu is here

20 James Street, London W1U 1EH

Bone Daddies / Shack Fuyu

The ramen at Bone Daddies is great. The toppings are plentiful, and the broth well flavoured. They've just opened Shack Fuyu on Old Compton Street, serving their take on Japanese dishes cooked in a huge pizza oven, a relic of the previous owners. Of this, the Kinako french toast with green tea soft-serve ice cream is pure heavenly. The rest of the menu is worth a visit too - prepare yourself for a flavour bombshell.

Ramen Sasuke

My favourite ramen of them all, though, is Sasuke's spicy miso. Sometimes it can be borderline too salty, but more often than not it is just right for my tastes. Austere and authentically Japanese within, I am always amused by Japanese businessmen slurping their noodles so enthusiastically. They do takeaway, too. 

32 Great Windmill Street, London W1

Koya Bar

My love affair with John Devitt's noodles started off at Koya, the original opening. These days, I tend to veer towards neighbouring Koya Bar instead - Koya is wonderful, but I find the atmosphere at the Bar much calmer and soothing. I love their breakfasts and I would eat there every day if I could. 

49 Frith Street London W1D 4SG

Chang's Noodle

Chang's Noodle are famous for this particular one - Henan lamb noodle soup. The broth is milky, sweet and strongly flavoured with lamb, and the wide wheat noodles are messily ripped into the broth. Braised and stewed lamb make up the rest of the bowl, with a light smattering of coriander. This is hearty stuff. This is great stuff. 

35-37 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1BH

Dumplings Legend

This is a new one for me - I've only visited once, but I was so impressed with the quality of the xiao long bao - soup dumplings. Finally! Decent soup dumplings in London! They don't reach the heady heights of Din Tai Fung's yet, but they are decent. We enjoyed the black truffle version and the spicy pork, though don't bother with the 'special crab roe' of which seemingly a limited number of are made per day - I couldn't taste the crab roe. Other dim sum are decent, though it was a bit naughty of them to deep fry the 'grilled' pork dumplings. Beef brisket curry with rice is also excellent. 

15 - 16 Gerrard Street, Chinatown, London W1


I've been going to Hung's for absolute donkeys years. Since I moved to London, 11 years ago, in fact. It is basic and service can be gruff, but the crispy pork belly and king prawn dumpling noodle soup (this is a hybrid of two and needs to be asked for) has remained the best noodle soup you can buy under a fiver. I also like Wong Kei's, despite its terrible reputation for service, but Hung's quality just edges it. 

27 Wardour Street, Chinatown, London W1

Gold Mine

I am fairly convinced that Gold Mine is the best Cantonese food in London. Yup, I'm going there. The roast duck is incredible, and I drool a little thinking about it. Steamed egg custard is also brilliant. Go with a big group so that you can order lots. 

102 Queensway, London W2 3RR

Cafe East

My favourite of the Vietnamese restaurants in London, and possibly because of the Banh Cuon (rice noodle rolls). The pho is also excellent. It's in the wasteland that is Surrey Quays, but good for a pre-cinema feed. Or if you really like going bowling. 

100 Redriff Road Surrey Quays Leisure Park SE16 7LH

Smoking Goat

I enthused about Smoking Goat here, and I still feel the same way. It is punchy and in-your-face Thai food, prepared to the highest standard. Som Saa would have been here too, if only it wasn't so damn inconvenient to get to for me. 

So, those are mine. I'd love to hear about yours, both in London and elsewhere! 

Oh, and you can buy Chinatown Kitchen here!

Sunday 22 March 2015

Roti King (Revisited), Euston

I wrote about Roti King a couple of years ago, when it was on the Charing Cross Road. I only went once, and I am a total fool. It was so convenient to my office, and I only went once! Those were the days when word hadn't quite got out yet about Mr Roti King, and you could swan on in there, have a sit and eat some freaking delicious roti. 

Not so now. 

Admittedly, we did visit on a Friday night, right at prime time, and we did go as a group of 5 when the restaurant sits 30 at most. We queued for at least an hour, watching the guy slap his rotis out, folding them up and cooking them on a hot flat griddle next to him. The result? All our clothes absolutely honked. But no matter, as we had wine to slurp our way through (it's BYOB). The waitress, weaving in and out of everyone, delivering orders to the tables must have a patience of a saint.

The roti (opening pic) is so, so good. Cooked freshly to order, it's hot and flaky. We peeled off pieces to dip in both lamb and chicken curries. The murtabak (the roti is spread with egg, folded and cooked so it is stuffed) came with a dhal that was pleasantly spicier than expected too. Char kway teow had the appropriate smokiness from the wok, and enough prawns to please the table. I asked the chap on the table next to us how his Laksa was, and he looked pretty ambivalent about it. Further reports have been favourable though, so I'll just have to return. Soon.

Nasi lemak could have done with fresher coconut rice, but it was still pretty good. To be honest, we all had eyes for the roti and not much else. 

Yup, that there is a roti cone, drizzled with chocolate syrup. A nice, sweet ending to proceedings, though the roti stuffed with banana is infinitely more satisfying. 

(I have a recipe for banana roti, Thai style, drizzled with condensed milk in my book, Chinatown Kitchen... it's out on 2nd April plug plug plug) 

At £15 per head, it's stupidly good value. I can't wait to return, already. 

Roti King 
40 Doric Way,
London NW1 1LH

Roti King on Urbanspoon

Sunday 15 March 2015

Blacklock, Soho

"Do you want to eat piles of meat and drink £5 cocktails in a former brothel basement in Soho?" 

"Of course I do."

That, pretty much, is how I'd sum up Blacklock. Opened a few weeks ago, the slim doorway doesn't give away the cavernous space beneath. It's dark. It's noisy. It's not for vegetarians. The menu consists of pre-meal bites, a selection of 'skinny' chops, and some sides - you're here for the meat. The 'crisps' are perfectly circular crisp breads; of the lot, egg mayo and anchovy is my favourite. I'm not sure what is 'filthy' about a wafer of parma ham atop the crisps, but in any case, I favoured the pickled vegetables with a sharp, strong cheese over them. 

I've been twice now - once for dinner, when it was a no-brainer to go for the 'all-in' option of a load of chops, a side each person and the crisps for £20 per person. It's enormous, a whopping great pile of charred meat on the bone. A blacklock is a type of cast iron press, and these are used to press the meat against the hot grill. Underneath the meat is crisp, spongy bread, soaking up all those meat juices and fat. Pork belly, lamb t-bones and chops, and beef chops were all present and cooked well, with incredible flavour from well-sourced meat. 

I returned again for lunch, and we attempted to order a la carte at £4 per chop but we abandoned that idea when the order became too confusing. It's just easier to go all in. This time the beef chops were out of stock, so a pork and lamb feast was presented to us. My earlier criticism that the meat was aggressively salted seems to have been addressed. 

But what of the sides? Oh, the glorious, glorious sides. Carrot and meat radish salad was a vinegared affair, shaved thinly and dressed with fennel seed and parsley. It's brilliant - well balanced, and it cuts through the richness of the meat. Kale and parmesan salad was the antithesis of this, what with being very cheesy and robust. Chargrilled baby gem was another favourite at the table.  

Anyone who knows me knows that there's not much I dislike in the food world, but sweet root vegetables have that dishonour. So I was as surprised as anyone when I actually actively enjoyed the 10 hour coal-roasted sweet potato - a genius idea of cooking them overnight on the dying embers. Smoky, sweet, and seasoned well with butter, I have found my new favourite side dish. I don't even know who I am anymore. 

And what of those cocktails? The nettle gimlet is a pretty thing, served in a tiny glass but packed full of potent punch. An Aperol negroni was a shy cousin of it's usual bolshy Campari-led self. They have a beautiful cocktail trolley which they'll wheel round to you to stir up an Old Fashioned, which is pretty much the best way to end a night.

There is only one dessert, the white chocolate cheesecake. The waiting staff come round with a dish off of it, proffering a portion with an accompaniment of stewed rhubarb, which I imagine might change as the seasons do. What a cheesecake! Light and fluffy, and the only thing I was capable of eating after that carnivorous frenzy.  

Blacklock will be a deserved success. The staff are friendly, the playlist makes you want to wave your arms in the air, and the food is accessible and no-nonsense. I hope the sides will change slightly as to what's available as the year wears on, and as I understand it they will be introducing specialist and larger, sharing cuts of meat. At around £35 a head if you're being sensible, it's perfectly reasonable to go back all the time. Interspersed with gym visits, perhaps.  

The Basement,
24 Great Windmill St,
London W1D 7LG 

No reservations

Blacklock on Urbanspoon

Saturday 7 March 2015

Homeslice, Covent Garden

When I was 19, I was taken to Pulcinella's on Old Compton Street. It was a regular lunch spot for our department of engineers, and I was their new personal assistant. Upstairs they had vast tables; these were the days where you could go for lunch as 8 of you on a Friday afternoon without a reservation in Soho - remember that?! My pizza arrived, unusually larger than I had imagined. Instead of my requested 12 inch, the 15" had turned up. What was I to do? A lone girl, the table of men looked upon me expectantly. I hoovered up the lot, and was thus nicknamed 'gannet'. I didn't tell them that the pizza was remarkably easy to finish, no - I hammed up the glory of my triumph. For the best really, since I bumbled my way through that job role, with absolutely no idea what was going on. I was great at booking flights and hotels for the trips and conferences they attended abroad, and I was pretty good at getting meetings in diaries, but actually being able to take minutes and understand what was going on at those meetings? I fell asleep a lot. I lasted 8 months.

Anyway, almost 10 years later, and here we are at Homeslice. They started off in a van, and opened up their bricks and mortar place in Covent Garden's Neals Yard just under two years ago, with help from investor Mark, none other than Terry Wogan's son. On a Monday night by 7pm the place was full; we were able to put our names down and wander off for 25 minutes before we were called back again. A huge pizza oven dominates the back of the room, lit with harsh fluorescent lighting - very Naples. For the rest of the restaurant, the room is atmospherically lit with candlelight (so, you know, dark), and tables are squeezed closely together. There is some great tiling.

There is no messing with the menu. It's chalked up on a blackboard for all to see, and some pizzas are offered by the slice for £4 per slice, while others are £20 for a 20 inch pizza. Fine, I thought. 20 inches between 2? Absolutely fine. I remembered Pulcinella's.

It was not fine. I died from carbicide. I am not 19 anymore, god DAMN it. Sure, sure, they will give you a pizza box to take leftovers home. I watched an incredibly annoying couple on the table next to us package up at least 60% of their pizza to take home but on account of their annoyingness I refused to do so lest I become anything like them. Also, I have no self control.

But what of the pizza? It's good. The bases are thin, the crust (or cornicione) is pillowy and chewy. A little saltier than what I'm used to. The toppings are inventive; they have the classic margherita (which would be incredibly poor value at £20 for 20 inches) but they also do others like goat shoulder with kale, yoghurt and sumac, or chorizo, corn and coriander - which would have been my choice, had I not been a bit weirded out by the thought of coriander on a pizza.

Instead, we went for half and half of bone marrow with brussels sprouts and pickled onion, and Calabrian peppers with chervil and Lincolnshire Poacher (a type of cheese). Would it have killed them to take the stem off the peppers? That was a bit troublesome. But otherwise, the spicy pickled peppers worked beautifully with the rich cheese. The brussels sprouts were shaved very thinly, like a carpet of vegetable. This was the least favoured side as the bone marrow wasn't hugely flavoursome. The brussels sprouts kept flaking off into my wine glass too - lumpy wine. That is my fault though. The main issue I had was that both sides were a bit similar - again, our fault - next time, something like mushroom and ricotta would complement it well.

A word on the wine. Red, white or fizzy? They plonk a giant bottle of it on your table, which you help yourself to, and then at the end of the meal they measure how much you've drank and charge you appropriately (£4 for a glass of red). This is GENIUS - no hanging around having to finish your wine, thus freeing up tables, and no indecision on whether another bottle is a good idea (it usually is). Loved it. I assume everyone is adult enough not to go poking their fingers / bits of stuff into the bottles. Right?

13 Neal's Yard
London WC2H 9DP
Homeslice on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Where to Shop in Chinatown, London

I love Chinatown. I love my Chinatown, I love Toronto's Chinatown, I love New York's Chinatown - both Flushing and Manhattan. I love Chinatown so much, I've written a cookbook about the ingredients you find in Chinatown. That's how much I love Chinatown.

Our own, just off Leicester Square, isn't huge. Three main streets - Wardour Street, Gerrard Street, Lisle Street - make up the main bulk of it, with smaller capillary streets running off and around it. It's rammed full of restaurants, shops, supermarkets and bakeries - it's never anything short of colourful and bustling.

Here are the places I like to shop for ingredients the most.

Dansey Place - parallel to Gerrard Street, it's a grimy little alleyway, and rather a daunting one to walk down. But it is home to Lo's Noodle Factory, a tiny little shop that sells rice noodles and buns. I can't say that this is the most comfortable shopping experience. It isn't really a shop - it's a bunch of cardboard boxes and industrial machinery in a room with a man who doesn't speak a great deal of English. They definitely don't take card. But they do sell silky smooth fresh flat rice noodles, called ho fun, and rice noodle rolls (chee cheung fun) as well as fluffy buns. It might be a point-and-grin situation but he's really friendly, and the noodles are so fresh they're often still warm in that slightly greasy plastic bag they're sold in. They're incomparable to dried, fresh are so much better, and it's £1 a bag. (I have a recipe in my book for seafood ho fun noodles in egg gravy...) 

Down the same alleyway, is a teeeeny tiny shop that sells fresh vegetables. Apparently it's called Mrs Mao's, after the owner who grows the vegetables at her smallholding in Kent, but it doesn't have much in the way of English signage. Bok choi, chives, mustard greens, gai laan (Chinese broccoli) are all sold here, and in a way that you can choose your own portion rather than pre-bagged.

Young Cheng Fresh Seafood Shop often sells crabs and lobsters straight from the tank, and pigs blood, clams, whelks, prawns and a variety of fresh fish from slabs of chipped ice.

Back out on to Gerrard Street proper, Loon Fung is the largest of the supermarkets and I shop there for their butcher counter. There, you can buy tripe, minced pork, tongue, pork belly and various other bits, or they have a fridge section with it pre-packaged. This place is good for general Chinese stuff.

New Loon Moon also stocks a lot of Chinese products, but their main specialism is Thai and Vietnamese produce. This is the place to go to buy herbs and vegetables like lemongrass, Thai basil, galangal and the likes. They also sell green peppercorns, krachai, Vietnamese hot mint and coriander, and even stinky petai beans. They have a vast Korean and Japanese dry goods section upstairs too.

See Woo also has branches in Greenwich and Glasgow, and this tightly packed shop is where I buy my equipment (downstairs) and also has a great variety of vegetables. They're the only place I've ever seen that sells celtuce, and their greens always look fresh and perky. They also sell my favourite soy sauce, Pearl River Premium Deluxe light soy.

Of course, not all of us have access to Central London, so a few other places to shop:

Wing Yip, Croydon & Cricklewood
Korea Foods: New Malden, Cambridge, Golders Green, Bournemouth, Birmingham, Mitcham, Reading, Coventry 
Wing Tai: Peckham, Brixton & Croydon
Wai Yee Hong, Bristol
Longdan (specialises in Vietnamese): Shoreditch, Leyton, Kingston, Elephant & Castle
Hoo Hing: Romford, Enfield, Leyton, Mitcham, Park Royal, Milton Keynes and online


Sous Chef
Japan Centre

Where do you like to shop? Where have I missed? Do you have any hidden gems? Do share!

Sunday 1 March 2015

Hunanese Hot & Sour Soup

I have a real big soft spot for hot & sour soup. When I was a kid in Hong Kong my dad used to buy a particular brand that came in a foil pouch, which you could just stick in a pot of boiling water to heat up. It came out just as you and I know it; slightly gloopy from cornflour, with bits of mushroom and char siu, sometimes peas floating about in it. We always added more vinegar to pep it up. It really hit the spot.

All over Asia countries have their version of hot and sour soup. In Thailand, tom yum soup is a clear broth flavoured with lemongrass and lime leaves, sometimes with chicken (tom yum gai), sometimes with prawns (tom yum goong). I have a recipe in my book, Chinatown Kitchen which you can buy here, plug plug, for my ultimate tom yum made with a secret ingredient. The Filipinos also have their own version, as do the Vietnamese. 

Traditionally, the Chinese version of hot & sour soup originates from Beijing or Sichuan, and pigs blood is used to thicken the broth. What with it being rather difficult to find here, and perhaps not immediately appealing, instead most Chinese restaurants use cornflour to thicken it, giving it that characteristically gloopy appearance, or it is thickened egg-drop style - that is, whisked egg is stirred slowly into the soup and the strands are suspended within the broth. Contrary to popular belief, white pepper is used for the 'hot' aspect of the soup, not chillis. 

This Hunanese version is thickened by dried rice noodles cooked directly into the pot, so the excess starch thickens the soup. Chilli bean paste gives a richer, deeper hotness, though the white pepper also features. Pickled mustard greens give it that extra wallop of the sour balance. It's a great one-dish meal; after all the initial chopping it is quick to cook. Always add the black vinegar at the end, otherwise it loses its delicate flavour easily. You can add leftover roast meats like chicken or pork to this too, but it's just as filling in its vegetarian (and even vegan) state. 

Hunanese Hot & Sour Noodle Soup

Serves 4

1/2 block of firm tofu, chopped into cubes
1.5 litres of vegetable or chicken stock
4 shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes, stems removed and slivered
2 pieces of woodear fungus, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and shredded
A handful of sugarsnap peas, julienned
3 tbsp pickled mustard green, rinsed well in water
A bundle of enoki mushrooms, stems cut into three pieces
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 inch of ginger, peeled and minced
2 tbsp chilli bean paste
2 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tbsp Chinkiang black vinegar
1 tsp white pepper
1 spring onion, greens and whites separated, julienned
1 large red chilli, sliced into rings
250gr dried rice noodles - I used 8mm size
1 tbsp cooking oil

In a large saucepan, heat up the oil on a medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and whites of the spring onions and stir-fry until fragrant. Add the chilli bean paste, stir well, then all the mustard greens, shiitake mushrooms and the woodear fungus. Add the chicken stock and simmer for 10 minutes. 

Add the soy sauce, then add the noodles. Stir well, making sure the noodles are covered with liquid. Cook according to the packet instructions - mine took about 10 minutes of simmering to become soft. Stir every couple of minutes. When the noodles are soft, add the tofu and simmer for another 3 minutes, then add the sugarsnap peas and enoki mushrooms and place a lid on top. Take off the heat and leave to stand for 5 minutes. 

Serve equally into 4 bowls and add the black vinegar and a hefty pinch of white pepper on top of each, with a little greens of the spring onion garnish. Finally, add a few chilli rings to each bowl. I usually bring the vinegar and some chilli oil to the table, in case people prefer to adjust their soups themselves.