Where to Eat in London: BIRD

where-to-eat-in-london-bird-restaurantBIRD | Fried Chicken | Hackney | Website
– reservations available –

Fried chicken is my guilty pleasure. In fact it’s one of the few things I think I could eat everyday…without growing sick of it. Even though it’s relatively common in the UK, it can be difficult to find good fried chicken. BIRD isn’t exactly the new kid on the block. But in the short time it has been open, it has made a pretty good name for itself. I’ve been a few times myself, what with the restaurant being only a 10min walk from my office. So when BIRD invited me back to try their new lunch menu of course I said yes.

I had been drooling over some of the new additions to the menu, such as the Korean Burger (fried chicken, gochujang glaze and kimchi slaw) and the Fried Chicken Biscuit Sandwich (freshly baked buttermilk biscuit, fried chicken, honey butter & hot sauce). Naturally we ordered both when we arrived, alongside some fries and pickled cucumber. I had been excited for the biscuit as it’s something I have only had in America (and loved). It was crunchy outside and soft inside, with a slightly oily aftertaste. Although I felt it definitely could have been bigger, it was pretty authentic. The chicken was moist in both the sandwich and the burger, with a slightly crispy outer. The Kimchi Burger boasted a delicious slaw and oozed hot sauce. This is one messy burger. Over all it’s wasn’t the best fried chicken I’ve had, but it made for a good lunch. I saved my doughnut for later, and boy was it worth the wait. I honestly think BIRD make the best doughnut dough in London. This one was bigger than my hand, and I finished every last bit of it.

Our lunches came to £10 each (without drink), which included a main, side and a doughnut – or £8 with a side or doughnut. The difference between BIRD and other fried chicken restaurants is definitely in the ingredients. The chicken is brought in fresh everyday, and cooked twice to make sure that it is perfectly done. The doughnuts are made daily in-store, and the flavours change to match. The fresh, quality ingredients are definitely reflected in the taste, right down to the special seasoning on the fries. In fact I loved the little details so much that I ended up taking away the recipe for the seasoning, and jotting down the name of the hot sauce. BIRD may look like a hipster joint, but it the food feels more like home cooking. This may mean a few mishaps here and there, but more often than not they get it right.

If you liked this, why not check out the rest of my Where to Eat in London series.

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Where to Eat in London: Toconoco Japanese Cafe

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Toconoco | Japanese Cafe | Hackney | Website
– reservations not available –

It’s difficult to explain the serenity I felt in the cafe’s of Tokyo. It really feels as though you are being whisked away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. A cafe is no longer just somewhere to eat and drink. It’s a sanctuary from modern life. It is this feeling I have been craving ever since I returned from Japan. I didn’t think I’d find it again, until I happened upon Toconoco.

Toconoco is a child-friendly Japanese cafe on Kingsland Basin, Regents Canal. Surrounded by canal boats and wildlife, this little sun trap feels miles away from the streets of Shoreditch. I headed there on a weekday afternoon around 12:30. They had tweeted their daily lunch set photo, and it looked too perfect to miss out on (only 15 lunch sets are made each day). Lunch sets are very popular in Japan, and I miss the concept here. It varies depending on the restaurant, but they usually come with a main, a side salad, rice and a miso soup. Toconoco’s lunch set on that particular day was ham croquettes, and it was every bit the same as those I’d had in Japan. The ingredients were fresh and delicious, complimenting each other perfectly. The delicate use of sauces and dressings is something I have yet to master in my Japanese cooking. However Toconoco are clearly skilled in this art. We also ordered a side of Egg Miso-Mayo Toast with spring onion, sesame oil and chilli flake. How could I pass on something that sounds so intriguing? The toast had a distinct Japanese flavour to it and was lighter (and less rich) than regular egg mayo.

The main thing I took away from my visit to Toconoco, was how authentic it is. The food is prepared fresh everyday, and is fitting to the weather and season. This is real Japanese food. Not the hyped up, overpriced kind you find in restaurants in Soho. This is home-cooking style, made with love and care.  It reminded me that we should all take some time to relax, and that eating should be seen as one of life’s simple pleasures. Because eating at Toconoco is certainly no chore.

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Where to Eat in London: Sake no Hana

sake-no-hana-restaurant-review-sakura-where-to-eat-in-london-1 Sake no Hana | Japanese | Mayfair | Website
– reservations available –

One year ago, V.A and I made a promise that we would visit Sake no Hana during cherry blossom season. This year, we kept our promise. For two months of the year, the Mayfair restaurant is transformed into a floral wonderland – Sakura at Sake no Hana. To help celebrate this special occasion several new dishes and cocktails are added to the menu. V.A and I had made a reservation for a Monday lunchtime (bank holiday) and found that it was pleasantly quiet. We both ordered the Sakura menu, which comes with: white miso soup, sesame spinach with cassava chips, sashimi bento box, and a violet risshun cocktail.

The cocktail was served first, and we were instructed to drink it in two parts – the first, a carafe of Jinzu Gin, green chartreuse, grapefruit and lemon juice, shiso syrup and Burlesque bitters. The second is a jug with Belsazar rose vermouth, maraschino cherry, cranberry and lemon juice. The bitter starter was refreshing, however it was the syrupy sweet vermouth based cocktail that I personally preferred.

The miso soup arrived shortly after our cocktail, and it was as good as any other miso soup I have had before. The sesame spinach however was a delightfully unique dish – slightly nutty in flavour, with a myriad of textures. I can’t eat raw fish, so a special bento was made just for me. It is this kind of service that I wouldn’t expect any less of from Sake no Hana. My box contained a variety of sushi, however the ones that stood out to me for their flavours were the: mango and avocado (fresh), avocado and wasabi (invigorating), crab (light), and eel (grilled perfectly).

We decided to order off the special menu for dessert, as the Yuzu Matcha Crème was just too tempting. However we did also order the sakura macarons, accompanied by a pot of sakura tea. It would seem that we have a second stomach for dessert (or as the Japanese call it 別腹 “betsubara”). It’s fair to say that this is the best dessert I have had in a London restaurant. The Yuzu Matcha Crème was a work of art – the presentation however was dwarfed by the sheer artistry of the dish itself. Matcha anglaise hid inside delectable yuzu domes, surrounded by matcha genoise and sour yuzu curd. The macarons unfortunately didn’t impress me much (the ganache overpowered the cherry blossom tea), however I would feel bad for any dish that had to follow that pudding. Finally, the sakura tea – a special blend made specifically for Sake no Hana. Oh how I wish I could have taken even a spoonful away with me. The tea smelt of cake, and tasted even better. It was a light and subtly sweet end to our visit.

Sake no Hana is not just a destination for food, it is a food experience. We paid £55 each with cocktails – in my opinion, it was worth every penny. It is restaurants like this that make my “Where to Eat in London” series so enjoyable. Would I go back? What do you think!

 

Sake no Hana’s Sakura pop-up is open until the 20th June – you can make a reservation here.

Click to add a blog post for Sake No Hana on Zomato Square Meal

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Where to Eat in London: On The Bab, Covent Garden

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On The Bab | Korean Street Food | Covent Garden | Website

– reservations not available –

You may be blinking right now, wondering if you’re seeing double. Well yes, I have featured On The Bab before in my “Where to Eat in London” series. However that was their Shoreditch location, and last week saw the official opening of their new Covent Garden restaurant. But how is it different to the original? Well there’s a whole new menu that you won’t find anywhere else, and it’s perfect for Spring.

On The Bab is a special place for me. I first visited it (with my now best foodie buddy V.A) last April, and I instantly fell in love with the menu. So with V.A alongside, we naturally wanted to sample everything from the new menu this time. We started perusing the menu with a sweet Cherry Blossom Cocktail. This culminated in us ordering: Korimari with Bulgogi Beef, Spring Onion Fried Chicken, Pumpkin & Potato Salad, Fried Chicken On The Roll, Seaweed Salad with citrus dressing, and Rice Poppers.

The Fried Chicken On The Roll was definitely my favourite dish of the evening – something similar to gimbap, it has been amusingly named Korean Burrito. The mixture of textures and flavours work incredibly well together, and left me wanting the whole two rolls to myself. The Spring Onion Fried Chicken was a drier version of one of my favourite dishes at OTB. Whereas the flavours were strong, it was the crispier texture that I enjoyed. The Korimari came with a tender well-marinated side of bulgogi beef and vegetables. I loved the sesame oil aftertaste, and the simplistic way of eating – this is definitely one for Summer! The light, refreshing salads were thoughtful sides to the mains, and whereas the Pumpkin & Potato Salad was a little bland, I liked the sweetness of it. The Seaweed Salad was the better of the two though, with a tangy citrus dressing that paired well with the stringy vegetable. The rice poppers weren’t to my liking, but I think they’d be pretty good if you were drinking more than you were eating…you know what I mean.

Of course when you love a restaurant so much there is always the chance that you may not enjoy a new menu. However I had faith in OTB, and thanks to the chefs wonderfully modern take on authentic Korean cuisine, I need not worry. The new Covent Garden location has a serene ambience, and the usual superb service. This is one restaurant I would make the commute from East to West for.

Thank you so much to On The Bab who invited me and V.A to dinner to celebrate their opening. On The Bab is one of my favourite restaurants in London, so it meant a lot to be invited before the restaurant had even opened. As always with these kind of post, my views and words are my own – I truly love this food.

You can read more of my restaurant reviews on Zomato

Square Meal

A London Life… in Tokyo?

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Eat Tokyo, Hillgate Street, Notting Hill, London

One of the best things about London is being able to find authentic food from pretty much any country or region. That isn’t to say though that there aren’t imitations. Unfortunately for every Asakusa, there are ten Wagamamas. Still, part of the fun of discovering new places to eat is in whether or not they will be true to form. One place I had heard about through the grapevine was Eat Tokyo. I’d heard several people say “this is the real deal” or “it’s the best Japanese food in London”. However I’m pretty critical of cuisines I know well, and I’d also heard some not-so-great reviews, so I decided to take these opinions with a pinch of salt. In fact I’d resigned myself to never visiting the restaurant “chain” (they currently have 6 locations in London). Yet last week V.A and I found ourselves unsure of where to go for dinner after our SHOW DRY salon visit. Low and behold, there was Eat Tokyo on our Zomato app with a 4.6 rating. So we decided to give it a go.

First off, let me say, the Notting Hill location is small. VERY small. In fact we were lucky enough to get the last table, right next to the front door. The layout of the kitchen and seats – this location features seats where you can watch the sushi chefs at work – reminded me very much of a typical izakaya. Even though the restaurant was full, the staff were efficient. We were given the ginormous menu (really guys, it’s too much) and took our time looking through it. I took charge and ordered a whole selection of my favourite dishes for the both of us, as V.A wanted to try something new. This included: Natto (fermented soy bean – Japan’s marmite), Unagi Don (grilled eel on rice), Wakame-su (pickled cucumber and seaweed), Agedashi Tofu (fried tofu in a tentsuyu broth), Salmon Sushi Rolls and Karaage (fried chicken). The chef also accidentally made us some natto sushi, which we were given for free.

As for the food, was it authentic? Everything apart from the wakame-su (it should have been sunomono) tasted exactly as I remembered it from Japan. The flavours and textures were all there, but something was lacking. Unfortunately whereas Eat Tokyo excels in bringing authentic Japanese dishes to London, it did not excel at bringing good quality ingredients and well cooked food to our table. The karaage wasn’t bad and neither was the age-dofu. However the unagi was overcooked and chewy, the sushi was cold, the natto didn’t come with a side of tare or mustard, and the wakame-su wasn’t pickled, and had ginger on top?! Overall not a great experience, but not one that I regret. I won’t be heading back anytime soon, but if I had nowhere to go I’d probably give them another chance.

You can read more of my restaurant reviews on Zomato.

Afternoon Tea at The Mandeville Hotel

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Vintage Afternoon Tea at The Mandeville Hotel – Reform Social and Grill

Afternoon tea symbolises everything great about English food; cake, sandwiches, scones and tea. It’s also the perfect introduction for anyone visiting or moving to the country. It truly is a relaxing and indulgent treat. That’s why I decided to treat my mum to afternoon tea at The Mandevlille Hotel in Marylebone, when she visited for her birthday.

We started with a mango bellini, which we were served as we were seated. The menu mentions being able to choose from a selection of seasonal bellinis, but this wasn’t the case for us. Though we were offered a choice of which tea to accompany our food with – I chose the refreshing organic mint melange, which was clearly a quality tea. Next up were the sandwiches, which were light and flavourful. The cucumber and cream cheese was my favourite of the selection. I know cucumber sandwiches sound incredibly boring, but they’re one English tradition that I dearly hope will never fade.

One of the most integral parts of afternoon tea are the scones, of course. These ones looked as good as they tasted – rustic (there’s something just not right with a smooth scone) and slightly sweetened. The jam was store bought, but was sweet and not overly sugary. However the pièce de résistance was the clotted cream – something I’m always very critical of – which was rich and sweet. And before you ask, I always put cream on first, then jam.

The apple and custard pots were by far the best sweet offering on the table. The soft, tart apple contrasted perfectly against the sweet custard, and the crunchy, sugary crumble. Both me and my mum agreed that we would quite happily eat a plateful of them. However the rest of the sweets on the table were a bit of a let-down, the raspberry meringues and battenburg cake were good, but nothing to write home about. However the biggest upset of the afternoon was the cake, and as we all know, cake is an important part of afternoon tea. So to be served up dry coffee and walnut cake/chocolate fudge cake (that tasted a day old) was quite upsetting for me. Luckily my mum had left hers until last, by which point she was quite full, so she wasn’t upset. Though if I had been taking anyone else here, I would have complained.

The hotel itself is a comfortable setting, and the afternoon tea area is quite intimate (around 6 tables), making for a lovely experience. However whilst I felt that we ate and drank plenty, I felt that the quality of the food was lacking slightly. It’s not one of the best afternoon tea’s I’ve had, and I probably wouldn’t go back, but for the price it isn’t bad. Afternoon Tea at The Mandeville Hotel is £26.50 each with a free bellini (minus service charge).

You can read more of my restaurant reviews on Zomato.

Where to Eat in London: Tombo Japanese Cafè

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Tombo | Casual Japanese Dining | South Kensington | Website

– reservations not available –

If you had told me a few weeks ago that there was a small slice of matcha heaven at the other end of the Piccadilly line I would have laughed in your face. That was until I learnt of Tombo, a casual Japanese dining experience with a strong emphasis on tea.
V.A and I headed to South Kensington on a Saturday afternoon around 2pm. We found the restaurant pretty easily as it’s only a minute walk from the tube station, and is right next door to Exhibition road.  It was quite busy inside, but we were sat straight away – it seemed that we had timed our arrival perfectly. I surprised myself by instinctively replying to our server in Japanese as we were sat. I guess that means I haven’t completely forgotten it.I had already decided prior to our visit what I would be having – the Bonsai tea (genmaicha with matcha) and a Miso Salmon Bento. When our tea arrived it was presented in a traditional Japanese lidless pot and cup, with a thermos of hot water for top-ups. The smell of the tea wafted over us, and I was automatically relaxed. Green tea can be a little bitter for some people, but I find the flavours distinct and refreshing. Our food took took a little while to arrive, but it meant we were able to enjoy our tea properly. When it did arrive my bento came with a large portion of miso salmon, rice and a variety of salads. Japanese salads are my favourite – they’re full of flavour and offer much more in terms of nourishment than their British counterparts. So you can imagine how happy I was when I spotted 4 on my plate. Each one containing a variety of vegetables, some marinated with sauce, others pickled, but all containing authentic Japanese ingredients. This is what I’d been missing since my move back from Tokyo.

We probably spent a good hour eating and chatting, and it was lovely to be offered that luxury and not rushed out of the establishment – as some London restaurants tend to do. The best thing about Japanese food, apart from the taste, is that you can eat a good meal and not feel bloated or stuffed. Of course that meant we had room for pudding too – the matcha sundae I had been waiting for all week long! Tombo’s desserts are one of the main reasons behind their popularity, so I had high expectations. My matcha sundae included matcha ice cream, matcha gateau, azuki paste and oats. My verdict? Absolute heaven! Although really it was the small bites of matcha cake that won me over. They were moist and soft with a potent taste of matcha. I will definitely be ordering the matcha gateau next time!

At the end our bill came to only £23 each! Lovers of Japanese food in London will know this is ridiculously affordable. Will I be back? You couldn’t stop me if you tried!

You can read more of my restaurant reviews on Zomato.