Category Archives: Diner

Cafe Zoe. Bombay changing?

There are some things I just don’t get. I don’t get the Indian man’s obsession with adjusting his balls in public. I don’t get the RJs on Bombay radio. And I just don’t get restaurants that hide average food and poor service behind free Wi-Fi and cool interiors.

The last time I was in Bombay, the city was going gaga over celebrity spotting at Hakkasan, and Table remained non-five star restaurant of choice. This time round there was a new name I ran into everywhere. Cafe Zoe. Bombay waxed eloquent about how cool it is. How NYC the vibe is. How much they loved hanging out there. A “really lovely girl”, some expat, and the former chef of one of Bombay’s hottest restaurants have come together and the city was in love with a new restaurant all over again.

Instead of hiding its mill ancestry, Café Zoe celebrates it. Even though slightly reminiscent of the look that The Bowling Co. created 13 years ago, Café Zoe’s design is definitely cool. The furniture is simple, there is a decent bar against one wall and sofas against another. What I liked a lot about this restaurant was the tons of natural light that streams in through the skylights. Oh, and the loo is pretty cool too.

I’m afraid that is all I really liked about Café Zoe.

As a single diner, I was seated at the bar. I usually prefer this, but their bar stools are not high enough and I spent my entire meal adjusting and readjusting myself to try and eat my meal comfortably. In between swatting flies that swarmed the bar. I started with a Fresh Black Grape Caipiroska (Rs. 450). Really well priced, but was sickly sweet and I couldn’t taste the alcohol. I waited twenty minutes for the first of my bar snacks to arrive – Roast Veg Arancini (Rs. 210) served with an unfortunate tomato sauce. I dare you to say it tastes of anything other than a tart gujju pizza sauce. The arancini on its own is nicely cheesy but under-salted; this is probably deliberate given the way the tomato sauce assaults your taste buds. Many minutes later my other snack, Pulled Pork Brioche (Rs. 285), arrives. I did away with the cucumber slice it came with, wiped away the excess mustard that killed all other flavours and then went on to semi-enjoy this dish.

The best dish I ordered was the Truffle Capellini (Rs. 550). Exactly what it says on the menu. No fuss and all flavour.

Just when I was getting ready to forgive the flies, poor flavours, haphazard service and multiple requests for the Wi-Fi code going unanswered, it all came crashing down with the dessert. First they misplaced my order, then the Panna Cotta (Rs. 150) arrives and tastes of smelly custard, and then the Americano (Rs. 75) arrives in a smelly cup.

Spend 10 minutes here and it is plain as day why people flock to Café Zoe. The pretty ones – film maker, ad guy turned hot actor turned activist turned actor, society food columnist, fashion store owner – feel like they have come to a members-only private club; and the wannabe pretty ones… well, they just wanna be part of this private club. Neither care about the average food, the abundant flies, or the appalling service. All they care about is the “vibe”.

I go to restaurants for one of two reasons: great food, great service. Ideally both, but definitely one. Everything else is gravy. Everyone I knew used to want this too. When did this change? Why have (supposedly) fewer options given way to an acceptance of mediocrity? Does the mediocrity stop at our resturants? When did Bombay go soft?

-p

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Bistro, Bombay, Cafe, Diner, India, Italian, Mediterranean

Pitt Cue. A whole lot of love

I wander about life starring in my own movie (yes, usually Bollywood and almost always a romance). When I am crushing on someone or in a one-sided love affair, my imagination kicks into overdrive and turns every conversation into a 70mm moment. Sometimes it gets to the point that even I find myself ridiculous. And on a day like this, I need to get myself to a place with zero possibility of romantic thought. I needed some Pitt Cue action. Nothing like beautiful chunks of meat to make you not turn your life into a movie.

Pitt Cue is the only food truck-turned-proper restaurant I can recall than has single handedly joined all of London’s food lovers into one big fan club. The only exceptions are either vegetarian or one of Time Out’s new food writers.

Every review of the restaurant will tell you how small it is. It’s even smaller in real life. When I first squeezed into the door, past the crowds that were leaving and into more crowds that were waiting, I couldn’t see any furniture for the number of people in there.  I have never been happier to be a single diner as Lovely Blonde found me a bar stool in a corner. The restaurant also has a dining room downstairs. It’s dark, squashed between the kitchen, a staircase and the loo, and I hope I never have to sit down there.

Pitt Cue is so good I couldn’t believe I got through life so far without tasting such food.  I may have been trying to escape romance this afternoon, but there is no denying the love that has gone into everything they do, say, and feed you.

I ordered a Hair of the Pig (their yummier version of a bloody mary with scratchings, £6.50) and decided I love how easy the menu is to order from. You choose…

–          one meat (I chose the St. Louis Ribs (£9.50); other options are pulled pork, brisket, beef ribs and a daily special that keeps changing)

–          one side (I chose the awesome burnt end mash; there is also baked beans, braised sprout tops, hock and beet salad and vinegar slaw)

… and the good boys of Pitt Cue will put it all on one delicious tray.

There are naughty extras too. I couldn’t resist the hot wings (£4) or the crispy shiitake (£3.50). This is wayyyy too much food for one person but I couldn’t stop.

Lovely Blonde came back and recited the dessert menu and I had to go with a Snickers Mess (£4.50). It’s exactly what it says on the tin.

And if I hadn’t eaten enough reasons to return then there was always their perfectly reasonable bourbon and rye list to lure me back. Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Rittenhouse Blonde, Eagle Rare, Sazerac…  this is a lot more than a fleeting crush.

And so I come to terms with the thought that even on a day bereft of romance, one can still find love.

-p

Pitt Cue Co on Urbanspoon

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Filed under American, Bar, Bar food, Cocktails, Communal tables, Design, Dessert, Diner, London, Whisky

Queensway

My friend Thomas hates Queensway. While I no longer waste such a strong emotion on things I don’t like, I would have to agree, that with the brief exception of Royal China and bits of Whiteleys, Queensway is quite the waste of Central London space. It is so sad to see so many bad restaurants, tacky stores and seedy newsagents all squashed into a potentially lovely street.

All this has changed for me ever since my meal tonight at Dim Sum Diner. A chance look at a review on Twitter brought me here this evening. While most reviews liken it to a hip, Soho-esque restaurant I thought it was more canteen than diner (but that doesn’t lend itself as well to the alliteration I suppose). I’m not sure how old it is, whether the owners have one or none other restaurants, or where the chef came from. The servers were perfectly pleasant but really in no mood for any kind of chat (see, canteen not diner). The room was quiet tonight. Bare walls, bare tables and a bare floor will no doubt help towards the ruckus when this room fills up. Which indeed it should, for Dim Sum Diner is a truly fantastic find on a truly horrible street. I almost cannot believe that a place that serves such perfect XO scallop dim sum (£3.80) is a seven minute walk from home.

I ordered far too much, but this menu will do that to you (all mains £3.80, all sides £2.50).

  • Prawn crackers – a mountain arrives and I get started dipping them in the four beautiful  sauces made in the Dim Sum Diner’s kitchen – red chilli, green chilli and mint (loved it so much I had to bring some home), seafood and mustard. I could have very easily made a meal of this!
  • Crispy spinach – light as air with a hint of sugar.
  • Shanghai pork xiao long bao – I’m thrilled to see this yumcha staple on a dinner menu! The pork is succulent and beautifully seasoned but unfortunately the soup had spilled out of the dumplings before my chopsticks went anywhere near them. While this did take away some of their fun for me, I will no doubt return for more.
  • Barbeque pork puff roll – this just melted in my mouth. Wow.
  • Teriyaki beef flank fried rice – if you like Teriyaki sauce this dish is an absolute winner. The meat is faultless and served on a bed of rice.

If I could eat with my eyes I would have also ordered the Guinness crab meat dumplings, cuttlefish cake, dan dan noodles, aubergine in black bean and sautéed garlic green beans. And then there is a cute ‘Diner’ section featuring the likes of dim sum hot dogs. And dessert! Not tonight alas.

I honestly cannot believe my luck – I no longer have to trudge across the yuckiness of Leicester Square to satisfy my dim sum cravings! Some call it luck, others a coincidence. I am however convinced that the Universe conspires in wondrous ways to set you down a path of discovery… A ‘random’ review of a restaurant at your doorstep, an ‘accidental’ conversation on a flight between two continents, a ‘chance’ meeting with a stranger who could change your life.

Luck? Fate.

-p
Dim Sum Diner on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Chinese, Dim Sum, Diner, London, Small Plates

M. Wells. When you just know

There are cities, bigger cities, and then there is New York. I’m a Bombayite learning to be a Londoner but cannot deny how much in awe I am of this most cinematic of any city I have ever visited.

I just knew this was going to be a special trip.

For the first time a charming stranger flirted with me all the way from Heathrow to JFK. For the first time I have a plan. And for the first time ever I have a response for when someone asks me “what is the best thing you’ve ever tasted?

The boss said he was taking me to a diner in Queens. Once I got over the dread of another meal with the boss that day, curiosity took over.  A disastrous dinner at London’s Kopapa aside I have never had a bad meal with the boss. Plus I’d never been to Queens, so…

This is M. Wells; a diner that used to serve as a pit stop for truckers until French Canadian chef Hugue Dufour and his Queens-raised wife Sarah Obraitis took over. They started out serving only breakfast, then brunch, then dinner and still don’t serve every meal every day. The wait for our table was over an hour. We grabbed our free beers (on the house to make up for a busted AC) and sat down outside for some people watching.

One beer turned into a few, as did the diners on the waiting list. M. Wells is a diner, sure, but even a cursory glance at the menu will tell you that you are not going to be served any sloppy sliders here. I haven’t seen oysters and foie gras on too many diner menus, have you? The boss calls their food “kooky”. I’d say its eccentric. Both mean the same thing – it doesn’t belong to any school and you can’t put this chef in a box.

I’m glad I was dissuaded from ordering the ribs. We ordered cocktails and salad and maybe something else too but all that is a blur. All I can remember is the pure pleasure of a BiBiM Wells ($40). No description of mine will do this dish any justice so all I will do is list out the ingredients: oysters, scallops, gravalax, and foie gras on a bed of white rice, topped with a poached egg, avacados, julienne of green apples, carrots and zucchini, drizzled with yam chips and a stunning Korean chilli maple sauce.

This is the best dish I have ever tasted. Ever.

You take a job that changes you forever, walk into a diner and eat the best meal of your life, meet someone – and you just know. You don’t recognize the biggest day of your life until you’re right in the middle of it.

-p

M Wells on Urbanspoon

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Filed under American, Bar, Design, Diner, French, New York, Oysters, Seafood

Spuntino. The one?

I knew Spuntino was the one restaurant I will have a long romance with the second I walked in. I first went there last night with friends and even before we began our meal I couldn’t wait to come back for more.

And so I did.

Spuntino has no telephone and you cannot make reservations, and walking in can be slightly intimidating – I felt like I was crashing someone’s dinner party. But then the tattooed waitress smiled, beckoned and made me feel at home.

Ronnie Self, Louis Jordan, Ray Charles and Django Reinhart gently lull me into the Spuntino spirit and I started with a Negroni (£6) and olives stuffed with parmesan, anchovies and thyme (£4). I literally left the city behind me and wanted nothing else but to be in this place for many hours. You’ll see why so many reviews liken it to a diner in NYC’s Lower East side. Its tiny, cosy, welcoming, yet lets you be all at the same time.

  

Almost every diner at the restaurant ordered the truffled egg toast (£5.50). It is a plate full of decadence and home-cooking all in one mouthful. As is the mac and cheese (£8) that arrives in its own sizzling skillet. Last night we also tried the pulled pork slider (£4.50) – succulent; panzanella (£5.50) – fresh and delicious; softshell crab (£9.50) – dry and avoidable; calamari in squid ink (£8) – delish; and duck ham and pecorino salad (£6) – not so delish. I also highly recommend the eggplant chips with fennel yoghurt (£4) – gorgeous aubergine soldiers with an inspired yoghurt dip.

I don’t usually order dessert, let alone two! The brown sugar cheesecake with grappa prunes (£6) may just well be the best cheesecake I’ve ever had. They also have a cheeky peanut butter and jelly sandwich dessert (£6.50). Look!

  

At Spuntino I feel time stand still. I feel the same way when I think about THE ONE – the one I have been madly in something with for 5 months, 10 days, 2 hours and a few minutes. Now this is a completely one-sided romance, mostly blossoming in my overactive imagination; but I’m not ready to give up just yet. I don’t want to look back and learn from past mistakes, nor move on with life.

Sometimes its not about looking back, or moving forward. Sometimes its just about staying right where you are.

-p

Spuntino on Urbanspoon

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Filed under American, Bar, Bar food, Cocktails, Design, Dessert, Diner, Italian, London, Restaurant, Whisky