Category Archives: Italian

The Petite Coree. Time to unblur the lines

Love. Passion. Compassion. Do you remember when these words started infiltrating job descriptions? It is no longer enough to be excellent. We must be empathetic, endearing, and enjoy the hours we spend in the office. Isn’t it ironic that we are expected to give our 200% at work, in the same breath that we are lectured on work/life balance?

If you love what you do, then it won’t feel like work.” I hear it all the time. I say it all the time. Doesn’t feel like balance to me. Fact is, for most of us who don’t work for ourselves, no matter how much we love what we do to make money, it still is work.

Did I just spend 10 days straight working more than nine hours a day? Yes.

Could I have done an excellent job in fewer hours? No.

Did I love every minute of it? Yes.

Do I love the exhaustion I feel right now? No.

All I could think of at the end of day 10 was that I did not have the energy to cook myself a meal, I did not want to go home to an empty flat, and for a very long minute, I questioned why I spent the last few days the way I did. I may not have anyone to speak to when I get home, but for the first time in my London life I have a local “where everybody knows my name”. Where my extra chilli sauce arrives even before I realise I want it.

The Petite Corée and I are unlikely friends. I was wary of a restaurant with an Asian chef and a French name. I can’t speak for them, but can only imagine what they must have thought of an Indian customer telling the Korean chef his kimchee wasn’t Korean enough. I’m glad we both moved past first impressions because tonight, there was no place more welcoming than my neighbourhood bistro.

This restaurant serves popular European dishes with a Korean twist. I have now eaten my way through their entire menu (several times over) and haven’t had a single bad meal.

No visit is complete without an order of Mandu (steamed pork & glass noodle dumpling, rocket, balsamic), £6. This dish is as Asian as they come, with the rocket and balsamic hesitant European sidekicks to the dumplings, the delicious stars of the dish.

Mandu IITheir version of arancini swaps the traditional filling for kimchee flavoured rice with mozzarella and served with gochujang dressing, £5.5.

Kimchi Rice, panéed kimchi rice, mozzarella, gochujang dressingAnother favourite is the Italian cheese appetizer with honey and a spicy Korean sauce, £5. I’ve had this with mozzarella, burrata, and most recently with pecorino cream cheese – all luscious, moreish and so very clever!

downloadFresh on the menu is a Smoked Sword Fish, £6, with fish chunks that come wrapped in gem lettuce, drenched in a zingy wasabi & lime dressing and shiso. Then there is a butter roasted “Kimchee”, £5. One could spend the entire meal just on their appetizers, as I often do.

Smoked Sword Fish, wasabi & lime dressing, shisoOn the rare occasion I order a main it is always the pork belly in Korean “BBQ jus” (£13.5). Chefy terms aside, this is one of the best preparations of pork I have ever had the joy of tasting. If I was one to make lists this would be on my London top 10 without any hesitation.

The modest bistro is run by Chef Jae and his lovely wife Yeon. Jae trained in the hallowed kitchens of Nobu and Hélène Darroze before choosing exhaustion for himself rather than someone else. Chef Jae chose to blur his lines between work and life; but each time I dine here too exhausted to cook for myself, I know its time to unblur mine.

-p

If you live in London, get yourself down to The Petite Corée for Jae and Yeon’s heartwarming food and service. For added incentive they have BYO Tuesdays and Wednesdays!

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Filed under Bistro, Italian, Korean, London

Bocca di Lupo. About time

A man I love very much said to me, “If you were 30, I would give our relationship a go. But you’re 37 – if I go out with you, you will start expecting marriage soon.

I still haven’t found the words to respond to this, but I did add him to a long list of my people obsessed with age. Nobody I know seems to want to be their age at the moment – through mind-numbing food plans, bad hair dye jobs, inappropriate sexapades, and best-selling alter egos, I have found myself in the midst of a lot of people’s age-crisis. So it wasn’t quite by accident that I was drawn to the New Year Day release of The Theory of Everything – a film about Stephen Hawking and his theories of time. Hawking writes an equation to prove that there was a beginning of time. He then proposes the end of time. We go about our lives quietly accepting beginnings and ends of sunrises and sunsets, of days and meals, of relationships and jobs; and yet, we get so sensitive about our age. We fight it – everyday.

As I wandered around Soho and pondered my people’s preoccupation with age, I walked past a restaurant, I’ve always enjoyed visiting. Bocca di Lupo has a chef-owner who has written a wonderful book on pasta through the ages – The Geometry of Pasta. A book that was born of a preoccupation of a more delicious kind – of the Italian’s obsession with the right shape of pasta for the right sauce.

I love a little time travel as much as the next person. Especially if I can taste my way through the travel, as I did tonight.

Agnolotti dal plin

AgnolottiLike all interesting food history, the origin of the agnolotti, a semi-circle stuffed pasta from Piedmont, is attributed to several legends. Some say it’s name comes from the tool that was used to cut the pasta – the anolot. Other stories give credit to its stuffing – agnello (lamb). Or perhaps it was named after the chef, Angeloto, who first made these to celebrate the end of a siege? The version I ate – Agnolotti dal plin (£9) was pinched into delicate pleats and stuffed with pork and veal. Not the best bowl of pasta I have ever had, but tonight I wasn’t after excellence. Instead, reading about its history added texture to my meal – about how this pasta used to be made mainly for festive occasions, given the dainty pleating; or in the winter, when “housewives had to fill long winter evenings with some sort of activity.”

Wine: Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, 2012 (£7.70)

Pappardelle with venison ragú

Pappardelle“They are best served with a chunky, flavoursome, oily sauce in Tuscany; with a chicken liver or hare ragú, in the Veneto and Romagna with a pigeon one.” I had mine with a venison ragú (£9) – a wholesome sauce that lovingly attached itself to luscious ribbons of hand made pappardelle. The book talks about how this pasta has been around since the medieval times “when they were cooked in a game broth, thickened by blood.”

Wine: Primitivo Fatalone, 2010 (£7.50)

KitchenAs I watched 4 chefs cook traditional recipes for a 100 diners, I had to wonder if they ever stopped to think about how old they were. Working in unspoken conversations, the only place they could be was in the moment.

In this moment, it is exactly the time it is. We are exactly the age we are.

-p

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Filed under Italian, London, Pasta, Soho London

Nico Bombay. Style over substance

Me:                        “What is that white cream?”

Waiter:                 “One moment ma’am, I will send the manager.”

Me:                        “What is that white cream?”

Manager:            “It’s part of the dish ma’am.”

Me:                        “Uh… OK, but what is that white cream?”

Manager:            “It’s the aubergine paste.”

Me:                        “I think that is the brown smear under the white cream.”

Manager:            “It’s a clam paste ma’am.”

Me:                        “That would be another item on the menu.”

Are you exhausted yet? Multiply this with 100 and you may come close to my exasperation during lunch at South Bombay’s newest restaurant.  Just back from London, a restaurant serving non-Indian food would not have been my first choice; but I was going to meet a real Bombay food blogger, Prachi Joshi of Deliciously Directionless, and didn’t let the small matter of cuisine get in the way.

I had to read other reviews to understand Nico Bombay’s style of food – Modern European apparently – because neither the staff, nor a studious review of the menu, with an odd mix of roast chicken, Kadaifi wrapped prawns, and pizza, revealed anything.  Nico Bombay will focus on fresh ingredients (!), locally sourced (!!). Even though there is nothing local about Italian burrata or Hungarian salami I hope they are serious about the other ingredients being fresh.

We were welcomed with complimentary glasses of Zampa Sparkling Wine (if you haven’t tasted this yet I would recommend you stay far, far, away), but the restaurant had no filtered water for its guests. We were asked to buy a bottle – costing Rs. 150 – if we were thirsty. Not the kind of start I was hoping for.

We ordered three mezze and one Neapolitan flatbread (not to be confused with pizza, even though it arrived looking like one). And this is what we subjected ourselves to:

Smoked sardines, aubergine compote on sourdough toast (Rs. 375) of white cream fame. The white cream turned out to be a sardine paste, and so this dish which had such promise turned out to be a sardine overload on a piece of toast that was definitely not sourdough.

Veal tenderloin, tuna tonato (Rs. 400). I think they meant tonnato. Just as I’m sure the chef meant to add salt to the veal, and anchovies, capers and lemon to the tonnato. This classic Piedmontese dish arrived on a piece of slate, looking great and tasting of nothing.

Pulled goat meat, red onion, micro greens (Rs. 275) –   such a wonderful choice of meat, maybe inspired by a current global trend for pulled pork buns. It was not the most tender of cuts, but this was the best thing we ate today. And they weren’t kidding about the greens being “micro”.

Ciro: Bocconcini, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Hungarian Pic (k) Salami (Rs. 600) – where do I start with this pizza, uh… sorry, Neapolitan flatbread? I can rarely resist a dish that promises oven roasted tomatoes. A simple oven can coax even the most stubborn tomato into a luscious sauce so I am not sure why the chefs at Nico Bombay chose to create a tart, sloppy mess. We’re not sure if the bread was tough or the knives blunt, but had to throw in the towel a few mouthfuls later.

We left without dessert and treated ourselves to the fantastic coffee and cakes at Kala Ghoda Cafe around the corner instead.

I am quite willing to look past average food at a new restaurant, but when that is coupled with shoddy service, I find no reason to be kind. The waiters didn’t know their burrata from their elbow. We did not finish a single one of the dishes ordered but not one of the three waiters, one bartender, one manager, or two owners present in the restaurant at the time cared to check if there was a problem. Considering we were one of only four tables occupied, it could not have been because they were busy.

I should probably say something about the décor, but a designer we bumped into on our way out said it best, “It’s wonderful that the city’s Art Deco elements are brought into the restaurant; but the space is clearly designed as a bar for the evening.

Uncomfortable as we were in the director’s chairs, the meal wasn’t a total fail. I met a new Bombay person! Prachi and I, probably brought closer by the trauma of the meal, bonded over a shared disbelief over “food critics” who cannot cook, hilarious stories of Internet dating, and a mutual love for Italian holidays and Shah Rukh Khan.

-p

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Filed under Bombay, India, Italian, Mediterranean, Open kitchen, Pizza, Restaurant

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

Culina. Just right.

You meet someone who lights up your life. You meet someone who darkens your day. You meet someone and take a leap of faith. You meet someone and wish someone else had stopped you from jumping.

What was I thinking?! And more importantly, how did I get to a place where I let someone else screw up the way I feel about myself? I’ve had a few what-was-I-thinking days in my life but this one honestly takes the cupcake. On a day when everything went wrong, as always, I turned to food… to find a place where everything promised to be right.

Culina, if hotel insiders are to be believed, is Four Seasons first foray into cool dining. These hoteliers are not exactly known for food innovation; but with this LA hotspot they definitely know what they are doing. Beverly Hills isn’t exactly the kind of neighbourhood you would think of as having a ‘local’. But if they had to have one, I vote for Chef Victor Casanova’s Culina. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner at less than five star prices, and you are almost always assured of pretty diners in the room. (This is LA after all.) The restaurant is as fancy, or not, as you’d like it to be. An open crudo bar where you can see the chefs at work, servers that look like movie stars, a waterfall and a fireplace (for the two days of the year it gets cold in LA) – this restaurant definitely has the look.

I was seated at a table outside surrounded by beautiful foliage, hypnotised by the warble from the waterfall jumbled with gentle sounds of piped music. The menu was longer than I wanted to deal with and so let my perfectly capable server Caroline make most of my dining decisions, while I enjoyed their softest rosemary bread.

It is almost rude not to start with their crudo. First there was Tonno ($12), ahi tuna tartare delicately laced with ginger and lemon, and then Cappesante ($14), scallops with black truffle. Both arrived looking like jewels on a plate and disappeared before I realised. I resisted ordering the burrata and went with Granchio ($16) a dungeness crab salad with endives and grapefruit. I was tubing down the slopes in Vail not two days ago, and here I was eating a salad that was like summer on a plate. The glass of Erbaluce ($13) Caroline recommended couldn’t have been a more perfect accompaniment.

The menu also has a decent vegetarian section, pizzas, main courses (Kobe meatballs looked especially good), and of course dessert. But today was a day that deserved pasta. I ordered the Spaghetti alla Chittara ($17) – pasta, that was definitely not shop bought, with the most wholesome, delicious, perfect san marzano tomato and basil sauce.

It isn’t like I haven’t eaten better Italian food before. Nor is this the coolest/prettiest restaurant I have been to. A great meal, like a wonderful life, is rarely about one or the other. To quote a cliché, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. And so, at Culina, its universe – of food, décor, service, and spirit – comes together to create an experience where everything worked beautifully. Culina definitely got it right.

-p

Culina at Four Seasons Beverly Hills on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Crudo, Italian, Los Angeles, Open kitchen, Outdoor dining, Pasta

da Polpo. And another one?

da Polpo is like the old friend you can rock up to anytime and are guaranteed a great conversation. Like the other restaurants in Russell Norman’s stable, da Polpo is cosy, easy and approachable. I find nothing more uncomfortable than a restaurant on edge – week one, new staff, new menu, forgotten service sequences, the smell of paint, and table tops that shine a bit too much. What I love most about Polpo, Polpetto, Spuntino and now da Polpo is how they manage to look and feel lived in, even when brand new.

Most things about this place will remind you of Polpo. One has a Campari Bar, the other an Aperol one. Both bacaros use a lot of natural finishes, have distressed walls, tiled flooring and bar counters you can eat at – the single diner’s most favourite seat.

                     

I even got lucky with my waitress; Tajsa (am near certain I’ve got this spelling wrong) wasted no time in settling me in and starting me off with a glass of the Polpo Prosecco (£5) – OMG so delicious – and some complimentary sesame cream cheese and bread.  (I’m still not sold on the fashion of wine being served in non-wine glasses.)

The menu is also a lot like Polpo’s. I started with the arancini (£2.50) – the gooey cheese centre makes these crispy balls of rice divine, even if lacking a little something. Next was the asparagus, taleggio and parma ham pizzetta (£6.50). The cheese and ham may get too salty for some but I loved this baby pizza.

I finished with a fresh tomato salad (£5) and a glass of the Polpo Merlot (£2.75). Maybe the combination was wrong but I won’t rush to order this wine again.

    

I skipped dessert , promising the superb staff that I would return for some. Soon. Last week I wrote about Spuntino – THE ONE restaurant I knew I would have a long romance with. Today I walked into another ONE. Amongst too many other things, Bollywood is where I first learnt and loved the idea of THE ONE. (It was most likely Rishi Kapoor & Dimple Kapadia’s teenage romance Bobby.)

We’ve all grown up since then and while I may still look for the Bollywood moments in my life, I’ve changed what The One means to me – ever so slightly. I now have:

  • The One who got away – and Thai Green Curry
  • The One who was always going to hurt me – and Pytt I Panna
  • The One I still think about – and Vegemite sandwiches
  • The One I didn’t really care about – and strawberry cheesecake

And then there is THE 5months-14days-8hours- andafewminutes ONE.

-p

da Polpo on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Design, Dessert, Italian, London, Pizza, Restaurant, Tapas, Wine

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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