Category Archives: Small Plates

Bombay, a canteen & a pop up

I had several reasons to leave Bombay when I did nine years ago. None of which however were to get away from the city. I come back often, desperate for a breath of Bombay, and over the years have witnessed a vehement disillusionment with the city amongst my friends. I don’t judge them, nor the city. How can I? I come for a few weeks, starry eyed and still completely in love with the Bombay that gave me the confidence to walk away. It just hasn’t been possible for me to hate the weather, traffic, corruption, noise. At this very moment a few bats are practicing for Indian Idol right outside my window… what can you do?!

I’m not all tolerance and Om though. Take me to the new crop of Bombay restaurants and watch my zen disappear into menus still fascinated with Indianising international cuisines. I’m sorry but Mamagoto is more masala than maki, Starbucks is not coffee, and anything that is remotely authentic is wildly out of reach of most pockets. And don’t get me started on the likes of Monkey Bar.

Then I dined at The Bombay Canteen. And again at Le Kitchen’s pop up. I love Indian food best. So to come home to two gloriously Indian menus has been such a win.

Food at The Bombay Canteen tastes like its coming from the heart of an old relative’s kitchen. The menu is generously sprinkled with influences from across India – a melting pot of regional flavours, much like the city the restaurant calls home. It was a relief to see that the dashing executive chef Thomas Zacharias has left behind any bad habits he may have been forced to adopt at Olive. And this is what I ate:

Kejriwal toast – while nobody does it like The Willingdon Club, this clever take on a Bombay classic (and addition of a green chilli chutney) with melted cheese makes it a luscious starter.

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Crispy mandeli fry – I’ve never had this outside a home kitchen before and polished off the bowl in no time.

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Pulled pork vindaloo on theplas – courtesy of the restaurant. I’d love a taste of the feni in this fab dish! The theplas, though delicious on their own were too dense as a combination. I would love to taste the pork with a steamed poi instead.

Bhavnagri chillies stuffed with good old Amul cheese – disappointed that I didn’t get a single hot one.

Brown butter and green chilli dosa – now my second favourite dosa in the city (still looking for No. 1 if you must know).

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Shrimp and kairi biryani – subtle flavours and a generous portion. Totally loved the corny banana leaf thali.

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Gulab jamun – an Old Monk drenched, boozy doughnut shaped dessert spread with pistachio cream. Heaven for any sugar lover.

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I was very disappointed with the cocktails. The three I tried all tasted of fruit juice and/or artificial concentrate and flavours and it seems that my quest for a great cocktail in Bombay must continue.

A few days later I was invited to Ashish Glasswalla’s Le Kitchen pop up at The House of Tales. I first met Ashish two years ago when he catered a lunch at home. We still count his fantastic chaat, kulchas and jalebis amongst some of the best food we’ve ever had catered at home.

On the menu at the pop up – chilli cheese sev puri, tandoori prawns with crackling spinach, chicken keema lifafa, mutton biryani (one of the best I have ever had), jalebi with kulfi and meetha paan truffles. Ashish also gave us a taste of a masala chai chocolate mousse served with a sparkling Parle G. So clever and such fun!

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I cannot recommend them highly enough. And at Rs. 1,200 for six sensational courses you can’t lose. Their dinner pop up is on at The House of Tales until 13th September. Book online here.

What I love best about The Bombay Canteen & Le Kitchen (in addition to their friendly prices and excellent service) is that they don’t mess about with fusion as we have seen so far. While not every dish is completely traditional, the flavours the chefs have brought together work really well.

Indian fused with India – now this is a trend I could get behind!

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Bombay, Cheese, Cocktails, Dessert, Gymkhana, India, Indian, Open kitchen, Parsi, Pop-up, Restaurant, Small Plates, South Indian, Tasting menu

The White Owl. An addendum

I have so far never posted an addendum to a blog post. I have honestly never needed to. A recent revisit to The White Owl however was so underwhelming (for my guests) and embarrassing (for me) that I feel the need to share my second experience of their special menu.

We ordered six dishes, sent back three and barely touched what was left on our table. Given that it took them 45 minutes to bring out the appetisers we didn’t have the time (nor the energy) to request the kitchen to read up Nikhil’s recipes and fix the dishes. These were the low points of our meal:

Raw & Ripe Mango Salad – the version we got yesterday was bland, the dressing completely diluted with barely a hint of the soya and chilli. The salad was swamped with so much tasteless papaya that we had to hunt for the raw mango. I sent my half-eaten dish back. A few minutes later the chef was kind enough to send another – this had less papaya and a spruced up dressing. Much, much better – but still a far cry from what I tried at the tasting.

Shrimp & Water Chestnut Salad – the leaves were soggy and warm; the shrimp were neither cold nor hot and my guests did not enjoy the temperature nor texture of this dish in their mouth. This dressing too was diluted with no distinctive flavour of anything.

Sweet Bell Pepper Roulade – I had rated this as a real stand out dish in my first blog post. What arrived instead was a gloopy mess (see the before and after photos below). The pesto was bitter with none of the creaminess of the nuts I tasted the first time. The peppers were soggy, as was the barley. The barley filling which was such a hit at the tasting didn’t have any of the original bite.

IMG_7621               photo 1 (2)

 

 

 

 

Plum-glazed Chicken – the menu describes this to be accompanied with a “sauce”, however what arrived was a watery curry with the same uncooked and tart flavours that one gets from ready sauce pastes. We couldn’t taste any of the sweetness of the plums and the chicken was so rubbery we couldn’t chew it at all. The accompanying rice was meant to have a lemongrass flavour. If it was there it was so hidden that none of our palates could find it. This dish was sent back.

Baby Clam, Sugar Snap Peas & Grilled Chorizo in Saffron Broth – again, this dish was not a patch on the version served at the tasting. I remember the broth being light, fragrant and bursting with umami. What we got was an over-salted curry with no trace of saffron. The clams were not cleaned properly – we could barely chew it for the pieces of shell that kept coming in our mouth.

photo 2 Brioche Mac & Cheese – I cannot begin to express my disappointment with this dish. The menu describes it with “grana padano, gruyere, aged-cheddar, pickled cucumber & fresh jalapenos”. I was expecting a moreish, gooey mound of pasta in its cheesy sauce, piled onto a brioche. What arrived was an ugly mess of over cooked pasta with a bland cheese sauce dumped on top of it. The cheese had already started to congeal by the time the dish arrived at my table. This dish needs a lot more love – and some salt. The brioche was a disappointment as well – dry and stodgy. This dish was also sent back.

I am not a restaurant chef, and some may argue that I don’t have the experience to make comments on flavours. The chef argued that she cooked the exact same recipes that I had loved barely a week ago. I don’t want to argue – but the fact is that what the chef sent out yesterday was a far cry from the tasting that was organised for us.

We explained all this to the chef who was kind enough to waive the food bill. We didn’t have the heart to try our luck with dessert.

I can only conclude that the kitchen has not stayed true to Nikhil’s recipes, and that’s a damn shame because Nikhil’s flavours are hard to beat.

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My first impressions of this menu are here.

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Filed under Bistro, Bombay, Dessert, India, Mango, Mediterranean, Small Plates, Vegetarian

The White Owl. A friendly lunch

After seventeen years of jobs, I took back a year of my life – to sit still, to go places; to stop working, and to start working at living; to meet new people and reconnect with old friends. A year to put me first.

I travelled, made peace with change, accepted that I will never make peace with Bombay’s traffic, and a series of such-a-small-worlds later, found myself adopted by a most fun loving group of friends – a chef, a PR machine, a wine maker and photographer, a rockstar comedienne, a brand genius, a fair trade enabler… The fact that each one of us plans life around food also sort of guarantees that this is more than just a passing flirtation.

Nikhil Merchant is a food writer, flavour master, and all round sweetheart. It was love at first food-chat for Nikhil and me, and over the past few months he has become my go to guy for all flavour dilemmas. Nikhil’s cooking is instinctive, his food combinations imaginative and cocktails sublime. Under his foodie brand Nonchalant Gourmand, Nikhil recently collaborated with a Bombay bistro – The White Owl – to create a menu of his favourite flavours of the season. I was invited to his first chefs table where we previewed his culinary collaboration with the bistro’s chef Kshama Prabhu.

WallAs a recent vegetarian I have to admit that eating non-Indian food in Bombay’s restaurants has been uninspiring and often unpalatable. Unimaginative chefs either flood the menu with iterations of potatoes, or force paneer and tofu to play substitute to their original choice of non-vegetarian protein. Nikhil and Kshama’s menu is encouragingly different, with over 50% of the menu letting a vegetarian food take centre stage.

I started with Purple Yam Batons, fried crisp and wrapped around a stick of sugarcane.

See what I mean? When is the last time you saw either yam or sugarcane as the star of a restaurant dish? The appetiser is let down by an overly eggy herb aioli, and I would have preferred a fresh, non-creamy dip to balance the buttery, sweet yams. Next on my plate is a French classic – Oeufs en Meurette. The eggs are perfectly poached, and served with moreish slices of garlic toast. I did not like the red wine they chose but was in the minority on this one.

As we soldiered through the menu I realised that my moans about the starters would be my only grouse that afternoon.

The salad of Raw and Ripe Mangoes is my absolute favourite mango dish of the season. Fresh Alphonso and slivers of green mangoes were dressed in a zesty combination of soy, red chillies and peanuts. The salad alone is reason enough to revisit the awkwardly located White Owl.

IMG_7619The main course veggie choices were Blue Cheese Quiche and Bell Pepper Roulade. My choice (of the quiche) was a no brainer; blue is my favourite cheese, and besides who wants to eat a roulade? How wrong was I!

IMG_7620The quiche was perfect – a herby, blue cheese topping lovingly baked on a flaky pastry. But the revelation of the meal was the roulade, served with a generous dollop of an inventive arugula pesto. The sweet bell peppers, unrolled a filling of cheesy barley, and crunchy greens. Never again will I judge a book by its old fashioned cover.

IMG_7621The non-vegetarians on our table were most impressed with the Shrimp & Water Chestnut Salad and Baby Clam, Sugar Snap Peas & Grilled Chorizo in Saffron Broth.

Not for one moment did I wish I were eating meat, nor did I feel that the chefs had made grudging allowances for veggies on their menu. I want to come back for the Green Apple Galette, Brioche Mac and Cheese, and Pumpkin Gnochhi Casserole.

I don’t have a sweet tooth but the table was was mighty impressed with the offering. The Fig, Chocolate & Kaffir Lime Mille-Feuille is a perfect display of Nikhil’s love for playing with flavours and Kshama’s pastry skills. The Kaffir Lime cream is rich and lends a heady scent to the dessert; but I wonder if it would have worked better with a different fruit? One that was lighter than the dense combination of fig and cream. I preferred the Alphonso Crepes – totally scrummy.

photo 1Nikhil’s menu launches at The White Owl from June 2nd for two months.

I hope this is the beginning of many such adventures in India where we will see menus that let the ingredients shine; restaurants that don’t give in to gimmicks; and chefs that find the courage to cook with their heart. Here’s hoping I meet more chefs like Nikhil and Kshama, chefs that put food first.

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Disclosure: The meal was a preview and I was a guest of the restaurant. Neither their generosity nor my friendship with Nikhil has compromised my opinion on their food in any way.

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Filed under Bistro, Bombay, Dessert, India, Mango, Mediterranean, Small Plates, Vegetarian

plusixfive. The traditional trio

By the time I entered London’s supper club scene plusixfive founder Goz was leaving the city to create havoc in Hong Kong. I couldn’t turn a street corner without running into a Londoner weeping in sorrow at the loss of one of their favourite supper club chefs. I met him once, for three minutes – to exchange £5 for a jar of outstanding “proper” sambal. He stopped bouncing only long enough for me to grab the bottle out of his hands. This mad, bouncing, love-the-real-stuff spirit is what underlines everything plusixfive stands for.

Goz started plusixfive in May 2011 (read: coerced at gunpoint by foodaholic and Edible Experiences founder WenLin Soh) when he realised that this was the perfect vehicle to showcase real Singaporean food. He said, “I got tired of fish and chips. I came to the UK when all we had was fish and chips; and Costa was amazing coffee; and Flat White was a description for a paint colour in Homebase. I missed Singaporean food so started learning how to cook it myself, taking recipes off the net and more importantly from my mum. It was ridiculous that all people seemed to know about Singapore was either (a) caning for graffiti (b) caning (and death) for drug smuggling (c) caning for littering in our clean city and (d) caning for chewing gum. Ridiculous to me because in Singapore, food is possibly the most important and central thing to Singaporeans.

IMG_1221A curious incident with a blog post in the night time brought ShuHan (a firecracker graphic designer and chef intent on staying seasonal) into his life; and Jason (eager to showcase his own Peranakan heritage cuisine) was one of the diners at Goz’s first supper club. So plusixfive grew from just Goz to Goz, ShuHan and Jason.

A few weeks ago, under the guise of celebrating some kind of an anniversary, plusixfive, assisted by Javier Leal and WenLin Soh took over the bun steamers at Yum Bun in Shoreditch. For the sweet price of £13 they were serving three buns – ox cheek redang, veg popiah and pork belly – and a beer. It was such a clever idea! They got bun-loving London to try 100% Singaporean fillings without compromising on flavour or tradition.

IMG_1238The pork belly is, or I should say used to be, my bun of choice at Yum Bun. I started with that. It was nice and all but I couldn’t wait to dive into the others. I was completely prepared to be uninspired by the veggie bun – what I fool I was! ShuHan expertly created a typical Nyonya Popiah filling (a Singaporean fresh egg pancake spring roll) with braised turnips, mushrooms and a fiery sweet lime chilli sauce. The “I-can’t-believe-it’s-veg Popiah Bun” was aptly named, juicy and so delicious.

The winneIMG_1220r, by a very small margin, was Jason’s “Ox Cheeky Rendang”. Jason is old school – he’s been known to pound 40 bowls of laksa paste by hand. He picked the rendang as it’s something that is traditionally Nyonya and was his Nan’s recipe. My favourite bun of the evening was a result of 16 hours of hard work over a hot stove. Hunks of meat melted into a rich rempah spice paste and coconut milk in true Peranakan tradition. The luscious result was sandwiched between crunchy cucumber, radish and peanuts in Yum Bun’s doughy pillows.

Goz, ShuHan and Jason have very different cooking styles and techniques but are joined in frustration against what London passes off for Singaporean cooking. I get that.

The longer I have lived away from India the less a “curry” takeaway will fulfil me the way 6 hours in the kitchen over butter chicken does. I know I harp on about the importance of tradition – but that is only so that I don’t help create a generation that cannot make themselves a hot meal, that believes chicken tikka masala came from India, and that Singapore noodles are served in Singapore. Innovation is all well and good, but not at the cost of tradition.

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Look out for the cookbook later this year: plusixfive: A Singaporean Supper Club Cookbook (Or How to Subvert Singaporean Culinary Misconceptions, Avert Stir-Fry Calamities, Make Your Nyonya Grandmother Weep with Joy and Other Badass Kitchen Skills)


Read more about plusixfive X yum bun on Edible Experiences

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Filed under Bar food, Eat, Foodie Events, London, Shoreditch, Singaporean, Small Plates, Supper Club

Bengal in Bandra. A food walk

I grew up in Hyderabad but all my meals came out of a Punjabi kitchen. The few exceptions were Sunday morning breakfasts of dosa at Hotel Harsha, sweet corn chicken soup at Hi-King, post-swim sandwiches at Hotel Banjara, and Maggi Noodles. I had such a Punjabi palate that meals at Mamma’s Bombay Sindhi kitchen were just painful. (You still can’t get me to eat sai bhaaji or sindhi curry.)

Kaali daal, sarson da saag and mountains of paneer aside, I was raised with a timid palate. It wasn’t until several years later when I had my first Hyderabadi biryani in Bombay that I realised what a food wonderland I had left behind. And it wasn’t until I left India that I really appreciated what a fantastic food heritage I came from. Now when I go back home I would rather eat Maggi Noodles than at the latest “Continental” restaurant.

Last week I hit the jackpot. One of India’s favourite food bloggers (and an excellent chef), Kalyan Karmakar was hosting a Bengal in Bandra food walk and I managed to bag a last minute spot.

The sweltering evening began with Kalyan introducing the spirit of the walk. He was going to guide us through some of his favourite Bengali dishes available in Bombay, and share stories about where they came from, how he would eat them back in Bengal, and the compromises he makes in his new home. (No there were no puchkas in our luck as Kalyan assured us we would not find even remotely authentic ones outside Calcutta.) He couldn’t have had a more ravenous dozen hanging on to his every word.

We began at Hangla’s (which is Bong slang for “greedy for food”); a street stall on Bandra’s throbbing Turner Road with chefs from Calcutta handpicked by the owner. We ate egg and mutton rolls (my favourite), fish chops (delicious with kasundi (mustard chutney)), veg cutlets, and Calcutta biryani. Our group had a healthy mix of Frankie-loving Bombayites and kathi roll enthusiasts and Kalyan played a (very) biased referee while explaining the differences between the two.

As we made our way through a bustling Bandra to the next stop, Kalyan regaled us with Bong food stories and tips – about not using ketchup except in egg rolls; about how the Brits caused the biryani to travel from Awadh to Calcutta (losing some meat and gaining eggs and potatoes on the way); and how dessert isn’t strictly a post-meal indulgence.

In true Bengali style, we next marched into Sweet Bengal between our appetisers and mains. Until today I had never ventured beyond Bengali classics sondesh, rossogolla and mishti doi. Kalyan’s picks were a revelation! My favourite was kheer kodom – a juicy rossogulla enveloped by delicious khoya. I paid little attention to the pantua vs. gulab jamun debate as was completely distracted by the kalo jaam, dorbesh, gurer sandesh and excellent kachoris.

Kheer Kodom

Not being trained to eat sweets whenever it suits our fancy, the non Bengalis in the group struggled to keep up with the rest. We moved on to the third stop, hoping that the walk will help make room for the final dot on our food map tonight.

Bong Bong is bijou. We were greeted by the owner Surjopriya who explained that her restaurant served food the way she cooks Bengali food today. Read: not traditional.

Panch Phoran Potatoes

Kalyan’s chose a menu that included panch phoran potatoes (their version has yoghurt. I was told Bombay is mad for these but they weren’t to my taste at all), fried fish, prawn malai curry (excellent), mustard fish (strictly OK), Calcutta version of Anglo Indian pork vindaloo (I prefer the Goan version), lachha parathas and mango pudding. The vegetarian on my table was less than happy with her veggie alternatives.

Kalyan’s food walk is so much greater than the sum of its parts, and totally worth the Rs. 2,000 (£24) I paid. His stories infused so much local flavour into the menus, I met fantastic people I would have never come across otherwise, and I now know that the Malai Sandwich is as Bengali as Chicken Tikka Masala is Indian! Kalyan sent us off with bursting tummies, and a goody bag full of Calcutta snacks mukhorochok dalmut and jhalmuri.

Bong Bong was my least favourite stop of the day. Not because their food doesn’t taste good to most, but because I am old fashioned about Indian food. I have been on either side of the immigrant debate and I understand why people feel the need to modernise tradition. This is more than my memories being frozen in time – it’s about preventing a day when I won’t discover a kheer kodom because nobody remembers how to make it; about not wanting my children to grow up thinking tofu-almond butter-masala is traditional Indian food; about wanting to preserve my heritage before it disappears completely.

It’s about genuinely being worried that I can’t know where I will end up, if I don’t protect where I came from.
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Read Kalyan’s blog on the walk here.

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Filed under Bengali, Bombay, Foodie adventures, Indian, Small Plates, Street food

Circle of friends. A Birthday Month celebration

I turned thirty in London. It was a potentially horrid day – not only had I seen enough girlfriends turn thirty, depressed and surly, it was going to be the first birthday I would spend with absolutely no family or best friends with me. Until this year I never really gave birthdays much thought beyond presents, guest lists and a dress budget.

There wasn’t much I could do about turning thirty but I was determined not to get depressed or surly. So I came up with Birthday Month – why wait an entire year for just one day when I could celebrate an entire month filled with my favourite things? This year Birthday Month featured a day on London Underground’s Circle Line. The original version of this concept included youngsters getting out at every stop on this tube line for a pint. Instead, I picked favourite restaurants, cool bars and added a few boozers (as homage to the original concept). I also made up a few rules:

  • Eat or drink only one thing at each stop.
  • Everyone must have one alcoholic drink at least every third stop.
  • We won’t stop at every stop…
  • …and may walk for some of the journey.

Emails sent, announcements tweeted, phone calls made… this Table for One was looking forward to sharing her table with a new circle of friends.

Stop 1: Liverpool Street: Dishoom Shoreditch

I was seven minutes late for our 11.30am start, and boy was I glad not to be punctual. Arrive on time and I would have missed out on this debonair welcome party!

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Stop 1 had us eating Bacon Naan Rolls (Nayan, Martin, John and Thomas), Vada Pav (Naman), Nankhatai and Jeera Biscuits (Serena) and Akuri (me), There were also many cups of chai, a bloody mary and a few Kingfisher beers on the table.

I may have said this before but I’ll say it again. Dishoom’s Bacon Naan Roll is one of the most delicious pieces of genius I have ever tasted. A fluffy naan, crispy bacon, chilli jam and cream cheese. What’s not to love?!

Stop 2: Farringdon: Vinoteca

My original choice for this stop was Burger & Lobster but they didn’t open until 4pm and we had to improvise. Many thanks to our resident winemaker Nayan, for suggesting Vinoteca. It was only right that he chose our drink for this stop – a beautiful prosecco that went down (too) well.

A common Twitter acquaintance introduced me to Nayan Gowda and my first meeting with him was spent in a (different) wine bar. I have to admit, that if you had asked me then whether Nayan and I would become friends, my honest answer would have been no. He was charming beyond words and I spent the entire afternoon wondering if I may be a tad boring for him. Our worlds seemed so different… until I decided to take us both out of these tiny boxes I had trapped us in. Today I am thrilled to be able to call Nayan a friend. A great one.

Stop 3: King’s Cross St. Pancras: Wine Pantry

The Wine Pantry is the cutest new wine and spirit bar and serves purely British products. It is also where I came up with my version of the Circle Line day. We lost Serena to a working Saturday, and were now the Joy of Six who drank Sheep Dip Whisky (John), Old Salt Rum (Naman), Kernel IPA (Nayan), sparkling wine (Martin) and Rhubarb Chase Vodka (me). Thomas cheated and brought in a coffee from next door. Thomas Mielke is my most grown up young friend. From our first holiday together (Budapest in 2007) to our forthcoming trip to NYC (next week) he has been an unwavering pillar in my life. I have not felt so close to someone I am so dissimilar from. Six years later we sometimes resemble a crotchety old couple, and have agreed to disagree on many things (except perhaps my drawing skills).

Just as we were ready to leave we were joined by newlyweds Giulia and Sandy. We were now the Hard Eight!

2013-03-16 14.11.54Stop 4: Euston Square: Mestizo

We had every intention of walking to Euston Square. London rain had other plans for us and the Hard Eight took a rather long tube journey for a rather short distance. Mestizo, one of my favourite Mexican restaurants in town, was chaired by my favourite bartender John Leese. I first met John when he was making cocktails at the Match bar across from my office. Short version of our story: I flirted, he asked for my number, I gave it to him, he took two years to call me!

We may have never been on a date but (now that I have forgiven him for taking his time to call me) I know I can count on John. And I don’t just mean for good cocktails.

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John ordered the group (except Thomas who chose beer, and Martin who wussed it out with water) shots of Olmeca Altos tequila. But this beautiful tequila deserved sipping, and we all had strict instructions not to touch the salt or lime. John seemed to need a personal moment with this drink – as a result of which we got a mini master class (and iPhone-aided slideshow) on agave, mezcal and tequila. We ordered the customary guacamole (photo above by star photographer Giulia) and all agreed that today it was infinitely inferior to the free salsa and chips at the bar.

Stop 5: Great Portland Street: Queen’s Head & Artichoke

Grey clouds gave way to a burst of sunshine and we walked to Stop 5. Giulia and Sandy left us for furniture shopping and we were joined by a frozen Laxmi. It was a round of Timothy Taylor’s ale for everyone at Queen’s Head & Artichoke – a beautifully restored Victorian pub with the friendliest staff I have seen at any pub in the city, and a much needed fireplace.

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Stop 6: Bayswater: Mandarin Kitchen

We lost Thomas to a phone call and John to his job. What you have now, ladies and gentlemen, is the final group that will from hereon be known as the New Famous Five.

It was 4pm and I was craving MSG. The original plan for an Egyptian meal at Edgware Road was abandoned for greasy Chinese at Bayswater. Naman took care of the veggies (aubergine and tofu fried in garlic), Nayan ordered the minced pork with red chillies and Martin made an executive decision about an oyster omelette. All shockingly delicious, considering our location.

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What was shockingly un-delicious was Naman’s choice of rice wine. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and so….

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This momentary lapse in judgement aside, Naman Ramachandran’s expertise in food and drink cannot be faulted. I first met Naman nearly ten years ago when my mother published his first book Lights Camera Masala. I have only recently reconnected with him and his fantastic better half Laxmi Hariharan. Many weekends are now spent cooking in each other’s kitchens and I am especially looking forward to my birthday lunch of real Bengali food, personally guided by half-Bong, Naman.

Stop 7: Notting Hill: Kensington Wine Rooms

After the ghastliness our palates were subjected to at the last stop, we demanded proper wine. Good thing Notting Hill Gate and Kensington Wine Rooms’ extensive wine by the glass menu were only one tube stop away. Nayan took charge again and ordered us a delicious bottle of red. I wish I could remember which one it was… It’s the seventh stop and the rules have been well and truly abandoned. Nayan spotted a South African wine made by his friend and ordered a second drink!  We’re definitely not yet drunk but the New Famous Five were now reduced to giggles for pretty much the rest of the day.

Stop 8: South Kensington: Comptoir Libanais

We were hungry again – the Chinese meal had not made a dent in anyone’s appetite. Thankfully Laxmi’s hummus cravings began exactly when we were whizzing past South Kensington and its Comptoir Libanais branch. I have nothing against chains except that unfortunately most abandon any hint of taste or flavour in favour of mass-produced mediocrity. Comptoir Libanais is thankfully different. The hummus and falafel were excellent, Martin, Nayan and Naman were happy with their arak and I loved my Mona cocktail with rose and prosecco.

I announced a new rule at this stop – no phones. So we had no photos, tweets, or people disappearing from the table. For the first time all day I had the chance of a proper chat with Martin. I don’t know if my words can do justice to our relationship. In the six months I have known him, Martin has seen me experience great joy, hit rock bottom, reach out to him, and shun his help. All through this he has been a rock and the best mirror I could have asked for. What more can a girl want? (p.s. Martin Lumsden outblogged me with his artistic view on our Circle Line day; read here.)

Stop 9: Victoria: The Shakespeare

You don’t get more touristy than The Shakespeare at Victoria station. The pub was filled with St. Patrick’s Day revelers and we got our very own four leaf clover.

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Stop 10: Embankment: Wahaca Pop Up

I have a soft spot for Mexican food (it’s the only cuisine to have featured twice on this Circle Line day) and all month long have been looking forward to Wahaca’s pop up on South Bank, and more specifically its fried grasshoppers.

Wahaca is the only restaurant in London to serve this Mexican delicacy. The grasshoppers have an earthy taste flavoured with garlic, smoky chipotle chillies and lime, and served as a baby lasagne smothered with cheese. The insect eaters in the group were not too impressed. There was just not enough grasshopper (or maybe way too much cheese) to have a real notion of what grasshopper must really taste like. Even the other dishes we ordered – guacamole, mushroom quesadilla and pork pibil tacos were strictly average today. We are all Wahaca fans and can only write this off to limitations in their pop kitchen.
2013-03-16 21.42.25The tamarind margaritas on the other hand were ace as usual and Nayan and Martin approved of their mojitos.

One of my favourite views of London is on the walk between South Bank and the Embankment tube station on the Hungerford Bridge. I’m glad this Circle Line day ended here, with my circle of friends, exactly 12 hours since it began.

2013-03-16 20.51.23-2
I have now had six Birthday Months and wonder why I was so worried about not being with family and best friends. Life always does come to a full circle. It doesn’t happen the way you planned it. But, always better.
-p

You can view more photos from the day here.

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Birthday Month, Brunch, Chinese, Cocktails, Foodie adventures, Lebanese, London, Mexican, Oysters, Small Plates, Street food, Wine, Wine Bar

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