Tuesday, 28 October 2014

LONDON RESTAURANT FESTIVAL: JAPANESE JOURNEY

On the final day of the London Restaurant Festival Japanese Journey, Wilkes and I grabbed our 'passports' and set off to visit six of London's best ramen bars, sushi restaurants and Japanese Izakayas.



We started off at Shoryu Ramen on Denman Street, which specialises in tonkotsu ramen from south Japan. There are currently four locations in London, which includes Shoryu Go on Air Street, and they are best known for serving up bowls of piping hot pork broth noodles created by Hakatan native Kanji Furukawa, a chef dedicated to championing his hometown's signature dish.

The first dish was a taster size Kotteri Tonkotsu - their signature ganso ramen with a richer, thicker, fattier tonkotsu broth made with pork back to help keep the soup hotter for longer.
And the second was the Wagyu Beef Hirata Bun - the bun was quite fluffy and not too chewy, and the meat was nice and tender.

For drinks, we had the option of the Suntory Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve highball, or the Suntory Hakushu Distiller's Reserve highball - both of which were served in all six restaurants for this event.

| Suntory Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve Highball |

 

| Taster size Kotteri Tonkotsu |
- hosomen noodles, char siu bbq pork, nitamago egg, kikurage mushrooms, spring onion, sesame, ginger, fried shallots, nori & mayu caramelised black garlic oil -


| Wagyu Beef Hirata Bun |
- succulent wagyu beef yakiniku with shiso, daikon & shimeji in a fluffy steamed bun -

 

Our second stop was Tonkotsu on Dean Street. Opened in Soho in 2012, Tonkotsu specialises in ramen and Japanese small plate classics along with Japanese and London Beers.

There was only one dish to choose from which were the home-made gyoza dumplings, filled with pork, prawn or shiitake - a tasty and light dish to snack on.

| Suntory Hakushu Dsitiller's Reserve Highball |


| Fresh home-made gyoza dumplings |

 

Third stop was Sticks 'n' Sushi in Covent Garden, one of the two branches in London that opened in November 2013. Founded 18 years ago by brothers Jen and Kim Rahbek and Thor Anderson, Sticks 'n' Sushi are known to serve high quality, fresh food based on a unique combination of traditional sushi and yakitori sticks from the grill.

There was a bit of a wait for our food, which threw us off our pace a bit...but we eventually got our food along with the rest of the row of guests who were also doing the Japanese Journey.

There were two different options, so we ordered one each of the Sushi Plate and Sticks Plate. Both had a nice variety and were tasty, but being a huge sushi fan, I personally preferred the Sushi Plate.


 

| Sticks Plate |
- Sasami chilli (chicken breast topped with chilli dip, teriyaki, and spring onion), Asparamaki (bacon wrapped asparagus), Tsukune (chicken meatballs in teriyaki), Edamame with spicy miso sauce -


| Sushi Plate |
- Salmon sashimi (2 pieces of salmon served with supreme soy), Hells kitchen roll (2 pieces of tempura shrimp, avocado, spicy sauce, tuna and barbecue sauce), Ebi panko roll (2 pieces of tempura shrimp, spicy sauce, avocado, sesame, tsume soy), Monte Carlo roll (2 pieces avocado and cucumber topped with cray fish and miso aiolo and trout roe) -

 

Our fourth stop was the recently opened Kanada-Ya, a ramen bar based at St. Giles High Street. Founded by Kanada Kazuhiro in Yukuhashi, Japan, this is the brand's first UK opening, and specialises in serving authentic tonkotsu ramen.
The venue is pretty small, and after a half hour wait, we eventually got in.

We both ordered the Chasiu Men, which consisted of 18 hour pork bone broth, deluxe charsiu pork collar, wood ear fungus, nori and spring onion. Both bowls came as full sized portions, which was extremely rich and filling! I had the hard noodles which were nice, and the pork collar was extremely soft and tender, and literally melts in your mouth...so good. Considering that we still had a couple more restaurants to visit, I sadly had to leave half of it unfinished... I did eat all the pork and ingredients though.
It is however with no doubt one of the best ramen noodles that I have had in London so far, and is of no surprise that there will always be a queue of hungry customers outside...

I will definitely be back again soon, and this time I will go on an empty stomach.


Our fifth stop was a bit of a distance away from the rest of the restaurants - Kurobuta on Kendal Street, close to Marble Arch. This Marylebone venue takes its inspiration from the Izakayas of japan, where tapas-style plates are served to accompany drinks in a casual setting.

We were served a variety of little samples to nibble on, some of which I had tasted before when I had dinner there a few months back.

 

| The Kurobuta Sampler |
- Nasu dengaku with caramelised walnuts, BBQ pork belly buns with spicy peanut soy, Jeruselam artichoke chopsticks with truffle ponzu, Salmon nigiri with bearnaise salsa and fries, Smoked duck tataki with burnt ginger amazu -


And finally our sixth and final stop - Chisou in Mayfair. Opened in 2002, Chisou Mayfair is known for its reputation for traditional and authentic Japanese cuisine, making it one of London's most popular izakaya style restaurants.

It was about 5.45pm by the time we had arrived, and had thankfully missed the crowd of earlier customers.
We were served a dish of Gyu tataki and Spicy Hamachi Carpaccio - both really fresh and very well prepared, and a pleasant end to our Japanese Journey.

| Gyu Tataki |
- thin slices of seared rare beef fillet with ponzu sauce and daikon -

 

| Spicy Hamachi Carpaccio |
- Kagoshima line caught Yellow tail carpaccio in a spiced dressing -



Despite starting an hour later, we still successfully visited all six restaurants within 5 hours!
It was nice to be able to sample the different dishes from all six restaurants - some with dishes more impressive than others, but overall a pleasant experience.
 I know which places that I'll definitely be going back to....

The Cheekster, signing out x


Sunday, 26 October 2014

THE BACKBENCH #7, KOYA

Another one of my monthly visits to The BackBench at Koya - visit number 7!
This time going solo again for the lunch seating straight after an invigorating morning of dancing - always good to build up an appetite beforehand.

Held once a month, The BackBench menu is especially created by the talented Chef Junya, utilizing the freshest ingredients in season. Limited to only five seats per seating, it enables him to present diners with exciting dishes that go beyond the Specials board. 
I didn't go for the sake flights, but I did start off with this sweet glass of Nanju Bijin "Ume Rose".



And now moving on to the food... 

| Ashed Overgrown Beetroot, Irizake and Red Shiso |

The beetroot was first grilled in charcoal, before being kept in ash overnight, resulting in the more intense flavours. The smokey flavours were complimented by the deep aroma of the irizake - some old-school seasoning made from cooked down sake and umeboshi (pickled plum).

 

| Mustard Spinach and Hazelnut | 

Here was a simple dish of mustard spinach topped by a lovely paste made from fresh hazelnuts. The hazelnuts weren't fully ground down and still had a bit of a nice, crunchy texture.


| Kombu Cured Mackerel |

Delicious fresh slices of mackerel topped with grated mandarin skin and served with a ginger soya sauce. The Cornish mackerel was cured in kombu, a type of edible kelp, which gave it a firmer and denser texture. 

 

| Venison Sashimi, Horseradish, Cook's Cabbage, Green Shiso and Nira Flower |

This was my first time trying venison sashimi, which had a light game-y flavour, and the grated horseradish gave it a bit of a spicy kick.
I ordered the sake pairing for this dish - Kamoizumi, Shusen "Three Dots" Junmai. It was served warm and had a lovely aroma of shiitake mushrooms with some earthy, woody tones - which went well with the venison and the mushroom rice after.


 

| Scottish Mushroom Rice and Egg Yolk |

Rice has always been a staple food for me since childhood, but because I don't really have it that often nowadays, a simple dish like this does excite me... The rice had a slight sticky texture and had absorbed all the delicious flavours of the mushrooms, topped with a brightly coloured egg yolk which was still nice and gooey on the inside.


| Cornish Mylor Prawn, Mallow and Fermented Tofu |

Cornish Mylor prawns cooked tempura style and a mallow leaf - both really light and crisp. On the side was a cube of tofu that had been fermented in koji and was really smooth and creamy, almost like a cheese-y texture.

 

| Red Mullet, Marrow, Turnip and Miyagawa Mandarin |

I got the head (!) which although had quite a few bones, was still really delicious with firm flaky textures. A pleasant dish with light, clean flavours.


| Pheasant, Negi and Manganji Miso |

The meat was perfectly cooked with a tender yet slight springy texture. Full of flavour and nicely complimented by the sweet and salty flavours of the manganji miso.

 

| Pheasant Soup and Alexander Udon |

Being a huge noodle (and carbs!) lover, the udon dish is always one of my favourite courses. Although there were no additional toppings in it today, the warming flavours and aroma of the pheasant soup was enough to tantalize my tastebuds.
And their handmade udon is still one of the best udon noodles that I have eaten so far.


| Kabocha Pumpkin and Stout |

A nice twist and interpretation of the creme brulee dessert version. A shiny and crunchy caramelized top which cracked open to reveal the smooth and creamy centre.

 

| Sake-Kasu Ice Cream and Bergamot |

And last but not least, the sake-kasu ice cream which has had a regular appearance on the menu since the first BackBench - I would know this since I have been to all of them so far...
But of course I would never get bored of it - I mean, who doesn't love ice cream AND alcohol?
For those of you who haven't tried it before, it is basically made from the lees left over from the sake production, which give it a nice, boozy punch.


And we have once again come to the end of another amazing BackBench experience.
I have been fortunate enough to have been able to attend every single one so far, but sad to say, I will be missing the next one in November as I will be away in Malaysia...
Which may be good news for one of you lucky ones who will be able to keep my seat warm for me!
The next one if on the 17th and 18th of November, so make sure you get those dates in the diary - I'm sure it will be as amazing as all the other ones. 

Thank you once again to Chef Junya and team Koya who have as usual done an excellent job. And a word of thanks to lovely Anna who helped send me replacement photos for the first three dishes after memory card reformatted itself and wiped out all my photos... you're a star x

For my previous BackBench posts, click on the links below:

The BackBench #1
The BackBench #2

The BackBench #3
The BackBench #4
The BackBench #5 
The BackBench #6

The Cheekster, signing out x




Saturday, 25 October 2014

THE AMETSA EXPERIENCE, THE HALKIN

Just a few months ago, I was fortunate enough to win the Ametsa Experience at Taste of London.
We really enjoyed our experience at Taste of London, but I was not really expecting the news which came as a pleasing little surprise email in my inbox a few weeks after.
We tried our luck in so many competitions that day, and this was a photo competition, so there was no doubt that I was going to take part in it. 
Everyone knows how much I love taking photos...

Anyway, I booked our stay about a month in advance, and as usual, brought along my best friend, WK. 



 



We checked in at The Halkin in the afternoon, and were warmly greeted at the reception desk, before being shown to our room for the night.
I must admit that it did feel a bit weird checking into a hotel in London, considering that we both already live in London. But nonetheless it was a nice little 'retreat' at the end of another work week.

 


 


 


After a bit of a lazy afternoon, it was finally time to get ready for dinner at Michelin-starred Ametsa with Arzak Instruction, the hotel's Basque restaurant.
And yes, taking selfies IS part of getting ready...



WK clearly still has much to learn.



Much better.

Ametsa's approach is described to be rooted in the traditions of 'New Basque Cuisine', pairing the earthy flavours and techniques of Spain's Basque region with modern twists, featuring locally-sourced and organic produce from land and sea.

We were given a brief explanation of the tasting menu, and then given a few moments to decide on our meat and fish dishes. There were about five different options from the meat and fish categories for us to choose from. After we had placed our orders, we were each handed an envelope of our personalized menus to keep, that was signed off by the Executive Head Chef, Sergi Sanz - which I thought, was a nice personal touch.

 


 

We started off with a selection of small snacks (aperitivos), which included a shot of tomato and strawberry gazpacho, kataifi with scorpion fishcake, cod truffle, sunflower seed cracker with black pudding, and a parsley meringue with duck.
We both enjoyed them, and I particularly liked the cod truffle, and the kataifi which was really light and crisp.


 

| Trufa Negra de Bacalao |
- Cod Truffle -


| Galleta de Pipas de Girasol con Morcilla |
- Sunflower Seed Cracker with Black Pudding -

 

| Merengue de Perejil con Pato |
- Parsley Meringue with Duck -


Our meal came with wine pairings, which included five glasses of wine specially selected by Ametsa's sommelier. The first was Manzanilla La Cigarrera which is a Manzanilla ("Sherry") wine made from 100% Palomino fino grapes.



Moving on to our starters (entrantes), the first was "Scallops at Home" - probably one of the biggest and juiciest scallops that I have eaten so far. On the side was a sponge which I think was made from seaweed (?), and the little shells were actually crab meat in disguise - I thought the whole dish was really cute. And delicious as well, of course.
The second was "Lobster on a Bed of Lichens" - the lobster had a nice texture with delicate sweet flavours. A bit of a hide 'n' seek game going on here...
And the third was "Egg with Chistorra and Crumbs" - the egg was poached with a nice, runny centre, served with Chistorra, a Basque-style cooking sausage traditionally served with eggs.
 
| Vieiras con Rocas de Cebolla |
- Scallops at Home -

 

| Bogavante y Liquenes | 
- Lobster on a Bed of Lichens -




| Flor de Huevo con Migas y Chistorra |
- Egg with "Chistorra" and Crumbs -







For our fish dishes, I ordered the turbot, whilst WK had the sea bass. I liked my turbot which was moist with a slightly firm texture. Nothing over-complicated, and I liked the little colourful bean shapes and garnish.

| Rogaballo con Alubias |
- Turbot with Beans -



| Lubina con...Apio? |
- Sea Bass with Celery Illusion -





For meat, I ordered the grouse, as I do love a bit of game every now and then. The meat was still quite pink and rare, and was juicy and tender. WK had the suckling pig - a nice, thick piece of meat with a crisp skin.

| Perdiz Escocesa con Mousse de Orejones y Uchuvas |
- Grouse with Dry Apricot Mousse and Golden Berries -



| Cochinillo Sobre Migas de Algarroba |
- Suckling Pig on Carob Crumbs -







Our first dessert was pretty stunning, where we were each given a bowl of mead which the waiter then dropped some red liquid into it, forming a snowflake-like design. We could then mix everything together and start tucking into our sweet desserts. I didn't really want to ruin the pretty design, but it was very tasty.
The second was the same dessert that was served at Taste of London - the main attraction that drew me to the Ametsa stand and led to me participating in the photo competition! And yes, we did enjoy it as much as the first time we had it.
Oh, such happy memories...

| Fractal de Hidromiel |
- Mead Fractal -









| Leche "Tostada" con Helado de Pina Asada |
- Clove Custard, Toasted Milk and Pineapple Ice Cream -





And some cute petit fours to finish off...



 Service was really smooth and efficient, and all the waiters were really lovely and attentive.
Sad that our lovely dinner experience had come to an end, but I was also looking forward to getting a good night's rest - no need to go rushing for the tube home that evening!

The next morning, we went down to have our complimentary breakfast in the some room, but this time more brightly lit in the daytime.
A simple, pleasant and satisfying breakfast before we checked out of the hotel. 













Overall, the entire experience has been really wonderful and memorable - somewhere that I would recommend if you were looking for a little treat for yourself.

Thank you to Ametsa and The Halkin for the lovely experience and opportunity, and I look forward to returning to dine with you again soon.

The Cheekster, signing out x