Tuesday, 15 April 2014

THE BACKBENCH, KOYA

Celebrating its 4th year anniversary since it opened in 2010, Koya is undoubtedly still one of the best places in London for comforting Japanese food.
After failing to get an evening reservation, I opted instead for the afternoon sitting at 1.30pm. Having rushed after finishing my dance class, I arrived slightly flushed and earlier than I expected. I was the first guest to arrive and perched myself at the end of the back bench, in front of the open kitchen.


 

When all the other guests arrived, Chef Junya Yamasaki gave us a short introduction of the concept behind starting The BackBench - the opportunity to go further than their blackboard to bring a Koya-style tasting menu.
And then it was finally time to eat...

  
| Fresh Kombu & Bramley Ponzu |

Kombu is an edible kelp or seaweed commonly used to flavour Japanese soups, noodle broths and stocks (dashi). Served in a shot glass, it had a refreshingly sour taste from the ponzu, a citrus-based sauce, which was a nice start to our Koya tasting experience.

 

| Jellied Eel, Wild herbs & Miso Soup |

Fusing Japanese cuisine with a traditional English dish - jellied eel consists of chopped eels boiled in a spiced stock, which is then allowed to cool and set that forms the jelly, and usually eaten cold. This was topped with delicate pieces of edible wild herbs. The broth was so delicious that I couldn't resist from tipping all my rice into the bowl to soak up all the goodness. 
And washed it all down with a warming bowl of miso soup.


 

| Sansai Tempura |

Different from the usual prawn and vegetable tempura that I have eaten, this dish used sansai, which refers to wild greens/vegetables which are gathered for eating. 
A couple of them had an intriguing sour flavour to it. The leaves were nice and crunchy, just like eating crisps, but better.
Not too greasy and a really great dish that I would be happy to snack on any day.

I don't usually drink in the afternoon, nor do I drink much sake, but I decided to order just one cheeky glass - Miyasaka Masumi "Arabashiri" First Run. 
A seasonal sake made in spring, it had wonderful pure and fruity flavours with sweet and vibrant notes - I know what I'll be ordering from the sake list next time.




| Scottish Seaweeds, Pot Roasted New Jersey Royals, Wasabi & Butter |

Served in a huge pot, it was quite fun digging through the salt, hunting for those hot, steaming potatoes. After shaking off the salt, we dipped them into our bowls of melted butter, with a tiny hint of wasabi on the side.
I was tempted to eat the seaweed, but then I would have probably ended up with a mouthful of salt.

 


 

| Soft-Boiled Egg & Nettle |

There were two separate egg and chicken dishes, and the egg dish was served first - I guess that solves the chicken and egg question?
A lovely soft egg centre, and the nettle was really thin and crisp.


| Grilled Chicken & Calçot |

This was one of my favourite dishes. Grilled over low charcoal heat, the chicken meat was so juicy and tender, with a slight smokey flavour. Served with some sichimi on the side, this may be one of the tastiest chicken dishes that I have had in a while.

 

| Braised Boar, Burdock & Parsnips |

I've had my share of pork belly throughout the years, but not very often had a wild boar version. I don't usually eat the fatty layers, but I cleaned every bit off this dish - the meat was soft and tender and the fatty layers had a firmer texture than what I was expecting, which was tasty. The burdock, another wild and edible, nutritious plant, and the parsnip were also well-cooked. All of them marinated in a delicious sweet-flavoured sauce.


| Eel & Ramson Udon |

And of course we couldn't have missed out on their handmade udon noodles in their light and warming soups. This was topped with a tantalizing piece of eel. Instead of being heavily marinated in teriyaki sauce like other places where I've tried unagi dishes, this was grilled, which enabled us to have a better appreciation of the clean flavours of the meat. Eel meat is generally quite rich due to its high fat content, but when cooked slowly the fat can be drained out, producing a beautifully prepared dish such as this.

 

| Otsukemono |

Like the kimchi in Korean cuisine, the Japanese have their own version of pickled vegetables called Otsukemono (漬物, tsukemono). Japanese pickles play an important part in the Japanese diet - commonly used as a garnish, relish, condiment, or such as in this case, a palate cleanser.


| Botamochi & Innes Brick |

And finally our last course of the meal, dessert!
Botamochi (ぼたもち or 牡丹餅), named after the spring flower, botan, and are traditionally made during the spring higan. It is a Japanese sweet made with sweet rice and sweet azuki/red bean paste. I do love red bean, and I enjoyed the sweet flavours, paired with the smooth and tangy flavour of the cheese.
And we were also served a nice tipple of sake to wash it all down, and a pot of green tea after as well.

 



And not forgetting one for the scrapbook...thank you Chef Junya!




A really enjoyable and intimate dining experience, and definitely worth trying if you get the opportunity. 
Their next date is Monday 19th May, which I believe will be just as amazing as this one.

The Cheekster, signing out x

Square Meal

Sunday, 13 April 2014

PLUM + SPILT MILK, GREAT NORTHERN HOTEL, LONDON

After another long week, we started off the weekend with a lovely lunch at Plum + Spilt Milk at the Great Northern Hotel, Kings Cross St Pancras Station.
Taking the elevator up to the first floor, we entered the bright and classy dining area, with beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows and stylish hand-blown glass light bulbs hanging from the ceiling.

 




 

A cup of coffee is always a good start to the day...


Angela's fruity mocktail...

 

| Prawn Cocktail |

I decided to go retro with my starter selection. It has been a while since I had a prawn cocktail - fresh and crisp sweet shredded lettuce with juicy prawns, and covered in creamy cocktail sauce.


| Bubble & squeak, woodland mushrooms, poached egg |

 This was originally from the vegetarian mains section, but they kindly made an exception for Angela's request to have it as a starter size - really kind of them!
As much as I love my meat, I would happily have this as a main next time.

 

| Prawn & pumpkin curry, pilaf rice |

The prawns were really fresh and juicy, and the curry indulgently rich and creamy.
It definitely tasted as good as it looked.


| Steak tartare with fries & salad |

Knowing me and my obsessive love for tartare, I ordered this as my main. The pieces of steak were slightly chunkier than what I've had in the past, but nonetheless, deliciously good quality meat. 

 


| Iced peanut and salted caramel mousse |

This was undoubtedly my favourite part of the meal. Served with a jug of warm caramel sauce which we drizzled generously, every mouthful was melt-in-your-mouth goodness. 
I seem to have recently developed a love for all things peanut butter related. It kind of brings back my childhood memories of licking peanut butter off the spoon - topped with a sprinkle of sugar, for that extra sugar rush!

 


A pleasant meal, and a very relaxed and elegant atmosphere - classy yet unpretentious. Looking forward to going back soon to try out the brunch menu.

The Cheekster, signing off x


Sunday, 6 April 2014

POLPETTO, 11 BERWICK STREET, LONDON W1F 0PL

Originally established in 2010 on Dean Street, Polpetto, has made a comeback after a two closure, in its now larger premises on Berwick Street.
Polpetto is a bàcaro - a Venetian word to describe a humble restaurant serving simple food, and good, young local wines. 
We arrived early on a Saturday evening to avoid the crowds, and were comfortably seated in our cosy little cubicle at the back of the restaurant. 
The place is low lit, with quaint bar tables lined at the front along the side at the bar area, and dining tables along the back.

 

As always, we asked the waitress for some recommendations from the menu, and ordered a few small plates to share.
I wasn't particularly very hungry, after a late lunch and a whole afternoon of nibbling, so this was ideal.


| Negroni Sbagliato |

They served both the standard negroni, as well as the lesser known version on the cocktail menu - the Negroni Sbagliato.
Sbagliato means "messed up" or "mistaken" in Italian, hence Negroni Sbagliato is said to be the result of an accident by the bartender who mistakenly used sparkling wine (eg. prosecco) instead of gin in Negroni. Being a fan of prosecco and all things sparkly/bubbly, I was curious to try it - the taste was more subtle, and needless to say, I really liked it.


 

| Beef shin strozzapreti |

Delicious pieces of beef served on strozzapreti, which are an elongated form of hand rolled pasta.
This was my first time trying this variation of pasta, which intriguingly enough means "prieststranglers" or "priestchokers" in Italian (!)
Apparently, when strozzapreti was first invented, they were first served to the priests, who found them so good that they devoured them so quickly that they choked.
Probably also resulting in some cases of indigestion - Gaviscon probably wasn't even invented then...

 

| Clams, wild garlic, creme fraiche |

Clams served in a lovely creamy sauce.

 

| Raw spinach, mustard, orange |

Refreshing with a nice sweetness from the oranges.


| Kid & broad beans |

The meat was really soft and tender - my favourite dish of the evening.

 

| Fried pecorino & honey |

The name sounded really really familiar, but I just couldn't put my finger on it at that time...
But when it was served, I then remembered that it was similar to the Seadas served at the Back Door Kitchen's Sardinian supperclub last year - and how much I loved it!
Not sure if the origins are the same, but I would be happy to have any type of version.
I only wished that there was more to devour...


Overall, a simple and pleasant meal - casual and relaxed ambience, delicious Italian-inspired food, and prompt service.

Address: 11 Berwick Street, London W1F 0PL
Tel. No.: 020 7439 8627
Opening hours: 12:00-23:00 (Mon - Sat) ; 12:00-16:00 (Sun & Bank Holidays)

Square Meal

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

BIG EASY, COVENT GARDEN, LONDON

After another invigorating morning of dancing, I was really looking forward to getting my lobster fix at Big Easy in Covent Garden.
The original Big Easy located on Kings Road was opened 22 years ago, inspired by the 19th century crab shacks and Bar.B.Q. of the American Gulf Coast.
With its new second home in Covent Garden that opened in February, it has become more easily accessible to those yearning for more of London's American dining scene.

 


Formerly an electrical power station built in 1883, the restaurant which measure 10,000 sq ft and set over 3 floors has retained much of the original building aesthetics.

 

We started off with some drinks at the bar, and a rather impressive bar it was...
Stretching over 9 metres in length and boasting over 500 bottles!
There are also purpose built cocktail machines that dispense frozen slushies and other cocktails.




I've always wondered how they remember where the different bottles of spirits are located.
Then again, it's probably the same way I can remember where each drug is located in the pharmacy!

| Old Fashioned |


'X-rated shakes'...mmm...




 



The menu is based around Bar.B.Q. pork and beef cuts rare breed British steaks and fresh local seafood.
We all opted for different individual lobster dish options.
Their lobsters are sourced from the icy waters of Nova Scotia, which are flown in 3 times a week, with this branch housing more than 2000 live lobsters.

Each of us were handed a plastic bib - knowing me, things were definitely going to get messy...

| Lobster Fest |
- Whole fresh lobster served with fries, house salad & a free slushie cocktail or ice cold 'Big Easy Brew' (ale or lager) -

Compared to Burger & Lobster, this sounds like a better deal considering you get a drink included as well, all for the price of £20.


| Lobster Salad |

 

| Lobster Bake |
- From their Wood Burning Oven: Half 1.5 lb lobster, peel 'n' eat jumbo shrimp, mussels, crab claws & new potatoes, hot 'n' spicy or garlic white wine sauce -

This was my dish...and I didn't hesitate to get down and dirty with my hands as I wrestled each and every part to get some juicy meat!
Both my hands were smothered in juices as I used the lobster claw cracker and pick to extract the meat from those hard-to-get places - I felt like one of those chimpanzees fishing for ants and termites with their sticks.
I think I also had some sauce dribble down my chin in between, and my bib was as messy as that of a one year old child... - definitely not somewhere I'd bring a first date!
Or any date for that matter. Unless it was their ...'thing'...
Okay, that sounds a bit gross now that my mind has started to process it, I'm going to stop that thought now.

Just LOOK at that plate...


 


 


And even better...everything that we had was 50% off! (excluding the drinks at the bar)
Which meant that my Lobster Bake came up to less than a tenner - BARGAIN!
For those interested to grab this offer, you have until 17th April to book a table by telephone and quoting the newsletter. 
The offer is apparently available from Monday to Friday between 12noon to 6pm, and Sundays after 6pm - but always best to double check.
I probably still need some time to recover from yesterday, but I'd be happy to go back.

Besides serving great food, they also have live music playing 7 nights a week, with 2 or 3 sets nightly, for those who are into the music scene.

Address: 12 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7NA
Tel. No.:  0203 728 4888
Opening hours: 12:00-23:00 (Mon - Sat) ; 12:00-22:30 (Sun)

The Cheekster, signing out x

Square Meal