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Small Plates

Blog, Eat, London

Bao, Fitzrovia & Soho

August 19, 2016
Bao, Fitzrovia

Funny how little pillowy white buns can be talked about (and Instagrammed) so much.  But these ‘bao’ (Taiwanese steamed buns) are no ordinary buns.  Perhaps you only understand the hype once you’ve been, which means fully dedicating yourself to ‘the queue’.  Which is always substantial, and always a guaranteed long wait, because the Lexington Street Bao is tiny.  Except now, with Bao’s second opening in Fitzrovia, which offers a much larger space (this is all relative of course), the queues are also much more manageable.  Or maybe I got lucky, as I only queued about 15 mins (on a Wednesday evening at 7pm).

The flagship Bao opened last year to rave reviews (though they still have a permanent stall at Netil Market), and while desperate to go, my few attempts were immediately aborted having seen a row of people snake around the corner with no end in sight.  I’m impatient, and while I’m always willing to wait for food which is clearly off the charts delicious, there are limits.  The 15 minute Fitzrovia wait was more than manageable, and I was very surprised as we were ushered in so quickly (yes, I felt quite smug).  My speedy entrance made the food taste even better.

Bao, FitzroviaBao, Fitzrovia

The three of us ordered a good section of the menu, and only left things like duck hearts which pushes the boat out a little too far for me.  But we did dare try the crispy prawn heads (which were indeed crispy, and tasty), and the raw langoustines (which were very slippery, but also delicious).  We opted for two bao each, the classic of course (pulled pork, heaven in a mouthful) and then the black cod for Steph and the lamb for Emily and I. They were both delightful – but I can totally see how the Black Cod has become one of their most popular dishes (it’s photogenic too).  Apart from that the sweet corn dish with surprisingly good, I loved their aubergine and rice (too moorish for words) and their octopus was succulent and fiery.  It was all really really good.

Bao, Fitzrovia

The service was excellent, friendly, quick, helpful.  The (Austrian) house wine surprisingly fine (though the tiny glasses do add up price wise).  And the décor, simple with clean lines, is given the food you’re eating.

I’m going back, though unfortunately I know I won’t be the only one.

Bao Fitzrovia

31 Windmill St,

London W1T 2JN

Photo credit: Bao

Blog, Drink, Eat, London

Molé Taco Bar, Marylebone

September 20, 2015
Mole Taco Bar

Avocados: are they the most popular superfood of our time?  It’s certainly the most instagrammed food (I know, I’m guilty too). Though some instagram post are actually very cute (see below).

Avocado-cartoon

Guacamole is – in my opinion – avocado at its best.  I love the sharpness of the lemon (or lime?), the heat of the chilli, the freshness of the coriander.  Those ingredients mixed in with creamy avocado and that’s one hell of a dip.

So when I heard a Taco Bar carrying the name Molé had just opened, I had to go check it out.  Plus, it’s in Marylebone, which I love.  Ideal to couple with a few pre-drinks at Matt Whiley’s new Showdown cocktail bar under the Lockhart (10 minute walk away).

It’s hard to miss the theme.  You’ll find Frida Kahlo and day of the dead sugar skulls painted on the walls, bright coloured chairs, tequila a big presence at the bar.  And you may well find yourself practically sitting on your neighbours lap, Soho-style.  So it’s perhaps not my interior of choice, but hey, it fits with the food.  Which is excellent by the way.  And we tried quite a lot on the menu.

Mole Taco Bar, MaryleboneMole Taco Bar, MaryleboneMole Taco Bar, Marylebone

To start we had the guacamole with nachos (obviously).  Then the baby squid, black ash salt and Serrano cream.  From the Raw Bar we opted for the black ceviche mixto, octopus, sea bass, mussels and avocado – purely because neither of us had had black ceviche before (it was interesting, but not better than the usual sea bass ceviche).  From the taco menu I went for the Chipotle beef shortrib with sweet potato hay, radish, jalapeno, and Logan for the Baja fish taco, as our waiter recommended it.   The fish taco was surprisingly excellent, and I could eat my shortrib taco for days on end and not tire of it.  We both loved the squid too.

Mole Taco Bar, Marylebone

And the guac? Final verdict was that it was actually a little too bland for our liking, I liked the texture but it missed a bit more oomph.

Drinks wise, apparently they have offer some amazing cocktails, so it worth just coming in for a drink at the bar and a small plate (and I must say I like the sound of the Guava Pisco Sour).  But as I’m trying to cut down on my sugar intake (close to impossible as a greedy blogger), and actually much prefer wine, we opted for a bottle of their house red.  Which, at £19, was very drinkable.

Mole Taco Bar, Marylebone

And the beauty of this place is that our bill came to £30 per person.  That’s rare in Marylebone.  Plus the food is light enough for you not to want to roll home in a food coma, so we actually continued our night by having more wine at Foxcroft and Ginger (need to go here for brunch, the menu looks so good) and then Imli Street for more.  Needless to say, the next morning was a little blurry, but it was utterly worth it.

Molé Taco Bar

16 Picton Place

London W1U 1BP

020 7486 1995 – yes you can book a table

Photos their own

Blog

40 Maltby Street, Bermondsey

August 2, 2015
40 Maltby Street Market, Bermondsey

It’s rare to come across a wine bar which is known for its food as much as for its wine.  I’ve read a number of articles over the past year or so where London chefs are asked what their favourite London restaurants are.  Answers were invariably some of London’s more expensive establishments, like Fera (at Claridges) or Berner’s Tavern, but also places like Lyle’s (need to go) and the Palomar (one of my personal favourites).  But I also kept reading about 40 Maltby Street.  An understated little hidden gem of a wine bar, tucked away in one of my favourite markets – Maltby Street Market.

Side note – if you have not been to Malby Street Market then go; it’s a smaller, cosier, cheaper and more local version of Borough Market, which you’ll find under the railway arches in the backstreets of Southwark.

So what’s the deal?  40 Maltby Street is located in the warehouse of wine merchants Gergovie Wines (who sell wine made without chemicals).  They’re open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings from 5:30pm, and all day during the weekend.  You can buy wine here to take home, or you can have a drink here and order some of their small plates.  Which I recommend.  The menu changes every week, and they say they take as much care making their food, as the wine makers do making their wine.  This is certainly evident.  Everything from their zucchini fritters (best I’ve had outside Italy) to creamy duck terrine on sourdough toast.  Even their cheese boards are a delicious selection of British cheeses, mature cheddars and cheeses I’d never heard of.

40 Maltby Street Market, Bermondsey

On the wine front, they focus mainly on Italian and French wines, and this is really your chance to experiment with wines you wouldn’t normally go for.  The staff are incredibly knowledgeable, recommending wines which might suit your tastes, but they are clearly just as proud of their food.

If you’re lucky, grab one of their little tables outside, or else grab a stool and sip your wine at a table/crate.  It get’s pretty busy on a Friday evening, so go early, or head here for a laid back lunch on Saturday.

40 Maltby Street
London
SE1 3PA

020 7237 9247

Blog, Eat, London

Taberna do Mercado, Spitalfields

July 28, 2015
Taberna do Mercado, Spitalfields

As soon as I heard Nuno Mendes was opening his own restaurant I emailed to book a table during the soft launch week.  Clearly with the rest of London.  So no table for me, as I was very much not the only one who had read and heard so much about this famous Portuguese chef.

For those of you perhaps not as food-obsessed as I am – Nuno Mendes is head chef at Chiltern Firehouse, has an adorable beard (and a very kind face) and cooks seriously good food.  And then he opened a down to earth, accessible to all, Portuguese restaurant in Spitalfields Market.  Just like that.  And the best news is that you can book a table for lunch OR choose to queue for a table for dinner.  So there is none of that ridiculous exclusivity of Chiltern Firehouse.

Taberna do Mercado, Spitalfields

Taberna do Mercado, Spitalfields

I booked lunch a month in advance (which is unnecessary actually, but definitely do book).  My one possible criticism is that it’s in Spitalfields, which I feel has become a bit like Kingly Court – almost like a food court with restaurants which once were Soho pop ups and are now semi-chains.  And while a lot of them tend to be good (like Blixen – not a chain), I think they lose a bit of their identity all being so on top of each other.

That’s where the criticism ends.  The food is incredible.  Most items on the menu are unlike anything I saw on any menu while I was in Lisbon.  And that’s why I liked it.   It’s all small plates, so you can try lots on the menu.  Though it’s all quite filling, so don’t be greedy like we were, and then not finish the pea dish we had quite forgotten about.

Taberna do Mercado, Spitalfields

While ‘House tinned fish’ might not sound so appealing, and reminds me of canned tuna you buy in Tesco  – you definitely have to go for one of the options (I would recommend the Monkfish and fennel).  Possibly as far as you get from canned tuna (and the sourdough bread is really good too)!  The Alheira (sausage) with spring tomato and watercress was refreshing and different.  Also, definitely go for the Runner Bean fritters, for £3, delicious and nicely filling.

Taberna do Mercado, SpitalfieldsOne of our favourites was the Pork bifana, with yeast mayo and fennel.  A ‘sandwich’ with a twist.   It doesn’t look so appealing, but that’s irrelevant.

Taberna do Mercado, Spitalfields

But the real highlight was being served by the man himself.  Yes, Nuno is modest too, and serves his customers himself (as well as cooks).  Obviously I had to get a photo with him.  So make sure you head over soon to gets yours yoo, and enjoy the food while you’re at it.

Nuno Mendes at Taberna do Mercado

Taberna do Mercado

Old Spitalfields Market

107b Commercial Street, E1

Photos are either Taberna do Mercado’s own, or from my Instagram account.

Blog, Eat, London

Morito, Clerkenwell

July 8, 2015
Morito, Clerkenwell

I know I just wrote a rave review about one of my new favourite London tapas bars Barrafina, however those of you who have not heard of, or been to, Morito will be glad I’m sharing this with you today.

While the similarities to Barrafina are as such: they serve Spanish tapas, it’s bloody good and you can’t book, that’s really where the likeness ends.

Morito is a bit more low key.  The interiors are a little dishevelled, a touch rustic, nothing flash.  You come here for the tapas and for it’s location.  It’s slap bang in the middle of Exmouth Market (those of you who read City Turtle will know I’m a little obsessed).  If you’re lucky, you can even grab a table outside and soak up the buzzing vibe of this charming area.

Morito, Clerkenwell

It’s the little sister of it’s much respected neighbour Moro, a more sophisticated restaurant which serves Moorish food and is as adored as Morito (though with a higher price tag I might add).

The tapas is delicious.  But the portions are small, while the prices are not.  Still, if you compare it to other London restaurants (Barrafina, dare I say it), it isn’t ridiculous.  I’d probably come here for a glass of wine and some pre-dinner bites rather than for a full on dinner.  Because if you’re like me and you eat a lot, then you can rake up quite a bill.

Favourite?  I’m a sucker for lamb, and the spiced lamb, aubergine, yoghurt and pine nuts was heavenly (as were the lamb chops, come to think of it).  The salt cod croquettes were also fantastic, and not something I would usually have gone for.  But I’m so glad we did.    Another favourite was the crispy aubergine, whipped feta & date molasses.  I love the North African influences, which spice it up a bit (literally).

Morito, Clerkenwell

Dislikes?  They serve the wine (house wine commendable, and at £17 a bottle well priced) in tumblers, not wine glasses.  They also serve the (copious amounts of) Espresso Martinis we ordered after dinner in said glasses.  I know it probably doesn’t, but in my mind it takes away from the taste and the experience of the drink.

But apart from that I can’t complain.  It can get busy and crowded, but you can leave your number and they’ll call you when there’s space (just like they do at my favourite Palomar).  And this place is most definitely worth the wait.

Morito

32 Exmouth Market

London EC1R 4QE

Photos Morito’s own, and the Instagram one mine.

Blog, Eat, London

Balls & Company, Soho

July 3, 2015

London loves a themed restaurant. Whether it be hot dogs or lobster, circus or sex shop, the appeal is there.  As of last week it’s time to make some space for a new theme: Balls.  Meatballs to be correct, though not your usual cheap beef mince ones.  And actually not necessarily meat at all.

The Australian chef Bonnie Porter has set up shop on the wonderful Greek Street, where every restaurant you pass is (or should be) on your ‘must go’ list (Bo Drake/10 Greek Street/Bibimbap).  Unsurprisingly it’s a small space, though there is an (even smaller) downstairs with a cute bar.

Balls & Company, Soho

The menu is straight forward: you have a choice of five types of balls (£8 for four), which come with five different sauces, served in pretty copper pans.  There are the delicious confit salmon balls with dill, or the quinoa, beetroot and feta balls (yup – meat free). Or there are the pork, romanesco & aioli balls (my fave). And for those who like their meatballs as close as possible to the original, there are the (far superior to normal) Wagyu beef balls. Something for everyone: from the veggie to the health-focused to the meat lover.

The sauces apparently can go with any of the balls. We still found it a touch tricky choosing which went with what. The tomato is a safe bet with all of them, I thought the pesto went well with the salmon (David disagreed), the Romanesco sauce is a match made in heaven with the pork meatballs.

Balls & Company, Soho

Sides are thick cut chips, or salad or mash. But really if you go for the quinoa with a more meaty option you don’t really need sides. The meatballs and sauce alone are really filling.

And then you have desert, which I never skip. David, being a Latino, insisted on the Tres Leche, which I would never have chosen (purely due to my ignorance) and it was the best thing ever (see photo below).  I went for the chocolate brownie, which sounds boring but it wasn’t as it was topped with icecream and candy floss.  Lots of different flavours and textures and the whole thing was a massive treat.

Balls & Company, Soho

Prices are super reasonable, even without the 50% off food for their soft launch (which was last week).  A glass of their Nero D’Avola is £4 and they are fairly big glasses.  Their Macchiatos were also delicious.

I’m pretty sure this is going to be a success story, and you’ll certainly have a ball of a time there (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Balls & Company

58 Greek Street Soho London W1D 3DY

Photos are Balls & Company’s and the Instagram one is mine.

Blog, Eat, London

Barrafina, Covent Garden

June 29, 2015
Barrafina, Adelaide Street

Many friends were outraged when I – a food blogger no less! – admitted to not having been to Barrafina.  A Spanish tapas bar that, for some reason, seems to get people passionate, to demand some sort of loyalty.   And so I, unsure at first, then a lot more willingly (having read the menu), found myself going with a group of girlfriends.

It all started badly.  I ended up at the ‘original’ tapas bar at Frith Street, only to find out that the organiser of the evening (and Barrafina-obsessive) was waiting for the rest of us at the new Covent Garden one, on Adelaide Street (which opened at the beginning of the year).  And that we’d lost our space at the bar which she’d waited an hour for.

Barrafina, Adelaide Street

Barrafina, Adelaide Street

But things went up hill from here, because, having wrangled some seats at the bar, the food arrived.  And instantly you know why it is such a raved about place.  The tapas menu, for one, isn’t your standard oily chorizo and soggy patatas bravas  which has often (and unfairly) put me off Spanish food altogether.  It’s diverse, at times unusual (bordering on ‘pretty out there’ – i.e. the brain/tongue/kidney options) and always interesting.  Make sure you ask for their specials, because in this place they live up to their name.

Their stuffed zucchini flower is a must, their Chicken wings in Mojo Picon finger-lickingly good.  And we argued over who got the last of the Iberian Pork Ribs.

Barrafina, Adelaide Street

While I cursed the bar for not suiting our seating arrangements (sitting four in a row does not lend itself to good group conversation), I so adore an open kitchen.  And here you really get to see the chefs in action.  And observe how on earth they make food taste so good, while doing it so quickly.  I loved watching how they presented the food so artfully, even if it meant serious food envy as mouth-watering plates I failed to order were served to neighbours.

So I join the gang of loyalists (though my blog on Morito – a rival tapas bar – will be up soon).  Because the tapas here is really good.  And even if you can’t book, it is most definitely worth queueing up for.  But just come with one date, not three.  It just makes life (and conversation) easier.

Oh and I nearly forgot to mention the donuts.  Do not leave without trying the donuts dipped in chocolate sauce.

Barrafina

10 Adelaide Street

Photos by Paul Winch-Furness.  And the Instagram one mine.

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