Hungry Like the Wolf @ London’s Bocca di Lupo

Slowly but surely, after numerous trips to London, I am building up my “Must-Eat” list of places to dine when I am in this wonderful city. A melting pot of different cuisines, with a plethora of choice from cheap and cheerful to luxurious and extravagant, London’s food scene is tongue-titillatingly exciting! What I find lacking in Hong Kong are the mid-range priced restaurants that serve GOOD food, unlike so many establishments where a HK$400 spend will get you:

a) a glass of wine and a portion of two wonderfully delicious yet overly priced foie gras mini-burgers

or

b) a glass of wine, a plate of nachos and a superbly mediocre burger.

Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a little bit, and I don’t mean to knock my own city. You all know that I eat out a lot in Hong Kong, and that I enjoy a lot of what I eat. In fact, if you care to participate in this debate, I challenge and invite you to comment on this post!  Let me know your favorite meals in Hong Kong in the $400 per person range (and that’s including a glass of tipple), restaurants that surprised you the first time you went, and that consistently serve fresh, tasty and (most importantly) thoughtful food. I will one day write a post about this topic, but for now will keep my list to myself.

As always, I digress.

A warm and welcoming, and unassuming restaurant, located on a quiet street off the bustling Shaftsbury Avenue

A warm, welcoming, and unassuming restaurant, located on a quiet street off the bustling Shaftsbury Avenue

One of my new London favorites is now Bocca di Lupo (i.e. the mouth of the wolf), just a hop, skip and a jump away from Picadilly Station and Leicester Square Station. No need for Scottie to beam you up to Italy, you can just take the London Underground!

BDL was opened in 2008 by Jacob Kenedy, an academic turned chef who approaches his food in an informed way. The dishes can be sampled in small and large plates, allowing diners to design their dinner experience.  Each item on the menu is classified by the region in Italy that it originates from, and other dishes are creations of the chef.

At the time of my visit, their menu featured a B.Y.O TRUFFLES OPTION! Forget “V” for vegetarian, dishes marked with a “T” are recommended as ideal to have with truffles, which you can buy at Gelapo across the street.  Genius.

All of this technical stuff aside, the food is simple, honest, fresh and so gosh-darn tasty – your appetite becomes like that of the wolf. You want to devour everything. I went to BDL twice during my 2 weeks trip to London, and I am nowhere near satiated.

DSC00841

Watching the chef’s at work in their small open kitchen, from our chef’s counter bar seats

From the Crudi e Salumi section, we ordered a selection of seafood carpaccio. I am a big fan of sashimi sweet prawns, and those Mediterranean red prawns are as sweet as you can find them. The burrata came next, a creamy ball of goodness, smothered in olive oil and bursting over a bed of grilled vegetables – adding fresh mint instead of basil was an interesting touch. After this came the rose veal tartare, a delicate and flavorful meat that wasn’t seasoned like a  normal tartare, and didn’t really need to be.

DSC00808

Crudità di mare – raw red prawns, sea bream & scallop carpaccio. GBP 14

DSC00813

Burrata with marinated grilled aubergines, tomato, chilli & mint. GBP 9.50

DSC00814

Battuto – rose veal tartare with a little oil & little else. GBP 9

We skipped the Fritti section and went straight onto Paste & Risotti. The venison and the wild boar ragús were rich and filling, with clean and crips flavours. By this point in the meal, we were getting pretty stuffed. It was the first time I had tried gnudi – (pronounced “nu-dee”), a type of gnocci made with ricotta and flour which that hails from Tuscany. They were light and fluffy, and a great match with the ragú.

DSC00815

(Uncertain) Chifferi with venison ragú GBP 8 – although the pasta isn’t ‘olive leaf shaped’

DSC00816

Sheeps Ricotta Gnudi with Lamb Ragu GBP 10

The star of the show for me, the dish that really blew my mind, was the Lobster Spaghettini! This is the stuff of pasta wet dreams – a succulent Scottish lobster, teeming with roe and cholesterol-y goodness, with a punch of chili, a scent of ginger, and topped with fat mussels. The ginger was really the most interesting addition to this dish – it perfumed the pasta and gave a hint of ginger flavour that was just right.

Spaghettini with 1/2 lobster, mussels & ginger (Large) GBP 25

Spaghettini with 1/2 lobster, mussels & ginger (Large) GBP 25

Continue reading

Advertisements

Hakkasan Hanway Place

Apparently, there is a lot of hoohah involved when it comes to booking a large table at a decent restaurant in London. We had a big reunion dinner at Hakkasan Hanway Place, with some of my university friends, and some old friends who had moved over to London from Asia, as well as PB, who came in on the Eurostar for one day of fun in the big smoke. It was a fun group, and Hakkasan is a cool place to have a good meal and a good time.

The last time I visited Hakkasan, it was to their Mayfair branch, which I feel has a much cooler vibe with it’s trendy bar upstairs, packed with beautiful people, bankers and one guy who was so snobby and full of himself that we (two girls) didn’t know whether or not to take him seriously or to laugh out loud.

Hakkasan Hanway Place is the original of the two Hakkasan restaurants in London. After descending into the dark and vibey restaurant via a black, scented staircase, you’re greeted at the bottom by the welcoming and well-dressed staff. From the entrance it looks quite swanky, but once you enter the dining room, it almost has a canteen feel to it. The décor hasn’t changed since it’s opening in 2001, and it is looking rather dated.

We were offered a selection of set-price ‘Signature Menus’, a must for large parties. The reservation (and the menus) had to be confirmed at least 48 hours in advance, and any cancellations after this time would be subject to a £40 charge! We went for the £60 menu, featuring dim sum, main dishes and dessert. It was actually a huge amount of food, and I felt bad that quite a bit of it was wasted – I certainly ate my fill!

The dim sum selection featured your usual har gau, scallop siu mai and two different from your average dim sum options, a Chinese Chive Dumpling and Shimeji (mushroom) Dumpling.

IMG_5533

Dm Sum Selection

Also under the ‘small eats’ section were the Jasmine tea-smoked organic pork spareribs. The sauce was okay but the spare ribs were not tender and didn’t have much meat on them. The rack was served whole and then sliced messily and rather unceremoniously at the table.

IMG_5535

Jasmine Tea-Smoked Organic Pork Spare Ribs

The stir-fried black pepper rib eye beef with merlot was the best thing on the menu, tasty, tender cubes of high quality beef in a black pepper sauce, which was subtle and wonderful. I was popping piece after piece into my mouth far after reaching capacity!

IMG_5541

Stir-fried Black Pepper Rib Eye Beef with Merlot

Continue reading

London Pub Grub @ The Prince Alfred: Cool Pub, Bad Grub

Good things hardly ever come of choosing a restaurant at the last minute, in a country that you are not familiar with. I always feel the pressure when we go abroad – because I write a food blog it is automatically assumed that I know where we should go for a meal. On top of that, I didn’t get my tendency for critical analysis of food from no where – I got it from a love of good food, yes, but also from years of osmosis from my family. And so, if I choose a bad restaurant for us to eat at, it is automatically my fault that we ate a bad meal. The words of a great Brit, Freddie Mercury, ring true – when we are in London, I am Under Pressure.

IMG_5514

And so here I am for my annual May trip, and I was faced with such a challenge yesterday. Given 15 minutes to choose and reserve a table for lunch at a restaurant that served decent (but not too expensive) food, near Finchley Road, I found an interesting looking pub called The Prince Alfred:

Good but inexpensive = pub grub ✔

Located in Maida Vale ✔

Added bonus: an establishment with character and interesting features ✔

IMG_5531

IMG_5532

I was attracted to The Prince Alfred because I do love some good pub grub, and also because of its interior features. It’s a rare example of a late Victorian Public House, or “Pub”. It’s separated into 5 compartments as “some preferred not to be seen drinking by their inferiors, or superiors for that matter”. There are tiny access doors in the mahogany partitions between the compartments, which we had to duck under à la Alice in Wonderland, and were seated in a bright and airy separate dining room, which was the restaurant section of the pub, called The Formosa Dining Room.

IMG_5530

They offer a very reasonable set lunch, two courses for ₤12 or 3 courses for ₤15.50. The sticky toffee pudding was particularly enticing, but we decided to order from the à la carte menu, which featured more of it’s ‘specialties’.

IMG_5518After seeing this sign on the wall, I just had to order that ‘crispy’ pork belly. However, when it was served, the plate was rather unattractive, lacking in colour and bland – I immediately ordered some sautéed spinach, which was the best part of the meal. To be fair, the black pudding was also quite tasty. The pork belly however, was dry, fatty, and not very nice to look at. ‘Twice-cooked’ was an intelligent spin on the fact that it had been pre-cooked, and then re-cooked.

IMG_5527

Twice-cooked Crispy Pork Belly, Braised Red Cabbage, Black Pudding, Apple Sauce £16

Continue reading

The Wolseley, London

Setting the scene

It was a special and unexpected treat to visit The Wolseley on my last day in London. The original plan was to meet at Richoux at Piccadilly – and thank the food gods that we didn’t! I have only just this moment realised (while researching Richoux and writing this paragraph) that this restaurant is HORRIBLE. It’s a chain of restaurants and I have visited the one in St. John’s Wood – and swore never again.

As I exited the Green Park tube station, I called DC to see where I should be heading (despite having lived in London for 3 years, I still have an abysmal sense of direction!) He suggested going to The Wolseley instead, and that it would only be a 30 minute wait for a table! I have tried to book this restaurant (unsuccessfully) for my past two trips, and here we were with an opportunity to finally go and eat the famous breakfast at The Wolseley! It was already 1.30pm … but there’s never really a bad time to eat breakfast, is there?

The interior of the restaurant is cavernous, and simply exquisite. The site was originally commissioned by Wolseley Motors Limited as a showroom, and then Barclays Bank acquired the building when Wolseley Motors went bankrupt. It was finally taken over by Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, two of London’s most successful restauranteurs, and transformed into a restaurant in 2003.

After a short wait at the bar with a very nice Bloody Mary, we were sat at one of the tables in the bar area, where you are not charged the requisite ₤2 ‘cover charge’ as you are in the main dining room. The idea of a restaurant cover charge sounds a bit preposterous to me, but we are in London after all, and sometimes these things happen.

Their breakfasts are renowned, so rather than ordering from the (quite varied) Main Course section, we opted to order lots of different starters and ended up staring it all. I’m not sure why, but as I write this, I realise that all of the dishes we ordered are making me wonder about their origins. I love fines de claire oysters, but don’t know where they come from. Why is a dressed crab dressed? Why is Hollandaise sauce called Hollandaise sauce? Here, I shall share some fruits of my random research with you…

Fines de Claire Prestige 1/2 dozen (₤14.75) & Loch Ryan Natives 1/2 dozen (₤16.50)

Served with sliced brown bread and butter

The first thing that caught my eye on the menu were oysters. I made a beeline for the Fines de Claire, as always, whilst DC preferred something more creamy, and he was recommended the Loch Ryan Natives. These were actually superb and I almost preferred them – perhaps I have to reassess my oyster preferences…

The oysters were served with un-toasted, crustless and buttered brown bread – how very English! The red vinegar and shallot sauce was nice, but served in an inappropriately narrow vessel which had to be tipped to acquire a suitable amount of vinegar.

Interesting fact #1: ‘Fines de Claire’ doesn’t actually refer to an area of production, but rather, a method. The ‘claire’ refers to a salt marsh pond, where the oysters are kept over one or two months, with a maximum number of oysters per square meter, before being sold.

Steak Tartare (small) ₤10.50

Interesting fact #2: The name is derived from “steak à la tartare”, a dsh popular in 19th and early 20th centuries. It refers to the original practice of serving it with tartare sauce. Continue reading

London’s Borough Market

It’s 5am in Hong Kong, and I am wide awake. I’ve just returned from my annual November business trip to London, and it is about 8pm there, so naturally, I am thinking about … food! My most memorable food experience this time is definitely London’s Borough Market, it was an amazing foodie adventure that I would recommend to anyone visiting London. Whilst a trip to the market may not sound like the most exciting thing that one can do in London, you will most definitely be pleasantly surprised.

I don’t know why it took me so long to visit  Borough Market, I have heard about it time and time again, and it’s unlike me to be lazy about this sort of thing. It was only after my friend SN said that she visited during her recent trip to London (her first time!) that I mobilised the troops (me and my brother) to visit on a Friday morning, when all of the stalls are open and the market is teeming with edible temptations. So thank you SN for the inspiration!

Under the bridge, downtown

Part of the market is located directly under the Borough High Street railway bridge, which was completed in 2011 but won’t have any trains running across it until 2016. We hopped on the Tube and went all the way down to London Bridge station, towards the south east on the Jubilee Line. The market is close to the station and really quite easy to locate – just look for the huge railway bridge!

A pan very easily the diameter of a 32″ TV screen

Upon entering the market, the first thing we were greeted by was a HUGE pan of simmering red sauce, next to an equally huge pan of paella. This is Café Brood, one of the bigger cafés which has lots of indoor and outdoor seating.

Eyes wide open and stomachs growling, we went in search for our lunch. It is quite a dilemma to have so many choices with limited-sized stomachs! Whilst there are a few nice cafes and restaurants around, it’s much more fun to get something from a stall and eat it sitting on a park bench, and then go in search for more. Whilst we were walking around, I spotted a lady walking by with a plate of new potatoes and cornichons (mini pickles) covered in a glorious amount of melted cheese – RACLETTE!!! “Follow that plate!”, I said to my brother! We found the raclette stall and joined the line of fellow hungry people.

Raclette!!

The wait passed quickly, as we watched the raclette-makers swing the cheese holder around and out to expose the bubbling half-moon of cheese. As they deftly lifted the huge block of cheese and scraped the top layer onto a plate of tender new potatoes, there were a lot of “oooooooooh”s and “aaaaaaaah”s – and all the tourists (including us) scrambled to take out our cameras to catch the next scraping. Continue reading

Casual London

I LOVE going to London on business trips, looooooooove it! It’s a great chance to see friends and visit my favorite restaurants, and we always manage to bring the sunshine! After 19 straight days of torrential rain, the sun came out on the day we landed, and I was hopeful that it was a good sign of a great week to come!

We stayed at Fraser Place for the first day, near Hyde Park. It’s a neat place for long and short stays (£200 nett for a one bedroom apartment, although if you stay longer the daily rate is less), with functional one or two bedroom apartments a stones throw away from some great sights.

If you want to fit in a great load of sightseeing in one hour, pull on some running shoes and head to a park, any park! Since we arrived at our accommodation at 8am, that’s exactly what I did, and it beats running Bowen Road x 1,000.

My running tour of Hyde Park: Kensington Palace – William and Kate’s future residence. Shadow art display at The Serpentine. Royal Albert Hall and a big red bus. Lounge chairs by the Round Pon

Continue reading