If you can't find a restaurant or cookbook here it's because I have
either not yet reviewed or did not like it. Please look elsewhere for negative reviews.
Contact Chrissie Walker
cookbook author Corinne Trang,
a celebrated expert
on Asian cuisine, as she guides you through New York City's
Chinatown demystifying the world of Asian ingredients. You'll discover
markets specializing in dried seafood, bird's nests, and more, and meet
an herbalist. You'll visit a typical Asian supermarket and vegetable
stand where condiments and produce will be identified and tips on
proper storage and use will be revealed. You'll taste all sorts of
dumplings, northern style pulled noodles, Southeast Asian beef jerky,
and Asian-style ice cream including black sesame and lychee. The tour
will also include a Taiwanese tea service. Bring an open mind and an
Tours are scheduled every Wednesday starting the first week of July,
from 10 AM to 2 PM (unless otherwise noted) for a minimum of 8 and
maximum of 10 people. (Please note: autographed copies of Essentials of
Asian Cuisine, The Asian Grill (2006), and Noodles Every Day (2009) are
extra and available at a discounted price.) For more information
including cost or to arrange a private group tour, please email
firstname.lastname@example.org. Also feel free to browse through the website at http://www.corinnetrang.com/
The Noodle House
This might be a new name in London but, in fact, The
Noodle House is the premier restaurant brand of Jumeirah Restaurants
LLC, which was launched back in 2002. It gained momentum and now
has 16 outlets in the
U.A.E, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, as well as Cyprus and
Pakistan. It’s now a deliciously welcome addition to London’s casual
The majority of restaurants might be in the Middle East but the
flavours are very definitely from South East Asia. There have been a
few such restaurants opening in the city over the past couple of years.
It indicates that there is a ready market for delicious plates with
Asian vibe at reasonable prices and in a comfy environment.
The location near London’s Soho and iconic theatres is perfect for
workers’ lunches, peckish tourists, and dinners for those who want to
relax and meet friends over food and perhaps a cocktail or three. It
has broad appeal and a pan-South East Asia menu. In short there is
something for everybody.
Perhaps we could call this fast food but that would give the impression
of pre-cooked and mass-produced horrors, likely served in a fluffy bun.
This is food that happens to arrive at the diner’s table in a matter of
moments. That’s where the similarity to the OTHER fast foods ends.
The restaurant offers seating for every social need: window seats for
visitors – they have an unrivalled view of the
flow of humanity (or near-humanity) along Shaftesbury Avenue; there are
quiet nooks for those in the first flush of love, and larger tables for
families. There is the animation of the open kitchen and the buzz of
conversation as diners muse over the dishes on offer.
It’s called Noodle House but there is much more on the menu than Asian
pasta. The options are diverse and represent several of South East
Asia’s renowned food destinations, including Singapore which is famed
for its food courts. There are both spicy and aromatic choices but all
of them are beautifully and thoughtfully presented.
Black Pepper Beef is an absolute must-try at The Noodle House. It’s
dark and glossy strips of beef sirloin with peppers and onions in an
outstanding black pepper and Kway Teow sauce – that’s a soya-based
sauce often used with rice noodles in Singapore and Malaysia.
Javanese Nasi Goreng is a plate of wok-fried rice with prawns, chilli,
spring onions and Sambal Belachan, topped with a fried egg, served with
two chicken satay skewers and prawn crackers. The dish is from Java but
the sambal is Malay – a mild and satisfying dish. There are more
condiments on the table that also work well with the rice. I noted that
the egg was perfectly cooked with a creamy yellow yolk that bathed the
Pad Thai is ubiquitous in South East Asian restaurants around the
world. In fact it’s more popular in those
restaurants than it is in South East Asia itself. It’s a pile of rice
noodles, beansprouts, eggs, and chilli and tamarind sauce. The Noodle
House presents their version with the peanuts in a separate dish. We
had the prawn and crispy tofu option. The tamarind adds a sharpness
that is distinctive and a foil to the tofu which is a carrier of
flavour rather than having much of its own.
The Noodle House is worth more than one visit to explore the menu, and
I hear they do some amazing cocktails in the basement bar that is
becoming the haunt of those in the know. I‘ll return with pleasure and
The Hunt for Filipino Food:
Kusina to Cuisine – The
I am a cookbook reviewer, and it’s always exciting to leaf
through pages that offer an insight into a new and vibrant cuisine. And
I am a food writer, so I appreciate the effort it takes to compile such
a book. Kusina to Cuisine – The Theresian Cookbook had me glowing with
We think we know all about food, don’t we? Those classic French dishes
that are so prized …by the French; sumptuous and spicy curries from the
Subcontinent (I am personally addicted); baked goods from these very
shores – yes, we are au fait with food. But then there are plates from
I am fortunate to have a dear friend who hails from Manila. She is an
‘Old Theresian’ and has contributed to this volume, a compilation of
recipes from former pupils of St. Theresa’s. For us non-Filipinos, it’s
a delicious introduction to a very individual cuisine. There is nothing
in this book that would strike epicurean terror into the heart of even
a timid European home cook. OK, granted, a very few of the ingredients
might demand a trip to an Asian supermarket, but that aside, the
majority of recipes here are accessible and they are all tempting.
Chef cookbooks are glossy, polished and sometimes intimidating. On the
other hand, cookbooks such as Kusina to Cuisine offer a real vision of
how folks cook and eat, and in this case the cooking and eating is
enjoyed in the Philippines. Perhaps I am naïve but I trust recipes
from home cooks. They take pride in that cake, that sauce, that pasta,
those noodles might be dinner every Wednesday night. These particular
home cooks have flair!
I am rather surprised that Filipino restaurants are not flourishing
outside that country. Its foods have so many elements with which we are
already familiar. I have seen menus from the best of Manila’s
restaurants and I could book my flight this very moment. The recipes
here are a more domestic take on these dishes but they indicate the
value of this internationally little-known cuisine.
Good use is made of both fresh fish and shellfish. Pork is prominent,
along with chicken. Lots of Asian fruits and herbs but chilli isn’t
overpowering. Garlic is evidently popular, along with the expected
Chinese accents of soy and rice. It’s a delicious amalgam of all the
cultural influences that make these islands what they are today.
I have several favourites from this practical ring-bound collection.
Killer Chili Dip is simple and comforting and flexible. Great for a
party and it can be spiced up for those with adult tastes; nothing
exotic, admittedly, but worthy of a try. Yema are sweet caramelised
milk balls that would make delicious gifts if one could bear to give
any away. Toyoma is a pork belly stew with eggs – just a couple of
ingredients, used to present a unique dish. Lengua is beef tongue and
it takes advantage of that underestimated meat. This recipe turns that
humble offal into dinner party fare with Asian colour.
My dear reader might wonder why I bother to review a book that the
majority will not find. Kusina to Cuisine – The Theresian Cookbook
isn’t readily available, that’s true. I have used this volume to
illustrate the broad appeal of Filipino food and to act as a catalyst
to ask the question: ‘Where are the Filipino restaurants in London?’
Failing that: ‘Where are the cooking classes?’ I am sure I will be
advised that there are one or two but they are not well publicised. As
we speak I would say that the most authentic food is found in homes.
There seems to be little publicity about the dishes, although there are
faint rumbles of enthusiasm from those who have travelled. There are
folks who are endeavouring to introduce Filipino food served from food
trucks. Word is slowly getting out to those who are open to another
I will travel to Manila and beyond at the soonest opportunity and enjoy
learning about the restaurant trends, classic dishes, home cooking and,
undoubtedly, snacking. I will muse on origins of dishes and consider
how to describe this European-infused multi-Asian culinary delight in
one word. I guess ‘Filipino’ will do nicely.
Kusina to Cuisine – The Theresian Cookbook
Author: St. Theresa’s College Manila Foundation
There can be few, in London at least, who have not heard
of the ‘sake buzz’. The drink has
readily available with the proliferation of Japanese restaurants.
Granted, those particular sakes might not represent the best, but
they’ve been good enough to excite considerable interest.
The first Japanese restaurant in Britain was opened in
Barrow-in-Furness. Dating from the early 1900s it was established to
provide food for the Japanese seamen of the Japanese warships being
built in the town. One of the first Japanese restaurants to open in
London was The Ajimura in Shelton Street in 1972, although some sources
suggest that there were a few around in the 60s. Traditional Japanese
food now has a UNESCO designation and even European diners are
demanding authentic dishes, and sake to go along with them.
London is, these days, regarded as one of the world's most
vibrant dining destinations and is home to some of the most innovative
chefs, with restaurants that cater to all tastes and budgets. More
importantly, it has long been considered as the hub for
the international fine wine market – no, not Paris or Bordeaux but wet
and chilly London. Sake has taken its rightful place in
The International Wine Challenge.
This parliamentary sake presentation illustrated the close ties between
Japan and the UK, and also the unique qualities of this national
beverage. Mr Paul Farrelly MP of the British-Japanese All-Party
Parliamentary Group and Ms Rie Yoshitake of Sake Samurai UK hosted the
evening, which was attended by the great and the good from both Houses
as well as worthies from the Japanese community in London, and other
interested and enthusiastic parties.
Parliament might not be the expected venue for a rollicking evening of
fun but the presenters each spoke with passion and humour. Ambassadors
are famously well-practised orators but His Excellency Ambassador
Hayashi gave a warm speech that showed his pride in and knowledge of
this iconic drink, as well as his ability for light comedy. He teased
and charmed the guests in equal measure and rather set the tone for the
Mr Koichi Saura from Urakasumi brewery in Miyagi is an industry ‘big
hitter’ and has done much to promote the revitalisation of sake in
Japan and overseas. He spoke movingly, and we were reminded of other
sake events held to support a country that was so tragically devastated
by the earthquake and tsunami of three years ago. Mr Saura is a
13th-generation brewery owner and a man who epitomises the historic
continuity of sake. Other brewers exhibiting were: Ms
Michi Uchigasaki, from Hoyo, also in Miyagi; Mr Kei Nakajima from Nanbu
Bijin in Iwate; Mr Kazunari Shata from Tengumai,
Ishikawa; and Mr Tsutomu Shimomushiki from Kitaya, Fukuoka.
To go along with the ten delicious sakes on offer, Yashin Restaurant
in Kensington provided sushi and other specialities to complement the
drinks, and to dazzle with elegant gastronomic artistry. Some plates
were so beautifully daring that a warning of ‘Don’t try this at home,
folks!’ might have been appropriate.
Ms Yoshitake is a face
familiar to those associated with sake promotion in the UK, and through
her work with the international wine industry. She spoke eloquently
about the place of sake in Japanese culture. ‘We start the New Year
with sake, we marry with the exchange of sake, we celebrate and
commiserate over sake - yes, sake
always has a
special place close to our hearts, and some people say that “there is
no better medicine than sake.” It is true that moderate sake intake
will keep you healthy, young and happy!’
It a testament to the work of those who promote sake in
London that this prestigious event was held at Parliament. There is
real interest in sake at the highest level and it’s crucial that sake
maintain its polished image, both with those in the hospitality
industry and with consumers. I look forward to seeing premium sake on
many more restaurant menus …and not just Japanese menus. Yes, London is
a hub for culinary innovation, so why not sake too?
For more information on sake and events
visit Sake Samurai UK here
Kulinarya – A Guidebook to Philippine
There are very few Filipino restaurants in Europe; at
least I have not yet had the pleasure of crossing the threshold of
any – or indeed of finding a threshold to cross. We don’t have
many cookbooks offering recipes from the Philippines. We might conclude
therefore that the food from this array of exotic islands is far too
culinarily outrageous for our Western palates. Perhaps the ingredients
are challenging. It’s likely the national dishes require technical
gymnastics or costly gadgets not to be found in our stores.
Yes, we could be forgiven for assuming that there are reasons why
Filipino food is found rarely or scarcely. But Filipino food isn’t
mysterious; it’s just the lack of publicity that begs questions. Here
we have a cuisine that is new to us and yet possesses familiar accents.
The style of cooking and the resulting dishes have evolved over many
centuries and include ancient preparations, along with foods that
originated in Malaysia, Spain, China, Mexico, America and beyond. The
Filipino cook has skilfully enhanced dishes to take advantage of local
ingredients and tastes, and there is little that would not meet with
approval from those new to Filipino food – although balut (duck embryo)
will likely find its way to few foodie bucket-lists.
Kulinarya – A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine is far more than a
cookbook. It is, as the name states, a guide to cooking the
Philippine’s favourite dishes, but it’s also a food manual for both the
home cook and the professional. It offers an indispensible overview of
a rich flavour landscape, a culinary tapestry with as many delicious
stitches as there are islands …and there are more than 7000 of those!
A festive dish is lechón – that’s a whole roasted pig, and
probably you won’t find one of those in the far-forgotten corner of the
fridge; but most other key ingredients will be found in your regular
supermarket, with the occasional trip to an Asian specialist outlet or
Filipinos use rice as a foundation for most dishes and we all have
access to that. Fresh vegetables are on every menu, along with fish and
other seafood. Coconut in every guise is a staple. Pork is popular and
every porcine cut is appreciated and elevated. The dishes can range
from the economic and noble to the decadent and indulgent. Plain foods
are served with arrays of condiments, and richer preparations are
served with flair.
Adobo is the name of a popular dish and cooking method in the
Philippines. These are meats, seafood, or vegetables marinated in a
sauce of vinegar and spices. It’s considered by many to be the national
dish and illustrates adaptation of ingredients, concepts and
preparation. The Spanish introduced this classic but used the local
vinegar. Here the authors offer, amongst others, Adobong Kanok at Baboy
which is more commonly called CPA or chicken and pork adobo. The
ingredients are found on every high street, it’s easy to prepare but
those meats and seasonings combine to give a rustic but truly delicious
Lechon Kawali is deep-fried pork belly. It’s served as a main dish
garnished with sides but it needs dipping sauces which are such a big
part of any Filipino table. This pork also puts in an appearance in
other recipes such as Pork Binagoongang (crisp pork sautéed in
shrimp paste). The rind has crunch but the meat remains tender and the
My pick-of-the-book is Pancit Luglog (rice noodles with toppings and
sauce). This would make a striking dinner-party dish with the advantage
that the sauce and toppings can be prepared in advance and then the
dish assembled with freshly-cooked noodles.
Kulinarya – A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine tempts the reader with
dishes having names that one recognises but the recipes have a Filipino
twist. This volume presents common ingredients in exciting fashion.
This beautifully crafted tome invites the reader to create surprisingly
simple plates that are vibrant and flavourful. This colourful catalogue
prompts the diner to book a flight to Manila.
Kulinarya – A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine
Authors: Glenda Rosales Barretto, Margarita Fores, Jessie Sincioco,
Myrna Segismundo, Conrad Calalang and Claude Tayag
I know it’s all a matter of taste – literally and
metaphorically – when it comes to restaurants. Some diners have a
flavour profile in mind, while others judge a restaurant by how sharply
the creases might be pressed into the serviettes.
Ekachai Oriental Dining Room at Liverpool Street has what might be
described as having ‘individual charm’ or ‘exotic urban overtones’. I
know it’s recently been refurbished and I have no idea what the
previous décor might have been, but this look is, to my mind,
just right for the location and food style.
The theme is rustic with wooden tables, and boxes for seats. Those
scrubbed tables are illuminated by lamps with tin-can shades which fit
with the fashionably ‘shabby’ impression. Muted colour and softened
textures meld to present a slightly edgy but pleasing restaurant. It’s
not overtly South East Asian but it works.
I have spent quite a bit of time in both Malaysia and Singapore over
the past couple of years and the dishes at Ekachai seem authentic. It’s
true that, over there, every stall and hawker stand had its own recipe
for a particular
all of them would have the same recognisable
characteristics, and they are found in those same dishes faithfully
This branch has been around for a good number of years and has
cultivated a loyal following. The place is full to busting at lunch
time with city workers and quite a few of them are Asian, from just the
region covered by the menu. Few people seemed to need that
aforementioned menu and that’s always a good sign.
We started with a plate of Chicken Satay. The meat was tender and
flavourful although I would have preferred the sauce to have a little
more spicy bite to it. The Prawn and Crab Siu Mai Dumplings looked and
tasted authentic, with a mild flavour of delicious seafood. Another
visit would tempt me with Masalodeh - lentil fritters infused with
curry leaves and spices, served with a yoghurt and mint dip.
The list of main dishes spans that group of countries of South East
Asia in a most delicious fashion. There are quite a few classics such
as Pad Thai - noodles with egg, chives, beansprouts and choice of prawn
or tofu, and Sweet and Sour Pork, but much more that one might actually
find in the exotic East.
Malaysian Chicken Kapitan was my guest’s choice and was indeed worthy
of a salute. It was a substantial bowl of chicken in a gravy of chilli,
lemongrass, galangal, shrimp paste, mixed ground spices, roasted
coconut and kafir lime leaves. It was
warming, aromatic and flavourful
and could be described as a soupy curry or hearty soup. A portion of
rice on the side was all that was needed.
I chose Sambal Udang which was light and flavourful - large prawns in a
well-spiced chilli sauce with vegetables. I ordered coconut rice on the
side which acted as a sweet foil for the heat of the seafood.
Ekachai Oriental Dining Room is casual dining at its best. More
accurately one could say that the surroundings are casual but the food
is thoughtful. Would I return? Most definitely.
Ekachai Oriental Dining Room
9-10 The Arcade,
City of London
We in the West might consider that we know all about
Japanese food and indeed all about Japan. It is, I guess, a consequence
of globalisation. We see Japanese tourists on our streets, sushi fast
food cafés are now common, and there are more Japanese
restaurants in our larger cities. Yes, we know all about it …we think.
But there must be more to it than that! Why would the United Nation's
cultural organisation add traditional Japanese food to its Intangible
Cultural Heritage list?
The learned UNESCO Committee agreed that Washoku (the term for
traditional Japanese cuisine) satisfies the criteria for inscription on
the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of
Humanity. Washoku became Japan's 22nd intangible cultural heritage,
alongside Nogaku and Kabuki theatres, and Yuki-tsumugi, a silk fabric
production technique. It was recognised as having the following
1. Transmitted from generation to
generation, Washoku plays an important role in strengthening social
cohesion among the Japanese people while providing them a sense of
identity and belonging.
That sounds very grand, but any national food should be a source of
national identity and pride.
2. Inscription of Washoku could
raise awareness of the significance of the intangible cultural heritage
in general, while encouraging dialogue and respect for human creativity
and for the environment, and promoting healthy eating.
Anyone who has eaten good Japanese food will recognise its healthful
qualities. Its presentation is also fundamental, as is seasonality.
3. Safeguarding measures to protect
and promote Washoku in different regions of Japan, including research,
recording and awareness-raising through education and cultural
exchanges, will be implemented by civil society associations and the
This will be an exciting initiative. Japanese cuisine is under threat
from contemporary Western fast food, but raising awareness of its
unique history and evolution in both Japan and overseas will ensure its
4. Communities, individuals,
research institutions and local authorities participated in the
nomination process in large numbers, and the communities
provided free, prior and informed consent.
Japan should be commended for its pride and concern
of Washoku. Perhaps it’s a lesson
all learn. Every culture has elements worth preserving and
celebrating. The Japanese, both in Japan and overseas, show real
interest in their traditional dishes, and as time goes on more of us
can understand why. Washoku is only the fifth food culture to have made
it to the heritage list, the other four being: French cuisine,
traditional Mexican food, the Mediterranean diet, and ‘keskek’, a
Turkish or Iranian ceremonial dish of meat or chicken and wheat.
Washoku isn’t an individual dish but a culinary concept and philosophy.
“We are truly happy,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said of the UNESCO
recognition. “We would like to continue passing on Japanese food
culture to the generations to come and would also like to work harder
to let people overseas appreciate the benefits of washoku.” Ambassador
Keiichi Hayashi remarked that “The number of Japanese restaurants is up
to 680 in the UK alone, and we hope UNESCO’s recognition will lead to
the further promotion of the cuisine here.”
Those aforementioned Japanese eateries in the West have
introduced a new audience to sushi. Whilst those morsels
or vegetables are fresher and lighter than the typical
sandwich, it’s a shame that many people have the impression that sushi
and sashimi form the basis of every Japanese meal. “Don’t these folks
ever eat hot food?” we might ask.
The UNESCO status will hopefully encourage non-Japanese to find out
about traditional home cooking as well as the refined kaiseki cuisine.
A regular Japanese dinner might consist of separate bowls of rice, miso
soup and pickles alongside the main dish. That doesn’t sound very much
like sushi, does it? The key factors are seasonality and presentation -
subtle flavours and aesthetic beauty. Japan has an extensive battery of
recipes of which little is known outside its shores.
The Japanese government is evidently hoping that the UNESCO accolade
will help ease safety concerns over the country’s food exports
following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the well-publicised
Fukushima nuclear crisis. The UNESCO status was confirmed exactly 1,000
days after the disaster that eroded confidence in the safety of Japan’s
We celebrated UNESCO's accolade at the Japanese embassy
Murata, a multi-Michelined celebrity, took
the rostrum with our own Heston Blumenthal. Chef Murata was able to
give a Japanese perspective on Washoku. He has been playing an
important part fighting for its registration as an Intangible Cultural
Heritage. He is well qualified, being the third-generation owner/chef
of Kikunoi, a traditional ryotei restaurant in Kyoto. Chef Murata is
the director of the Japanese Culinary Academy, an organization founded
to promote understanding of Japanese cuisine.
Chef Murata discussed umami which is present in certain ingredients.
It’s that indefinable savoury element that one finds in dashi stock. We
learned that one can replace oils and fats with umami flavours to
produce healthy yet satisfying dishes.
Heston Blumenthal has long been a supporter of Japanese food and an
enthusiastic student to his friend Chef Murata. Heston offered amusing
anecdotes about his first visit to Japan and described the Japanese
passion for fish and selecting tuna in the fish market in Tokyo. It’s
evident that Western chefs are looking to Japan for inspiration, new
cooking techniques and ingredients.
Washoku's designation on the Representative List of the Intangible
Cultural Heritage of Humanity is quite a mouthful but is evidently
welcomed by the Japanese government, not only in terms of this unique
cuisine’s public elevation, but also for the possible impact on the
economy. This designation will surely boost tourism and food exports.
Washoku is prized for its healthful properties. Dishes emphasise the
fresh flavours of vegetables and herbs, they showcase the tastes and
textures of fish and seafood. Japanese food doesn’t rely on fat to
provide flavour, so a Japanese diet will likely aid weight loss. Meat
isn’t eaten in great quantities – a contrast to the UK which is also an
island nation but which only recently started to see the advantages of
fresh seasonal produce and exploring the bounty of the sea.
Discover Japanese Sake –
with Discovery Channel
We are invited to ‘Travel with Sam to Japan and uncover
the secrets of sake’. But the first questions are likely to
be ‘Who is Sam?’ ... and ‘What is sake?’
Sam Harrop, Master of Wine, is a leading consultant winemaker with
clients all over Europe. He is also co-chair of the International Wine
Challenge, one of the world's largest and most prestigious wine
competitions. The IWC now has a category specifically for sake, which
attracted nearly 600 entries last year!
So that already helps us to answer that second question: What is sake?
It’s a Japanese beverage that is evidently popular with ‘them in the
know’ in the wine industry. But that industry enthusiasm mirrors the
interest of the general public in London, so the aforementioned Sam
takes us on a voyage of discovery with the Discovery Channel to
demystify this most iconic drink.
Although a Master of European-style wines, Sam has long had an interest
in sake. It’s not just a drink frequently consumed by folks living on
the Pacific Rim. This has been part of Japanese social and religious
activity for thousands of years. These days
there are fewer sake brewers, and indeed fewer sake drinkers, in Japan,
but its celebrity is these days taking on a multi-national dimension.
It is often described as ‘rice wine’ but sake is made with a brewing
process much like the production of beer. Sam enlists the support of
his friend Kenichi Ohashi who is a Sake Expert, Master of Sake, and has
a Diploma from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.
An impressive duo, and one might expect a programme full of
over-technical detail, jargon, and a smattering of formality. In fact
the result of the film-maker’s art is charming, informative and a good
introduction to sake for those outside the wine world. Yes, there are
mentions of flavours like banana and pineapple, and there is the
requisite amount of Japanese bowing, but it sets the scene and makes
for good viewing.
Our two sake explorers take us to brewers who use the latest techniques
to produce the finest of sakes while maintaining the historic know-how;
we learn about rice cultivation and drinking etiquette and how sake
enhances not only Japanese food but also dishes from other culinary
traditions. Sake is becoming known as the drink that doesn’t fight with
Sam returns to London and enjoys a kaiseki meal at UMU of Mayfair.
Ishii presents plates that are delicious, aesthetic
masterpieces to partner some fine sake. Drinking sake is about
savouring delicate flavours inherent in the drink, but also enjoying
food and good company that will add to the experience.
Japan has many icons. Sumo, sushi, kimonos are among the
first that spring to the non-Japanese mind …along with sake!
Japanese food and sake are becoming more common all over the world and
London has a growing list of good restaurants
Toshie Hiraide is the Japanese
Sake Samurai Co-ordinator. And that multinational organisation is
responsible for promoting sake and finding new markets.
Toshie is a vibrant lady who devotes her energies to
spreading the word but she doesn’t, as one might
assume, come from
a sake-brewing background. Her journey started with wine but her
destination is most definitely sake.
Ms Hiraide described her personal sake odyssey. “October 1st is known
as the opening day for a graduate to start looking for a new job.
Normally almost everyone decides before summer on a company or a
career, but I believed I could start in October. But almost all my
friends had already found a job to go to by that time, and the only
vacancies remaining were in TV and radio companies, and the airlines –
so that was the reason that I joined JAL.
“My mother recommended it, too, so I took the exam and, luckily, passed
it, and started working for them as a cabin attendant.” Toshie’s face
lights up with a laugh as she admits she was no natural as air
crew: “I did suffer from airsickness.”
“I had never thought about a long-term career. Thirty years ago most
Japanese women might work for up to three years, find ‘the right man’,
get married and quit the job. By the time you were 25, you were
expected to have married – as we say, ’After Christmas, nobody buys a
cake!’” More of that infectious laughter.
“I was nearly thirty by the time I had met a man and decided to marry.
At the same time I had become interested in wine tasting and wine
education. Wine tasting was quite a new thing to us. Twenty days a
month I was away from Japan, because of my job, and we often went to
restaurants. There were not many Japanese restaurants overseas, but
some other good restaurants had wine lists, and they fired my interest.
I thought, ‘If I learn about wine, maybe it will be more fun to take a
closer look at those wine lists!’
“One of my friends at work had passed a sommelier exam – the Japan
Sommelier Association had opened the certificate to cabin attendants.
So I went along, and enjoyed the tasting – people can learn, through
wine, about different countries and different languages. I passed the
exam in 1992.
“Many cabin attendants tried to get the certificate, but more
experienced sommeliers sometimes referred to us as ‘paper sommeliers’,
having just passed the exam! So I realised that I needed to establish
my identity as ‘Sommelier – Cabin Attendant’. We were always
travelling, so we could visit wineries and taste wines in their home
“I met some professional Masters of Wine, and was impressed not just by
their knowledge but by their desire to educate
with the wine industry to bring it up to date. Then one day
I visited a sake brewer – of course I knew sake, being Japanese – and I
realised that this was a living part of Japan: just rice and water, but
with such delicate flavours, and with such a long history. At the same
time, I felt sad that so many sake brewers were closing, and that so
many Japanese people don’t understand the value of the tradition.
“In 1999 the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) offered to open a
wine school for JAL. I suggested to JAL that this was a great chance
for us: WSET was a great wine education network and if we partner with
them this would be good for JAL. So in 2000 the company assigned me to
the school for three months. I worked with WSET and management people
at that time to help build up the wine school in Japan.
“Afterwards I went back to flying, and was at the hub in London. I was
very happy to meet the WSET people again, and I asked them if there was
anything I could bring them from Japan. They were interested in
Japanese sake, and said that they knew nothing about it, as sake
brewers were not then marketing sake outside Japan. So I brought
bottles of sake to London on every trip!
“In 2003 I introduced sake brewers to WSET at a wine seminar. Mr Sam
Harrop, a Master of Wine, attended, and he
He had planned to visit Japan to see sake brewers, so I
offered to introduce him to some of them.
“We visited brewers in Kyoto and Shizuoka, and Sam enjoyed it, and was
impressed by sake. He sought opportunities to introduce sake to the
world, and when he became Co-Chairman of the IWC (International Wine
Challenge) he looked at creating a sake category. We didn’t know how to
get sake entries, as very few of the sake brewers knew of the IWC at
that time. I was a Sake Samurai Co-ordinator; Sake Samurai Association
became a partner with IWC, and we introduced the IWC to sake brewers,
to help find entries and decide on the sub-categories. We sent a judge
from Japan, and created some pages in Japanese for the IWC website.
“JAL was in decline at that time, so I quit my job in 2010. This was a
big decision: I was 49 years old, and if I stayed in the company my job
would become busier and the salary would go down; but it would be hard
to change my career. Several sake brewers told me that they could help,
and I decided to start a small company and begin a new life.
“I had my own house, though I hadn’t finished paying for it, and I
thought of selling it to raise funds both for the business and for my
daughter. Luckily I had some connection to people in government, in the
Ministry of Economy – the ‘Cool Japan’ section. They were talking about
sake. Then I met people in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The
Ministry of Foreign Affairs was interested in how to introduce sake to
the world. From
2011 they started to use more sake at embassies, in place of the more
wine. He also gave a ‘sake’ lecture to new ambassadors, which I
coordinated. It was very important that Japanese diplomats knew about
sake, as well as wine. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was a
support to our work. In
2012 there was a big change: the government decided that any ministry
could have a budget to support the introduction of sake to the world –
previously only the Finance Ministry could undertake this.
“Sake brewers are all over Japan – family businesses and long
histories. If you study French wines, you have to learn the geography
of France, so a global programme of sake education is a useful way of
introducing Japan to the world. Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are very
well-known to non-Japanese people, but through sake education all the
other prefectures can benefit from tourism and exports. Because of my
career as a cabin attendant, I appreciated that tourism is a really
safe industry, in which people visit and spend money, and come back
with good stories.
“These days, local governments around Japan sometimes invite me to
lecture, talking about my story, how to introduce sake to the world,
how it can promote the region. In February I have three seminars – I’m
so busy now.
“The IWC group are so friendly and so helpful to us. There are 12,000
wine entries, and only 600 sakes – but this is still the biggest
competition outside Japan. Being an IWC sake judge shows that one is a
specialist. Once a year at the IWC sake tasting, there is a great
opportunity to exchange information and network with new people.”
I asked Toshie if sake was being noticed more in Japan. “In the winter
we Japanese have a custom of sending gifts to our friends. The biggest
department store in Osaka, Hankyu, sends out a gift catalogue, and last
year Hankyu introduced an IWC award-winning sake to the range of gifts:
they sold out!
“I am not so much a specialist, I do not have a sake shop or a
restaurant, so my role is to continue explaining, showing that vision,
but I never imagined that I would be doing what I do now – my plan had
been to marry after three years and to be a housewife! Now, with IWC,
WSET, the gift catalogue, and many other events, people can see what I
do and they can understand. Many people are supporting and helping me –
I couldn’t do anything by myself!”
Toshie Hiraide didn’t plan a career in sake but that career has found
her. She has had to make adjustments to her life but she has become
respected as a sake ‘doer’ and an indispensible part of the increasing
global sake buzz. It’s a long way from that airsick cabin attendant,
but the flying continues apace.
Half a decade ago one could find Japanese Sake in London.
Yes, of course one could. The ordering of such a beverage would usually
elicit a three-word response from the server – those three little words
that will likely turn any native Japanese to despair. The short
question directed back to the curious prospective drinker would be
simply ‘Hot or cold?’ But still worse for our by now parched
prospective drinker is to hear the merry call of the server to the
kitchen: ‘Someone wants that sake! You know, the bottle we opened at
Chinese New Year? The one on top of the fridge?’
Well, in all honesty that is something of a whimsical scenario, but the
sad truth wasn’t far from it. But those five or so years have passed and there
is more serious interest in sake by an increasingly discerning public;
and those in the Sake industry in Japan have noticed. Japan’s Ministry
of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, MAFF for short, has been
supporting those in the UK who are diligently working to introduce this
iconic drink to a wider audience. In New York, Los Angeles and Hong
Kong there is a habit of sake drinking, as Japanese restaurants have
been common for decades, but the UK has been more of a challenge – good
Japanese restaurants have only proliferated here relatively recently.
There are seminars on sake for restaurant and wine industry
professionals in London from January 28th to January 31st. Wine &
Spirit Education Trust (WSET)-certified instructors will present the
seminars which are hosted by Japan’s National Research Institute of
Brewing and a number of sake brewers. The instructors have received an
intensive sake training in Japan to learn about the brewing process,
ingredients, history, culture and tastings.
These short seminars introduce those attending to everything that makes
sake so great and unique. The production
encompasses millennia of brewing experience along with the most
contemporary techniques. The Japanese are proud of their sake history
but they are having to fight to maintain the sake-drinking tradition at
home, with the allure of French wines and European beers. Perhaps the
future of the sake industry lies with the vibrant overseas market.
The WSET will also launch a new sake course as part of its regular wine
education programme later this year. These initiatives are supported by
MAFF, which is currently working to increase the number of ‘sake
evangelists’ who will promote the traditional Japanese drink abroad.
It’s rather easy to become part of the increasing band of sake
supporters. A taste of quality sake will be a revelation to many who
attend the seminars or take the sake course.
Natsuki Kikuya, a former Head Sommelier at Roka restaurant, and founder
of the Museum of Sake, was the co-presenter with Antony Moss. Natsuki
was born into a sake brewing family and her grandfather was part of a
cooperative of sake makers in the Akita Prefecture region of northern
Honshu, the main island of Japan.
I asked Antony Moss (AIWS, MW, and Strategic Planning Director, WSET)
about the target audience for this project. “Some people may come to us
just for the sake qualification and nothing else, but I think there
will be a substantial audience of those who have learnt about wines and
spirits, hear the buzz and want to learn about sake; this is an obvious
place to come for this qualification, too.
“As for the sake courses open to the public, initially we will
timetable two during the academic year starting in August: one in
September/October and one in February/March. These will be courses that
are open to the general public, but marketed primarily at
professionals. Similar to our wine events, they will include a
‘Sake 101’ with a line-up of contrasting samples, and going through the
production process. We may have another that includes labelling terms,
and how to read the labels. Having a regular sake course here,
delivered by WSET, will help because it links to wine and spirits
professionals and reminds them that sake is becoming more accessible.”
Yes, sake is reaching a wider audience and perhaps the days of the
‘bottle at the back’ are over. We can all enjoy a glass or cup of this
delicious drink served at its best by better-educated sommeliers and
servers. They will be more able to advise on which vintages to pair
with dishes perhaps more diverse than the ubiquitous sushi. Sake is
truly a Japanese citizen, but it’s now a world traveller. We hope to
find sake on the drinks menus of non-Japanese restaurants, too.
Find out more about future sake seminars and courses with The Wine
& Spirit Education Trust (WSET) here
Luke Nguyen in London
He is, for many of us, the face of Vietnamese food and
travel. His easy manner allows him to present informative yet engaging
TV programmes showing Vietnam, its food and its people in a positive
and inclusive fashion.
Luke was in London to promote his latest book, The Food of Vietnam (see
is indeed the same animated and convivial character in life as he is on
the small screen. What was his inspiration for the book? "I didn’t set
out to write a cookbook: it’s the culmination of all my research into
recipes, stories, family heirlooms, history, photography, and it was
just for my own development. Then I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do
a book?’, and then, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do a show?’ So it’s the
other way around from the usual format."
I asked Luke about the place of food in Vietnamese culture."I think
everybody in Vietnam is a foodie – it’s so much a part of our culture.
Growing up in Australia only a small percentage of people appreciated
good food and good produce; it’s getting bigger now, but in Vietnam –
indeedin Asia – food is everything. The greeting is ‘Have you eaten
yet?’ When we’re cooking breakfast we’re thinking ‘What shall we have
for lunch?’ and when we’re cooking lunch we’re thinking ‘What shall we
have for dinner?’ That’s my family – that’s Vietnam.
"My parents were both brought up in a market, and both their parents’
stallsspecialised in exotic fruits. Mother’s side was lychees,
rambutans, mangoes – the smaller fruits; father’s side was durian,
jackfruit – the big ones! My parents’ marriage was arranged, because
both families were in the business, so they have always been surrounded
by great produce, and an appreciation of great food.
"When they fled Vietnam my mother was nine-months pregnant with me and
I was born on the boat as we landed in Thailand. We stayed in a refugee
camp there before going to Australia, and because of theirpassion for
good food my parents eventually borrowed enough money to open their own
restaurant. I was raised in an area called Cabramatta in south-western
Sydney, where there was a big Vietnamese community, and I grew up in
"As soon as we could walk we were working, and I had a passion for food
and cooking. We didn’t have food suppliers: everyone would go out and
buy their own produce, so I learnt how to choose the perfect chilli, or
the perfect green mango, and I learnt how to balance the flavours,
which is very important in Vietnamese cuisine because it’s so refined.
From the age of ten I knew what I wanted to do: I wanted my own
restaurant, so I worked towards that.
"My parents didn’t want me to do it; they worked so hard because they
had no choice, it was all they knew, and they said to me: ‘You have
been brought up in Australia, with so many opportunities – why are you
doing this?’ I said, ‘Even though it’s low profit margin and hard work,
it’s what I want to do.’ So I saved up my money and opened Red Lantern
when I was 23, and haven’t stopped since."
Did Luke think that his young age gave him an advantage? "That’s the
time to do it, because you have no fears! There’s nothing to lose – you
don’t have children, you don’t own property, a car – what you have is
just the money you put into it. If I had to do it again now I wouldn’t
do it that way because I have so much to lose, but at that time I had
the courage to do it, so why not? The cooking world, the restaurant
world, or even home cooking – the beauty of it is that you never stop
learning. I find that still, every day, I’m learning about the business.
"I think the most important thing is the quality of the
product and the way we use it – to respect it and don't do too much to
it, or else the flavours that we put into it have to be very well
balanced and elegant. A lot of people ask me: ‘We know about Thai
cooking, it’s been around a while – what’s the difference between that
and Vietnamese, it’s all part of South-East Asia, isn’t it?’ When I eat
a Thai dish it’s amazingly flavourful: there’s the lemongrass, the
kaffir lime, the chilli, it’s really a ‘party in the mouth’, quite
strong. When you look at the ingredients in Vietnamese cuisine –
lemongrass, kaffir lime, chilli, galangal, ginger – they are much the
same, but it’s a little softer and more delicate, more refined. Why is
it more refined? Take a thousand years of Chinese rule, a hundred years
of French colonisation, influences from Thailand, Laos and Cambodia –
centuries of taking the best elements of all these to make Vietnamese
"I find it so fresh and elegant; it has flavour but you have to figure
out what it is, and I like that – just a suspicion of
something – which is why today Vietnamese cuisine is rising, and will
be the next after Chinese, Thai, Japanese. Our culture in the UK and in
Australia is about watching what we eat; we’re very knowledgeable about
how to eat well, very health-conscious, and Vietnamese is the perfect
cuisine for that. It’s light, fresh, lots of raw vegetables, lots of
salads, a lot of summer rolls – which is so good for you. The herbs are
very medicinal – when I was growing up my grandmother and my mum would
say not ‘Eat this because it’s tasty’ but ‘Eat this because it’s good
for you – it’s good for this, it’s good for that.’ And the up-side is
it all tastes good too. So it looks vibrant, incredibly colourful, it
tastes fantastic, and it’s healthy – there’s always a reason to eat
"In Australia, Vietnamese food is popular at the moment. Walking around
Londonand seeing what’s available I think it is going
to be the next big thing here. I almost want to jump in right now: give
me a space, I’ll do a pop-up and show people what Vietnamese food is
all about, and you guys will love it, although it may be a little
difficult to find saw-tooth coriander, perilla leaf, banana blossom,
green mango, green papaya. There is a cross-over between Indian and
Vietnamese cuisine. There is a big Indian community in Vietnam, so a
lot of our curries are Indian-based. Looking at all the influences in
Vietnamese cuisine, don’t forget that the Japanese were there, the
Americans, the French, it’s just so diverse.
"Vietnamese dishes are also very regional – my family is from the
South, so I grew up only knowing southern cuisine, and I needed to
expand my knowledge. I have been to Vietnam over and over again
documenting recipes and stories of these wonderful people. To me, food
is not just the dish, it’s all about the history, the story, the
culture behind it. I had gathered all this information, which is why
the book, The Food of Vietnam, is so big – it’s all in there!"
I asked Luke about his restaurants in Sydney. "Red Lantern is
essentially authentic Vietnamese cooking but in a
restaurantdiningenvironment. Traditionally all the dishes come at once
– meat, seafood, salad, vegetable, soup – it all balances out and
complements each other, and you eat with rice and you share. At the Red
Lantern it’s entrée, second, main course, dessert, wine-matching
– authentic recipes but Western presentation. We use the most fantastic
local produce: if you have a caramelised snakehead fish recipe and you
can’t get snakehead fish, I would use barramundi or perch, so it’s
adapting to local produce.
The first restaurant, Red Lantern on Crown, is in an old
heritage-listed building, with 40 seats, which I opened when
on I had saved up enough to get something
bigger, and that is more Colonial French, because my food has evolved.
The more research I did, the more the first Red Lantern has become
focused onregional Vietnamese cuisines. Now doing more research again,
I am looking at the French influence – they were there for a hundred
years, how could they not have an impact? I have been to France to
reconfirm the connections, and that will be a new TV show, airing in
the UK maybe in January or February. So Red Lantern on Riley is very
much ‘Indochine’ style, and there’s a bar called Red Lily that offers
"Cooking and food is such a big part of Vietnamese culture, and I don’t
want to see it lost, like sumo wrestling is disappearing from Japanese
culture. I recently did a series on Masterchef Vietnam purely to put
the cuisine on the map, and it did really well because the Vietnamese
really love cooking – but not the younger generation. A ‘Masterchef
Junior’ just wouldn’t work. Kids don’t want to cook – they don’t know
how – and it’s really sad. In Saigon and Ho Chi Minh there are the
fast-food outlets now and I think, ‘Oh, no! What’s happening to our
"So I really want to urge the younger generation to keep cooking, which
is why my inspiration for my food programmes, my books and restaurants
is history – traditional, authentic cooking, heritage, there’s nothing
molecular or modern about it. It’s showing not just the young
generation but my generation how it’s done. How is rice cultivated? How
much work goes into it? How are noodles made? How is fish sauce made?
It’s so important to understand those things, to keep the traditions
"When I show young chefs our restaurant kitchen, they see someone using
a mortar and pestle and ask, ‘Why are you doing that for twenty
minutes, when you could just throw it in a food processor?’ Yes, you
can, but it will be quite different. There’s nothing like producing
your own paste, bringing it all together, incorporating all the
flavours – that’s the beauty of slow cooking. It’s a reminder of my
family – many aunties getting together in the kitchen, with multiple
mortars – it’s the noise, the music. It would be like cooking in a wok
without the roar of the flame."
I asked Luke about his earliest food memories. "My earliest memories
are of shopping. My parents had a hole-in-the-wall
restaurant; they didn’t care about the décor, it was all about
the food. I was told that my job was, say, to go and buy two kilos of
chillies. So I’d go out and scoop chillies from the stall until I had
two kilos, go home, and my mum would scold me: ‘Did you just scoop them
into your bag? Get back out there and choose the best chillies!’ So I
learnt to buy 100 grams from this shop, hand-picked, 50 grams from that
one, and so on until I had the best two kilos in town. In the same way
I learnt to pick green mangoes by smell, feel, colour -it was like an
apprenticeship. Then you learn to prepare them and balance the
flavours. It’s so important in this cuisine to train the palate, and
then you understand.
"Now, I can taste the expertise of the chef, I can tell where he has
been trained by the amount of fish sauce he uses, or oyster sauce –
things that you cannot learn by reading a recipe. The biggest challenge
is the balance of flavour, and learning the elegance of Vietnamese
cuisine. The texture is also important – it has to be right, be it
crunchy, crispy, silky, soft, gelatinous, glutinous, the elasticity –
it’s a big challenge.
"When I go visiting my family in Vietnam, I really want them to cook
dishes that their grandmother cooked. I always ask for that, and they
think about it, go to the markets (Vietnamese people go to the market
two or three times a day), and I see dishes that I have never seen in
the streets or in restaurants. I want to see them making things from
scratch – it takes a long time, but at least we know how to do it, like
making your own tofu, or ricecake flour. I loved doing that – a big pot
of boiling water, muslin cloth stretched out, steaming, drying in the
sun on a bamboo mat."
Luke Nguyen has a passion for the flavours, aromas, textures and
heritage of Vietnamese food. He conveys the subtleties of dishes and
the conviviality of meals. He is a worthy culinary ambassador, and one
should not separate the food of Vietnam from its warm and vibrant
Chef Rohit Ghai at
Trishna has morphed into a group that now has a sister
restaurant, Gymkhana, in Mayfair and a more northern outpost
in Denmark. I guess that’s a surprising choice of location, but those
Danes shivering in snow-driven winters are bound to appreciate the
warming and aromatically spiced foods of the subcontinent.
There is also a new Group Head Chef for that expanded restaurant
collection, and he has been noted for his flavours and his thoughtful
presentation. He is Rohit Ghai and the name might be somewhat familiar,
as he is brother to Chef Sunil Ghai who has made a mark in the Indian
food industry in Dublin.
Rohit has had a creditable training from hotel companies in India
including the Taj group, which is famed for producing some of the most
recognised and successful chefs who now continue their careers all over
the world. Rohit has worked in London for a number of years with one of
the most celebrated Indian restaurants in the city, but now he is
taking more responsibility for the three Trishna projects, including
Verandah in Copenhagen.
Did Rohit encounter any unique problems when opening the Danish branch?
“When I arrived in Copenhagen I found so many difficulties there – I
couldn’t locate the specialist spices, and had to organise supplies
from London. But after two weeks I discovered a couple of people with
good contacts in India who can deliver just what we need.
“I found that Danish people didn’t know the Indian palate and culinary
traditions, the flavours and the balance, so I designed the menu around
‘basics’ – contemporary as well as traditional. Claus Meyer, the
co-founder of Noma, opened The Standard, which is a complex of three
restaurants: our Verandah, plus Almanak and, upstairs, Studio.” It’s a
new restaurant and the food
is unfamiliar to most Danes, but the reviews have already been positive.
I asked Rohit if he had changed much on the menu since arriving at
Trishna. “When I joined, the food was very simple because it’s broadly
a ‘coastal food’ concept, and I changed the presentation a little, but
I’m conscious of the expectations that customers have of a
Michelin-starred restaurant. These days, seasonality is very important
at a fine-dining establishment.
“For me, presentation is crucial. The plate has to be very tidy,
so that when it’s presented to the diner they will be happy with it.
The educated diner can be very critical, and if you can inspire them,
get their interest, before they even taste the food, you have a
Trishna has always had a good reputation for quality of food and
service, but in an intimate and cosy environment. It doesn’t glint with
polished candlesticks. The staff don’t hover in intimidating fashion.
Service is seamless and friendly but the food has always been the main
attraction and Rohit is ensuring that continuity.
Trishna offers special menus for occasions such as Diwali and game
season, but their standard fare will never disappoint. Rohit amuses the
diner with a miniature but perfectly executed Grouse and Guinea-fowl
samosa with plum chutney. A one-bite morsel but showing this chef’s
dexterity and humour. The scallop with puffed rice, spring onion and
moong dal was courageously spiced and probably the best scallop I have
had in several years.
Tandoori Grouse – Chivas-marinated tandoori grouse breast, grouse seekh
kebab served in a shot-glass, and garlic
pickle – was a striking and delicious presentation; but the Partridge
Pepper Fry with Keralan spices, black pepper and aromatic curry leaf is
good enough to be a signature dish …on a menu that offers so many
But Rohit is aware that, to many, Indian food is about comfort, so more
traditional ‘curry’ dishes are offered to diners with discerning
tastes. Malwani Jhinga Curry of prawns, malwani spices and coconut is
rich and offers the diner a bowl of accessible decadence. South Indian
Coast Lamb Curry offers those flavours which have defined Trishna, and
this lamb curry is memorable and moreish, and lighter than some
northern Indian versions. Our side dishes were the indispensible dal,
and okra with coconut.
Trishna has a Michelin star and Verandah will likely head in that same
direction, and that is a lot of culinary pressure for a young chef, but
Rohit Ghai has dedication, passion and an eye for flavourful
aesthetics. He will doubtless continue to make his mark.
Verandah, The Standard, Havnegade 44, 1058 Copenhagen, Denmark
The Dal Cookbook
We have always had those little red lentils on supermarket
shelves. They seemed to be the only ones available when I was growing
up. Mum would put them in a beef stew with half a cardboard tub of
yellow ‘curry powder’ and call it ‘Indian’. We would eat that with
mashed potatoes, as rice was for pudding.
Well the above recipe, although containing lentils, fell short of
authenticity on almost every count; but India does truly
have a wealth of lentil or dal recipes that offer a real taste of the
subcontinent in the most delicious and economic fashion.
Those red lentils are still found in supermarkets but these days they
will be flanked by packets of other varieties. The array might be
confusing to the novice dal cook, but they are all mild in flavour, and
some are interchangeable. It’s just as much about texture as taste.
The Dal Cookbook offers simple recipes for comforting and healthy food.
Spice adds vibrancy, and a raft of half a dozen or so spices will
enable the home cook to produce every recipe in this book. Buy your
spices in plastic bags from an Asian food market, as they will likely
be a lot cheaper than collecting those little glass jars. You know the
ones: you still have paprika from that range and it’s gone pink with
age. Don’t display spices in sunlight, and don’t use out-of-date spices
as they lose their kick.
So buy those spices with confidence, as these recipes will have you
using them frequently and to great advantage. Part of that advantage is
financial. Money is tight these days and food prices have taken an
unseemly hike, of late. Lentils provide one-pot meals that are
comforting – the sort of food that one craves on cold winter nights,
and one doesn’t have to be Madhur Jaffrey to produce them. Author
Krishna Dutta has selected dishes that can easily be rustled up in a
The book is divided by region, and there are even some dal dishes that
one recognises from restaurant menus. However, one doesn’t need a
professional kitchen to tackle these lentils. Many of them just need a
largish pot and perhaps a small pan …and a hob. The Dal Cookbook would
be a gift welcomed by anyone with limited access to a fully-equipped
kitchen. The basics are, well, basically, cook lentils till done with
spices; add veggies. Sounds simple, and it is, but the results of your
minimal exertions will be flavourful and memorable.
I have several favourites from The Dal Cookbook including Lentil Kutu
with Green Beans, which makes a marvellous side dish served with just a
bowl of rice, and perhaps some chicken roasted with Indian spices.
Tadka Dal is an indispensible part of many traditional Indian meals –
it’s delightfully rich with a finish of cream. But my pick-of-the-book
is Matar Peas Paneer. It’s green peas with Indian cheese, and it’s a
hearty one-pot meal that could always be served with some Indian bread
or rice. It’s colourful and satisfying.
Grub Street always publishes thoughtfully selected books that are great
value for money, and this one costs less than £17.00. The Dal
Cookbook is a winner.
The Dal Cookbook
Author: Krishna Dutta
Published by: Grub Street
The Food of Vietnam
We in the UK, and in London in particular, are blessed
with ingredients from across the globe, and with restaurants
restaurants have long graced high-streets and now there
are authentic and classic dishes from that country found in most cities.
But what of Vietnamese food? A few restaurants have now opened up, and
the ingredients for this fascinating food can be found in Asian stores
and online, but it could be the next big restaurant and home-cooking
trend. Luke Nguyen and his TV programmes have done much to raise
awareness of Vietnamese dishes as well as the country, which is more
accessible to the European tourist than ever.
Luke has penned several books and the latest addition to his list of
culinary tomes is The Food of Vietnam. This guy must be considering
retiring from cookbook writing as this masterwork seems like it would
be hard to better! To call it a coffee table book would diminish its
evident worth, although if one was to screw a table leg on each corner
of this mammoth volume then one would indeed have a coffee table.
The Food of Vietnam appeals on so many levels. Yes, it’s a cookbook
strewn with tempting plates and all achievable by the European home
cook. It’s also a travelogue taking the armchair tourist on a delicious
amble across the Vietnamese landscape. It’s a personal and family
culinary history with anecdotes and humour that engage the reader in
charming fashion. This would be a wonderful gift for anyone planning a
trip to Vietnam or who has returned from an adventure there, as well as
any home cook who would like to try this tapestry of Vietnamese recipes.
The book is divided by region and one notes the difference in produce
and style of cooking. There is an abundance of seafood used and one can
substitute one’s local fish for the more exotic originals. The
vegetables are fresh and vibrant and healthy, showing influences from
all Vietnam’s neighbours and the French as well, in this colourful
collection. The cuisine is contemporary and exciting.
Luke Nguyen has a talent for painting a picture with words. Vietnamese
food isn’t just a selection of ingredients, it’s just as much about
culture, sharing, continuity and pride. He brings to life personal
stories of ordinary folk who are selling food from carts and markets,
and making remarkable dishes at home.
The Food of Vietnam is more than cookbook: it’s an introduction to a
country and its people, who seem to be eating rather well.
The Food of Vietnam
Author: Luke Nguyen
Published: Hardie Grant Books
Dr Wong Lai Sum
CEO, Malaysia External Trade
Food and partnership – a recipe
Malaysia Night has become an eagerly anticipated event for
Londoners who crave the distinctive flavours of that peninsular. It
attracts locals, tourists and even Malaysians who support this
delicious initiative. We met Dr Wong Lai Sum, CEO, Malaysia External
Trade Development Corporation, who took a brief pause to talk to us
about this fascinating and gentle land that has an increasingly
elevated standing in the Asian arena of trade, technological
manufacture, and food and tourism.
Dr Wong is a diminutive dynamo of energy and enthusiasm
for the promotion of all things Malaysian. “My visit
to the UK is timed to coincide with the Malaysia Night event in
Trafalgar Square on Friday 4th October. This is the fourth time we have
held this and we are pleased to have this ‘night out’ with our friends
from Great Britain. It is for us a very engaging platform – people can
meet and get to know one another better, through our cuisine. Both our
Prime Ministers are enthusiastic about increasing trade between our
countries and we share such a long history that we decided to carry on
that tradition and remain close to one another, and that’s one of the
reasons that we are having the Malaysia Night. It is of great strategic
importance: if you look across all the events planned by Malaysian
agencies and ministries I think the UK ranks very highly. It’s an
investment on our part and we would like to see it grow.
“At this time of the year there are an amazing number of visitors in
the UK, and this is one reason why we are holding the Malaysia Night
just now: to invite tourists visiting Britain to come and visit us.
People cannot possibly collaborate and do business and become friends
if they do not begin with partnerships, and that is what we are trying
to build. If you want to know what this night is about, it’s about
building linkages, providing that platform for people to see that the
country has diversity and racial harmony; we are very friendly, and we
love inviting our friends to Malaysia. The airlines have been invited
to be a part of it, and the restaurants are there so even if you can’t
go to Malaysia you can take a bite of Malaysia here in London.
“If I’m asked to describe the cuisine of Malaysia, I say it’s three
cultures in one mouthful – Malay, Indian and Chinese! It’s pretty
simple, and in that sense we offer great value. Why did we choose food?
If you have a good mind experience and stomach experience in a
particular place your palate is overwhelmed and you become enamoured of
that country, and you want to be a part of it.
“Yesterday we had lunch at Selfridges, and on the menu was Malay Curry,
Char Kuey Teow, Malaysian Curry Laksa, and Nasi Goreng, and I think
that demonstrates Malaysian cuisine coming into maturity. I would like
to flood your whole market with Malaysian restaurants, but that is not
going to be the way to get people to eat Malaysian. The idea is
developing relationships, getting people to bring home a piece of
Malaysia. People want to eat Malaysia – instead of ‘chicken tonight’ it
could be ‘Malaysia tonight’. Why roast turkey in the traditional way
when you can serve it at Christmas the Malaysian way?
“We want to generate a taste for Malaysian cuisine so you
can embrace it, and now you can find those flavours all
over the UK in supermarkets. When I first went to Wing Yip’s there were
a few pastes and sauces from Malaysia, but now there are rows of
products, and I was really pleased by the fact that these actually
sold, and people really came to buy them! These and non-food products
are now available online through Amazon, and Wing Yip’s are looking at
selling them online – that’s ‘making it in the market’. We hope that
when people keep seeing the word ‘Malaysia’ they will come and visit
us, come and do business with us.
“We involved the restaurants in the Malaysia Night event because before
you can get people to cook Malaysian they have to know how it tastes.
Not everybody cooks, and they need to get a mouthful of what we are
about, and that’s an opportunity to get it. Social media has been
active in promoting the event, and that’s the way to get people engaged.
“Food is everywhere – Malaysians just love to eat! You can stay at a
5-star international hotel in Malaysia for a song – we are among the
lowest price in South-east Asia but our service is top-class. At the
same time we are able to cater to your western palate, even if you want
a shepherd’s pie – but you might have to take it with a twist!” We all
laugh at that prospect.
“There are lots of visitors who come from Europe to Malaysia every year
and we would like to encourage people to spend the coldest months in
our country. At the same time we have plenty of people who come from
Malaysia to London at Christmas, we love Christmas in London – it’s not
just one-way traffic. That helps us all to draw closer together.
“Malaysian companies are fairly well invested in the hospitality
industry in the UK, and we link it with food and cuisine. We have a
knack of producing great confectionery – we don’t have your quality of
milk, but we buy milk from Europe and we produce great chocolates! We
make very good quality cocoa, and we manufacture very good cocoa butter
– some of the cocoa butter available in the UK comes from Malaysia, and
is used in skin-care as well as food applications.
“There is some Malaysian food that comes into the UK in the form of
ingredients that many people are not aware of. For example, palm oil:
our palm oil often comes in as speciality fats – some is used for
cooking but a lot is used in pastries and confectionery. We invest
here, and we seek investment from British companies into Malaysia,
levering on the fact that we are right in the heart of ASEAN (the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations) – we are smack in the middle of
On my last visit to Malaysia I had the chance to taste many Peranakan
dishes and these are unique to the Malay peninsula. Dr Wong told me
more about this extraordinary community and their vibrant food. “When
the Chinese first came from the Fujian province in around the 15th
century, there were a lot of intermarriages (because people get
lonely!). One of the Chinese emissaries was Princess Hang Li Poh, and
to get diplomatic relations going in those days people got married!
Very uniquely the Peranakans do not speak Chinese; they adapted to the
local culture and speak Malay. They dress in a unique way, and have effectively
the pottery in which it is served is very much Chinese; however, the
cooking is rather Malay mixed with Chinese. In a way it’s fusion, but
it came about in the 15th century.”
Malaysia has coast and farmland and provides fresh produce for many
called Nasi Dadang – trade rice – so-called because the traders used to
carry it on their journeys. The people of the east coast were mostly
fishermen, and they would preserve the fish by deep-frying and pounding
it, mixing it with rice, blue colouring from flowers, and fragrant
herbs. As you move further down the coast to Pahang the colour changes
– it is no longer blue but white. Take Assam Laksa or Penang Laksa: if
you go south to Johor the original noodles were not available so they
use flat cut noodles and cook it with coconut and fish.”
I was in Malaysia a few months ago, and I noted on my return to the UK
that it seemed to be referred to as ‘that country next to Singapore’ –
no, Malaysia is Malaysia. Singapore is sometimes seen as a polished gem
but Malaysia is that hidden one! Hidden in plain view and it should not
be overlooked. It’s a country of such natural beauty and with such
cultural and gastronomic diversity. It’s a warm and welcoming haven for
those who want to enjoy some of the best that Asia has to offer, and
all in one country.
Dr Wong flies the Malaysian flag for food tourism and much more. “We
not only want to promote Malaysia as a stopover, but also as a great
place to do business – in and with. For a long time people described
Malaysia as ‘that land-mass between Thailand and Singapore’, but over
time, as people come to know Malaysia better, they recognise our
strengths: many people speak English, so there are no difficulties with
communication; there’s no problem of training the work force; we have
more land available than some other ASEAN countries; looking at
services, we are quite strong in banking, in logistics and ICT
(Information and Communication Technologies). Malaysia has special
qualities, and we are not just that ‘land-mass’.
“Other agencies and ministries like the Ministry of Tourism are
organising a number of events. The Ministry of Culture organised
‘Malaysia Culture Week’, then there is Malaysia Night, and then there
will be a whole month of art shows. This is about building links,
because only when people understand how rich each other’s culture is
can they start digging deeper. We have capabilities in Malaysia to
produce even equipment for the aerospace industry – there’s a lot of
interest from British companies to come over and invest in Malaysian
aerospace, and we encourage that. The market today is not just about
the United Kingdom, nor Europe, it’s about the whole Asia-Pacific, and
the whole world.”
There are indeed many Indian restaurants named after
buildings, but unlike curry houses claiming to be the Taj Mahal,
Dockmaster’s House truly is the house of a dockmaster …or at least it
London’s Dockland has had a history of vibrant
from around the world and some
of that would likely have been exotic spices, so there is a degree of
The striking brick building that is now home to the Dockmaster’s House
restaurant is a listed three-storey model of Georgian architecture.
Built 200 years ago it has gone through several incarnations including
that of a pub called the Jamaica Tavern, and in 1926 the building
became the offices for the Dock Superintendent and his staff; it
remained a dock office until 1980.
A remarkable building deserves a chef of equal stature and it has just
that in the guise of chef Navin Bhatia. No, you don’t see him gracing
your TV screens and his name might not be familiar to most regular
restaurant-goers. He is, however, one of the most respected chefs in
contemporary Indian restaurant circles. He has the highest of culinary
Navin attended the Institute of Hotel Management
as The Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development.) That temple of
gastronomic excellence has turned out some of the world’s finest chefs.
Navin came to London in 1998 and he got the opportunity in 2006 to come
to Dockmaster’s and redevelop the place from its previous existence as
a ‘curry house’. Over these past years it has gained a reputation for
quality restaurant dining as well as providing excellent catering for
events, including weddings. The building lends itself to smart soirees,
with much of that Georgian grandeur remaining, but now trimmed with
Dockmaster’s House is a superb spot for summer dining and even
barbecues, as there is a quiet garden that invites warm-weather
lingering. That verdant space still enhances the restaurant ambiance
with the onset of cooler weather: it’s delightfully lit by night,
creating a romantic and calming vista.
Navin Bhatia takes his inspiration from across India and he is
imaginative. We attended an event for Zomato, the new
enjoyed Prawn Balchao, a traditional spicy prawn
curry from Goa. It’s a unique dish often described as a pickle with
sweet and sour flavours. On this evening it was presented on a steamed
bun that offered a foil to the heat of the prawns. Very different from
the expected rice but this bread worked admirably.
Sea Bass with Malabari Coconut Sauce was acclaimed by the whole table
as a triumph. Navin has a deft hand with the spice tray – this dish was
well-balanced and delicious. The sauce was the kind that one would eat
even without the garnish of succulent fish, and indeed eat by the
bucketful. This should be a signature dish and you won’t want to miss
this on your visit to Dockmaster’s House.
Lamb rump was our main course and each slice was cooked to a delicate
pink and with a rich sauce that enhanced the flavour. A pastry-topped
biryani was the side dish, although that golden-crested bowl of rice
would have been a very acceptable stand-alone meal. With every course,
each jockeying for position to be the favourite for the evening, came
an introduction or an anecdote from Chef Navin.
Dockmaster’s House has architectural charm by the boatload, the food is
memorable and noteworthy, but perhaps the biggest asset of this fine
restaurant is its chef. Navin Bhatia has an easy way with his guests;
he is a natural speaker and a fine ambassador for his restaurant and
for Indian food, for which he shows so much enthusiasm.
For lunch or dinner, the Courtesy Car Service to and from Dockmaster’s
House will pick up diners from anywhere in Canary Wharf and surrounding
areas and take them straight to the restaurant free of charge. To book
the car, phone: 020 7345 0345.
1 Hertsmere Road
London E14 8JJ
Phone: 020 7345 0345
It’s a cookbook by the celebrated Indian TV chef Sanjeev
Kapoor, so it’s bound to be full of delicious innovation and
temptation. But my dear reader will be thinking the master has
overstepped the mark with this one: The Yellow Chilli Cookbook? How
many recipes contain yellow chilli?
Perhaps a timely word of culinary explanation is needed here. It isn’t
the recipes that contain yellow chilli but more
accurately Yellow Chilli that contains the recipes. Yellow Chilli is a
chain of successful casual restaurants that are found in India and,
increasingly, beyond. The book offers an insight into the bill of fare
for those of us who, as yet, have not had the pleasure of visiting a
This is undoubtedly an Indian cookbook but these days the ingredients
are almost universally available. Tawa Aloo Jeera could likely be made
with spices already in a Western store cupboard. These cumin-flavoured
baby potatoes could constitute part of an Asian meal but would also
work well in place of roast potatoes with your traditional Sunday joint.
Sanjeev Kapoor’s Chicken Chettinad is vibrant with those spices that
make this cuisine so prized. Yes, there is a sizeable list of
ingredients but those spices are inexpensive and easily available, and
once you have them you will be able to turn your attention to many of
the other recipes in this book. This is a perfect Northern winter
warmer and chicken is still one of the most economic non-vegetarian
Another ingredient to spin-out the housekeeping money is minced lamb.
In truth Sanjeev suggests minced mutton and that is available in some
specialist butchers and Asian markets, but lamb is found everywhere.
The flavour will not be so pronounced but it will still work in Keema
Hari do Pyaaza. The main flavourings here are onions (that’s the pyaaza
element) and chillies which offer both heat and remarkable taste.
My pick of the book and a truly outstanding entertaining dish is Chandi
Korma. Its garnish of silver varq will reinforce the impression of rich
extravagance and it is edible, but the dish will become a favourite
even without the glittery bits. It’s not only the shimmer of silver,
though, that is royal. It’s well-laced with mawa (a condensed dairy
product), and cheese and nuts. A little goes along way and it will be a
Sanjeev Kapoor is perhaps the most recognised face in India and was
even voted the Man Most Trusted. He is a trained chef rather than a TV
presenter drafted for the job. His recipes are as trustworthy as he,
and indeed his international audience is increasing with Yellow Chilli
restaurants arriving outside India. This is real Indian food which is
displayed with flair and good taste – a classic culinary jewel in a
The Yellow Chilli Cookbook
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan
Price: Rs 595/-
Visit Sanjeev Kapoor here
Visit Yellow Chilli here
Taoka of Kiku – Fish aficionado
Kiku is a Japanese restaurant conveniently located near
Green Park station in Mayfair, and at the top of Half Moon Street. It’s
one of the quieter thoroughfares, but popular with ‘them in the know’
as it’s the home of this exceptional eatery. I wonder why it isn’t more
celebrated, but perhaps those regulars have the right idea: enjoy Kiku
but say nothing lest increased fame change its quality, ambiance or,
heaven forbid, its prices!
Kiku was first established in Mayfair in 1978 and has gained a
reputation for serving authentic Japanese cuisine. The owners,
Mariko and Hisashi Taoka, are dedicated to presenting the freshest of
food in a calming cocoon of blond wood. Mariko oversees front of house
and seems to know many of her diners personally. She manages to
maintain the sense of a traditional Japanese restaurant but in such a
charming fashion that the Japanese food virgin need not feel
intimidated by what might be an unfamiliar menu.
The restaurant is unmistakably Japanese; the upper level is artfully
designed to allow for perching at the sushi bar, and that level also
has regular table seating. The ground floor is the principal dining
area, and there is a room for private functions. It’s a light and
contemporary space that is uncluttered without being too zen and
clinical. It sports none of those sunken seat wells that have become
ubiquitous in other Japanese-esque restaurants. I prefer a regular
chair or a cushion, both of which offer at least the possibility of an
elegant ascent and exit. Kiku has regard for the comfort and dignity of
Kiku diners are both Japanese and non-Japanese. The Embassy is just a
few yards along Piccadilly and I know that the restaurant has devoted
followers associated with various embassy departments. One is reassured
when one discovers national groups enjoying food in their own culinary
establishments. I assume they know more about the food than do I, and
Kiku attracts some knowledgeable and supportive Japanese
Yes, this is Mayfair and the home of the polished, posh and pricey, and
perhaps that’s the reason why Kiku has endured and thrived. Its menus
are deliciously accessible without the need of a second mortgage. The
lunch menu offers dishes that I have not found elsewhere – simple yet
authentic fare that will gladden the heart of anyone looking for real
Japanese food at a reasonable price and preferably not served on a
plastic tray covered with plastic wrap and tasting of …well, plastic.
Dinner can be as rustic or elaborate as one would like.
Hisashi Taoka is a fascinating man with an extraordinary talent and
passion for fish. His enthusiasm is infectious and his engaging manner
enthrals even those listeners who would normally find the piscatorial
world underwhelming. He has spent his life buying fish, selling fish,
and eating fish (and good food of every hue).
Hisashi was no stranger to London even before he set up in business
here. He came as a student working towards his graduate thesis; on his
return to Japan he joined a company that periodically sent him back to
these shores. “I eventually joined my father’s business. He had a small
Japanese inn, the Mikuniya ryokan. I tried to run the company, but that
didn’t go well so he gave me some capital to help me start up my own
business, and I came back to the UK.
“I had for many years been looking for a place to set
up, and eventually I found one in White Horse Street, Mayfair. Then an
investment company took the property over, and about 16 years ago we
moved to our present location in Half Moon Street.
“I knew the taste of Japanese food more than the average
since I was small I
could recognise the best quality fish, and every day I had the chance
to see how it was prepared. The fish markets were near to my home so I
became familiar with every kind of seafood.
“I had a fish shop in Billingsgate market for 3 years and I also
imported Japanese food and sake. I developed the tuna fish element of
the business and became a consultant for fishing in Malta. It was 1996
when I was asked to advise Algeria, first with sea-urchin fishing and
later with tuna fishing, but security issues were a problem –
terrorists were targeting tourists. The Japanese embassy telephoned me
to say, ‘Don’t go!’; the Algerian embassy said, ‘Don’t come!’, but I
went anyway. It was difficult to find a fishing boat, but this was the
first breakthrough for Algeria. Libya asked us for help to export fish,
but again security was an issue.
“Six or seven years ago the Egyptians asked me to help, and I gave
advice on the octopus and tuna fishing. I worked with them to set up a
factory, establishing the standards that enabled them to export their
products. I taught them how to control the quality on the boat so they
could get a much better price.”
In fact on cross-questioning one realises that Hisashi Taoka has worked
as a consultant in the fishing industry across the globe and can talk
with authority about business practices and risks. He had to come to
terms with the shadier elements of Sicilian society when he was taken
on a sightseeing tour. His host showed Hisashi the extent of his
business interests - ‘This is the sea: MY sea; we catch the fish: they
are MY fish.’”
Although still a respected fish expert, Hisashi spends more time
looking after local projects and the Kiku fish supply, rather than
risking life and limb in potential war zones or criminal strongholds.
“I used to go to the airport, pick up tuna and take it to the Japanese
fish merchant, although I would cut the fish up myself, because I think
I can do this better than most! Some fish merchants who set up here
don’t really know the fish very well, so I am often asked to help.”
Fish will always be close to the culinary heart of Hisashi, but he
loves food in all its guises. As a young man he says he would spend all
his cash on food, trying new restaurants and returning to favourites.
He has an educated palate for all cuisines, not just for classic
Japanese dishes. I asked Hisashi if he felt that the subtleties of
Japanese gastronomy were best displayed by Japanese chefs. “One of my
old friends, a chef in this country, now works at a Japanese fish
merchant. The merchant had several restaurants and once or twice a week
the chef had to visit to check the consistency of dishes because the
taste would change. A non-Japanese chef, although working in a similar
fashion to a Japanese chef, might revert to his own mother’s taste
references. It’s very difficult to set a standard for the authentic
Hisashi definitely has well-practised Japanese cuisine
For example, looking at
squid, there are more than 120 types and only a few are available from
Cornwall. Similarly, cuttlefish: we had to find recipes to suit the
catch. Squid is seasonal, too, so we take them at the best time, and
freeze them. We used to do the same with salmon, or we would bring them
in from overseas – luckily I knew how to arrange the import of the best
fish. Our main menu does not change much, but on the other menus we
change items every couple of weeks, and if any dish is popular with our
diners it may find its way onto the main menu.
“I choose all the fish, vegetables and meat that we use at the
restaurant. I was the first to import black cod into this country in
1990. It came from Alaska via Japan to the UK. It was much appreciated
by our Japanese customers. At that time we had a very shabby location
for our restaurant in a side street, so not many people knew what we
It’s evident that fish is still the core of the Kiku business, and they
have the advantage over many other Japanese restaurants, or fish
restaurants of other culinary persuasions: they have Hisashi to
safeguard the quality of ingredients. But the customer is the honoured
guest at Kiku. Hisashi explains his philosophy. “I tell the staff to
put themselves in the customer’s place, and to remember the customer
only wants the best.”
Covers: 96 seats including 15 at the counter and 10 in an intimate
private dining room.
Kiku Japanese Restaurant
17 Half Moon Street, London W1J 7BE
Phone: 020 7499 4208
Visit Kiku here
Restaurant – Soho
- Asian Food review
This is a relatively new kid on the block although Dozo in
Old Brompton Road has been around for a while. This new Soho branch
enjoys a spot on Old Compton Street. That’s not the touristy side of
Shaftesbury Avenue but the more eclectic streets to the north of that
thoroughfare and away from Chinatown proper.
Dozo swells the ranks of that new breed of Japanese restaurants that
tend towards tatami matting and sunken seat wells. Its location in this
trendy corner of Soho assures this Dozo is filled with younger lovers
of Japanese food who have the physical flexibility to negotiate such
extraordinary seating. There are regular tables with regular chairs
ranged over the back half of the restaurant, so prospective diners need
not be put off.
The Soho branch, practicalities aside, is a rather attractive
restaurant with a striking mural and plenty of natural wood. The
crockery is rustic and in earth tones and adds to the impression of
warmth. Dozo presents its dishes in a thoughtful and appealing way that
one would more readily associate with far more expensive restaurants.
Sushi and sashimi are on the menu at Dozo and that’s no surprise, but
it offers so much more and it would be a shame to visit and not try
something a little different. Aburi sushi is prepared with thicker
slices of fish or meat than would be used for regular cold sushi or
sashimi. The fish is quickly grilled but remains moist and picks up a
delicate flavour from the charring. The salmon Aburi should not be
Robata Raki are skewers of grilled foods – meat, fish or
and skewers of glistening
shitake mushrooms; but the Enoki Bacon skewers are outstanding and
bacon is seldom seen in Japanese restaurants.
Black cod has become ubiquitous on Japanese menus over the last four or
five years. Dozo presents Gindara Saikyo Miso cod. This miso is pale in
colour and prized for its sweetness. This is perhaps the most visually
impressive dish on the bill of fare here, and neither flavour nor
Ironically I found the most deliciously striking dish on the Dozo menu
wasn’t to be found on the list of fish or meat dishes but with the
vegetables. It’s the remarkable Nasu Dengaku – grilled aubergine with
sweet miso dressing and sesame seeds. This was a beautiful
mahogany-coloured preparation with a silky texture. I believe the
aubergine is first steamed and then pan-fried to give its marvellously
Dozo Soho hasn’t been open long but it already has a loyal following of
those looking for more than sushi. It’s an ideal restaurant in which to
try some unique dishes.
She is passionate about sake but Rie Yoshitake is a woman
with many facets. This slender and attractive woman exudes
sophistication and refined Japanese charm but she has a sense of
humour, a quick smile, and loves tennis. She is a consummate
professional, is vibrant and enthusiastic and it’s that energy that has
allowed her to become a powerhouse for the promotion of sake and
anything else that might introduce fine Japanese goods to a wider
market in delicious fashion.
Ms.Yoshitake has called London home for more
than two and a half
decades and is uniquely placed to represent and support Japanese sake
and wine producers. Her heart remains proudly Japanese but her
experience as a successful businesswoman in the West has won her
professional respect from both quarters. She has a natural flair for
communication and for understanding both European and Japanese business
‘When I came here my interest was to build a bridge between
doing something useful.’
This lady is comfortable with the frenetic pace of London’s wine and
sake industry but her birthplace is gentler. ‘I came from the
countryside, a remote, tiny fishermen’s village, so I was brought up at
the seaside, which was very much associated with seafood. My house was
a 200-year-old hotel or ryokan and fish-house, selling seafood to the
local people. I was always eating good food; and sake was always part
of entertaining. Sake is integral to thousands of years of our history,
it’s our lifeblood: we marry by exchanging sake, we start the New Year
by drinking sake, when we build a new house it is consecrated with
sake. It’s used for every ceremony, every celebration in Japan, but as
a child I never thought I would like it!’
Rie graduated from Seinan University in Japan with a Bachelor's Degree
in English. She gained a teaching qualification and worked at Tokai
University’s Daigo Senior High School, before becoming a research
assistant at the School of Medicine, Kyushu University; but that was
not to be Rie’s ultimate career.
Rie’s family were traditional. ‘By the time you reach say, 24, after
university, you were expected to get married and be happy as a
housewife, and that is exactly what I was looking for, too – to find a
man to whom I could devote my life. Omiai is arranged
marriage in Japan and most of my girlfriends got married like that –
meeting two or three times, the next rendezvous is to set the wedding
thought that was quite natural, but somewhere in my blood there was an
interest in travel. Watching European and American films,
subconsciously I was inspired to see more of the world. I wanted to
study overseas, to go abroad to find something different.’
Rie studied and worked in Canada and the US before arriving in London
in 1986 with two suitcases, and she stayed for five years without going
home. ‘When I went back I was offered a job working for a Japanese
company. I was very happy to see my parents, and to see that they were
pleased that I had done something independently.’
In 1990 Rie became the sole UK representative
of Sogo, one of Japan's
largest department stores. ‘I was given a mission to help develop the
Japanese fine wine section. I knew nothing about it – I didn’t even
like wine, but meeting with a wine merchant, I was given my first taste
of serious wine – a Pétrus. I thought, “My God, this job is not
too bad!” I found the wine interesting because it was delicious, and
came with a lot of history behind it. After that I learned about wine
and got to know the wine merchants here, and eventually became one of
the biggest wine buyers in London. After ten years, I became more
Rie left Sogo in 2001 to become a founder of
Claret Ltd., in
partnership with two former colleagues. ‘Wine is my expertise and
profession, and I think I know quite a lot about the wine network in
this country. Not many people appreciate how important London is as a
wine capital. It’s not France – they make it, but London has always
been a centre for wine and controlled by networking.’
In 2007, the Sake Samurai
Association asked Rie to take on the role of
their UK representative. ‘Japanese sake makers are struggling. At the
time of World War II there were 7000 sake makers in Japan; now there
are barely 1000, and ten close every year. So young sake brewers
decided they had to do something, and set up the Sake Samurai
Association in 2006. They came to me because I was in London in the
wine network, and asked me to be their sake representative. They
believed that to promote sake overseas it should be presented as part
of the wine market, focusing upon England first, as this is where the
wine trade and prominent media are based. So they asked me to help to
set up a wine competition outside Japan.
‘There is a highly respected International Wine
Challenge which is
networked around the world and has been running for 30 years. We set up
a sake competition in 2007 and sent out the sake to the judges,
European as well as Japanese. We gave awards, to publicise sake to the
world. After seven years the competition is really thriving. In the
first year we only had 100 sakes, now there are nearly 600. The
Japanese government realised how important it was to maintain the
identity of the country, especially after the earthquake in 2011. Japan
really struggled and tried hard to safeguard its culture. Japan decided
to protect sake and recognised the International Wine Challenge,
together with the Sake Samurai Association, as groups that would help.
Now the government is buying award-winning sakes and sending them to
embassies and official residences overseas, for them to promote it.’
I asked Rie if, after so many years living away from her homeland, she
was able to look at Japanese culture with fresh eyes? ‘I learned that
away from Japan I can understand my Japanese culture better. If you
really want to know yourself you have to look from outside in. If I
could say something loudly to Japan it would be: “Don’t look just for
happiness overseas. Although it might seem that the grass is always
greener on the other side, you have lots of beautiful things at home,
beautiful traditions, beautiful sakes – cherish them.” That’s my
message. Japan tries to Europeanise, to Americanise, everywhere. When I
go back I feel really sad when I see all the advertising in English and
in katakana (foreign characters) – I hardly ever see the beautiful
Japanese characters. Even houses are modernised – no tatami on the
floor any more. I’m sure everywhere is the same, it’s very difficult to
balance, but you have to respect tradition and also respect movement
and change. You can’t not change, because if you don’t change you risk
‘Sake is in a way the same. When I started helping Sake Samurai seven
years ago I was promoting sake in the old-fashioned way, to respect the
past, because I always thought of sake as something traditional. So
when we did events everyone was wearing kimonos. But to be honest I
don’t think it totally works. It has a value, but now I say to them
that if you really want to export sake overseas you have to be
flexible, adapt to their way of doing things – if they cannot use
chopsticks, why force them to use them? You don’t have to expect other
cultures to do the same thing as the Japanese.’
Since Rie has been at the forefront of sake promotion outside Japan for
many years I wondered if she had noticed a change of perception of sake
in London. ‘Sake has changed a lot. When I started, the sake available
was old and consumed in poor condition which meant that it had to be
drunk warm to disguise the taste. People didn’t know any different. But
good sake is now coming here and when we started offering good sake to
the market and restaurants, people started saying, “My God, sake is
delicious!” People were suspicious at first, but everybody’s reaction
was very positive. I want people to understand that sake is not a
spirit, it’s brewed, and it’s slightly higher in alcohol than wine, and
it’s not bad for your health – in fact it’s said to be good for the
skin and the liver. The mindset is changing, slowly, as we continue the
competitions and tastings, and thanks to the popularity of Japanese
food in this country many more people have the opportunity to taste
‘The next stage of my mission is to prove that
sake does not fight with
food, which means that it can be drunk with other
cuisines – European,
Indian, Chinese, Lebanese. That’s something I want people to know and
to try. I want sake to be just one of the choices they have on the
drinks menu. You could start with champagne, go on to sake, then red
wine, and then even finish with sake. People shouldn’t think that sake
only goes with Japanese food, or that it doesn’t go with other drinks.
‘I went to Paris for a sake summit recently. Eight countries got
together, and for the first time I tasted sake made in Norway, using
rice imported from Japan. It was good, and from my knowledge of the
European palate I think it will be greatly appreciated in this country.
I think this is the way it will go – making sake outside of Japan but
using the technology of Japan. We cannot hold on to such a tradition,
insisting that sake can only be made in Japan. Sake makers will have to
travel outside, and help others to make sake. If you want to protect
it, the more mass-market it becomes, the more people understand, and
they will want to go back to try the original, authentic, Japanese
version. This will raise the Japanese sake profile, and more people
will know about and buy Japanese sake. It’s rather like the phenomenon
of the fine-wine market – most people will buy mass-market wines, but
they learn to respect the finest wines and will always want to buy
those when they can. So Japanese producers must go out with pride, and
teach others overseas.
‘Sake needs a new image and a new audience. I know that sake makers do
not like sake being used for cocktails, or sake drunk from glasses, but
it’s much better in terms of taste. They have to be open-minded.
I feel I am a bridge – not to bring A to A, B to B, but to adapt A to
B’s culture. Both of them should understand that it’s not a matter of
logistics, but cultural interpretation. I enjoy trying to find the best
way, and it seems to be successful.
‘I found sake is a good medium for me to promote Japan. My main aim is
to introduce Japan to the UK, and maybe vice versa – I can present
something new from here to Japan; but I am not limited to sake or wine,
or any kind of commodity. I call myself an international communication
specialist. I want to help people understand each other. I am very
interested in producing documentaries on culture, sake, or wine, for
instance. I would also like to send useful people like journalists to
Japan: I want to create a cultural liaison.’
Rie Yoshitake has a focus on international dialogue. She works closely
with Japanese fine wine producers, and their labels are making a mark
in the world-wide viticulture arena. But her joy and her strengths lie
in her ability to tell Japan’s story. Yes, it’s sake and more.
Find out more about Rie Yoshitake and her work with Sake
Yoshinori Ishii of UMU of Mayfair
One searches for a striking restaurant, and once found,
one feels quietly impressed. Perhaps it’s a collection of elements that
combine to offer comfort without showy embellishment, and gastronomic
excellence with disarming simplicity. Chef Yoshinori Ishii presides
over just such a rare establishment, and that is UMU of Mayfair (see
All chefs, one would hope, have a passion for food and most channel all
their energies into culinary excellence. But Yoshinori Ishii is a true
Renaissance Man, a talented polymath. His influence in UMU is evident
in every corner. His skills take him from the heat of the kitchen (more
realistically a set of very sharp knives) to the potter’s wheel, to the
calligrapher’s brush and to vases of flowers.
Yoshinori’s family have had no connection with food but
‘As a child, I used to go fishing with my family, friends, or by
myself, whenever I had the chance, to a river or a pond near my house.
If I went with my father he took me to the sea, and when I became a
high-school student I bought myself a motorcycle and used that to go
fishing further away. I started cooking the fish that I caught, and
that meant that I had to cook sauces or side dishes to go with them. I
learned little by little from magazines, cookbooks and TV. That’s just
one of the reasons that I wanted to be a chef.
‘I loved to make things by hand: calligraphy, photography, pottery.
Whatever I had around me I used: if I had clay, I made pots; if I had a
pen, I would write something; if I had a brush, I practised
calligraphy. I loved to see the smile on the face of my mother or my
friends if I gave them something that I had made. Maybe that’s the main
reason for my decision: if I became a calligrapher I could only do
calligraphy; if I became a potter, I could only make pots; but if I
became a chef, I thought that I would be able to do all those things
together, as indeed I am doing now: the flower arrangements here, the
calligraphy. I designed the menu, and I made the hanko seal stamp
myself.’ He is in the process of making hundreds of dishes that will,
perhaps, grace the tables at UMU for years to come.
‘I wanted to travel, and I was thinking that if I became a very good
chef I could leave Japan. Even without other languages I thought that I
could find work if I had the skills. I was talking about this with my
best friend at high school. I was playing drums with a band, and my
friend was a punk rocker. We were sharing a 50-Yen bread roll, because
that was all we could afford for lunch – everything else was spent on
music. My friend told me that if I wanted to become a chef I should go
to Kitcho to work. I didn’t know what this was. Now I know it is one of
the best restaurants in Japan, with 3 Michelin stars.
‘I had no connections with the restaurant, but a culinary school in
Osaka had associations with it. I was still a bit too young to join
such a restaurant, anyway. I wanted to see more before I started work
at a restaurant, because I knew that once I joined I would be working
from 6 in the morning until late! So I spent a year at culinary school
where I learned French and Chinese cuisines, before I joined that
traditional Japanese restaurant, Kitcho.’
Yoshinori appreciated the quality of every aspect of Kitcho’s
fine-dining experience. ‘For example I learned about pottery. At the
restaurant they were using plates of museum quality – just one plate
might be worth £500, and the most expensive bowl would buy a
castle in this country. It was an unbelievably high-end restaurant!
Visiting a museum one can just look at such dishes, but using that
plate I could feel the potter who made it 300 years ago. It was very
interesting for me.
‘Little by little I learned everything I needed, and in the
it became harder to leave. By the
ninth year at the restaurant, when I was 28, I was thinking that if I
stayed any longer I would spend the rest of my life there, and that
wasn’t part of my dream.
‘I had a connection with the Japanese Foreign Office,
and I asked about a chef position with an embassy. I wanted to see
Europe, and one day I got an offer from the Japanese ambassador to the
United Nations in Geneva. I decided to go; everything went smoothly and
I spent three years there. I was in charge of his parties at the
residence or at the embassy: ten guests at the residence or two or
three hundred at the embassy.
‘This was a big change for me. I could not get any fresh fish in Geneva
at first. Then I found a fisherman in Lac Léman (I’m still in
contact with him), and he gave me his best Arctic Charr – it’s a rare
fish, but when he got some I would use it for sashimi and sushi. Even
the vegetables I tried to grow at the residence, and served them to
guests. Everything was very positive, but at the same time I had to be
‘I spent three years with the ambassador there, and then he was asked
to move to New York. He invited me to go with him, and I thought “Why
not?” I spent three years there, but when the ambassador returned to
Japan I had to follow because of my visa terms; but it was my dream to
open a business in New York. It’s a very different story from London –
I could order any fish from Japan three times a week, good ingredients
were always available, and I would already have a good customer base.
‘At this time I had a girlfriend in New York (who is my wife now) and
there were friends in Japan who said that they wanted to help me as
investors. I returned to New York and met Mr Morimoto, the most famous
Japanese chef in America; he enabled me to get an artist’s visa by
employing me as a ‘culinary artist’. I spent four years with him in New
York. I met a lot of investors, but it would have needed big money to
set up a small restaurant. At the same time I had an invitation from
UMU, so I came to London.
I asked if it was very difficult for a traditional Japanese chef in
London to find the quality of ingredients needed. ‘I think so, but it
depends on what level of Japanese food the chef pursues. The quality of
fish that I am buying is the best in this country, even in Europe,
because most of the fish comes directly overnight from Cornwall. They
catch 100 or 200 fish every day, but select maybe ten to send to me.
They are packed correctly, as I have taught them, and I only accept
fish that are undamaged, and that means line-caught, not farm-raised as
far as possible, and sustainable.
‘I have a lot of fishmonger friends in this city, and I know that 95%
or more of Japanese restaurants are using farm-raised fish. It is easy:
same quality all the time, no need to think about the weather, no need
to worry about the cost.’
Yoshinori is not only a chef but an educator. He is concerned about
fish stocks, sustainability and freshness, and he teaches fishermen
techniques that address all those issues. ‘Most of the fishermen in
this country just put the fish into a bucket or container, pile more
fish on top, and then back in port they put them on ice. The bigger
boats sometimes stay at sea for 5 or 6 days, and at the market the fish
are sold as ‘just caught’, but they might be 5 days old already. I was
surprised when I saw that. The first time I went to sea it was April,
but a warm day, and yet the fish were not put in ice. They explained
that if they took ice to sea it would make the boat heavier, and they
would not have anywhere to store the ice on board, either.
‘So I decided that I should buy from fishermen who
the ice free of
charge, and will then buy the fish at above market price. Having found
this fishmonger, I needed to teach their fishermen how to kill the
fish. The best way is to sever the spine immediately with a knife, just
as it comes on board. Then I ask them to put a wire through the spine,
from head to tail, to remove the spinal cord. This way the fish lasts
longer at the highest quality, because the flesh is disconnected from
the brain. This technique is well-known in the Japanese food industry
and among restaurateurs and fishmongers. In Japan the fish-markets are
equipped with an air-gun to remove the spine instantly.
‘Since I started here, I have asked more than ten fishermen to use this
technique for me, but only a few will do that regularly. I have seen
for myself how busy the crew are as the net is hauled in, and it is a
lot of effort to kill the fish in the way that I want. I offer to buy
these fish at a 50% premium, but even so, only a small proportion can
be processed this way. The rest are put straight into ice, and this is
so much better than nothing.
‘If we look at sea-bass as an example, a 2kg to 3kg fish is enough for
us for one day, but if several fishermen go out and catch sea-bass I
might receive two fish, which is too much; but when the spine is cut
the fish changes colour, so the fishmonger cannot sell it elsewhere. In
Colchester we have a fishmonger from whom we buy when the weather in
Cornwall is bad. I asked if someone there could provide sea-bass or
Dover sole, and some fishermen were interested in my work. I offered to
come any time, to teach them the technique.’ Yoshinori is still waiting
for that call.
‘Bringing live fish to the restaurant would be the best way. In Japan,
I can call my supplier and order, say, one live Red Snapper from Kyushu
Island tomorrow morning, and tomorrow it arrives! But I don’t want to
keep a fish in a tank for long, as the taste begins to change. In Japan
they have developed a process of using an acupuncture-type needle to
render the fish unconscious; when the fish gets to the restaurant the
needle is removed and the fish becomes active again. In this country I
suspect that I am the only one talking about that, so no fishmonger is
going to do it for me.’
UMU is celebrated for its fresh fish but Chef Yoshinori is just as
dedicated to presenting the best quality meat and vegetables. ‘From
June to October we can get wonderful local produce from a farmer who is
running a 100% organic farm. His wife is Japanese so they can bring in
some very rare vegetables that they are growing in Kent. They deliver
at least once a week directly to the restaurant, and we use it for
green salad, for garnish, and for vegetables. Today we got some yellow
Caesar mushrooms from Italy, so some special ingredients come from
outside the UK, but we always try to source our vegetables locally.
‘As to the meat, the lamb and beef, I get these from an organic farmer
in Wales. I visited to check their organic system.
– and all their animals
were smiling at me! They are very good people, as well, so I decided
that I would buy all our meat from them.
‘Being a Japanese restaurant many customers expect Wagyu beef, which,
sadly, is difficult to get from this country. The only sources that
export to the UK are Australia and Chile, and it’s very expensive, but
that’s what our customers ask for. For myself, there are two kinds of
beef that I like: one is from the farmer in Wales; the other is
dry-aged beef, which I love – it’s not too fatty and has a fantastic
flavour. Wagyu beef I find too fatty for my liking. In Japan a small
piece might cost £100 but for me it’s too tender, too soft. Some
people will spend that much, but I love British beef!’
UMU is in skilled and dedicated hands. Chef Yoshinori Ishii is easy
company, has a ready smile and understands the Kaiseki philosophy of
making customers happy and content. He has a regard for seasonality and
a passion for quality of ingredients. His talents are many and he has
used them to complement marvellously this fine-dining restaurant.
14 - 16 Bruton Place
London W1J 6LX
Phone:+44 (0)20 7499 8881
Fax:+44 (0)20 7016 5120
Kuala Lumpur is a sometimes overlooked gem. It’s
overshadowed by its glitzy cousin, Singapore, but this city has
its own vibrancy and a unique character that deserves to be promoted.
It’s not just a stop-over en route to some rather nice beaches, it can
be an exciting and exotic destination in its own right.
It’s the federal capital and most populous city in Malaysia with an
area of 243 sprawling square kilometres (94 sq mi) and has an estimated
population of 1.6 million. It’s the official residence of the Malaysian
King and has played host to many international, sporting and cultural
events over the years including the Commonwealth Games and the Formula
One Grand Prix. Even those of us who have not the slightest interest in
excellence on the track for either man or machine will surely know that
Kuala Lumpur is home to the spectacular Petronas Twin Towers.
The ground floor entrance to the Grand Hyatt is imposing, spacious and
airy and what one would hope for in this standard of Asian hotel. Its
sweeping staircase, pond and a crescent-shaped sculpture which is
symbolic of Brunei and Malaysia, is the centrepiece. A circular
coloured glass art feature inscribed with a classic welcoming verse
from the Quran, “A thousand dinar,” stands near the entrance to the
ground floor restaurant.
Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur is a 39-storey hotel that officially opened on
August 24, 2012. Its location is superb in every regard. Those towers
decorate the view in the most impressive fashion from the hotel lobby -
that is the Sky lobby for check-in, on the top floor. One has a sense
of height and space when one looks towards the towers.
This well-appointed hotel has spacious accommodation that includes 370
regular rooms and 42 suites. Those suites are remarkable in both style
and facilities, and equal, in this traveller’s opinion, to the best you
will find anywhere. The floor-to-ceiling windows give views over the
city or to the Towers, making the panorama quite memorable when
appreciated from the vantage point of a roomy, round, marble bathtub.
It’s a pampering and sensual experience.
The hotel is aware that many of its guests must work. Its proximity to
the Convention Centre assures many business visitors who would,
doubtless, much rather be lounging in the bath-with-a-view than
working. The desk is substantial with every connection for
entertainment and communication that a budding executive might need.
Kuala Lumpur has a wealth of dining options and luckily one of the best
can be found on the ground floor of this very
JP teres features some of the most traditional of Malaysian dishes.
There are both indoor and outdoor dining areas set amongst lush
greenery and trickling water. The ambiance is tranquil and cool but the
food is vibrant and exotic.
I love Asian food in general and I find that Malaysian cuisine offers
so much that is exciting in this culinary region. The food ranges from
the spicy and addictive to the mild and comforting. Desserts are not
forgotten and they take advantage of local ingredients to produce
confections that will gladden the heart of anyone with a sweet craving.
Samosa - Potato, peas, Indian spices are familiar to every lover of
Indian food but they are a popular snack or starter in Malaysia, which
is a country of ethnic diversity, and that has added to the complexity
of cuisine and breadth of dishes on offer. Indian food is well
represented at JP teres, which has an imported tandoor, and the Chef de
Cuisine Azman Ahmad, although a local lad, draws upon his
Pilihan aneka satay - barbecued skewers – must be the
Otak otak is one of my favourite dishes from the Malay peninsula. It’s
a peranakan dish and is made by mixing fish paste (most often mackerel)
with spices. The resulting fish mousse is usually wrapped in a banana
leaf and cooked. It’s a must-try for any visitor.
Curry laksa - Yellow noodles, tofu, shrimp, fishcake, beansprouts, mint
and chicken in a curry broth is a classic and ubiquitous dish …and
Nasi lemak – Coconut rice, fried chicken, egg, crispy whitebait,
cucumber, peanuts, sambal – is a leaf-wrapped parcel that is often
consumed for breakfast but is popular at any time of the day
Murgh makhani – tandoor-oven roasted chicken, tomato and kashmiri
chilli – is a dish from India and is one of the most popular across the
Rendang daging - Braised beef, lemongrass, galangal, turmeric leaf,
spices and coconut combine to make one of the most delightful dishes in
the region. The meat is cooked to tender perfection in an aromatic
Carrot cake - White radish, shrimp, chilli paste, pickled vegetables,
sweet soy sauce make this unique dish. That white radish is in fact
mooli or dikon that cooks with rice flour to give a type of vegetable
pasta. Don’t miss this one.
Pandan Chiffon Cake is beautifully impressive. It has the texture of an
American Angel Food Cake but that pandan is the key ingredient. It’s a
leaf that is used extensively in this region and it gives an
unmistakable flavour and colour. A light cake to enjoy with a cup of
Chendol is a refreshing dessert of shaved ice, coconut milk, pandan
jelly and gula melaka (palm sugar). I find this far lighter than
regular ice cream and it’s difficult to replicate at home as the ice
shavings are very fine, so try it here. The gula melaka is an essential
part of the dessert and brings an almost caramel sweetness.
Pineapple tarts – bite-size shortbread-style cookies (biscuits) that
are topped with pineapple jam. The fruit is cooked down to a soft paste
with a golden hue, with a sweet and mellow flavour.
Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur offers accessible luxury laced with Asian
charm and attention to detail. The staff are professional and friendly
and will make any weary traveller feel at home. The hotel location
makes this one of the world’s greats.
Daily, 11:30am – 11:00pm
For more information phone: +60 3 2182 1234 extension 2333
or email email@example.com
Dress: Smart casual
Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur
12 Jalan Pinang
Phone: +60 3 2182 1234
Fax: +60 3 2182 1288
Visit Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur here
For more information on Malaysian holidays visit
For flights to Malaysia visit Malaysia Airlines
UMU of Mayfair- Asian Food review
Mayfair isn’t ashamed of its style and quality. It shows
it along every boutique-trimmed street, it flaunts leafy squares and is
bejewelled with Blue Plaques celebrating the famous who have called
this neighbourhood home. The likes of King Charles X of France lived
here; Jimi Hendrix, who will be remembered for plucking guitar with his
teeth, played and laid his head in these environs; and Sir Alexander
Korda had a place in Mayfair, and he is held practically as a saint by
any lover of fine films.
has long been smart and international and that trend continues with a
Japanese restaurant that is worthy of its location. It’s particularly
appropriate to enjoy Japanese food just now as this year sees the
celebration of Japan 400. We have been associated with that land of
magnificent mystery, refinement and elegance for four centuries and the
bond is stronger than ever.
UMU flies the culinary flag for Japan and sets the bar
attention to detail in
UMU demands thought. Yes, it is undoubtedly a pricier
Bruton Place is a side street off Berkeley Square. It was evidently
once a mews with shops and boutiques taking the place of stables. UMU
has a discreet entrance that could easily have the virgin visitor
baffled. My advice is to look for an unassuming wooden door and search
for the touch pad on the wall. It will save lots of loitering and
unseemly tapping on restaurant windows. It’s easy when you know.
Once across that discreet threshold one is welcomed into a cosy
restaurant of dark wood and upholstery in muted earth tones. It’s not a
themed restaurant – the receptionist isn’t masquerading as a geisha and
nor are napkins origami-ed into bullet trains. UMU is just solid and
correct. A restaurant for discerning restaurant-goers.
Chef Yoshinori Ishii has had a couple of decades of experience in the
most renowned of Japanese restaurants, not only in his homeland but
also in New York – and that is a city that has long appreciated good
Japanese food. He entered Tsuji culinary school in 1989 and that is
where he first learned the traditions and philosophy of kaiseki.
This most cultivated style of cuisine is a meal that epitomizes
the fish he receives is of a quality worthy of
both his restaurant and his reputation.
Apart from the celebrated kaiseki menu UMU offers a very
reasonably-priced lunch menu and an à la carte selection of
starters, the ubiquitous sushi, and main courses. But UMU takes pride
in that kaiseki menu with many courses of foods offering an array of
textures and utilising various cooking techniques to present a taste
tapestry that will excite all the senses. One eats with one’s eyes even
before the first bite is taken. Chef Ishii is so appreciative of that
notion that he uses his skills as a ceramicist to provide canvasses for
these edible landscapes. He is a man of many parts. (Interview to
UMU dishes will likely change with each visit, but will never
disappoint. The sashimi will be cool and fresh, the soups clean and
well-balanced. Every dish with be tastefully plated and striking, but I
have my favourite. Kabayaki, charcoal-grilled eel basted with sweet soy
sauce is a simple preparation and should surely be a signature dish.
The service here is attentive yet understated, with staff who are
thankfully well-trained and enthusiastic. The wine and sake list is a
credit to the restaurant, and any sake sipper will want to pick several
of UMU’s selections to savour, in the knowledge that it’s unlikely they
will fall upon them in other London establishments.
I am a fan of sparkling sake and UMU suggests Bijofu Mai Usunigori
Junmai Ginjo, from Kochi Prefecture; my choice for a still sake would
be Kamoizumi Nigori from Hiroshima, a well-priced star. Yes, it’s a
rustic sake but I think it’s a particularly interesting pairing choice.
This is unfiltered and is therefore white-opaque due to the suspended
sediment. That might not sound appealing but it is a
deliciously-flavoured sake with classic aromatic characteristics.
‘Charamisu’ Japanese tiramisu is a charming fusion dessert
that will be a fitting end to a meal that marries Japanese dedication
to perfection and local ingredients that need no apology. Perhaps that
truly does give a nod in the direction of Japan400.
14 - 16 Bruton Place
London W1J 6LX.
Phone: +44 (0)20 7499 8881
Fax: +44 (0)20 7016 5120
Visit UMU here
Visit Japan400 here
Tourists are creatures of habit. They tend to stick to the
familiar and that is very much the case in Malaysia. There are fabulous
beaches and the city lights of the capital, but there is charm and
history waiting to be discovered in Malacca and it’s only a few hours
drive from Kuala Lumpur.
According to 16th century Malay historians, the city was founded by
Parameswara, a Palembang prince who, fleeing from his Japanese enemies,
eventually found himself on the west coast of the Malay peninsula.
While hunting near the mouth of a river called Bertam, he rested under
a tree and spotted a white mouse-deer. This timid animal kicked one of
his hunting dogs which fell into the river. The prince was so impressed
by the deer's brave attack that he decided to build a new city on the
banks of the river. He asked one of his servants the name of the tree
under which he was standing and was told that the tree was called
Malaka. Parameswara named his city after the tree.
By the first decade of the 16th century Malacca was a noteworthy
international seaport and a centre for the trade of silks and spices
from both China and India, and this inevitably attracted the attention
of foreign powers. The Portuguese under the command of Afonso de
Albuquerque arrived first in the early 1500s and after taking the city
by force he constructed the massive fortification of A Famosa on the
coast to deter any future counter-attacks. A small part of the fort can
still be seen today, although it’s now a little further away from the
sea due to modern land reclamation.
A Famosa remained until 1641, when the Dutch invaded Malacca after an
eight-month siege which left the city in ruins. They rebuilt it over
the following 150 years but in 1795 Holland was captured by French
Revolutionary armies and they handed Malacca over to the British to
avoid its capture by the non-revolutionary French forces. Malacca
achieved until 1957 with a proclamation of independence by His
Highness Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, Malaysia's first Prime
Chinese, British, Portuguese, Dutch, Thai and Arabs have
come to trade or invade over the previous centuries and
each one of them has left their distinctive mark on Malacca. It is
considered Malaysia's most historically significant city and it’s easy
to see why. The rendered walls, painted doors and windows, tiled roofs
combine to give a very particular ambiance. It’s a living and energetic
city but there are those charming architectural features that remain,
allowing the visitor to take a peek at the past.
The Majestic Hotel in Malacca provides all that the discerning
traveller might want. It’s unique and nothing like the usual 5* hotel
which although well-appointed will have a degree of familiar sameness –
yes, very comforting but one might awake wondering if this is Brussels
…or Bratislava, as the drapes are the same. No, The Majestic is
bespoke, polished and full of local character.
The imposing frontage of The Majestic hints at the quality
and style within. Its painted shutters and shady veranda hark back to a
gentler time of rubber plantations and unabashed style. The original
section of the hotel was built in the 1920s as a private home and only
later became a hotel. It was purchased by YTL Hotels in 2007 and
reopened as The Majestic we see today with its 15-floor extension
creating 52 sumptuous rooms and suites.
The ground-floor reception and bar offer dark wood and
tiled floors which are original. It’s the attention to detail in the
public spaces that points to the accessible luxury throughout the
hotel. Jars of local sweets and treats tempt the visitor to linger but
more awaits in your room.
Dark wood and swathes of silk fabrics help to create an exotic nest for
the guest. Bathrooms are big here in every regard. Claw-foot roll-top
baths partner spacious showers, and those facilities become part of the
bedroom when the wall shutters are slid back. Rooms at the Majestic are
designed for those who expect and appreciate the best.
But tourist cannot live by unadulterated in-room pampering
alone. There is also a celebrated spa for those who can drag themselves
away from charming private opulence, and a restaurant that should be on
the list of must-experience culinary delights to be enjoyed by hotel
guests and Malacca residents alike.
Chef CK Pow presents a Nyoya or Peranakan menu and its dishes are
memorable. One can dine, or one can learn at one of the regular cooking
classes. The dining room is beautifully appointed and the perfect spot
in which to sample some of the iconic dishes of Asia’s original fusion
cuisine. It’s a tasteful melange of Chinese and Malay spice palates:
Pie Tee are crunchy pastry shells filled with vegetables and shrimps –
they make a popular Peranakan starter. The Laksa in Malacca is unlike
the more common Malaysian varieties as it’s a coconut curry-base with
fish cakes. Kuih are Peranakan cakes or desserts and are a must-try;
Onde Onde are rice dough balls filled with liquid palm sugar and coated
in coconut shreds. Bright blue Pulut Tai Tai are delicious sweets, and
isn’t blue food novel?
The Majestic Hotel in Malacca is a diminutive resort in
its own right. There is a small
library for those solitary sorts who relish the quiet of
that veranda out front. There is a pool for cooling dips on sultry
afternoons, a gym to work off those Kuih, and don’t forget that spa for
recovery after the gym. This hotel has polish and panache but it
remains cosy with the lingering ambiance of the original home.
The Majestic Hotel is a destination within a destination. Don’t miss
The Majestic Malacca
188 Jalan Bunga Raya
For more information on Malaysian holidays visit
For flights to Malaysia visit Malaysia Airlines
In the 15th century some city-states on the Malay
Peninsula paid taxes to China and Siam, now Thailand. There is a
legend that the Emperor of China sent a princess, Hang Li Po, to the
Sultan of Malacca as a token of appreciation for his tribute. The 500
nobles and their servants who accompanied the princess eventually
married local girls, and their descendants became “Straits-Chinese” or
You might think you know nothing of this unique culture, but Peranakan
ladies have inspired the striking, beautiful and iconic costume worn by
Malaysia Airlines staff that is loosely, or more accurately, tightly,
based on the Peranakan kebaya. The traditional dress for Peranakan
women is a long skirt adapted from the Malays’ batik sarong, with a
chiffon embroidered blouse called a kebaya. These gorgeous creations
are enhanced still further by the traditional three fastening brooches
called kerosang. The costume is completed by a pair of intricately
beaded slippers called kasot manek. These were originally made by
sewing Bohemian glass beads onto canvas-topped shoes. The designs
tended to be floral and reflected the patterns found in the colourful
Peranakan dinner services and tea sets.
Malaysians and Indonesians use the word ‘Peranakan’, meaning
descendant, followed by a qualifying indication of ethnicity, such as
Cina for Chinese, and Belanda for Dutch, the term referring to the
origins of someone’s great-grandparents or ancestors even further back
than that. Female Straits-Chinese descendants were called nyonyas. The
word nyonya or nonya comes from Javanese and is thought to be a
corruption of the word ‘donha’, the Portuguese for lady. Baba is a
Persian word borrowed by Malay speakers as a respectful name for
grandparents. The term is thought to originate with Hindi-speaking
Baba Nyonya heritage is celebrated at the private museum, called the
Peranakan Museum, run by the Babas and Nyonyas of Malacca. This
traditional 19th century Peranakan house is located along Jalan Tun Tan
Cheng Lock. The building shows some of the typical elements of a
Peranakan house: it’s a long house as properties were taxed by width,
and has an interior courtyard which allows both light and refreshing
rain into a home that would otherwise be rather gloomy.
From the Malay and Chinese influence Nyonya cuisine has developed, and
it’s becoming more popular as food-lovers search for regional or speciality
dishes. There is too much exciting food in Malaysia to even consider a
burger or even the ever-popular fried chicken on your visit, and it’s
unlikely you’ll find Peranakan dishes outside the Peninsula.
Peranakan cuisine takes advantage of a larder of regional spices, and a
battery of unique dishes has evolved to entice and intrigue the diner –
they range from the mild and comforting to the spicy and complex. The
visitor might have had Peranakan food in Singapore and that is also
authentic, but the Peranakan food in Malaysia is said to be hotter.
Laksa Lemak – rice noodles in coconut sauce – is a popular dish in
Malaysia with each restaurant offering its own interpretation. Ayam
Buah Keluak – Chicken with Keluak nuts – Is one of the most famous
Peranakan dishes. It’s delicious but needs to be prepared by
professionals: the seeds contain hydrogen cyanide and are poisonous if
consumed without proper processing. The nuts are boiled and buried in
ash and banana leaves and covered with earth for more than a month.
They change colour from a creamy white to dark brown or black; the
hydrogen cyanide released by the boiling and fermentation is washed
away with fresh water. The result when cooked is a nutty-sweet
preparation which is often returned to its shell for final
presentation. Ayam Buah Keluak is thought by many Peranakan food
aficionados to be the characteristic expression of how well a chef has
mastered the Peranakan culinary arts.
Nyonya cooking in the home has been in decline over the last several
decades. It’s not lack of regard for the epicurean heritage but more
the constraints of modern life. Long marinating of meats and
seafood before cooking, and the time-consuming preparation of spice
mixes make some of these dishes appropriate only for celebrations these
days. Here is a delicious and vibrant fish recipe that uses easily
found ingredients. This is a spicy dish but one could cut down
the number of chillies for a milder flavour. Other fish could be used
but be sure to choose a fish with firm flesh so that it doesn’t
disintegrate in the sauce.
Assam Pedas Mackerel
500g mackerel, in fillets
8 dried chillies soaked in water
2 cloves garlic
1 stalk lemongrass, crushed
1 tsp turmeric powder
20g shrimp paste
10g daun kesum / vietnamese coriander, or a
combination of mint and
2 cm ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 tomatoes, cut into quarters
50ml tamarind juice or extract
Oil for frying
Salt to taste
Process the shallots and garlic together to form a paste.
Process the dried chillies and the shrimp paste together.
Remove the top and bottom parts of the okra but keep them whole.
Cut the aubergine into bite-sized chunks.
In a large pan or wok, heat a little oil and sauté the shallots
and garlic paste for a few minutes but without browning.
Add in the turmeric and dried-chilli-and-shrimp paste, and fry until
the oil separates slightly.
Add the tamarind juice, tomatoes, okra, aubergine, ginger and herbs.
Add salt to taste.
Simmer until the vegetables are just tender.
Add in the fish and simmer for a few minutes until the fish is cooked
Serve with steamed rice and other Peranakan dishes.
Malaysia is famed for its fine food and friendly faces.
Restoran Peranakan in Malacca offers a good selection of Nyonya dishes,
many of which show the Chinese influence. The restaurant is superbly
furnished with the dark wood and heavy furniture which is so much a
hallmark of traditional Peranakan homes, and now restaurants.
107, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock,
75200, Melaka (Malacca)
For more information on Malaysian holidays visit MASholidays here
For flights to Malaysia visit Malaysia Airlines
Cobra Good Curry
Curry is said to be our favourite food in Britain. Popular
indeed, but quality of restaurants can be patchy. We hear from friends
that a particular chef is a star, that the local tandoori has chops for
which to die, and the recently closed estate agent (it's the economic
climate) now sells Biryani. But a good bespoke curry guide would be
worth its weight in gold vark.
Pat Chapman has penned more than thirty books on Indian food and is one
of the most respected supporters of the Indian restaurant industry, as
well as being a passionate educator. His cookbooks are considered
classics, but his annual Good Curry Guide will be sought by those who
prefer to have someone else do the shopping and the chopping.
Cobra Good Curry Guide is without rival. It’s comprehensive with many
full reviews as well as listings of those which are considered ‘OK’.
Pat takes pride in the fact that his guide has morals. The restaurants
included are there by popular public demand and not because the judges
have been garlanded with folding moola – in fact, for the most part,
the judges are the diners. No exotic trips have been promised and no
assessor’s children have been sent to university on the strength of
‘putting a good word in’. Pat rightly notes that would discredit the
The guide covers every genre of Indian restaurant from the polished
Michelin-spangled likes of Atul Kochhar’s Benares to the traditional
high-street curry house. We are encouraged to enjoy both styles of
cuisine (and everything in between) as restaurants are not compared and
each one stands on its own individual merits. 2013 finds this tempting
tome in its 30th year. Pat will have seen changes in our expectations
of Indian food over those three decades. We can find, if we are lucky,
a good meal in a Bangladeshi ‘curry house’ and those dishes have become
a hybrid cuisine, and it’s comfort food and familiar. These days many
diners also want the chance to taste truly authentic Indian dishes and
we can find more and more restaurants providing those.
India has introduced the world to its classic cuisine and it is now
taking its place alongside the much-vaunted French and Chinese. Cobra
Good Curry Guide enables us all to find the best and the most exciting
of Britain’s thousands of Indian restaurants, and for only £14.95
it should be on the wish-list of any good food lover.
Cobra Good Curry Guide
Author: Pat Chapman
Hanggang sa Muli – Homecoming
stories from the Filipino soul
Filipino and English are the official languages of the
Philippines. Filipino is a de facto version of Tagalog, spoken mainly
in Manila and other urban areas where the phrase Hanggang sa Muli might
In English “Until we meet again” is a collection of essays, poems and
stories from the Filipino diaspora, which is a considerable one. The
Philippines has a population of more than 92 million with an additional
11 million or so Filipinos living overseas. That could constitute a lot
Hanggang sa Muli sensitively considers the reflections of Filipinos who
live away from their motherland. They yearn for the taste of home, the
smell of home, the sound of home, and they wonder where is home? Am I
the same person here as when I am at home?
We all move house from time to time and we are reminded that moving is
right up there with such adventures as divorce and death. We arrive at
an unfamiliar building, try to remember where we put the cat, and feel
ourselves very savvy when we find the airing cupboard. But our
neighbours still look like us and speak like us, and Tesco’s is just
where you would expect it to be. Yes, we have been very brave.
Hanggang sa Muli reminds us of the anxieties and practicalities of
cross-cultural moving. Filipinos have faced racism and hardships as do
any migrant group, but those featured in this book are eloquent and
imaginative in their discourse. We eavesdrop on conversations and
memories of first impressions and unromantic reality. The writers have
Filipino accents but their words are those of so many transplanted
Homesickness Bequeathed (Tricia J. Capistrano) offers us the concerns
of those who have children. Should one stay in one’s adoptive home and
rarely return, to avoid confusing the children, or should one return
often in order to acquaint the kids with their cultural roots? The
author points out that the latter choice offers its own hazards, with
the possibility of second-generation Filipinos being just as likely to
say “I wish I was home” in either country. Could two homes become
Hanggang sa Muli – Homecoming stories from the Filipino soul is a book
by Filipinos and it will have instant appeal for all scattered
Filipinos; but look beyond that exotic title and we find a book for so
many of us. Well-written and poignant anecdotes, observations on
mankind in general and thought-provoking scenarios that encourage “what
if that was me?” pondering.
In The Laughter of my Father (Carlos Bulosan) a father gives his son
these moving parting words: “Remember in America that I am your father.
Don’t forget I touched you at birth.”
Hanggang sa Muli – Homecoming stories from the Filipino soul
Available at Tahanan Books. Visit here
restaurant review: Blue
Elephant – Imperial Wharf, London
- Asian Food review
Imperial Wharf sounds smart and indeed it is. It was for
centuries a working-class area with poor housing. My mother’s
This isn’t a new restaurant but it is a new location for a much-loved
establishment. Until recently Blue Elephant called Fulham Broadway home
and it was an outpost of Thai refinement there for 25 years or so. But
the views from Imperial Wharf are much more interesting and attractive,
and now there are tables outside – they will be the ones sought, should
we ever have a summer.
Blue Elephant occupies an enviable plot in that new development, but
step though those anonymous doors and you are in Thailand; more
accurately a traditional house in Thailand. The interior was inspired
by the Saran Rom Palace of Bangkok, which was once the seat of
Thailand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. It has the ambiance of a home
rather than a restaurant. OK, a home with lots of friends over for
The new Blue is smaller than the original but its intimate proportions
add to the cosy atmosphere. It’s designed to give flexibility of
seating as well as space for private dining. The restaurant is a
testament to Thai craft and continuity. There are carved statues and
friezes and a lower ground floor bar which is a shimmering vision of
tooled gold. Teak woodwork and exotic flowers make this an unmistakable
satellite of mainland Thailand.
The menu has been created by the founder of the Blue Elephant Group,
Chef Nooror Somany Steppé. She is one of the most celebrated
chefs in Asia and indeed among the most respected woman chefs in the
world. She is considered the unofficial culinary ambassador of
Chef Nooror was born in Chachengsao province and grew up surrounded by
a family that was involved in the food industry. Her mum taught her how
to pound spices to make the curry pastes to sell at the market. These
days Blue Elephant curry pastes can be found all over the world.
When Nooror was a teenager she moved to Brussels where her brother was
studying Hotel Management. She met Karl Steppé there and married
him, and a few years later they and a few friends opened their first
Thai restaurant in Brussels. There is now a veritable herd of Blue
Elephants across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It’s still very much
a family business though, with Karl taking care of the administration,
daughter Sandra looking after the Bangkok complex, and son Kim is in
Phuket at the new branch.
Sunday Brunch at Blue Elephant is a must for any lover of Thai food
with midday hunger pangs. It’s also the ideal venue for an introduction
to Thai food, as one can take just a little of each dish from the
buffet, and decide on one’s favourites. One can graze on exquisitely
crafted starters. There are fish cakes with dipping sauce and they are
a perfect first taste to provide the novice with a hint of aromatic
spice typical of this cuisine: a Thai dish should have hot, sour, salty
and sweet notes to create a delicious flavour tapestry.
Spring Rolls offer texture and freshness. This is a ubiquitous dish on
many Asian restaurant menus but these were generously stuffed and
worthy of a try. Rice cakes are offered on porcelain spoons with a
chicken sauce alongside. Thai salads are chopped and crushed before
your very eyes. Skewers of marinated grilled chicken
partnered with satay dip is bound to be popular as it’s a snack
familiar to everyone, but a must-try from the starter station is Banana
Dim Sum: strange but true – this is a startlingly simple Oriental
nibble of crunchy deep-fried wrapper and sweet banana interior. Banana
is, in fact, one of those fruits that work perfectly well in both
savoury and sweet dishes.
You will want to take the rare opportunity to try some Thai wine.
Monsoon Valley Blended Red (vintage Buddhist era 2553) from the Siam
Winery was a revelation. In truth Thailand isn’t a country famed for
its wine but this was a creditable bottle and would have passed muster
even if it had sported a French label. Siam Winery was established in
1986 by Chalerm Yoovidhya and now has a state-of-the-art winery in
Samut Sakorn, 30 miles south-west of Bangkok. They cultivate over 300
acres of vineyards and have a wine tourism and education centre. Siam
Winery is surely a producer to watch, and a visit is bound to be
fascinating for any wine enthusiast.
Blue Elephant offers an array of vegetarian and non-vegetarian main
dishes, many of which are unique to the restaurant, along with some
traditional soups and salads. The seafood curry had plenty of tender
fish, squid and shellfish and an aromatic sauce, but the star of the
non-vegetarian selection was the venison with chilli. This was rich and
warming but without searing, mouth-numbing heat. Thai cuisine does have
fiery dishes but it has many more that are complex melanges of ginger,
lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil. The pineapple curry was
outstanding, mild and comforting.
I have one small criticism of Blue Elephant. They don’t supply
blindfolds at the door. It’s a great restaurant to go to if you
subscribe to the philosophy of eating dessert first: it takes strength
of character to stride by that display
Blue Elephant introduced me to a new fruit. The salaka looks like a
long-faced lychee with a hair-cut but has a taste somewhat between that
and a pineapple. The jellies, flavoured with fruit or jasmine, and with
a crunchy sugar coating, make an exotic petit four, with a few morsels
of moreish Kao Too, rather like a brown-sugar coconut ice which I think
this restaurant should sell by the boxful.
This isn’t Indian food with a difference; it’s not Chinese food with a
slant. Thai is a classic cuisine in its own right and
Blue Elephant is spreading the word. The Sunday Brunch is great value
for money and it’s the opportunity to relax and enjoy high-end food
with the family. Children are welcomed and will find not only food to
enjoy but also face-painting to make their outing even more memorable.
There is an elephant on the Thai flag, and Blue Elephant flies that
flag every day to entice us with glimpses of Thai culture and
delightful food. Chef Nooror Somany Steppé is an ambassador with
some amazing embassies across the globe.
Blue Elephant - London
The Boulevard, Imperial Wharf, Townmead Road,
London SW6 2UB
Phone: +44 20 7751 3111
Fax: +44 20 7751 3112
Visit Blue Elephant here
Asian restaurant review: La Porte
des Indes for Sunday Jazz Brunch
- Asian Food review
Sundays are for relaxing, or that was the old-fashioned
notion. It is the day, at least in most of the Western world, for
gathering with friends and family, and there was usually a traditional
Sunday roast involved in the conviviality
Lots of Indian restaurants offer a special Sunday menu, but all Indian
restaurants are not created equal and it’s easy to be put off from this
gastronomic interlude by previous encounters with dubious curry-houses,
the sort that proclaim as many as 6 dishes (one of them being a
poppadom) and as much as you can eat for £7 a head with service
that will continue till the oil congeals on top of last week’s
left-over korma. There is a quite different class of Indian restaurant
that will charm, tempt and enthral its guests, and La Porte des Indes
is counted amongst their number.
It’s long been a favourite of mine and one visit will convince those
weary of dingy curry-houses that this will likely be their weekend
venue of choice, their polished gem in a sea of culinary mediocrity (or
worse). It is, quite frankly, stunning. Sunday Brunch here will offer
the visitor the chance listen to some live jazz and to wander around:
the buffet is displayed over two floors so you will get the chance to
glide down that sweeping especially-imported-beautiful-bespoke
staircase like some transplanted Rajesque Scarlet O’Hara.
Some tables are placed for animated chatter between just two diners,
while others are big enough to accommodate a family:
brunch is a casual meal and a buffet allows everyone to try a little of
this and to have an extra portion of that with never a hint of “Finish
those sprouts or you don’t get any Arctic Roll.” Everybody can pick
their own favourites, tantalise their tastebuds with the best of Indian
cuisine; parents can enjoy a stress-free mealtime and kids might
discover that they do actually like fish.
The Sunday Brunch buffet is famed and it’s easy to see why. The lower
floor is where you will find the starters. Chefs man hot food stations
and will tempt you with such things as mini potato-filled dosa or
stuffed puri. There are several kebabs from which to choose and each is
presented with their accompanying chutney. It’s a street-food
extravaganza and it would be easy just to spend an afternoon grazing on
these perfectly-formed little savouries, but there is more food on the
Copper chafing dishes stand in rows – one section for
vegetarian dishes and another for those containing fish and
meat. I am not an Indian food expert but I noted that half the diners
at La Porte des Indes were Asian. They all seemed to be
enjoying the food as much as I did, and many were evidently regulars
there. Surely that must be a sign of the quality of the
food. These folks know more about Subcontinental cooking than this
writer, and they were all going back for seconds, so we followed them.
The selection of dishes on offer is huge; there is something to please
every palate. The Lamb Biryani was aromatic and the meat tender. The
Chicken Makhani was flavourful and mild. The vegetarian options
supplied a spicy star in the guise of small, whole Asian aubergines.
This was a rich and warming vegetarian option that just needed some
plain boiled rice and some yoghurt on the side. Fresh naan bread was
provided at the table.
It’s a universal truth that one can eat savoury dishes until one can
eat no more and one swears that not another morsel will pass one’s lips
until at least teatime, and then someone mentions that the desserts are
at the foot of the stairs. Somehow we get a second wind: well, perhaps
something light might help with digestion; sweet after savoury
definitely constitutes a balanced diet. The desserts here are almost
too good to eat. Individual portions of each and sized to allow
everyone to try almost everything on offer. Kheer (Indian rice
pudding), mango yoghurt served in terracotta bowls (my favourite),
chocolate truffles, white chocolate and lime mousse, a mithai platter
sweets) with a fig and honey confection for which to die; and then
there was the fresh fruit that you will take either because you know
it’s good for you and it does look refreshing, or (and this is more
likely) because, even though you really want some more mithai, you want
the people on the neighbouring table to think that you have amazing
Sunday Brunch at La Porte des Indes isn’t the occasion for overt
displays of restraint. It provides all the fixin’s for a thoroughly
civilized smart-casual meal. The restaurant offers the most delicious
Indian cuisine in a setting that is unique and a feast for the eyes.
One visit will never be enough and the experience can be summed up in
one word: Memorable.
La Porte des Indes
32 Bryanston Street, London W1H 7EG
Phone: +44 20 7224 0055
Fax: +44 20 7224 1144
Visit La Porte des Indes here
Singapore – A moving
One huge flyer, 2 feet, 3
small wheels and 4 F1 tyres
Singapore is my destination of choice. It offers everything for which
any civilised traveller could hope: vibrant and delicious food (eating
is a universal hobby here), friendly locals and a rich and diverse
heritage. Singapore has a wealth of contemporary design and fashion
outlets, alongside history and traditional culture, still very much
alive on the peninsular.
This is the land of the short break, so how does one make the best of
just a few days on that first visit (for there will doubtless be many
happy returns)? What would constitute an overview? How to see lots
without the kids complaining?
The Singapore Flyer
The quintessential ‘overview’ must surely be that afforded
by the Singapore Flyer. This is the wheel that dominates the
Singapore horizon, higher than the London version and in fact the
world’s largest observation wheel. This month (April 2012) the Flyer
will celebrate its 4th year.
Singapore Flyer stands 165m from the ground at its highest point and
gives stunning views of Marina Bay, the city of Singapore and even
across to Malaysia and Indonesia. The cargo ships offshore will remind
you that despite its exotic charm Singapore has one of the world's
busiest ports in terms of total shipping tonnage and it’s the world's
busiest container port.
Strategically located at the new developments of Marina Bay, the Flyer
has 28 air-conditioned capsules from which your view will slowly change
– historical and cultural buildings and neighbourhoods like Chinatown,
Little India, the financial district and now Marina Bay Sands. That’s
the beautiful and impressive 3-towered structure with a
boat-like platform straddling those skyscrapers. High-flyers on this
wheel can indulge in a flute of Moët & Chandon Champagne, a
glass of Singapore Flyer Signature Cocktail or a version of the
Singapore Sling. Those who are celebrating and who want an exclusive
experience while enjoying those views can take advantage of the world’s
first full-butler Sky Dining on board the Singapore Flyer.
The Singapore Flyer extravaganza doesn’t end with your landing. Back at
ground level there is a lush tropical rainforest as the centre-piece of
a three-storey shopping mall. There is a waterfront dining promenade
and a street-food option for those who want a retro eating adventure.
It’s called The Singapore Food Trail and presents a selection of
old-fashioned food carts (you will remember them from the Singapore of
the 1960s if you’re of a certain age, like me) which will give you the
chance to try so much that is typically local and delicious. Try Nasi
Lamak from one of the carts – rice, chicken, spicy sauce, dried
anchovies and a fried egg.
Singapore Flyer is the only observation wheel to be part
of a Formula One Grand Prix race circuit. It is a rotating
grandstand at the F1 night race in Singapore.
The Singapore Grand Prix is a celebrated motor race, currently in the
calendar of the FIA Formula One World Championship. It is held at the
foot of the Singapore Flyer in the Marina Bay area of Singapore. The
event was resurrected in 2008 and was the championship’s first night
race; it was won by Renault F1 team with Spaniard Fernando Alonso
It would be a horrible tease to show you the circuit from your vantage
point of the Flyer and then not invite you to take a closer look – a
very close look. The ‘Ultimate Drive’ is a 15-minute or half-hour
experience that will take you around most of the track used by those
famous F1 racers.
‘Ultimate Tour’ is an extended option that will allow you to get your
eye in on the F1 circuit before taking to the local freeway for around
an hour of performance driving. This extended route will give you
plenty of opportunity to discover the power of a Lamborghini or a
Ferrari. If you are a couple then you can have one car apiece and swap
your Supercars halfway through the tour and experience the pleasure of
each of these celebrated vehicles.
Visit Ultimate Drive here
Visit the Singapore Grand Prix here
The Endearing Trishaw Uncle
There are still a few of us around – that dying breed of
folk who don’t drive. I can appreciate a Supercar for its superb lines
and gleaming paint finish even though I couldn’t turn a wheel myself. I
won’t be driving when I visit Trishaw Uncle, either.
There are truly quite a lot of Uncles and that might encourage the
untutored to come to the conclusion that everyone in Singapore must be
related! The term Uncle or Aunty is used by younger people to show
respect. In this case the Uncles are the trishaw riders on the streets
It’s a quaint mode of transport that was a necessity before the era of
the combustion engine. Originally the vehicle would have been a 2-wheel
affair and pulled by a wiry gentleman. Eventually a bike was tacked on
the side and the contraption was driven by that same surprisingly
powerful style of men, mostly labourers who formed the historic work
pool of Singapore. Trishaw Uncle is a term of respect for the riders,
and it’s the name of the company that employs them.
Trishaw Uncle is introducing a new fleet of 100 battery-assisted
trishaws. It’s tough work and some of the Uncles left youth behind a
while back, but they are just the sort of characters to enhance your
ride, with faces that one would want to sketch. A bit of electric
assistance must be welcome.
Take one of the Trishaw excursions on offer. There is even a taped
commentary which is piped to your bench
That’s the beauty of this expedition – no glass between you and the
action. It’s all at eye level and passing slowly enough for you to snap
some pictures and take note of shops to return to or restaurants to
visit. It’s all conducted at a very civilised pace. You will smell
flower garlands, munch some Subcontinental snacks as you drive though
Little India; you might spot a Buddhist family burning paper money and
even a paper iPhone to honour departed family members. This is
Singapore in all its colourful diversity, and you are in the middle of
this moving tapestry.
Trishaw Uncle offer a couple of tours so visit them here
Starting point: Albert Mall Trishaw Park
Ending point: Albert Mall Trishaw Park
Highlights: Bugis and Little India
Duration: Approximately 30 minutes (subject to traffic conditions)
Starting point: Albert Mall Trishaw Park
Ending point: Singapore River Cruise, Liang Court Jetty
Highlights: Bugis, Little India and Singapore River
Duration: Approximately 45 minutes (subject to traffic conditions)
The Albert Mall Trishaw Park is Trishaw Uncle’s home base where they
wait and from where they operate their trishaws. It’s located at Queen
Street between the Fu Lu Shou Complex and Albert Centre Market and Food
Trishaw Uncle opens daily from 11am to 10pm
So you are visiting Singapore for a few days and you have,
it seems, spent much of your time sitting. The landscape has moved
before your eyes with little energy used by the viewer. You need an
outing that will make you feel healthy and noble and which will show
you another face of Singapore: Henderson Waves. It’s not a water park
with indoor surfing and slides, although this structure does indeed
Henderson Waves was commissioned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority
of Singapore following an international competition. The commission was
awarded to IJP Corporation and RSP Architects, Planners and Engineers
in 2004, with concept and scheme design engineering by Adams Kara
Taylor Consulting Civil and Structural Engineers. They have been worthy
of the task and brave in their vision. It’s organic, contemporary and
appropriate for its use and the environment. Henderson Waves
constitutes the highest point of The Southern Ridges, which is a 9km
trail connecting parks along the hills of Singapore.
At 36 metres above Henderson Road, Henderson Waves is an unforgettable
landmark. It is the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore and was
built to connect the two hills of Mount Faber and Telok Blangah Hill.
It has a unique ‘wave’ form constructed of seven curved steel beams
that create a unique walkway.
Slats of yellow balau wood form the surface of the walkway. This wood
comes from Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. It is a
tropical hardwood very much like teak, and often used for garden
furniture. It isn’t yellow in colour but a soft natural grey. The
timbers undulate and wrap over to create shade for sun-kissed walkers.
This footbridge is 284 metres long and was built at a cost of S$25.5
million and it’s the largest project of its kind in Southeast Asia. Its
curves mimic the undulations of the landscape and offer not only a
casual arena for gentle exercise but also a platform from which to
admire the city, and a tranquil (mostly) refuge from the activity of
modern life. Stroll through tree tops and listen to the birds.
Asian cookbook review: The Food and
Cooking of India
It’s quite honestly a stunner. The Food and Cooking of
India by Mridula Baljekar is an engaging almanac of Indian cooking with
elements of travelogue. Even those who have yet to discover the inside
of a kitchen will be tempted to invest in a spice box, or at least a
plane ticket to the subcontinent.
I am surprised that Mridula Baljekar is not still gracing our TV
screens. She had a successful series which won her fame, for her food
as well as her calm and charming delivery. Her manner suggested to the
anxious viewer that, yes, they too could cook authentic Indian food
without exotic kitchen equipment and a degree in Asian culinary arts.
All would be well. It’s only dinner, after all.
In real life Mridula is exactly that same person. She insists that she
is a cook rather than a chef, although she is a sought-after restaurant
consultant both in the UK and overseas. She has a sense of what the
European domestic god/goddess needs to give them confidence and a real
insight into Indian food.
The Food and Cooking of India is published by Lorenz Books, an imprint
of Anness Publishing. They present some of the very best cookbooks for
those who actually want to, well, cook. All recipe books are not
created equal. There are those which have a few pictures of restaurant
kitchens with ghostly, blurred shots of fast-moving chefs in the
background and some lovely snaps of their favourite beetroot grower,
and if you are lucky an ‘ooh, aah’ image of a baby piggy called Hamlet
who is soon to have his name changed to ‘Lunch’; but Lorenz give us
books stuffed with pictures not only of finished dishes but a slew of
step-by-step photographs to keep the novice cook on track.
This volume offers a collection of 150 recipes from across India with
more than 850 pertinent photographs. It’s a beautiful yet practical
book that will serve you just as well in the kitchen as it does on the
coffee table. It’s a book that entices with its vibrant food and
descriptive text. The recipes are simple to follow and we all have
access to the ingredients these days. There is a glossary of fresh
groceries, along with a directory of authentic Indian kitchen
paraphernalia, none of which is essential, and an overview of Indian
spices, all of which are essential - only half a dozen or so, but armed
with these you will be able to attempt and indeed master every recipe.
Mridula Baljekar has penned 20 or so books and has won numerous awards
so it’s obvious that the lady can write a bit. Thousands of recipes
have earned her a reputation as an author but the food she makes has
earned her a reputation as a lady who truly can cook. She demonstrates
across the globe, and her books are paper versions of her
masterclasses. Here she offers classics and family favourites that you
will likely not find in your local Indian restaurant. There are dishes
for economic family meals as well as celebrations and each one will
take the reader one step nearer to becoming a confident and
well-informed home chef.
The first pick of the book is the recipe for Chicken Biryani. This is a
dish that’s oft abused but I can tell you from firsthand experience
that Mridula presents a very fine Biryani that is surprisingly easy to
prepare and is fragrant and memorable. It works as a regular week-day
dinner or as an impressive centrepiece for friends on a Saturday night.
As yet there is no tax on eggs so they can still constitute a delicious
and good-value family meal. Egg Do-piaza is well-flavoured, with onions
in the sauce and as a crunchy garnish, but it’s the battered and
deep-fried egg halves that are the stars. Mridula even offers a tip on
keeping the egg yolks in the centre of the boiled eggs!
Spicy Stuffed Bananas – kela na sambhariya – is easy to prepare and
it’s probable that you will have some bananas lingering in the fruit
bowl. The filling is a mix of gram flour (chickpea flour) and some
spices. The flour is toasted so it takes on a rich nutty flavour. A
unique vegetarian dish that’s striking to look at and different from a
traditional vegetable curry.
The Food and Cooking of India offers something for every taste and
every pocket. There are creamy and rich royal dishes as well as simple
breads. There is a good selection of desserts as well as recipes to
delight vegetarians and fish lovers. It’s a gift-quality book and for
less than £15 – a bargain.
The Food and Cooking of India
Author: Mridula Baljekar
Published by: Lorenz Books
Kitchen – Terminal 5 Hilton- Asian Food review
There are many Mr Todiwalas strewn around the world but
there is also “THE” Mr. Todiwala. It’s a familiar
name to those who
know anything about Indian food in the UK. His iconic
restaurant Café Spice Namaste at Tower Hill, and his numerous TV
appearances, have assured his high profile; but it’s not his celebrity
that has garnered such a faithful following.
Cyrus Todiwala is a chef, and the showbizzy bit isn’t much in evidence
in his restaurants. Yes, ‘restaurants’ plural, as now there is the
eponymous Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen at the new Heathrow Terminal 5 Hilton
Hotel. He is just the same as ever, visible in the restaurant rather
than remaining aloof as the majority of celeb
chefs tend to be. He takes notice and cares about his guests.
We arrived on a cold and wet evening to find both Mr and Mrs Todiwala
on duty. The “missus” is Pervin and she is one of the unsung heroes of
both restaurant teams. She has a phenomenal memory for the previous
meals ordered by guests. She is herself a trained chef and has the same
passion for food and fresh produce as does her husband. She is a
consummate professional but with a warm personality and a sense of
humour which has endeared her to diners.
C and P Todiwala were staying later than they had planned, as one of
their regulars (to have ‘regulars’ already in a little over a month
speaks volumes) had asked for something a little different, something
not on the menu. No problem at Mr. Todiwala's Kitchen. The guest is
just as important as the food. I
don’t want to give the impression that the table staff hover too
closely or watch your every move from a distance. The
service is appropriately attentive, with a good number of waiting staff
who are indistinguishable from the chefs. OK, the chef jackets and
taupe aprons are spotless but one has the impression that each dish has
been made and delivered fresh from the open kitchen just for you
...which indeed it has.
So that’s introduced my readers to the stars, but what of the new
stage? When I dream of exotic spots I have a vision of a bungalow (an
Indian word), sun-bleached shutters, lime-washed floors, rustic
furniture, sumptuous soft furnishings and an elephant called Roy. In
truth, I have just added the animally element after visiting Mr.
Todiwala’s Kitchen, but all the rest of it is indeed also there.
The huge wooden elephant is just about the only overtly
Indian adornment in this stunning restaurant. It’s light and
Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen offers an extensive menu but if you are new to
Indian food, as many at this airport restaurant might
well be, then consider Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen Menu which will give you
an overview. This menu is bound to be popular with rugby players – or
American Football players – as the main dishes can be continually
replenished. There is also a Gourmand Tasting Menu for those who want a
food-and-wine pairing experience.
Cyrus is Parsee and he has incorporated some of his family dishes into
his menu. In fact there is much that will be new to even the most
ardent of “curry” enthusiasts. Papaeta Purr Eedu is a recipe from
Cyrus’ mum who was a great influence on his culinary repertoire. This
dish incorporates both potatoes and eggs, two ingredients
Mankyo Chem Peri Peri or “dynamite” squid is vibrant with heat. Baby
squid rings are marinated in a fiery Goan peri-peri masala then dipped
in wheat, rice and white lentil flour. The squid is fried and garnished
with more red Goan-style spices. This is one of the hottest dishes on
the menu but there is also flavour that shines through the heat.
Dhaansaak was bound to be my guest’s choice of main course. He enjoys
all Indian food but he does find the Dhaansaak at either venue to be
unmissable. This is a classic Parsee lamb dish, prepared in the
traditional way. Dhaansaak is composed of two words: ‘dhaan’ meaning
rice and ‘saak’ meaning puréed vegetables and lentils with lamb.
The rice served with the meat is different from your regular steamed or
boiled rice. It’s a brown onion rice, which has
a flavour of its own. The lamb was meltingly tender but there were some
small and delicate meatballs in addition. These were peppery and
moreish and alone would have been a delight with just the sauce and
that celebrated onion rice.
Keeping with the theme I also chose another Parsee favourite, a recipe
from Cyrus’ great-grandma. Murghi Na Kofta Ni Curry Nay Chaawal is a
rich and aromatic dish with lots of ground nuts to make a silky sauce
to coat moist chicken dumplings. Simply served with steamed rice, this
sauce would have been just as good with some Indian bread. A winner.
Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen offers some tempting desserts and a little
different from those you will find in most Indian restaurants. The
ice-creams are unique and there are a couple that I will sample on my
next visit. Black Pepper Ice Cream sounds intriguing as does the Stem
Ginger Ice Cream, but we chose the Parsee Caramelised Apricot version,
which was delicately perfumed by the slowly cooked Hunza apricots so favoured
am addicted. The
caramelised topping was perfect and was evenly speckled with dark burnt
sugar. A simple and sophisticated dessert.
Mr. Todiwala‘s Kitchen boasts an Indian Tea Library. This is actually a
changing list of exceptional boutique teas that will delight the
connoisseur and educate the rest of us. We tried Makaibari Estate First
Flush Grand Reserve 2011 from Darjeeling. Makaibari is located at
Kurseong, and was the world's first tea factory, established in 1859.
Rajah Banerjee, the fourth generation, is now the owner.
We were expecting a special cuppa, but there was also theatre and a
thoroughly engaging masterclass. A tray arrived laid with white linen
and brandy glasses. I was starting to think this might be a misplaced
order for those chunky American businessmen a couple of tables down. No
error, these were just some of the props for the unique brewing process.
The glasses were warmed over steam while hot water was poured over the
chosen leaves contained in a handmade ceramic pot. The slowly trickling
sand in an egg-timer showed the passing of a couple of minutes. Once
the infusion was complete the heated glass was filled with the light
amber tea. Yes, it truly was a step up from your habitual dusty teabag.
I preferred the first pouring as I felt it had more taste notes and
less tannin. If you are into strong builder’s tea then you might like
the darker and gutsier second brew. Tea at Mr. Todiwala’s is an event.
Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen is an outstanding example of a remarkable
restaurant that just happens to be housed in a
hotel. Gone are the days when hotel restaurants were mediocre and dull
with a focus on merely fuelling a captive
audience. Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen can compete with any Indian restaurant.
Nothing mean, skimpy or banal here. This is an apt showcase for the
talents of the Todiwalas – Mr and Mrs.
Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen
Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5
Colnbrook SL3 0FF,
Asian cookbook review:
Cooking with Olive Oil
An acquaintance gave me this book, Cooking with Olive Oil.
I was rather surprised. No, in truth I was shocked.
The title ‘Cooking with Olive Oil’ explains just what this book is
about. Europeans, and especially those fortunate enough to live an
olive-pit’s throw from the Mediterranean have used this “green gold”
for millennia. It has been widely promoted as a healthy food, natural
and delicious. Yes, olive oil and I have been on nodding terms for several
So, OK, it was not the olive oil that stunned me but rather my
acquaintance. Sanjeev Kapoor is perhaps the most celebrated and
recognised face in India. He can hardly walk a few yards even in
England without being recognised, his hand pumped, a snap for the album
taken, and even his feet touched by those who admire the most-viewed
chef on the planet. Sanjeev Kapoor has penned a book on, obviously,
cooking with olive oil, but this is Indian food cooked with olive oil
and that is tantamount to a revolution!
So many people in the UK complain that Indian food in restaurants is
too heavy and oily. That has changed over the last years, and now we
have many fine Indian restaurants which replicate traditional home
cooking and authentic fare. Those gloopy and oil-drenched “curries” are
still with us but they are fewer these days. The best Indian food is
often found in homes and the insertion of olive oil into the kitchen
larder adds to the appeal of this great and classic cuisine.
So is this still “classic” Indian food? Well, yes indeed. A cuisine
must live and evolve. We think of Indian dishes as being chilli-hot
with good use being made of potatoes and tomatoes. But those
ingredients are not indigenous to the Subcontinent – they arrived with
the discovery of the New World. Amazing food should never be limited by
anything other than good taste and imagination. Olive oil is a natural
and healthful addition to the regular battery of Indian ingredients.
Part of the inspiration for this book came from Sanjeev's own home
cook, a lady of fairly advanced years who used some bottles of olive
oil just because they were there. Her endorsement must be taken
seriously as she is, after all, the chef to a chef. The family had been
unaware that they had been enjoying olive oil in place of the regular
choice for a while. I guess that was the most convincing of blind
This book is full of tempting Indian dishes that have been adapted take
advantage of the positive qualities of olive oil. Several recipes also
include the olives themselves, to offer an intriguing and unique
fusion. Carrot, Raisin and Black Olive Salad is reminiscent of those
North African side dishes found along the southern coast of the
Mediterranean. Corn Bhel with Tomato and Olives has its origins in the
snack culture of India.
My pick of the book is Punjabi Kadhi. These are spicy and aromatic
pakoras dressed with a yoghurt-based sauce. The dumplings are
deep-fried in olive oil but, cooked at the right temperature, these
will absorb hardly any oil, making this a delicious and guilt-free
meal. That’s dinner this evening, chez nous.
Cooking with Olive Oil by Sanjeev Kapoor will appeal to all of us, and
particularly to those who have health or weight issues. A simple
replacement of olive oil for your habitual medium is a 21st century
departure, but it’s a healthy choice rather than a trendy fad. No
flavour is diminished and the olive oil will not be noticed, even by
the purists, in those hearty and flavourful dishes.
Cooking with Olive Oil
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan Ltd
Kapoor - Master of the Art of Indian Cooking
Talking on the radio a few months ago, I was musing on
books I would take to a desert island. Those who know this city ‘girl’
will understand that the prospect of an isolated space would induce
sweaty palms. Red buses and black taxis are my comfort zone.
My choice of essential reading matter was at that time the (mythical)
Marine Carpentry for the Beginner, with chapters on “How to whittle a
speedboat out of a log” and “Making an outboard motor from a coconut
and two sardines.” Sanjeev Kapoor has swept that volume from my
home-made fantasy island bookshelf, and replaced it with Mastering the
Art of Indian Cooking.
We met in a comfy corner of London’s celebrated Bombay Brasserie, a
favourite restaurant with not only plenty of buses and taxis nearby but
the security of Gloucester Road Underground on the doorstep. Sanjeev
Kapoor is the least affected and most charming of celebrities I have
ever met – a funny, warm character that truly is in life exactly as his
TV persona. He has been voted one of the most trusted men in India.
Sanjeev Kapoor is perhaps the best-known chef in the world. If the name
is not familiar then I could guess that you are not Indian or Asian of
any description. This man stars in Khana Khazana (it is actually
India’s longest-running TV show) which broadcasts to 120 countries and
in 2010 was estimated to have more than 500 million viewers. He now has
his own food-dedicated TV station aptly called Foodfood. He remembers
that “Some said that 24-hour food TV would never work, but it does. We
keep the content pertinent to the Asian market. We give viewers what
they want – recipes that they really would like to cook themselves.” He
was the first TV chef to become a culinary star. “Till that time chefs
were not really appreciated. People were almost sympathetic when they
saw me on TV. They hoped that I would get a proper job in the near
future,” he joked. He has been recognised as giving the food industry
and chefs in India respectability, and he himself has gained much
personal caché. Richard Quest selected Sanjeev Kapoor as one of
the top celebrity chefs in the world, along with Gordon Ramsay, Jamie
Oliver and Wolfgang Puck, featuring them in his programme “Quest” on
the CNN channel.
Sanjeev started in the hospitality industry in 1984 with a Diploma in
Hotel Management from the Indian Institute of Hotel Management (IIHM)
in Pusa. He was academically brilliant so his choice surprised some,
who had expected him to become an engineer or a doctor. Many Indian
chefs have come from families who have had a connection to restaurants,
hotels or catering, but Sanjeev chose this path independently, not
being associated with any foodie family firm. “My Dad used to cook
wonderful meat dishes. In those days it was unusual for a man in India
to cook at home.” Perhaps his father sowed the seed of Sanjeev’s future
Mastering the Art of Indian Cooking is the latest in a
steady stream of cookbooks penned by this Indian culinary worthy. All
others, although eminently accessible to the Western audience, have
been written for the Asian reader. This latest tome offers dishes
selected for those outside the Subcontinent. The recipes are not
‘dumbed-down’ for the non-Indian palate, but they have been chosen to
introduce an array of both classic and contemporary delights that can
easily be prepared with the use of your regular high-street shops. For
those folk who live in a lighthouse off the coast of Shetland then
there is always the internet.
Sanjeev Kapoor is on a panel of India’s Ministry of Tourism set up
specifically to document Indian cuisine and to present to the world an
authentic view of these classic dishes. We are all very enthusiastic
about French cuisine and it has indeed given us so much: remarkable
patisserie, memorable sauces, refined plates; but the cuisine of India
has been for too long overlooked. It should, in my humble opinion,
stand proudly shoulder-to-shoulder with French cooking. Different but
equal in every regard.
Mastering the Art of Indian Cooking would be my all-encompassing
cookbook for my island adventure. Yes, this book is a considerable
size. No, it is not garnished with photographs of exotic food shown
tastefully balanced on the back of an elephant. Not a single lacy dosa
silhouetted in front of the Taj Mahal. This is a straightforward book
of recipes that you can and will make in your very own and not very
exotic kitchen. There are more than 500 recipes listed here. Many will
be familiar but there will be others that reflect Indian home cooking,
and it’s unlikely you would have found them on any restaurant menu.
A quick flick through the pages will assure you that the majority of
these recipes are simple. Note that the dishes that seem to require a
lengthy list of ingredients are easy to prepare. That list will
comprise spices that you will find in your supermarket. Once you have
your battery of half a dozen or so common spices then you are set to
make pretty much all the dishes collected here. Just add a couple of
fresh ingredients, fish, flesh or veggies, and dinner is on the way.
Not even home cooks in India want to spend too much time chained to the
Beans Poriyal represents the easy yet truly Indian dishes found in
Mastering the Art of Indian Cooking. Few ingredients, which combine to
make boring green beans a thing of the past. Ten minutes cooking time
gives a delicious side dish for an Asian or European meal. The majority
of Indians are full-time or part-time vegetarians so Indian cuisine
offers a wealth of vibrant yet healthy dishes for those who prefer to
stick to vegetables. The spices in Indian food compensate for the lack
of animal, so even card-carrying carnivores will be wooed by these
I love Shrimp Balchao. I could consume this pickled Goan delicacy by
the bucket-full. It’s eaten with rice or even with the Goan savoury
coconut cakes called Sannas (included in this volume). This isn’t a
seafood version of our English pickled onions. Shrimp Balchao is a
sweet and sour preparation that is moreish. The vinegar is added early
in the cooking and the sugar added near the end to produce a zesty and
striking, well-balanced dish in less time than ordering a take-away.
Indian sweets are seldom found on restaurant menus. There are plenty of
sweetshops in Indian neighbourhoods but unless you are lucky enough to
live near one you’ll want a good recipe. Chocolate Walnut Burfy is a
two-layered confection made with rich solid condensed milk (found in
Asian supermarkets or on the internet for those in the lighthouse). It
has a shelf life of only a day or so but it will be gone before the
Mastering the Art of Indian Cooking is, like the author, trustworthy.
No need to be an expert in the kitchen. The ingredients for the dishes
are not expensive. In fact the most costly and indispensible ingredient
will be the second copy of this book. You will want to keep that in the
kitchen and at hand to use frequently. It will become stained and
dog-eared over the years. It will naturally fall open at favourite
pages after a decade or two. Mine is already a little creased around
Shahi Paneer and a peppercorn is acting as a book-mark at Chettinadu
Mastering the Art of Indian Cooking is a must-have for any serious
cookbook collector or lover of real Indian food. It will, I feel sure,
become the Indian equivalent in status of the French Larousse
Gastronomique. Sanjeev Kapoor presents us with a delicious and
practical masterwork that is entirely relevant to today’s lifestyle and
tastes in both the East and West. Amazing value for money.
Mastering the Art of Indian Cooking
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Stewart Tabori and Chang (Abrams)
Price: £19.00, $27.28
ISBN: 978-1-58479-933-7 (UK)
ISBN-10: 1584799331 (US)
ISBN-13: 978-1584799337 (US)
Khaadras Club Night- Asian Food review
In the seventh century, Arab armies conquered Persia (now
Iran). Some Zoroastrians were converted to Islam whilst others fled to
India. They settled in the western part of the country where the
community already had trading contacts, and they established
settlements to the north of Mumbai. Their descendants founded the
community which later took the name Parsi (Parsee),
They were not universally welcomed in India. Jadi Rana, the king of
Gujurat, is said to have pleaded “My country is overflowing already so
how would we find room for you as well?” The leader of the Parsi
community asked for a bowl of milk filled to the brim and also a
spoonful of sugar. He then carefully stirred the sugar into to the bowl
without spilling a drop of milk. “We are like sugar. We will only
sweeten your land.” explained the Parsi.
Parsis have enjoyed great success in India but we in London also have a
celebrated Parsi who has come to sweeten London with his notable and
delicious food, and he even offers his guests the chance to try some
traditional Parsi fare. Celebrated chef Cyrus Todiwala invites one and
all to The Khaadras Club Night!
This ‘Greedy Gourmand’s Club’ was established after Parsi friends
begged Cyrus and his wife and partner, Pervin, for some dishes from
their own community. It was to be a meeting of friends with a focus on
food. It has become such a popular event that Café Spice
Namasté has made these feasts available at intervals throughout
the year. The event is always eagerly awaited by Parsis but equally by
lovers of fine food, and as this is a true Parsi event one can be sure
that the helpings will be generous. It is indeed well-named the Greedy
The food on these evenings is authentic and presented to an audience
comprised of many who know exactly what they want, and how it should be
cooked and presented. I am no expert on this little-known cuisine but I
can attest to the fact that the food was mouth-watering, served with
many smiles and much good humour, and there was plenty of it – food and
humour, that is. This wasn’t just an evening at any old restaurant.
This was a Todiwala celebration and had the air of a family party.
Cyrus and Pervin are famed for knowing their regulars by name, and that
warmth is magnified on these special evenings when all of us were
welcomed as friends.
The company was outstanding, with many a story told and laughs provided
by our hosts. But the food was the centre of our convivial evening.
Saria/achaar was a basket of light crackers served with spicy chutneys,
while Waffer Nay Bhaji Purr Eedu – finely chopped onion sautéed
with minced garlic and cumin, blended with chopped spinach and wafers,
gently simmered with whole steamed egg on top, served with crispy naan
– was our first course.
Chutney May Luptaeli Machchi - filet of fish folded over with fresh
green chutney, rolled in flour, dipped in egg, fried and served on
Tamota Ni Gravy Nay Rotli, a rich tomato sauce – was exceptional.
The main course was Vaegna Ni Buriani - Lamb and Aubergine stew –
although the name does not honestly do this dish justice - dark and
flavorsome meat wrapped in slices of melting aubergine: there must be a
better word than stew. There was more meat in the guise of Masala Ma
Taraeli Jungli Murghi Ni Boti – dices of chicken marinated
cubes of potato
cooked with diced mixed peppers, cumin and garlic.
Saev Nay Mitthu Dahi is a traditional Parsi dessert served at
celebrations, a confection of vermicelli, fruit and nuts served with
thick yoghurt which was a fitting sweet end to a meal that was indeed a
celebration of Parsi culinary heritage and culture.
This veritable feast is prepared just once every couple of months, and
has a different menu every time: these regulars want to see different
dishes to tempt their well-educated palates. At a very reasonable
£25 for all of that food, I’ll be returning again and again.
Book by contacting Binay Aryal at firstname.lastname@example.org
London Asian restaurant review:
Café Spice Namast, 16 Prescot Street, London E1 8AZ
Open Monday – Friday
Lunch: 12.00 – 3.00 pm
Dinner: 6.15 – 10.30 pm
Asian cookbook review:
Food from Northern Laos
– The Boat Landing Cookbook
I am driven to describe some cookbooks as recipes with a
bit of travel. Other volumes I have reviewed as travel adventures with
some cooking on the side. Food from Northern Laos – The Boat Landing
Cookbook is as much a travelogue as an encyclopaedia of every culinary
tradition of Northern Laos.
Note that I suggest that there is more than one cuisine in Northern
Laos. In fact there are several distinct cultures that call this region
home. Some of these groups have lived there for many hundreds of years
whilst others have moved in more recently from the neighbouring
countries, and naturally they have brought with them their style of
cooking and their love of diverse foods.
The Boat Landing in question is a guest house and restaurant which
introduces travellers to the food of this corner of Laos. These dishes
represent the regular fare of the local population. They have been
carefully chosen to appeal to the Western palate but are authentic and
Now, it’s true that there are some recipes here that will be a bit
challenging if one does not either live in the tropics or have access
to a good Asian supermarket. But there is much here that can be made
with the spices that you will likely have lingering at the back of your
larder. There are even dishes that are familiar to lovers of south-east
Asian food. Pho originated in Vietnam but now this soup has become a
The book starts by tempting the reader to visit this charming and
culturally rich corner of our shrinking planet. Each of the resident
communities is presented in prose and pictures. It’s a small world
that’s fast changing – this book is as much about archiving the lives
and values of the population of Northern Laos as it is about preserving
its culinary heritage. A couple of hours in the company of this book
will have even those who are strangers to the inside of a kitchen
booking a flight to Laos.
Food from Northern Laos – The Boat Landing Cookbook is a must for any
passionate cook who might be considering a trip to south-east Asia.
Many of us are enthusiastic home chefs who are comfortable preparing
Indian curries, Japanese domburis, Chinese dim sum and Thai soups, but
this book introduces so many unfamiliar ingredients and combinations.
Yes, it’s true that some dishes have been influenced by other cuisines,
but Laos has indeed cultivated its own culinary identity.
Food from Northern Laos – The Boat Landing Cookbook is well written,
and illustrated by some of the finest photography of that region that
one will ever find. A credit to both the author, Dorothy Culloty, and
the photographer, Kees Sprengers.
Asian cookbook review: Food from Northern Laos – The Boat Landing
Author: Dorothy Culloty; photographer: Kees Sprengers
Published by: Galangal Press
Dal and Kadhi
Sanjeev Kapoor is the Indian chef with the golden touch.
His acclaimed TV series, Khana Khazana, has
enjoyed a 15-year run, has won the Indian Television Academy “Best
Cookery Show” and the “Indian Telly” awards year after year, such is
the popularity of this man.
Dal and Kadhi presents regional comfort food at its best and the book
is as delightful as the food. Each recipe is accompanied by a
photograph by Bharat Bhirangi who has a talent for showing these dishes
in a mouth-watering fashion. You’ll be planning your next meal before
you leave the bookshop.
What could be better than a flavourful dal or kadhi to eat with rice or
roti? Your meal might be humble or you could add a dal to an array of
other dishes to make a sumptuous and satisfying spread. They range in
texture from the rich and substantial to the light and refreshing to
suit the season or the occasion. These are the dishes that people miss
when they leave home and crave when they are in far-off countries.
This book offers 45 recipes that you will want to add to your culinary
repertoire no matter what your home region. They are a broad-based
selection of recipes so there is sure to be something to please every
palate. Dal Makhni is perhaps the most celebrated both in India and
overseas where it has become a restaurant speciality, although seldom
cooked in an authentic style. Maharashtrian Kadhi is a traditional dish
and represents India’s culinary diversity in a most delicious way.
All these dals and kadhis are tempting but as with life in general
there are firsts among equals and I have picked a few that are
particularly tempting. Rajasthani Baati ki Dal is made with split green
gram (dhuli moong dal) and Bengal gram (chana dal) and the resulting
dal is served with traditional baked balls of dough.
Bhindi ni Kadhi is bound to be on my list as I love ladies’ fingers
(bhinda/ bhindi). This is a soupy combination of yogurt and gram flour
(besan) flavoured with spices. The vegetables remain a little crisp
giving the kadhi an interesting texture.
Dal Hari Bhari contains spinach and fenugreek leaves, onions and
spices, and Sanjeev uses it to tempt those who would not normally enjoy
green vegetables. This would be an easy meal when served just with rice.
Dal and Kadhi is an Aladdin’s cave of ideas for quick, tasty and
healthy dishes. One expects lovely books from Sanjeev Kapoor and this
is another in that collection that never disappoints. You don’t have to
spend a lot of money to enjoy good food. This book will show you the
way in fine flavourful fashion.
Asian cookbook review: Dal and Kadhi
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan
The Blue Elephant
This must surely be the most celebrated of Thai restaurant
empires. It would be diminishing the class and
the quality of the group to describe them as a chain. This is far from
the KF Mac Hut of the Thai food world – think sumptuous and exotic and
The Blue Elephant has a fine reputation wherever you might find it. and
the cookbook now allows its followers to replicate its dishes in their
home kitchens. Those who have never had the pleasure of visiting a Blue
Elephant will soon appreciate the attraction.
Thai food in general has gained worldwide popularity over the past
decade. More of us have the opportunity to travel to Thailand and also
to visit Thai restaurants in our home countries, and we want to try
those dishes for ourselves. The Blue Elephant Cookbook will offer you a
marvelous array of recipes that represent the very essence of Thai food
with all its vibrant flavours.
Blue Elephant recipes are authentic, attractive and tempting. They are
not over-taxing for the competent home cook, and the ingredients are
all availiable either from your favourite supermarket’s Asian food
aisle, from a specialist Thai food store or by mail order via the
internet. You’ll not only learn how to make soups, starters, salads,
main dishes and desserts but also curry pastes and sauces.
Thai Fish Cakes will be instantly recognised by travellers returning
from sun-kissed Thai resorts. They are delicately soft with a crunch
supplied by a garnish of peanuts and refreshing lettuce. Serve this
with Cucumber Sauce (recipe in this book) and you have a delicious
snack or light lunch, or combine with other dishes as part of a Thai
Stir-Fried Seafood with Garlic and Peppercorns (Seafood Krathiam Prik
Thai) is elegant and flavourful and would be an ideal “special” meal.
OK, the prawns, scallops and crab are not cheap but this recipe makes
the best of that seafood, and the finished result is stunning. The base
is Blue Elephant Special Sauce which you can easily make and freeze for
Tuk’s Duck Salad (Laab Ped) is a dish devised by the aforementioned Tuk
who is a chef at the Blue Elephant in London. The duck is grilled and
flavoured with a spice paste and garnished with fried shallots,
chillies, fresh coriander and salad. A simple dish to prepare but it
has great impact.
The Blue Elephant Cookbook is a jewel of a volume and definitely among
my favourite Thai cookbooks. It will be snapped up by lovers of classic
Thai food as well as those who are regular diners at The Blue Elephant
restaurants. A lovely book.
Asian cookbook Review: The Blue Elephant Cookbook
Author: Chefs of Blue Elephant.
Published by: Pavilion – Anova
This is a collaboration between two of India’s finest sons
of the culinary arts. If you have not heard of Sanjeev Kapoor (Sanjeev
or the internet, for surely you would have read my previous
review of his work! Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi is an expert on Hyderabadi
cuisine, and Sanjeev's respected friend and colleague.
But what is Hyderabadi cooking? It will be a mystery to most
Westerners, who are very unlikely to have encountered it, and it is
revered by Indians, who might also have trouble tracking down authentic
dishes. It’s truly courtly, special and grand but at least this volume
makes those dishes more accessible to the home cook... and what home
cooking that would be!
Royal Hyderabadi Cooking is an elegantly presented volume with stylish
photography by Bharat Bhirangi illustrating every recipe. The book has
a modern feel with the food being the rich focus in a minimalist
setting. Although the ingredients look a lengthy list for some dishes,
it’s mostly spices that are commonly found in the domestic larder.
Apart from being a striking cookbook, Royal Hyderabadi Cooking is also
something of an archive for a style of food preparation that is
disappearing. The authors have been lucky enough to recruit the
indispensible aid of two national culinary treasures who have lifetimes
of expertise. Begum Mumtaz Khan is considered a living legend and is a
member of the Jagirdhar families of the last Nizam, and has actually
tasted the food from the Royal kitchens. She has conducted cooking
classes and hosted Hyderabadi food festivals.
Ustad Habib Pasha has a passion for Hyderabadi food and a wealth of
experience. He has worked in Hyderabad’s most famous restaurants and
has been generous to our authors with his knowledge, revealing the
secrets of aromatic blends of herbs that help to give this cuisine its
There are so many striking recipes to discover here but I have a few
favourites. Murtabuk is a layered stack of chapattis with a filling of
minced chicken, eggs and spices and is served in wedges as you would a
savoury birthday cake. It was Begum Mumtaz Khan who taught the authors
how to cook this to perfection.
Thikri Ki Dal is a delicious and comforting dal which contains amongst
the spices, onions and ghee... 2 three-inch pieces of earthenware! The
thikri are heated till red hot and then plunged into the food. They are
removed before serving to avoid damage to either guest or crockery.
This method is said to impart a distinctive and earthy flavour. Truly
Double Ka Meetha is a sweet and syrupy dessert that would be a fitting
end to a Royal Hyderabadi meal. It’s a confection of bread, nuts, cream
and saffron and simple to make. I wouldn’t reserve this for just
Hyderabadi meals, this would be welcomed anytime by those with a sweet
The title suggests something sumptuous and rich and that is just what
this food is all about. Royal Hyderabadi Cooking presents recipes that
are regal and festive but accessible to the home cook. Amazing!
Asian cookbook review: Royal Hyderabadi Cooking
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor and Harpal Singh Sokhi
Published by: Popular Prakashan
You should expect something special when you are presented
with a Sanjeev Kapoor cookbook. Low Calorie
Vegetarian really is something a bit different and this could start an
exotic diet trend.
Sanjeev is probably the most celebrated of Indian chefs, presenting
Khana Khazana on India’s Zee TV. It’s been airing since 1993 and its
600th episode is now just a memory. He has won several awards such as
the Best Executive Chef of India Award and the Mercury Gold Award at
Geneva, which has earned this man international as well as home-grown
Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook is just one of many cookbooks from this
charming, handsome and charismatic man. Each book is welcomed by an
adoring audience who have been impressed by the author’s skill on the
small screen. It’s said that Sanjeev never repeats a recipe and will
not need to for several decades; such is his volume of work.
Low calorie carnivorous and low calorie vegetarian recipes have often
seemed to fall into one of two categories: boring or boring with
vegetables. But Sanjeev’s book will strike the right chord with many
readers who want a low calorie diet that offers food with taste and
texture. If you don’t enjoy the food that does you good then you will
fall back into the same old unhealthy eating habits which got you into
your chubby mess to start with.
Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook is about flavour, and Sanjeev has a
collection of recipes that will tempt even those with no health or
weight issues. This is good food with intriguing combinations of spices
and fresh ingredients. There are Nutrition Information charts with each
recipe to enable the home cook to make the best choices to achieve a
The recipes are broad-based and you don’t have to be a lover of
traditional Indian food to appreciate the dishes. Sanjeev has French
onion soup but his version raises the bar with French Onion and Garlic
Soup. Spicy Pineapple Boat is light and refreshing but with a little
kick from green chillies. For those who want a cool and summery salad
then Minted Mushrooms should fit the bill. This is a dish of mushrooms,
tomato, cucumber, mint leaves and a dressing of low fat yogurt, and the
addition of lemon juice provides a tang.
However delicious the European-inspired dishes might be, most of us
will be looking for that unmistakable taste of the subcontinent and
it’s here in glorious profusion. Spinach and Cabbage Parantha is a
flatbread with aromatic cardamom and spicy red chilli powder to
complement the vegetables incorporated into the dough.
Desserts are not forgotten. Kesari Phirni is a lovely dessert of
Pistachio nuts perfumed with saffron and cardamom. The sweetness comes
from a sugar substitute such as Equal or Splenda so you can indulge
with no guilt.
Do I have a favourite recipe? Well, you know I do and its Mushroom Dum
Biryani. This is a rice dish made with the traditional method but have
no fear, it’s not difficult and the results will impress both Western
and Asian friends. I’ll make this dish often, not because I have a low
calorie diet (although perhaps I should) but because it’s delicious and
A Western cook will have no problem finding the spices in local
supermarkets or from one of the many online Asian stores. The cooking
techniques are not taxing and you don’t have to take a trip to Mumbai
to kit out your new Asian kitchen. This is a fascinating book with
recipes that will encourage you to make, eat and enjoy flavourful and
Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook is the first of Sanjeev Kapoor's books
that I have had the pleasure to review, and there are more to follow.
This volume is bound to be a success with readers from every continent.
Asian cookbook review: Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan
Price: Rs.250.00, £11.69, $25.00US
The Asian Grill
Yes, it’s a BBQ book but one with a difference. This will
capture the imagination of those who long for
something more exotic. There are those fire-extinguisher-wielding,
burnt-offering-offering culinary pyromaniacs who think that charcoal
adds flavour. No, my little Webber warrior, my Hibachi hero! The
charcoal is the fuel and not the food; add flavour by thoughtful use of
marinades and condiments.
Corinne Trang is an international chef and food authority. Her heritage
is Asian and European, and she is one of the few who are truly at home
with both genres; but more importantly she loves food. Might sound a
strange and rather obvious statement but there are many chefs and
food-industry gurus who are just doing a job, but Corinne is a chef, a
food professional, and a foodie with all the passionate enthusiasm that
I am not a lover of Fusion food as it is so often a compromise. Some
chefs have built reputations on marrying ingredients which should never
even have been introduced. Corinne’s food is easily described as good
food with Asian flavour. There is nothing here that will bring the cry
of horror, nothing that jars, but plenty that looks good on paper and
even better on a plate.
The Asian Grill will gently lead you away (you can return from time to
time) from ketchup, mustard and liquid smoke and will playfully nudge
you in the direction of soy sauce, sesame oil and mirin. All the
ingredients are available in a supermarket near you or via mail order.
The cooking techniques don’t require a training course and you probably
already have the equipment, so you are ready to dazzle.
Back-yard grilling isn’t famed for having a sophisticated meal as its
end-product. It’s more often burgers like hockey pucks and flavourless
chicken. It’s rarely the food that is the centre of attention but
rather the grilling process that encourages conviviality. We marvel at
the “skill” of (mostly) men who only don an apron when the smell of
lighter fuel is in the air. Grilling is simple and was the first
cooking method. Cavemen didn’t say “I’ll rustle up a nice
soufflé for lunch” or “How about a delicately toasted English
muffin with passion-fruit jelly?” No, dear reader, it would likely be
“Pass me the pinny, Unk, I’m grilling tonight.”
Corinne has a flair for flavour, not only for the dishes that are
grilled, but for all the associated breads, rices, noodles, and even
sweets and drinks. There is everything you will need in this one
vibrant and attractive volume. You will be able to compose meals around
the grill that will be elegant but still fun both to cook and to eat.
I love lamb and The Asian Grill has a recipe that is a joy. Lamb
Marinated in Yellow Spice Paste is flavoured with a pungent mix which
elevates these kebabs into something mouthwatering. Corinne suggests
serving these with Scallion Flat Bread from this same book. Pork
Patties could be an alternative filling for that bread, and this recipe
has a distinct Vietnamese flavour with fish sauce and lemon grass. BBQ
Pork is Corinne’s version of the Cantonese classic, Char Siu, often
seen hanging in windows in Chinatowns the world over. This will always
be a crowd-pleaser.
Perhaps my favourite recipe is that for Spicy Sweet Soy Sauce Marinated
Chicken. It couldn’t be easier to prepare but the resulting bird is a
long way from the usual lack-lustre poultry of by-gone BBQs ...or I
might choose Spicy Squid Salad ...but Asian Clambake is impressive
The Asian Grill is a book stuffed with tempting and flavourful food.
You don’t need to know anything about cooking Asian food, and even a
novice griller should be confident of a lot of compliments; everything
you need to know is here. Corinne Trang has once again produced a book
that will soon be stained through much use, and that’s a fine accolade
for any cookbook.
Asian cookbook review: The Asian Grill
Author: Corinne Trang
Published by: Chronicle Books
Noodles Every Day
To the untutored this might seem an uninspiring
proposition, but it’s perfectly possible to eat noodles every day and
perhaps even several times a day without feeling as though it’s an
Corinne Trang is a US based author, radio and TV broadcaster on the
subject of Asian food. She is a well respected authority on foods from
China and Southeast Asia and has been described as the “Julia Child of
Asian Cuisine” by the Washington Post and me. Corinne has penned
numerous books and has won a raft of awards - her very first won Best
Asian Cuisine Book in the World at the World Cookbook Fair. Not too
Corinne has a passion for food and not just Asian food (a casual
conversation with this lady about anything from bread to breakfast will
have you drooling). Her background, a combination of French and
Chinese, equips her very well to take her place in the culinary arena
of both East and West.
Noodles Every Day is an attractive volume with marvellous photographs
by Maura McEvoy. It’s more than a cookbook – this is an encyclopaedia
of all things noodley. Every possible variety of noodle is considered
and a wealth of recipes is offered. This is the original fast food and
it’s both healthy and sustaining which is more than can be said for
most of the popular western alternatives.
Every noodle type has its recipes but you can mix and match to suit
your own taste. The five noodle categories are Wheat, Egg, Buckwheat,
Rice and Cellophane but there is an additional chapter which covers
Buns, Dumplings, and Spring Rolls. Although these are not noodles they
do fall under the “snack” umbrella as do some of the noodle dishes.
Corinne introduces you to stock making and some typical Asian
condiments, as well as basic ingredients. You will have all you need to
be ever ready, with the addition of a few fresh items, for a quick but
impressive meal... and fast!
Wheat Noodles with Spicy Ground Pork is a Szechuan classic. Dishes from
this region are prized for their robust flavours and this one is no
exception although the stir-fried Napa cabbage (Chinese Leaves) adds
sweetness. Stir-fried Egg Noodles with Beef and Broccoli is another
meat and vegetable recipe and a worldwide restaurant favourite but it’s
easy to make at home. It’s flavourful, rich and comforting.
One of the most striking recipes in Noodles Every Day is that for Egg
Noodle Soup with Five-spice Duck. This would make a smart dinner party
dish with its succulent, aromatic meat and the soup served on the side.
For sheer luxury though, Crab-flavoured Noodles with Velvety Crab Sauce
and Green Peas takes some beating. It’s a simple recipe but has a
cheffy quality about it. The crab-flavoured noodles can be found in
larger Chinese food stores but if you can’t get hold of them you can
substitute regular thin egg noodles.
Noodles Every Day is an instructive and inspiring book. It’s
thoughtfully written with the western cook in mind but Corinne Trang is
never pedestrian in her choice of recipes. This isn’t just another
Asian cookbook but rather a vehicle which will help you to appreciate
all the subtle flavours and textures that Asian food has to offer.
Noodles Every Day will surely be another award winner.
Asian cookbook review: Noodles Every Day
Author: Corinne Trang
Published by: Chronicle Books
Price: $22.95 US, £12.99