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It's all about Asian food and travel: lots of cookbook reviews, restaurant reviews, chef news, and Asian food information.
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 at mostlyfood[at]

Mostly Asian Food
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Updated April 2015

Indian Books &

Dishoom – Kings Cross
The New Zaika
Carom Indian restaurant
Art on the Plate -Traditional Punjabi Food
Cinnamon Club - Game High Chai
Ma Goa – dinner on your doorstep
Dinner at Cinnamon Kitchen
Imli Street for Lunch
Spices and Seasons
Chef Rohit Ghai at Trishna
The Yellow Chilli Cookbook
Cobra Good Curry Guide 2013
Café Spice Namaste
La Porte des Indes for Sunday Brunch
Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen – Terminal 5 Hilton
Sanjeev Kapoor: Master Art of Indian Cooking
Café Spice Namasté Khaadras Club Night


Dr Wong Lai Sum
Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur
Train2e@t Local Foodbook - Kuala Lumpur
Hop-On Hop-Off – Day & Night Tour Kuala Lumpur

Chinese Books & Restaurants

Chinese Cricket Club
Barshu – Frith Street

Japanese Books & Restaurants

Ryosuke Mashio – UMU Head Sommelier
Ippudo Ramen opens in London
Japanese Sake visits Parliament
Washoku – Japanese cuisine - UNESCO
Discover Japanese Sake – Discovery Channel
Toshie Hiraide  - Sake Samurai Japan
Sake in London? It’s an education
Hisashi Taoka of Kiku – Fish aficionado
Rie Yoshitake – Sake and more
Chef Yoshinori Ishii of UMU of Mayfair
UMU of Mayfair
Ichi Sushi & Sashimi Bar

Thai Books & Restaurants

Blue Elephant – Imperial Wharf, London
Modern Thai Food
The Blue Elephant Cookbook

Singapore Books & Restaurants

Singapore with Marco Polo
24-Hour Food Frenzy Safari
World Street Food Congress 2015
Chef Janice Wong – It’s 'Dim Sum' but more
Singapore – A moving story

Other Asian Books & Restaurants

Whittington’s Tea Emporium at Noodle House
Korean Food Flourishing in London
Asian Food, Tea and Taste
The Noodle House
The Hunt for Filipino Food: Kusina to Cuisine
Kulinarya – A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine
Ekachai Oriental Dining Room
The Food of Vietnam

Food from Northern Laos
The Asian Grill
Noodles Every Day
Hanggang sa Muli – Homecoming stories from the Filipino soul

Latest News!

Cyrus Todiwala opens The River Restaurant at the

Acron Waterfront Resort in Goa

Long before he became one of the UK’s foremost chefs, Cyrus Todiwala was orchestrating the kitchens andCyrus Todiwala Goa restaurant cutting his teeth as an executive chef in Goa, the colourful former Portuguese colony and now party capital of India whose vibrant, Indo-European cuisine has so influenced his own.

Now, after an absence of nearly 25 years, he returns to India, if only to stamp his name and gastronomic signature on the restaurant of Goa’s newest deluxe resort, the Acron Waterfront Resort on the banks of the Baga River.

The River Restaurant is Cyrus Todiwala’s first and only restaurant in India. The 60-seater restaurant, now open, aims to strike a delicate balance between the expectations of international epicureans and locals seeking to experience the tastes, textures and flavours associated with Todiwala’s sophisticated culinary style. The restaurant is run on a day to day basis by Executive Chef Mark Smith, who has been working closely with Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala in the development of dishes that make full use of Goa’s fresh produce. India’s smallest state, Goa is particularly the renowned for its abundant seafood, seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Cyrus Todiwala said, ‘I spent eight formative years in Goa, so The River Restaurant marks a homecoming for me.Cyrus Todiwala Goa restaurant Before I came here as executive chef of the Taj properties, I was mostly enamoured of classical French and other European cuisines.

‘It was my need to learn more about Goan food to meet the demands of our guests then that led me into a deeper exploration of what Indian food is all about. Goa today is evolving into India’s culinary hub. I hope that this new restaurant enables me to bring to Goa the food innovations I either developed or absorbed as a chef working in Britain, while raising the profile of Goan food in the eyes of the rest of the world.

It is still early days and we are treading carefully and will be evolving ourselves, but in time we hope The River Restaurant will be considered a true bastion of fine cuisine in Goa.’

The launch of The River Restaurant coincides with the first ‘Taste of Goa Food Festival’ taking place in Goa from Friday, 9th - Sunday, 11th January 2015 and organised by the charity Goa for Giving. Joining Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala in India were top British chefs John Feeney, Colin Bussey, Sarah Hartnett and Paul Cunningham who participated in a series of masterclasses and culinary demonstrations sponsored by Churchill China showcasing for local chefs and festival goers emerging trends in British cuisine, including how Goan produce can be used in contemporary British and European dishes. The festival culminates in a gala charity dinner cooked by the British chefs on 11th January at the Acron Waterfront Resort, with all proceeds going to Goa for Giving.

Dishoom – Kings CrossDishoom

The area now known as King’s Cross is approximately 2 km north-west of the original Roman settlement of Londonium, and it’s thought to have been the site of a crossing of the Fleet River. It is also believed to be the location of the battle between Queen Boudicca and the Romans. Monks arrived in Essex in AD 597 with the relics of Saint Pancras and constructed a church where St Pancras Old Church stands today, making it one of the oldest places of Christian worship in Europe.

A map from the mid-1700s shows the area as open fields but with the completion of the Regent’s Canal in 1820, King’s Cross was linked to major industrial cities in the North and became a hub of activity. A statue of King George IV was erected at the Battle Bridge crossroads in 1830. The statue was evidently not popular and was demolished in 1842, but the new name ‘King’s Cross’ remained.

The area went into decline in the mid-20th century and many buildings fell into disrepair after businesses closed. It’s not too long ago when Kings Cross was an edgy, dirty neighbourhood where worse-for-wear derelicts housed
Dishoom themselves in every cold doorway and ladies of the night met their ‘customers’. Such was its unsavoury reputation that decent folk would linger for only moments at the station and if you were a female commuter you dare not slow down to look at the departures board for fear of the inevitable proposition of ‘Have you got the time darlin’?’

The 67-acre King’s Cross site has recently undergone one of the largest re-generation programmes in Europe and the area is fast becoming one of the most desirable business and residential neighbourhoods in London. It boasts high-end shops and restaurants of every culinary hue. It has guarded the old industrial architecture, which remains a link to the past and creates a unique environment for work and play.

Dishoom is the latest branch of the now well-established Old Irani Cafés of Bombay. They were originally opened last century by Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran to India. In fact they have almost all disappeared from that city but have found new fame and followers in London. This new Dishoom at King’s Cross opened on 20th November.

Regulars at the first Dishoom in Covent Garden will notice a few signature design features. There are still old family photos, marble-topped tables and a few banquettes alongside smaller tables. But Kings Cross, at least in my opinion, is more striking with a more exotic ambiance. The former stable takes advantage of bare bricks and dark wood studded with Indian accents. Indian, yes, but this is as far from a themed Indian Disney Land as one could get.

So one has admired the décor, and now one will want food. The menu will be familiar to regulars – Dishoom, it seems, has become a London institution. They have, obviously, lots of their famed breakfast items but we wanted lunch. Okra Fries will convert anyone who insists they hate these small green veggies. They are crunchy and slightly spiced but served with chutney for added zing. Prawn Koliwada from the fisherman’s district of Mumbai is a bowl of crispy fried seafood with tamarind and date chutney alongside.

Ruby Murray is the Cockney rhyming slang for curry – as this is London one must have a succulent Ruby from timeDishoom to time and in this case a flavourful Chicken Ruby. Tender chicken in a rich creamy ‘makhani’ sauce needs rice or bread for dipping in the generous gravy. The naans at Dishoom are always outstanding and freshly made.

Dishes at Dishoom have flavour rather than overpowering heat but we still wanted something refreshing with which to finish. Kala Khatta Gola Ice is a must-try. It’s a confection that was new to me but one for which I would like the recipe. Shaved ice is laced with kokum fruit syrup, blueberries, chilli, lime, and white and black salt. This is truly addictive.

I had not visited the rejuvenated Kings Cross before and I am stunned by the transformation. It’s vibrant and attractive but, to quote estate agents, ‘retaining many original features’. Dishoom fits well into this classy corner.

Dishoom Kings Cross
5 Stable Street
London N1C 4AB

Phone: 020 7420 9321

Visit Dishoom here

London Asian restaurant review

Singapore with Marco Polo

Not sure if Marco Polo, that celebrated explorer of the East, ever got to the area we now know as Singapore; however, he has given his name to a series of guidebooks to aid a distant generation of travellers.

It’s true that there are many guide books and all of them, I feel sure, have merit. This particular Marco Polo guideSingapore Marco Polo to Singapore does seem one of the most practical. This is a slim and concise volume with a sturdy cover. One might enjoy one of those famous thick blue guides while one is planning a trip but nobody wants to carry a book as big as a bible in the heat and humidity of the tropics.

The Marco Polo guide has a section of ‘Best Of’ recommendations. This is such a vibrant city that I am sure you will be adding your own recommendations in the blank Notes section. Marco suggests hotels, unique restaurants, night life and other stylish options for the enthusiastic traveller. Singapore is a young city. Yes, it has history but it also has energy. Singapore has lots to occupy the children: there are beaches, pools, zoos as well as gardens and the Singapore Flyer.

There is so much to do and see and taste in Singapore. One can be overwhelmed. This guide allows the visitor to plan an itinerary but will also give confidence to change that along the way. The Metro in Singapore is easy to negotiate and one of the cleanest that I have ever seen. There is a Rapid Transit map at the back of the guide and it’s difficult to get lost.

There is a wallet attached to the back cover and that contains the street map. It has places of interest marked and also has 3 self-guided walking tours. One can find a romantic walk, a cultural stroll or a garden ramble. One might need that exercise after enjoying some of Singapore’s diverse culinary delights.

Singapore is a paradise for food lovers. There are plenty of fine-dining restaurants and I can vouch for the quality of the restaurants listed in this guide. There are also more economic eateries and these can be found in Hawker Centres listed here. Marco Polo also offers some very handy Insider Tips, not only in the Food and Drink chapter but throughout the book. There is also a Do’s and Don’t’s section which will give you a heads-up… at least on the Don’t’s. There are few of these in this remarkably safe country but they are good to know.

Marco Polo Singapore is compact but the visitor will find a wealth of information that will ensure a stay filled with fun, food, comfort and unique entertainment. Singapore can be a smart, jet-setting, glitter-filled adventure and appropriate high-spots are listed here; or it can be a gentle introduction to an exciting city where one can explore without the need of a bank loan.

Find this and other guides by Marco Polo here

London Asian restaurant review

The New Zaika

The name Zaika means ‘fine flavour’ in a South Indian dialect, and this restaurant has been known for that sinceThe New Zaika its opening in 1997, although now the owners, chef and managers have all changed.

 It’s a Grade II listed former bank building which would be described as having “many original features, with a striking dining room” if you saw it in an estate agent’s window. It was built when Kensington was being developed in the 1850s. It’s smartly located in Kensington, opposite that corner of Hyde Park known as Kensington Gardens. It’s an attractive building of brick and stone in the very Victorian late-gothic style. It was originally built for the London and County Bank to the design of celebrated architect Alfred Williams, who also worked on Harrods.

I knew that there had been a degree of refurbishing and I was expecting the dreaded ‘modernisation’. Those original features were beautiful and iconic of the era but, thankfully, here they remain. High ceilings and double-height windows, lots of carved stone and those glorious wooden panels. The major change from the Zaika of old is the bar which is long and impressive but perfectly in keeping with the subtle tone of the restaurant.

This new Zaika is part of the renowned Tamarind Group so diners can expect food and service that reflect the ethos of quality found in Tamarind restaurant in Mayfair, which was the first Indian restaurant to be awarded a Michelin Star. The food here is authentic, imaginative and served in traditional fashion. I know it’s down to personal taste but when I eat Indian food I prefer to have dishes presented separately so each person can serve themselves.

The food here is described as ‘creative
The New Zaika and contemporary cuisine from the Awadhi traditions of Northern India’. Awadhi is heavily influenced by the Mughal and Nawabi kitchens, and that means the chance of rich dishes with silky sauces or slow-cooked preparations with aromatic spices. The opulence of the restaurant reminds one of the long-gone days of the Raj and feasts fit for Rajahs and Ranis.

This cold Wednesday evening found Zaika filled with diners, many of whom were evidently regulars. That’s quite an achievement for any restaurant in a neighbourhood of fine-dining options. Candles burned in the hearth, brass reflected warm light, woodwork made a mellow backdrop …and, less poetically, it was very cosy.

Yakhni Shorba was my guest’s choice of starter. This was a soup that I had not come across before. Lamb stock was the base but it didn’t have that unpleasant ‘lamby’ greasiness that encourages many cooks to avoid using it. This was a light broth with the very essence of lamb, as well as vegetables. This is a must-try.

Jhinga Shimla-Mirch - grilled tiger prawns marinated with pureed red-pepper and spices - was an absolute triumph. I am lucky enough to visit the best of restaurants and I have enjoyed stunning meals but I consider these prawns to be outstanding; they deserve to be cited as a signature dish. Succulent, well-spiced and substantial, these were grilled to a delicate perfection.

Gosht Dum Biryani was my guest’s main dish: Goat biryani served in its individual metal pot and sealed with a puff pastry crust. This is a classic dish and it’s marvellous when done well. It’s that enticing combination of flavourful rice and meat. The archetypal Indian one-pot meal and a manly portion too - and done very well at Zaika. A dish, the remains of which, one would like to have taken home!

Murgh Handi Lazeez, Chicken tikka simmered in a sauce of browned garlic, tomato, cream and spices, was my
The New Zaika choice of main dish. This is ‘comfort on a plate’ and offered everything that I expect from a ‘gravy’ dish.  The flavour was vibrant and the sauce was moreish. Some naan bread for dipping is the essential accompaniment.

Nimboo Tart, Lime tart served with white chocolate ice cream, is the ideal end to any Indian meal.  One might assume that citrus tarts are a French patisserie confection but remember how popular limes are in India and Indian cooking. The clean sharpness of this tart is refreshing, enabling the diner to enjoy just another bite - proving that there is always room for dessert.
Zaika has already garnered a creditable reputation. The restaurant is stunning and classy but the food is the element that will encourage many return visits. Regulars will enjoy the comfortable familiarity and first-timers will appreciate a glimpse of a gentler age. Everyone will find the food memorable and delicious.

Zaika of Kensington
1 Kensington High Street
W8 5NP
United Kingdom

Phone: +44 (0)20 7795 6533
Fax: +44 (0)20 7434 1479

Visit Zaika here

London Asian restaurant review

Whittington’s Tea Emporium at Noodle House

Whittington’s Tea Emporium at Noodle House
Kyle Whittington is a modern tea merchant. He imports the finest of teas and he educates and amuses his audience. You could say he teases with teas. Although the custom of tea drinking dates back thousands of years in China, it was not until the 17th century that tea first appeared in England. It has been overshadowed by coffee but it’s now enjoying a revival.

Kyle is becoming something of a tea institution. His food and tea pairing events are unique and popular. Kyle is offering an engaging experience appealing to those who want to learn more. There are no spittoons or technical
Whittington’s Tea Emporium at Noodle House discussions of chemical interactions, although Kyle is an encyclopaedia of tea facts. His evenings are light, informative and deliciously garnished.

This particular evening found us sipping teas from China: The Noodle House blend of White Peony (Bai Mu Dan) accompanied by Vegetable Spring Roll. This very light tea was a good choice with the robust soy sauce. The Noodle House blend of Lime Green tea followed, accompanied by Wasabi Prawns. This is a delicate but striking tea that also works as a cold infusion. Kyle teaches brewing techniques and even how to make tea using cold water.

Lapsang Souchong from the Canton Tea Company served with Chargrilled King Prawns was a triumph. The smokiness of the tea complemented the rich buttery seafood. The Noodle House blend of Jasmine Star tea offered with Javanese Nasi Goreng was a fragrant marriage and demonstrated the difference between quality jasmine tea and that which we likely consume at our local Chinese restaurant. Kyle described the process of producing these remarkable tea
Whittington tea leaves.

The Noodle House blend of Posh Earl Grey comes from Sri Lanka and accompanied Sweet and Sour Crispy Chicken. I had assumed that all Earl Grey was posh but this particular blend was a cut above others. It was aromatic with vibrant notes of bergamot, the key additive which gives this tea its instantly recognisable characteristics. Although the country of origin is Sri Lanka the tea is still described as Ceylon tea, referring to the pre-independence name for the island.

Future dates for The Noodle House Tea and Asian food pairings are the first Tuesday of the month starting with 3rd March, 7th April, 5th May, 2nd June.

Whittington’s Tea Emporium has a delightful liaison with The Noodle House every month, but there is another intriguing event each month and that finds Kyle pairing cheese with tea. It seems an unlikely partnership but I have heard that the combination is astounding with not only tea’s flavour palate working with the lactic saltiness of cheese, but also the heat of the tea adding another dimension.

Tea and Cheese is held in a small cheese shop in Greenwich. That might seem an unlikely neighbourhood for an association with tea but in fact there is a strong link. In the early 1800s ships carrying tea from the Far East to
Whittington’s Tea Emporium at Noodle House Britain could take over a year to return with their valuable cargo. When the East India Company was given the tea monopoly in 1832, they had to cut the time of these voyages. They used Tea Clippers which could reach nearly 18 knots. The most famous of these clipper ships was the Cutty Sark, built in 1868 and now on show at Greenwich.

Tea and Cheese in Greenwich is offered on every last Tuesday of the month: 24th February, 31st March, 27th April and 19th May.

There will also be another venue: Tea and Cheese in Notting Hill on Wednesday 11th February, with more dates to follow.

To book your seat for the next event click here

For more information visit Whittington’s Tea Emporium here

Visit Noodle House here

London Asian restaurant review

Carom Indian restaurantcarom restaurant soho

Carom the restaurant: named after the Indian spice. Carom seeds have a taste similar to thyme and are popular in Indian savoury snacks, so even the restaurant’s name invites the visitor to expect something delicious.

Carom is a part of the D&D London restaurant group. They operate over 30 leading restaurants in London, Leeds, Paris, New York and Tokyo. Carom is found in the celebrated and vibrant neighbourhood of Soho in London. It’s an area famed for Chinatown and its associated restaurants, but cross Shaftsbury Avenue and there are streets boasting a much more eclectic mix of eateries.

This was my first visit to Carom. It has a new and contemporary design and that tends to start alarm bells when I am looking for comforting Indian food. Yes, I think that Indian food in the UK has become such a thread in our national culinary tapestry just because it has always offered that attractive comforting quality.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire and appreciate the innovation of many ground-breaking Indian chefs with their plated dishes and nods to Paris but I will always remain a lover of traditional dishes (perhaps with the chef’s personal twist) served in the time-honoured way.

Carom does indeed have a thoroughly modern and buzzy ambiance and the décor is attractive and just right for
carom restaurant soho its location. There is ample seating in bar areas as well as tables and booths in the restaurant itself. A cold Thursday evening in January didn’t seem to put off the diners, many of whom were evidently regulars. It’s a restaurant that works well for a quick dinner before the theatre or club, or for a longer evening with a group of friends.

Head Chef Vishnu Natarajan has created an authentic Indian menu that gladdened the heart of this frozen visitor. He was born in Chennai in southern India and joined Carom in February 2013. He says his main influence remains his mother’s cooking.

My starter was Pakora Chaat and this is a must-try here. This small plate presented elegance, comfort, skill …and the possibility of addiction. A triumph of flavour and texture. Even a committed carnivore would be converted to spinach before the arrival of the main course. Excellent!

Chef Vishnu has included a dish from his home state in the guise of Chennai Chicken Curry. This is a classic comfort gravy dish. The sauce was silky and well-spiced and covered a substantial portion of tender chicken.
carom restaurant soho This was great value for money, being only £8.50. I seldom quote prices in my reviews but this deserves promoting for quality, quantity and great value. Times are tough and it’s good to find a spot where one can be spoilt without guilt.

Alleppy-style curries hale from Kerala and my guest pronounced his Sea bass Alleppy curry to be outstanding. The sauce had a pronounced coconut flavour reflecting one of the most iconic and common ingredients from this state. A mild and rich curry.

The aforementioned bar provides bracing libations to accompany dinner but it also provides a stylish venue for some memorable cocktails. Memorable for their striking flavours but also for their equally remarkable price. From 4pm till 6.30pm one can indulge in a glass of something colourful and reviving for a fiver! My guest enjoyed a Dark and Stormy which was ginger beer well-laced with rum, lime and bitters. I rather like the sound of a Raspberry Collin with vodka as the main ingredient. I am having a Dry January in aid of Cancer Research so I missed my chance, but perhaps a return visit for a bar review is in my near future.

I hadn’t expected to like Carom but I loved it. It demonstrates what made Indian food so popular in the first place. It has great food from a great chef and there are menus to suit every pocket and inclination. It has a real city vibe but it clings to a fine food philosophy. I’ll return, and soon.

100 Wardour Street

Phone: 020 7314 4002

Opening hours:
12:00–2:30 pm for lunch
4:00–11:00 pm for dinner

Visit Carom here

London Asian restaurant review

24-Hour Food Frenzy Safari

The name ’24-Hour Food Frenzy Safari’ might, to the untutored, give the impression of something of a greedy24 hour singapore teen munchies extravaganza. Well, in truth, it was an extravaganza but the message behind the event was serious.

Eating for a solid 24 hours with no designated sleep breaks is not for the faint-hearted. Two dozen or so enthusiastic food journalists were invited to attend Makansutra’s 24-Hour Street Food Frenzy Safari, hosted by the charismatic KF Seetoh. No, we were not chosen from the ranks of the aforementioned juvenility, but we all had a will to enjoy and learn from this unique experience.

The 1440 minutes (someone else did the maths) of non-stop eating and travelling was an extraordinary idea and held to publicise the future second meeting of the World Street Food Congress, taking place between April 8th and 12th, 2015. We were along to taste the diversity of Singapore’s cuisine, to be introduced to the faces behind the plates and to hear stories of endeavour, success and fortitude, all woven together with a vibrant tapestry of culture.

The marathon started innocently enough at 10.30 on a Saturday morning at the Esplanade in Singapore. That’s where one finds Makansutra’s street food centre called Gluttons Bay, with its up-market stalls, perhaps giving a24 hour singapore metaphoric taste of the delights to come. We were each presented with a survival kit which proved indispensable and included such well-chosen items as herbal medication for headaches, indigestion tablets and a toothbrush! We counted several qualified doctors in our number but these were for the reassurance of the skittish rather than the rescue of the fallen – their advice was never sought and the medical personnel joined with the group, tasting, discussing, comparing and musing.

Our intrepid throng criss-crossed the island, going from coast to coast and from the tip of Singapore to the border with Malaysia. We journalists from 11 countries were not just offered those dishes deemed to be suitable for foreign palates: we tried and enjoyed everything that Singapore provided to its own population. I doubt that any of us, including many locals, have had the opportunity to eat such a bounty, not only in 24 hours but even in a full adult life!

Our stops, and there were more than 30 of them, presented everything from light snacks such as Kaya toast (a coconut spread, garnishing grilled white bread sandwiched with a cool slab of butter) to Fish Head Curry which proved to be popular with the whole crowd. We were a bunch of passionate eaters who expected to, and indeed did, enjoy even the least-familiar dishes. This was no place for a picky eater. We tucked in but with moderation,24 hour singapore being mindful of the length of this culinary journey.

Our mission was not actually to eat our own weight in food but to experience Singapore’s street food culture and to consider ways of both promoting and preserving the recipes, skills and its popularity for future generations. We took a short but welcome break from bus or stall seats to lounge in a conference hall. No break from food, however, as chefs demonstrated some contemporary departures from traditional hawker-stall fare.

We heard more about the World Street Food Congress, which had its first event in 2013. Although held in Singapore, which has its own celebrated street food, this was an international event which will be repeated in 2015. The 2013 World Street Food Congress (WSFC) was a symposium and a conference focusing on street food around the world. It aimed to elevate awareness of the state of street food internationally and to consider its future possibilities. Now in its second year, the Congress will focus on the actionable, with the themes of Empower, Engage and Opportunities. There will be networking activities, hawker
24 hour singapore recipes as well as chef demonstrations, and the World Street Food Awards will be announced shortly after the main event.

Food is a great leveller. We all have food memories and it’s those very memories that have driven some to become chefs themselves. Food plays an important part in society and culture but it’s a fragile prize that needs to be guarded and nurtured. In the past street food earned little respect and those who toiled over long hours and hot stoves were held in distain. That has been true around the globe, but things are changing, and there has been something of a street food revival in some countries and an awakening of the realisation that food is culture.

A nation’s heritage cannot be preserved by tourists alone. It’s refreshing to see this initiative blossom in Singapore and KF Seetoh should be applauded for his vision and driving passion. He provides a platform for debate which we see is already having a positive impact on our perception of a food genre that offers accessible comfort and, hopefully, culinary continuity.

Find more information on the Street Food Congress here

Learn more about Singapore here

London Asian restaurant review

Korean Food Flourishing in London

London is cosmopolitan. That’s nothing new. It’s been that way for centuries, starting with Romans who liked itKorean food so well that they stayed for quite an extended holiday. There have been waves of newcomers fleeing persecution or looking for a better life. Along with skills they brought their foods.

Citizens of the old empire have introduced the British to spicy dishes and we have taken them to our hearts as well as stomachs. These days the average English person craves flavourful food, and we embrace the new.

Korean food isn’t new but it’s new to us. It ticks many culinary boxes, being spicy, using fresh ingredients; it’s beautiful to look at, and many dishes are easy to incorporate into Western meals. It’s also becoming popular in London as well as larger cities across the UK. There are Korean shops where one can buy the basic ingredients, and restaurants are to be found in an increasing number of neighbourhoods.

The Korean Cultural Centre UK is based in London and does all it can to introduce the general public to Korean
food as well as culture. They have developed a new initiative to present their national food to a widerKorean food audience. The ‘K-Cuisine’ Workshops showcase Korean food in a most delicious fashion.

On 31st October professional chefs and food critics were invited to attend a special master class, followed by lunch. The mini expo was led by celebrated exponents of Korean cuisine, including President of the Institute of Traditional Korean Food, Sookja Yoon.
A delicious, authentic three-course lunch was prepared for the guests by Joo Won, Head Chef of Galvin at Windows restaurant. The assembled diners included head chefs, journalists and culinary entrepreneurs. This event was hosted by Westminster Kingsway College and the Korean Cultural Centre UK, which demonstrated the positive profile of Korean cuisine and the interest shown by culinary professionals. It is hoped that these workshops will be the springboard for increasing awareness of, and enthusiasm for, Korean dishes, ingredients, recipes and, naturally, eating out at Korean restaurants across the UK.
It’s true that there are still far fewer Korean restaurants than either Indian or Chinese but the Korean palette hasKorean food some familiar elements. It has the aforementioned spice in the form of unique chilli pastes. It’s that vibrancy that in the past helped to make Indian dishes our adopted national food. It has fast-cooked freshness that we search for in many Chinese dishes. It also has a secret weapon in the guise of the famous Kim Chi, a fermented pickle that offers heat and texture and can be served alongside your regular Sunday roast as well as being an indispensable and traditional condiment for Korean food.

Korean food is the new culinary kid on the block, although there are still relatively few Korean restaurants on our high streets; but this is the cuisine to watch. It is trending and for good reason. It’s accessible, mostly inexpensive, and it offers what we crave - good food with impact.

‘K-CUISINE’: For further details of the Korean Food Educational Workshops please visit here 

Follow on Twitter @Hansik_Kcuisine, @KCCUK

Learn more about Korean food here


London Asian restaurant review

Ryosuke Mashio – UMU Head Sommelier

We are spoilt for choice in London. We have restaurants of every ethnic hue. It’s a cosmopolitan city and foodRyosuke Mashio – UMU Head Sommelier reflects our diversity. Japanese restaurants are more in evidence that ever, and acknowledged as one of the finest is UMU of Mayfair.

The very address hints at the quality to be found within. Chef Yoshinori Ishii has a deservedly high reputation as the skilled exponent of the elaborate, beautifully presented and seasonal kaiseki cuisine. Not all Japanese restaurants are created equal. One can snack on sushi on almost every corner, it seems; ramen noodles are providing big bowls of steamy comfort; but UMU is polished and extraordinary.

Along with exquisite food, UMU diners are invited to peruse a creditable wine list but there is also Japanese sake …and a lot of it. Sommelier Ryosuke Mashio is the man in charge of the sake cellar as well as the wine cellar, and the wall at the end of the dark wood-bedecked restaurant is decorated with coolers filled with sake bottles sporting attractive and, for me at least, indecipherable labels. UMU does, in fact, boast the largest selection of sake in Europe.

Many sommeliers are old, dusty and intimidating but Ryosuke Mashio is part of that new breed of beverage specialist. He is young, enthusiastic, energetic and knowledgeable. He didn’t have a passion for sake from babyhood. His family don’t own a sake brewery, and his career in sake started, ironically, in London.

Ryosuke came as a student with very little English. ‘Seven years ago I came to London with just one guide book about the city. I checked where I had to go from my arrival at Heathrow to the youth hostel where I was going to stay. It was at Canada Water.’ He still remembers the route and recounts that he was relieved and happy when he reached his own little room.

What had encouraged Ryosuke to come to London? ‘I wanted to live and work in an English-speaking country. I chose the UK for no particular reason. It was my first time outside Japan. My family didn’t have anything to do with sake or wine or even the restaurant industry and, to be honest, at that time I didn’t have much experience either. But when I came to this country I really wanted to be a sommelier. I had good bar-tender skills as I had worked in a bar in Tokyo when I was 20 so I had knowledge of spirits, gin, vodka and cocktails but I didn’t know much about wine and sake.

‘I was looking for work and I noticed an advert from this restaurant. They were looking for an assistant sommelier. I applied for the post but they were looking for someone with experience to fill that high position. I didn’t have the appropriate knowledge but I still wanted to be a sommelier. Naturally the restaurant management refused me so I started working as a commis waiter instead, to gain some relevant work experience in the restaurant. I was not even a proper waiter! I was just moving the food from the kitchen to the table where the real waiter would serve the guests. It was boring and it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to be involved in the drinks side of the business.

‘I asked if I could extend my hours. I was a student and was only allowed to work 20 hours per week. I spent extra non-work hours at the restaurant to learn more about drinks. I started with bar-tending and joined the team at the very bottom, and after four years I had the position of sommelier; then I became assistant head sommelier and then head sommelier.’

That really seems good progress through the ranks but it takes hard work as well as passion to become a
Ryosuke Mashio – UMU Head Sommelier respected sommelier. ‘I went to the Wine & Spirits Education Trust for wine study and then I took a Sake training course as well. Serving wine and sake in the restaurant relies more on my experience from working here. Talking with my group head sommelier and assistant head sommelier has given me lots of knowledge. We have very good clients and they always order something special so I have had the chance to try exceptional sake and wines that I have never tasted before and thought ‘Wow, this is the wine I have read about in my books and now I am trying it here in UMU.’

‘I think it’s most important to actually taste wine. If you go to school you are given 3 or 4 different types of sake or wine to taste but every day on the restaurant floor I have the opportunity to try 10 or 20 different bottles of sake or wine and you grow to understand how it tastes, how it looks and you can make comparisons.

It’s difficult even for sommeliers to recognise the different styles of sake sometimes. It’s easier with traditional European wines. We often have sommelier competitions between us here in UMU. We have blind tastings and with wines it’s not hard to recognise what they might be. But it’s a different matter with sake. It can be quite tough to recognise a particular bottle from a particular brewer. I can tell that the sake is a specific style like Daiginjo (super premium sake) for instance but it’s much more difficult to define where it was brewed. It’s easier to recognise a vineyard and winemaker.’

Diners at some chain sushi bars sometimes only have the choice of a couple of different styles of sake: Hot or Cold. Things are improving and now more Japanese restaurants are offering sake lists. I was curious as to whether UMU guests were adventurous with their choices. ‘To be honest I think that 75% of sales are still for wine, and only 25% for sake. The customer has usually already decided what he will drink before he reaches the restaurant: “Tonight I am going to have a nice bottle of white wine,” although sometimes it might be “Whenever I go to UMU I always drink sake.” It’s more expensive than wine so it’s quite a challenge for me to sell sake to people who know nothing about it. I suggest a bottle at a reasonable price but good quality. Everyone knows what to expect from wine but they don’t have much idea about sake, they might have heard about it from a friend but often people don’t want to take the chance. What I try to do is allow people to try just a little sake that I would offer as an alternative to their usual wine.’

UMU is famed for its food and selection of the finest sake. At the last count they could offer more than 130 bottles of sake. Ryosuke hopes to increase that already-creditable number to between 150 and 160 bottles in the near future. But have attitudes in the UK to drinking sake changed over the years? ‘Gradually things are changing. We at UMU offer plenty of opportunity to taste sake. Unfortunately there are some restaurants that stock inferior quality sake. It can be easy to drink but the next day might find the drinker with a headache. That’s how the myth has evolved that sake is as strong as vodka: they think it’s distilled, and will likely give them a hangover, so they avoid drinking sake again.’

Sake is misunderstood. It’s called rice wine but it’s brewed, more like beer. The first-time sipper might well expect
Ryosuke Mashio – UMU Head Sommelier a fruity ‘wine’ as that would be their only point of reference, but it has a distinctive flavour derived from rice and other ingredients, along with the famously soft water of Japan. It’s difficult to describe. Ryosuke agrees. ‘People don’t know what sake is. It’s described as rice wine but it doesn’t taste like that and it’s not an easy comparison. When we talk about sake we must use wine terms. The wine industry is long-established here. For me the characters of wine and sake have to be described using the same terms.

‘I have a combined sake and wine list. When I have new sommeliers at UMU they have good knowledge of wine but they don’t know much about sake. I always tell them to use the same terms they would use when talking about wine – aromatic, dry, sweet – all the words we use for wine we can use for sake. We can close the gap between wine and sake by education and promotion. The first step is to allow people to enjoy, and then encourage them to return and perhaps try another variety of sake.’

Ryosuke Mashio is a quietly spoken young man with an engaging manner. He is a sake match-maker and educator. He understands UMU diners, his cellar and the striking food of Chef Ishii. Sake might not be the cheapest meal partner but a perfectly chosen sake enhances food in remarkable fashion. A good sommelier can transform a delicious dinner into a memorable experience, and in this Ryosuke has his unique niche.

14 - 16 Bruton Place
London W1J 6LX
Phone:+44 (0)20 7499 8881
Fax:+44 (0)20 7016 5120

Monday to Friday
Lunch 12.00 - 14.30
Dinner 18.00 - 23.00

Dinner 18.00 - 23.00

Visit UMU of Mayfair here

London Asian restaurant review

World Street Food Congress 2015World Street Food Congress 2015

I have been fortunate enough to have been able to spend time in Singapore, in fact every year for the past 3 years. I am an unashamed supporter of this my favourite country. I adore the weather, even the humidity which I find more tolerable than that of London, which tends to be vertical and cold. The locals are for the most part friendly and engaging – many folks speak English – and it has a rich heritage.

I suppose the majority of tourists to Singapore are there only en route. It seems an exotic shopping opportunity, and it is. It’s considered a colourful stop-over, and that’s right, too. But there is also the food that should, to my mind at least, be given a lot more credit.

So how exactly does the food tie in with the aforementioned heritage? Well, let us consider that whatever nationality we are, food plays a great part in our lives. I have the privilege to interview the finest of international chefs. My opening question will usually be ‘What are your earliest food memories?’ The answer will likely be, ‘My nana’s cheese and onion pie’, or it might be if the chef in question is British. My next question: ‘What encouraged you to become a chef?’ The answer might be the same: ‘My nana’s cheese and onion pie.’

That lasting and comforting memory of food isn’t confined to chefdom. Ask almost anyone about fond memories and they will tell stories of steaming pots of soup after school on a winter’s day. There will be memories of Sunday lunch and that special gravy that mum made. There are also foods that remind us of particular places and events. The pasty at the football match, the fish and chips after that block-buster movie, and jellied eels by the coast. Many people profess to have little interest in food as they don’t cook. In truth they love food but they just don’t cook. So that’s our connection to street food.

Singapore has that rich heritage not only of buildings, history and diversity in its citizens but also the food, which is hard to overlook or avoid even if one wanted to, and why would anyone want to? Its food culture has been born of a practical evolution, providing cheap and nourishing food for hard-working locals who didn’t have muchWorld Street Food Congress 2015 cash to flash. The dishes are as varied as the population itself.

A few years ago the government had a campaign to clean up the streets and to consolidate the street-hawkers into centres. These cavernous spaces are dotted all over the city and house hundreds of hawker stalls selling everything from Malay specialities to Fish Balls, from Nasi Lemak to Nasi Padang. There are a few innovations but locals know what they like and each stall has its loyal followers.

Street food is an institution here and workers often eat out four or five times a week. The meals are economical and well-cooked. There is continuity and tradition here and now there is security in organized food halls, with running water and clean tables. I know that they are trying to formalise street vendors in India and other countries too, so that they and their customers can also be assured of good facilities and regulation of standards and practices.

The World Street Food Congress is powered by the World Street Food Council, which is the brainchild of dynamic KF Seetoh, founder of Makansutra, the organizers of the event which will be taking place again between 8th and 12th April 2015 in Singapore. The World Street Food Congress is a celebration, conference, demonstration andWorld Street Food Congress 2015 showcase for street food from all over the world. Singapore has the finest example of the genre but this style of casual but sophisticated dining shows up in almost every country, or it once did.

The aim of next year’s event is to raise awareness about the preservation of street food, professionalisation of its exponents, and possibilities for street food culture in the future. The Congress will focus on actions such as empowering, engaging and opportunities. Street food is alive only because there are people who work long hours every day, but a new generation of cooks needs to be tempted to join their number. This is big business and could be the lifeline to those needing work and respect.

The associated 2-day conference and networking event will feature international speakers who will offer their perspective on skills, opportunities and new ideas for promoting street food culture. Each country has its own issues but this is a form of accessible and sensual pleasure that should be available to all. Street food has always been available in Asia but now western countries are reviving their own street-food traditions. North America in particular has embraced the concept. We are all familiar with the small street carts in New York selling hot dogs and knishes, but Portland Oregon has fleets of food trucks (there has got to be a better word than ‘truck’) offering American favourites as well as dishes from every other continent.

I spend my days in delightful fashion. Yes, I am lucky. I travel and I eat. Michelin-star meals thrill, and everyWorld Street Food Congress 2015 country offers charm and education of some sort. But what do I crave while home or away? Comfort food. We are in real danger of losing sight of real, honest food, proper food. We need to provide an environment in which existing vendors, hawkers, sellers can thrive. We need to develop structures to entice young and enthusiastic cooks who will develop new dishes that will someday become ‘classic’.

World Street Food Congress 2015 is a ‘must visit’ event for any lover of good food. It will be fun, but there is a serious purpose. I whole-heartedly support this and hope that it becomes an unstoppable movement. It’s ‘people power’ and deliciously so.

World Street Food Congress 2015 An event by Makansutra. Visit

Date: 8th – 12th April 2015

Bugis, grassland next to Tan Quee Lan Street,

London Asian restaurant review

Legendary Japanese Ramen Restaurant Ippudo opens in London

From the title one might wonder if it’s the noodles which are legendary, or is it the restaurant? Well,Ippudo Japanese Ramen Restaurant the restaurant is new to London but it is indeed legendary, being part of a small chain which is now also found outside Japan. The noodles are legendary and thankfully bear little resemblance to those infamous ones found in ‘instant’ pots – the ones that look like pale and pasty failed attempts at knitting a cricket sweater.

The original Ippudo was founded in the Kyushu region of Japan in a district of the city of Fukuoka. It opened its doors in 1985, but this latest establishment is designed to be the flagship European restaurant of the group. Ippudo has over 120 restaurants serving diners in 13 different noodle-loving countries and capital cities such as New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and Sydney. Ippudo founder, Shigemi Kawahara, has been crowned Ramen King numerous times and holds a place in the Ramen Hall of Fame after winning the championship three times in a row on "TV Champion Ramen Chef”, a show produced in Tokyo. Mr. Kawahara trained in European restaurants in Japan and in 1979 he opened his first restaurant; that was followed by the first Ippudo six years
Ippudo Japanese Ramen Restaurant later. He now has more than 60 ramen restaurants in Japan.

This Ippudo offers a real city vibe. There is an open kitchen, contemporary décor with unmistakable Japanese accents, staff who both charm and entertain with Japanese shouts of welcome and bows of farewell. There are glass walls that offer views onto the bustle of London streets, and these same streets present a changing landscape of traffic lights, restaurant and shop signs and reflections on wet pavements, as the sun retreats and the excitement of night takes hold. Yes, this is undoubtedly a Japanese restaurant but it has succeeded in stepping above the cliché. The distinctive red and white bowls make a crisp and unfussy statement. It is an 80-cover restaurant split over a ground floor and mezzanine level.

The food is deceptively simple, in a long-handed fashion. It’s a bowl of soup with pasta. That sounds not one bit appetising to the uninitiated, so what has been the secret to attracting and satisfying regular ramen slurpers on several continents? It’s the broth, which is cooked for hours. It isn’t simmered gently as one might expect but rather it remains at a rolling boil for up to half a day. The soup is made with pork bones (tonkotsu)
Ippudo Japanese Ramen Restaurant which release the rich bone marrow to give the soup its prized silkiness and colour. These are Hakata-style ramen, which denotes the aforementioned district in Fukuoka from whence they come. They are considered to be amongst the classic styles of noodles and much sought by aficionados. Ippudo evidently does them well as they are serving more than 50,000 bowls of ramen each day across their branches.

The noodles are homemade and thin and not over-chewy. The diner is presented with a steaming bowl of their chosen broth along with chopsticks and a spoon. Shiromaru Hakata Classic is the first dish for the novice to try. It’s made with the traditional tonkotsu pork broth, the noodles being topped with pork loin, sesame, kikurage (Tree-ear) mushrooms, bean sprouts and spring onions. One can order extra garnishes such as eggs and pork slices to make this a complete meal.

The rugby players in your party might not feel that a bowl of soup constitutes dinner, but then there is Kaedama which allows you an extra serving of noodles. To order Kaedama, finish the noodles in the broth first, then say ‘Kaedama, please.’ A waiter will bring another serving of noodles to add to the remaining broth. I have no idea what will happen if one forgets those key words but I suspect that a polite request for ‘another portion of those delicious noodles’ might also see you right.
Ippudo Japanese Ramen Restaurant
Vegetarians are also considered at Ippudo. Shiro Vegetarian offers an original seaweed and mushroom broth, noodles topped with fried tofu, sesame, kikurage mushrooms, bean sprouts and spring onions. There are contemporary variations for both meaty and vegetarian options and there are numerous starters and side dishes to turn a bowl of soup into a feast. Homemade Pickles, Gyoza, and Hirata Buns are well worth a try.

Opening Hours: 

lunch 11am-3pm
dinner 5pm-11pm last orders 10:30pm

Central Saint Giles,


Visit Ippudo London here

London Asian restaurant review

Art on the Plate - Styling Traditional Punjabi Food

I am, at first sight, overwhelmingly English. Yes, well, no, not quite. I have a family connection to India which isPunjabi food distant yet strong. That little bit of sub-continental exotica manifests itself in the guise of a passion for Indian food.

One might assume that I have spent endless time in Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai. Actually my time in India has been scant so my association with Indian food has been confined to restaurants in London, and cookbooks which have mostly been written with the European in mind.
Food craft institute Hoshiarpur in association with Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board organized the unique Culinary Challenge, Art on the Plate “Styling Traditional Punjabi Food”. The Punjab is a long way from London but, in a way, this exciting initiative is as much about us, lovers of fine food in Europe, as about the originators of vibrant recipes.

Art on the Plate follows the success of the Star Chef Punjab competition, supported by Mrs.Raji P. Shrivastava, IAS, Secretary, Tourism & Cultural Affairs of the Government of Punjab. This new Challenge promotes forgotten recipes and encourages the inclusion of those on restaurant menus, and elevates those dishes that are in danger of being lost.

Photographs of dishes were requested from student chefs and professional chefs from catering colleges and restaurants as well as hotels, across the Punjab. The participating chefs were short-listed after consideration of the authenticity of their recipes as well as the style of presentation. That authenticity, for me at least, is the remarkable element of this challenge.

Let’s consider for a moment, why authenticity might be worth celebrating and preserving. There are two continental considerations here. Firstly for India: It has one of the world’s classic cuisines. It’s popular worldwide and Indian chefs do travel, so the preservation and exportation of that worthy culinary heritage should surely be the mission of any serious Indian chef. If it disappears, it disappears forever and it’s a treasure that is too valuable to squander.

But what of the other aforementioned continent? Well, in truth it’s
Punjabi food all other continents and their cities that have grown to love Indian food …or is it Indian food? We love our ‘curry houses’ in the UK and we assume that we have been enjoying Indian food. The truth is that they are mostly run by Bangladeshis who have been offering us often delicious and moreish dishes that have been developed for what is assumed to be the European palate. There are many high-end Indian restaurants that have galaxies of Michelin Stars and other accolades, and all well-deserved, but is their food authentic or just spicy and beautifully presented?

Art on the Plate “Styling Traditional Punjabi Food” and other similar initiatives are and will be crucial to the continuity of real Indian dishes in India, and the introduction or popularizing of authentic recipes beyond its shores. We are often ridiculed in Britain for having such non-authentic menu items as Chicken Tikka Masala as one of our national dishes. But it was, I believe, presented to us in an ‘authentic’ Indian restaurant. I am sure, if we only knew, there are many familiar dishes that we assume to be made from the recipe of the chef’s Grandmother, but that are in fact especially designed for this as-yet ill-educated audience. Art on the Plate “Styling Traditional Punjabi Food” endeavors to instill pride in Indian chefs for their own prized gastronomy, whilst perhaps persuading them that there are others overseas who would dearly like to taste the real thing.

I have immense faith in the momentum of Art on the Plate. It is initiated, conducted and supported by some of my friends who are amongst the most eminent food-smiths, not only in India but across the globe. The final round for the event was held on 22nd September 2014 and Manjit Singh Gill, President IFCA, Sudhir Sibal, Ambassador, World Chefs without Borders, Sanjiv Verma, Pashtun Chandigarh, judged the food presentations. That in itself is a culinary lineup over which to wonder.

Celebrity Master Chef Vikas Khanna was the Guest of Honour and was also a part of the Jury, and awarded the coveted prizes to the winners. During the event Master Chef Vikas launched his latest book, appropriately called AMRITSAR - Flavours of the Golden City. Mr. Manoj Aggarwal, Head of Operations - CSJ L& T Realty Limited, and Mr. Gurvinder Singh Juneja, Hon. Secretrary, HRANI, were also present at the event.

Mr.Vikrant S Parihar and Ashish Nikhanj were awarded 1st and 2nd places respectively in the Professional Category.  Aditi Sood and Abhishek Sharma were winners of the 1st and 2nd places respectively in the Student Category.

During the event Mr. Kashish Mittal, IAS, Director of Tourism, Chandigarh, and Mr. Razit Bhandari, Senior
Punjabi food Marketing Manager, Punjab Heritage & Tourism Promotion Board,  released a Tourist Map of Punjab which is entitled Food Trail in Amritsar and is endorsed by Chef Vikas Khanna. During his address to the assembled group, Chef Khanna remembered “Punjabi Cuisine is very close to my heart and soul. I learnt how to roll breads in the busiest kitchen, that is the Golden Temple, and also learnt the true spirit of service and devotion.” He recognised the efforts of the institute and PHTPB in promoting the cuisine of this great region by conducting such competitions.

Chef Manjit Singh Gill is a famous and respected figure worldwide and he congratulated everyone on the successful presentation of the event, and he also assured continued support from the Indian Federation of Culinary Associations in future such events. Support from event sponsors Elante Mall-Venue Partners, Sindhi Sweets-Hospitality Partners, and ICF Punjab and Chandigarh Chapter - Education Partners was recognised with gratitude.

I must confess that this is not an article written by an independent journalist. I am committed to this project and others like it. I have lent my humble name to it and will continue to encourage chefs of every culinary hue to respect their grandmothers and authenticity. Innovation is valuable and exciting, but how do we know where we are going if we don’t know from whence we came?

London Asian restaurant review

Cinnamon Club - Game High Chaicinnamon club

I am spoilt. It’s true, I have marvellous invitations to eat, sample, savour the most delightful foods across the globe. Spicy dishes from Asia, decadent plates from Europe, comfort food in the USA.  Yes, the best of everything has been generously offered and greatly appreciated. But then there is culinary tradition – and that’s another matter.

Perhaps my dear reader is moving towards the edge of his/her chair. Is this predictably positive writer going to be critical, spiteful, and disdainful of an afternoon tea that would seem, at first glance, to be pushing the envelope? Is she about to give Cinnamon Club a verbal pasting for tampering with such a British tradition? Is there the prospect of literary blood on walls? Settle back, loyal reader. All is well.

Cinnamon Club has never disappointed and it doesn’t now. The Game High Chai is, in fact, the most ‘traditional’ afternoon tea I have had in quite a while. I have had many teas but lots of them are too sweet, too frilly and too fussy. Cinnamon Club has been faithful, in my opinion, to the old-fashioned ethos of afternoon tea.

I broadly call this Afternoon Tea but it is actually,
cinnamon club just as described, more of a High Tea, or in this case High Chai. This was always a light meal that had both sandwiches and savouries of various kinds as well as scones and a cake or two. A regular afternoon tea, on the other hand, was similar but without so many substantial savouries. These days there are fewer of the befores and too many of the afters. The sweets are more often than not more like desserts than old-fashioned cakes.

The top plate of the 3-tier stand holds the savoury selection of Bengali-spiced Grouse and Beetroot Puff along with a Bombay-style Venison Burger in Cumin Brioche. They are a great and flavourful partnership. The venison is moist with a chilli heat. The grouse and beetroot is a sweeter item with a flaky and light pastry. That sounds like a very Indian start, but consider this: India has had no game hunting for decades although it was a popular pastime, but it’s always been a very British pursuit; so we already see tradition.

The centre plate offers sandwiches. These are not delicate fingers of crustless and insubstantial bread but proper slices from a real loaf that hold the robust fillings of Tandoori Partridge and Chutney, and Pickled Vegetables and Chutney. Both were delicious but the vegetable filling was a triumph. It was not over sharp and acted as palate cleanser before the sweet treats on the final platter.

It’s seldom that I have managed to finish a Tea and it’s usually that last sweet hurdle that defeats me. Obviously it’s a matter of taste and I know that lots of folks consider this the highlight of the culinary event, but I am all about tradition. Victorian Teatime offered cakes rather than luminous mousses, buttercream rather than spectacular foams. There were usually some small sponges, and a cake or two to cut – Battenburg and Madeira, for instance, reflected our culinary history.

Cinnamon Club has Spiced Carrot and Ginger Toffee Pudding. This
cinnamon club would be just the thing to nibble in a Victorian library. Scones with Pumpkin Chutney was a delicious surprise. The chutney was sweet but well-spiced – a great innovation. The Fresh Cream and Seasonal Fruit Pastry on this day was a light sponge with pineapple. Nothing too rich, nothing too cheffy, but everything thoughtfully presented, with combinations that respected tradition, and everything garnished with Indian flair and imagination.

But High Tea should also include, well, tea. Chai, as expected, is available and that’s always good but there is another option that is stylish and refreshing. Why not try a tea created by Lalani & Co. The menu includes Spring Reserve (Black) 2013; LaKyrsiew Garden, Meghalaya, India; Jade Mountain Oolong, ‘The Honey Special’ 2013; Ms Huang’s Garden, Jade Mountain, Taiwan; 2nd Flush Grand Reserve 2013; or Makaibari Garden, Darjeeling, India. I suggest that you taste these without milk and perhaps without sugar. These teas are as far from your regular teabag teas as you can get.

Cinnamon Club Game High Chai is served from Monday to Saturday, 3pm to 5.30pm. It costs £20 per person, £32 including a glass of Champagne. It’s available between 8th September and 31st October and is usually taken in The Library Bar.
cinnamon club

Cinnamon Club
The Old Westminster Library,
30-32 Great Smith Street,
London SW1P 3BU

Phone: 020 7222 2555


Visit Cinnamon Club here

London Asian restaurant review

Chinese Cricket Club

Chinese Cricket Club

Located on the corner of New Bridge Street in Blackfriars, Chinese Cricket Club couldn’t be more convenient for those using the newly refurbished Underground station opposite. Don’t look for wickets, practice-nets and pavilion: this Club is located inside The Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Established in 2009, the restaurant is named in honour of the original Chinese National Cricket team, which played their first international match in that year. Nothing overtly Chinese in the décor here apart from some calligraphy scrolls, and nothing too crickety apart from a bat, some cricket pads and one might notice some red cricket balls nestling in the plant pots. Enough décor fixtures to provide continuity with the intriguing name, but not so much as to make one feel that your waiter should be wearing cricket whites and shouting ‘Howzat!’ when delivering one’s food.

This wasn’t my first visit to Chinese Cricket Club. I reviewed a few years ago but I found this experience to be much more positive. The menu had direction and focus, and the realisation of the dishes was outstanding. The cuisine is broadly modern Sichuan and this has been created by Executive Head Chef Ken Wang. He is a newcomer to the restaurant and my first encounter with this man’s food would suggest that his future is bright. Trained in the Jiangsu Province of China, Chef Ken Wang has 20 years’ experience and has evident passion for traditional flavours and flair for presentation.

Sichuan dishes are based on the seven key flavours, which are: hot, spicy, sweet, sour, savoury, bitter and aromatic. Food is robustly layered with garlic and red chilli and Sichuan pepper, which is aromatic with a mouth-numbing quality when eaten in quantity.

We started with Dim Sum and the SignatureChinese Cricket Club Platter – which was, in fact, a Chinese bamboo steaming basket. A beautiful and colourful selection of steamed morsels included succulent Scallop Siu Mai, Hargau, Chicken and Spinach Dumplings, and Duck Dumplings. These arrived piping hot so be warned! Each one was unique and delicious – a step up from the dim sum that one might have encountered in other Chinese restaurants.

My guest’s main course consisted of Slow-braised Pork Belly. This is a visually stunning dish: meltingly tender and flavourful pork encasing rice. It’s said to be cooked for 5 hours and one can believe it. This is a must-try here. It isn’t overly spiced so ideal for those who are wary of chilli-heat. Fresh Chinese Greens complemented this dish, along with a healthy portion of my Kim Chi Vegetables. These were not the predictable spicy Korean pickles but a light and vinegar-laced preparation which was a perfect foil for the fat of the pork.

Kung Pao Chicken is a classic dish and this was one of the finest examples. The sauce was mahogany-red, rich, sweet, spicy and addictive. Plenty of chicken garnished with whole red chillies that might be a little intimidating for some but the heat of the chilli doesn’t mask the overall flavour components. This is a truly memorable dish.

Chinese Cricket Club is a winner. Any fan of SichuanChinese Cricket Club cuisine will appreciate Chef Wang’s interpretation of those regional dishes. This isn’t fusion food but neither is it your usual Chinese restaurant fare. It’s polished and refined but retains authenticity.

Opening times:
Mon - Fri Lunch 12:00 - 14:30
Mon - Sat Dinner 18:00 - 22:00
Sunday: Closed

Chinese Cricket Club
Crowne Plaza London - The City
19 New Bridge Street,
London EC4V 6DB

Phone: 020 7438 8051
Fax: 020 7438 8080


Visit the Chinese Cricket Club here

London Asian restaurant review

Ma Goa – dinner on your doorstep

Ma Goa – dinner on your doorstep

Perhaps ‘dinner on your doorstep’ is, for most of us, a bit of an exaggeration, but if you live in Putney it’s a fact and you will likely be grateful for that Ma Goa proximity. It has that comfy and cosy neighbourhood ambiance that is missing in some Central London restaurants, which have a local catchment only of office workers and tourists. This restaurant is full of local residents and those in the know. Ma Goa is conveniently located just 2 minutes away from Putney British Rail and 5 minutes away from East Putney Tube.

Ma Goa might be a neighbourhood restaurant but it’s celebrated by Indian food aficionados across the city. It has a host of culinary accolades and they are deserved. This small restaurant doesn’t drip glitz but it contrives to offer diners a relaxing and home-like environment in which to unwind and enjoy superb food with friends and family. Yes, even children are welcome!

This isn’t a restaurant dynasty conjured from the imagination of an enthusiastic PR company. This isn’t an Indian restaurant marketing equivalent of Mother’s Pride.  Ma Goa does, surprisingly, have a real Ma as the figurehead and inspiration. She is the elegant Mrs Kapoor who, with her son Deepak, continue this family business which has been an icon in Putney since 1993. 

The Ma Goa team prepare favourite family dishes using recipes that truly have been passed down from generation to generation. One of the menu items celebrates that lineage with Aunty Bella’s Lamb Kodi, which is diced boneless lamb slow cooked with tomato, whole garam masala and Goan red masala. If you have any doubt about the verity of that family member then staff will take the picture off the wall and show you the originator of the recipe – the real Aunty Bella!

All dishes here are freshly made. I overheard a diner
Ma Goa – dinner on your doorstep on an adjoining table explaining to her guests that the food here is exceptional and that so many diners are regulars. That’s a fine recommendation, and an unbiased and honest one. I must state that I do have a bias. Ma Goa was included in my book, Capital Spice. It has its own chapter, along with better known establishments and Michelin-starred restaurants. I think the food here can hold its own with the best. Yes, it’s all down to personal taste, but Ma Goa ticks all my epicurean boxes.

Stuffed Papard is a Ma Goa Classic as it states on the menu. It’s a simple starter of lentil-flour parcels filled with spiced potato then pan-fried. These are moreish and an aromatic start to a meal here. But I have a favourite dish on this menu and it’s one I am reluctant to share with even my most loved ones. The portion of Balchao, as with all other dishes here, is substantial but these shrimps in tomato and a spicy ‘balchao’ pickling masala is positively addictive. It does have a belt of heat but great flavour and richness. It’s a must-try at Ma Goa.

Seafood Biryani is another Ma Goa classic and it has great impact. They don’t skimp at Ma Goa. Saffron-laced Basmati rice is topped with flaked salmon, prawns, squid and mussels. Those prawns are split and grilled and take on flavour from the delicate char. The mussels are the largest I have ever seen and presented a delicious and substantial addition to the dish rather than a mere garnish. This is a luxurious and mildly spiced seafood showcase, but at a surprisingly reasonable price.

Perhaps that’s the key to the success of Ma Goa. They have consistently presented the best of ingredients, cooked with dedication and offered at prices that don’t demand a mortgage. The dishes are flavourful and hearty and even those who are regular Indian restaurant-goers will find new temptation on this unique menu. Don’t be surprised if Putney estate agents advertise property with the amenities listed: Handy for schools, good transport links, convenient for Ma Goa.
Ma Goa – dinner on your doorstep
Opening Times
Closed for week-day lunches in August
Sun: 1.00pm - 2.45pm - (Monday Closed)

Tues - Thurs: 6.30pm - 10.30pm
Fri - Sat: 6.30pm - 11.00pm
Sun: 6.00pm - 10.00pm - (Monday Closed)

Ma Goa
242 - 244 Upper Richmond Road
London SW15 6TG

Phone: 020 8780 1767
Visit Ma Goa here

London Asian restaurant review

Dinner at Cinnamon Kitchen

Dinner at Cinnamon Kitchen

There are several worthy Indian restaurant groups in London. I shrink from calling them chains as that tends to denote an overly-casual concept and perhaps a tendency towards iffy food.  These prestigious Indian restaurant collections have over the past decade elevated our perceptions of Indian food beyond measure. Cinnamon Group is a trio of unique restaurants each with its own character, menu and ambiance but with a consistent thread of quality common to all.

Cinnamon Kitchen straddles the divide between casual and fine dining. Head Chef Abdul Yaseen has been with this restaurant for the past 6 years but has been with the Group since 2001. His food is exceptional. The menu isn’t the longest I have seen but that’s no bad thing. It has a focus on innovation and tradition and a lot of comfort.

The diners here were a smart bunch but the kinds of city folk who arrive besuited but remove the jacket on sitting. The restaurant is large but the high ceilings allow for a lively buzz of conversation that never becomes intrusive. It’s an Indian restaurant for sure but it has contrived to be a contemporary restaurant that happens to sell Indian food. There is a nod to exotica in the guise of pierced metal lampshades but they are a decorative accent as far removed from a velvet interpretation of the Taj Mahal as one would want …and one would want!

Char-grilled lamb fillet with ginger and nutmeg was my choice of starter. The meat was meltingly tender and flavourful. A delicate charring was perfect and accentuated the mild lamb flavour. I would normally share a bite of my plates with my guest – it’s always interesting to have another perspective. I didn’t bother on this occasion.Dinner at Cinnamon Kitchen Why disturb my eating companion, who was contentedly nibbling asparagus. No, say nothing and enjoy these lamb gems alone. Greed is a terrible affliction.

My partner was in no way short-changed. He pronounced the sparrow grass a triumph and was delighted with his main course of decadent king prawns ‘malai’ curry with spinach and coconut poriyal served with ghee rice. Poṟiyal is the Tamil word for a fried or sometimes sautéed vegetable dish. The prawns were large and succulent and the sauce was comforting and silky. A must-try at Cinnamon Kitchen.

Peshawar-style beef curry with chillies and red onions with pilau rice was the traditional gravy dish that tempted me. Beef tends to be a less-common curry item, as fewer people eat beef in India than in Europe. This was rich with a heat that allowed the natural flavour of the meat to showcase. Cinnamon Kitchen has been supporting the charity ‘Curry for Change’, of which I am an ambassador, by donations when this particular item was ordered. Vivek Singh, Executive Chef and CEO of the Cinnamon Group, has long been a supporter of this and other organisations that offer help to the under-privileged.
Dinner at Cinnamon Kitchen

Cinnamon Kitchen has desserts that truly do reflect the taste of their European diners but still give a nod to the sub-continent. Cumin profiteroles with cardamom shrikhand is a marriage of two classic desserts, one Indian and the other French; and served with Hungarian Tokaji this is an international delight.

This restaurant fits perfectly with contemporary London and discerning diners. It clings to the spirit of traditional Indian cuisine but presents confident innovation. Cinnamon Kitchen won’t disappoint. Head Chef Abdul Yaseen has a deservedly solid culinary reputation.

Cinnamon Kitchen & Anise
9 Devonshire Square
Tel +44 (0) 20 7626 5000
Fax +44 (0) 20 7397 9611
Visit Cinnamon Kitchen here

Opening times
Monday to Friday
Lunch: 12 noon – 14:45
Monday to Saturday
Dinner: 18:00 – 22:45

London Asian restaurant review

Chef Janice Wong – It’s 'Dim Sum' but more

Janice Wong has the accolade of Asia’s no.1 Pastry Chef. Well, we all know what famous chefs are like. Ego-driven, imposing hulks with loud voices, periodically rude, consistently condescending, care-worn complexions, prematurely aged, and supremely talented.

Perhaps we should have a rethink, a pause in our assumptions, put a hold on swift conclusions. Chef Janice WongJanice Wong is celebrated, for sure. She is, without doubt, talented. But the rest of the above-listed dubious celeb qualifications are, thankfully, far from the mark. This young woman is petite, alarmingly youthful, quietly spoken and charming. Janice is all about the subject, or rather, about her spin on the subject, of food. 

Janice originally considered following in her parent’s career paths, studying economics and finance in Melbourne, Australia. She was inspired by the culinary scene in that city and eventually enrolled in a pastry course at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, later spending time at restaurants such as Alinea and Per Se. She has worked with some of the best chefs in the world, including Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Oriol Balaguer and the much celebrated French pastry chef Pierre Hermé. Not too shabby! Her latest book, Dim Sum, is a visual stunner and it reflects this chef’s attitude towards ingredients and presentation. Her dishes are delicious, often whimsical and always beautiful.

Dim Sum is, as expected, a striking tome presenting a melange of traditional and contemporary confections which Janice developed along with dim sum master Ma Jian Jun. There are both sweet and savoury dishes here, which might surprise some as Janice is the founder of Singapore’s destination 2am:dessertbar. The book is based on the different types of flour which make the dough for dumplings, buns, fritters, pancakes, pastries and more. Not every recipe has flour as a focus but the book reflects the makeup of dim sum menus with baked, steamed and fried goods.

Dim Sum, the book that is, has classic Chinese recipes and they are some of the most iconic; but they come with a Wong twist. Pork Dumplings – but with options to colour the skins. Plain Steamed Buns – but these can transform into beautiful Flower Buns. Chinese Sausage Buns that have the appearance of wrapped candy. For those who crave real sweets, there are recipes here that will fit the bill, like Chocolate Peanut Butter Puffs. Just that title is enough to encourage any right-thinking person to buy the book!

This volume is a visual joy and an epicurean extravaganza. Each recipe is meticulous in its presentation and each image is striking. Janice tempts and intrigues in equal measure but she also charms with her playful interpretations. Janice Wong is Asia’s no.1 Pastry Chef but she is becoming the World’s Pastry Chef – although I doubt that she will change her personality. That’s one of her strengths.

Dim Sum
Author: Janice Wong
Published: Gatehouse Publishing
Price: £24
ISBN-10: 9810778546
ISBN-13: 978-9810778545

21A Lorong Liput
Singapore, 277733
(65) 6291 9727

London Asian restaurant review

Imli Street for LunchImli street asian food

The untutored might not know that Imli Street is part of the celebrated Tamarind Collection which includes the world-famous Tamarind restaurant with Executive Chef Alfred Prasad at the helm, and Tamarind of London in Newport Beach, California. Imli Street is the casual-dining face of the group but the quality remains the same.

Imli Street in London’s Soho has changed over the years and now it has a classy urban ambiance that fits so well with the area and diners. It’s an Indian restaurant for sure, but it’s evolved to present a menu of classic dishes served in a fashion to charm the Indian food aficionado as well as the many visitors to Soho who are less familiar with sub-continental dishes. Indian, for sure, but equally part of buzzing London.

Chef Nirmal C Save has been working with Tamarind and Imli for a number of months now and he has made his mark. He has great experience in both Indian and European cuisines and he seems to be a good fit here. He has enthusiasm, flair and skill, and is the class of chef that one would expect from this group.

We have visited Imli down the years and the last meal we enjoyed here was breakfast. Yes, a flavourful Indian-inspired brekkie and they are few and far between in this town; but this day we were looking for lunch. Lots of choice here: one can have a full meal or lots of small plates on which to graze. Consider an Indian beverage of Natural Coconut Water or a Mango Lassi to sip along with your main course.

Papdi Chaat makes a delightful nibble - wheat crisps, chickpeas, yoghurt, chutneys and sev (which is a crispy and thin noodle). Kolkata Puchka are crisp puris or puffs filled with spiced potato, sprouts and pomegranate kachumber, and ‘pani’. That pani is a liquid made with tamarind. One eats these in one bite. Light and refreshing for a warm London day.
Imli street asian food
For slightly more substantial fare one must try Juhu Beach Pav Bhaji which is a classic of spiced potato and vegetable curry, served as a topping for a toasted brioche bap – the ‘pav’ element of this confection. The vegetables are moderately spiced but the carrot gives a delicate sweetness. Aloo Tikki Ragra is another traditional street-food dish of potato cakes with spiced chickpeas. This is real comfort food.

Imli is a pan-Indian restaurant which also recognises outside influences. Chinese food in India has been popular for generations. Chilli Chicken is a Calcutta-style Indian-Chinese dish with a rich and spicy chilli-soy sauce with onions and green peppers. This is ideally served with Chinese Egg Fried Rice, or Vegetable Fried Rice.

For those who are unfamiliar with Indian food there is support in the guise of a Railway Thali Meal.  It’s a full meal with all its components. One just chooses the curry from a selection of options including a vegetarian curry. It’s a bargain for less than £10. A Thali is a collection of small dishes that are often served on a metal tray divided into compartments. That’s the case at Imli Street and that presentation adds still more authenticity to this substantial meal. Each tray comes packed with potato, lentils of the day, raita – a yoghurt sauce – rice and a poppadum.  Curries on offer: Anglo-Indian style lamb, Chicken tikka masala (a British invention but it’s popular because it’s delicious – let us not be food snobs), Kerala fish curry, or Saag paneer, which is a vibrant green spinach preparation with Indian cheese. The breads at Imli Street are fresh and
Imli street asian food hot and are great with any curry. This thali is a meal inspired by the renowned Indian railway system, which provides so much more than a curly sandwich to its passengers.

It might just be lunch, but Doughnut Holes are Chef Nirmal’s signature sweets and they are addictive. Miniature doughnuts are dusted with five-spice powder and sugar and there is a little pot of chocolate dipping sauce alongside. These are worth swinging by for even if you don’t have time for a meal. Delicious and moreish. Nothing better than a cup of traditional tea with these.

The Tamarind Collection never disappoints. They prize quality, they respect tradition and they don’t fear innovation. Imli Street flies the Tamarind flag with culinary pride.

Opening Hours
Monday – Friday: 8.00 – 23.00
Saturday: 9.00 – 23.00
Sunday: 9.00 – 22.00

167-169 Wardour Street

Phone: 020 7287 4243
Fax: 020 7287 4245


London Asian restaurant review

Asian Food, Tea and Taste

Asian Food, Tea and Taste
I guess it’s an indication of a wider and deeper interest in food in general. We actually want to learn more about our food and drink and the marriage of both. Perhaps there are more people these days who profess to love food just because they watch TV shows which have food as one of the elements – even though those same shows might have little to do with either cooking or taste …but that guy is your favourite chef because he looks so cute in whites.

But there are more and more folks who genuinely want to understand about food and drink, and others who want to tell their stories, to educate and to instil enthusiasm. A humble cuppa might seem an unlikely candidate for
Asian Food, Tea and Taste provoking passion, but tea is almost as diverse as wine; although the dusty teabag might be the equivalent of a Romanian home-made red.

Whittington’s Tea Emporium, with Kyle Whittington at the helm, has teamed with The Noodle House to offer monthly Tea Tasting and Food Pairing. It’s an ideal but challenging liaison. One might expect tea to work well with light crusts-off sandwiches and a nice slice of Madeira, but how would it fare coupled with often-robust Asian flavours?

Perhaps it’s wrong to generalise. Japanese dishes, for instance, are usually delicate, allowing the natural flavours of ingredients to shine through; but The Noodle House has some punchy pan-Asian classics that one might more readily associate with a heavy red wine. Kyle was able expertly to match each menu item with a tea that enhanced the ingredients but allowed the unique characteristics of the teas to remain.

Held on the first Tuesday of every month, guests enjoy 5 teas paired and served with a cross-section of dishes from The Noodle House bill of fare. Kyle explains, in engaging fashion, where his teas come from and how they are produced. He isn’t just an enthusiast, this man is an expert and
Asian Food, Tea and Taste passionate with a gentle presentation style. These evenings are for the public who want to be educated, entertained, deliciously fed and memorably watered …or teaed.

Each of these evenings presents a different genre of tea or tea theme. Kyle introduces diners to the individual teas and the flavour characteristics that enable them to so well complement the paired dishes. The five tasting portions are likely to encourage a return to The Noodle House.

The evenings are held at The Noodle House Mee Bar located under this popular Shaftesbury Avenue restaurant. Each monthly event will focus on a different tea category with new and vibrant food pairings, so this could be a regular outing. But this particular Tuesday evening found us learning about: Jasmine Oolong served with crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls, Hong Sui Oolong served with succulent Duck Dumplings, Chinese Yellow Gold tea paired with Wok Fried Chicken Salad, Ginseng Oolong alongside Mee Goreng – thick Udon noodles with vegetables in chilli and a spicy tomato sauce. I thought this would be a particularly difficult tea-food combination but the Ginseng Oolong stood up to the heat and became a partner. Nepal Red Thunder was the tea for BeefAsian Food, Tea and Taste Char Kway Teow; and the evening finished with a Noodle House signature tea cocktail which was an infusion of tea, warming spices and alcohol, garnished with star anise and hibiscus flowers.

London-based Whittington’s Tea Emporium is an online outlet for fine tea. The company has developed an extensive collection of tea brands to excite the tea connoisseur and tempt the wannabe sipper. These Noodle House evenings offer the tea buyer the chance to sample, and perhaps broaden their horizons. Tea isn’t just your favourite morning cup that cheers. It’s not just confined to genteel tea parties, and there are more teas than one might imagine – each with its own delicious raison d’être.

Kyle Whittington welcomes diners for these evenings every first Tuesday of the month, with the next one planned for 2nd September, followed by 7th October, 4th November, 2nd December.

Discover more about the Whittington Tea Emporium here
Visit The Noodle House here

London Asian restaurant review

Spices and Seasons – simple, sustainable Indian flavours

Indian is perhaps my favourite cuisine. To be honest though, saying that one is going out for an ‘Indian’ tonight is as ridiculous as saying one is going out for a ‘European’ tonight. Think about the size of that country and you will realise that thereSpices and Seasons must be many cuisines with their own characteristics and flavour palates. Add to that the slant that transplanted Indians give to the culinary tapestry and you have a never-ending supply of dishes, old and new.

Rinku Bhattacharya is an Indian who now resides in the US. She is one of a small group of Indian writers living in the States who are well placed to introduce these new dishes to that market. The States don’t have a history of sub-continental restaurants, so there has been a gap in the food map. Rinku writes with the US domestic cook in mind so every spice, vegetable and condiment will be readily available in America and Europe.

Spices and Seasons – simple, sustainable Indian flavours is a beautifully presented volume with a picture accompanying every recipe. Ok, so that’s not an essential for a good cookbook but it does give a bit of support to the novice and some inspiration to the confident. But the most important element of the book is that the recipes are uncomplicated and practical.

There are lots of classic Indian dishes here but Rinku interprets even these with flair and personal nuance. Baigan Bharta is a restaurant staple (well, in the better restaurants, anyway) of smoky roasted aubergine (eggplant). This version has the addition of roasted tomatoes.

Many of the recipes take advantage of veggies that one might grow in the garden. Failing that, those same vegetables will be at a good price in the supermarket during their appropriate season. Rinku’s husband is the gardener and evidently keeps her kitchen supplied with fresh produce to inspire.

I have favourites from this delightful book, although I think that there are so many temptations that the volume will spend more time in the kitchen than on the book shelf. Roasted Spice-Rubbed Cauliflower Wedges is a must-try and makes a delicious side dish, but the florets could also be served as a nibble with drinks.

Egg curry might sound a strange concept to those who have a solidly meat-based diet. It’s actually a popular dish with many Indians who are not strictly vegetarian. Rinku offers a couple of alternatives – Creamy Coconut Egg Curry and Egg Curry with Shallots, Potatoes and Peas.  Eggs are still a relatively economic buy, so the grocery budget won’t take a beating.

Spices and Seasons – simple, sustainable Indian flavours is bound to be popular with US readers, and it’s already popular with this UK-based one. It is a great introduction to Indian food but it also offers new departures for those who already have an extensive collection of Indian cookbooks.

Spices and Seasons – simple, sustainable Indian flavours
Author: Rinku Bhattacharya
Published by: Hippocrene Books Inc.
Price: £29.50
ISBN-10: 078181331X
ISBN-13: 978-0781813310

London Asian restaurant review

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 theThe Noodle House 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 dining scene.

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 ofThe Noodle House 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 rice.

Pad Thai is ubiquitous in South East Asian restaurants around the world. In fact it’s more popular in thoseThe Noodle House 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 an appetite.

Opening hours
12 noon - 10.00pm - Monday – Tuesday
12 noon - 11.00pm - Wednesday – Saturday
12 noon - 9.00pm - Sunday

Phone for reservations on: 020 3725 5777

The Noodle House London
117 Shaftesbury Avenue
London WC2H 8AD

Visit The Noodle House London here

London Asian restaurant review

The Hunt for Filipino Food: Kusina to Cuisine – The Theresian Cookbook

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 child-like joy.Kuchina to Cuisine

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 the Philippines!

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 taste palate.

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
ISBN-13: 978-971-93950-0-3

London Asian restaurant review

Japanese Sake visits Parliament

Parliament Sake

There can be few, in London at least, who have not heard of the ‘sake buzz’. The drink has become more 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.
Parliament Sake

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 event.

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 Parliament SakeRestaurant 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?

Parliament Sake

For more information on sake and events
visit Sake Samurai UK here 

London Asian restaurant review

Kulinarya – A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine

There are very few Filipino restaurants in Europe; at least I have not yet had the pleasure of crossing the filipino cuisinethreshold 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 online.

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 finished result.

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 fat melting.

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
Published: Anvil
ISBN-10: 9712721086
ISBN-13: 978-9712721083

London Asian restaurant review

Ekachai Oriental Dining RoomEkachai asian restaurant review

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
Ekachai asian restaurant reviewparticular dish but all of them would have the same recognisable characteristics, and they are found in those same dishes faithfully replicated here.

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
Ekachai asian restaurant reviewlime 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,
Liverpool Street
City of London

Phone: 020 7626 1155

Visit Ekachai here

London Asian restaurant review

Washoku – Japanese cuisine recognised by UNESCO


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 qualities:

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 Government.

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 future.

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
Washokuconcern for the continued appreciation of Washoku. Perhaps it’s a lesson we could 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 of rice and fish 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 foods.

We celebrated UNESCO's accolade at the Japanese Washokuembassy in London. Chef Yoshihiro 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.

London Asian restaurant review

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 toSam Harrop 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
Sam Harropthousands 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 food.

Sam returns to London and enjoys a kaiseki meal at
japanese foodUMU of MayfairChef Yoshinori 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.

Discover Japanese Sake can be viewed here

London Asian restaurant review

Toshie Hiraide  - Sake Samurai Japan

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 Toshie Hiraiderestaurants serving sake to an increasingly knowledgeable audience. 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 countries.

“I met some professional Masters of Wine, and was impressed not just by their knowledge but by their desire to educate and to work 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
Toshie Hiraide  - Sake Samurai Japanhe said that he was interested in sake. 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 usual 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 great 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.

Visit Sake Samurai here

London Asian restaurant review

Sake in London? It’s an education

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 fiveSake in London? It’s an education 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
Sake in London? It’s an educationproduction 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,
Sake in London? It’s an educationthey 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

London Asian restaurant review

Chef Rohit Ghai at Trishna

Trishna has morphed into a group that now has a sister restaurant, Gymkhana, in Mayfair and a more northern asian restaurant reviewoutpost 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
asian restaurant review 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 positive outcome.”

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 asian restaurant reviewgarlic 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 must-trys.

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.

Opening hours:
Monday - Saturday
Lunch: 12 noon – 15:15
Dinner: 18:00 – 21:30
Sunday: 12 noon – 15:15, 18:30 - 21:45

15 -17 Blandford Street
Marylebone Village
Phone: 020 7935 5624
Fax: 020 7935 9259

Visit Trishna here

Verandah, The Standard, Havnegade 44, 1058 Copenhagen, Denmark

London Asian restaurant review

The Food of Vietnam

We in the UK, and in London in particular, are blessed with ingredients from across the globe, and with asian cookbook reviewrestaurants from every continent. Indian food is popular as we prize its vibrant flavours, Japanese cuisine is demanding notice and presenting delicate tastes. Chinese 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
Price: £30.00
ISBN-10: 1742706207
ISBN-13: 978-1742706207

London Asian restaurant review

Dr Wong Lai Sum

CEO, Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation

Food and partnership – a recipe for success

Malaysia Night: Trafalgar Square, Friday 4th October, noon – 10pm

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 Malaysian foodpromotion 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 actuallyMalaysian food 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 that area!”

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 married the two cultures together. So in their cuisine you get the hot, the spicy, the sour, and, interestingly, the Chinese aspects too! And 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
Malaysian foodmany other countries; but is there a difference is cuisine from region to region? “Absolutely. For example on the east coast there is a dish 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.”

Find out more about Malaysia Night here

London Asian restaurant review

The Yellow Chilli Cookbook

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 Sanjeev Kapoormore 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 Yellow Chilli.

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 options.

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 delicious talking-point.

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 contemporary setting.

The Yellow Chilli Cookbook
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan
Price: Rs 595/-
ISBN 978-81-7991-668-1

Visit Sanjeev Kapoor here
Visit Yellow Chilli here

London Asian restaurant review

Hisashi 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. Japanese restaurant reviewThe 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 its visitors.

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 regulars. 

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
Japanese restaurant reviewaverage chef, because I so enjoyed eating at my father’s place. I understood fish very well, because every day three fishermen’s wives and different fish merchants came to my father’s ryokan, so ever 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 Japanese flavour.”

Hisashi definitely has well-practised Japanese
Japanese restaurant reviewcuisine taste buds, and I asked him how he chose the menu for his own restaurant, Kiku. “I, with the chef and some help from Japan, considered what ingredients we could get here. 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 were doing.”

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.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat lunch 12 Noon-2.30pm
Dinner 6pm - 10.15pm
Sun 5.30pm - 9.45pm

Kiku Japanese Restaurant
17 Half Moon Street, London W1J 7BE
Phone: 020 7499 4208
Visit Kiku here

London Asian restaurant review

Rie Yoshitake – Sake and more

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 Rie Yoshitake  interviewmore 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 practices.

‘When I came here my interest was to build a bridge between Japan and the UK. For that I studied international business, marketing and PR. Everything came naturally to me, and now I’m not doing anything I don’t want to do, I really enjoy being a part of both Japan and the UK, and 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 date. I 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 confident.’

Rie left Sogo in 2001 to become a founder of
Rie Yoshitake  interview 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 disappearing.

‘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 sake.
‘The next stage of my mission is to prove Rie Yoshitake  interviewthat 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 Samurai here

London Asian restaurant review

Chef 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 review here).

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
asian restaurant reviewbut he was evidently nurtured with a taste for the finer things of life. ‘My father was an accountant, my brother a therapist, my mother was an office worker, and my wife is vice-president of a pharmaceutical company.

‘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 fifth year I became a sous-chef and was busier, so I couldn’t just say that I wanted to go overseas. The owner of the restaurant was teaching me so much, so I was very happy, but 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,
asian restaurant review 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 very flexible.

‘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
asian restaurant reviewwho went out only for a day, on a small boat. I found a fishmonger in Cornwall, whose father is the main fisherman for the shop, and they have a big ice store. They provide fishermen with 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
asian restaurant reviewsystem. They have devoted one big field to producing the compost that they spread over the rest of their land, and when I tasted the soil I found that it had a very natural taste, not chemical – 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

Monday to Friday
Lunch 12.00 - 14.30
Dinner 18.00 - 23.00

Dinner 18.00 - 23.00

Visit UMU of Mayfair here

London Asian restaurant review

Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is a sometimes overlooked gem. It’s overshadowed by its glitzy cousin, Singapore, but this city hasAsian restaurant review 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.Asian restaurant review

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
Asian restaurant reviewvery hotel. JP teres showcases the most iconic of Malaysian dishes in a contemporary restaurant and terrace. The open kitchen adds to the atmosphere, which attracts both hotel guests and locals alike.

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 sub-continental heritage.

Pilihan aneka satay - barbecued skewers – must be
Asian restaurant reviewthe national dish. In Malaysia those flavourful kebabs are served with cucumber, onion and compressed rice cake, along with the peanut sauce.

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 moreish.

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 globe.

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 sauce.Asian restaurant review

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 tea.

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.

JP teres
Daily, 11:30am – 11:00pmAsian restaurant review

For more information phone: +60 3 2182 1234 extension 2333
or email  

Dress: Smart casual

Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur
12 Jalan Pinang
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia, 50450

Phone: +60 3 2182 1234
Fax: +60 3 2182 1288
Visit Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur here

For more information on Malaysian holidays visit MASholidays hereasian restaurant review

For flights to Malaysia visit
Malaysia Airlines here

London Asian restaurant review

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.

asian restaurant review

Yes, Mayfair 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 very high for other Japanese restaurants to follow. It’s truly an unfair competition as UMU sports the accolade of being the only traditional Kaiseki restaurant in the UK. This is as far from a typical high street sushi bar as one could get. It pays attention to detail in every regard.

UMU demands thought. Yes, it is undoubtedly a
asian rstaurant reviewpricier dining option that most London restaurants of any hue but one is paying for a memorable experience. Anyone truly passionate about food, presentation and even ethical sustainability will never have the impression of being short-changed.

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 Japanese gastronomic culture. The menu continually changes with the seasons and availability of the best ingredients. Local produce is paramount in Japan and Chef Ishii continues that ethos here where possible. He is an avid angler and has formed alliances with British fishermen to assure that the fish he receives is of a quality worthy of both his restaurant and his reputation.
asian restaurant review
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 follow shortly.)

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.
asian restaurant review
‘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.

Opening times:   
Monday to Friday Lunch: 12 noon - 14.30
Dinner: 18.00 - 23.00
Saturday Dinner: 18.00 - 23.00

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

London Asian restaurant review

Cobra Good Curry Guide 2013

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.
asian cookbook review
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 guide.

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
Price: £14.95
ISBN 978-0-9537735-3-4

Buy books direct from Pat Chapman here

London Asian restaurant review

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 be heard.

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 of homecomings.Hanggang sa muli

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 souls.

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 “never home”?

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

London Asian restaurant review

Asian 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 london restaurant reviewmother’s family lived just a short walk from the new complex and my uncles learnt to swim in the Thames. Things have changed and it’s doubtful that youngsters will be diving off the sides of gleaming yachts into the murky tide. The river bank is now fringed with new and stylish apartment blocks and moorings for those aforementioned boats. There are restaurants, and one of those is The Blue Elephant – tasteful in every regard.

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 dinner.

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 Thailand.
london restaurant review

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
london restaurant review 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
london restaurant reviewdisplay of cakes and sweets near the entrance. The array of cut fruit might be your salvation and could even persuade the kids that fruit is delicious, although their plates will likely be garnished with a serving of chocolate-fountain-dipped marshmallows.

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.

Opening hours:
Monday to Saturday: 12 noon – 2:30pm
Sunday: 12 noon – 3:30pm

Monday to Saturday: 06:00pm – 11:00pm
Sunday: 06:00pm – 10:30pm

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
London Asian restaurant review

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 asian restaurant reviewconviviality and perhap Two-way Family Favourites from The BBC Light Programme playing in the background. That is still a meal full of nostalgia and Yorkshire puddings, but we have broader horizons these days and take the easier option of going out and letting others do the cooking – and, more importantly, the washing up.

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
asian restaurant reviewO’Hara. One can marvel at the murals throughout the unique ex-ballroom and ponder seating arrangements for your next visit.

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 floor above.
asian restaurant review
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 (traditional
asian restaurant review Indian 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 self-control.

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

London Asian restaurant review

Singapore – A moving story

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 asian restaurant reviewdominates 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 structureasian restaurant review 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 opening hours:
Daily flights: 8:30am – 10:30pm - last admission: 10:15pm
Ticket sales: 8:00am – 10:00pm

Visit the Singapore Flyer here 

Singapore F1 – the Ultimate Drive

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.asian restaurant review

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 driving.

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.asian restaurant review

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 of Singapore.

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
asian restaurantbench – a relief to the nervous who will want Uncle to keep his concentration on the road. One does initially feel a little exposed, and particularly if you are used to having the metalwork of a 4 x 4 between you and other transport, but there honestly is no need to worry. These chaps spend their days negotiating the traffic and other drivers are aware of these knights of the road. After a few minutes you will relax into your seat and enjoy the sights at close quarters.

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 Centre.

Trishaw Uncle opens daily from 11am to 10pm   

Henderson Waves

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 have waves.asian restaurant review

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.

Find a DIY Guide to park walks here

London Asian restaurant review

Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen – Terminal 5 Hilton- Asian Food review

asian restaurant 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
asian restaurant review 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
asian restaurant reviewas 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.

asian restaurant review
The huge wooden elephant is just about the only overtly Indian adornment in this stunning restaurant. It’s light and stylish with a hint of colonial charm. You know it’s an Indian dining room so the style can just be a testament to good design taste, as the kitchen is to all things culinary.

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
asian restaurant reviewingredients that no Parsee would want to live without. This is real comfort food, with ginger and cumin as the main flavourings. The vegetables are topped

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
asian restaurant review 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 by Indian chefs. The Zafrani Crème Brulée was memorable. A golden-coloured cream withasian restaurant review flavour from, well, saffron but also cardamom, to which I 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
asian restaurant review 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
Poyle Road
Colnbrook SL3 0FF,
United Kingdom

Closed Sunday

London Asian restaurant review

Asian cookbook review:
Sanjeev 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.
sanjeev kapoor

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 success.

Mastering the Art of Indian Cooking is the latest in a
sanjeev kapoor 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 range.

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 offerings.

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 time’s up.

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 Kozhi Sambhar.

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)

London Asian restaurant review

Café Spice Namasté 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!London Asian restaurant review

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 Gourmand’s Club.

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.
London Asian restaurant review

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
London Asian restaurant reviewmarinated in red masala, pan fried, which was remarkable for its crunchy texture. Moreish when served with Papaeta Nay Mohhtta Murcha - 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

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

Saturday: 6:30 pm – 10:30 pm

Closed on Bank Holidays and Sundays

Visit Café Spice Namasté here

London Asian restaurant review

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.London Asian restaurant review

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 un-adapted.

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 Laotian favourite.

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 Cookbook
Author: Dorothy Culloty; photographer: Kees Sprengers
Published by: Galangal Press
ISBN 978-0-473-17236-7

London Asian restaurant review

The Blue Elephant Cookbook

This must surely be the most celebrated of Thai restaurant empires. It would be diminishing the class andLondon Asian restaurant review 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 thoroughly impressive.

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 buffet.

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 future use.

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
Price: £14.99
ISBN 978-1-86205-303-8

London Asian restaurant review

The Asian Grill

Yes, it’s a BBQ book but one with a difference. This will capture the imagination of those who long forcookbook reviews The Asian Grill 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 word implies.

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 ...although...

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
Price: $22.95US
ISBN: 978-0-8118-4631-8

London Asian restaurant review

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 endurance test.cookbook reviews Noodles Every Day

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 shabby!

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
ISBN 978-0-8118-6143-4

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