I have a long history with cake and photoshoots. The earliest record of our connection dates back to 1987; I’m chubby, fairly bald and celebrating my first birthday by being photographed next to a cake with a tiger on it. I don’t remember what it was the next year but my third birthday saw me posing with a giant cake shaped in the number three completely bordered by chocolate fingers… and so on, and so on it continued. Me, cake, photos.
Flash forward to 2016, and almost thirty years later from that first photo, the tables were turned. I wasn’t in front of the camera with the cake, but rather behind the camera and taking photos of just the cake. No one cared about me looking pretty or smiling, it was all about how the cake was going to look… this role reversal took some getting used to.
When I see the words ‘Pan Asian’ in reference to a restaurant menu, I’m torn between hanging my head in despair and rolling my eyes at their laziness. Sometimes, if I’m feeling particularly self-righteous, I’ll do both. Anyone who’s ever laid eyes on a map will know that the continent of Asia is huge, so is it any surprise that it is also diverse in landscape, culture, and food styles. What makes a restaurant think it can pan across Asia, cherry pick a few famous dishes from each country, and do them justice?
That was strike one for Chi Kitchen and we hadn’t even set foot in the restaurant. The second strike came when I learnt the restaurant is housed in Debenhams; I found that slightly awkward as I don’t make a habit of dining where I buy my delicates, though they do have separate entrance. And the third strike? Well, there wasn’t one. Spoiler alert, it was good. Which was a bit of a disappointment to anti-pan-Asian-restaurant-rant Connie… but quite the relief to hungry Connie.
When recently asked about my plans for the evening, I almost told a little white lie for fear of ridicule. Before you start chastising me, the thought might have crossed your mind too if you were in my shoes and remembered that time a colleague of a similar age was teased for admitting he makes chutney. But I didn’t lie, and as expected some eyebrows were raised. A pickling class?! For clarity’s sake, vegetables were getting pickled, not the attendees – this was not some advanced masterclass in sustained drinking.
I could tell my colleagues were still far from convinced when they said they were sure it’d be fun while exchanging knowing looks between them. Well they were right; about the fun part – it was! And as a genuine pickle enthusiast, it was quite a tasty class too. I might be going out on a limb here but I think pickles are making a comeback… I’ve noticed pickled elements popping up on restaurant dishes across the spectrum of styles and cuisines, and I am a fan. So my theory is, if it’s good enough for the Michelin star kitchens, it’s good enough for mine.
When you moonlight as a semi-professional diner, a key part of the job is finding new places to wine and dine at. As much as I would love to tell you about my favourite chilli cheeseburger over and over again, I have a feeling you’d get bored of me praising the plumpness of its patty or the gooeyness of its cheese. So there you go dear reader, everything I do… I do it for you…
Not that it’s too much of a chore for me. A certain someone and I are always curious to try something new – be it new in London, or simply new to us. We could visit a new Japanese restaurant everyday and I’d be happy… but I think the best kind of new, are the cuisines we’ve never tried before. I ventured into Bengali territory recently, but our latest discovery? Drum roll please… Aladino’s, a restaurant in Kensington serving Alexandrian cuisine.
The first thing that hits us in Asadal is the smell. We had barely been in this Korean restaurant a minute and the warm inviting aromas were already making our stomachs rumble. It felt so secluded downstairs, I could hardly believe that only moments earlier I was jostling my way through the peak hour moshpit around Holborn station. It’s dimly lit and simply furnished, I get the sense that they care more about practicality than style which suited us just fine.
If we were here with a few friends in tow, we probably would have tackled the a la carte menu. With more mouths to feed, you can get away with carefree over-ordering, but with just the two of us, we had to be a bit more selective. Instead of enduring my inevitable long-winded deliberation process, I saved our stomachs from further rumbling and decided on the Asadal Special Set. Sometimes when you’re ready to eat your arm, a short cut is a must.
I wonder what was going through Alan Yau’s mind when he decided to combine a Chinese restaurant with a pub. Not exactly a marriage made in heaven; the only connections I can think of are that beer is often served in one, and deep fried nibbles such as spring rolls and wontons can sometimes be found in the other. Sensible people wouldn’t put money on that kind of thing succeeding in London’s cut throat restaurant scene, but Mr Yau’s Duck and Rice doesn’t need the sensible people. A few years old now, it seems to be doing just fine.
Personally, I think the interpretation of ‘pub’ has been creative. It has many features synonymous with a pub: plenty of beers on tap, snacks to soak up those drinks, nooks and crannies to lean on… but this is much slicker, and sexier even, than any local boozer I’ve been to. But do I care? Not one bit, the atmosphere is swish and the smells wafting around are good… just get me some food to go with my beer, pronto.