The universe must really want me to eat my words. After admitting my distain for pan-Asian restaurants, it has already forced me to make one exception to the rule. And now, it’s made me get off my high horse again for a tiny Islington restaurant with a kooky tale behind its name. Apparently, Tootoomoo is a little girl who cooked for a giant and now the restaurant serves dishes cooked to her recipes. All too fantastical and ridiculous for this no-nonsense eater; all I care about is whether this Tootoomoo was actually a decent cook.
Given the gimmicky backstory I was expecting another run of the mill reproduction of some popular Asian dishes, but Tootoomoo kicked these expectations to the curb. The menu is a collection of sharing dishes, split into categories such as plates, sushi, sashimi and salads, tempura and grill, and wok – an Asian style tapas type thing, if you will. The plates are small, and so are the prices which means you can try quite a range without worrying how far away pay day is.
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.
Ironically, our visit to The Happenstance was nohappenstance itself but I can understand how people could easily stumble upon it. Just a stones throw from St Pauls and Fleet Street offices, this would be a haven for both well walked tourists and desk slaves. It’s part bar, part restaurant, part deli and florist?! That’s a lot of hats to juggle but on this particular evening, we were only concerned with what they can manage with their restaurant hat on!
We were guided through the bar, which was full every which way you look, to the dining room at the rear. I was immediately taken aback by how huge it is, and though it may be a little done to death, I loved that painfully engineered rustic interior, the high ceilings, and open kitchen combination. The kitchen is big too, which is understandable when you look at the variety of dishes it promises to churn out – in my mind, more dishes equals more pressure so I had my fingers crossed for the kitchen team.
Now that I’ve been to a few cocktail masterclasses, I’ve come to the conclusion that making cocktails is quite an operation and the people who make them are quite the entertainers. Our teacher at Mint Leaf just oozed charm, the one at Rum & Sugar seemed to have endless energy, and not one to buck the trend, the resident mixologist at Reform Social at The Mandeville Hotel was cracking jokes all over the show. All three had their audience in raptures while mixing up delightful cocktails – I can barely pour a glass of wine while talking. Note to self, that needs some practice.
Actually, that’s not the only thing I need to work on. You might expect that after attending at least three of these so-called masterclasses I might be on my way to being a master at making my own cocktails. Well if that’s what you thought, I haven’t managed your expectations particularly well. I haven’t rushed out to buy any of the essential (and very cool) equipment required and I haven’t stocked my shelves with a wide range of spirits. In fact, I haven’t even come close to recreating any of the delicious concoctions I have been taught to make. Why?!
The last time I looked at a taco with my hungry eyes on was in the searing heat of Mexico City about three years ago. Two weeks later, what I thought was an unconditional love of these tasty tortilla snacks, soon fizzled away like any other holiday romance. After one too many visits to the street-side taco stands, I needed a break… you can eat too much of a good thing but also, could anything else, anywhere else, ever compare? Despite eating more tacos than I’ll ever need in a lifetime, I have very fond memories of those tacos al pastor!
To keep hold of those memories, I’ve just avoided tacos ever since that trip. I thought I was blissfully happy in my taco-free existence until a couple of cocktails and my ravenous appetite conspired against me, then before I knew it, I was salivating at the sight of all the taco options at Barrio Central.
There’s a conversation which happens quite often in our house: it involves me proclaiming how excited I am about dinner that evening, a certain someone asking me where I’m headed, me responding matter-of-factly with the restaurant name, a certain someone asking where that is… then me looking and feeling rather sheepish because I have no idea. Oops.
What follows is some frantic google mapping and Citymapper tapping and the realisation that it’ll take me 45 minutes to get there but I’ve only got 30 minutes up my sleeve. And it’s in a part of town I’ve never been to which inevitably requires another ten minutes added to the equation because I will have to stop every two metres to check that the little blue dot on google maps in facing the right direction. Did I mention how I’m not great with directions?
I’m ashamed to admit that for a second year running, Chinese New Year has somehow managed to slip my radar! If a friend hadn’t asked me what I had planned for it, I wouldn’t have known it was just around the corner… while we’re at it, which charming animal are we celebrating again?! This is quite an embarrassing confession considering I’ve celebrated this for as long as I can remember.
Five year old me was probably most excited about getting dressed up in a new outfit, most likely an attention grabbing red number, to ring in the new year. Ten year old me would have been eagerly anticipating the feasts my parents would put on, inviting all the aunties and uncles, both real ones and pretend ones (those of you from Asian families will know what I mean) for an evening of indulgence. Fifteen year old me would have definitely been hanging out for the little red envelopes filled with cold hard cash for that nice little shopping spree or day out with friends.