As I hoisted myself into position at The Test Kitchen, a slight apprehension began to creep over me. What does one open themselves up to when they choose to dine in a restaurant where a ‘test’ is so crucial to the concept? Who is being tested here, the diners or the chefs, I wondered? A dear friend of mine thrives on ‘interesting’ dining experiences, so I imagine that he would be in his element, playing guinea pig to chef Adam Simmonds and his team. Whereas I, despite my fascination with ingredients, provenance, culinary wizardry, still dine by a much simpler litmus test – does it taste good and would I want to eat it again?
I would prefer dishes to have been tried and tested before they got to me, but then a certain someone rather pointedly reminded me that I also enjoy giving my two cents worth and this time the chefs actually welcome it. Touché. With no response, I pulled myself together and settled into my seat, which by the by, was not designed with petite people in mind, bracing myself for what was to come. The opening gambit, a small bowl of roasted pearl barley was an easy pass. Parsley gave the nutty barley a green glow and freshness, the garlic was faint yet warming, and all finished off perfectly with crispy shallot rings!
Most days, I trawl through an obscene amount of (non-work) emails. I know most of them are destined for the trash folder and I should be better at unsubscribing, yet I find myself tied to my ritual of scroll-skim-delete, scroll-skim-delete, until the occasional one pops up which makes me stop, re-scroll and actually read the thing. It’s usually a catchy subject line which lures me in for the read, and hands down the best example I’ve had lately was one asking if I ‘fancy trying my hand at spinning rotis?’. I mean, does this person know me or what?!
This was clearly an offer I had to investigate further, which is how I ended up in Hankies, a Delhi street-food inspired restaurant in the heart of Shaftesbury Avenue, watching a chef transform dough to rotis with nothing but a bit of flour and some fancy flipping skills. Before I arrived, I was more than ready to roll up my sleeves and spin a few of these Roomali rotis (or hankies as they’re commonly called because of the way they’re folded and served) myself but after catching a glimpse of Head Chef Ani in action, I wasn’t so sure… My confidence dwindled with every flip and spin and I’m embarrassed to say, I chickened out.
One of my most frequented areas in London is that grid of streets surrounding Carnaby Street; not really an original choice I know, but I’m content with joining the masses who adore this part of town. It’s famed for being a great shopping destination – slightly less crowded than Oxford Street and a lot more interesting in its offerings – but I actually love it for the plethora of restaurants dotted in between the shops. No matter what I find myself hungry for, these streets never fail to deliver me something scrumptious.
I have my go-to senõr for ceviche, that slick American for barbeque, and even the trendy Korean for a bibimbap and a cocktail… oh, and I can’t forget the belly-warming ramen bar or the place where I finally found a kebab that I liked. That’s more than enough to keep me going back again and again, but it just had to go and outdo itself and give me another reason – a gem for those times I’m craving an Indian curry.
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.
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.
I’ve recently started a new job which means meeting lots of new people. Meeting new people inevitable leads to the ‘so whereabouts in Austra… errr… New Zealand are you from?’ question which swiftly dovetails into all the who, what, when, and always the whys. Almost every Brit I’ve met seems to think it’s outrageous that we Kiwis would want to leave the luscious green land we call home for a smog smothered land that is London. Perhaps it’s something to do with them thinking our whole country is Middle Earth; breaking the news that it’s not is like telling a child the truth about Santa…
Once they get over that bombshell, they ask if I’m homesick, to which I usually reply… not really. More surprised looks ensue. Of course I miss my family but a couple of years away isn’t that long, and we’re always texting and skyping each other so it’s pretty much the same as being there!
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.