Monday, February 23, 2009

Arang in Soho: Best Korean yet

I'll be back for this... Hot Korean girl (Hi Viv!)
Name Arang Korean
Address 9 Golden Sq, Soho, W1F 9HZ, Phone 020 74342073
Web site
Main dish price range £6-10
Rating 5 Stars. The best restaurant in its genre in London.
Recommended dishes Soondubu

When ever I tell friends I am starting an Ethnic food blog or that I'm into "Ethnic Eating" some smarty invariably asks how can I possibly call I distinguish any food as being "ethnic" when in fact all food was produced by somebody according to some ethnicity. Today, walking into Aragi, I feel I finally found an answer.

It's a Korean restaurant in Soho, one of about a handful that I've been to -- but despite the tony location in Golden Square, this place appears to cater to exclusively Koreans. There were Koreans young and old, well dressed and fantastically fobby, crammed into every table in the dining area, and spilling into the basement karaoke lounge. I could tell this would be a great ethnic restaurant, and I immediately found my definition as such: a restaurant serving the food of a particular ethinc group, with an aim to primarily serving expatriates from that ethnic group.

We arrived around 8pm after a long walk in the cool evening, and were seated in a karaoke booth down in the basement. It was a small room with a large TV, and into it had been placed a large stone table. A little weird, but no big deal. The menus had a few pages only in Korean, but most of it was translated into English as well, with a few pictures to aid the novice along. Overall, there was a far greater variety of food than what I'm used to seeing in London.

I would have loved to have sampled some new Korean dishes, but I had been craving Soondubu all day, and my companions a Bibimbap and a Chapchae respectively. The menu also listed a number of the small banchan plates, suggesting that these must be ordered and paid for (these are complementary in most Korean restaurants around the world). We ordered three, and got six, so it appears Arang is splitting the difference.

The food was, I must say, very very good. Soondubu is not a hard dish to prepare, but is very hard to get right. All one must do to prepare passable version is simply add some Korean chilli paste and tofu to boiling stock, stir and serve. But the secret to a great Soondubu is to build up a great stock -- usually from well marrowed beef bones. Tonight, it was excellent. Hats off to a great dish, and at £7.50 for the main course, it was a steal as well.

I'm definitely coming back here -- for the food, but also for the Karaoke. I envision a fine evening lies in my near future...

Arang on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Baraka in Whitechapel: A Tayyab's Alternative?

Name Baraka Eatery‎
Address 38-40 Whitechapel Rd E1 1JX
Phone 020 74260550
Web site
Main dish price range £6-10
Rating 3 stars. Solid, you should go there if you are in the area.
Recommended dishes Achari Goscht

My first visit to Tayyab's, 10:30pm on a Sunday night, was a great success. My second, on a Friday evening, was a failure -- an epic line scared me promptly away. My 3rd visit, last Thursday around 6pm, was supposed to be better? Who could imagine a line at that early hour. Even when I got there and saw it with my own eyes, I had to actually wait in it for 20 minutes before I was convinced.

Ellen and I gave up, and headed around the corner to what looked to be a new restaurant, advertising South Asian food in the kind of colorful, modern, cheap environment that Londers seem to love so much. Normally, this kind of décor would have frightened my right away, but in this case a coupla dudes in kurtas and the location right next door to the massive East London Mosque and Muslim Center made me feel that it might have some worth. It was also largely empty, so I knew we would be seated and served right away.

It turned out to be a Bangladeshi restaurant which does a turn in Indian and Middle Eastern foods as well (to satisfy as many of the worshippers from next door as possible no doubt). I asked the eager Bangladeshi waiter for a few recommendations, and he inevitably directed my towards some of the "white people favourites" he assumed I could stomach. I took a Chicken Chilli after his emphatic recommendation, but then rounded the meal out with a few choices from the Bangladeshi side of the menu.

Chicken Chilli was OK, not great, but the Bangladeshi dishes really shone, especially the Achari Goscht, a lamb dish with a sauce made from pickled vegetables. I have never had anything quite like it in a restaurant, and it was great. A Chana Dal had perfectly al dente beans, and it was all served with some complementary salads and breads.

All in all, a solid meal, and a great alternative to the lines at Tayyabs. Easily worth 3 stars. Only the Chicken
Chili kept it from 4.

Baraka Eatery on Urbanspoon

Leong's Legend in Chinatown

My dou miao
Braised red pork Pork ribs
Name Leong's Legends
Address 26-27 Lisle Street, Chinatown, WC2H 7BA
Phone 020 7734 3380
Web site N/a
Main dish price range £8-12
Rating 4-stars
Recommended dishes Braised pork

Intrigued by the reports of good food and awful service, I've been meaning to check out Leong's Legend for some time now. The reviews have been decidedly mixed, and I've been intending to sort it out.

I've heard this was a good place to get a decent authentic Taiwanese meal, and so when we were seated in the small and crowded dining room I was surprised to see a undistinguished menu, headed by that classic Chinese dish "Crispy Aromatic Duck" (n.b. this dish does not exist outside England, let alone in China). Oh well. I picked out whatever looked not totally awful from this menu, and placed my order.

I speak a little Chinese, enough to be able to ask the waiter if they had "dou miao" , one of my favorite chinese vegetables (a kind of pea sprouts). The waiter, upon hearing my attempt at Chinese, said "Ah, you speak Chinese! Here, I must get you the Chinese Menu. He scurried away and produced a new set of menus. These menus, while written in both Chinese and English, were clearly "Chinese" in that they were designed to be offered to Chinese People. The menu was totally different, full this time of classic Chinese and Taiwanese dishes, enough to warm my heart.

I ordered a spicy braised red pork dish, in the Northern Chinese style, at the waiters recommendations. I also got my dou miao, as well as a tasty fried pork spareribs dish. It was all damn good, and the pork braise was as it should be, hot as hell.

This was not Chinese Haute Cuisine, but it was great to have a solid Chinese meal for a change -- I heartily recommend Leong's -- just be sure to ask for the right menu.

Leong’s Legends on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Maroush 1 on Edgware Road

Name Maroush 1
Address 21 Edgware Rd,Bayswater, W2 2Phone 020 72476400
Web site
Main dish price range £10-15
Rating 0 Stars. I would seriously rather go hungry.
We had decided only to post reviews of restaurants that we liked on this blog (negative opinions I've been chalking up on, but last night I had a truly extraordinary restaurant experience, and I feel a strong need to speak out.
A friend visiting from out of town wanted Lebanese, and I leapt at the opportunity to try Maroush, the flagship restaurant of the chain that includes places I love such as Ranoush Juice and Beirut Express. Indeed, up and down Edgware Road, you're hard-pressed to find a place not owned by the Maroush empire. Maroush is said to be more up-market, and have belly dancing, so I figured it was a safe bet for an out of town guest.
We got there around nine, and after having to be made to feel bad about not having a reservation for 5 or 10 minutes, we were shown into their main dining room, which happens to be in a large, low-ceilinged basement. The place settings are nice, white linen and all that, and the waiters are all in suits, so it was a bit of a surprise to see a DJ pumping out Lebanese hits from a corner of the dining room.
The music was loud, but it didn't seem to bother the large crowd of diners, which ranged from what looked like a large drunken office outing to quite a few middle eastern couples. We had only begun to complain about the loud music when all of a sudden IT GOT COMPLETELY DEAFENING. And it stayed that way, for THE NEXT TWO HOURS, which is how long it took us to get the food. And I mean deafening -- my friend and I put our faces next to each other, and shouted, and we still couldn't here. I almost want to excuse the friendly waitstaff for being so slow, since it was clear that they could not hear what the hell any of their customers were saying to them.
When we finally got our main course (which could have, and probably did, come from the same kitchen as Beirut Express), I got the waiter to bring the bill right away. We wolfed down the kebabs we had ordered, then rushed out of that dungeon, never to return.
Maroush 1 on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Great Queen Street in Holborn

Name Great Queen Street‎
Address 32 Great Queen Street WC2B 5AAPhone 020 72476400
Web site N/aMain dish price range £10-20
Rating 4 Stars. I would take my parents there.
Recommended dishes Duck confit

Fresh of the plane from a great holiday back home in the States, I was filled to the brim wit h the tasty ethnic food of New York. The previous day, I'd had bagels and lox for breakfast, Italian for lunch, and a fiery Sichuan dinner from the popular Spicy and Tasty in the very ground zero of America's ethnic kitchen: Flushing, Queens.

So upon my return to London, for onceI felt no great craving for ethinc food of any particular description. After work I took a gander at my favorite London food guide and an idea caught my eye: English food!

Great Queen Street is a warm looking, simple restaurant that fills most of a storefront on this fine street near Covent Garden. Bare wooden table tops and a busy bar in the back half left me feeling quite at home, and I dumped my duffel bag and coat over the empty chair at the next table over.

Ellen had already ordered a kippered fish starter, which came with a tasty egg and endive salad. The menu, filled with things such as dried blood and pig's cheek, made me a bit uncomfortable and for a few minutes I agonized both over what to order and whether or not it was safe to call this an "ethnic" restaurant. I was reminded that if the food makes me uncomfortable, then it's clearly ethnic. I dived in.

I had the duck confit, not being in an adventurous mood, and it was excellent. I sucked the bones dry, although that's something I do so often as to not be a true accolade. We also ordered the aforementioned cheek, which came deep fried in a crusty breading and served over seasonally appropriate lentils. All the ingredients were fresh and delicious and the dishes were well presented. Only the desert, a quince tart of some sort, was something of a miss, mostly due to the fact that it was served with warm, and not iced, cream.

Overall, this is certainly a place I would come back to, which earns it a comfortable four stars. Ellen pointed out, and I agree, that it's a great place to bring guests to show them the ethnic eating of our adopted home.Great Queen Street on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ranoush Juice on Edgware Road

Name Ranoush
Address 43 Edgware Rd
Phone (020) 7723 5929
Web site
Main dish price range £5-10
Rating 5 Stars. The best restaurant in its genre in London.
Recommended dishes Lamb Shawarma, Hummous
Over the last few months, work has caused me to spend a good amount of time in the Middle East, where I've been cheerfully engaged in my favorite pastime: eating Shawarma. I even went so far as to make a systematic study of the Shawarmas of Tel Aviv. You could say I'm something of a Shawarma expert.
And so it is with great pleasure that I award our first five-star restaurant of this blog: Ranoush on Edgware Road. There's no one secret to a Shawarma: it's a combination of the meat, the bread, the veggies, and the sauce that all have to be exactly right, equally fresh and crispy, blended together in just the right proportions. Ranoush, a member of a large Lebanese family of restaurants which spans a few properties in the area, gets it just right.
It also has the certain authentic touches which a five-star pick requires. Its setting, nestled among sidewalk hookah joints operating happily in the - 5 degree January cold, was ideal. The format of counter service with only too few Formica tables, was spot-on. And best of all the, gracious Levantine service was pitch-perfect. When I pointed out that my order for a side of Baba Ganouj was mistaken for a request for a wrap with the same, the line cook smiled and tossed both in the bag, saying it was "on the house." He also tossed in a full bag of pita bread. And smiled at us again.
I should note that the aforementioned Baba Ganouj and also the Hummus I sampled here were excellent, and would have easily held their own against all but the very best in the Holy Land. This place effortlessly outshines all of the Shawarma joints in New York, although admittedly that may be because most of them are from the Turkish tradition (thicker pita, greasier meat), and my tastes run towards the Arab variety.
This is a place I can see myself going to again and again, and happily so. For a while now I had been wondering what a 5-star ethnic restaurant might be like. Now I know.
NOTE: This restaurant is part of the sprawling Maroush empire, which has half a dozen or so restaurants scattered around Edgware Road. I went on a following night to Beirut Express, which seems to serve the same food as Ranoush Juice, although the format is table service. I can see how some might prefer the more attentive service to that which Ranoush's countermen can provide, but to me ordering directly from the guy carving the meat off the skewer is an integral part of the experience. My 5-stars goes to Ranoush Juice, with a Beirut Express a solid 4-star follow-on.
Ranoush on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tayyabs in Whitechapel

Name Tayyabs
Address 83-89 Fieldgate St E1 1JUPhone 020 72476400
Web site
Main dish price range £5-15
Rating 5 Stars. The best restaurant in its genre in London.
Recommended dishes Lamb Kofte Kebabs, Meat with Bindhi
This is the best restaurant we have yet been to in London. It's is written up in literally every guidebook; which, given the competition, is not really that much of a feat -- what is startling is that despite the attention it is still turning out terrific meals.
On a Sunday night around 9pm the place was jumping, but our party of three managed to get squeezed into a table. The crowd was mostly South Asian, although the décor was the cheap-looking hip and colorful design scheme that appears to be standard issue for popular London places. The waiter called me "Boss" as he seated us and I knew I was in for a treat.
The food is Punjabi -- authentically Punjabi -- which means it’s a lot of grilled meats and fairly thick curries. It's the kind of North Indian food that most London curry shops have modified for English tastes, and it is terrifically refreshing to have in its cream- and sugar-free original. We ordered a set of kebabs (60p each!), and then moved on to a variety of curries, all of which were excellent. The "Bhindi with Meat" was particularly good. The only dish that missed the spot was a Chicken Biryani -- but I should have known better than to order that South Indian classic in a Punjabi joint.
Indeed, the food was so good that after we wolfed it down I seriously considered ordering another round for take-away to have for dinner the following night. The following day, I wish I had. After three months with no 5-star choices, now I've got two in a row! (the other being Ranoush Juice)
New Tayyab on Urbanspoon