Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Lima Floral: where I had one of my favourite meals of 2014

Lima Floral, the sister restaurant of Michelin-starred Lima (Fitzrovia), opened this year with the aim of showcasing Peruvian fare as authentic and as organic as possible. It's split into two levels: a 60-cover restaurant upstairs and a Pisco bar downstairs. 

It's become one of my favourite restaurants in town. They've managed to translate hearty dishes into wholesome yet absolutely flavourful meals that are worthy of their own stars.

Lima Floral, Covent Garden
We started with the colourful complimentary bread basket served with a yogurt dip. The bread, made with purple corn and annatto seeds, came as if freshly baked - warm and soft on the inside with a good crust. It was so good we asked for second helpings defying all fears of carbs.

You'll see the phrase "Tiger's milk" a lot on the menu. Tiger's milk or leche con tigre is essentially the soul of Peruvian ceviches. It's the marinade made from the juices of the fish and citrus, plus a variation of ingredients of your desire.
Lima Floral, Covent Garden
The sea bream ceviche (£10) is one of their bestseller starters. Quite rightly so. The fish tasted fresh, and the tiger's milk (aka the soul of Peruvian ceviches) blend was perfectly balanced and clean on the palate.

Lima Floral, Covent Garden
The escabeche was pretty good. Beef served rare topped with algarrobo syrup and escabeche dressing - simple, but does the trick.

Lima Floral, Covent Garden
I would have preferred the tuna nikkei (£10) to be served as normal ie with the green tiger's milk sauce on the plate but as my friend V is quite averse to pepper and chilli, we had it served on the side. It was still actually decent, but it left me wondering how it would have tasted if we went all out.

Lima Floral, Covent Garden
The beef sudado (£26) is a sophisticated homage to the popular South American beef stew. The beef, seared the way I like it, is tender. The quinoa stew and broth had a hearty comforting taste yet it was light and somehow refreshing in a way any ordinary stew can never be.

Lima Floral, Covent Garden
I went for the daily special a dish of seared paiche (£20), one of the largest riverfish in the world. I LOVED THIS. The fish, soft and firm at the same time, is so flavourful and melted in my mouth. It came with mashed plantain and chocolate crumbs (a revelation!) and a beautiful sauce of sweet and slightly tangy flavours which rounded the dish so well. Hands down, one of the best dishes I've had all year (even trumps Gunther's signature angel hair with caviar).

Lima Floral, Covent Garden
The monkfish piancha (£22) was beautiful too. Firm and meaty, it was fresh and light and the added texture of the courgette ribbons made it fuller. The red tiger milk broth was fragrant, slightly soured by tomatoes and lime. Slightly reminiscent of fish sinigang but elevated for fine dining.

Lima Floral, Covent Garden
I've not been excited with side dishes in a while but the cusco corn cake (£4) was really deliciously sweet and savoury. I could eat mountains of this for brekkie, lunch, dinner, midnight snack... oh you know.

The olluquito potato (£4) mash was probably the only dish I didn't like. Nothing wrong with it, but I just found this plain.

We finished the meal with triumphant pudding. The chocolate mousse (£7) was rich yet light and textures of oak wood and sorrel made it less boring to the palate.

The passionfruit yoghurt (£7) was surprisingly firm. Creamy with a slight tang, this was refreshing and very light. Definitely a winner!

My choice of pud was the cafe peruano (£7) which is essentially coffee ice cream garnished with dehydrated purple potato crumbs and served with a red kiwicha (a flowering plant which is also known as love-lies-bleeding). The coffee ice cream had the right amount of flavour and purple potato gave an interesting texture. I enjoyed it a lot, but not as much as enjoyed the passionfruit yoghurt.

The staff gave P a birthday surprise. It had dulce de leche, kiwicha and purple potato crumbs, creamy custard, merengue buttons, etc. It really was a birthday party on a slate.

Often, when Michelin-starred restaurants open extension branches with relatively more reasonably priced food, one would think something's got to give. Standard of food, service or ambience may be compromised for the price you pay... but Lima Floral disproved all that. Food was excellent (often mindblowing), service was impeccable (our server Hector was brilliant and super knowledgeable of their fare), and the ambience is very cool.

Cheers to a delicious 2014. Looking forward to toasting the year ahead. Happy 2015, everyone!

Lima Floral
14 Garrick Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E | +44 (0)20 724 05778
Ave price per person: £60
View their menu on Zomato.

Monday, 29 December 2014

The Office Christmas Do: (how work kicked out the Grinch in me)

I've been quite a proper grinch over the holiday period and I will chalk that up to 1) being quite ill (literally, "I want my mommy!" levels) for about a week coming up to Christmas and 2) not being able to be with immediate family this year. I suppose the first time I actually felt a wee bit festive was when my colleagues and I visited Winter Wonderland. This year, nothing screamed merry to me other than the sight of Christmas markets and the smell of gluhwein!

It was was fun roaming around, being kids and getting some acrophobic work buddies find liquid courage in mulled wine (only to back out of the rides after buying tickets, *hyukhyuk*) but we did work up an appetite so we headed back to Covent Garden for crimbo dinner.

Unless we do day trips (we've done Paris and Dublin) for our Christmas do, we'd usually hire a vault at Tutton's. We've had quite a number of memorable Christmases there, which mostly involved liquor shots and copious amounts of Jaegerbombs. This year was no exception. 

Whilst everyone tucked into their festive game terrines, roast turkey with all the trimmings and Christmas pud, I went for the fishy non-festive option (this was pre-ordered, and I wasn't in a festive mood then).
I couldn't fault my starter of smoked salmon. The fish was fresh and the smoke was perfect. This was gone in 60 seconds.

My main of roasted cod didn't fare as well. Whilst the fish itself was cooked nicely, the mustard sauce was a bit gloopy and I felt it could have been better with some thick liquid broth. The mash was okay, but there was too much of it. I didn't finish my plate.

My dessert of choice was a meringue nest with pears. I couldn't finish it as it was way too sweet for my liking. I've had a bit of the other options, ie the brownie and the Christmas pudding and those were actually quite nice.

11-12 Russell Street, London WC2B | +44 20 7836 4141
Average spend pp: £50. Private parties in the vaults require minimum spend from £1500 + VAT.
Tuttons on Urbanspoon

Special treat of the night was a visit from Neil Mullarkey who co-founded the improv group Comedy Store Players with Mike Myers (Mr Austin Powers himself). Neil got us to do some improv exercises and it was good fun to see how creative us legal PRs can get. Hilarious stories spun out of our mouths from naked cowboys off to Miami, policemen stealing Gucci underwear, bears finding honey in the woods... Joyful joyful!
It was good fun. I've not taken a photo of Neil, but do visit his website for more information on how he can be a part of your party!

My favourite part of the night was being able to chill out with my colleagues and our plus ones (I brought my good friend A with me, who used to work with us when we were based just off Oxford Street). 7 years in the company has brought about lots of people in for the holiday do, but I honestly believe we've got some of the best superstars in the industry right now. I'm glad to be part of this team.

When you're spending the holidays far from home it's always good to be surrounded by good people, especially those who become your family in an odd way or another. And that's what really matters during the holidays, no?

Hope you all enjoyed your Christmases and are looking forward to even more festive New Year celebrations!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Ink Bethnal Green: where beautifully plated food play hit or miss

I've heard interesting stories about Ink, a Nordic restaurant in Bethnal Green headed by Chef Martyn Meid, and have admired the beautifully plated dishes on their Instagram feed long enough to fancy a visit. So when our friends at Zomato treated us to some vouchers to use there, I was ecstatic.

Tricky as it is to get to, I can imagine ROI for its chosen location peaking during Summer when the weather is conducive to al fresco dining and you can actually see the canal. 

Ink opened last Spring which makes me think the minimalistic theme is deliberate. The space is devoid of clutter; no artwork on the walls, no tablescape, no lousy lighting gimmicks. This almost Zen-like ambience was eerily refreshing and seeing it transcend in the menu was a good thing. Surely the chefs are focused here. 

The short and sweet menu, no fancy names, it is what it is

I could not fault the scallops as they were cooked perfectly. Nested in some peach puree and burnt onion skin, the natural sweetness rose on the plate and seriously tickled my palate. The classic touch of crackling crumbs added a pleasant texture which made me think of summer despite the weather outside.

The cured venison was rather interesting. The meat was not overpoweringly salty and had a good chew. Paired with beetroot cooked three ways, it was Autumn on a plate. Bits of purslane added an oomph to the earthiness of this dish.

A went for the classic pork belly. Slightly disappointed with the lack of crackling (how can you serve pork belly without crackling?!) but the meat itself was super tender. The jus was great and the mash was so creamy, I had to stop myself from taking so much on A's plate.

We shared a side of roasted veggies. Which were okay.

I couldn't wait to tuck into my duck breast with vanilla and beetroot textures and spiced couscous. It looked so beautiful I wanted to marry it straight away. When I examined it closely, though the duck looked slightly over than how I would've wanted it. It was indeed chewy in parts, but mostly okay.

The dish was quite dry and I reckon it needed some sort of sauce to tie it all together. The beetroot didn't do much for me, which was strange because I had lots of it for starters. The one thing I absolutely enjoyed about this dish though, was that spiced couscous. The marinade was awesome and I finished every single grain.

The chef served us dessert for free which was apparently his take on eton mess. A, an eton mess expert herself, laughed at the bareness of it. "Where's the fruit?!" Sorry, babe. Dessert ain't got no gimmick too. And I actually appreciate it. The merengue was nice and not too sweet and the cream was thick and had a nice tart punch to it.

It was quite cold in the restaurant so we asked if they could turn the heat up. Unforch, they were still trying to rectify the heating issue so they couldn't do anything... so they gave us complimentary vodka shots to keep warm instead. Cocktails, wine, prosecco and vodka shots later, we warmed up to the idea of drinking more than we should've. We ended up paying as much as the vouchers we were given, mainly due to alcohol intake.

Overall, Ink is... interesting. Our choice of dishes for the night may not have gotten top marks but the chef is young, experimental and artistic which makes me think there's a lot of potential here. I would revisit, but perhaps I'd wait til the Summer.

44 Palmers Road, Bethnal Green, London E2 | +44 (0)20 3095 7304
Average spend pp: £60pp (three courses with wine)
View their menu on Zomato. 
Ink on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Yum-D Brixton: where food will take you back to the streets of Thailand

Yum-D, tucked in the depths of Brixton Market just a few doors away from Franco Manca, is a little gem of a surprise. 

The first thing that hit me was a bout of claustrophobia. Floor space is tiny (with just around five tables and the kitchen), and the random Thai pantry stock and trinkets floating about for sale made it even tinier. Whilst it gave me the ambience of an actual Thai market stall, it made me want to call in some troops for a massive de-clutter project.

There's a wall of sticky notes from adoring fans.

I came to the restaurant with zero expectations and then I found this:
...and I got excited.

We ordered the pork and prawn dumplings (£4.50) as a safe starter. Not particularly Thai in origin but this is actually the closest I've had to delicious siu mai I've had in Southeast Asia. The dumpling was plump with filling and the wrapper was thin enough for one to savour the juicy pork and prawn flavour.

I thought the Thai BBQ prawns (£4.95) would come de-shelled and skewered, served with some dipping sauce or something but they arrived in their shells, blackened off the grill with some vegetables atop. The sauce resembled some sweet chilli marinade. Quite alright.

I wanted to order lots of viands for mains to eat with rice but T and I ended up ordering two variants of pad thai. At £7.50 each, the portions were very generous.

My pad thai tom yum with mixed seafood was easily the best pad thai I've had in yonks (possibly in London). The prominent fragrance of lemongrass and galangal made my mouth water so much that I almost forgot to get rid of the egg. The tom yum flavour was very distinct in the tamarind sauce.

I thought it was outstanding - so much so that I had pad thai craze for about two weeks. It was all I craved and wanted to eat!!!

T's coconut pad thai with mixed seafood wasn't so bad either. The coconut milk added a slight creaminess to the noodles but it was still distinctively pad thai. It's a new flavour profile in my palate and I can't wait to try recreating it at home.

Bellies full to the brim, I thought about ordering some more noodles to take home for next day's lunch but I stopped myself else I'd end up having it for midnight snack. So I distracted myself with the writings on the wall...


I went to Yum-D thinking it was going to be just an average Thai dinner (or actually, the type you get from local takeaways) but I left feeling 100% satisfied, with a view to wanting more. Sure, the smell of stir-fried chillies, lemongrass and holy basil may have stuck in our hair, coats, and canvas totes (they should really work on their ventilation/exhaust)... but for the best Thai I've had in London, I'd gladly visit again and again.


14D Market Row, Brixton, London SW9 | +44 7595901183
Average spend pp: £15
View their menu on Zomato.