I went on a short 9-day trip to Japan last week with some old friends. Thanks to Google Drive, we’d planned an epic gastronomic itinerary, complete with custom maps and spreadsheets (if anyone wants access, let me know). Our itinerary was Tokyo – Kyoto – Tokyo and it was exhausting but brilliant and I’ve already started looking at flights for 2016. I’ll list some of the restaurants we tried, as well as some tips for eating out in Japan at the end.
While I went to two ramen places during this trip, I really wish I’d gone for more late-night ramen munchies. There is an entire world of ramen to explore in Tokyo and I am deeply regretting I only tried two. But there’s only so much my stomach could handle! I would also note that while I remember where we had Ramen #1, I have no recollection of its name or street address. We’d just stumbled across it after walking from Kiddy Land near Meijijingumae to Shibuya. So although I had many ramen shops on my List To Try, I also highly encourage just walking into any random ramen shop, because 90% of the time it will be better and cheaper than anything you could get in London. No guarantees for other parts of the world.
Kyushu Jangara Ramen (Harajuku branch)
It’s touristy, it’s located in a touristy area in Harajuku, just a few minutes’ walk from the famous Takeshita Dori shopping street, but it’s a damn good bowl of noodles – we’re talking less than £6 for a massive bowl. Their most popular is the Kyushu Jangara ramen, with a blend of pork and chicken soup. The base is still creamy from the pork bones but has a lightness to it from the chicken. It comes with mentaiko (spicy cod roe) which dissolves and gives it an additional complexity. The bowl also contains two types of pork – big chunks of tender pork belly braised in a savoury soy-based broth, and slices of pork belly. For the adventurous, the Bonshan is their version of tonkotsu. Their soup base is ridiculously thick, practically coating the spoon, but it’s thick with collagen and gelatin. There is a definite masculine funk to this soup, very porky, almost overwhelmingly so for me. I can see this being a winter favourite, however. The third option is the Kobonshan ramen, which is a similar blend of creamy pork and chicken soup but with an additional garlic. Warning – this is REALLY garlicky, in a marvelous way. Finally, we tried the tsukemen, which had thicker, curlier noodles. The noodles themselves were toothsome and chewy, and the dipping soup base was addictively savoury. I believe this soup is made from seafood as well, which makes it that much tastier. A great option during the oppressive summer heat.
Do upgrade to the nitamago egg (soft-boiled) which costs an extra 120 yen. The sight of the golden yolk spilling out is one to behold.
There are various branches all over Tokyo. If you’re hankering for a particular ramen style, though, check before you go as not all of them are available in every location.
Tsukiji Market, one of the must-see destinations in Tokyo, is home to several restaurants that used to cater to the workers at the market, but many have now become tourist attractions in their own right. Two sushi shops in particular, Sushi Dai and Sushi Daiwa, have skyrocketed in popularity and queues of 3-5 hours are not unheard of. There was absolutely no chance for our group of six to even consider queuing, so we just popped into Tsukiji Donburitakumi a few alleys away which, thankfully, did not have a queue. They specialise in donburi, or rice bowls topped with fresh fish and seafood, and there are a huge variety to choose from. My rice bowl was topped with creamy uni (sea urchin), ikura (salmon roe), chutoro (fatty tuna), and lean tuna. At 2200 yen (£11.50), this was great value for money for such fresh seafood. It was one of the quickest meals we had in Japan – we were in and out within 15 minutes, as a line of waiting people grew behind us. Honestly, I don’t see the point in waiting for the two most popular shops in Tsukiji Market. They might be really cheap, but other shops are most likely just as cheap (if not more affordable), and source fish that is equally fresh, without having to sacrifice half of your day. I might be biased, however, because I knew we had a killer splurge meal at a fantastic sushi restaurant at the end of the week…
Sushi Iwa is a high-end sushiya, with counter seating for only six people. According to some people at Chowhound, the second-in-command chef at Sushi Iwa can speak practically fluent English and is open to accepting foreigners. I would highly recommend finding one that is able to converse the same language as you or at least one of your dining companions. It’s a very personal, intimate experience. Interaction with the chef is part of the experience, and your foreign, non-Japanese-speaking presence at the counter only serves to form a barrier between you. In our case, our entire group sat at the counter (there were five of us in total) and had the chef not spoken a lick of English, we would have eaten our meal in silence. What happened instead was a gradual conversation that built up as the meal progressed and more sake was consumed.
The sushi, except that it was fantastic and I’ll probably never be able to have this experience outside of Japan. It’s not considered to be the pinnacle of sushi in Tokyo, by any means, but for a foreigner who bills herself as quite an adventurous and well-seasoned glutton, it was just right – not too intimidating. At my level, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference anyway between the most highly-ranked sushiya and Sushi Iwa. The service was lovely; we were treated as if we were very special customers, although we definitely weren’t, and this was one of those instances where I felt frustrated at the no-tipping culture in Japan because there wasn’t any other way of expressing our appreciation aside from repeatedly saying thank you! However, this experience comes at a price; it came to 24,600 yen (including drinks), or £130. Despite the high cost, I think it’s worth it, and if I ever go back to Tokyo, Sushi Iwa is definitely on the list to re-visit. I’ll post a full review on this soon, with pictures and names of all the sushi we were served.
Ningyocho Imahan (Ueno Hirokoji branch)
Our hotel concierge reserved a table for us here for some sukiyaki action. Sukiyaki is a Japanese hot pot dish where thinly sliced beef and vegetables are simmered in a shallow pot in front of you, usually in a soy-mirin sauce. Typically, the food is dipped into beaten raw egg before eating. You can choose from various set menus, but we all went for the sukiyaki with rice set. The quality of beef is also up to you – I went for their top quality Japanese beef, and you could see the intense marbling of fat in the slices. This didn’t come cheap (9,720 yen, or £50) but the meal was outstanding. A waiter cooked everything tableside and served the beef slice by slice as it was cooked, each time with more veggies and tofu. The beef was silky and fatty, and the sukiyaki sauce didn’t overwhelm the flavour. The final rice course was served with some barely-scrambled eggs which had been cooked in the same pan, which of course was now chock-full of flavour from the beef and vegetables. A fantastic dinner, although the waiters don’t speak much English.
Of course, to really taste the flavour of Japanese beef itself, we had to try yakiniku (grilled meat). Yakiniku once referred to Korean restaurants in Japan, but now is known as any type of meat, usually beef, and vegetables cooked on a grill in front of you. Yoroniku is one of the most highly-rated yakiniku restaurants in Tokyo, and it has the bonus of having an English menu. We ordered the 7,000 and 9,000 yen set menus (£36 and £47, respectively) which came with the same amount of food; the only differences were in the cuts and quality of the beef. All the beef comes from Japan and has gorgeous marbling. The beef is cooked by your waiter and then served to you, so you barely have to lift a finger. We started with an assortment of pickles and raw preparations of beef, then moved onto grilled thinly sliced beef. The grilled beef is then broken down further into salt-based or sauce-based beef, progressing onto the more special cuts of beef. There were lots of unusual cuts , such as the 3rd stomach and inner thigh, as well as more common cuts like the sirloin. All of them were beautifully tender without being too greasy. The grilling really enhanced the beefy flavours without being overpoweringly smoky. One of the best cuts literally had to be rolled and eaten in one piece, as instructed by your waiter, otherwise your chopsticks would tear the meat – now that’s melt-in-your-mouth.
We walked into a random udon shop in somewhere along the way between Omotesando, Harajuku, and Shibuya. (Thanks to Tabelog and Google, I managed to find out its name despite not having taken any photos of the interior!) There was a long counter where you chose your udon (hot, cold, type of soup/dipping sauce) and you slide your tray to the next self-service bit where you can add assorted tempura for an additional charge. If you’re hungry, you can choose a larger serving of udon. I chose the oroshi-shoyu chilled udon, which came with some grated daikon, green onions, and a little wedge of lime, tossed in a light and refreshing soy-based sauce. In hindsight, tempura wasn’t the best idea – it had been sitting out for what seemed like hours under a heat lamp, and it was greasy and limp. But the udon noodles themselves were a revelation. Chewy, bouncy, slippery, with the chill adding a particularly toothsome bite. I love my chewy noodles. My entire meal cost 500 yen (£2.50), with the tempura. If a chain restaurant in Tokyo can offer their customers such great quality udon at these frankly absurdly low prices, why can’t London do the same?
This is the Japanese tea room situated within the Edo-Tokyo Museum (which, by the way, is entirely worth your time, especially if you ask for a volunteer tour guide). We went in with low expectations; it is a museum cafe, after all. For breakfast, we each chose an udon set. If the noodles had gone to school, they would have received an “exceeded expectations” grade. Again a perfectly toothsome chew to them, this textural element so often missing from London’s udon scene. The toppings and soup, on the other hand, were a little boring, but satisfactorily serviceable for a quick museum breakfast.
Once again, you can walk into any random restaurant that serves udon and I can pretty much guarantee you that your udon noodles will be better than any place London has to offer.
We stumbled across this unassuming shop purely because we had seen the massive line at Daikokuya, another tempura institution in Asakusa, and we were on a search in the rain for a similar tempura restaurant. Fortunately, Seiko had a little flag that said “tempura”. It’s a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant, meaning that it serves great food at a great price, and the Guide wasn’t wrong (at least on this count). It appears to be run by two brothers. Everything is fried to order in front of you by the chef, and instead of tentsuyu, the typical dipping sauce for tempura, you get seven different types of salt to go with your tempura. All the sets range between 1,000-2,000 JPY at lunch. Given the expertly fried food and the attentive service, it’s brilliant value for money.
Tips for traveling and eating in Japan
- No tipping. It’s rude. (Also, super refreshing to never have to tip!) Always take all the change you’re given.
- Do try and make restaurant reservations as soon as possible, if you have certain places in mind. Most of these destination restaurants are small and some, like kaiseki or sushi restaurants, will most likely be reservations-only, as they buy only what they need a few days ahead or even on the day. Our restaurant reservations for this trip were arranged through the hotel concierge by email. I just sent a list of restaurants (prioritised, in case of unavailability) and dates. If you decide to take this option, choose a hotel which is at least mid-range; 2* hotels are less likely to accommodate your requests. Otherwise, there are restaurant reservation services online, although most take a small fee. Of course, if you can speak Japanese or you have a friend who can, this probably isn’t an issue for you.
- Following on from above, ask your hotel concierge to find out whether there are any English speakers at the restaurant, or an English or picture menu. It is extremely difficult to navigate a Japanese-only menu and it just causes stress for both you and the waiters. We struggled, even with knowledge of basic Japanese, when we stumbled across a Japanese-only izakaya.
- Download lots of translation apps, if you have a smartphone. See below for a list of recommended apps.
- To use those translation apps, you’ll need an internet connection. We rented a pocket wifi (essentially a mini portable router) from Global Advanced Communications, which worked out to be fairly cheap when the cost was split amongst us. The regular 75 Mbps pocket wifi plan we chose was fine, although in parts of Kyoto we had no signal and the battery wouldn’t last a full day. Switch it off if you’re not using it during the day. Don’t put it in your actual pocket, because this thing gets hot.
- If you’re eating food from a street stall, stand to one side for consumption. Eating while walking is considered rude in Japan.
- We found it was uncommon to pay at the table. The waiter usually brings you the bill, face-down, as soon as you’ve finished ordering your food. Take this up to the counter with your money and pay at the till.
- Watch out for toilet shoes! If you’re in a place where you’ve been asked to take off your shoes, chances are that there will be toilet slippers provided for use only within the toilet.
- Buy a PASMO/IC card for transportation when you get to Tokyo. This is like London’s Oyster card, or Hong Kong’s Octopus card, but unlike the Oyster card you can also use it at most convenience stores and vending machines. Topping up your card with the machines can be tricky – ask a station attendant for help if need be. PASMO/IC cards are interchangeable and can be used in Kyoto as well.
- If you have a Japan Rail pass, travel on the JR lines within Tokyo is also included. Just show your ticket to the attendant at the manned station gate and they’ll wave you through.
Apps to download on your phone
- Learn Japanese – this is a great basic phrasebook which works offline.
- Google Translate – best for its ability to take a photo and scan it, but its literal translations leave much to be desired.
- Innovative Language 101 – great for learning some basic Japanese before you go (I recommend Absolute Beginners seasons 1 & 2). Join their free trial and download as many audio tracks as you can within the trial period!
- Tokyo Subway Navigation for Tourists – developed by Tokyo Metro Co., this travel planner shows you how to get between stations on the metro, and it works offline. Do note that it doesn’t include the JR lines or other rail lines.
- Hyperdia – on the other hand, this app works includes every single line in Japan, which means you can use it outside Tokyo. On the downside, the UI is a little harder to navigate and it can only be used with an internet connection.
- Imiwa? – this is a multilingual Japanese dictionary which is helpful if you can write kanji or katakana/hiragana on your keyboard. Also has many phrases and a notes section where you can jot down words or phrases you’ve recently learned.
More posts to follow, including full reviews of some of the aforementioned restaurants and a guide to eating out in Kyoto as well.
After eighty phone calls to Sushi Tetsu, I finally was able to score a reservation for dinner last Saturday. A few days in advance, we were asked to confirm our reservation and to choose what menu we wanted – a la carte or omakase. We requested the omakase course which included 12 nigiri, 1 hand roll, and tamago (sweet egg omelet) to finish (£80).
From the beginning, we could tell it was going to be a special experience. Sushi Tetsu is run by a husband-and-wife team, Harumi and Toru Takahashi, and it’s clear they’ve dedicated their hearts and souls to this tiny oasis in Clerkenwell. As soon as we got through the door, Harumi-san greeted us by name, which was such a welcoming way to start the meal. The theme of warmth and friendliness, like going to your family friend’s home, was a recurrent one throughout our time at Sushi Tetsu.
When you order omakase, you are leaving it up to the chef to choose the best selection. If we had ordered this selection a la carte, the price would have been roughly the same as the omakase course. If you do go, I highly recommend you choose the omakase. The procession of nigiri, the types of fish that accompany the nigiri – this is all carefully and deliberately decided by Toru-san. Roughly, more delicate flavours were served at the start of the meal, progressing to oilier and richer types of fish towards the end. I did not take any photographs during the meal – it’s an intimate space, with only seating for 7 at the counter, and I felt it would have been awkward to start snapping away in full view of everyone.
Toru-san has a way of bringing out the best flavour of the fish without overwhelming it with other additions. You are encouraged to eat it with your hands, and no seasonings are required. What is wonderful about Sushi Tetsu is that Toru-san always gets his seasoning spot-on. Each fish has its own entourage of seasoning, if you will; this included lime zest, citrus juice, various herbs, soy sauce, spice blends, and a few other sauces that peppered the sushi counter. Watching Toru-san make his creations was like watching a ballet dancer, dipping into pots and bowls and plates. The list that follows is the rough sequence of the nigiri, each formed one by one and placed carefully onto a beautiful ceramic plate in front of you.
Torched jumbo shrimp
Salmon roe gunkan maki
Minced fatty tuna with spring onions and pickled radish hand roll
I can remember the taste of all of the individual nigiri with incredible clarity, but there were a few ones that clearly stood out as my favourites. The torched scallop, jumbo shrimp, and o-toro (fatty tuna) were gorgeous in their simplicity, just beautiful big pieces of fish draped over rice, having been passed through a raging blue flame. I don’t know what magic Toru-san did to the fish, but each piece seemed to be a hyperbole of itself. I really enjoy seared fish because the aroma just fills the room and adds yet another layer of sensation. I was also a fan of the shari, the rice component of the nigiri. It was well seasoned with a good balance of vinegar and salt, and just warm enough – body temperature – from being gently moulded.
For drinks, we chose a beautiful sake, Gasanryu Gokugetsu, which was served in a lovely glass that looked more suited for champagne than sake. I am far from a sake expert, but this was the best sake I’ve ever tasted. Extremely fruity, all peaches and cream, and also quite floral, with hints of lychee. Very sweet. All I can say is, it tasted like it was made from shimmering gold, rainbows, and sparkles, and it has a price to match. But I will be seeking this out as soon as possible.
We ended with a stunning piece of tamago (Japanese sweet egg omelet). I’ve never had tamago that actually tasted like a sponge cake before, but my mind was blown. And it was a fantastic way to end the meal. This definitely won’t be my last time at Sushi Tetsu. Keep an eye out on their Twitter @SushiTetsuUK as they tweet about last-minute cancellations. This experience has made me all the more excited for our upcoming trip to Japan!
12 Jerusalem Passage
London EC1V 4JP
Our rather hastily-decided trip to Paris started with the Eurostar from St. Pancras International to the Gare du Nord, a brief interlude at a cafe in the 3rd arrondissement while frantically attempting to contact our Airbnb host, then off to an early dinner at Le BAT, short for bar à tapas. Strangely, Le BAT is nestled amongst Starbucks and McDonald’s on what appears to be a street full of international chains.
In the evenings, they specialise in tapas and small plates, all priced at 7€, with a few larger plates costing 10-12€. The great thing about being a tourist on the continent is that we tend to eat much earlier than our European cousins – so we were there in time for happy hour (7-8pm), which gets you a glass of wine and a plate of tapas for 9€. Such a pleasant surprise after that Airbnb scare!
As far as I can tell, the tapas menu changes daily according to what’s available and in season, as what we ate in August is different from the menu on the website. There isn’t a clear genre that defines the dishes at Le BAT; flavour combinations are pulled from different sources. There’s an unmissable influence from Japan, but mainly in the form of condiments or raw fish.
We started with a beef tartare with watermelon gazpacho and pomegranate vinegar, which was surprisingly delicious. The watermelon was an inspired addition to the beef tartare, and the pomegranate vinegar added the requisite acidity, but it was overall a little too sweet for my liking. Very unusual, though. A shrimp and melon salad with buffalo mozzarella was simple, but extremely well balanced for a salad. The marinated tuna salad with pickled beetroot and ink squid dressing was a bit of a letdown – it had been showered liberally with sesame oil, drowning out any other flavours. The squid ink dressing just turned the tuna an unappealing grey colour.
The best of the night were the duck and foie gras croquettes with a hint of chilli. Expertly fried, not greasy, and the duck meat was enriched with just a touch of foie gras, just enough so that the livery taste was barely distinguishable but still provided the mouth-coating oiliness. These were so moreish we ordered another portion! The marinated bonito, bisque, celery, and peanut dish was a bit of a letdown. The fish was a bit mushy and the bisque didn’t really have a distinguished flavour. However, they were very generous with the portion size and you could actually taste the fish, unlike the marinated tuna swimming in sesame oil.
Of course, we tried all of their larger plates (there were only 3, anyway). Grilled monkfish with citrus and vanilla was a bit off. The monkfish was cooked perfectly, with the meatiness of lobster but none of the rubberiness. But the dressing was strangely bitter, as if they used marmalade. Maybe it works for some people, but I really hate marmalade!
A grilled cod with tomato and galangal was better, very summery with a lovely display of colours. The cod was a touch overcooked but only just. I also couldn’t really taste the galangal – perhaps ginger would have been a better option? Nevertheless, it wasn’t a bad dish by any means, and I preferred this to the monkfish.
The grilled beef, tarragon, and smoked olive oil was the best of the larger plates. Again, the beef was a bit overdone as they said it would come medium rare (it was more medium, erring towards well-done), but surprisingly it was still very tender and juicy. The smoked olive oil was a lovely accompaniment to the beef and all the flavours were in harmony.
Our bill came to 33€ a head, including a glass of wine each.
Overall, I really enjoyed Le BAT, and it stands out as a shining gem in the midst of Hard Rock Cafe and other tourist traps on the Grands Boulevards. Sure, it might not have hits all the time, but it’s adventurous cooking, it’s fun, and it’s great value to boot! Thank you Chowhound for the recommendation!
16 Boulevard Montmartre
75009 Paris, France
This coffee and walnut cake was what I decided to make in celebration of four birthdays in December last year – mine, my cousin’s, and my aunt and uncle’s. I love the combined flavours of coffee and walnut. This was the cake I wanted to eat as a kid, but parents deemed anything that had coffee in it was not appropriate for a child. Now that I’m a grown-up (ha, I still get giddy with too much coffee), I can consume this to my heart’s content. It’s not too heavy so it’s perfect for an afternoon tea break that won’t make you fall asleep, and presence of the coffee gives a psychological boost of energy without actually delivering a lot of caffeine. Here I’ve ground some of the walnuts into the cake batter rather than just stirring in some chopped nuts, which lends a wonderful fragrance and a bit of toothy bite to the cake.
(Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s recipe)
For the cake:
- 75 g walnuts
- 200 g caster sugar
- 225 g butter, softened
- 4 large eggs
- 50 ml espresso
- 200 g plain flour
- 2.5 tsp baking powder
- 0.5 tsp baking soda
- 1-2 tbsp milk
- pinch of salt
For the frosting:
- 350 g icing sugar
- 175 g butter, softened
- 50 ml espresso
- walnut halves for decoration
In a food processor, grind half of the walnuts with the caster sugar until finely ground. Chop the remaining walnuts and set aside.
Cream the butter and walnut-sugar mixture together until light and fluffy, then mix in the eggs and espresso.
In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and the salt together before adding the dry ingredients to the wet. Add the milk until the batter forms a soft, dropping consistency. Stir in the chopped walnuts and pour the batter into two greased and lined 8″ cake pans.
Bake at 180C for 25-30 min, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool on a cooling rack while you make the frosting.
Beat the icing sugar, butter, and espresso together until the coffee buttercream is smooth. To frost the cake, tip one of the cakes upside down onto a cake board and frost the flat top of it with about half the frosting. Carefully place the other cake (flat side down) onto the frosting, then spread the remaining buttercream on the top. Decorate with walnut halves.
Every time November rolls around, I seem to forget how awfully cold it gets in the UK, how biting the wind is. Of course, I’ve never gotten used to the cold, despite having moved here from Hong Kong six years ago. But the change in weather also signifies wintery food rushing back onto the menu: stews, casseroles, hearty soups, Asian braises – all the classic belly-warmers you can think of.
Oxtail ragu seemed like the perfect candidate. Tender, silky oxtail chunks bobbing in a rich tomato and wine sauce, the flavours marrying overnight before tossing it with some fresh papardelle the next day. I was gifted a pasta machine from my cousin that I hadn’t used before, so this was a great excuse to try it out.
I’m not knowledgeable in wine at all, so I just chose a wine I thought was reasonable – Waitrose-own “rich and intense spicy Italian wine” (£4.99). I’d go for whatever you find acceptable to drink and use that!
Oxtail Ragu with Fresh Papardelle
For the ragu
- 1 kg oxtail 1 large shallot, finely diced
- 200 g carrots, peeled and finely diced
- 2 stalks of celery, finely diced
- A can of whole plum tomatoes
- 700 ml red wine
For the pasta
- 2 room-temperature eggs, preferably free range
- 200 g type 00 flour
- A pinch of salt
Pat dry the oxtail and season all over with salt. In a large dutch oven, heat up some olive oil and sear the oxtail on all sides on high heat until browned. You want the Maillard reaction to occur to coax as much flavour into this dish as possible. This may have to be done in batches. Set aside.
In the same pan, sauté the diced shallots, carrots, and celery, tossing and coating until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the wine to deglaze, scraping up the fond as you go. Reduce for 5-10 minutes, then add the canned tomatoes along with their juices. Nestle the oxtail in the sauce, cover the dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, and place the whole thing in the oven.
It will take about 2-3 hours for the oxtail to become tender; I kept it in the oven for 2 hours but mine could have done with a little longer in the oven. Remove the oxtail from the dish to a large baking tray and shred the meat from the bones using two forks.
Return the meat to the dish (keep the bones if you like, for stock later). Taste and adjust for seasoning. At this point, I let it cool on the counter and left it in the fridge overnight for the flavours to meld with each other, but if you can’t wait, no one is stopping you from having it straight away!
To prepare the pasta, tip your flour and salt into a bowl and create a well in the flour. Drop the eggs in and mix well until it comes together as a dough – this will be difficult at first, but use a fork to begin with and scrape the sides down occasionally. Knead for 2-3 minutes by hand until the dough becomes smooth but not sticky. Cover it with clingfilm and let it rest at room temperature for an hour.
After resting, cut the dough into two pieces. Roll it out roughly to a rectangular shape, about 1/4 inch thick before passing it through your pasta machine on the widest setting. Fold it over onto itself and pass it through the machine once more. Keep passing the dough through the machine without folding in half, but decreasing the thickness of the dough one step at a time and dusting with flour in between passes if it starts to stick. Do this until it is at the thickness you want (I used the 3rd lowest setting on my machine, but it could have been thinner in hindsight).
Dust the pasta with more flour and nestle into little mounds while you roll and cut the rest of the dough, but if you’re not cooking it straight away, lay them flat on a baking sheet dusted with flour, or hanging over a rack (say, the handle of a wooden spoon, or a pair of chopsticks suspended between two jars).
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to the boil and toss your pasta in. It should only take a few minutes – I forgot to time mine, I think it was about 3-4 minutes but keep tasting it until it’s done! It had a much more different texture than dried pasta – snappier, silkier, and a more pleasant al dente chew. Drain, reserving a cup of the starchy cooking water.
Toss the pasta with the oxtail ragu until well coated, with a few splashes of the pasta water. Serve immediately!
P.S. Yes, that is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them underneath the table. The machine needed a thicker edge for clamping, so the closest book became the victim. Don’t worry, it was unscathed, just a bit floury.
Bull & Last is one of those restaurants where I’ve been yearning to go for years. I finally had the chance when my dad visited me a couple of months ago, and we had a lovely meal at Bull & Last to round off a lovely day walking around Hampstead Heath with the rest of my family here.
It’s a beautiful space in a Grade 2 listed building, the interior of which is dotted with various bits of evidence that this is primarily a meat, and when in season, game-focused restaurant. (To me, this is a restaurant with a pub, rather than a gastropub.) The menu celebrates British produce cooked with bold flavours and rustic cooking. We started with their homemade charcuterie board and their fish board, and some excellent bread to get our appetites going (or so we believed).
Charcuterie board with duck prosciutto, sliced so thinly the fat was a shimmering layer that melted away on your tongue, a chunky ham hock terrine, chicken liver parfait that I could not get enough of, duck rillettes, pig’s head, all served with some pickles, preserves, some leafy greens, and toast.
Our fish board came with some gorgeously pink gravalax, potted shrimp, mackerel pate, wonderfully light and crispy fried squid, an incredibly moreish smoked haddock croquette, and some dressed fennel with soda bread.
By the time our mains rolled around, some of us were flagging. There’s actually quite a lot of food and I’m a sucker for bread & butter which isn’t great if you want to eat as much of the menu as possible! It was a difficult decision to choose what I wanted, but my uncle and I shared a Dedham Vale aged cote de boeuf and it was a stonkingly huge platter of beef.
It was absolutely delicious, and gorgeous to boot. Served sliced to reveal its deep pink interior (but bone still present for you to gnaw on, if in close company), it came with fluffy triple-cooked chips and a bit of salad on the side. It also came with a bearnaise sauce, but the steak didn’t need it – the two together was almost too rich a mouthful for me. The sauce was also slightly gloopy, but everything else was fantastic. The beef had a great depth of flavour thanks to both the crust and the quality of the meat, and left you with a complex, iron-y, beefy aftertaste that lingered long after swallowing the last of the steak.
We just about managed to finish the steak, but only with help from everyone else. I think in retrospect this could have fed 3 of us if we’d ordered another starter to share. In short, I absolutely recommend this place if you have several people you can go with to experience as much of the menu as possible, especially the charcuterie platter.
168 Highgate Road
London NW5 1QS
I was so excited to go to Roganic, and I’m extremely late in updating this (I went there more than 6 months ago, in June!) so I’ll preface this post by saying that it’s a two year pop-up restaurant and it was fantastic, so if you have the same tastes in food as I do, please make a booking before you have to make the trek to Cumbria to eat at L’Enclume, Simon Rogan’s other restaurant.
Initially, we had planned on having their £29 set lunch menu (3 courses), but the waitress placed the menus on the table and we couldn’t help but give in to the temptation of their 6 course menu. At £55, it has been my most expensive meal to date, but it was worth every penny. We didn’t have wine, but you can select wine pairings for a reasonable price.
First placed in front of us were little nibbles. The beetroot crisps with goat’s cheese curd and fennel was gorgeous to look at; I hated the beetroot + goat’s cheese pairing when I’d tried it as a mousse at Texture, but here it was beautiful. The cheese wasn’t too overpowering, and the dehydrated beetroot was crisp and sweet.
Next, smoked eel and pork belly croquettes came in a little Staub pot lined with hay.
The bed came in a little wooden tray with a smear of butter. I’m not sure where the butter was from, but it appeared to be whipped and it was cold and creamy. I love it when butter is cold yet spreadable!
Our first course was carrot mousse, ham fat, pickled celery, crispy bacon, wild basil. Wild basil, we were told, tastes oddly meaty. It almost tasted like bacon! The mousse was light and sweet and complemented the meaty elements perfectly. Unfortunately I couldn’t pick up much of the celery, but I’m not a fan of celery (actually, I’m a hardcore celery hater) so maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing.
I think this might have been my favourite course of the day. Sweet pickled mushrooms, mushroom broth, buffalo milk curd. I’ve never thought to pair mushrooms and sweet flavours together, but this really worked for me. My friend didn’t enjoy it as much, but the meaty crumbs and the broth helped bring the dish to a more savoury dimension. The milk curd was great; it reminded me of the steamed milk pudding we get back in Hong Kong!
The third course came straight from the sea: sea scallop, sea purslane, sea vegetables, oyster emulsion, diced oysters, green apple. The scallop portion was a bit measly, but cooked perfectly so it was just translucent in the middle. The oyster component gave the whole dish the slight bitter, metallic edge it needed to lift the brininess of the sea vegetables and the tartness of the apple.
The next fish course was simply put together, but it was a textural playground: seared lemon sole paired with wobbly, smoked bone marrow, chewy buckwheat and dehydrated tomato, all finished with a bone marrow jus.
Sous vide duck breast, mulled cider jus, icicle radish, mace. Another simple dish, not knockout or stunning, but the duck was a beautiful pink colour and still had a bit of chew to it, which I prefer to fork-tender meat.
Strawberry meringue, macerated strawberries, yoghurt ice cream, buttermilk curd. I really enjoyed this dessert; it was a celebration of the British summer to come (which, sadly, only showed up for a few days). Here, the tang of the curd and yoghurt ice cream tempered the sweetness of the macerated strawberries well.
We had more surprises next: milkshake infused with douglas fir pine and a lemon curd doughnut. I didn’t know if we were supposed to dip the doughnut into the milkshake, but they were really fun to eat separately anyway. The milkshake didn’t feel like a traditional shake made from ice cream, but it had a wonderfully refreshing flavour from the pine.
Lastly, we were given frozen chocolate bourbon candies covered with white chocolate. This was such a fun way to end the meal on a high note!
If you can’t tell, I absolutely loved Roganic. The service was impeccable, not stuffy at all and didn’t look down on us for not having wine – and when a neighbouring table didn’t eat their chocolate bourbon candies (for what reason, I do not know), the waitress let us take the rest! The restaurant decor isn’t anything special; it’s spartan inside, but what really counts here is the food and service. I hope Simon Rogan somehow extends this pop-up restaurant so we can experience this again for a special occasion.
19 Blandford Street, London W1U 3DH