Jerk City

I’ll admit I know very little about Carribean cuisine, with my only exposure being food that I’d eaten at the Notting Hill Carnival from the little stands they set up all around the area. Given all the rain lately and my craving for some really spicy food, I headed down Oxford Street towards the two places that I know will be open, Jerk City and Mr Jerk.

I took a moment to decide which one to eat at, and in the end I chose Jerk City over Mr Jerk. Perhaps it was because of the more homely feel of the store opening, rather than the dark purple, somewhat modernised dining room of Mr Jerk that seemed somehow out of place when eating jerk chicken.

Upon stepping inside of Jerk City, you order at the counter, with two menus taped down and a warming oven on display showing you some of the side dishes you could order. Most of the dishes were well below £10, with the large jerk chicken serve at £7.50 (with 10% extra for eating in). I had no idea how big the portions were and I’m glad that I didn’t order any sides in the end since their portion was huge, almost spilling over the plate edge! Tempted by a different drink, I also tried their pineapple soda drink – a perfectly sweet and summery drink that went well with the dish.

Their tables are small wooden, outfitted with salt, pepper and two types of chilli sauce (both using lots of scotch bonnet peppers). I tried both of them (one of them quite liberally) and I found myself reaching for the refreshing pineapple drink a few times during the meal to help cool down my mouth.

When the jerk chicken arrived, the serving size was immediately noticeable and I didn’t think that I’d be able to finish the entire serve. Alongside the jerk chicken, drenched in some sweet, BBQ-like sauce was a huge serve of a traditional rice and peas (rice and beans), as well as a side salad.

The jerk chicken puzzled me a little because I thought the beauty of the chicken was supposed to be the blackened, salty, spicy crust on the chicken at which you could choose to add jerk sauce at a later stage. It also surprised me that the sauce was sweeter than expected, and much less spicy (hence the liberal use of the hot sauces). Overall it was still a great dish though I have no idea about how authentic it really is. Tasty nevertheless.

Name: Jerk City
Found at: 189 Wardour Street, Soho, W1F 8ZD
Contactable on: 020 7287 2878 Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Singapore chilli crab @ Kiasu

Each year they have a festival at brick lane celebrating one of the wonderful national dishes of Singapore. The festival is always crowded and the lines for the food seemingly endless. Instead of lining up in the cold for a small sample, I simply added Kiasu (the main provider of this festival) to my list of places to eat at.

This Friday, I managed to finally cross this one off the list, when deciding about a place to catch up with my sister. We called ahead as we weren’t sure if you had to book or at least notify them about the crab. Apparently they weren’t too worried since they didn’t ask for us to book or even leave our name. We turned up early (6pm) as we know that it takes some time to eat a crab and we had a few other things to do that night.

I’ve actually eaten at Kiasu before but I was neither impressed nor turned off by it. I just remember it not being particularly memorable. They tables seat two or four mostly, with a few of the pair tables awkwardly placed against a wall. Each table is placed pretty closely to each other, meaning you hear other people’s conversations, and no doubt, they hear yours as well.

Anyway, about the crab…

Priced at just under £16, I have to admit the crab was a pretty decent size (apparently between 500g or 600g). They also offer a soft shell crab (at £5.60) for those less inclined to get their fingers dirty, or who might want to have a quicker dinner. Either way, the crab, smothered in the sweet, spicy tomato based sauce was just too easy to eat. It definitely whisked me back to the time I visited Singapore, sitting by the beach tucking into another one of these. Complete with the fried sweet bread that we used to soak up the extra sauce, I’d highly recommend visiting Kiasu if you’ve got the craving for this.

The only problem with the evening was that we had to pay in cash, as apparently they don’t take (or couldn’t take) a card, despite the mastercard and visa signs plastered on their doorway.

Name: Kiasu (Closed)
Was found at: 48 Queensway, Bayswater W2 3RY Rating: 7 out of 10 (-1 for not taking payment in card)

The Bountiful Cow

Tucked away behind Red Lion Square glows a red neon sign that doesn’t do justice to the pub it represents. Fortunately the typical association of neon signs and tacky tourist joints that fail to deliver on both atmosphere and food doesn’t apply to The Bountiful Cow. Better yet, it’s out of the way location means that the place errs on the side of bustling, rather than bursting on a Friday evening. I guess most people know about it through word of mouth.

The Bountiful Cow’s beef-centric theme runs strong throughout their ground floor dining room, that also acts as the main bar for those just drinking. They also apparently have a room downstairs but I never made it down to validate that fact. The walls are mostly bare except for hanging retro movie posters all with some sort of beef-related title such as “Mad Cows” or “Cattle Drive”. It’s something that should be too cheesy yet I think they still manage to pull off a contemporary look. Their bright downlights probably help as do the small button-like seats by the bar, and the glass doored fridge at the entrance showcasing the cuts of meat from the menu (with the largest buger patty I’ve ever seen).

We started with the (£7) rillettes of duck (a cool terrine of slowly cooked shredded duck, with toast) and the (£7.50) sphardic pate (chopped chicken liver, onion, eggs and aubergines, with toast). The pate was a generous serve, rich and very tasty with the toast and served with tiny gherkins skewered to toothpicks. However I have to recommend the rillettes of duck to anyone that eats here. I could still sense each individual of fibre of meat with each mouthful yet it also was perfectly melt in the mouth soft and jam packed with flavours. We all agreed that it was so good that we ordered a second helping to share between the four of us.

For our main meal, we all decided to go for steaks despite the look of the king-sized burger. Apparently Mike had been here before and experienced an overcooked steak, and out of fear of a repeat performance we asked for one steaks to be done one level down from what we all normally preferred (rare instead of medium rare for me). It was a good thing we did this as well since it came out perfectly cooked, moist and full of flavour. My 310g sirloin steak (£16.50) came with a serve of chips and a choice of sauces (bernaise or peppercorn) or melted goats cheese although the fillet steak comes with field mushrooms and focaccia instead of the chips. The steak really hit the spot and I thought the price was fairly reasonable for a steak that big (confirmed by the waitress as coming from some part of Scotland)

Desperate for some more greens, I ordered a side salad (£4) and for the price I expected something much grander than a bowl of simply green leaves and a creamy white dressing sitting in a bowl nested at its centre. Frankly I don’t understand why steakhouses continually overcharge for something that costs them so little and I regret ordering it.

My only other dish I regretted ordering was the creme brulee (£5.50) Vanessa and I ordered. It looked promising but a single spoonful and I knew immediately it wasn’t one of the better ones I’ve had. Its texture lacked the consistent smoothness I’d expect in a set custard, instead noticeably chunkier than it should be. It also didn’t really help that they had set the blow torch too much on the top and many parts of the sugar toffee crust had become too bitter. I’d stick with just the steak next time.

As far as steak places go, I’d definitely return to The Bountiful Cow since it’s so central, has that unique atmosphere and what they focus on as their mains, they did really well. I heard they even have jazz music on Saturday evenings for free that might be worth sitting and listening to for a while.

Name: The Bountiful Cow
Found at: 51 Eagle Street, WC1R 4AP
Contactable on: 020 7404 0200 or Rating: 7.5 out of 10


Bincho has a simple equation that sets it apart from other Japanese restaurants around London. Bincho = Yakitori (Grilled chicken) + Kushiyaki (Tasty Tidbits on Skewer). Their two locations (Oxo tower and Soho) offer diners the joy of grilled items on wooden skewers while sitting in amidst a chic, modern Japanese theme.

I went to have dinner at their Oxo tower location on a Sunday evening and unfortunately it was almost completely devoid of people. It probably didn’t really help that scaffolding interfered with the normally scenic views of the Thames, particularly at twilight. At least the views inside are nice. Small cubes hanging from the ceiling and housing lights radiate onto rows of perfectly lined up tables. The smell of charred meats and vegetables fills the air, and their somewhat open kitchen gives you glimpses of the flames they use to do so.

The easiest thing to do in a place like this is to order a small number of dishes at a time. We ordered all of our plates at the start and I felt rushed as the waiter brought the freshly cooked dishes to the table and we ran out of space. Given a fully busy restaurant, I’m still convinced this would be a problem.

Here’s what I remember out of the dishes that we had. The kushi nasu (grilled aubergine) was soft, mushy and smoky. Unfortunately the skin was tough in too many parts that just made it inedible. Their tori tatsu age (fried chicken) was a reasonable serve and as far as typical Japanese chicken goes was very well done. Super fresh and crispy. I thought the ohitashi (cooked spinach with sesame) could have done with more flavour, but was very well presented in tightly pressed rounds and flecked with sesame seeds. Out of the various grilled items including kushi buta (grilled pork belly), kushi unagi (eel), uzura bacon (quail eggs wrapped in bacon) and mune (yakitori with asparagus) both of us thought the best dish was definitely the pork belly with not too much fat to make you want to spit it out, yet enough to keep the flesh juicy and add to the overall flavour. The other dishes, though tasty were pretty ordinary overall.

Though I wouldn’t normally have the dessert, the yuzu panna cotta really caught my eye and did not disappoint. The citrus yuzu flavour was strong and their generous portion (even considering the price) made me think I would have it again if I returned.

Bincho isn’t terrible cheap with each dish priced per the stick with a minimum order of two. Ordering enough for a reasonable meal quickly adds up and even without drinks, you’ll easily spend £20 per person. It’s definitely different from your typical Japanese but I’d hold out for a special occasion before visiting a place like this.

Name: Bincho
Contactable on: Rating: 6 out of 10

Pacific Oriental

Pacific Oriental sits in the heart of the city on Threadneedle Street, with a focus on serving fusions of modern Pan Asian foods. Its tall ceilings, long drapes and brightly lit bar provide an impressive backdrop for an aperitif before dinner, or for the casual dining on cushioned seats or high tables on the ground floor. They also offer a more formal dining experience on the second floor.

I remember their drink menu being fairly extensive, with the cocktails often containing many sorts of Asian ingredients such as lychee, ginger or chilli. As probably as inappropriate as it was, I decided to order cocktail from their decent selection of non-alcoholic ones named ‘Bankrupt’, full of berries and refreshing ingredients. It was a reasonably sized drink for the £6 they charged, particularly when I thought a place like this would serve everything in small glasses.

I asked for the menu and I’m lead to believe they have a different menu downstairs than they do upstairs. I had a mandate to eat noodles that day, so I ended up with one of my favourites, Singapore Noodles. Had I more of an appetite, I would have been tempted by their decent selection of side dishes or appetisers.

I have to admit their noodles weren’t the best that I’ve had – with maybe not enough curry powder or chilli for my liking, even after asking for some more on the side. I was impressed they used some good quality ingredients for the noodle dish though, with three or four large king prawns as well as fresh vegetables (most other places would use the smaller prawns). At £8 for the dish, it’s not the best valued Singapore Noodles I’ve had, but it’s also not the most offensive I’ve had.

I’d probably return to this place, if anything just to hang out at their bar. I don’t think their menu is significantly different for me to want to visit them specifically for their food, but the ambiance downstairs and the bar is definitely worth it.

Name: Pacific Oriental
Found at: 52 Threadneedle Street, EC2R 6HP
Contactable on: 0871 704 4060 or Rating: 6 out of 10

The Fat Duck

This all started when my sister asked me what I wanted for my birthday a few months ago. For her birthday, I had paid for some cooking lessons, so (eventually) the topic of The Fat Duck came up. I would have been foolish to say no, so on the phone we were, a month or two back trying to get through to their reservations line. We both tried calling up over several days, and fate being what it was, it was my sister who finally got through and booked a week day lunch.

Strangely I didn’t actually have many expectations about The Fat Duck. I had read a few different reactions to them via the blogosphere yet I think I unconsciously avoided reading any of it in any great detail. I knew that it would be different, I knew that it was going to be exciting, and I knew it was going to not only about the food, but the entire dining experience. Having been, I am glad to say it met all of those expectations and even more.

Our day started off at a very leisurely pace, where we caught the 11 o’clock train from Paddington to Maidenhead. Having caught it many times before for work, the lack of commuters, students and general bustle almost made it enjoyable. From Maidenhead, we caught a taxi (£5.60) that dropped us off right outside, alongside the other diners that we shared the train with. Note that the taxi The Fat Duck ordered us cost £7.50 on the return trip (unmetered).

We took a brief stroll through the village, having heard about other Michelin starred restaurants in the area, and just saw that the high street really wasn’t that big and mostly filled with mothers and their prams, a fair number of cars and lots of gorgeously green scenery. We didn’t stop in Heston’s pub instead choosing to step in for our lunchtime appointment.

The insides of The Fat Duck are fairly non-de script, being converted from its original housing shell. The kitchen is far in the back behind the coats, with the amenities upstairs and a enough tables to seat up to eighty people or so. No wonder it’s so hard to get a booking for this place! A maître de took our coats and led us to our table, perfectly situated next to one of the street side windows. Not only did that guarantee us a fair amount of privacy with tables behind and far to the left but it also meant we had plenty of light to take some great photographs. Fortunately The Fat Duck is one of those places that don’t prevent you from taking photos, and so photos we did take.

We had come for the tasting menu and so we didn’t need to look at the menu very hard. We didn’t go for the wine tasting course with it, partially because I don’t normally drink if we go out for a family meal, and frankly when you’re having this sort of exquisite food, I wanted to enjoy every last bit without dulled senses. Looking around it seemed like most other tables also went for the tasting menu and we only noticed one single table who ordered a la carte from the menu. Even compared to the meal that we had at the seven star Burj Al Arab in Dubai, this had been the most extravagant food I had paid for with the tasting menu costing £125. I owe my sister big time for this (since she paid my share of the meal as well).

I lost sense of exactly how many courses that we had, with some of them arriving in quick succession to form a continuous gastronomic experience. For those that may have been fortunate to go already, I don’t think the menu has changed that much. I warn you that the rest of this post is going to describe the rest of the dishes and what I thought of them, so expect it to be fairly lengthy. Read on otherwise! Read more “The Fat Duck”