Where’s the good cake? Peyton And Byrne

I’m starting a new series of “Where’s the good…” focused this time on cake since there’s a handful of very nice places around town I think people should know about. One of these such places is Peyton and Byrne, located in the middle of the large building housing Habitat and Heals on Tottenham Court Road. The store itself is small compared to the two behemoths its nestled in, though it simple and clean presentation draws crowds to its wares.

Peyton And Byrne

Peyton and Byrne offer much than cake, including biscuits, slices, tarts although on my visit I went for one of the small cupcakes in the window thinking it would give me a good idea of what they had on offer. Most of the cup cakes on display are based on a deep rich chocolate cake mixture, and covered in a huge amount of flavoured icing. The one you see in the picture above is the Mint Chocolate one. The cake was deliciously moist, and although the ratio to icing to cake is almost one-to-one, it somehow worked. I can definitely recommend one of these cup cakes though next time I would try one of the slices of cakes on offer.

You can find Peyton and Bryne in two places in London

  • Peyton and Byrne at Heals – 196 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 7LQ
  • Peyton and Byrne at The Wellcome Collection – 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE

Japan Centre’s Toku Restaurant

Unagi SushiThe Japan Centre is nestled in the heart of bustling Picadilly madness. It’s a multi-storied building fully kitted out with a Japanese grocery store, a book store, travel store and with the main floor being their restaurant called Toku. On a Saturday, the crowd inside is almost frenzied with plenty of people moving in and out of the main floor, as well as going up and down the stairs. Fortunately it wasn’t raining on the weekend I went, so at least the waves of people could escape outside.

I sat at the sushi bar, located to the left of the entrance as you walk in and where three chefs were preparing all of the sushi and what looked like, all of the tempura orders as well. As soon as you are seated, an attendant will draw a small bowl of wasabi peas from a large container – probably the one thing that pushes the service charge up from your standard to their 12.5%. Admittedly it’s a nice thing to snack on these things as you peruse the impressive menu choice. The first two pages are all drinks with a huge selection of sake, Japanese beer, plenty of normal soft drinks and juices and many Japanese drinks, including my most favourite ones – Ramune and Calpico.

The sushi menu is vast, though ordering by the piece is expensive such as £6 for two pieces of the eel nigiri! Other dishes, particularly the lunch sets or the don (rice bowl) dishes offered more value. Not able to turn down the chance of trying the eel, I still ordered the expensive nigiri sushi as well as the Katsudon dish that comes with miso soup.

KatsudonThe sushi was the first out of the dishes to arrive and though beautifully presented, was also the smallest bit of eel I’d seen for a while. The typical sauce, not quite lavishly dripping off the eel itself, was artfully dotted around the wooden platform it had been presented on and accompanied by the typical ginger and wasabi paste. The katsudon was much more pleasing with the perfect amount of egg and dashi sauce covering the kastu on the rice, and not too much rice that you ended up with a whole heap at the end of your meal.

Although meals here are reasonable, stay away from ordering sushi for the piece, and even then, the sushi sets are pretty expensive compared to many other places (like Donzoko). The bowl dishes and the the non-sushi sets offer much better value.

Details: Toku
Found on: Japan Centre, 212 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9HX
Contactable on: 020 7255 8255
Highlights: Authentic Japanese food with a huge variety of everything
Room for improvement: Sushi is overpriced and it’s really busy
The Kua Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Homemade Okonomiyaki

Inspired by the Okonomiyaki stall at Sunday Upmarket, I thought I would try making this Japanese pancake delicacy at home. It shouldn’t really be too hard, after all, the recipe is a simple pancake batter with cabbage and pretty much anything else you want for topping.

Okonomiyaki sauce is a key ingredient to the dish, and it took me quite a long time to find it as well, scouring almost every grocery store in Chinatown. Only one of them had a sauce properly labelled as Okonomiyaki though I was going to give up and just try the Tonkatsu sauce. For the record, I found the famous Japanese Bulldog branded Okonomiyaki sauce at the New Loon Moon Supermarket, though I realised later I should have headed straight to the Japan Centre located near Piccadilly as it seems to have almost everything you would ever want from Japan.

My Okonomiyaki

Since you can add pretty much anything you want to Okonomiyaki, I decided to follow the pork and prawn mixture I’ve enjoyed at Abeno Too, substituting smoked streaky bacon for the pork. I didn’t buy the fish flakes that dance like they’re alive, nor the seaweed bits but with the mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce still tasted delicious.

Selfridges Garden Cafe

It was only recently in the blogosphere that I read about food places in Selfridges other than the Food Hall. Seeing as Saturday was a lovely day and I did need lunch at some stage, I thought it would be good to head down there to try out the Garden Cafe. Set out like a much more upmarket brasserie, there are plenty of options to try for, including crepes, soups, baked potatoes, indian, Chinese, British and American cuisines.

Char Kway Tweo

Not wanting to miss out on apparently the “best” Char Kway Teow’s in London I just had to try it out. I will admit that the Chinese stall can be particularly confusing since they don’t really have that many instructions. On the other hand, talking with another English lady there it also seemed the most interesting since there were so many combinations and they cook it really fresh in front of you.

On the wall, you pick your noodle dish and type of meat, or pick a rice and type of meat. What they don’t tell you on the wall is that when you order your noodle, you also choose what sort of style you would like including Pad Thai, Char Kway Teow and a couple of others and you wait while they cook it fresh for you. Interested in the other dishes they had there, I also got one of the sticky spare ribs and thought would try out a couple of the dumplings sitting in the steaming baskets.

The noodle dish ended up costing £8.95, a comparable price to many of the Chinese restaurants in Chinatown and while the spare rib at £1.50 was great value, each dumpling at £1.25 was far too excessive. The Char Kway Tweo was pretty good as the Culinary Hags wrote about, though I can’t say how authentic it was because I’ve only had the dish in Australia and London. The King Prawns that mine came with were perfectly cooked, nice and juicy and had plenty of flavour from the sauce. I would definitely repeat having the spare ribs, and I could guess one might even be able to make a meal out of them if you had enough of them with some salad or something. I would stay far away from any of the dumplings, many of them not being very standard and really nothing special for the price you pay for each.

I’d probably go again sometime and try a couple of the other dishes as it’s nice to sit and look outside at the hustle and bustle on Oxford Street from the tables upstairs.

Details: Selfridges Garden Cafe
Found on: 4th Floor Selfridges, 400 Oxford St, London, W1A 2LR (follow the cutlery signs as the cafe is not explicitly listed)
Highlights: Good variety of food and freshly cooked Char Kway Tweo. Great room seating area overlooking Oxford street.
Room for improvement: Dumplings far too overpriced
The Kua Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Where’s the good coffee? Coffee @ Brick Lane

Coffee @ Brick LaneOne of my most favourite markets at the moment in London (and there are many of them – I found yet another one on Whitecross Street on Sunday) is Sunday Up Market. It’s great because it’s not as manic as Spitalfields yet and still has that bohemian feel that the East side markets have. One of the exits of this market falls against Brick Lane and at the junction of Brick Lane and Buxton Street you will find another great coffee house, Coffee @ Brick Lane.

Like many of the other coffee houses I’ve added to the list, this one is also full of character but distinctly different with plush leather couches at the back, old and stylish rickety looking chairs and tables with a plethora of media including flyers, newspapers and various papers to keep you busy while you down your coffee. They have high ceilings giving the place a very open and airy feeling despite the number of people that flow in and out of the place. Outside they have numerous benches and chairs, most ideal for the opportune people watching moments during market times on Sunday.

In terms of coffee they offer a wide variety of coffee, hot chocolate and teas and a much wider menu than your typical coffee store including soup, sandwiches and toasted foccacias. Like most other coffee stores though they also offer many grand looking cakes and pastries to accompany your coffee.

Location: Coffee @ Brick Lane is found on 154 Brick Lane, London, E1 6RU (Google Map link)

A Bit of Oz in Waitrose

Despite living in my current flat for quite a few months now, it was only today that I stumbled across a Waitrose that’s within a reasonable walking distance. Waitrose, being the most expensive of the supermarkets in the UK, offer very high quality food and vegetables so I shouldn’t have been surprised, (but I was) when I saw they sold Bundaberg Root and Ginger Beer.

Bundaberg Root Beer

Not exactly cheap compared to other soft drinks, they were priced better than the £1.40 per bottle the Australia and New Zealand Store in Covent Garden charge. Totally worth it for something to remind me of home.

Ramen Seto

SushiAfter walking around Picadilly trying to find a restaurant called Toku with little success and getting hungrier by the minute, I ended up giving up and heading to Kingly Street to try another one called Ramen Seto. I’d been past it several times before on the way to Donzoko and I’ve never been able to work out if it was authentic or not, sometimes full of Japanese people, and many other times full with obviously not Japanese people. The restaurant is pretty small, maybe fitting about 20 people though since it was quite late by the time I got there, the lunch rush would have been over.

The menu offers a standard selection of Japanese dishes including sushi, tempura, gyoza, some “don” dishes, and of course ramen. Since I always like to try the quality of sushi, I ordered a sea bass nigiri sushi in addition to the Pork Katsu Curry and Miso Soup set. I really can’t say that the sushi was anything very special though I was suitably impressed that they’d put a slight touch of wasabi between the rice and fish – something that more Westernised places tend not to do. A table next to me had the gyoza dish and each of them looked plump and very satisfying.

Katsu Pork CurryThe pork katsu curry arrived with the miso soup shortly after. The soup was well made though maybe a little bit salty and had just the right amounts of tofu and spring onions. The pork katsu dish looked impressive with a huge mountain of rice surrounded by a pool of curry sauce and the pork katsu. Unfortunately the katsu was disappointingly overcooked and even drenchings of curry sauce didn’t make it any more moist.

I’m not sure if I would go back to Ramen Seto since it wasn’t particularly impressed by anything and there are plenty more Japanese restaurants to try in the area. Oh, and if you’re wondering the Asian waitresses are definitely not Japanese after over hearing them speak to one another.

Details: Ramen Seto
Found on: 19 Kingly Street, London, W1B 5PY
Contactable on: 0871 3328396
Highlights: Sushi was pretty much on par with Yo Sushi and a decent menu offering. Gyoza looked pretty impressive.
Room for improvement: Over cooked pork katsu
The Kua Rating: 6 out of 10

Where’s the good coffee? Monmouth

Monmouth on Monmouth StreetMonmouth coffee is one of my most favourite places to drop in for a takeaway coffee with the benefit of being located just around the corner from my main work office in Covent Garden. Their flagship store that just happens to be several years older than yours truly is located on Monmouth Street although they also have a store at the Borough, and a further stall inside the Borough Market. Their flagship store is tiny and for the most part, you end up sharing tables with other people but worth it for its unique atmosphere.

I’ve found the staff seem to enjoy working there and have always been pretty helpful. That helps a lot when the store gets very busy, particularly on weekends when the line sometimes stretches onto the street.

In terms of coffee, Monmouth only offers a single size for things like filtered coffee, americanos and lattes. Within the last year, it also seems that one of their Antipodean staff has had quite an influence because they now offer a Flat White in addition to their normal drinks. When you pick up your take away coffee, the small stand next to that counter offers a small selection of things you can add to your coffee, including a bottle of milk if you desire a little bit more, or soft brown sugar if you want to make your coffee sweeter.

If you happen to enjoy making coffee at home, Monmouth offers plenty of roasted coffee beans in a variety of forms for you to take home. I’ve found they make a great present for someone you know who enjoys their coffee. They also offer a mouth watering display of all types of cakes, pastries and baked savoury goods that go well with your coffee.

Location: Monmouth is found on 27 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 9EU (Google Map link) and 2 Park Street, Borough, SE1 9AB (Google Map link)