Fish and Chips at the Laughing Halibut (London)


As I began to write this post I was overcome by a huge wave of nostalgia; so much so that I began to look at Airbnb listings for London. This is not because I am so desperate to go back and eat fish and chips at the Laughing Halibut; it is because beginning to describe why we ate there at all took me back to everything we loved about our three months in London this spring. Courtesy my employers, we lived in a smart flat in Westminster. This was great in almost every way: a 15 walk to St James’ Park—where we went with the boys every other day; a 15 minute walk to Tate Britain (though we didn’t go as often as we should have); pretty much in the shadow of Westminster Abbey (though we only went a few days before we left); a 10 minute walk from the St. James’ Park and Westminster tube stations, a 20 minute walk from Victoria station; within easy reach of pretty much everywhere in central London. It wasn’t so good for for food though.  Continue reading

Cinnamon Lounge (Isleworth, London)


I’ve already reviewed a London curry house with no ambitions to being anything other than a curry house. Here now is a review of a Sunday lunch buffet at another: Cinnamon Lounge. It is located even further west than Shepherd’s Bush, on Twickenham Road in Isleworth. Isleworth is part of the London borough of Hounslow—but I confess that I don’t quite understand London’s political geography: if Isleworth is not actually in London, please let me know. I can tell you with confidence that Hounslow and environs have a large South Asian population, and this is the kind of thing that gives you confidence in a curry house’s Sunday lunch buffet. The other reason for confidence was that this lunch was part of an extended family shindig organized by one of my cousins (who, indeed, lives in Hounslow). And everyone on that side of my extended family is obsessed with food. I am pleased to tell you that this confidence did not founder on the harsh shoals of reality—this was a nice lunch. Continue reading

Rasa Sayang (London)


I have already posted a write-up of the number of meals we ate at C&R, a Malaysian restaurant in London’s Chinatown. Because we came to C&R so early during our stay, and liked it so much, we sort of got stuck into it for our Malaysian cravings. As a result we didn’t make it to Rasa Sayang—the other Malaysian place likely to be recommended to you by Londoners if you ask—until much later. This was a shame as we really liked our meal there; in fact, we preferred their versions of a number of things that we ate at both places.

Here now is an account of a meal we ate there in mid-May with old friends who live in the Los Angeles area but who we hadn’t seen in more than a decade. I stopped in separately on another occasion with a group but did not have my camera with me and my phone’s battery was dead. Alas, when we tried to go back in early June, right before we left for Scotland, we found that they were closed till the middle of  the month for renovations.  Continue reading

Baiwei (London)


Our first meal in London, shortly after arrival, was lunch at a Sichuan restaurant just a few steps from our flat in Westminster. We ate there twice. This is not that restaurant (and nor was Chilli Cool). I plan on making my review of that restaurant the last of my London food reviews (because after all we ate there first). This is a review of a Sichuan meal eaten almost at the very end of our trip, at Baiwei in Chinatown. It’s one of a few outposts of the Barshu group (the eponymous Barshu, Ba Shan and Baozi Inn are the others); it opened in 2013 and apparently Fuchsia Dunlop was a consultant on the menu. We were very disappointed to have this be one of our final meals in London, but not because we didn’t enjoy it. On the contrary, we liked it very much—it was the best of the Sichuan meals we ate—and wished we’d gone there much earlier so we could have gone back and sampled more of the menu. Ah well.  Continue reading

Hoppers, Again (London)


While in London last August, I ate a few very good South Asian meals. My lunch at Trishna was excellent and while I thought Dishoom was a bit overrated for what it is, it was quite good too. But the only place I ate at that I knew I was going to come back to for sure with the missus this spring was Hoppers (see here for my review of that first meal). This despite the fact that they don’t take reservations and have an ultra-kitschy interior. Indeed, the only thing I hadn’t liked about my first meal was that as I was dining alone I wasn’t able to try very much. Well, on this occasion we overate; but we were very happy indeed. Continue reading

Ceviche (London)


On the 4th of July I have a review of a Peruvian restaurant in London. You’re welcome, America!

Ceviche, on Frith St. in Soho (there’s another location in Shoreditch), apparently spearheaded a mini-boom in Peruvian food when it opened a few years ago. I don’t know about any of that as this is the only Peruvian restaurant we ate at in London and we only happened on it by chance. We were sitting outside Hoppers, waiting for a table, and noticed it across the street—we ambled over to take a look at the menu, which looked interesting, and decided to come back the following week. Later I learned that the same Time Out list that has Barrafina as London’s top restaurant also has Ceviche ranked in the top 10 (and Hoppers too). Well, I don’t know that I would put it in the top 10 of the small subset of London restaurants I’ve eaten at but we did enjoy our meal. Continue reading

Ajanta (London)


This review is intended partly as a continuing counter to any impression my reviews of Indian restaurants in London might give to people who’ve not visited that most Indian places in London are either Michelin-bait or trendy “small plates” spots (see also Punjab, Lahore Kebab House and Tayyabs). Ajanta, on Goldhawk Road in Shepherd’s Bush, has no pretensions (it also does not have the history of the three aforementioned spots). But it’s only partly intended as a counter to false impressions. I was genuinely curious about the quality of food at unheralded Indian spots in the UK and I was always happy if anyone I was dining out with wanted to stop somewhere for a quick curry. This was the case in mid-May as a friend and I left a performance of Guards at the Taj at the Bush Theatre, and Ajanta was close at hand.  Continue reading

Barrafina x 2 (London)


Back to London and eating: here is a quick report on Barrafina, the very popular tapas bar, or rather the very popular three tapas bars. The original opened in Soho in 2007 and there are now branches in Covent Garden and Drury Lane as well. Extremely popular, the original Barrafina was apparently a trendsetter in the “no reservations” blight, and even now, a decade later, people can be seen queuing up well before they open, at lunch and dinner. The missus and I ate weekday lunch at the Soho branch in late May and could only snag the last table outside, despite showing up just slightly after opening time at noon. A few days later I dined with a friend at the Covent Garden branch on a Wednesday and we got the last seats at the bar right as they opened. Does the food live up to the hype? Well, it’s not life-changing, and Barrafina is certainly not the best restaurant in London, but the food is quite good.  Continue reading

eastZeast (Liverpool)


eastZeast, or however it is they write their name (I have even less of an idea of how you’re supposed to say it), is a northern English chain of Indian restaurants, with locations in Manchester, Liverpool, Preston and Birmingham. I have no clue what the other locations are like but the Liverpool branch’s design is a monument to bad taste. It looks like it was modeled on the mansions of international smugglers in ’70s Bombay cinema. People who fill their lobby with such couches and lamps are capable of anything. An urge to run out the door (past the burly man in kurta-pajama and a turban who might or might not have been South Asian) came upon me as I entered but I had to feed 15 people and the only other options in range were a branch of Pizza Express or the inevitable fish and chips. And so we stayed and waited for a table to be put together. When it was ready we sat down on shiny silver chairs and watched massive naans go by us, hung from metal hooks like so much tortured laundry, and contemplated the menu. Wouldn’t you know it, when the food arrived it was pretty good.  Continue reading

Chilli Cool (London)


Dim sum
isn’t the only Chinese food we ate in London; we predictably also ate a fair bit of Sichuan. Predictably, because our love of Sichuan food is of a piece with the general food culture’s love of Sichuan food. Just as the Twin Cities have no other decent regional Chinese food worth the name but boast a handful of quite good Sichuan places, London too has seen an explosion of Sichuan restaurants in the last decade or so. Leading the way is the Barshu group, which in addition to their upscale eponymous restaurant also has a few hipper, more affordable outposts. We didn’t eat at Barshu but we did eat at another pricey Sichuan place opened by an ex-Barshu chef (more on this later) and at one of the Barshu group’s aforementioned hipper outposts (more on this later as well). First up, however, is this writeup of the altogether less fashionable Chilli Cool on Leigh St. in the King’s Cross area, a hop, skip and jump from the British Library and not too far from the British Museum (or, for that matter, the Dickens Museum). Continue reading

Tamarind (London)


Okay, I’ve recently written up an iconic curry house (Tayyabs) and a hip, newer, small plates place (Gunpowder); for the next review of an Indian/South Asian restaurant let’s go back to a more formal restaurant. Tamarind, which opened in 1995 in its Mayfair location, holds a Michelin star and has done so for most of the time since it became one of the first Indian restaurants to receive one in 2001 (in fact, it may have been the first Indian restaurant to receive a Michelin star). It has been a major restaurant in the Indian food world for some time. So, even though its star has dimmed in recent years in comparison to newer places like Gymkhana and Benares, I’ve wanted to eat there. I was particularly interested because Tamarind is quite different from the other high-end Indians we’ve eaten at in London on this trip. Continue reading

Padella (London)


There have been two terror attacks in London since we’ve been here. The Westminster attack, four days after we arrived, involved a spot we’re often at—in fact, a spot we’d crossed just an hour before. This weekend’s London Bridge attack, four days before our departure, culminated at Borough Market, a place we visited a few times, and where I bought fish, bread and cheese just the evening before. I note this not to insert my unharmed self into what has been unimaginable tragedy for a number of people and continuing trauma for many others but to build to an inadequate but genuine tribute to London. Continue reading

Tayyabs (London)


A few weeks ago I reviewed a meal at Lahore Kebab House, the iconic Pakistani Whitechapel curry house established in 1972. Here now is a write-up of lunch at their even more iconic contemporary and near-neighbour, Tayyabs, also established in 1972. I noted in my review of Lahore Kebab House that there seemed to be a pattern to the recommendations for one or the other: while both are very popular, I seemed to get more recommendations for Lahore Kebab House from South Asian friends and come across more raves for Tayyabs on food blogs and forums populated largely by non-South Asian foodies. Nonetheless, I said at the time of the first review, published on the morning of the day I ate at Tayyabs, that I expected the differences between the two kitchens would be negligible with preferences for one or the other down to loyalty. This would certainly seem to be indicated by their menus—which are both abbreviated (as curry houses go) and more or less identical. As it turned out, however, I thought my meal at Lahore Kebab House was clearly better than this similar meal at Tayyabs, and I much preferred the spartan mess halls charms of Lahore Kebab House to Tayyabs’ interiors. Continue reading

Smoking Goat (London)


I am not very clear on what the situation is with Thai food in London. I do know that it’s very popular—there are a number of Thai restaurants around town, and the Thai Square chain is ubiquitous. But it doesn’t appear from a desultory survey of food reviews and blogs as though there are any Thai-owned/operated restaurants that anyone gets excited about. Time Out’s list of the 100 best restaurants in London, for example, lists a number of South Asian-run South Asian restaurants and Chinese-run Chinese restaurants and even Malaysian-run Malaysian restaurants but the only Thai places that show up on it are a couple of places (Som Saa and The Begging Bowl) which are in the vein of Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok mini-empire in the US—namely, restaurants run by non-Thai chefs who have spent some time traveling in Thailand, researching Thai food and whose restaurants translate that food into forms and spaces favoured by metropolitan (mostly) non-Thai diners who might not otherwise spend a lot of money on Thai food or think of it as hip. I have some thoughts, as you might expect, on this larger phenomenon and even more broadly on the controversies around such approaches to non-Western cuisines and “cultural appropriation” currently raging in the US, but I don’t have time to go into them right now. I do have a review of Smoking Goat, however. Continue reading