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

Borough Market: Eating (London)


At the end of April I posted a large gallery of photographs taken at London’s Borough Market. In the shadow of Southwark Cathedral and right by London Bridge, Borough Market is a tourist attraction in its own right and the photographs from that first gallery may have given you some sense of how crowded it is on most days. You may have also got the sense that the Borough Market—unlike Montreal’s Jean-Talon market—is not really a farmers’ market: there are in fact very few produce vendors there. What the market is really good for is retail product from small-scale and artisanal producers as well as local fish and meat. It’s also very good for casual eating; of this it may have more than Jean-Talon (though we were, of course, at Jean-Talon at the end of October). The first gallery was focused almost entirely on retail establishments. This gallery—which is even larger—focuses almost entirely on the vendors selling prepared food.  Continue reading

Dim Sum at Royal China, Baker Street (London)


My first meal report from this extended London sojourn (just a few weeks left to go) was of dim sum at Joy King Lau, a stalwart of London’s Chinatown. It was solid but in no way remarkable. Since then I’ve also reported on a dim sum meal at A. Wong in Victoria—a meal that was very interesting, with every dish given some sort of mod’ish flourish or other other, but not finally terribly satisfying. It was therefore with interest that we landed up at Royal China on Baker St. not too long after our A. Wong meal.  This is the flagship location of a mini-chain well known for the quality of their dim sum. How did we like it? Read on.  Continue reading

Gunpowder (London)


A few weeks ago in a review of the Chilli Pickle in Brighton, I smuggled in a critique of the new forms of kitsch deployed in the design of hip new Indian restaurants in the West. I noted there that it’s by no means necessary to deploy (new kinds of) exotica to be successful as an Indian restaurant and cited as proof the extremely successful Gunpowder in Spitalfields in London. Here now is my review of my lunch there about a month ago. Despite being in one of my least favourite dining formats—small plates eaten in crowded spaces after standing in line—this may have been my favourite Indian meal so far on this trip.  Continue reading

C&R (London)

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Dim sum (traditional or modernist) is not the only non-Indian/South Asian food we’ve been eating in London—though it may be hard to tell this from the reviews I’ve posted so far. In fact, the restaurant we’ve eaten at most often is neither Indian nor Chinese (though it is located in Chinatown): it is C&R, a Malaysian restaurant located on Rupert Court, a comically narrow alley that connects Wardour Street (one of the principal Chinatown roads) with Rupert Street, which is in the borderlands between Chinatown and Soho. We’ve eaten there four times in the last two months. Malaysian food is sort of the sweet spot for us as a family: take Indian, Thai and Chinese flavours and ingredients and put them in a blender and Malaysian food is what will come out. And it offers a number of things our boys happily scarf up: between the satays, the Hainanese chicken rice, the parathas, and various noodle soups, I’m not sure there’s any cuisine we like to eat that’s easier to go out to with them than Malaysian.  Continue reading

London Whisky: Cadenhead’s


In addition to being lazy, I am a liar. I’d said that my write-up of Berry Bros. & Rudd was going to be my last post on London whisky stores and that I would not be going to Cadenhead’s on this trip and now here I am with a report on Cadenhead’s after all. Why did I say that I was not going to go to Cadenhead’s on this trip? Well, when I visited the store last August I was charmed by the store itself but not terribly taken by the customer service I received. The one person on duty that afternoon was stand-offish—I said at the time that his demeanour suggested he’d have been fine with nobody entering the shop that afternoon—and not terribly helpful when asked specific questions about bottles I was interested in. So why did I end up going to Cadenhead’s again anyway? Well, we went to dim sum with friends at Royal China in Marylebone and it turned out to be all but right next to Cadenhead’s. And as I was going in a different direction from the missus and the kids after lunch, and as I had 30 minutes to spare, I decided to pop into Cadenhead’s again. I know this has been a terribly fascinating history of this crucial decision. I am happy to tell you, however, that my experience on this visit was much better. Continue reading

British Cheese: Neal’s Yard Dairy


Though I haven’t posted about it in a while, my quest to eat a lot of British cheese during our time in London has been continuing apace since my posts about cheese from Paxton & Whitfield (see here and here). Since then, however, I’ve changed my source up: I’ve been getting my cheese exclusively from Neal’s Yard Dairy. This is not because I’ve encountered a problem with Paxton & Whitfield; it’s just that I’ve discovered that Neal’s Yard Dairy’s Covent Garden store is even more convenient, being just about a 10-15 minute brisk walk from my place of work. And it’s also the case, as people who know British cheese will smugly say that they’d already told me, when it comes to British cheese, Neal’s Yard Dairy is the place to go; that in fact they are at the center of the renaissance of British cheese in recent years.  Continue reading

Street Art in East London

There is no denying that I am a lazy bastard. I am not a fan of exercise. This is because exercise is boring. When at home (which is most of the time) I take my dogs for a walk every day—a mile or so at a time—but if not for them I wouldn’t be likely to do it. Nor, unlike some of my friends, am I drawn to walking through the woods or prairie landscapes in/around our little town. But put me in an interesting city and watch me go. I’ve walked miles in Montreal on my two visits (see here, for example) and in London I’m averaging somewhere between 3-4 miles a day and often not in sensible shoes. In fact, I’ve been going out of my way to walk. Such, for example, was the bit of extended perambulation—or flaneurie, if you will—that led to the rather haphazard collection of images of street art in this post.  Continue reading