Around the world in 80 hours

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The name of this site started off as a bit of a joke. We all liked a bit of travel and food so we thought a site documenting both passions would be appropriate. In truth it has evolved into a much different beast but we still kept the name.

This weekend with family visiting offered us an opportunity to travel the culinary world without leaving London. This is of course very easy in London with an amazing array of food — arguably the best and broadest in the world, right here on our doorstep.

Here’s our whirlwind weekend…

Turkey

One of our local restaurants, Tas Firin is a homely charcoal grill restaurant Eastern Turkish style on the City Road, Old Street end. We ate in some style, J and I sharing the grilled meat platter special. Like eating barbecue without the hassle of cooking it yourself. House wine a bargain and the service excellent. We like this place, as you can tell from Julie and Carol in the photograph!!

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Italy

Ducking out of the thunderstorm we happened upon a small Italian restaurant just off Tower Bridge. Named after Marlon Brando’s character The Don in The Godfather, it looked a bit old school but the lunch special for £6.95 wasn’t bad value. It served a purpose as the deluge continued outside. I’ll only say pleasant things about this place in case the mafia link is more than just branding. No food pics I’m afraid, just moody shots of London in the rain and Tate Modern.

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Vietnam

Huong restaurant is in the heart of hipster Shoreditch, offering an energetic and vibrant dining experience, largely due to the hard-working, multi-tasking staff and colourful clientele. Food arrives lightning fast and is packed with flavour. I’m thinking Vietnamese is fast becoming my favourite far eastern food. The quick IG snap of my main course Hanoi fish is all that survives of the evening. Cheap and cheerful, we will return.

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Mexico

Thomasina Myer’s Wahaca chain blazes a trail for Mexican street food throughout the capital, delivering lip smacking flavours so bright sunglasses have to be worn at all times. Wahaca Soho was the location for our quick lunch with the sharing platter for two at £20 superb value. We were full to bursting for a tenner, which for sat down in Soho isn’t bad at all. Bright room, even brighter food. Decent food pics this time…enjoy! Spot on.

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Spain

Our globetroffing culminated with Spanish tapas at Brindisa Tramontana, again in Shoreditch. Sore feet after a day walking dictated a local affair and we weren’t disappointed. Ordering two dishes each with a few extras for good measure we tucked in heartily as each dish arrived. Comforting and leisurely, Tapas is surely the best kind of food when the wine and conversation is flowing. Brisk, friendly service with complimentary cheese from the chef too. Too dark to get a decent images unfortunately except for a moody shot of the bar. Trust me, it was fabulous.

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Soho lunch: Part 2

Sometimes it’s just nice to sit at the counter with some bread, charcuterie and cheese and that’s what we did this afternoon. No fuss, slurp some wine and get stuck in.

The lovely wife had been out all morning watching the trooping of the colour so she was dead on her feet when we walked past Fernandez and Wells late afternoon on Lexington Street in Soho. We’d decided on something light—i.e. no suet pudding or treacle tart—and this fit our brief to a tee. It’s the tiniest place in the world but very cool and every time we’d walked past previously it had been rammed so we caught them at a good time with a few stools at the bar available.

Fernandez and Wells is a mini chain but it doesn’t feel like one I have to say, so I ordered two mixed boards of meat and cheese with some padrons on the side (of course). A reasonably priced bottle of house white Rioja was ordered and were underway. The staff were from Spain and not Peckham (although they probably live there) and the experience felt so authentic I almost called the barman señor. The meats were good—wished I’d tried some of the Iberico) and the cheese very good especially the Mistralou.

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Putting the Ho in Soho

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Looking for inspiration for a Sunday lunch is Soho is like shooting fish in a barrel.

There’s tons of it.

We’d been impressed greatly by celebrity Vietnamese chief Bobby Chinn on Saturday Kitchen so we looked up his new London restaurant The House of Ho on Old Compton Street, and yes it made us chuckle too with its cheeky reference to Soho’s past —and present—whilst nodding to Vietnam at the same time. Unusually we were able to make a reservation (many trendy gaffs in London won’t take bookings which irks me) and a plan was set.

Chinn has cooked in Hanoi for the last ten years so we were excited to see what he might get up to in one of the most vibrant food cultures in the world. The style of cooking is a mix of Vietnamese street food with other influences…French, Chinese, Thai—I guess Vietnam is one of those countries that takes on board lots of influences due to its history and location.

The style is tapas with small plates and perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon lunch catching up with friends. The flavours are bright, rich, comforting, surprising, familiar in fact they run the whole culinary gamut and it’s an exciting experience. Prices are pretty sensible as it’s right in the middle of Soho where competition for custom is fierce. Booze prices are good too but you can go nuts if you want to.

We put ourselves in the very capable hands of our waitress who advised knowledgeably on what we should order and if you go, I’d recommend you to do the same. The menu is quite simple but there are some dishes that you shouldn’t miss and this is one of those restaurants where lack of familiarity led us to a sublime journey of flavours and textures.

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First up coconut with monkfish ceviche. Crisp, fresh and sweet and the coconut cut up afterwards was a revelation, moist and juicy.

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Signature grilled aubergine with crispy shallots was a slippery and crunchy joy followed by ‘shaking beef’ fillet seared quickly so the outside is charred and inside pretty much raw. I could have eaten my own body weight of it, after which I would probably shake too.

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The pork in the dish above had been cooked for 6 days. It tasted seriously good, the most umami thing I’ve ever tasted, melting in the mouth with a deep, deep, deep flavour. Oh yes it had an egg on and some chilli. Bonus.

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A crab salad was ordered to keep Mrs D happy and also some chicken wings to fill up the boys. The salad was subtle and gentle whilst the chicken wings smashed the front door down.

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Salmon tartare was a bit of a let down after all the pyrotechnics to be honest but if we’d had that first we would have probably loved it. The wine kept flowing thanks to Gwil ordering a new bottle every 10 minutes and we rounded off a rather fabulous long lunch by sitting by the window watching the colourful world of Soho go by.

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Finally, here’s our good friend Gwil with Julie, both looking quite content after vast quantities of wine and top-notch Vietnamese tucker, all thanks to House of Ho.

 

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Eating breakfast increases epicness #fact

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Back in ancient times, on my first day at art college, I attended an address by the principal welcoming us as students to a brand new term. The focus of his speech was not the most up to date view on a Eric Gill or revisionist opinion on Tomi Ungerer, but his musings on breakfast. Most important meal of the day etc was the mantra on that day and I can still remember our befuddled faces as we left the auditorium, we were now the coolest of all students — art students — and the main message was Weetabix. OK.

Over time, I’ve dwelt on this message and to be brutally honest I waver between a full on slap up feed in the morning and absolutely bugger all. Personally I don’t always need a breakfast to get the day underway, sometimes it gets in the way and yet on occasions I’m so hungry I can eat anything.

When I’m in the mood though, I do love a great breakfast: a naughty McD sausage and egg mcmuffin to smash a hangover, freshly cooked traditional full English completing any quality hotel stopover, dirty bacon banjos with brown sauce in white bread cakes dusty with flour, wobbly poached eggs on toast with chilli  sauce…I could go on.

So breakfast in London is anything and everything you want and my previous quest for the best breakfast in Leeds seems simple in our capital city. I’m not really on a quest, but seeking a breakfast nirvana: pre lunch food that takes me on a journey of comfort and discovery…and here’s where I’ve got to so far…

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Jackson and Rye

On trend American grub right in the heart of Soho.  Great eggs and traditional American classics mean this place is packed out all of the time. Tip: midweek late morning is always a good time to go. These baked eggs were comforting beyond description.

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The Breakfast Club

Don’t you forget about me etc. Irreverent 80s take on a diner experience replicated across London at a restaurant near you. Everywhere has queues, but the best time to go is midweek and early. The menu is fun and made me smile. The poached eggs with chilli and chorizo in the pic was probably the best breakfast I’ve had so far in London.

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Flat 13

The spankingly fresh Yorkshire asparagus from Sand Hutton near York is divine and the free range duck eggs a delight. The cool Hoxton address has a friendly Yorkshire welcome, with hosts Phil and Julie cooking up a delightful mix of London cool and Leeds anxiety.

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8 Hoxton Square

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At the first sign of sunshine, the first thing we Brits do is sit outside. Our weather is so uniformly unpredictable that we simply can’t afford to miss the opportunity for an al fresco lunch or a relaxed barbecue. Of course we overdo it and Monday morning scorched foreheads and glowing arms are a sure sign that the weekend was blessed with sun.

Saturday was one of those days that started out with the promise of a beautiful day: but azure skies turned to cloud and it even felt cool with it. But the clouds scudded on and clear skies followed so we headed for 8 Hoxton Square to see if we could bag an outdoor table on their small but perfectly proportioned terrace. Our luck was in so we settled down to enjoy the company of our friends from the North, the sun and of course the food.

8 Hoxton Square is right on the square in Hoxton as they name suggests and on a summer afternoon, there is no nicer place for lunch in North London. Hoxton Square is right in the heartland of cool, packed with buzzing bars and bustling restaurants all full of the right kind of people. 8 Hoxton Square is a beautifully informal place, whitewashed brick interiors, communal table, laid back staff and a menu to set it apart from its neighbours—proper food and by that I mean not just burgers, ribs, chicken wings and pizza (of which there is plenty of in Hoxton), but the real deal.

We’d been a couple of times before and had a plate or two of padron peppers and a bottle of well-priced rose but this was our first time for lunch. The menu offers plenty and especially for our non dairy vegetarian diner who eats fish, it offered lots of choice. The food is interestingly eclectic, a bit English, a bit Italian, some French thrown in and a bit of Spanish for good measure. But it hangs together and you know you’re on to a winner if the choices just seem too difficult.

We wolfed down some of the padrons which were probably the best I’ve had outside Spain and the boys opted for the sea bass, baby leeks, brown shrimp and capers whilst the girls went for the welsh beef and cockles and mussels. We added a couple of bowls of fries to the order too. Service was on the slow side if I was being critical, but we were sat outside, the sun was shining and the wine was flowing so we didn’t mind too much.

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The food was well worth the wait— clean, crisp flavours, wonderful silky, crispy textures and a joy to behold. The fish was spanking fresh and light as air, the chips devastatingly good, mussels delicious sat in a deeply fishy broth. The Welsh beef was a huge rib eye, perfectly cooked. We caved in to desserts on this occasion with surprisingly light rhubarb bread and butter pudding and a zingy lemon curd meringue with strawberries shared among the four of us.

House wines come in at a very agreeable £15 a bottle (you’d be hard pressed to find wine of this quality for this price in Leeds) but we had Le Poussin Rose, brittle and crisp for just £18, followed by the oakily chewy Allende Rioja which we splashed out on at £28. A very sensibly priced wine list.

All in all, a wonderful lunch in great company and as we sauntered back to our flat (a ten minute walk) we knew we’d had one of those meals that would set the bar for subsequent outings.

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Shoreditch Sunday Lunch

The Princess of Shoreditch

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Since we moved to London we haven’t had a proper Sunday lunch. Having moved into an open plan flat, we certainly haven’t tried to cook a roast dinner yet and those of you who live in a similar space will understand our reluctance to make everything smell of Sunday dinner. The weather has been so nice too and when the weather is good, roast dinners go down our food agenda for more lighter fare.

But we had a hankering for a roast dinner recently, so I went on the hunt for somewhere local that would deliver the goods. Just a short walk from where we live is The Princess of Shoreditch is a cool, airy gastro pub ( I hate that term but it I can’t think of any other way to describe it) just off Old Street right in the heart of hipsterville Shoreditch. It’s a busy and unpretentious pub with bare wood floors, white walls, mix and match furniture, vintage prints and a kind of cookie cutter cool vibe (beards, check shirts etc), but in a good way.

I booked a table as last time it was rammed when I passed and we were ushered upstairs to a light and airy room. The Sunday lunch menu was our main focus so ordering was easy: we both went for the three roast dinner. Yes, three roasts on one plate: beef, pork and chicken. Greed knows no bounds I realise, so I ordered a starter too. And a bloody Mary!

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The bloody Mary was nicely spiced and packed a punch served pretentiously in a dimple glass (I get it, it’s a pub) . The cod cheek scampi starter was a bit of a let down: it was hard and tasted blandly of deep fried frozen fish but the aioli lifted it.

But as far as restaurant Sunday lunches go, it was up there with all the key elements excellently done. The roast meat was tender and melting, the beef served nicely pink. The Yorkshire was a delight, wafer thin and puffed up — enough to bring a tear to the eye of any Yorkshireman. Sitting atop a pool of unctuous gravy were crisp and not crucially not overcooked vegetables. The duck fat roasts were the only let down: not like the ones I make at home but I challenge any commercial kitchen to top the TLC I afford my roasties.

All in all, just what the doctor ordered. Price point was fairly reasonable, £16.95 for the full mashings roast dinner washed down a half carafe of the sensibly priced house red. We toddled home, satisfied that our Sunday lunch appetite has been sated for at least another week.

 

Restaurant bingo

Restaurateurs are looking for innovative ways to apply new concepts to food and the ambiance of their eateries, but no matter how new their ideas seem, another restaurant has probably already gone through the same transformation. Similar restaurants are emerging here and there, especially in metropolitan areas like London. Whether the new bistro around the corner has hired a celebrity chef as a consultant or that “one-of-a-kind” hipster café now has a raw vegan menu, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between some places.

It must be a nightmare for restaurateurs because they want to do everything in their power to avoid concepts that have been done to death. Even staff restaurants are looking to reinvent themselves by hiring renowned chefs to aid in this transformation. 

Chef Mike Truelove, the only English chef to have two Michelin stars at the time, was recruited by Iceland Bingo to turn its staff restaurant The Roxy into a dining experience that is Michelin star-worthy. Yet, according to bloggers on Meta Filter, even the Michelin star (and Michelin star-worthy) restaurants are beginning to look and taste the same. 

In order to stray away from jumbling all your new dining experiences into one, it might be a good idea to have a game of restaurant bingo at each new restaurant you and your friends eat at. Although Food Riot does already have a set of restaurant bingo cards at your disposal , it could be fun to gather your own observations that have appeared as patterns in your last few dining experiences, or just contribute restaurant clichés of your own. A few examples you could include are dessert-turned cocktails, Western takes on sushi, and dimly-lit ambiance from candles. That way, you can differentiate between the new restaurants you’ve tried by the new restaurant clichés. 

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(image courtesy of Food Riot) 

And of course, what fun would bingo be if there wasn’t a prize at the end — the winner of Restaurant Bingo should be exempt from paying the bill.