Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Secret Garden in Regent's Park

I discovered the St John's Lodge Garden in Regent's Park and thought I would share some pictures with you.  The lodge belongs to Sultan of Brunei but luckily, the gardens are open to the public. It's so beautiful and tranquil - it's one of my favourite places in Regent's Park.

Atari Ya: Cheap Sushi Bar and Take-Away just off of Oxford Street

Atari Ya is the tiniest sushi bar on St. Christopher place, just off of Oxford Street and I've gone past it so many times. It's no surprise the sushi is amazing given that they are the main suppliers of fish to restaurants like Nobu. The shop on St. Christophers place is more of a takeaway joint but they do have a bigger restaurant at Swiss Cottage. I stopped by and got some rolls  - Spicy tuna and Prawn tempura and it was so cheap! £7 for 12 pieces. I can't believe I've used to moan about the lack of cheap good sushi in London and here it's been right under my nose!

My favourite - the Rainbow Roll

Atari Ya

20 James Street London W1U 1EH
Tel:020 7491 1178
Tube: Bond Street

Atari-ya on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Roti Chai: Indian Street food restaurant near Selfridges and M&S on Oxford Street

If I had to describe the food at Roti Chai in one word, it would be - 'moreish'. I was never sure if 'moreish' was actual word and had been hesitant to use it but in this case, it's rather apt since it's an casual way of saying the food at Roti Chai tasted so good that you keep wanting more!

It's in a great location right behind Marks & Spencers, tucked away from the bustle of Oxford Street and serves up Indian food which is more authentic to me than the thousands of generic curry houses in London. Similar to Dishoom in Covent Garden, the decor invokes a sense of nostalgia and Roti Chai showcases some popular Indian snacks and street food such as Chicken 65, Gobi Manchurian, Chicken Lollipop - the names give you no clue what to expect but trust me, they all taste pretty good.

Chicken Lollipop
We sat in the ground floor which has their 'Street Kitchen' menu and is open all day. I think downstairs there's a more formal dining area and a slightly different menu. My favourites were the Chicken Lollipops - spicy Chicken wings served with minty green yogurt sauce and this amazing fried chicken called Parsi Farsha Chicken served with a tangy sauce.

Parsi Chicken Farsha
If you've never had Indian chaat before, you must try either the Bhel puri or Papri chaat. I've also tried the Gobi Manchurian and Hakka Chilli Paneer which are Indian-Chinese fusion creations. Some of the dishes are bit small in portion like the Chilli Paneer but overall it's pretty good value for money. I'm keen to try out the downstairs restaurant which is open only for dinner.

Papri Chaat

Gobi Manchurian
So if you're tired from shopping on Oxford Street and looking for somewhere to eat - I highly recommend Roti Chai. 

*Confession* - after the writing the review, I started getting serious cravings for the Parsi Farsha chicken and was tempted to go again. So yes,for  very 'moreish' Indian food, check out Roti Chai.

Roti Chai

3 Portman Mews South
London W1H 6HS
Tel: 020 7408 0101 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            020 7408 0101      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Tube: Bond Street/Marble Arch 

Roti Chai on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pizarro: Spanish tapas bar and restaurant on Bermondsey Street near London Bridge

Last year, I went to Jose, the Spanish tapas bar in Bermondsey street set up by chef Jose Pizarro (who used to work at Brindisa) and I absolutely loved it. He later opened a much bigger restaurant called Pizarro down the road and I've been wanting to check it out for ages. But there's no reservation policy in the evenings and given that it was so popular, I was daunted by the prospect of waiting for ages. Nonetheless, on a Monday evening I found my way there, dreaming of all the croquetas I would eat. 

There's a warm inviting atmosphere at Pizarro - the decor is lovely and you can see the chefs at work especially if you sit at the bar. Very similar set up to Jose but much larger and perfect for bigger groups.

I wasn't too happy with the service though - the wait staff seemed a bit abrupt which was a contrast to the staff at Jose who are so friendly and accommodating. Maybe they were having a bad day? 

Ham Croquetas and Beetroot-cured Salmon, Capers & Egg Yolk

In any case, this didn't dampen my enthusiasm and I proceeded to order away. The menu was divided into small plates (£5- £8) and large plates  (£15 - £20). My strategy was to order only small plates as I wanted try as much as possible and the larger plates are quite pricey). My dinner partner decided on the Salt Cod  Vizcaina as a main course while I went crazy and proceeded to order the Ham Croquetas which I absolutely adored when I had them at Jose and the  Beetroot-cured salmon, capers and egg yolk  which sounded a bit strange on the menu but tasted divine.

Razor Clams, Chorizo and Mint

We then had the  Girolle mushrooms and truffle oil on toast  and Razor clams with chorizo and mint. The Razor clams were gigantic and I really enjoyed them with the chorizo but sadly two of the clams had these gritty bits which I couldnt quite stomach.

Salt Cod Vizcaina

Since I shamelessly ordered a second plate of croquetas, I had to hold back even though I really wanted to try the special which was suckling pig and the Iberico pork which looked gorgeous. Unfortunately, salt cod Vizcaina was a bit disappointing despite being presented beautifully.  The cod was layered with potatoes, roasted red peppers, tomatoes and capers and had quite a strong taste and I don't think it went very well with the cod. The bill wasn't too bad - we each paid £30 for 5 small plates and one large plate, 2 glasses of wine and a dessert.

Given that I wasn't too thrilled with the service, I'd much rather go back to Jose for a few tapas than dinner at Pizzaro. I must say it was nice to see all the chefs at work and have Jose Pizarro himself serve some of our dishes. And actually, that Iberico pork looked so tasty and succulent....ok, I might, just might be persuaded to go back again :)


194 Bermondsey Street London SE1 3TQ
Tube: London Bridge 

Four sunny days in Lisbon, Portugal

Streets of Barrio Alto

Here are some of the things I loved about my first trip to Lisboa that I definitely recommend:

1)      Tram 28 – the perfect way to see the city

Lisbon has a network of trams running all over the city but Tram 28 is special.

It goes through all the different areas, from the winding, narrow streets of Alfama, past the San Jorge Castle, down through the main streets of Baxia, through the shopping district of Chiado and streets of Barrio Alto, the scene for bar hopping on most nights.

It’s an unofficial tour guide that is cheap and fun and at times feels like an amusement park ride when you’re speeding down the slopes and whizzing past buildings.

You can buy all-day ticket at any metro station that lets you get on the tram/bus/metro. It’s a fun, easy way to get to know the city and and I urge you to do this first on your trip – you can get on and off at any stop that catches your fancy.

2)      Go to Belem to see the Jerinomos Monastery

Jerinomos Monastery

 No trip to Lisbon is complete without going to Belem. You can hop on to Tram 15 and soon you’re at the famous Jerinomos Monastery in Belem. The Monastry is a World Heritage site with Vasco da Gama’s tomb.

Right next to the monastery, is the Confeitaria da Belem – a pastry shop whose custard tarts are legendary. In all my excitement, I forgot to take a picture of the actual Pasteis de Nata! That’s another thing I really enjoyed in Lisbon – all the different pastries – delicate puffy sweet delights with light fresh cream inside. Heaven.

Along the river is the Discoveries Monument - the landmark where all the boats used to the depart in the 16th century and futher along is the Tower of Belem

3)      Head to one of the Miradouras for a panoramic view of the city.

Miradouro de Porto do Sol

Lisbon is city built over seven hills, so spread across the city are beautiful viewing points where you can sit back, relax and take in the gorgeous view. We went to Miradouro de Porto do Sol in Alfama which is right next to the St. George Castle and Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara in Barrio Alto.

Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara

4)      Have dinner at one of the seafood restaurants in Docas

Head down to Docas de Santo Amaro for a lovely seafood dinner. There are a bunch of restaurants on the docks with tables outside overlooking the 25 de Abril Bridge (which looks a lot like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco). We ended up  at 5 Oceanos and the fish we had was amazing.

5)      Our Hotel – Gat Rossio

It sounds a bit strange but I loved our hotel Gat Rossio (Rua Do Jardim do Regedor). It’s a quirky chain of hotels called Gat that are also in Barcelona and Berlin. 

The location in Lisbon was brilliant – central, just right off the Rossio Square next to the Restauradores metro stop. The rooms was clean and minimalistic with the occasional random cat design and neon green colour scheme. They served an awesome breakfast in the morning and were really helpful. I  used and got a pretty good deal in terms of prices.


 6)      Listen to Fado Music

One night, my friend Bea, who is from Lisbon, took us to lovely wine and tapas bar called Venha Vinho (84, Rua das Janelas Verdes) that was playing Fado music. It’s utterly tragic and  melancholic and I instantly loved it. And the bar owner, Francisco was a host of local information. When I noticed a lot of people having oysters, he informed me that Portugal is supplier of oysters. Apparently France gets 90% of its oysters from Portugal. I was quite surprised as I had never see oysters on the menu or linked them in my mind to Portuguese cuisine

Francisco also does customized tours of Lisbon – I wish I had found out about his Lisboa Food & Wine tour earlier in the trip! Here are his details if you’re interested:

After Lisbon, we took a train down to Faro so that we could spend the rest of our trip in Algarve. We picked Vilamoura and pretty much spent all our time on the beach or by the pool. *Bliss*