Shad Indian

Posted by Colin

Where: 96 Tooley Street, SE1 2TH
Cost: Mains approx £9-£13 per person
Website: www.shadindian.com
Food Rating:
Service Rating:

Ruth and I are in mourning. Our grief has led to a I Live By The River first – two ratings for a restaurant, one for the food and one for the service. On Saturday night we took two friends along to Shad Indian on Tooley Street, our favourite and local Indian restaurant. We’ve eaten here many times before and its our Indian of choice when it comes to takeway. No longer.

We had originally booked for 8pm but it became clear that it would be touch and go if one of our friends would make it on time due to a delayed train. So we duly called the restaurant and asked whether it was possible to delay our table by 30 mins, to which they said it wouldn’t be a problem. We get to the restaurant and are told they don’t have a table for us because we booked for 8pm and no-one had informed them of our call. After a discussion in front of most of the restaurant, the waiter said he would go and find out what was happening. After 10 minutes we had to ask again because no-one was forthcoming. Eventually, we were shown to a table at around 8:50pm and the head waiter told us he was going to “kick the arse” of the person who’d taken our phone call.

A different waiter took our orders. The first two people ordered different things and the waiter made a sarcastic comment about how the chef “would be pleased” that he’d have to cook different dishes. I was next and I ordered the Seafood Bhuna and was asked whether I really wanted that as the chef “always overcooks it”. Having eaten there before, I knew how good the food is and so I suspect he was trying to get me to order a dish that was quicker to cook. He then left the table and we had to get him back to take the final person’s order.

When the food arrived it was, as usual, delicious. The seafood bhuna was beautifully spiced and the seafood perfectly cooked. I would recommend the food to anyone. At the end of the meal the head waiter came back and asked how things were. I calmly explained that the service had been poor for the above reasons and that it was a shame because we were regulars and the food was so good. He snapped back at us, cutting me off mid sentence and saying “if you’re going to go down that route, I’ll give you 10% off and that’s it”. I thanked him and asked him whether, in two hours, he’d managed to find out who took our original call and why we’d been messed around. He said that he’d been too busy to find out. I said we wouldn’t be coming back again.

Verdict:

Delicious food that isn’t too expensive, we’d rightly loved this place for ages. However, we just feel let down by the way we were treated from not dealing with our phone call properly to originally missing someone’s order. And I have never ever been to a restaurant before where you order a dish and the waiter discourages you from ordering it apparently because the chef is incompetent. Maybe they don’t need to look after their regulars because of their location on such a busy street, but it is such a strange way to run a business.

So we’re now on the lookout for a decent Indian restaurant in and around SE1. Got any suggestions for us?

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Bubbledogs – Champagne and Hot Dogs

Posted by Ruth

Where: Charlotte Street, W1T
Cost: Hot Dogs approx £7
Website: http://www.bubbledogs.co.uk
Twitter: @bubbledogsuk
Rating:

I like hot dogs, and I like champagne (a lot). So when a friend suggested a pre-Christmas get together at Bubbledogs, a restaurant serving just that, I was instantly sold.

As you can only reserve a table for 6 people or more, we expected a small queue on arrival. However, having arrived at 6pm to find we were just second in the queue, we did not expect to wait for an hour.

After finally getting into the warm our expectations were high. The excellent champagne absolutely hit the mark. Unfortunately, the food was very mixed. I had the Buffalo Dog (served with spicy sauce, blue cheese and pickled celery), along with sides of potato tots and coleslaw.

While the toppings were delicious the actual hot dog and bun were quite low quality. This was disappointing given that the prices are not cheap (our bill came to £40 pp for hotdogs, sides and 2 glasses of champagne). Conversely the coleslaw was the best I’ve ever eaten, with a perfect balance of creaminess, crunch and zing.

The decor – with high tables, stools and exposed bricks – accompanies the food well and helps to create an NYC atmosphere. The toilets, adjourned with vintage menus from classic establishments such as the Fat Duck and Le Gavroche are a nice touch.

Verdict:
I have mixed feelings about bubbledogs. On the one hand the food is tasty, the champagne delicious, and the atmosphere is fun. However, the prices are a little steep for the quality on offer and the queues are prohibitive. Overall, I’m not sure I would visit again. It feels a little like style over substance, and I wonder how long the hype and crowds will last.

Zucca

Posted by Ruth

Where: Bermondsey Street, SE1
Cost: Mains approx £15 per person
Website: http://www.zuccalondon.com
Twitter: @ZuccaSam
Rating:

Walking along the foodie’s paradise that is Bermondsey street, its hard to know where to start. Behind almost every door is a tempting restaurant, gastro pub or cafe seeking to tempt the passerby. Not that you can usually just wander in – the growing reputation of the street means its increasingly hard to get a table without a reservation.

Zucca, a modern Italian restaurant, is one place well worth making an advance booking. The decor is minimalist and fresh, while the food offers some of the finest Italian cuisine around. Perfectly cooked fish sits alongside rich ragu on the ever-changing seasonal menu – not a pizza in in sight.

The highlight of our meal (just) was the starter of crisp ‘Zucca’ fritti (deep fried winter squash)- unusual and incredibly moorish. Get a bowl for the table to share and watch them disappear!

Verdict:
Delicious Italian food, friendly service and reasonable prices (for the area). It’s a great place to go for a special occasion, or just a low key lunch if you want to sample delectable treats on offer.

Pizza in a Big Red London Bus

Posted by Colin

Where: Big Red Pizza, 30 Deptford Church Street, SE8
Cost: Pizzas between £6.50 and £10 per person, cocktails £6
Website: www.bigredpizza.co.uk
Twitter: @thebigredpizza
Rating:

Pizzerias are so ubiquitous these days that you’d think it would be hard to do it a little differently. Fortunately, the folks behind The Big Red in Deptford have managed just that – they’ve set themselves up in a old red London bus. The inside has been converted to provide tables around the retro brown and orange seating. The bus itself is surrounded by a modern and comfy looking terrace.

BigRed

On arrival we were shown to the front of the upstairs of the bus to seats gazing out the front window.

In a nice touch from the friendly staff, they double checked whether we were OK with these forward facing seats. We decided to start our meal off with a cocktail and plumped for a mojito each. Whilst they were tasty, they seemed to have been watered down a little to fill the glass and so ended up being a bit thin. Serving them in a smaller glass and not adding the water would have been a better move – a minor point though.

Our starter of garlic pizza bread was absolutely lovely. The pizza dough tasted fresh and perfectly cooked with a good hit of garlic. For mains we had the Flemenco (tomato, mozzarella, morcilla and chorizo) and Classic Marinara (tiger prawns, mussels, octopus, squid, cuttlefish, rocket and cherry tomatoes).

Despite loving seafood, I don’t normally go for it on a pizza – but then I don’t normally have dinner in a old London bus. I was warned by the waitress that the seafood toppings would be cold, but what I hadn’t counted on was that this would quickly cause the base and cheese to lose heat. But that was my fault and other than that the pizza was top notch.

Verdict:

Perhaps the quirkiest and most unique pizzeria in London. Delicious pizza dough that tasted wonderful and avoided the criminal offence of making the cheese on top too greasy. The staff were friendly and informative and the atmosphere inside the bus was really fun. It would be a great place to take a group of mates for either pre or post night out food. You can even hire the whole bus and it would make a cracking location for birthday celebrations.

Indian Fine Dining at Tamarind

Posted by Ruth

Where: 20 Queen Street, Mayfair, W1J
Cost: Mains approx £20 per person (pre/post theatre set menu £28.50)
Website: http://www.tamarindrestaurant.com/
Rating:

Michelin stars and Indian food don’t often go together in most people’s minds. Often going for a curry is more of a guilty pleasure where we all order, and eat, too much. Tamarind, a Michelin starred Indian restaurant, seeks to challenge those perceptions. Keen to test out the reality, we took advantage of a London Restaurant Festival menu deal in October.

On arrival at this beautiful, but understated, restaurant, we were treated exceptionally well (often not the case when having pre-booked with a cheaper menu), and the great service continued throughout. After selecting our dishes we were quickly brought delicious poppadoms with an array of chutneys. A regular start to an Indian meal you might think – but this was on a different plane to the norm. The poppadoms were light and fresh, while the chutneys were enthralling – particularly the date and ginger variety.

Each dish that followed lived up to this high standard. Our starters of spiced chickpeas and chicken kebab sounded simple, but actually delivered complex flavours and techniques.

The mains (paneer and lamb curries) were beautifully spiced, and served with freshly made Indian breads and pilau rice. The lentil side dish was probably the least exiting aspect of the meal, but still tasty.

The deserts (never traditionally a high point of an Indian meal) were sublime. Cinnamon and pistachio rice pudding was creamy and sweet. Carrot fudge was inspired, a simple dish that enveloped the taste-buds.

Verdict:

A fantastic restaurant, and a must for fans of Indian food. It may not offer the levels of presentation found in many Michelin starred restaurants, but this is appropriate for the cuisine, and in no way detracts from the quality of the dishes. There are also affordable lunch and evening set menus available.

The Garden Café

Posted by Ruth

Where: 5 Lambeth Palace Road, SE1
Cost: Under £10 per person
Website: www.gardenmuseum.org.uk
Twitter: @GardenMuseumLDN
Rating:

There are many unusual places to have lunch in London, but it’s not often you find yourself eating in a disused Church by the side of the river. This is the setting of the Garden Café in Lambeth, a simple vegetarian café, which is part of the Garden Museum.

The café offers a small daily-changing menu and is inspired by the vegetables grown in the garden adjourning the museum, and sourced where possible from local ingredients. The food is simple, but provides a refreshing lunch.

Dishes such as goats cheese and beetroot tart, and homemade soup are on offer, along with an array of tempting cakes. Some, which appear classic on first glance, actually include the humble vegetable (such as Butternut Squash cake) – not that uncommon nowadays, but still a nice reflection of the vegetarian emphasis.

Whilst we did not visit the Museum itself, it was apparent that this is a mecca for anyone with a passion for gardening. The museum houses artefacts and exhibitions about the history of the British garden.

It was set up in 1977 in the abandoned St Mary’s Church, as a tribute to John Tradescant (the first great Gardener in British history), who was buried in the church ceremony – hence the distinctive location.

Adjoining the cafe is small shop with a range of rare gardening books – a great place to pick up a gift for a green fingered friend.

Verdict:
Recommended if you’re looking for a cheap vegetarian lunch in an interesting location – but be warned, it’s absolutely freezing in the Church so wrap up warm!

Champor Champor – Asian Fusion in London Bridge

Posted by Ruth

Where: Weston Street, London Bridge, SE1
Cost: Mains approx £15
Website: http://www.champor-champor.com/
Twitter: @ChamporChampor
Rating:

There are definite benefits to living in the shadow of the Shard, and many of those involve food. From the famous Borough Market to the lesser known Maltby Street traders, and the many Bermondsey Street bistros, there is much to tempt the avid foodie.

However, all this has an unfortunate impact on the purse strings – so we were pleased to learn that literally doors away from our flat is a highly regarded South-East Asian fusion restaurant, with a 2 for 1 Taste Card deal.

Champor Champor (loosely translated to ‘mix and match’) serves a selection of Thai-Malay dishes, some with a Western touch. Starters range from Thai lemongrass soup to goats cheese parcels.

Classic favourites such as beef rendang and green chicken curry are nestled together on the main-course menu with more unusual offerings, such as turmeric banana curry.

Often fusion food such as this can miss the mark – with none of the cuisines receiving the necessary culinary expertise required. Pleasingly, Champor Champor avoids this issue. The food is delicious, with flavours displaying a delicate touch, which reassuringly suggests that close attention has been paid to the dishes.

The décor – colourful, exotic and inviting, with an array of South-East Asian silks and trinkets – is enjoyable and unique, if a little on the cramped side of cosy.

Verdict:

With dishes delivering real depth of flavour, and unusual combinations to sample, Champor Champor is well worth a visit – but get a Taste London card first. Without one the menu is a little too expensive – and perhaps artificially high as a result of the deal.

Great coffee with an awesome view

Posted by Colin

Where: 2 Love Tea and Coffee House, Albert Embankment near Lambeth Bridge
Rating:

It is hard to say exactly when I fell in love with London but it was certainly long before I lived here. Growing up near Heathrow airport, the Big Smoke was an obvious choice for my parents when it came to finding stuff to do over school holidays.

My Dad used to be a policeman in London and would regail us with its secrets. For me nothing could beat standing in Trafalgar Square seeing all the wonderful buildings around me. It was during these visits that I also fell in love with Big Ben and whenever I see the clock (yes I know its really the bell!) I still get excited.

I was reminded of these trips when we took a stroll along the Albert Embankment last Sunday. The Houses of Parliament looked resplendant against the crisp, cloudless winter sky and with the low sun casting its orange light on the Palace of Westminster. On this walk we came across 2 Love Tea and Coffee House – a caravan style hot drinks bar with an impressive selection of coffee and loose leaf teas.

Being such a cold day we grabbed ourselves some coffee and took advantage of the riverside seating. Can there be a better view from a coffee place in London? If you think there is, let us know!

Verdict:

The coffee was absolutely delicious – so much better than you get in the all conquering coffee chains. It was also obvious that the barrista knew exactly what he was doing.

The view is spectacular and being a little further upstream than Westminster itself ensured relative peace and quiet away from mega tourist country.

A lovely place to chill out, read a book or meet a friend for a chat.

Thanh Binh – Delicious Vietnamese Food in Camden

Posted by Ruth

Where: 14 Chalk Farm Road, Camden, NW1
Cost: Mains under £10 per person
Website: http://www.thanhbinhrestaurant.co.uk
Rating:

Think of Camden, and it is usually the alternative pubs, clubs and shops that spring to mind – not its culinary delights. However, look a little closer and there are a number of small, affordable restaurants offering tasty food and quick service. Thanh Binh is a great example. Situated conveniently close to Camden Lock, this Vietnamese gem has been open since 1990. It’s a family run place, and the celebrity pictures adjourning the wall (including Mick Jagger), show that it’s had some interesting custom over the years.

Feeling a little adventurous we opted for Vietnamese frogs legs and (more traditionally) crispy squid. The former was unusual and perhaps a one-off for us – though the crisp, delicately spiced batter was delicious. The squid was cooked to perfection, and delivered a fiery hit of chili and garlic which heightened the senses. While setting the bar high, the mains (Chicken Pho, and Bun Ca – a monkfish and noddle broth) easily surpassed the starters. Hearty and warming, the steaming fragrant bowls were absolutely perfect for a winter evening. The monkfish dish was the star of the meal, with fresh tomato and coriander adding another dimension to the traditional Vietnamese flavours – well worth sampling for yourself.

Verdict:

Thanh Binh is not necessarily as original as it may have been in 1990, with Vietnamese cuisine growing in popularity and many restaurants dotted about London – but for a quick, tasty meal, it’s hard to beat. The staff could have been slightly more attentive, but overall a great experience. Pop in if you’re in the area.

Bi Bim Bap – A great Korean restaurant

Posted by Ruth

Where: Soho, W1D
Cost: Under £10 per person
Website: http://bibimbapsoho.com
Twitter: @bibimbapsoho
Rating:

Searching for a good value meal in theatre land can be a tricky task. When you’re short on time and looking for something to eat, there can be a temptation to go for instantly regrettable fast food. This is where Bi Bim Bap comes in to save the day. Specialising in its namesake Bimibap, this Korean restaurant provides a tasty meal at a very good price.

Bimibap – a dish of meat, rice and vegetables, served in a scorching hot bowl with various marinades and sauces – is quickly becoming one of our favourites. It’s warming and hearty, and the perfect antidote to a cold London night.

Bi Bim Bap delivers a faultless example of the dish. It’s a simple and unassuming place, and while the decor does not excite the senses, the restaurant can be relied upon to consistently deliver. If you’re not keen on Bimibap, Korean starters, salads and noodle dishes are also served.

Verdict:
If you’re going for a pre-theatre meal, or just grabbing some food with friends after work, Bi Bim Bap is a great choice. If you haven’t sampled Korean food before, start here – it’s delicious.