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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

Gauthier

Where: Soho, W1D
When: 10/11/12 (open for lunch/dinner Mon – Sat)
Cost: £70 per person (tasting menu)
Website: www.gauthiersoho.co.uk
Rating:

Sometimes a little indulgence is exactly what’s needed, particularly when it’s been a tough week. It was definitely with this in mind that we set off for an extravagant meal at Gauthier in Soho, a French restaurant devised by head chef Alexis Gauthier.

Upon entering the restaurant (located in a Regency townhouse) we felt immediately cared for by the considerable staff, who led us into an intimate dining room.

With sweet autumnal pumpkins dotted around the tables, and an original fireplace, the room avoided typical fine dining sterility. The staff were constantly attentive, without being overbearing, and we felt completely at ease to enjoy our evening, without a care in the world.

Having salivated over the menu online in advance, we both decided to go for the 8 course tasting menu (after sampling delicious aperitifs). What followed was an exceptional gastronomic journey with delightful dishes ranging from foie gras to monkfish and venison. The star of the menu was the risotto, with creamy rice and significant shavings of black truffle delivered at the table; this really was wonderful. The two deserts were also delicious, especially the Mandarin dish, which delivered the flavour equivalent of a piano, with each note singing.

Slight downsides to the night were a draft from the cold night outside, and a noisy hen party in one of the fine dining rooms upstairs which spoilt the ambiance somewhat. We also felt the service was a little slow towards the end of the night – we arrived at 7.30 and didn’t leave until 11pm. However, these are minor quibbles about an otherwise wonderful meal.

Verdict:

The restaurant is beautiful and the cooking sublime. Having recently heard that Gauthier has lost its Michelin star we can’t understand why, as it equally compares (if not surpasses) many of the best restaurants in London. Don’t let that put you off booking.

Vapiano Pizza Restaurant

Where: Great Portland Street, W1
When: 22/02/12 (open everyday)
Website: http://www.vapiano.de/frame.php?lang=uk
Price: £6 – £9 for a pizza.
Rating:

As you enter Vapiano it’s a busy, noisy, bustling space, not unlike nearby Oxford Street , and very befitting of its location. For confused newcomers a member of staff will quickly spot you and explain the unusual ordering process. You are given a card which you use to order your drinks and food and then pay for everything at the end on your way out. On placing your order at either the pasta or pizza bar, your meal is prepared fresh. You can either stay and wait or return to your table to be buzzed when the food is ready for you to collect. The lack of at table service may be off-putting for some, and those looking for a formal dining experience are unlikely to be wowed. However, the informality creates a fun atmosphere and rather than feeling like a gimmick it actually helps speed up the ordering process, leaving you to enjoy your meal.

The menu has a variety of interesting dishes, including my favourite- the parma ham, honey and fig pizza, with a thin, crisp base and high quality fresh ingredients. Each table has a middle section with chilli oil and basil and rosemary plants so you can customise your dish to your liking. These little touches are great, and contribute to a far superior experience than other generic pizza places. In fact, the pizzas are the best I’ve had in London, and so despite having visited a couple of times I’m still to try the pasta. The desserts are also delicious with rich chocolate cake, tiramisu and cheesecake to temp you. The house wine, at just £11.95 is surprisingly good.

Verdict:

If you are looking for an informal place to meet friends for lunch or dinner, after shopping or at the start of the night, Vapiano is perfect. Great food, a relaxed atmosphere and fantastic value for money; what’s not to like?

Cantina del Ponte Restaurant

Where: Shad Thames SE1
When: Every day
Website: http://www.cantinadelponte.co.uk
Price: £35 per person (2 courses and wine)
Rating:

The thought of relaxing with a glass (or three) of crisp Italian wine and the promise of delectable culinary delights helped us through the horror that is… moving house. After exhausting our ability to negotiate with flat pack furniture, and London traffic, we treated Colin’s parents to a meal at Cantina del Ponte – an Italian restaurant overlooking the River (and a 10 minute walk from our new flat). Having eaten here in the outdoor area last Summer, we knew the food was great, but on this visit I was particularly impressed with the indoor ambience. It feels special and the staff are professional, without being stuffy or overbearing. It also avoids the tourist trappings one might expect from the area, being reasonably priced with an interesting range of dishes (those looking for pizzas and associated standard fare will be disappointed).

We made life very easy for the kitchen, with three of us choosing Goats Cheese for starter and Seafood Spaghetti for main. The Goats Cheese was served with focaccia bread and chilli jam; I could have happily eaten this twice. However the cheese would have benefited from being slightly warmer. For seafood lovers the spaghetti is a real treat: a large metal dish delivering sweet prawns and mussels, tender squid and baby octopus in a velvety tomato sauce. It was exactly what was needed to revive our weary bodies. To accompany our meal we drank a Madergale Bianco which perfectly complimented our food. This is also served in carafes – a nice touch.

Verdict
Cantina del Ponte is a great choice if you are looking for delicious Italian food on the river, and a visit is highly recommended. It’s also great in the Summer, when you can sit outside and watch the world go by.

Fire and Stone Pizza Restaurant

Where: Covent Garden, WC2
When: 12/01/12
Website: http://www.fireandstone.com/pizza/coventgarden/index.asp
Price: £7 – £11 for a pizza.
Rating:

It is often a fruitless exercise to reinvent the wheel. Unless that wheel is made of dough and covered in curry that is. Fire & Stone in Covent Garden is a pizza place with a twist: conventional toppings are replaced with a wealth of different worldly ingredients to create a range of truly different pizzas.

The menu is divided between five of the seven world continents – South America has been combined with its northernly neighbour into simply “the Americas”; Antarctica was probably omitted as not even Londoners could stomach a penguin and walrus steak pizza with ice cube shavings.

What remains is a potential trip around the globe in 23 different pizzas, ranging from Jamaica and Jakarta to Melbourne and Marrakech. The cheapest destination on your culinary travels is Naples – the bog standard mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil at £6.95. The stop that will leave the biggest total on your bill (£10.55) is, unsurprisingly perhaps, Texas – BBQ sauce, mozzarella, BBQ rump steak, roasted red onions, roasted field mushrooms and sun-dried tomato salsa.

For starters we split a dish of grilled bruschetta with Parma ham, melted brie, caramelised onion jam and pesto. It was delicious and washed down with some of the tasty wine we shared at a not too pricey £14.85.

When it came to the pizzas, Ruth went East and I stayed a little closer to home….

Ruth: Jakarta – satay sauce, mozzarella, satay chicken, spinach, aubergine and red chilli, topped with slow-roasted tomato chutney, roasted peanuts and coriander.

If I had to pick a last meal it would probably be satay chicken. So while I’m not normally a fan of mixing cuisines I couldn’t resist the Jakarta pizza. The base was lovely and crispy, but unfortunately the topping didn’t quite meet my expectations. Without a tomato based sauce, the pizza was a little dry and the chutney was an odd addition. Overall it was good to try something different, and the satay sauce was perfect, but I think I’d stay closer to home next time.

Colin: San Sebastian – mozzarella, tomato sauce, spicy chorizo sausage, garlic and rosemary roast potatoes, roasted red peppers, topped with aioli and chives.

The pizza was nice but be warned the potatoes are deceptively filling – halfway through I was already getting full. The chorizo was gorgeous, and, instead of by diced up really small, was fanned out in half sausages across the pizza. A nice touch. My only complaint was the aioli, of which there was far too much and at times it came to rule the roost over the other subtler flavours.

Verdict:

The pizzas were good although a little overloaded with ingredients that didn’t always compliment each other as well as you might hope. At the same time, though, that is also the reason to go to Fire & Stone: to try a different sort of pizza. Roast dinners, curries, English breakfasts can all be found on top of pizza bases and the prices don’t break the bank. If it weren’t for the round-the-globe gimmick, it would clock up 3 stars. It gets an extra half for daring to be different.