Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Restaurants - HK Diner - Chinatown

HK Diner
22 Wardour Street, W1D 6QQ

An amazing, authentic Cantonese restaurant, this is one of my favourite and most frequented restaurants in London's Chinatown. The decor, ambiance and service is characteristically busy and no-nonsense, but the seating arrangement is mostly in booths which adds a small element of privacy to the restaurant. The food here is great - large, hearty portions - perfect for this time of year.

There are two menus, one in English serving up the usual mixture of stir-fries, sweet and sour pork, set menus etc.; and another one in Chinese on one side and English on the other - and this is where all the Cantonese gems can be found.

Chinese menu

English menu - with mostly the same dishes

I must say, I am always drawn to the same dishes containing braised meat with rice or noodles. I try to venture away from it, but it is just so good it always draws me back in. My favourite is the stewed beef rice  - tender meat and perfectly gelatinous tendons in a deep, rich sauce over a bed of rice. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water! Apologies though, I'm sorry to say that this is where I will have to stop. Unfortunately this happened to be one of my more adventurous days (to a degree) - but I will be back soon and will review the dish when I have the photos!

As I said, an adventurous day, but only really in terms of changing the meat - I went with a traditional claypot dish - 'Stewed Pork Belly with Preserved Cabbage' (£9.00). The fatty pork was succulent and melted in the mouth, and although preserved vegetables can be a bit overpowering, here they added a great depth of flavour to the rich sauce. A fantastic dish. I will definitely be torn between this and the beef ho fun next time I'm here.

Stewed Pork Belly with Preserved Cabbage

Next up was a noodle soup. The soup broth at HK Diner is very good indeed, and it forms a solid base for a large variety of soup dishes. Here J. had chosen wantons and roast duck (£7.50), and although not strictly on the English menu it's just a case of asking for some small change. Anyway, it's hard to fault a good soup. The wantons were tasty and well steamed. The duck was good too, although not the best you will find in Chinatown - but the meat was good and the skin crispy.

Roast duck, wanton and noodle soup

Overall a really great meal, hits the spot when what you are after is something hearty and nourishing. The mains are reasonably priced (£7-10) and there is also a range of Asian drinks and desserts including bubble tea. Our lunch for two came in at around £20. Definitely a recommendable place to eat. Don't be put off by the few reviews that seem to be hung up on the lack service quality. The focus of a good, cheap Chinese restaurant is on the one important thing - the food.

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HK Diner on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Restaurants - Cafe East - Surrey Quays

Cafe East
100 Redriff Road, SE16 7HL

Being in the Surrey Quays area on Sunday we wondered what we could eat for lunch, when J. remembered that Cafe East was nearby - so we went to try it out. Cafe East is a Vietnamese restaurant that moved to the Surrey Quays area from Deptford, and even in the middle of Sunday afternoon was fairly busy. In appearance a bit spartan and functional, but what it lacked in decor and ambiance it made up for in food!

Their menu offered a good range of pho, rice and noodle dishes all at really reasonable prices (less than £8 for a dish).

Pho Tai Chin

So we ordered and after a little wait (maybe a bit long compared to some other Vietnamese places) the first dish arrived, the 'Pho Tai Chin' (£7.50). This is one of their specialties - a hot and spicy Vietnamese soup (you can choose the level of spice you want) with a mixture of well-cooked and rare beef over ho fun noodles. It was a delicious soup, deep in flavour with abundant overtones of lemongrass.

Bun Cha Nem Thit Nuong

Next to arrive from the kitchen was the 'Bun Cha Nem Thit Nuong' (£6.50), a classic Vietnamese noodle salad. A great dish, the kind I relish enjoy, possessing great flavour and freshness. Vermicelli noodles, lettuce, cucumber, carrot and a heap of chopped peanuts formed the base of the salad, while the lemongrass pork was extremely tender and tasty. The spring roll was also crisp and not too greasy, but my favourite element of the dish is always the combination of sweet chilli vinaigrette, coriander and mint. An amazing balance of flavours, and also light and fresh on the palate - it was the perfect contrast to the powerful pho. Also, during the meal we also had a Vietnamese iced coffee, 'Cafe Da' (£3.20, not pictured) - strong and sweet.

My only problem with the restaurant was the price of the soft drinks compared to the that of the food, and the fact they proudly state that 'they do not serve tap water' - definitely the only negative though.

Overall a great late lunch, coming in at just £17.20 for two people, if you're in the area definitely a place to try.

Cafe East on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Restauants - Royal China - Baker Street

Royal China
24-26 Baker Street, W1U 7AB

This is one of my favourite places to eat in London. I love dim sum and I love this restaurant, although I find it hard to choose between between the Baker Street branch (there are two here - Royal China, and Royal China Club next door - a tiny bit confusing to say the least) and the other I frequent in Queensway. The food is almost always excellent and done to a very high standard, the service is similar in quality, and providing you turn up promptly when they are open, it doesn't take too long to be seated. Anyway, given how often I go and how much I love it, this will have to serve as the first installment of series of blogs - it's a big menu after all!

Right, on to the food. Admittedly this time we turned up for a late lunch and a few things were off the menu, but we ordered about seven dishes which arrived at the table in dribs and drabs - which I like. Chinese convention is that the only table that is happy is one that is groaning under the weight of bamboo steamers - to the point where diners should not be able to see each other. However I like it when I can take my time eating and everything is still hot and fresh when I get around to trying it.

Baked Milk & Egg Tarts

The first dish to arrive was a dessert dish, 'Baked Milk & Egg Tarts' (£3.20). As this is a room temperature tart we left it until the end of the meal. They were good egg custard tarts, but for me perhaps the weakest element of our lunch.

Prawn Cheung Fun

Moving on, the next dish to arrive was the steamed 'Prawn Cheung Fun' (£4.50) - one of my favourites - with fresh prawn, soft rice noodle and a delicious sweet soy sauce. I must admit I do spend most of my time eating this dish wondering how the chefs manage to get something so delicate onto a plate without it falling apart.

Stuffed Bean Curd Rolls

Next up was the 'Stuffed Bean Curd Rolls' (£3.10) - a steamed dish with a soft, slightly chewy bean curd skin stuffed with prawn and minced pork - delicious with a great texture contrast.

Turnip Cake with Chinese Cured Meat

The following dish was 'Turnip Cake with Chinese Cured Meat' (£3.10). The 'cake' is made of rice flour and shredded radish which is steamed and then cut into blocks before frying. When cooked right the cake has a wonderful soft texture with a slightly crunchy outer surface. This is a dish Royal China does extremely well, and is one J. and I always order.

Shanghai Pork Dumpling - Xiao long bao

I love xiao long bao, or Shanghai dumplings, and although not Royal China's strongest dish they are still great. The 'Shanghai Pork Dumpling' (£3.30) had a good amount of liquid inside them and good flavour.

Glutinous Rice Lotus Leaves

Another one of my favourites, 'Glutinous Rice Lotus Leaves' (£3.90), a little heavy compared to most dim sum dishes. The lotus leaves impart a subtle flavour in the glutinous rice, and I love the combination of Chinese sausage (lap cheong), mushroom and salted egg yolk.

Prawn Dumplings - Har Gau

The last dish to arrive was the dim sum classic Har Gau, or 'Prawn Dumplings' (£3.50). This dish is done really well here with the soft, translucent rice wrapper and the perfectly steamed and tasty prawn within. 

The lunch was fantastic, I always love eating here and cannot recommend it strongly enough. The prices are a little more expensive than elsewhere but overall the quality and the service is extremely reliable and makes it worthwhile. Lunch here comes in at less than £20pp including tea.

Royal China on Urbanspoon

Friday, 19 October 2012

Recipes - Beef Lasagne

Beef Lasagne

Serves Four
180oC, Prep time: 60 min, Cook time: 45 min.

I loved how this lasagne turned out, so I thought I would share the recipe.


Beef Ragu:

2-3 carrots, sliced
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, diced
500g beef mince
300mL red wine
100mL beef stock
1 can of chopped tomatoes
dried oregano
dried rosemary

Béchamel Sauce:

500mL milk
2 bay leaves
50g butter
50g flour


Dried pasta sheets
mozzarella balls, grated
grated cheddar cheese


Ragu: Heat a little oil in a frying pan and fry the onion, garlic and carrots until the onions have softened. Then add the mince and continue frying until browned. To this add the red wine, stock, tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper to taste and simmer for at least 45 minutes (longer is better) until the sauce is rich and has reduced. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Béchamel: While the ragu is cooling, prepare the white sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy-based pan and add the flour, stirring into a paste. While stirring cook the paste for two minutes. Add the milk slowly, a little at a time, stirring to combine it with the paste - this will avoid forming lumps. When the milk is completely added, bring to the boil while stirring. Once boiling remove from the heat and allow to cool. Preheat the oven to 180oC.

Lasagne: When both the ragu and béchamel have cooled, stir the grated mozzarella into the béchamel. Now, pour half the ragu into the base of your oven-proof dish and cover with dried pasta sheets. Carefully pour over half the béchamel, and top this with pasta too. Add the remaining ragu, top with pasta, pour over the remaining béchamel and top with the grated cheddar. Place in oven and wait until the top is golden and inviting. Then eat! Serve with salad or garlic bread or even another slice of lasagne.

Not the prettiest dish, but very tasty!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Recipes - Roast Pork with Sautéed Leeks and Mushrooms

Roast Belly Pork with Sautéed Leeks and Mushrooms

Serves Two/Three
220oC, Prep time: 10 min, Cook time: 90 min.

A recently tested and delicious recipe. Depending on the thickness of your piece of belly pork, you may want to adjust the cooking time.


800g - 1kg piece of belly pork
2-3 large leeks, peeled, trimmed and washed
150 g mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely diced

Apple Sauce:

1/2 cooking apple, peeled, cored and diced
100mL cider or water
1-2 tsp lemon juice


Preheat oven to 220oC. Clean and pat dry the pork with paper towels. Take a sharp knife and make incisions into the skin and fat (but not as deep as the meat!), about 3cm apart in a diagonal criss-cross fashion.

Season the meat side of the pork with salt and pepper, then turn over and season the skin side with oil and a generous amount of salt - rubbing it deep into the incisions. Place on a rack in the oven and cook for about 20-30 minutes until the skin begins to puff up into crackling.

Now, turn the oven down to 170-180oC and continue cooking until the juices run clear and the crackling is done (about an hour). Remove from the oven, cover and leave to rest.

While the pork is resting, chop the leeks diagonally into 1cm slices. In two pans heat a little butter and fry some garlic until aromatic, then add the leeks to one and the mushrooms to the other. Fry the vegetables until they are done (about 10 minutes for the leeks and 5 minutes for the mushrooms).

At the same time, in another pan add the apple, some sugar (depending on your taste), a little lemon juice (1-2 tsp) and cider or water (about 100 mL) and cook until the apples are soft (10-15min).

Now, remove the crackling from the pork and break into smaller pieces, carve the roast pork and serve. Enjoy!

The finished article - time to eat!

...and the sides!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Recipes - Seafood & Tomato Tagliatelle

Seafood & Tomato Tagliatelle

Serves Two
Prep time: 10 min, Cook time: 20 min.

Another one of J. and my often repeated and favourite dishes, cooked uncountable times. The best thing about this is that it is really quick, easy and healthy too!


350g seafood (cooked or raw, prawns, squid, mussel meat, anything really!)
10-15 cherry tomatoes, halved
100g mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, diced
150-200g tagliatelle
1/2 lemon
olive oil


Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the tagliatelle, some salt and oil to the pan and simmer to cook according to the pasta you're using (7-12mins).

To a frying pan add a little oil and fry the garlic until aromatic, then add the mushrooms and tomatoes. When the mushrooms are tender add the seafood (cook for a couple of minutes if raw).

Drain the pasta and add to the tomato & seafood mixture stir until well combined, squeeze the lemon juice over and serve. Enjoy!

The finished dish.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Recipes - Steamed Fish with Ginger, Chilli and Spring Onion

Steamed Fish with Ginger, Chilli and Spring Onion

Serves Two
180oC, Prep time: 10 min, Cook time: 20 min.

One of J. and my favourite dishes, cooked dozens of times - use the seasonings for the fish according to your tastes.


2 fillets of fish (I usually use salmon, but any will do), cleaned
4 spring onions, sliced
1 inch piece of ginger, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
chilli (to taste), finely diced
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp dark soy
1 tbsp light soy
1 tbsp shaoxing rice wine
1/2 tsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Everything you need


Preheat oven to 180oC. Take fish and place on foil (using enough to eventually make a spacious parcel around fish).

Combine spring onions (saving some for final garnish), ginger, garlic and chilli. Lay on top of the fish.

Fish, garlic, chilli, spring onion & ginger

Mix remaining ingredients, start making a parcel out of the foil, and before sealing pour in. Seal the parcel, with plenty of airspace around the fish. Place in the centre of the preheated oven and leave until the fish is cooked through (about 15-20 minutes).

Adding the seasoning

Seal the parcel firmly

Remove from foil, serve with rice, steamed vegetables and garnish with spring onion. Enjoy!

The finished article - time to eat!