Thursday, 23 June 2011

much eating & some drinking: hakkasan,nobu,sake no hana,hush,brindisa soho and freebird burrito's

oh dear. i am so far behind in writing up about my last week or two of much eating and some drinking... so i decided it would be best to write it down all together especially since there will be lots to write-up from this week. i tried pitt cue co yesterday (more about this later as it deserves its own post) and on saturday o and i head to shochu lounge for my birthday dinner. so here are my musings on hakkasan, cocktails at nobu berkeley and hush london and food at freebird burrito's, brindisa soho and sake no hana.

o and i have done much eating and drinking since tenth june some of which has been together and some that i did with girl friends. on friday tenth of june we dined at hakkasan mayfair with o’s boss and his wife to celebrate our wedding. the entrance to the restaurant is so understated that i almost missed it. the interior of the restaurant bears no resemblance to chinese restaurants with their customary globe shaped lanterns and ill suited lighting. hakkasan veers to the other extreme with its modern decor, lattice work and dim lighting. it is almost like a secret underworld of diners speaking in hushed tones. an assortment of entrees had been ordered preceded by a dim sum platter and a tofu appetiser that o ordered for which i don’t have the name. whatever it was, it tasted really good. firm cubes of tofu were lightly coated with a batter and then fried. the mildness of the tofu was accentuated by the chilli flakes that dusted it. for a tofu lover like me, it was perfect.

when it comes to the entree’s they were good. the thing with hakkasan is, i was expecting a combination of tastes or textures that would be unusual. however, i was left wanting. from the san pei chicken claypot with its balance of peppery basil and the heat of chilli to the japanese tofu and blue swimmer crab in a toban, the entrees were well executed but they were similar to what one would eat at chinese establishments around london. for me the best parts of the dinner (aside from the company) were the lychee martini’s and if i were to return to  hakkasan it would be for the dim sum, tofu and martini’s. after we got done from dinner o and i walked down a couple of yards to nobu berkeley to have another round of cocktails. o and i definitely recommend the cocktails here as they are a lovely twist of east asian and western flavours. o had the sekkai gin which was a refreshing combination of lime infused gin, apple juice and kumquats. in line with my current addiction to all things elderflower i had the kyoho queen which brought together tart apples, vodka, elderflower syrup and the sweetness of honey and grapes.

on a thursday evening n and i found ourselves drowning the tiredness of two long workshop days over cocktails at hush. i love the cocktail bar here the approach to which is through a little cobbled pathway leading down from the shoppers mecca that is bond street. suddenly you find yourself in a small courtyard with just the hum of human conversation and none of the noise and human shuffle of bond street. a special mention goes to the mayfair cosmopolitan and the kiwi and cucumber martini’s and the nocellara del belice olives that we had. n and i split a forman’s smoked salmon on sourdough bread which was excellent. you can't of course go wrong with forman's smoked salmon but equally good was the green salad with rocket and some herbs cutting through the richness of the salmon.

and speaking about outings with colleagues, sake no hana is really good for business lunches (especially if you have a tastecard). i’ve been twice recently and absolutely loved the food. although both times the service left a little to be desired for on account of slowness. the shishito peppers with their heat blistered skins and large flakes of rock salt were really good to start with. the special dishes are particularly worth trying – n loved the toban chilean sea bass with miso. in fact i really loved this firm fatty and very meaty fish as it stands up well to the deep saltiness of miso. equally good was the slow poached rump of beef that came with an assortment of vegetables and mushrooms. az and i both loved the iron pot black cod rice simply because of the contrast of flavours and textures. the server mixed the contents of the pot (black cod, rice, scallions and eggs) upon bringing it to the table and served it to us in little bowls. it is similar in concept to the korean bibimbap but much milder. i loved how the rice at the bottom of the pot turned crisp adding crunch to the otherwise soft rice, fish and egg. i will definitely be returning as i’ve got a list of things i want to try especially the aubergine roasted in red and white miso. 

aside from the food i love the interior of sake no hana. the wood work and shutters mediate the way light filters through the large windows of the building. and the lightly coloured wood gives the place a warmth even on grey london days. aside from the food alan yau's strength is to create eating spaces that are pleasure to be in. 

i recall that at some point on friday afternoon (despite the pouring rain) i stopped at freebird burrito’s in exmouth market to get myself a steak burrito with the works – sour cream, guacamole, salsa verde, rice and black beans. i have to admit that i am still nowhere near a proper burrito in london. freebird has many ups – a really really good tortilla, very good black beans and salsa verde and actually very good steak. the team are very adept at composing the burrito and wrapping it tightly in foil. the downside was the guacamole. there just wasn’t enough texture in it and it could have done with a little more citrus and a little chilli heat. sigh. i really need to make a trip to arid-zona again to fulfill my burrito, mole and tamale cravings. or perhaps even to mexico itself. follow @freebirdburrito on twitter.

on  thursday the seventh s and i had a long overdue catch up at brindisa soho. we had planned to go to polpo soho but weren’t inclined to wait up to an hour so landed up at brindisa soho instead (i find myself agreeing with ariel leve on the vagaries of restaurant reservations and queuing). admittedly the seating was very cramped and it was a bit disconcerting to sit eating facing a huge mirror. from the brindisa classics we picked the chilli garlic prawns and handmade goats cheese with orange blossom honey and crispy beetroot, the seabass with an aubergine, onion and red pepper compote came from the tapa plates and from the picoteo i picked the green and black olive with capers. out of all of them the olives were the most disappointing – they were dry with an overpowering salty note having been teemed with equally salty capers. s picked a lovely sauvignon blanc with a fruity note. the chilli garlic prawns came steeped in oil and had been cooked till just tender. the garlic was in the form of caramelised slivers adding a slightly sweet and sticky after taste. i know that s and i were unanimous in our love for the goats cheese which was lightly battered along the sides, fried and drizzled thick with honey, the sweetness of which cut through the pungency of the cheese. the crispy beetroot was the least interesting element on the plate but it did much in terms balancing the colour palette. in all the tapas the emphasis was on the balance of colour, flavours that were sweet and savoury and texture too. it is not necessarily the most reasonably priced meal and is probably better suited to people who are happy to share. i know that o would claim that he won’t fill up on tapas. but i have come to realise that tapas are the deceptive way to eat a very filling meal. in that combination of cheese, fish and seafood along with some bread s and i had eaten more than a full meal. in fact we were so stuffed that we had no space for dessert despite me being tempted by the catalan custard or the almond cake. well, i guess there is always a next time.

p.s. between the pouring rain, the sins of greed and gluttony and in the case of dinner with colleagues and bosses i didn’t manage to get any pictures. but don’t let that deter you from trying out all of the above. especially the cocktails at nobu, hush and hakkasan.

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