Thursday, 14 May 2015

Top Of The Hub

Greetings from Boston!





This iconic rooftop bar has been one of the reflections of Boston’s commercial success over the past few decades. Based on 52nd floor of Prudential Centre, 360 degree views of this magnificent city can be seen. This establishment has recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary in April - what an achievement for a lounge situated in the most expensive building in the state! 
What separates this gem from most rooftop bars around the world is a combination of showcasing the culinary delights of New England dishes on its menu along with its nightly live jazz band which heightens the mood of this place. 

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I remember coming here when I was 17; as soon as the elevator doors opened the place was oozing opulence. It was the first time I had been to a rooftop bar, and it was a mirror image of the sky lounges I saw in hollywood movies. Luckily a polite, friendly waiter escorted me to a booth which was right next to a window so I could absorb the breath-taking views whilst devouring my Club Sandwich and Crab Cakes….




A few years later, I have come back and was treated with the same friendly hospitality as I requested the waiter to escort me to the very same seat I had sat in before. However, this time having had many experiences in rooftop bars in Europe and Asia I thought I would not be able to capture the same feeling blissfulness during my second experience in this place. But, I was proven wrong, it really was incredible - I suppose the rooftop bar concept like many lifestyle inventions in modern day has originated from the US but has been perfected in Asia. The sheer quantity of rooftop bars in Dubai and Hong Kong alone surely outnumbers the US?    

One thing which I have always been impressed with is portion sizes in America. I love the fact that  fine dining restaurants in Boston never compromise portion sizes. However quality is a completely different issue -  I truly believe that fine-dining restaurants across all cuisines in Boston, New York, Miami perhaps LA will never come close to the quality we are so used to in London (apologies for boasting, but I am only trying to express my honest humble thoughts).



Moving onto the food, I ordered the “Toasted Sesame Crusted Tuna Steak”. I’ve ordered yellowfin tuna quite frequently in Boston as they seem to serve this dish in Italian, Japanese, Chinese cuisine and as a burger in most burger joints around the city. This time it was prepared Sichuan style with egg noodles and Kai-lan. The oriental flavours worked perfectly with the Tuna, and this dish really didn’t fail to impress. 



I ordered a typical New England dish next which the pan seared crab cakes (the picture only shows one, but there was actually two in a portion, I just wolfed down one of them in 2 bites accidentally before remembering to take a picture…. [my bad]). It was served with an Aioli dressing on the side which made this dish a powerful combination.



For dessert, there really was only one dish to order - the Boston Cream Pie. Now like most people in Boston, I originally thought the name of this dish was only a Dunkin Donuts style donut, but it actually is the flagship dessert of Boston (I 100% guarantee you if you ask Bostonians the question of “what is a Boston Cream Pie?” they will tell you its a Dunkin Donuts flavour!!)

This dessert was simply stunning, it had the logo of “Top of the Hub” and its image background on the dessert itself. I’ve seen this done only a few times before, and I think it should be implemented by more restaurants more often. 

This cream pie is served cold and has a hard thin outer layer of chocolate and is filled with swirls of custard, mascarpone cheese and chocolate sauce. Three flavours attacking my tongue at once left my tastebuds overwhelmed - this was hands down the best dish of the night!


The Verdict:

Ambience - 7.5/10
Food - 7/10

Service - 7/10

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Cabana Brazilian Barbeque





Cabana is a restaurant which prides itself as being a Brazilian Barbecue that takes flavours from the streets of Rio De Janeiro. This restaurant has been growing in stature over the last 5 years, and has opened 7 restaurants up to date with 6 of them being in London. The concept of a Brazilian barbecue has not really been touched on yet here, although there are quite a few Steakhouses & restaurants serving various currys and "fusion" Latin American food. The likes of Las Iguanas, Bem Brazil, Cafe Brazil comes to mind. However, Cabana's menu seems to echo the culinary delights that have famed the streets of Brazil for so long.
I wouldn't be surprised if the recent World Cup has increased profits for this restaurant tremendously; I have a feeling the owners are grateful for this incredible event which has given them free advertisement for over 2 months.  







The interior of this restaurant is quite special. It has a funky, eclectic feel with lots of bright lights and colours on the wall. The Westfield branch has a cool, colourful spiral couch situated right in the centre of the restaurant. The South American music along with the interior makes this Latin vibe instantly felt as you walk into the restaurant. Your senses are immediately overwhelmed without the food even being served yet!







For starters, I ordered the Cheesy Dough Balls (Pao de Queijo). This is served with the garlic butter. I am not really a so-called "cheese fanatic" but this dish tasted very nice, not too cheesy, not too oily either (even though it was deep fried). It had a nice crunch to each bite I took, which is always a nice feeling, and the cheese didn't feel like rubber when it entered my mouth.




Next up were the Chicken Coxinhas, which were in the same shape as the dough balls. and were basically seasoned croquettes of shredded chicken. When I was eating this, I imagined myself on the streets of Rio, along side run down food stalls. Each stall had a huge pot where all the deep frying would be done and a grill along side it, all manned by one person, whilst another person would be at the counter taking payment. These stalls stood right next to a patch of land where children were playing football every single day till dusk. Both of these would be the type of dish served in one of these stalls for approximately 10 pence a portion. At Cabana it was £4.95 a portion, which was not bad for London standards.









I am a huge chicken lover when it comes to eating, so for the main course I looked no further beyond ordering Spicy Malagueta Chicken Skewer and the Zingy Lime & Garlic Chicken Skewer. They both come hanging on a vertical metallic skewer. Looks quite aesthetically pleasing, but as soon as the chicken makes contact with your tongue an explosion of flavours occur, the lemon and garlic mixes perfectly from the Zingy Lime & Garlic Chicken Skewer which isn't so spicy but tastes wonderful. The chef has done a great job perfecting the marinade not making the coating too thick or thin. On the menu it says that the Spicy Malagueta Chicken Skewer is the best seller and it is highlighted in turquoise. It certainly was the best dish of the night, and being a spice lover, I truly appreciated the hot blast that came from the spicy marinade. But as always I am going to complain about the portion sizes, 4 pieces of chicken and 4 bell peppers should NOT be a portion size. The portions must be bigger as one man needs to eat one appetiser and two mains in order to NOT go hungry.










What I didn't like was that the EXACT SAME sauce they used for the marinade in both dishes, were also kept on each table as chilli sauce. This seemed a bit unprofessional and slightly amateurish. It is like going to Nandos and finding the Nando's marinade instead of the lemon & herb, medium, garlic, hot sauces on the counter. The marinade and the chilli sauce MUST be different.
The slightly disappointing part of this menu was that it didn't have fried plantain in its menu. I know for a fact that fried plantain is a dish served in West African, Mexican and Brazilian cuisine as a snack. This is actually one of my favourite snacks to eat at home, and it's a shame that this restaurant is missing this dish in its "sides".
My waiter was actually quite rude and seemed a bit lazy when carrying out orders. The food came quickly, but the wrong dishes came to our table at first, however I observed the service around me on other people's tables and it seemed fine, so perhaps it was just a coincidence.

The Verdict:

Ambience - 6.5/10
Food - 6/10
Service - 5/10

Monday, 26 May 2014

Sushi Samba









Once the Heron Tower was built, Sushi Samba signed a contract which allowed their restaurant to be located on the 38th and 39th floors of this building. Samba Brands Management has had huge success in the US with restaurants in New York, Miami, Chicago and Las Vegas. However, they decided to make their brand international and the first city which they decided to conquer (or try to anyway) was London. As we all know, London is a ferociously competitive environment for any restaurant - whether it's targeting the lower, middle or upper class. So, lets see if Sushi Samba meets my expectations....

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When we entered the lift, and pressed the 38 button on the side panel, the lift went up very quickly. My ears felt the same effects of being on an aircraft after take off and after 20-25 seconds the whole skyline of London can be seen. As we get out of the lift and enter the place, there is an outdoor bar to the left which is under an awesome golden orange lit tree. Unfortunately, the bar area is a bit too open for the public, and unfortunately this area is filled with a lot of unclassy, trashy East London women in miniskirts. This restaurant being a 2 minute walk from Liverpool Street Station, is in East London and Samba Brands Management has made a huge mistake of NOT letting this place become extremely exclusive like Aqua Shard/Hutong.












Having fought my way through the crowd of people just to get to the reception of the restaurant; I had a feeling that if I had come 10 minutes later to this place my table would have been taken by some of the people waiting around the bar area, such was the demand for dinner. Finally, the receptionist took me into the restaurant where an incredible bamboo-lattice ceiling was very structurally arranged with lots of lightbulbs hanging from the roof.











The waiters at this restaurant were very friendly, and even though each waiter serves a particular table, asking any of the waiters for extra dishes doesn't yield the response, "I'll call your waiter" but rather they carry out the order themselves. This small feature should be implemented by all fine dining restaurants









Moving on to the food, I decided to order the sushi first. The "Tiger Maki" was a combination of crab meat, prawn tempura and tiger prawn in each sushi. As soon as the first bite is taken, a sudden frenzy of flavours hits the tongue, as the wasabi mayo on top mixes with the beetroot yoghurt and the unagi tare to make this dish an instant winner. It was quite overwhelming as the first dish served, but was worth it!









The Vegetarian selection was also exceptional, using a combination of warm avocado, pickles and cucumber.











The last time I came to Sushi Samba, I experienced the best "Rock Shrimp Tempura" that even gave Nobu a run for its money. This time was ok, I believe they changed their shrimp source, as they opted to use prawns instead, and it kind of ruined that bite size feeling you get when you eat this dish. But in terms of perfecting the preparation of this dish, Sushi Samba definitely has, with the right quantity of batter and crispiness.








Next was the again infamous "Black Cod Miso", this time came in skewers, which I have never seen before. I always thought the way they make this recipe made the fish too soft to be skewered. But I was wrong, and this dish was more chewy than other ones i've tasted, but still an absolute delight.







The stand out dish for the night has got to be this one. "The Mushroom Tobanyaki" was unbelievable. A mushroom dish which is not quite a curry (although it can be eaten with rice) and not quite a stir fry contains many types of mushrooms from Shiitake to Portobello. But what was amazing was the poached egg inside this dish. The yolk added another flavour into the mix and made this dish tantalisingly tasty.








Still a bit hungry, I ordered the "Ezo", according to our waiter they created a newer, more improved version of the Ezo. Pieces of Salmon on top, and inside were avocado, sesame and pieces of deep fried tempura batter. I didn't really like this dish as much, as it felt weird biting into sushi, with crispy batter inside.






Before the verdict, I have to admit that something which left a bad impression on me was the state of the toilets by the entrance which was a complete disgrace. In the men's room, there were only three urinals. And the stench of urine was soo bad. I must emphasis again that Sushi Samba needs to be more exclusive with the type of people they attract. Anyone from the bar area/restaurant can use this toilet. There was no elegance to the interior of this bathroom at all, it was the type of bathroom any fast food restaurant would have like Burger King/KFC.


The Verdict

Ambience - 6.5/10
Food - 6/10
Service- 6.5/10












Sunday, 18 May 2014

Hutong (Shard)

David Yeo (the genius behind Aqua Group) has had his fair share of hostility by the English Media when expanding his Aqua brand in London. The successes of his restaurants which he had experienced in Hong Kong, was definitely the complete opposite of what he experienced when opening Aqua Kyoto, Neuva, Spirit in Regents Street. However, credit to this man whom having been plagued by obstacles when coming to London, has shown his fighting spirit as he is now arguably considered one of the titans amongst the fine dining restauranteurs in London. Hutong in Hong Kong has been quite a success since its opening in 2004, and has recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. It is located in 1 Peking Road and it overlooks the Victoria Harbour and the Island side's skyline.
However, most of London's skyscraper buildings are used for offices rather than bars and restaurants. Until 2011, when the Heron Tower completed its construction the Samba Brands Management closed in and sealed deals that would allow their "Sushi Samba" and "Duck & Waffle" to expand into London having gained extreme success in the US. The Shard's opening in July 2012 allowed the Becker-Waney Group to jump on board the rooftop restaurant bandwagon as they opened up "Oblix". Yeo seized this opportunity to open two restaurants - "Aquashard" and "Hutong".












Hutong's interior is an exact carbon copy of the Hutong in Hong Kong; as soon as you walk up the last staircase, it is made clear that the top floor is occupied by this restaurant. Tables are arranged on both sides, with a two bar areas. The restaurant is quite dimly lit, with red Chinese lanterns arranged  illuminating the place. The predominant material used for the floors and the walls was stone. You can make out carvings on every other tile and the markings on the walls and doors of the bathroom. It made me think that once a upon a time, these carvings were used within the walls of an Ancient Chinese palace. The absolutely gorgeous skyline of London that can be seen as the background of this restaurant made me think that the interior need not be so sophisticated. This is because the view of all the major architectural structures of London can be seen, from The London Eye to the Gherkin.









We went started off at the bar as our table was not yet ready, and it was quite cool to find a cocktail menu where it tells you what Chinese health benefits each cocktail contains. The title of that page was called "Cocktail Cures".












Once we headed to our table, and sat down the first thing I noticed was the really uncomfortable chairs, made out of wood (I think). Our table itself was very small and barely fit 5 people, let alone the dishes that came.
We started off with the dim sum platter, which contained the rose champagne dumpling; this were shrimp dumplings which had no taste whatsoever of any alcohol and were very tender. The "Scallop And Pumpkin Dumpling" was also quite tasty but being a huge fan of crab, I found the "Crystal Crab Meat Dumpling" the best. Crab meat in dim sum is always hard to find in London, as most dim sum places always choose every other meat except this delight. It was too bad that this dish was only served in the dim sum platter and not on its own in the menu as I would have ordered more.





Next was the roasted peking duck, the price of a whole duck was £58 which is quite ridiculous as this in itself allowed the 5 people in our table to have literally two pieces each before it was finished. The quantity of pancake rolls along with the cut celery and cucumber was also quite small. However, the taste of the duck was very soft and succulent. The juices of the fat and the flavouring mixed together very well as I took a bite.





The "Sichuan Peppered Cuttlefish" came under a bed of sliced cucumbers, I have to admit that I do enjoy fish; but I underestimated how "fishy" this fish was in terms of smell and taste. If I am not mistaken it was served raw, and the chilli sauce on the cuttlefish was probably the same chilli sauce we had on our table! I think Hutong could've added a better combination of spice flavouring to this dish. But for those people who don't mind the concentrated "fishiness factor" of raw fish, I this dish would be worth a try, vice-virsa.





For the main course, we ordered the "MonkFish Fillet braised with Chinkiang Vinegar and Homemade Pickled Chilli". This dish was very flavoursome, and had a lot of tumeric and spice. The vegetables on top also added to the multiple flavours. The skin of the fish was deep fried, whereas the meat wasn't.  




The "Fried Prawns with Salted Egg Yolk and Crab Roe Sauce" was absolutely mouth-watering. The egg yolk helped bind together the Crab Roe Sauce and the prawns. This dish was very sticky, but this along with the noodles was a perfect combination for the main course.










 The "Hutong Dan Dan Noodle" was the star dish of the night, I am a huge fan of noodles and the minced pork mixed in the peanut sauce was the perfect flavouring for this dish. It was spiced up with chilli meaning here was no need to add any extra chilli sauce to this dish. The funny thing is, that this dish was the cheapest of the night.











For dessert I ordered the "Blueberry Cheesecake", this dish was a fitting end to a very filling dinner! I liked the way they mixed the blueberry in the actual cheese layer of the cake; usually when I order blueberry cheesecake from a cafe/restaurant, they always put blueberry sauce at the top, then the white cheese layer, then the breadcrumbs, but i've always wondered why they never infuse the cheese layer with the blueberries.








The Verdict

Ambience - 9/10
Food - 6/10
Service - 5/10






Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Suda


Patara is a family owned restaurant which entered the UK market in 1992. It has flourished, and is by far the best fine dining Thai restaurant in London. The Patara Group decided to open a more casual, Thai Cafe/Restaurant to capitalise on the middle tier dining, which has been dominated by the likes of  Busaba Ethai, Thai Square, 101 Thai Kitchen etc. Thus the launch of Suda occurred in September 2011 located in St. Martin's Courtyard which is right in the heart of Covent Garden.  




The entrance looks very attractive, boasting of vertical blue lighting strips which glows superbly under the very bright "Suda" sign. There are also four tables right by the outside entrance which i assume are only for show in the winter and for use in the summer. As you walk into the restaurant, the ground floor contains the main bar area with a few table and stools on the side suggesting this is where the informal dining/drinks section is. Wood has a strong emphasis in the materials used, and you can get a slight feel of being in a luxury back garden treehouse as you enter.









The staircase in the back, leads you to the first floor of the restaurant, which increases the sophistication of the interior only slightly with a bigger bar area; although the use of wood doesn't really make it impressive. The tables are much more spread out which is something I like, as whenever i go to restaurants which have a compact interior I almost always bump into waiters whilst they are carrying dishes to various tables. The white patterns on the black wall make this interior design fairly simplistic.











The first dish I ordered was the "Pratad Pu Cha", which is the Crab and Chicken Firecracker. I was intrigued by the name, as firecracker to me means some sort of firework. Being a fan of spicy food I thought I might give this a go. This dish is basically four very long and thin spring rolls, represented vertically with one of the ends dipped in a red spicy sauce. I could barely taste the crab as most of this dish was chicken, and holding it on one end involved oil dripping on my plate. As soon as I took a bite, the sheer quantity of oil that came out of this spring roll was quite disgusting and I wasn't impressed at all!





Up next was the "Satay Gai" - Chicken Satay. A dish which is a must order in any Thai restaurant in the world. The dish on the whole was ok, it didn't have that charcoal kick which I expect from this dish, and it was a little too oily, however the satay sauce was its delicious! The smooth peanut texture with a dash of coconut milk was absolutely spot on!










The "Gaeng Massaman Gai" which was the Massaman Chicken curry came next. This was the star dish of the meal. The blend of coconut milk, roasted peanuts and tumeric flavoured the pieces of chicken breast and thighs in such a delicious way that waiting for my side portion of steam rice became almost impossible when I took a small bite of this dish!




The "Pad Thai Goong" was the Pad Thai with Prawns. This dish was very traditionally made with dried prawns, red chilli peppers, beansprouts shallots with a nice lime wedge on the side. The quantity of palm sugar put in this dish was just right. A lot of Thai cuisines almost ALWAYS overdoses on this quantity, but Suda has very accurately got this streetfood dish right.





For dessert I tried the "Kao Tom Mud Sai Chocolate" which is a sticky rice roll with bitter chocolate filling inside with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. The sticky rice was infused with coconut milk and the dark chocolate wasn't oozing out but remained inside as you cut through the rice. I'm quite a picky person when it comes to dessert. And I usually have problems if the dessert isn't a chocolate fondant or a chocolate brownie.  I can understand why people like this type of dessert and don't get me wrong, the preparation of it was flawless, but It was more of a personal stubbornness as to why I didn't really enjoy it. Although for the people whom are adventurous with desserts I would recommend it!







The Verdict

Ambience - 5/10
Food - 6/10
Service - 8/10







Friday, 2 May 2014

Roka Mayfair

Roka has been one of the titans of Japanese fine dining ever since chef Rainer Becker teamed up with businessman Arjun Waney. This restaurant is perceived to be more casual than Zuma, which is the first restaurant the duo collaborated on.
Roka has recently opened its new branch in North Audley Street/ Green Street on the 17th February. I was quite excited about this because the main restaurant in Charlotte Street was losing its touch. I had been going to the Charlotte Street branch for a few years now, and especially during 2013 there were a number of things which didn't impress me. The lag time involved between calling our waiter(s) and actually being served by our appointed waiter is way too long for such a fine dining restaurant. This along with forgetting to bring some of the dishes that we ordered, and then having to place the order again.






However, this new branch located right in the heart of Mayfair does send a bold statement out to all the other Japanese fine dining restaurants about the fact that the Roka brand is getting stronger each year.
The impressive interior has a simplistic yet effective design using a combination of natural resources such as wood, iron and oxidised copper. You can immediately tell that this interior is a step up from the branch in Charlotte Street which really does need to get renovated as the whole piping system can be seen as soon as one looks at the ceiling on the back end of the dining area. The Robata open-flame grill is placed right at the centre of the restaurant which captures the essence of the restaurant. This interior display reminds me a lot of the Keralan Nalukettu style of architecture whereby a four halls are joined together with an emphasis on the central courtyard open to the sky. However, replacing this open roof courtyard with the Robata grill. (Maybe, i've spent too much time in South India for holidays to make such a comparison!!)
For starters I ordered three portions of the legendary "Rock Shrimp Tempura". This dish has been created by Nobu and copied by every single fine dining Japanese restaurant in every major city in the world. Roka's version doesn't fail to impress as the spicy mayonnaise does compliment the deep fried battered shrimp. When one puts the first piece in their mouth an explosion of flavours from the tender shrimp, the egg yolks infused with rice vinegar in the mayonnaise, the chilli kick, and the crispiness of the tempura allows this dish to become a must order in this restaurant!  



The "Yakitori Negima" was up next and I couldn't help compare this dish with the Yakitori in Wagamama's (a restaurant which i do enjoy). It contains one skewer less (so i ordered two portions) and the spring onions were a bit too burnt too taste. I would definitely say the Wagamama's version is better, however given the fact that this dish at Roka is only £4.90 i'm going to stop the complaints now.





The "Gindara No Saiko-Yaki" which is the black cod miso, is another spectacular dish created by Nobu and plagiarised by all high end Japanese restaurants. Roka's version came with Hajikami sauce (A ginger pickled in vinegar). The cod half-wrapped in a pandan leaf has a very smooth and buttery texture and the Yuzu miso sauce was applied in perfect quantity to make this dish the stand out of the night. There was so much flavour that the Hajikami sauce was unnecessary.





Next was the selection of sushi, I ordered the "California Maki" which was ok. I much prefer Japanese restaurants using fresh crab as opposed to crabsticks, which i know Yo Sushi and a few middle range Japanese restaurants use. Green roe around the Sushi was a good asset. The "Muguro No Pirikara" was impressive with pieces of Tuna inside and outside the sushi roll with chilli flakes and parsley sprinkled on top.



Finally for dessert I was a bit sad to find out that they didn't have the Chocolate Buddha, which i was so accustomed to eating at Charlotte Street. So I picked the "Chocolate & Maccha Pudding with Jivera,  Pear Ice Cream". One would think this the Maccha would be in the outside with Chocolate sauce waiting to be ooze out of the inside, however Roka has flipped the script! It was actually the other way round, and I was impressed!





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Roka has impressed me, its concept is flawless and the level of service at this restaurant compared with Charlotte Street is much better. I like the fact that they collaborated the oxidised copper interior design with plates that the dishes are carried on. What I was disappointed with was their flagship dessert of the Buddha not being available. I asked a waitress if they had it, and she looked at me as if I was trying to fool her into thinking that their was such a thing as a chocolate shaped Buddha dessert in the other branches of Roka.


The Verdict

Ambience - 7/10
Food - 7.5/10
Service - 8/10