Thursday, September 30, 2010

Five Guys

1335 Wisconsin Ave NW
Washington, DC 20007

I've heard a lot about Five Guys and finally had a chance to visit one in DC. After wandering around Georgetown (which is pretty, but man, what do you do if you're not interested in shopping?) we decided that a burger and fries were in order. Sensibly, we agreed to share one hamburger and an order of fries, because when they came out, I realized that the Five Guys burger has two patties, and "regular" fries are like two orders of normal fries. The burger had a decent char and the addition of grilled mushrooms and onions worked well. Shockingly, we didn't even finish the fries, even though they were fantastic (I love skin-on fries). I blame the heat - something about being hot makes me lose my appetite, which is a problem in a city like DC.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


2007 14th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20009-7562

Marvin is where a bunch of my friends who have all ended up in DC, somehow, gathered on a hot Tuesday evening to see me and A (thanks everyone!) Since an evening of drinking should probably be accompanied by a little food, A and I split a tuna salad (amazingly fresh, perfectly grilled tuna) and a side of fries (which I couldn't stop eating, especially with the curry mayonnaise). That totally hit the spot and made it possible for me to remain upright for a good few hours (the never-ending jug of tap water also helped, of course). 
J told me the mussels are great too but unfortunately they aren't served in the bar area. Marvin's still a bit of a scene on Tuesday nights, surprisingly - guess this place is popular, no matter what - but the roof deck makes it all worthwhile. Unlike it's neighbor, Gibson, which will never be worth it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pica Taco

1406 Florida Ave NW
(between N 14th St & N New Hampshire Ave)
Washington, DC 20009

In the runup to J's wedding, things were pretty busy, so for a quick lunch we offered to pop out to 
Pica Taco to grab some food to eat at the apartment. Above is my plate with a fish taco, a carne asada taco and half of a tamale. Ingredients tasted fresh and lively and boy do I miss the greatness of fresh corn tortillas. The tacos all came with a wedge of lime to add a bright squirt of acidity - perfect to cut through the salty meatiness. Lucky J - if I lived in his apartment I'd be at this place at least once a week.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Adega Wine Cellars and Cafe

8519 Fenton Street

Silver Spring, MD 20910

F & C have moved to the US! Thankfully, A and I were able to visit them within a week of them moving there, and we were lucky enough to see their new digs (and even have a splash around in their swimming pool). Adega Wine Cellars and Cafe is pretty close by and it is a great bargain for drinkers - we went on a Monday night where a few bottles of wine were 40% off, meaning C and I split a lovely Malbec for less than $9. They also let you buy wine and beer at shop prices, and then drink them with your meal. A and I ordered a Southwestern Chipotle Turkey Sandwich and a Chicken Flatbread, which were both enormous. Even tastier were the eggplant fries, which came with a great marinara dipping sauce. I am slightly jealous now - maybe I need to start thinking about moving...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mitsitam Cafe

Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

Washington, D.C.

The Mitsitam Cafe is inside the National Museum of the American Indian. It has several different stations from regions of the Americas with corresponding dishes for each. F, A and I were hungry after exploring all of the exhibits, so we popped in for lunch. It was quite difficult deciding what to eat, with so many interesting options, but I finally settled on 1) wild mushroom and corn bread pudding and 2) salt fish, hearts of palm and chickpea salad. A and F chose the buffalo chili and fry bread. My favorite was the wild mushroom and corn bread pudding - it is the extremely unattractive gray blob in the picture above but it was so full of mushroom flavor, and had crispy bits where the corn bread pudding had been roasted well. Everything else was nice as well, but I will remember that mushroom corn bread pudding for a while.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Elk in the Woods

39 Camden Passage
N1 8EA

I went to The Elk in the Woods so long ago that most details have been erased from my fuzzy mind (thank goodness for the menu posted on their web page). But I do remember having a good time, and enjoying the food, so I definitely left thinking that it was a fun meal with some interesting elements. We were with friends from the US, so this turned out to be a great place to introduce them to some elements of finer British pub grub. Clockwise from the upper lefthand corner, we have:

  • braised rabbit with wild mushroom, pancetta and roasted garlic ragu served with mashed potato
  • skewered quails wrapped in pancetta with sage and rosemary stuffing
  • chorizo and thyme lentils
  • venison burger (from the specials menu)
  • frickadeller, roast bacon, gherkin, apple sauce and mormors potato salad with gammel dansk
  • duck leg confit with parsnip mash (from the specials menu)
Thankfully everyone was happy to share bites of their dishes so I got to try a little of everything. I loved my quails and the lentil side was perfect for me. I was also pretty enamoured with the rabbit - it was much better than my one attempt at rabbit stew a long time ago. The venison burger had a nice gaminess to it that I really appreciated, and the frickadeller (which is delightful to say out loud) turned out to be fantastic Danish pork meatballs. Enough surprising elements (like frickadeller) make this meal stand out a bit - I'd take people with a slight sense of adventure here, I think.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pearl Liang

8 Sheldon Square
W2 6EZ

Pearl Liang was the last meal for our west London weekend, and boy was it a doozy. I can now see why so many people have gone hunting for this restaurant in the strange area known as Paddington Basin - on a Sunday morning, there is nothing else open in the area except for a lonely little Sainsbury's and a Starbucks. We probably over-ordered for two, but it didn't matter - A and I polished off everything like champs. Next time I have a craving for dim sum, I will be running back here - everything we had tasted fresh, with good quality ingredients, and the atmosphere inside the restaurant was great too.

List of goodies we ate, with the really exceptional ones in bold: Wasabi Prawn Dumpling, 
Shanghai Dumpling with PorkPork Shu Mai, Shredded Taro Crispy Prawn Roll, Crispy Aromatic Duck Roll, Fried Octopus CakeBok Choi with Garlic, Chrysanthemum Custard Buns

Thursday, September 16, 2010


139 Westbourne Grove
W11 2RS

Taqueria has been praised by several of my friends so I was pretty excited to try it. As usual, there was a wait for a table - this place is so popular, and unfortunately after eating there I couldn't quite figure out why. Here's what we ordered:

  • Sope fried masa boat, refry, salsa, crema, crumbled cheese, onion, coriander with house made Mexican chorizo £4.50
  • Carnitas shredded slow cooked pork, green salsa, pickled jalapeño, diced onion, coriander £6.00
  • Puntas Albañil skirt steak, smoky bacon, onion, green chile, sliced avocado £6.50
  • Tinga chicken in a spicy chile chipotle, onion and tomato sauce with sliced avocado £5.50
  • Gringa pastor (pork) and melted cheese sandwiched between 2 corn tortillas £6.50
The only one I really loved was the Puntas Albañil, with its large smoky nuggets of bacon. And the prices seemed a little steep - we spent about the same amount at Cafe Luc the night before and that was a much more luxurious and expensive-tasting meal. The other complaint we had was about the Bloody Maria we ordered - someone thinks that salt should be the main flavor in that cocktail because we had to dilute it with almost an equal amount of water before it was drinkable. Maybe this was an off night, but there are too many other places to eat better food - I doubt I'll be back.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hummingbird Bakery

133 Portobello Road
Notting Hill
W11 2DY

Hummingbird Bakery is renowned for its cupcakes, but I think they're overrated. I tried a red velvet cupcake just to make sure I wasn't missing out on something revelatory, and indeed, it was far too sweet for me, and even a tad dry. Their "New York" cheesecake failed our taste test as well - it was not nearly dense enough, so A will have to continue searching for an acceptable slice of cheesecake in London. Thankfully, in addition to our two failures, we also ordered a savoury muffin, and this was the highlight - cheesy without being heavy, it was scarfed down and we were amazed by how much we liked it. I'd get the savoury muffin again, but I can't see myself going back to Hummingbird Bakery much - the disappointment to happiness ratio was too high, and it's not cheap either.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Le Mercury

140a Upper Street
N1 1QY

Le Mercury is one of those places on Upper Street that I walk past all the time but never go into. I remember being surprised by the prices on one of my walk-bys, and making a little mental note to try it out, but then as usual, other things came first. Well, I finally made it there and while it was certainly a decent meal, I am not sad that I haven't been there earlier. It is basically well-priced French food that is executed the way I imagine a competent home cook would do it. My lamb was tender and came with nicely grilled courgettes, and the cheesecake above was a bit light and bland for me, though the sticky toffee pudding was gooey and decadent as it should be. Good for a casual dinner, but nothing to go out of your way for. Thankfully it is not out of my way at all.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The DramBrulée

One of my cookbooks was a gift from M and S who took a trip to Scotland and came back with something that A would like (Whisky) and I would like as well (Kitchen). This recipe caught my eye immediately - we have Drambuie in the house and it is one of the few whisky-related spirits that I can enjoy. The results were good, though it was quite difficult to get a pretty brown top under the grill - if I were making these more often I would invest in a blowtorch!

The DramBrulée
Adapted from 
Whisky Kitchen


3 egg yolks
25g caster sugar
100ml double cream
75ml skim milk
25ml Drambuie
3 teaspoons demerara sugar


Whisk the egg yolks with the caster sugar until pale, add the cream, milk and Drambuie and leave mixture to rest for 1 to 2 hours (I left it overnight) to infuse with the flavor of the Drambuie.

Preheat oven to 145C / 293F.

Pour into four ramekins and place the ramekins in a deep roasting tin. Add water to the tin until water comes up the sides of the ramekins halfway. Place the roasting tin into the oven and bake for 1 1/4 hours or until set but still a little wobbly in the center.

When ramekins are cool enough to remove from the roasting tin, set them aside to chill and completely set in the fridge.

Sprinkle the tops of the ramekins evenly with a thin layer of demerara sugar, making sure all of the custard is covered. Switch on your grill or broiler to the highest heat and allow it to heat up. Place the brulées as close to the grill as possible and watch them carefully so that the sugar does not burn. Once the sugar topping has melted and browned, remove them from the oven and allow them a few minutes to cool and for the sugar to set into a crisp topping. If you are lucky enough to own a blowtorch, that would be an easier way of doing the topping.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Cafe Luc

50 Marylebone High Street

Cafe Luc 
is a beautiful little brasserie in Marylebone – A and I were enticed by their set menu, three courses for £15.50, and decided to pass up a meal at Le Relais in order to try it out. Inside, the décor is luxurious but not too stuffy – I liked the little clusters of black lampshades on the walls. For starters, I had the confit duck and foie gras terrine – I’m not the biggest fan of foie gras but it worked in this dish, mingled with the nuggets of delectable duck. A enjoyed his smoked salmon served on a crumpet with a quenelle of crème fraiche on top. Our mains of steak and chips were perfectly cooked to medium rare, with crisp, skin-on chips served in generous bowlfuls alongside. The real stunner was dessert, though – the tiramisu was terrible, with a strange lemony taste, but the Nutella crème brulée was incredible – a vast saucer of creamy, chocolatey, nutty goodness with a crackling sugar shell. This menu is great value and we had a really lovely evening there – I will be back the next time I’d like a bit of luxury at not-so luxurious prices.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Franco Manca

4 Market Row

Electric Lane

Franco Manca is a bit of an institution and has been written about by a lot of people already, so I won't get into its history. A and I got to try it on a Thursday lunchtime, when it was easy to get a table. Our waitress encouraged us to get a salad along with our pizzas and it was a good recommendation - the dressing was tangy and went well with the bowl of fresh leaves. The pizzas came out quickly and were enormous - the plates in the picture above are much bigger than usual plates. We had a pizza from the regular menu with ham and one of the daily specials - a white pizza with wild boar salami and rocket. Both were pretty fabulous, though I liked the ham pizza a bit more, probably because the tomato sauce was perfectly balanced with the cheese and ham. I wish it was easier to get to and the opening hours were more extended, but it was worth the visit to Brixton and the market is pretty interesting to wander around.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Wenlock & Essex

18-26 Essex Rd
N1 8LN

Wenlock & Essex is a new venture from the people behind The Diner. I certainly like the interiors more than when it was The Living Room – the new décor is funkier, with nice red leather booths in the back for a comfortable dining experience. For the first month, they were offering 50% off the food bill, which made it an attractive gamble. J and I met up there for dinner and ordered salt and pepper calamari to start, followed by lamb meatballs in tomato and chilli sauce for me, and smoked haddock fishcakes for her. We also couldn’t resist a giant bowl of chips to share. The calamari was fantastic – really crisp, greaseless frying skills with a great lemon-yogurt dipping sauce on the side. I also loved my lamb meatballs – they tasted of happy spring lambs and came with great garlic toasts on the side to scoop up the extra sauce. J raved about her fishcakes and the chips were fine – nothing special, but certainly good enough for chips. The waitress noted that we had ordered well, saying that most people were going for the steak and chips on the menu but that she thought our dishes were better. Since I went back with A a few days later and had the steak, I can now agree with her – the steak is not the strong point here – stick to the other dishes on the menu and you can have a very satisfying meal.