Asadal Korean Restaurant, Holborn

I’m a fan of oriental food generally, so finding something different to the standard Chinese or Thai choices is always welcome. Asadal certainly fits the bill of being different, with food cooked at the table and menu that’s pretty baffling for anyone not familiar with Korean food.

The restaurant doesn’t do a lot to attract passers-by, given it’s signage arrangement which also covers a small newsagent next to Holborn tube station. But then, since they were only just able to fit us in without a reservation I guess they don’t have to. The restaurant itself is in the basement and must be right up against the walls of Holborn tube station. It’s certainly the shortest walk from restaurant to tube I’ve ever had.

Rather than the easy option of a set menu we decided to choose our own selection, which actually meant just picking random things from each part of the menu and hoping it worked itself out. The waiting staff weren’t that helpful in this respect: “Have we ordered enough?” “It depends how much you eat.”, but they did suggest a few extra things to balance the meal out.

As well as some barbecued beef with a selection of vegetables (all cooked inside the table – no, really), we also went for a seafood barbecue (prawns, squid, fish, clams), and also a seafood casserole that caused arguments as to whether it was actually a soup or not. Balancing beef inside lettuce leaves with chopped spring onions and chillies was an entertaining pastime.

It was all good food, though, and the Korean beer tasted just like any other beer so nothing to complain about there. The bill came to £110 between four people, which wasn’t bad at all given the quality of the ingredients and the restaurant itself.

Definitely one to go to again for something a bit different.

Asadal on London Eating

Asadal on Time Out

Asadal’s website

Meson Los Barilles tapas, Spitalfields Market

After wandering around Kinetica for an hour, we wandered off to a small Spanish restaurant called Meson Los Barilles. It’s also in Old Spitalfields (the proper old bit), and just off the main very commercial drag of Giraffe et al.

I think this may be a contender for the best tapas I’ve had in London. Admittedly, I haven’t had much, but it was good. Although I’m a fan of our local tapas in Leyton, La Parreira, it can’t quite match Meson Los Barilles for depth of taste.

We were surprised it wasn’t completely packed out, given how many people there were out around Spitalfields that night and that it was nearly 9pm, but they found us a table quickly. We ordered a variety including the sold favourites like patatas bravas, some squid, and chorizo with white beans in a tomato sauce. The highlight, though, was definitely the shell on prawns in olive oil, garlic and chilli, which justified having a bowl of bread to mop up with in themselves.

The wine list was pretty good too, with house reds and whites from around a tenner, and about twice that for some of the more specialist bottles.

All in all it come to around fifty pounds between two which is quite reasonable given that we had more than enough to eat and drink, and especially so given the location.

I think I may find myself there again from time-to-time.

Review of Meson Los Barilles on Squaremeal.co.uk

Location of Meson Los Barilles

Le Mercury, Upper Street, Islington

I first went to Le Mercury in 2004 after meeting an ex work colleage across the road in the Old Parr’s Head. The pub (Parr’s Head) seems to have closed down, which is a shame, but Le Mercury is still there. It serves a fairly rustic-style of French cuisine but my particular reason for liking it is that it’s one of the few places I’ve found to serve confit de canard at a reasonable price.

One of the attractive qualities of Le Mercury is the pricing, in that all starters are one price, all mains another. (I can’t remember the details but it’s something like £4 and £7 respectively.) They do make a bit back on the wine list, however, which starts at about £13 upwards.

The food maybe isn’t quite as good as I remember it, but perhaps that’s memory as much as anything else as I don’t think this place has ever been renowned for the food. It’s still good value for money, though, and pretty much what you’d expect for a low price evening out.

Le Mercury isn’t somewhere I’d choose for a big night out but for an occasional low cost treat it’s one of my favourites.

Le Mercury on London Eating

Le Mercury on LondonTown.com

Parreira Tapas Bar, Leyton

Leyton isn’t exactly oversupplied for restaurants so a trip out on a Saturday evening is inevitably going to lead here at some point. Even at this peak time, the place wasn’t particularly crowded but there were enough people there to make it feel comfortable.

The menu is largely tapas, although there are around a dozen meat and fish main course style dishes. I didn’t try any of these so have no idea whether they’re any good or not, but I couldn’t see any reason to stray from the tapas menu. The selection is pretty good, with the usual things like patatas bravas, and the dishes are good when they arrive. They seem slightly bigger than usual tapas restaurants and five was probably a little too much for two people.

The wine list is in the usual price range of £13 upwards, mostly centred around the £15 mark, although they didn’t have the first choice which gives some indication of the size of the place. There was no problem with the quality of the second choice and I was relieved that it wasn’t a bottle of the same Navarra that I could get from Tesco’s for a third of the price.

Most of the people there were a mixture of local infrequent visitors, out for a reasonably cheap local evening, and regulars who seemed to sit in the corner drinking bottles of beer and sporting a fantastic collection of moustaches. The service was smart enough, especially given that there only seemed to be one waitress for the entire room. It isn’t the kind of place to rush through in any case.

Price: around £40 for two, with wine.

Best points: pretty good food and wine, very good price, very big moustaches.

Worst point: too small tables for 2 people and lots of plates.

Overall, worth supporting a local restaurant which also turned out to be not bad.

Parreira is at 232 High Road, Leyton.

Review of Souk Restaurant, London

I went to Souk last night, a north African restaurant near Covent Garden, and what a strange place it was. Lots of low seating, low tables, and general ‘aren’t we in a tent?’-ness. Except, it isn’t in a tent, and most of it’s in a basement. (A very Victorian feeling basement with brick arches and everything.) The atmosphere is good: very gloomy, hanging fabrics, and cushions everywhere. The low seating is definitely better suited to anyone under about 5’8″ though, as are the ceilings for that matter. The 6’2″ waiter (6’6″ with a fez) could probably sue for repetitive strain injury from having to bend over all the time.

The food was good, though. We had a set menu between about 10 people which means they bring a load of food and then everyone fights over it. It didn’t seem fantastic value, to tell the truth; almost as if they skimped a bit on portions when there were more people there. They didn’t complain when we asked for a bit more of a couple of dishes, however, so that could just be the way it is. A couple of people were latecomers too and had their brought individually and it looked like more than enough. You can read the set menu here, which is three course including some baklava type pastries for dessert.

It was certainly tasty, particularly the lamb tangine and merguez for me, but everyone had their favourites. The beer was Casablanca and, like almost all ‘novelty’ beers I try, it tasted a lot like beer. It did actually have a distinctive taste, almost flowery, which was interesting. I couldn’t drink a lot of it but a few bottles was fine.

Pricewise, it wasn’t fantastic value, but wasn’t bad at around £25 a head, but not bad for something a bit different and very centrally located.

Souk’s website

SOUK MEDINA is at 1a Short’s Gardens WC2H 9AT

The Crown and Sceptre review, Great Titchfield Street

There aren’t many pubs I’d ever say this about, but I can honestly say I never want to go back to this pub again. The place doesn’t look too bad, and there’s space to stand outside, close to Oxford Circus, but the bar staff are absolutely the worst I’ve ever come across anywhere. The wait at the Crown and Sceptre surpassed my previous personal best by passing the half hour mark. We nearly were served once, but the woman who started taking our order mysteriously disappeared and our third of the bar was left unattended for the next ten minutes. (Had she gone home for the day? We didn’t know.) One of the other staff eventually noticed our side of the bar and we were the loudest shouters in the scrum who had the patience to wait. (That is the only way to get served there.)

So, that was the last time we went to the bar, and hopefully the last I’ll be seeing of The Crown and Sceptre. Very conveniently, the off-license on the corner diagonally opposite has a large chilled beer selection and sells bottles of Kronenberg for 99p each. I have the feeling they make a fair amount of money out of dissatisfied pub clientele.

My advice: don’t bother with this pub. If you do and you’re able to drink outside, take a bottle opener and remember the off-license on the opposite corner.

A very old review of The Crown and Sceptre

The Crown and Sceptre is here

The off-license is here

Review of Soho Thai, St Anne’s Court, Dean Street, London

I spent yesterday evening in the Soho Thai on St Anne’s Court, just off Dean Street. I’ve never noticed it before but it’s quite a small, unassuming place, especially given its location in Soho. Apparently it’s part of the Thai Square chain, but chain restaurants have never bothered me as long as the food’s good enough. We had a table booked and, even on a Wednesday night, I think this would be advisable either for a larger group or at peak time.

The interior is quite plain and the wooden tables make it feel more like a cafe than a full restaurant. The air conditioning was a bit over-enthusiastic, even on a very muggy day, but the waiting staff soon turned the vent near our table down. The menu looked pretty good, however, and there was also quite a large drinks selection (including Singha beer, of course).

I decided to share a mixed starter and wasn’t too impressed. There was the usual chicken satay (and, as usual, chicken of dubious origin), spring rolls, and random crispy things, and even the fishcakes weren’t especially good. For the main course, I went for a red curry with sticky rice and this did turn out well. I’ve also read that the massaman is good but I was in the mood for a bit of heat. There was no sign of the tinned vegetables that I often find in Thai restaurants and a good sprinkling of fresh chillies (not too hot) in the food. The rice portions seemed slightly small, although this could be due to it being brought to us in a large bowl to share and my land-grabbing techniques not being up to scratch.

Prices come to around £10 for a main course and starter, with drinks on top. This is where they really make their money, and they’re quite keen that everyone’s well attended to in this respect. Frankly, that doesn’t get any complaints from me.

Although I wouldn’t make a special trip to go to the Soho Thai, it can be hard to find a decent, reasonably priced restaurant so close to Tottenham Court Road and I expect I’ll be eating there again.

Review of Soho Thai on London Eating
Review of Soho Thai on Top Table

Stringray Globe pizza restaurant, Hackney

Hidden away (kind of) on Columbia Road in Hackney, just off Hackney Road, is a small pizza restaurant called Stringray Globe. We’ve been there for Friday lunch a few times now and it’s been very good every time. I can’t comment on the non-pizza menu (which looks comprehensive enough) but the pizzas themselves are very well made, being thin crust and a good size. I’ve had first hand experience of the proscuitto, american hot and calzone and these are all very good.

There’s also a good selection of beer from Budvar in large bottles to Nastro Azzuro on tap. Both are perfect for a Friday lunch. Friday lunchtimes also don’t seem to be particularly busy with plenty of room even at 1 o’clock either inside or out. The setting is quiet, being at the mainly pedestrian end of Columbia Road. Prices generally come to around a tenner per person for a pizza and a beer which is pretty reasonable.

Stingray is a nice little find and a pleasant surprise to find so close to Bethnal Green and Hackney.

Stringray Globe, Columbia Road on Streetmap