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Single dish specialty restaurants have become all the rage in London in the last few years. Ramen, udon, schnitzel, lasagna, meatballs, hot dogs, lobster rolls, steak (and even cereal!) have all been turned into restaurant concepts – some with more successful than others. In theory, greater specialisation should result in near perfection of the dish in question – after all, if your entire business concept revolves around one thing, that one thing should logically be done really well. If not, you might as well give up. It also has the ancillary benefit that your patrons will not have to stare at a menu too long to decide what to order. On the flip side, one can’t afford to be too fussy with the menu as free will is quite limited in such places.However, the trend shows little chance of abating any time soon; so, what is going to come next? Well, to answer that question, the folk at Dum Biryani House have now brought their titular dish to the London food scene – specifically serving Hyderabadi biryani. Biryanis are a common place dish in many Indian restaurant, usually served as part of a far larger menu. So, the question is whether star treatment would result in a better biryani.
Bun. No I haven’t lost it. I’m just stating the translation of this creatively named joint serving Taiwanese buns. I’ve found myself peering longingly into the original Soho branch but never been in on account of the monstrous queue. So imagine my surprise at simply walking into their other branch up near Totterham Court road. We managed to get a seat relatively quickly on a Friday at 6:30pm. Maybe we were just lucky or people knew something we didn’t. Wouldn’t be the first time I had been hoodwinked about food.
When I initially heard the name of the restaurant “Anglo”, I was very puzzled. Is that the name of a dog? My confusion was compounded as when typing the name into the oracle (Google), I was told that it was a restaurant serving Asian food. Unless I’ve missed something major, or someone has managed to re-brand all islands as being part of Asia, I was not sure how British cuisine could fit the bill.Anglo is a restaurant that follows the Japanese model of food more closely. Not letting the guests choose the food. In Japan, at more upmarket eateries I have visited, the chef will just ask you what type of foods you don’t like. He will then construct your meal with the choicest cuts that he has fetched from Tsukiji fish market at 5am the same day. The tuna auction there is a sight to behold as special trading sign language is used to indicate price, which seems fairly incomprehensible to me with my limited Japanese. Although, later, I found out that it was a special trading vernacular as my Japanese friend also found it incomprehensible.As we sat down at Anglo, we were presented with the menu. Although menu maybe a slightly inappropriate word as you don’t really get much choice except whether you would like to shell out more money for some premium ingredients. We went for the standard offering. Anticipation built with giving up our culinary freedom.
You would have thought that at my age, I would learn to keep my big mouth shut. I’ve had enough things not go my way in my eating adventures to know the truth of that first hand. The aforementioned sentences’ lack of tangentiality will be shown if you read on. In my quest to quench my hunger for meat, we visited Smokestak. A venue offering the smoker brought right to your table, with the choicest cuts of cow/pig/fish/other usually edible animal served with a minimum of fuss and cost.Wild mushrooms, beef drippings on toast. We decided to start off with something fairly safe and uninspiring, mushrooms on toast. Although other reviewers have waxed lyrical about this, I found it not really to my liking. The whole dish left me with a sour taste in my mouth. I mean that literally. The tart taste combined with the fungi to deliver a dish that wasn’t really for me. The toast was good though.
A fairly recurrent motif in the London restaurant scene at the moment is the second restaurant effect. A new independent restaurant starts up, becomes successful and then opens their second restaurant. Sometimes, this is good – standards are maintained and it becomes (ever so slightly) easier to get a table in a hotspot. Sometimes, this is not the case, quality seems to get diluted as talent is spread a bit more thinly – sometimes a piece of string can only be stretched so far before it breaks. If the second try is successful (or even if it isn’t), the second location is now often followed by a third establishment and thus a chain is formed. I am of course not referring to those all those ramen and burger places that keep mushrooming up.So, when a restaurant as good as the Palomar announces that it is going to open another place, expectation (and hope) levels are unsurprisingly pretty high. I prefer to refer this to the sibling effect.At the Barbary, the dining room itself is based around a 20-seat bar counter facing a kitchen with a charcoal grill. Here it already differs from its older brother, with no separate tables. Makes for a more exciting dining experience as you are forced to watch the cooks at work. In that typically annoying fashion of London restaurants these days, it also does not allow for booking. Unlike its rather more genteel sibling, it seems that it is always the younger brother that causes trouble. I do rather hate waiting in line. Do people think that I have nothing better to do then queue for food? Sometimes I feel too important to stand around waiting for food. That is different then travelling for food of course, to which I am happy to devote entire days in pursuit. That’s different as it is part of the charm. Queuing in line in central London is less so.
With a new year, time to try something I had been hearing about for a long time. No, it’s not what you are thinking. It’s a new restaurant!Koffman’s, a restaurant so well known (at least within my circle of friends) to be termed an institution, suddenly seemed to pop up in my inbox offering a special pre-threatre dinner for only GBP28 for 3 courses. A steal I thought if reminiscence of other diners was anything to go by. A little new year’s present to me.First up, an amuse bouche. A thin pizza bread.
Seems like the internet is a ubiquitous presence in our society, so imagine my surprise that this restaurant does not have a website. Yes – you heard that right. The first restaurant I have seen in recent memory that doesn’t have a website. Pop ups and supper clubs don’t count. Extraordinary, especially for a place as hipster and trendy as this. I thought kids these days were born with mobile phones in their hands? Whatever happened to the humble pen? And to think I used to bemoan the inability of people to get by without a calculator when in the corner shop.Life just got a lot harder.So reduced to guesswork and hearsay regarding cuisine and price at this establishment, I was a bit apprehensive before I arrived. Although, I’m getting used to this as it is becoming the usual state of affairs when I visit restaurants. I’ve been floored (in a bad way) too many times to count. No expectations are better than low ones. You can’t be surprised.
Arguably the only thing in greater abundance than ramen chains in London is upmarket burger stores. At the start, it was probably a good thing to try starting a superior version of MacDonalds. Now, like lice, they seemed to have multiplied and now we have multiple burger joints pretty much everywhere. Although at least they aren’t all radiating the same colour of the golden arches.So, what sets Kua ‘Aina apart from the rest? It’s old. As they proudly exclaim, founded in 1975. It is also very Hawaiian – think bright pastel colours, with fronds of some sort in the ceiling. I feel like I am in the tropics already. Another point of boast is that they claim to grill their burgers on lava rocks. I would assume they were imported unless there is a volcano here that I had somehow missed. These must be some of the best traveled rocks in the world. How’s that for a unique selling point, you could say your dinner was grilled by things from the molten core of the earth.The menu itself is pretty extensive, cow, chicken or fish is up for your selection and if you are hankering for something extra, you could always choose a pineapple, avocado or chilli to spice things up.