Monday, 16 August 2010


Hi guys, The Itinerant Epicure has moved and can now be found at

Friday, 13 August 2010

Awana Malaysian Satay Bar - Awana Eat Somewhere Else

"Oh Dear!" I thought as I opened the wine list and saw that the cheapest bottle in the "monthly promotions" was £27. Then I looked at the next page and my eyes spotted the £480 Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Wow, I thought. This place must really be something to have a wine list where 80% of the bottles are over £50. Maybe I'm just out of touch since I eat in budget places like Polpo and Koya and have rarely seen a wine list of this calibre outside of an enoteca where the wine list is the size of a bible and caters for every budget or a truly exceptional restaurant of the Michelin variety.

Nevermind, I thought, clutching my Toptable 50% off food offer - the cuisine here is going to knock my socks off so it is deserving of a great wine to go with it. Then I (happily!) found the £19 bottle of Argentinian Malbec at the very back of the wine menu. The waiter comes around and it is too warm. We ask him for a bucket to cool it a couple of degrees. He nods, then pours out a glass for everyone ignoring our request then leaves looking vaguely bewildered. We never see him again.

So far, we have staff with a ridiculous wine list and no clue how to serve wine.

The menu is tantalising, lots of great authentic dishes, a good handful of street food dishes - satay skewers, grilled meats, roti etc. Mains average about £10-£20 which makes the exorbitant wine list all the more baffling. Then the food arrives.

Our three starters are unremarkable. Spring rolls with very bland flavour, zinged up a bit by sweet chilli sauce. Ayam Cincang Wonton (little crispy parcels of chicken) are a touch greasy, not too crispy and taste of... bland chicken (a recurring theme, despite its "corn fed" status paraded all over the menu. Perhaps the corn was of a particularly crap vintage that year?) again zinged up by the sweet chilli sauce. My daging kerabu - strips of beef marinated in oyster sauce and palm sugar mixed with salad and sambal sauce was the most exciting of the three, nice smooth flavours, a little kick, but so far I hadn't been bowled over by anything. The sneaking suspicion that the quality of the food was probably lower than Busaba eathai (which is a third cheaper) was beginning to grow.

Four mains later and I was less and less thrilled. My tiger prawn stuffed corn-fed chicken with sambal belacan and stir fried pak choi came with no pak choi, but two tiny strands of baby broccoli, non-existant sambal belacan, the ever present sweet chilli sauce and zero flavour. I couldn't distinguish the prawn from the chicken, nor could you tell the meat had been anywhere near a chargrill (perhaps if I'd smoked a cigarette first or licked a lump of coal it might have improved things). Kung Fu noodles looked like a Mr. Wu £5 eat-all-you-like buffet noodle dish and tasted like one too, but cost £18. The other two might well have been the same dish except one came in a pineapple and one had a vague element of chilli which imparted some sort of flavour. Hooray! An achievement!

Thank god for the second bottle of Argentinian Malbec, so far my favourite dish of the evening.

The saving grace was the desert. I had a scoop of lemongrass and chilli sorbet which oozed delicate flavours and was cool and refreshing, sweet then tangy. Dadar coconut filled pancakes were incredibly morish and Kec Kakang chocolate cake was gobbled up so fast I didn't actually get to taste any.

With 50% off, four of us ate for £104. Decent, but when I think it would have cost £208 otherwise to eat something I could have picked up in Wagamama - but more flavourful, I balked.

Awana needs to buck up on its spices or introduce a decent affordable wine list as well as reduce its prices, right now it looks, feels and tastes a bit Hong Kong Phooey.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

"Udon" know what you're missing 'til you eat at Koya

Every blogger, his wife and their three children has written about Koya - all glowing praise and with the kind of prose reserved for edwardian love letters that make broad-bosomed women swoon.

And on that note I have little to add to such fantastic reviews such as the ones from TomEatsJenCooks or LizzieEatsLondon but like them, I went for the full on Udon shebang and was rewarded in so many stomach-satisfying ways. There are noodle shops coming out of your ears in London, and you could spend ridiculous amounts of money faffing about in mega posh Japanese dining establishments, or slurping sub-standard rubbish in Chinatown but Koya, at the heart of Soho on Frith Street, is both moderately priced and exceptionally good with all the Udon made in house and served either hot or cold in either hot or cold broth or sauce for pouring.

Before even going in to the deliciuos side dishes, including the now stratospherically famous Onsen Tamago - or "hot spring egg" an egg poached slowly at 60 degrees and served cold making your dashi deliciously creamy and silky.

Esti had the Kinoko Hiya-Atsu, udon in a hot walnut miso with wild mushrooms, suffice to say the walnuts were a genius idea. My Buta MIso Hiya-Atsu, or udon with pork and miso paste was a touch too sweet for my liking but I somehow finished it anyway and the special of the day, clams steamed in sake, were being enjoyed by an amorous couple sitting beside us whose "mmmms" of delight I put down to the exquisite clams, rather than their furtive footsie under the table...

49 Frith Street

Friday, 30 July 2010

The Compass, Islington. Gastrogrub.

Those that know me know that little piggies, and any possible edible derivative of them, are things that I like very much. Possibly a bit too much in fact as I regularly dream of the day when a prosciutto Spa opens in London where I can be wrapped in slices of Parma and be fed tidbits of Coppa by some semi-naked Lothario dressed in a loincloth made... of pork loin...

Now, stick the words "ham hock" beside the word "rillettes" (yum, oozing salty goose fat!) and I pretty much start hearing wedding bells a-ringing and need to whip out my secret drool bucket I keep stashed in a back pocket somewhere.

Well, the drool bucket certainly made an appearance at The Compass where I devoured ham hock rilletes with picallili on fresh bread before demolishing half of my friend's silky, pungeant chicken liver, wild mushroom and truffle oil pate with cornichons (gotta love those cornichons...).

The Compass sits on a rather unassuming street, and in fact doesn't really stick out much. Inside is not exactly award-winning decor either, with simple, but tasteful wooden tables and a curved bar beside the open kitchen at the front. For being a Gastropub, its slightly lacking on the pub side of things as the whole room is devoted to restaurant seating. But they make rillettes with ham hock, so after my third glass of Tempranillo Cabernet from Spain and having licked my fingers clean of any possible trace of pate de foie, I was ready to forgive them. In fact I nearly assaulted the waitress with my over eager praise of the spreadable delight.
I enjoyed a crispy seabream with squash and cockles in a soft, creamy sauce, but looked enviously at Alberto's prettily pink roast spiced lamb with couscous and tzatziki.
I somehow ended up having a Laphroaig with my cheese, not entirely sure why but Alberto seemed keen on hitting the smokey stuff so went along with it.

Cheeseboard contained a totally unremarkable Isle of Mull cheddar, a lovely Colston basset stilton, and my favourite, the rather nutty Tunworth soft rind. With cranberry chutney.
Those who only fancy barsnacks can head in almost any gastronomic direction here from "chip butty" to grilled crab on toast or chorizo in wine. Had pay day been yesterday I could have gone into these further, but sadly, I'm a lass on a (pretty rubbish) budget.
The Compass. Hopefully you won't need one to find your way there. Pronto.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Song Que for your Supper

Lying half-way up Kingsland Road, fifteen minutes from Old Street tube station the mint green cantine-style interior of Song Que heaves with hungry diners. There are several other vietnamese restaurants and cheapo cafès along this road, but this is the only one with the serious queue at the door, and don't let that put you off, the waiter would free a table up for you if it costs him his daughter. This is no-frills, no trimmings, good-quality comfort food. Mains cost an average of £6 and are extremely generous. Flavours are bold and service is fast with some pretty witty banter coming from the staff. Don't expect to be fussed over and to lounge about once your plate's been cleared, there's others waiting behind you. Do, however, expect friendly and efficient service and a tasty and extensive menu.

Tried and tested:

Spring rolls - crispy and golden but a tad greasy for my taste
Vietnamese summer rolls - these were divine, full of fresh flavours and good texture
Pho Tai (rare beef noodle soup) - heart-warming and delicious, but could've been just a teensy bit more generous with the meat.
Pancake with prawn and chicken - light fluffy egg pancake with crispy beansprouts and very tender prawns
Grilled squid with ginger and spring onions - the squid was fresh and not at all rubbery
Chilli salted squid - this was a strong dish, popping with chilli
Lemongrass chicken with peppers - again, a real fiery kick of lemongrass and crunchy peppers for texture
There's jasmine tea and a varied selection of Vietnamese bottled beers as well as the regular beers.

Cost: about 14 pounds per head for two courses and a drink.

134, Kingsland Road
E2 8DY
Closed Sundays
Children Welcome

Jedi Nights at Gordon's Wine Bar

Continuing my foray into the world of internet dating... its amazing how fast two humans can arrange a second "date" once they've discovered a mutual affection for lightsabers (note: this is not an innuendo - I really am talking about Jedi techy stuff here).

So, not quite the Mos Eisley cantina, but dark, stuffy and sufficiently cavernous to pass for a distant Tatooine cousin, the Gordon's Wine Bar near Embankment station was the setting for an evening of too much (good) wine, too much (good, smelly) cheese but just the right amount of good conversation.

I love Gordon's. The cosy alcoves smell a bit like musty old port barrels, which is exactly what the place should smell like, the entirely French and Italian staff are mostly useless but somehow totally appropriate, the slabs of cheese are humungous and there's cornichons "a volonte" clearly, they know me well. They serve a really good selection of port, sherry, manzanilla, red, white, rose and madeira and also have a decent hot food buffet. Best in the summer months is the hog roast at the end of the long thin strip of patio/garden that stretches outside the wine bar along the Embankment gardens.
Shoddy lighting outside does mean that after sundown you're somewhat falling into/over people, although that might also just be the port talking. Cheese-wise, we enjoyed some Port Salut, a dolcelatte and some Stinking Bishop. I think. Divine.

A. drank something or other, E. drank something or other different, both choices were yum. A. and E. then both shared a bottle of Rose which was crisp and refreshing (yes, I sound as knowledgeable as a Wetherspoon's wine list) then A and E proceeded to demolish the leftovers of someone else's wine, thus proving we really are about as classy as those egg-headed creatures in the Star Wars cantina band.

With all that it's rather a miracle A. and E. didn't break out into an all out demented Ewok-dance fest on the tube.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Cracking good time at Prix Fixe bistrot.

Meandering through the wierd and not so wonderful world of the post-break up, heart still a touch battered and appetite on a whirlwind of ups and downs, I decided to amuse myself by exploring a little light-hearted internet dating.

Call it part social experiment, part desperate attempt to move on, part insanity.

So, blind date number one (and this is in no way meant to sound like there's hundreds of them lined up!), let's call him "A" to preserve the poor guy's anonymity, was at Prix Fixe Brasserie which is only appropriate as my date was French (anyone seeing a trend here?) and, thank heavens, not vegetarian.

Last time I ate here I don't think I'd ever even earned a pay check, although not much has changed, except they now serve Atlantic Rock Oysters (hurrah!) of which I ate five as my starter. Plump, sweet, large, perfectly good and not horrendously overpriced.

A opted for roasted foie gras (you can keep 40 virgins and God, when I die I want a bathful of this stuff) on toast. Actually, since we were too busy discussing my traumatic friday (neighbour jumping off roof, coma, police etc. average Brixton night) I never actually asked to taste it, but since he finished the lot, and hey, its roasted foie gras, I'll make a stab at it and say it was very good.

Mains were slow-roasted pork belly for me, with sauerkraut and apple relish. The slab of belly was humungous and the crispy skin so thick I nearly swerved it off my plate a few times, but quite scrumptious, although a smaller portion might have made me feel less like a hog myself.

A. had simple entrecote and frites on recommendation of the waiter who seemed to snub the filet. Again, yakking away as I do when I'm nervous, I totally missed the food exchange opportunity. So... probably a decent steak...

The fun came at the cheese course, where for almost ten pounds I got served a wedge of cheese small enough to mistake for a postage stamp but accompanied by enough cheese crackers to build a second leaning tower of Pisa. How I was supposed to divide my teeny cheese wedge onto so many crackers was beyond me, and I could see A. (scientist) eagerly making calculations in his head, but the mathematical conundrum that this cheese to cracker ratio presented was beyond all of us. It did provide quite a few laughs though, and the cheese, though small, was very good.

I won't bother telling you what A. had for pudding because AGAIN I failed to try any. Poor show on the Itinerant Epicure's behalf I must say...

But anyhow, the lot was washed down with a rather good New Zealand Jibe 2006 Pinot Noir and conversation flowed very nicely and we both have problems with mice in our houses and an inevitable Strasbourg connection (small world, getting smaller by the minute). So all in all a pleasant evening.

Which is good since I'm heading to Prix Fixe next week for my birthday dinner, which means I can try the steak and the foie gras and the dessert and actually report back properly as a good food blogger should and even take annoying photos of my dishes!

Now, must go and read that article on French Basque cuisine in the Guardian... the mind tries to move on but the heart doesn't so quickly...

39 Dean StreetLondon
020 7734 5976