Proud East– Pop Up Japan

DSCF0486DSCF0487

I miss Japan. That much I can say. So upon invitation to check out ProudEast’s new Japanese-themed popup, I could quite literally feel my belly slowly move upwards. Not that belly-lurching could be any good, in any which way or form, it’s just that I knew all those juices were undeniably angry,  screaming for some oriental nosh. And you can indeed get that sort of thing here in London, little miss dressed-up International, though at hard-shelled prices pasted on seaweed I could get for two cents at my local oriental store back at home. Eat Tokyo (of which there are several outlets here) is pretty worth most bites of sweetly-vinegared rice, but there’s a certain degree of delicacy, an intricacy lacking that, to me, is so intrinsic to Japanese cuisine. Of course culinary chains aren’t meant to be all whimsy, but I can’t help it. Even the most chain-like places in Japan were more like fanciful culinary arenas, where sumo wrestlers gracefully dance and jiggle. But London is London and some things don’t change. Here was a chance to put my worn tastebuds to good use.

DSCF0490DSCF0492

DSCF0497

Seated along the blossom-lined path of Regent’s Canal, Proud East describes its pop up as ‘fusing Tokyo’s dynamic cultural hub with century old customs’. True enough, I was greeted with rich reds splashed amongst a contemporary monochrome palette. Lanterns. Clean wood. Sharp lines. Now if only there was a Japanese lady, but you can’t have it all, right?

I started my little self-made food sequence with their Aki Ban Cha, a light and fragrant green tea (though the lady who served it didn’t know what it was). They have a selection of three teas on offer, and mine stayed warm and life-giving for the hour I was there. There had to be some sort of meditation in case anything else went awry.

DSCF0499

Shimeji and shiitake hiyashi (cold) ramen

The star, the silver, the gold. The Hiyashi Ramen, which I chose to eat with shimeji and shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots and homemade kimchi (hit the jackpot here! Not overwhelmingly spicy, delicately sour). Commending the traditional cooking method of soaking in cool water; the noodles turned out cold, bouncy and firm. A tender bite, mildly sweet and lusciously dressed in that supple, slippery ponzu (soy and yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit like a light yet more bitter version of your typical orange). Though I keep eating eggs, dairy and meat to a minimum, hats off to the bright orange yolk tenderly cooked to perfection. A wobbly and ready-to-burst onsen egg would’ve fared even better, especially on this cool base. Well-cut, lovingly-marinated vegetables rounded up the savoury notes with an innate fresh and tangy zeal. I took it all quite seriously as the flavours were almost mesmerising, crisp silhouettes in my head. Almost as good as Tonkichi back at home in Singapore. I liked how they provide free chilli oil and white vinegar too on the side. The noodle volume was a little overwhelming for someone like me, but so worth it when priced at £9.50.

DSCF0506DSCF0507

Salted caramel miso ice cream sandwiched between two layers of chocolate guinness cake (unwrapped)/ upstairs gaming and lounge area

I wasn’t expecting this to be wrapped up and sealed with ‘Happy Endings LDN’, which did sound a bit weird for obvious reasons but compelling all the same. The ice cream alone is its saving grace, for I did taste miso streaked through the marshmallowy fluff of ice cream. Sweet and pillowy. The easy sort of eating, say if you want to grab something unusual (albeit fast-melting) on the go.

The whole concept is cute– you also get to play games upstairs, watch some arthouse Japanese films and indulge in some sushi and sashimi making classes. As they mention, ‘Proud East’s open plan kitchen will be taken over by one of the finest London restaurants, Tonkotsu, with a tantalising menu including fresh Gyoza, Crab Korokke, Chicken Kara-age and Tonkotsu’s signature dish, their intensely flavoursome and creamy Ramen’. Some serious immersion going on here and this spot will satisfy your Asian tooth for as long as you like, just until it ends in about 10 weeks. So get your butts here guys.

 

Review: Paddy Hills

DSCF8810DSCF8811DSCF8812

Another day, another café. I’ve done a little review on Paddy Hills before, but I could not pass up the chance to visit again to sample a few items on their new menu. When I stepped through the entrance doors, I was reminded why, when I first visited more than a year ago, I kept telling myself, ‘come back, you gotta come back’. I haven’t done a review in aeons, but this place deserves one, and more to come.

Having been to many a ‘hip’ café before, safe to say that Paddy Hills lives up to its hyped name. A little off the beaten track at South Buona Vista, interior brimming with rustic majesty, flooded with wood and light. Tiles, the most beautiful navy wall, smiles. A close friend and I sat down excitedly, and were first served drinks.

DSCF8815

Iced Matcha. Creamy, thick, rich. This reminded me of Haagen Dazs’ green tea ice cream blended with a little milk. Perhaps just a little too sweet for a sustained sip, but refreshing nonetheless.

DSCF8819

Bubbly Yuzu. This fared well for the both of us. The bubbles added a lovely flair, but it was the perfect ratio of sparkle to sweet of the drink itself, combined with the textural difference of plum and grape jello, that really made this a special, whimsical drink.

DSCF8816DSCF8818

Berry Muffcakes! Complete with vanilla bean ice cream cubes, magic mango balls, a garden of berries, chocolate sauce and chocolate crumble. OK, these are not part of their new or limited-time-only menu, but I just have to throw these in because… I mean, can you not see the pictures above. It’s just ridiculous. After trying these the first time a while ago, I immediately started writing about them because I was so enamoured by its spot-on texture and toppings. I’ve had my fair share of hotcakes and this was by far the best I’ve tried. Friends, I do not joke. Crispy, robust edges, fluffy, pale yellow cakey belly, a firm, browned bottom. Not too sweet, either. There’s nothing more you can ask for.

DSCF8817

Winter Truffle Fries. Golden fries, shaved pecorino, and shaved black truffle. Some truffle aioli on the side, because what’s lush without sin? Truffle fries have a bit of a confusing rep because it’s true you can’t actually taste truffle; its expensive scent enhances the whole fry-eating experience. For a limited time only, I implore you all to get your hands on these absurdly crisp, golden strings of heaven. If you’re like me and enjoy crispy-only fries, as if they were fried through and through and then fried just once more, then get your foodie selves down to Paddy Hills stat (yeah, they definitely beat PS Café’s).

DSCF8820

Truffle Breakfast. House-cured salmon, soft scrambled eggs and shaved truffle on a bagel, with house-cured bacon, sautéed mushrooms, and arugula.

I don’t consume much meat, but I daresay the few bites I took were tender like none. The bagel was crisp and chewy; eggs silky, creamy and buttery without being cloying or gloopy. The milky, more earthy flavours of truffled egg and mushroom complemented the cured meats which cut through with a blaze trail of umami. A king-sized, well-balanced dish.

As the meal came to an end, it started to darken outside. The light all at once was harsh, then subdued. The sky gradient followed the rise and defeat of our appetites, as we looked despondently at our leftovers. Full, happy, done.

 

Paddy Hills

38 South Buona Vista Road

Weekdays:  10 30am-5pm, 6-10pm
Weekends: 9am-5pm, 6-10pm

6479 0800

 

 

Tea Drinker?

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Tea? Me?

My typical early mornings comprise a bleary-eyed kettle-boiling-plus-toast-making session. In a few minutes I have toast and black coffee. In less than half an hour the sun is way up there and I’m ready to do whatever it is that I have to get on with. Tea rarely makes the cut.

But when I received a lovely assortment of teas from the enthusiastic guys of Clipper Teas, I knew I’d be ready to make a change to this morning agenda. Read: I’m never one for aimless advertising. I have to seriously love a brand’s aesthetic or flavour, or support their cause, or both. So why Clipper?

Before you read any further, please take a minute to click on this link.

Doo doo doo.

Da dum.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Done? OK.

Shocked? Disconcerted? Yeah, same here. What it really boils down to is this:

Do you know what’s in your tea?

So many of us buy bags and bags of the stuff each week, not once considering how we’re cheating ourselves. I too was completely unaware of the reality of the industry. Though I’m not the biggest tea drinker, I have friends who drink copious amounts of tea every day, and, if not the usual black, green tea is what accompanies those stressful revision sessions.

With Clipper, which also became the UK’s first Fairtrade tea company in 1984, you can be sure to get every bang for your buck, every brew fresh and free of anything artificial. Their mantra is ‘it’s what’s on the inside that counts’, and I completely agree. No bleaching of tea bags, no quarter-filled bags, no chemicals, nothing. Just pure, unbleached, natural goodness in a cup.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
A breakfast to complement this hot, flavourful cup of tea. My mother’s amazing homemade pistachio butter, which I here paired with caramelised banana, is one of the best things your lips will touch.

This early morning I enjoyed their lemon green tea, which exudes a bright, true flavour. Knowing the story and aim of Clipper made every sip all the more enjoyable. Here you can find the whole range of their delicious and reasonably priced teas! I’m already planning to smuggle as many flavours as possible back home to Singapore for the family to try.

Next time you think of having a cuppa (tea) or need something to accompany that slice of cake, just remember:

It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

 

Review: Tolido’s Espresso Nook

A long black please ($5.50), oh and that stack of devilish banana buttermilk pancakes. $9, you say? Aw, that’s not too bad at all. I mean, I can make my own buttermilk pancakes, but sometimes I need a step out of the humble abode, a new perspective, fresh insight into a worn classic. I forgot how good it feels to be at a café, alone with my thoughts, senses honed in on words, aromas, textures, flavour.

My penchant for anything sweet with nourishing kicks (think oatmeal with almond butter and honey, or this divine cheesecake) is let down a little once a week, when I hop around in search for something, anything, impressive on this tiny island, be it a sinful plate of crisp, endearing waffles or crazy lush French toast. Yolks oozing, crusts squealing at the first prick of my fork. Letting go can feel good. Almost necessary.

Tuesday’s situation. Ploughing through science writings, a double (upon request; they typically do three but I personally can’t stomach that) stack of RIDICULOUSLY thick and soft buttermilk pancakes topped with torched caramelised bananas, whipped cream and caramel, at the one café I’ve been meaning to visit for the longest while yet. I would’ve come sooner if it weren’t for my mistaken impression of this ‘nook’, something about the mounds of whipped cream I saw on Instagram and chimerical flavour titles on gaudy menus put me on edge; although it all sounded so whimsical and somewhat enticing, an air of off-the-beaten-and-maybe-slightly-greasy-track offset the appeal. I repeat: mistaken impression. One enters the wooden cove and is immediately bathed in a warm glow, some unuttered warmth. Smiling, tall baristas. The large sofa on my left had ‘come hither’ written all over, draped with a tassled beige cloth, resting against a wall filled with mini framed portraits. All the tables were elongated, wooden hexagons. The whole scene was akin to a teen clique’s secret hip hideout, complete with rough indie hits and large, flat spaces for ‘studying’. The nook lives up to its name. IMG_1056 IMG_1059

Delight.

Of course, the de rigueur sips of harsh black coffee. It’s always this or a capp for me whenever I’m in that pretentious assessing mood; the iced blacks typically mask bean quality, not that I’m anywhere near professional, and the smoothest latte (milk in Italian) still may not reveal much. Opted for the stuff straight-up, piping hot in a full 5-ouncer. They have a ‘sea salt caramel latte’ here too, and although I have an unrelenting sweet tooth, I dare not be lured into the lurid albeit enticing half-gimmicks. That being said, I shall allow my penchant for that classic sweet-salty combo to take the driver’s seat if ever I come back, and will be sure to give it a shot (maybe with an extra shot for good measure).

IMG_1060

Pillows. I loathe these for the carnal pleasure they bestowed.

A full centimetre high, impeccably well-risen, so much so that if I were to cut into one horizontally I would get 2 thin carpets of hole-studded pale batter, cooked to perfect doneness. Kid-soft. Ridged, air-punctured edges, just a tad firmer than the middles. At least 4 inches wide in diameter, good God. So perfectly reminiscent of typical American-diner-style pancakes. It’s a standard now, the desired standard for the experienced New Yorker. There were even little bits of banana in the batter. Crack into the elegant banana boats on top and you get a heart-stopping crème brûlée effect. Deep crackle, the break of glass, then the soft grunt of caramelised, almost burnt sugar top giving way to the creamy, ripe banana body. Pause– relish that detail.

Every chew got a little gummier as I went along, mouthfuls of white, sweet stodge. The stocky pancake was quickly reduced to sludge, but that’s alright. I just want everyone to try this. Is that too much to ask?

Rating: 4.5/5

Tolido’s Espresso Nook

462 Crawford Lane

6648 0178

Closed on Mondays

Tues-Thurs: 0930-1900

Friday-Sat: 0930-2200

Sun: 0900-1830

Paddy Hills

I have my personal favourites when it comes to cafés, places I am willing to visit time and time again because they’ve proven themselves to be worthy of sustained customer support. Places which make you feel like you bloody well deserve that pocket of time to yourself, do most of their stuff from scratch, and leave you feeling that much better about yourself. Good food, service, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, you get the feel. These days, I find there is a serious influx of new cafés, all hidden in some back alleys, all seemingly rushed, not that I know any of what goes on behind the scenes of course, but nothing truly stood out, beckoning me with come hither vibes. But that’s exactly what Paddy Hills, the newest, half-pretentious, corner-of-the-block little café, did. When I walked in, a kind young lad with a grey beanie I desperately wanted for myself greeted me. I looked around and soaked in the delicious atmosphere– no arse-challenging seats, perfect for actually sitting, would you believe it? There was a large communal table where people chatted and worked on laptops. The air was cool, and indie folk was blaring audibly from above, but nothing intrusive. So far, so good. I was scared of thronging crowds, being packed sardine-style in between customers. It was a blistering hot Thursday at precisely 12pm, and I was waiting for pain. Thankfully, pain was something I didn’t experience. Lucky shot? I should think so. I haven’t written a review in ages, and only find it fitting to revive a well-missed habit with this one. I don’t remember being this excited about visiting a new f&b startup. Look, I do my fair share of stalking. I’ve recently cut down on my gross Instagram usage, but when it comes to that occasional hour of scrolling freedom, that mindless but glorious activity which is supposed to suppress boredom, I make full use of it. How could I not visit a place that sells the most photogenic food I’ve seen in a long time? I’m quite a stickler for tradition, but the dishes, which, although looked modern (obviously well-filtered) and had components which were separated for a contemporary effect, still seemed to speak volumes about flavour. It is this wordless, throbbing excitement which enticed me to hop over to the other side of the country, something I deem a fair feat in light of my usual reluctance to travel far distances for the sake of a good cuppa joe, and especially thanks to all the bird’s eye view shots of this berry ricotta hotcake. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Berry Ricotta Hotcake with blueberry sugar, berries, pine nuts, mascarpone and maple syrup–$19

Now isn’t that a beauty. I marvelled for a while, too scared to touch the forest of berries let alone tuck in. The best part was definitely those perfectly crisp, mildly caramelised edges, a golden-brown ring of sweet, rigid bite. The best bite comprised these three components: a nip off the crisp edge, a poke of fruit, and a generous lathering of mascarpone from the ball of the stuff sitting on top. If one is lucky, you may get a bit of warm blueberry nestled like a crumble surprise in the middle of the cake, or a sweet little bit of mascarpone, pockets of which are also found dotted on the surface of the cake. You work your way in. Alas, it gets a bit stodgy a bit too fast, too soon. It’s indeed one of the lightest and fluffiest cakes I’ve ever come across, but at that, the fluff notch was turned up a bit too high near the middle, right at the thickest part of the hotcake. I know I know– what? How can anything be too fluffy? And prior to my experience here, I would have to agree. However, this maximal fluff generated clouds of uncontrollable, pale crumbs, which refused to cooperate with each other to produce a more solid, manageable mass. I was expecting a glorified Mickey Dees hotcake, but it’s entirely different. I was grateful for the carpet of colourful berries on top, for not only did they make the whole thing like a fairy forest, they were also necessary to balance the cake, which has maple syrup infused in the batter. The crumb, though light and pale, had a consistency moist enough so I could still smush bits together with the cheese and fruit to enjoy each and every bite. If anything, they should attempt reducing the thickness of the hotcake, retaining those divine edges and increasing the density, for maximum brunch pleasure. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset The Asian Brick: bruleed brioche french toast, goreng pisang (fried banana fritters), butternut squash puree, purple sweet potato, yam ice cream, gula melaka and marcona almonds– $18

Though I didn’t have the chance to actually try this french toast, I was highly impressed by the presentation and complementary components of the dish. I had a nip of the yam ice cream, and it was creamy, light and flavourful. The fact that it’s homemade and everything so intricately presented made the steep price a tad more understandable. The next time I’m here, I’m definitely ordering this. They also offer things like orange ricotta pillows, which have orange caramel and a citrus salad. All very posh, like they’re on their tippy-toes and reaching for the fine lights of modern gourmet fare. And you know what? They’re almost there. On the brink of something truly impressive, if it weren’t for two things: the coffee and the waiting time. I ordered a 2-ounce flat white ($4), but it tasted subdued, sub-par. I expected a little more because I read many a review on how spectacular the coffee is. Perhaps I was simply unlucky. I wanted a nick on the palate, a bite of caffeine, something.. more. Thankfully for them, I’m willing to return to try the other enticing menu options. Yes, some time in the future, before I break the bank. Rating: 3.8/5 Paddy Hills 38 South Buona Vista Road 6479 0800