Monday, May 13, 2013

A Dessert to Remember

With cake shops, cafes and tea rooms at every corner, you will expect fabulous desserts easy to come by in London. Not really so. Dry cakes, soggy pies and mediocre cookies, I had to battle the whole lot before I found my favourites. Just so you don't have to kiss all these frogs on your next London trip, here are my top 5 picks from all the sweet goodies I sampled:

1. Honey Cake at L'Eto: As you walk down Soho's Wardour Street, a display of desserts will stop you in your tracks. The window belongs to L'Eto and I dare you to pass by without going in and eating something sweet. On my first visit to the cafe, I complained to the server that all cakes in London are dry. She cut me a slice of honey cake right there and promised this will be the fresh, moist cake I was looking for. Several thin layers of honey cake intercepted with light and not too sweet sour cream frosting, this cake is simple but sublime.

2. Honeycomb Icecream at Wild Honey: A friend and I walked by this Michelin star restaurant after lunch. We were still craving dessert so we asked if the crowded place could fit us in. The response was "I'd never say no to anyone looking for dessert". And some dessert it was. We both ordered individual plated desserts that took a while to arrive. So in the meantime, they brought us their honeycomb icecream on the house. Crunchy honeycomb shards at the bottom of the bowl and a couple of scoops of honey ice cream - this is an experience you don't want to miss.

3. Chocolate Gelato at Gelupo: Despite the cold weather, Londoners are big fans of icecreams, gelatos and frozen yogurts. The bestest of them all is Gelupo. It first started as a cart outside the Italian restaurant, Bocca di Lupo. Over time, Gelupo got into a cafe of its own, right opposite the sister restaurant. It now sells coffee and desserts and what not but the biggest draw is still the Italian style gelato. Blood Orange sorbet made them famous but my personal favourite is dark chocolate. It's so chocolatey it feels like eating a very soft, very cold and very good chocolate.

4. Sticky Toffee Pudding at The Salt House: This date and toffee confection is a standard at all pubs in London. After sampling more than my fair share, the one I recommend is the version with crunchy nougat at The Salt House in St. John's Woods. As as added bonus, it comes paired with a sublime brown sugar ice cream.

5. Chocolate Glory and Eton Mess at Bob Bob Ricard: This Russian restaurant has tons of old world charm and plenty of eccentric touches. Once you are past that and done with the excellent food, there come the desserts. Chocolate glory shows up as a golden ball on your plate. Once the server pours hot fudge sauce on the globe, the chocolate shell melts away and you are left with a plate of chocolate mousse, brownie bits and passion fruit jelly. And there is nothing messy whatsoever about the Eton Mess. It is all packed in a tidy meringue globe that will impress you with how restrained it is in its sweetness. You have to break this crunchy shell to get to berries, marshmallows and sorbet hidden within. Both desserts are quite small but will leave you impressed.

And as a bonus, let me also tell you about the best scone in London. Sold everywhere around tea time, the scone is a British institution. And it's only fitting that the best scone can be found next to timeless art at the cafe inside the iconic National Gallery at Traflagar Square. The fruit scones are warm and studded with raisins, perfect with clotted cream and a great strawberry jam. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Londoner at Heart


I can't tell you the exact moment I knew I had become a Londoner. I know it wasn't when I guided the umpteenth tourist to Madam Tussauds or Beatles's Abbey Road studios. Or even when I took yet another friend on a tour of Soho restaurants or my beloved Borough Market. For you are only a Londoner when you accept all of the city's quirks and even find them charming. Like how I now find it completely normal to dedicate at least half of every conversation to weather. And I no longer find it strange that all stores close in the middle of the day on sunday, on what should be the busiest shopping day of the week. I've even stopped being amazed when pubs close their kitchens at 10 pm, and never mind the roomful of hungry customers.

If you are wondering about the reason for this rant, it's because I've recently left London to start on the next journey of my life. And I realised how little I've shared about hundreds of food experiences in London on these pages. So before memories fade, here is the first in the series of my London posts - the top 5 restaurants dishes I ate in London last year. Top 5 savoury dishes actually, since desserts would get their own separate post.

1. Pea and Truffle Croquettes at Copita: In a small side lane in Soho, Copita is a crowded tapas bar. It has a small menu that changes frequently. On my first, second and third visits, the main draw was a pea croquette, loaded with truffles and deep fried. This one's now off the menu but go to Copita anyway for their Andulucian white soup, a cold almond soup filled with beetroot, nuts and a cacaphony of flavours. Timeout voted it the best dish in London when they listed their top 100 dishes so you can't go wrong with this one. Get there early for they don't take reservations.

2. Endive Salad at Galvin Bistro: I didn't see any merit in endive until I encountered it at French brasseries in London. And the most classic French of them, Galvin, does this salad version that first got me hooked. It's endive leaves topped with blue cheese, crunchy walnuts and pear, then topped off with a vinaigrette so you get a full flavour profile in each bite.

3. Gorgonzola Pizza at Pizza East Kentish Town: What I like about the Pizza East menu is that they aren't hung up on mozzarella. Now I agree mozzarella is traditional in Italian pizzas and everything but there are hundreds of cheeses out there and the folks in Kentish Town (or the other pizza east branches for that matter) aren't afraid to experiment. They don't have the same menu at every branch so you will need to trek to Kentish Town to find a spectacular blue cheese and caramalized onion pizza. Also try the wild mushroom and fontina one while you are there. It makes quite a changes from your usual margaritas.

4. Bhel Puri at Dishoom: Indian food is everywhere in London but you won't believe how bad most of it is! There are only two places that break the stereotypes of onion bhaji and chicken tikka masala and serve Indian food the way it's served back home. Both Roti Chai and Dishoom are set cafe style with an emphasis on street food. And while I've been at Roti Chai far more times, Dishoom's bhel puri wins by a narrow margin as that little bowl of comfort food when you are missing home.

5. Truffle Toast at Spuntino: First things first - never go to Spuntino for dinner. Another no reservations place and this one gets long queues that you really don't need when you are hungry. Go instead, for lunch or an evening drink, when the crowds are still far away. As soon as you grab a stool at Spuntino, they plonk an enamel mug of popcorn in front of you. That alone makes the restaurant a winner in my book. And then they have truffle toast. A cheese toast with an egg yolk in the middle and the whole thing brimming with truffle oil. Then save space for dessert.