Jamie’s Italian Kitchen, London

Jamie's Italian Kitchen

Jamie’s Italian Kitchen is a chain, a fairly big chain – 17 restaurants in the UK, 1 in Sydney and 1 in Dubai with a number more in the pipeline, owned, of course, by the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. Its stated aim is to serve “fantastic, rustic dishes, using recipes that have been tried, tested and loved”. We visited the branch at Westfield, one of three outlets in London, early on a Sunday evening. Despite it being just after 6pm, and every other restaurant in the vicinity being nearly empty, we had to wait 40 minutes for a table – Jamie’s fame had clearly served the restaurant well. Perhaps its cooking had too, but that was still to be determined.

Crispy Squid with garlic, chilli and really garlicky mayoCockles Linguine sweet cockles steamed open with garlic, chilli and parsley tossed with linguine, butter and lemon

The atmosphere at the restaurant was friendly and relaxed, certainly realising the “neighbourhood” feel it sets out to achieve. We started with just one antipasti of Crispy Squid with garlic, chilli and really garlicky mayo to share, as our other choice of Smokey Mozzarella Arancini was, disappointingly, unavailable. The squid was fine. It’s a difficult dish to do badly, or really well – this version came in at slightly above average. Pastas are offered in two sizes – I opted for a small Cockles Linguine: sweet cockles steamed open with garlic, chilli and parsley tossed with linguine, butter and lemon, followed by a main of Bone in grilled lamb chops, served with creamy artichoke and mint sauce, roasted nuts, chilli and fresh mint. The pasta was overcooked, and though supposedly made fresh at the restaurant everyday, of no discernible advancement in quality over the dried variety one gets at the supermarket; the overall dish, bland. The lamb chops were a bit dry but had a nice, chargrilled taste to them. They were reasonable.

Bone in grilled lamb chops, served with creamy artichoke and mint sauce, roasted nuts, chilli and fresh mint

We shared two desserts - Our Special Tiramisu: Classic Italian coffee flavoured trifle with orange mascarpone and chocolate and Awesome Chocolate and Espresso Tart with glazed figs and orange crème fraîche. The tiramisu, very generously portioned, was the best dish of the night, and the only one that made any sort of impression - it had a good blend of sweetness, creaminess, moistness, lightness and coffee flavour. The use of the orange mascarpone could have done with more thought, however - the orange was perfectly fine as an additional element on the plate but the density of the mascarpone was at odds with the light, creamy smoothness of the cake. Nevertheless, a highly successful dessert. This was what I expected from Jamie's Kitchen - classics done well. Too bad it only had a hit rate of one in five. The Awesome Chocolate and Espresso Tart was decidedly not awesome - the espresso taste was overwhelmed by the chocolate, and the cake itself was dry, heavy and far too rich. A pairing with ice cream would at least have provided a contrast in temperature and texture to counterbalance the tart; instead the crème fraîche that was used only succeeded in adding to the heaviness of the dish.

Our Special Tiramisu: Classic Italian coffee flavoured trifle with orange mascarpone and chocolateAwesome Chocolate and Espresso Tart with glazed figs and orange crème fraîche

In a nutshell…
The Jamie Oliver name apart, there was nothing here to explain the restaurant's popularity. The ambience was good, prices acceptable, and service adequate but the quality of the food didn’t do much, if anything, to separate it from the other Italian chains out there.

5/10

Jamie’s Italian Kitchen (Westfield London)
Westfield London Shopping Centre, Ariel Way, Shepherd’s Bush, London, W12 7GB
+44 (0)2082429145
Average Price: £20-£30

Jamie's Italian (Westfield)  on Urbanspoon

Nihonryori RyuGin, Tokyo

-196 Degree Celsius Candy Apple and  99 Degree Celsius “Apple Jam”

Nihonryori RyuGin is one of a host of popular, new-wave Japanese restaurants on the Tokyo dining scene. Eager to try what was fresh and cutting edge in Japanese cuisine, we dined here one evening after shopping, and visiting the Mori Tower, at nearby Roppongi Hills - it was the only non-traditional establishment we ate at on the trip.

“Premium Monkfish Liver” from HOKKAIDO with “Special Miso Sauce”

RyuGin is highly decorated, with 2 Michelin Stars, and a spot on San Pellegrino's World's 50 Best Restaurants – up 28 places to number 20 in the 2011 list, and is thus not cheap. It offers a degustation menu at ¥23,100, and a limited a la carte menu, between 9-10.30pm. Our degustation menu for the evening was:

100% Turnip Hot Soup with “Turnip and Fish” ball
“Premium Monkfish Liver” from HOKKAIDO with “Special Miso Sauce”
Soft “Simmered Abalone” with “Grilled Oyster” in Hot “Squid Sauce”, Deep-fried “Egg-tofu” and “Variation of Vegetables”
“Matsuba Crab” from SANIN in Shabu-shabu style served in the “Crab Broth”
“Seabream” from TOKUSHIMA and “Aoriika Squid” with Seaweed
Hot “Egg Custard” with “Shark fin” Sauce
“Grilled Seaperch” from CHOSHI with “Roasted Rice” over the skin and “Black Vinegar”, “Sea urchins” Soy Sauce
“Wagyu Beef Cheek” in “Winter Miso Soup” with lots of “Winter Vegetables”
“Simmered Rice” cooked with “Kuroge Wagyu” Beef, Miso Soup with “Shiba Shrimp Broth”
-196 Degree Celsius Candy Apple and +99 Degree Celsius “Apple Jam”
Hot Parfait RyuGin Style, Vol. 11 “Yuzu”

“Matsuba Crab” fron SANIN in Shabu-shabu style served in the “Crab Broth”

Amongst the highlights were the monkfish liver - unusual, smooth and creamy, yet light; the sea perch - beautifully grilled fish, brilliantly combined with the creaminess of the sea urchin, and the unique texture of the roasted rice - my favourite dish; and the apple dessert - a stunning, apple-shaped candy crust that when cracked revealed an apple powder served at -196 degrees, which was then topped with a +96 degrees apple jam making for a delightful combination of disparate textures and temperatures in a fun dish.

Soft “Simmered Abalone” with “Grilled Oyster” in Hot “Squid Sauce”, Deep-fried “Egg-tofu” and “Variation of Vegetables”Hot “Egg Custard” with “Shark fin” Sauce
“Wagyu Beef Cheek” in “Winter Miso Soup” with lots of “Winter Vegetables”“Simmered Rice” cooked with “Kuroge Wagyu” Beef, Miso Soup with “Shiba Shrimp Broth”


The rest of the courses, however, were rather unremarkable. Ingredients were of the highest quality - the Matsuba crab even coming with a tag of authenticity, but whilst reasonably nice, none of the dishes stood out or made any lasting impression.

“Grilled Seaperch” from CHOSHI with “Roasted Rice” over the skin and “Black Vinegar”, “Sea urchins” Soy Sauce

The chef, 38-year-old Seiji Yamamoto, apparently thanks every diner personally before they leave. We left in such a hurry - put it down to jetlag, that he didn't even get a chance to greet us at our table. He did, however, come rushing up the stairs and grabbed us for a quick word just as we were getting into the cab - a lovely, personal touch.

-196 Degree Celsius Candy Apple and  99 Degree Celsius “Apple Jam”-196 Degree Celsius Candy Apple and  99 Degree Celsius “Apple Jam”

In a nutshell…
There were a couple of genuine high points, but Yamamoto-san's food still has some way to go if it wishes to match the tried, tested and much-loved traditional Japanese fare.

7/10

Nihonryori RyuGin
Side Roppongi Building 1F, 7-17-24 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo
+81 03 34238006
Average Price: ¥23,100
2 Michelin Stars

fish!, London

fish!

fish! at Borough Market, overlooking Southwark Cathedral, is a seafood restaurant (there were some appealing looking lobster-dishes being served to other tables) rather than a specialist fish & chips place. It does, however, have a dedicated fish & chips takeaway counter around the corner that it operates Tues-Sat, under a signboard proclaiming “Proper Fish & Chips” so it obviously professes to have a certain expertise in the matter.

fish! & chips w mushy peas

The full-glass construction that houses the restaurant made for a very pleasant, bright and airy setting, supposedly replicating the effect of being in a fish tank. Cod & chips, served with mushy peas, was £15.95, more than a tad on the expensive side - this was, as its website says, “Posh fish and chips” - higher prices, smaller servings, better presentation than your average chippie. As for the only difference that really matters, taste - it was good - lovely light and crisp batter, seriously fresh fish, non-greasy chunky chips and peas that were just the right level of mushiness.

In a nutshell…
Not quite the best fish & chips I've had in London - that remains Seafresh in Victoria, but not far off. And it has the added attraction of being open on Sundays, which can’t be said of so many of the other chippies out there. Loses points for being pricey.

7/10

fish! (Borough Market)
Cathedral Street, Borough Market, London, SE1 9AL
+44 (0)2074073803
Average Price: £20-£30

Fish! on Urbanspoon

Nizuni, London

Dragon Makizushi: fresh crab meat, cucumber, avocado, gobo maki with eel on top

A really good, centrally located, reasonably priced Japanese restaurant remains the ever-elusive holy grail for this writer. Recently-opened, well-reviewed Nizuni on Charlotte Street was the latest in a long line of contenders.

Butter Fish Tataki: seared butterfish, shiso cress, daikon cress, spicy sauce, balsamic dressingTuna Tataki: seared akami, daikon, benitate ponzu jelly

Butter Fish Tataki: seared butterfish, shiso cress, daikon cress, spicy sauce, balsamic dressing was a promising start, with a very agreeable charred taste to the velvety-textured butterfish, a fish still not commonly found in many Japanese restaurants in London. Dragon Makizushi: fresh crab meat, cucumber, avocado, gobo maki with eel on top was ordinary – standard issue crab meat, cucumber and avocado roll, topped with standard issue unagi (grilled eel) pieces. Spicy Hamachi Makizushi: yellow tail, spring onion, spicy sauce and Hotate Kushiyaki: scallop shitake mushroom shishito skewer were, also, just run of the mill. Uni (Sea Urchin) Sushi, which I absolutely love, and almost always order, was below average by London standards – not very creamy, and with a distinctly fishy taste.

Hotate Kushiyaki: scallop shitake mushroom shishito skewerHirame Chips: deep fried thinly cut turbot

At this point in the meal, service ground to a halt, and our last two dishes took an age to arrive so much so that, conscious of the fact we only had the table for 2-hours, we decided to order a few more items then, rather than wait and see how we felt after the remaining two dishes. We added Tuna Tataki: seared akami, daikon, benitate ponzu jelly, Hirame Chips: deep fried thinly cut turbot and Chicken Gyoza: pan fried chicken gyoza, all of which arrived almost immediately, and before the two dishes we were still waiting for. The Tuna Tataki was easily the best of the three, well seared tuna combined with a slightly sour ponzu jelly to make a pleasing, tangy dish. The Hirame Chips were nicely deep fried, but completely tasteless – it definitely could have done with some sort of dipping sauce. The gyoza was inferior to the versions at Yoisho and Sakana-tei.

Suzuki In Pot: steamed seabass in dashi with daikon pakchoi

The final two dishes, Suzuki In Pot: steamed seabass in dashi with daikon pakchoi and Nibuta: slow cooked pork belly, Korean miso sauce then finally arrived. The Suzuki In Pot was lovely – beautifully steamed fish in a delicious soy dashi. It was, however, something I would expect to (and can easily) get at a Chinese restaurant, rather than a Japanese one. But nevertheless, it was done very well here. The Nibuta was also very enjoyable – delightful smoky, fatty belly pork slices with an appetising sauce – perfect with rice. Again, not a traditional Japanese dish - the influence of the restaurant’s Korean owners (who also run the Korean restaurant, Koba, just around the corner on Rathbone Street) clearly in evidence, but a successful one nonetheless.

Nibuta - slow cooked pork belly, Korean miso sauce

As it turned out, the restaurant had no need for our table after the 2 hours we were allocated, so we were able to linger. We shared a dessert of Chestnut Cake with Green Tea Ice Cream: moist chestnut heart green tea ice cream which was reasonably nice – good texture and chestnut flavour to the cake, not great matcha ice cream.

Chestnut Cake with Green Tea Ice Cream

We had a lot to eat this evening, over-ordering in part because of the long wait for the last couple of dishes to arrive, but, with a 30% discount on toptable, the meal still only cost £40 per person. A filling meal can easily be had here for around £30-£35 even without a discount, which makes it pretty good value.

In a nutshell…
Not bad. Definitely not the holy grail, but decent enough. Doesn’t compare favourably to nearby Yoisho, Kikuchi or Tsunami, though.

6.5/10

Nizuni
22 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 2NB
+44 (0)2075807447
Average Price: £30-£35

Nizuni on Urbanspoon

Dehesa, London

Dehesa

Dehesa is one of a trio of highly popular sister tapas restaurants in central London; the other two being Salt Yard, and the recently opened Opera Tavern. I had been trying to go to Dehesa, highly recommended by a friend, for the longest time but had never been able to get my act together sufficiently in advance (at least a week is generally necessary) to book a table. Finally, armed with tickets for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Wizard of Oz playing at the nearby Palladium, I booked pre-theatre dinner two weeks ahead of time and managed to secure a table. It might only have been 6pm when we arrived, but the restaurant was already packed. It is small - most of the seating is on elevated bar stools at communal tables, with just a limited number of individual tables on the side.

Grilled Scallops with Spicy Portobello Mushroom Duxelle, crème fraîche and Smoked Paprika oil

The menu was a mix of Italian charcuterie on one side and Spanish tapas on the other. We ordered exclusively from the tapas section on this occasion. First to arrive was Grilled Scallops with Spicy Portobello Mushroom Duxelle, crème fraîche and Smoked Paprika oil, which was excellent. Scallop dishes can sometimes be rather bland, but not in this instance – the accompaniments meshing very well with, and imparting a lovely flavour to, the scallops.

Courgette Flowers with Monte Enebro and HoneyHam Croquetas with Manchego Cheese and Aioli Sauce 

Courgette Flowers with Monte Enebro and Honey was really good too, and in fact my favourite dish of the night – beautifully deep-fried courgette flowers stuffed with cheese and drizzled with honey to add a touch of sweetness and lightness – superb. A special of Ham Croquetas with Manchego Cheese and Alioli was crisp on the outside, with a smooth paste on the inside – quite nice, but a bit heavy after a while.

Chargrilled Beef Onglet with Celeriac & Truffle Purèe, Curly Kale and Girolles

Chargrilled Beef Onglet with Celeriac & Truffle Purèe, Curly Kale and Girolles was also passable – the beef well cooked with a hint of sweetness, the truffle taste present but not overpowering. Confit Old Spot Pork Belly with Rosemary Scented Cannellini Beans was disappointing – the crackling not crispy enough, the meat lacking in flavour. The presentation – a huge slab of pork belly on a bed of beans didn’t exactly lend itself to easy sharing either, and tapas is supposed to be for sharing after all. Chorizo a la Plancha was perfectly fine, but not difficult to get right.

Confit Old Spot Pork Belly with Rosemary Scented Cannellini BeansChorizo a la Plancha

In a nutshell…
London is, happily, not short of quality tapas bars and Dehesa can deservedly take its place amongst them. A couple of very good dishes, but also a number of just reasonable ones, meant Dehesa cannot quite lay claim to being the very best, however.

7.5/10

Dehesa
25 Ganton Street, London, W1F 9BP
+44 (0)2074944170
Average Price: £25-£35

Dehesa on Urbanspoon

Toufuya Ukai, Tokyo

Toufuya Ukai

Toufuya Ukai, part of the Ukai group, has only been open since 2007, in stark contrast to the many restaurants in Tokyo boasting long and storied histories. It is, nonetheless, close to a must-visit on any trip to the Japanese capital these days. Sitting at the foot of the Tokyo Tower, one enters through a beautiful Japanese garden, to be greeted by a kimono-clad hostess at the door of an Edo-style mansion. The restaurant is not small – it seats 550 people, and yet is so popular that advance booking is a necessity – ask for a table on the second floor overlooking the garden for the best views.

Lotus root cakeDeep fried Tofu with sweet miso sauce and omelette roll

5 different set menus are offered, 3 all-day menus, and 2 lunch-only menus, with prices ranging from ¥5,500 for the cheapest lunch menu to ¥12,600 for the most expensive all-day menu. We opted for the more expensive of the two lunch menus, the “Matsu Course” at ¥6,500:

Lotus root cake
Deep fried Tofu with sweet miso sauce and omelette roll
Assorted sashimi
Simmered; Tofu and ball crab
Salmon roe and Japanese pickles, Shrimp with covered rice crackers & Mushroom and turnip leaves
Tofu in seasoned soy milk
Grilled salmon with miso
Boiled rice with sweet potato
Sweet bean soup

Simmered; Tofu and ball crabSalmon roe and Japanese pickles, Shrimp with covered rice crackers & Mushroom and turnip leaves

The underlying theme of the meal was one of breathtaking lightness and sereneness, very much in keeping with the setting of the restaurant. The star of the show was undoubtedly the tofu – freshly made, wonderfully fragrant and so pure. Almost every dish, even the simple Boiled rice with sweet potato, was outstanding. The only disappointment was the sashimi course, especially after breakfast at Sushi Dai that same morning, but one doesn’t go to Toufuya Ukai for the raw fish so I was happy to give them a pass for that, especially when the other dishes were so exceptional. My personal favourites were the Deep fried Tofu with sweet miso sauce and omelette roll, our first taste of the lovely tofu, crisply deep fried, brilliantly complemented by the sweet miso sauce; the trio of Salmon roe and Japanese pickles, Shrimp with covered rice crackers & Mushroom and turnip leaves; and the simplest of all the dishes, Tofu in seasoned soy milk, showcasing the tofu in its purest form.

Tofu in seasoned soy milk

In a nutshell…
Sensational setting, superb quality tofu, fantastic meal.

8.5/10

Toufuya Ukai
4-4-13 Shiba-Koen, Minato-ku, Tokyo
+81 03 34361028
Average Price: ¥10,000
1 Michelin Star

Sushi Dai, Tokyo

Sushi Dai

This tiny 13-seat sushi bar located in inner Tsukiji Market (not to be confused with Daiwa Sushi just a few doors down) is widely regarded as the best of the dozens of sushi restaurants in Tokyo’s premier fish market so, naturally, it was top of the hit-list on my recent visit to the Japanese capital.

O-toro – fatty tuna

First, the bad news. Sushi Dai’s growing fame means that long queues are commonplace (don’t be fooled by the photo above – the queue breaks so that it doesn’t block the entrances of neighbouring shops and restaurants, and continues on the street around the corner). And its limited capacity mean that these queues move very slowly. But if you go early to watch the tuna auction (very worthwhile I am told – unfortunately the auction was not open to the public when we went in December), you should be able to walk straight into Sushi Dai immediately after – the restaurant opens at 5am. If you happen to be visiting at the time of the year when the tuna auction is not open to the public, I would still recommend getting there early – we made the mistake of going at 7.30am and ended up having to queue for 2 hours.

Aji - horse mackerel

Now, the good news – Sushi Dai was indeed as good as advertised, and worth every minute of the two-hour wait. They offer just two menus – a Jyou (standard) menu - 7 pieces of nigiri sushi and an Omakase (‘trust the chef’) menu, although you can order additional a la carte after you are seated – another reason why the queue moves so slowly. We opted for the Omakase menu which consisted of 10 pieces of nigiri sushi selected by the chef, plus an additional piece of nigiri sushi of your choice. You also get a bowl of miso soup, a couple of pieces of sweet egg roll, and cut sushi cut rolls as part of the deal with both menus.

Anago - sea eel

The sushi was simply breathtaking – by far the best I had ever had to that point (I would have the privilege of an even better sushi dinner a couple of days later at Kyubey, albeit at far greater expense) – exceedingly fresh fish (one, the akagai – red clam, still moving!), some of variety not commonly found in London, all of quality not ever found in London, sitting atop loosely packed, perfectly cooked, vinegared rice, skilfully prepared by chefs who delighted in making the meal an ‘event’ for every new customer in the continuous stream making their way through the door; this was truly an experience to savour.

Akagai – red clamIkura – salmon roeRolled eggMiso soup

Every single piece of caringly crafted sushi placed (directly on the counter) before us was absolutely divine – from the melt-in-your-mouth o-toro – fatty tuna, to the wonderfully creamy uni – sea urchin without the slightest hint of fishiness, the exquisite, ever so slightly chewy-textured akagai – red clam, the amazingly sweet shiraebi – baby shrimp, the strikingly-coloured maguro-zuke – marinated lean tuna, and the burst-in-your-mouth ikura – salmon roe, the list goes on and on. Even the non-sushi items were sensational. The egg roll was served warm, and oh so soft and fluffy, with just the right amount of sweetness – it was stunningly good. The miso soup, strongly flavoured with a shellfish and fish stock, and containing a few chunks of fish, was really great too.

Sushi Dai

In a nutshell…
The queues can be very long but affordably-priced, fresh-as-you-can-get sushi prepared by expert chefs with joy written all over their faces, right in the heart of Tokyo’s world-famous Tsukiji Market, made this a meal well worth waiting for.

9/10

Sushi Dai
#6 Tsukiji-Shinjo, 5-2-1 Tsukiji-Chuo-ku, Tokyo
+81 03 35476797
Average Price: ¥3000-¥4000
Worth noting: Closed Sundays, Cash only

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