Category Archives: Best cheap eats in London

Sitaaray, 167 Drury Lane, New London Theatre building, Covent Garden, WC2B 5PG

Wow just looked at the Sitaaray website and even A A Gill liked it (more than one can say for poor Hawksmoor). From Monday to Saturday it has an unlimited kebabs and curries menu for £18 until 31 July (normal price £22.95) and that is what, dear reader, I tried for you a couple of weeks ago. And can I firstly say *ooof* and next *yum*, for that is what I came away with.

Sitaaray is a shrine to Bollywood– photos of Bollywood stars adoring every space, music pumping out, even the cocktails are named after the Bollywood films, and I noted with excitement that their opening exhibition was inaugurated by Aishwarya Rai. It is gorgeous and decadent inside AND allowed me to be nostalgic about the best.time.ever I had in India – seeing a Bollywood film in Rishikesh, hundreds of excited people, SCREAMING when the heroine came on, in slo-mo, hair swooshing and launching into an impromptu dance by the lakes of Kashmir that had nothing very much to do with the plot, LAUGHING hysterically when the hero carried out dastardly practical jokes in the manner of Benny Hill oops I’ve just pulled the chair out so you fall on the floor when you sit down. And that music, so catchy and dancy and happy, from the latest hit movie playing out of every radio from Kovalam to Manali. I’d come back to Sitaaray to reminisce alone.

It is right next to the New London Theatre which reminds me I MUST GO TO WAR HORSE soon and before the film comes out next year. I would have seen it recently if someone hadn’t come to London and got their equine-based plays mixed up and said “oh but I’ve already seen that play what Harry Potter gets his thingie out in” and so we didn’t get tickets.  MOTHER!!!

Anyways, after a vodka martini at Kopapa round the corner – sweeet (see above) – I started with a pink Awara cockatail and then the food came, and then it kept on coming for a very very long time.  Sitaaray is one of the few Indian kabab (Grill) restaurants in London and it was these grills that it excelled in. Seriously tasty, perfectly cooked, delicious. And, dare I say it, at times better, more delicately done, than the lovely Dishoom round the corner.  

We had samosas and lamb kababs and chicken tikkas and juicy chicken in marinade and grilled fish tikkas which were incredible. The chicken and fish kababs were especially amazing, melt in the mouth and I also LOVED the veggie kababs (see bottom piccie below) – the tandoori cauliflower was amazing as was what tasted like a curried sweetcorn fritter.

The only downside, and I have to be honest here, was that the curries didn’t work for us. Chicken tikka massala and dahl tasted odd to me, as if created on a Heinz tomato soup base, and the veggies were as if they were from a tin. You know what Sitaaray, just scrap ’em – your kebabs are so amazing you don’t need the curry – we were far too full by the end to eat them anyway.

I’d definitely recommend you go for a giant feast and Bollywood night out, and if you have a spare ticket to War Horse, seriously, then let me know. The Chef and I were guests of Sitaaray and thank them very much for filling us up and being so friendly.

Sitaaray on Urbanspoon

Kaosarn, Brixton Village, Granville Arcade

Oh Khao San Road, Bangkok. How many times have I wandered down your bonkers strip, waiting for a bus to take me to Laos or Chaing Mai or the beaches in the South. How many times have I peered in the window of a tattoo parlour, panicked and walked away. How many times have I sniggered at the white kids getting corn rows or dreadlocks on your pavements, coo-ed at the stray puppies, admired ladyboys (but not their consorts), wandered round the surrounding alleyways with their Thai boxing dens and street food stalls where I ate phad thai and drank Singha or Beer Chang. Oh the fake Diesel jeans and the silver jewelry and the fisherman’s pants and the slogan t-shirts. How many times did I sleep in the Ghekko Guesthouse for a couple of dollars a night, lying under the broken fan to cool down. How exciting it was to find that secret rooftop pool to get away from the heat and humidity. But how sad I was to go back a couple of years ago and discover that you are now inhabited by drunken 16 year olds from Derby with a penchant for starting fights and peeing publicly. Ho hum.

I have no idea if Kaosan in Brixton is named after the Bangkok street so excuse me for the nostalgia-fest, but ANYWAY, Brixton has always lacked a brilliant dinner venue. Sure there are plenty of decent places – Hive Bar, Upstairs, The Ritzy, Satay Bar, Fujiyama – but nothing to get excited about. And of course for lunch options you’re sorted – Franca Manca, Rosie’s Deli, Wild Caper, Brixton Cornercopia – but the market shuts in the evening. You can always shimmy along Herne Hill way to the Lido Cafe, The Florence and The Prince Regent, but sometimes you just don’t want the walk.

So when Jay Rayner gave a glowing review of the family-run Thai restaurant Kaosan in Brixton, The Chef and I and it seems a huge number of other Brixtonites got terribly excited. And it is utterly brilliant. We went there on Tuesday night and had the most amazing meal. You can sit outside or inside and its BYO so we sat under the stars drinking bottles of Sol and eating deliciously spicy food – the atmosphere is brilliant and it had that holiday feeling which is soooo invaluable when you’re living in London.

The food was consistently excellent too. Tender and juicy pork skewers, delicately battered goong tod (king prawns), crispy gaew tod (prawn and pork filo parcels). And then the mains of gai yang, kow neaw, somtum (chicken in a gorgeous marinade with a spicy peanut salad and sticky rice) and the most delicious deep lamb massaman curry. And all this for £15 each.

We both agreed it was the best Thai meal we’d ever had in London and that (shock!) it was probably even better than most of the meals we’d ever had in Thailand. I’m dying to go back and try the pork ribs and the green and red curries and to bring friends and lots of wine and try pretty much everything else.

We met the owner Noy (Noi?) afterwards who was lovely – he runs it with his wife, neice and daughter, a proper family business, and he really cares about the atmosphere and ingredients and his regulars. He did start talking about the “concept” but I chose to ignore that part. He said if you brought a party along he’d make special bespoke meals for you, and he was an incredibly lovely and happy man.

I am so so thrilled to find a fantastic resto in Brixton so thanks to JR for finding it! Icing on the cake was seeing the big man himself on the way there…

Kaosarn on Urbanspoon

Spuntino, 61 Rupert Street, Soho, W1D 7PW

The Chef and I are decided – lunch is the best meal of the day. Even better is an impromptu lunch. Better than that a boozy long impromptu lunch. And the best of the best is a boozy long impromptu lunch where you don’t have to go to work afterwards and can do a pub crawl round Soho for the rest of the afternoon.

Well, we managed most of the above yesterday anyway. Spuntino is the new New-York-speakeasy influenced baby from the people that brought us Polpo and Polpetto and its really a delight that they are cornerning the market in Soho with cool, friendly, great value restaurants. Spuntino says it has no telephone number, no reservations, and The Chef and I thought there is no WAY we’d be able to walk in on Friday lunchtime and get a table easily. But we did – easy peasy – 5 minute wait, and the short wait continued for the rest of lunchtime, so don’t be put off by no reservations.

Spuntino looks fab – having just been to Wilton’s Music Hall the night before to see Iolanthe, I’m a big fan of shabby chic and Spuntino has been pared back to its original features and looks great for it – beautiful tiles like it was formerly a Roman spa or a swimming pool, lovely lights. Although you all sit round a bar, you get enough privacy and its sexy enough to be a fantastic first date place and there’s a great mix of friends, couples and solo eaters. We also noted that all these places seem to have the same type of staff – trendy without being pretentious, cool and friendly and enthusiastic and laid back. It makes for a great atmosphere. Thanks to the lovely Nigel for our lunch and for the pepper and thyme popcorn that make us cough.

Anyway the food was brilliant:

 Lardo crostini and thingy-berries, delicious

Amazing truffle egg on toast – delicious strong cheese (almost Swiss, raclettey), gooey egg and truffle – you have to taste it, is amaaaazing

I think this was a bone marrow “slider” – ridiculously deep taste almost like an Italian ragu or spag bol, really lovely. Want to go back and try the other sliders

Mac and cheese – only disappointment. A little underseasoned and the cheese could have been stronger – I prefer the Villandry Kitchen version

Peanut butter and jam sandwich – this was also amazing and still makes my mouth water thinking about it. Peanut ice cream with rich berries and crumbled peanuts, absolutely delicious and so CLEVER

Spuntino made us both smile loads – we had an incredible lunch and all this food, plus an old fashioned cocktail (guess who’s been watching too much Mad Men), 250cl white wine and kwoffees (served Americano filter style) came to only £30 each which was fantastic. It was a treat and a pleasure and the setting for our plotting the aforementioned Soho lunch and pub crawl. In fact the whole thing was incredibly Mad Men cool now I come to think about it. I will definitely be back – to try the other sliders and the soft shell crab and the stringy curly fries. You can so easily pay £30 for an average meal in Soho so I’m so happy these guys are revolutionising the place – they can really do no wrong right now!

Spuntino on Urbanspoon

My search for the best burger in London #6 – #Meateasy, Above the Goldsmiths Tavern, 316 New Cross Road, SE14 6AF

A lot of great things have been said about #Meateasy and I don’t know how much more I can add, except:

  1. Really do go, its not hype, the burgers really are excellent, as are all the sides, in a gloopy cheese-and-meat-laden slightly down and dirty Americano style
  2. Really delicious actually, when I think back to our meal last night I salivate a little bit
  3. As well as the burger, try the Mac n Cheese which is delicious, the chilli cheese fries, the chilli cheese dog and the onion rings
  4. No-one in our party touched the slaw really but it was good too
  5. LOVE that thick gloopy yellow mustard stuff, and cheese, on EVERYTHING
  6. You have to wait a bit for food (for us – about 1.5 hours) but this is fine – the atmosphere is really good and LOUD, great music, a cool bar, drinks served in jam jars
  7. It’s great value – £15 each for a ton of food
  8. New Cross is a really cool area – with Goldsmith college near, its arty and quirky and cool. Lots of pork pie and bowler hats last night
  9. The staff at #Meateasy are very cool and nice and professional – they got it spot on, you feel well looked after 
  10. I’m 3 pounds heavier this morning. Sadly not an exaggeration

So there you have it. #Meateasy is actually brilliant and it definitely wins the award for the best burger I’ve ever had in London. I have to say I don’t feel especially great this morning, the day after the night before, but I think it’s because the food is a little sloppy (as its supposed to be) and I’ve got that post-fast food type dirty feeling. Oh and also we drank a lot of “corpse revivers” at the bar.

Its open until mid-April (after which I’d be AMAZED if they don’t open up a permanent place ) so you should go along when you can. If you don’t know, New Cross is sort of between Brixton and Peckham but you can easily get there from London Bridge too. Enjoy the photos below. This was my second burger this week – the diet begins again tomorrow.

#Meateasy on Urbanspoon

Leon, 12 Ludgate Square, Blackfriars, EC4M 7LQ (and 8, soon to be 9 other venues in London)

When I used to work by Spitalfields market, Leon was a mainstay for lunch. I had the superfood salad with various green things and cheese, thank god for the cheese. But being a chain and mostly lunch-orientated, it had never struck me as a particularly exciting dinner choice.

But there were two very good reasons that I went with Giovanna and Tallulah last week. We had a booking at Zucca but between the 3 of us we were unable to consume gluten, alcohol or carbs, so it seems a shame to waste an amazing Italian meal on salad. Also, I’m Scottish and we’re all skint and I liked the 40% off voucher you get when you join as a member. I have to say dieting and being skint don’t make for a very fun lifestyle, I pray for the day that we can again lunch on burgers and pasta and malbec, but that day is not yet here. Close though…

It turns out Leon is a good choice for supper. The Blackfriars branch was a little on the chilly side and a bit empty but the staff were lovely and they did a decent chardonnay served in little tumblers (the HPL was allowed alcohol bien sur). The food – and we got tons of it – was actually bursting with flavour and rich and hearty and, best of all, seemingly healthy.

We had grilled halloumi, hot grilled chorizo, Moroccan meatballs, chilli chicken (YUM), sunshine salad, slaw and slow cooked pork jambalaya, which all came in little tapas plates (we ordered about 3 each). Perfect to share and the best thing was that all this food plus a drink each came to only £10 each. Recession-tastic. It’s not a long, leisurely, romantic dinner (oh how I miss those) but it’s great food, simple and easy. Perfect for a quick after work bite or a catch-up with dieting girlfriends. And don’t worry, the HPL is single-handedly back to eating again – this month I’ve already been to Fernandez & Leluu, Edinburgh’s The Kitchin and the Sheep’s Heid – posts coming soon!

Leon on Urbanspoon

Some more nice places to eat – Polpo (Soho) & Santa Maria Del Sur (Battersea)

1. Polpo, 41 Beak Street, Soho, W1F 9SB

Going to Polpo for Saturday lunch was one of the best ideas I’ve had lately. First, you can actually book a table – you can’t for supper hence several disappointments  – and secondly, it felt like a real treat from the Saturday day norm. I don’t know about you, but in the last few years, Saturday has turned into my slightly dull “admin” day. I get up early, do yoga, then bum around all day doing chores and generally waiting until Saturday night happens. I used to meet my friend Esmerelda for coffee or lunch but she was selfish enough to move to Australia so it’s been rather lacking of late. Sunday is my long-boozy-lunch followed by a film day, but until the weather is hot enough for cycle trips, Saturday has become a bit meh.

But Saturday daytime is a lovely time to see friends. I often meet my girlfriends for post-work dinners during the week but this isn’t ideal as we’re normally wired from our working week, a little stressed, and need to get home at a decent hour. Sundays are always under the shadow of Monday mornings and the Sunday blues. But on Saturday, you can have a 4-hour lunch and still fit in yoga before and parties afterwards, AND have a whole day to recover with the papers on Sunday.

So last Saturday, Tallulah and I went along to Polpo – the perfect place for a long leisurely catch-up lunch. And we didn’t just talk about boys. Erm.. Service is good but unintrusive, you can sit for hours. The wine is lovely and by the carafe – we had the light Poeta (£6 for 250ml and £12 for 500ml, we tried both for research purposes). The food is Italian tapas-style sharing plates which is always brilliant for sociability and ease of ordering. But Brits will always refuse to eat the last portion on each plate. They were delicious:

Arancini – these were new to me but little parcels of risotto – delicious

Calimari – tasty but a little dull?

Flank steak – the best plate for me – perfectly cooked juicy beef in peppery rocket and a lovely creamy truffle sauce

Cauliflower – delicious take on cauliflower cheese, my FAVOURITE SCHOOL DINNER EVER 

Polpette – delicious and tomatoey

All this grub, plus the wine (only downside – Saturday night got a bit blurry due to lunchtime vino drinking – beware)  and a coffee came to £28 each including tip which is brilliant – highly recommended for lazy weekend lunches or after-work dinners if you can get a table (or try Polpetto which serves similar food but where we got a table easily).

Polpo on Urbanspoon

2. Santa Maria Del Sur, 129 Queenstown Road, Battersea, SW8 3RH

Oh how I miss Argentina. The horses, the weather, the steaks, the Malbec – just not the same in London. After a crappy meal at the Pampa Grill on Battersea Rise, I was excited about going back to Santa Maria Del Sur. I’ve been before and raved about it (one of the best steaks in London I said! I have not been to Hawksmoor still!) but this time was following its win on Gordon Ramsey’s F Word for the UK’s best Americas restaurant (and you knew it – now impossible to get a table without booking well in advance) and after big-biceped manager Jose moved to the Moo Grill.  

The Chef and I were hungry and I was excited to see a really authentic menu – Fernet and Coke! Quilmes! – and our starter empanadas were just aaaamaaaazing. We then ordered the mixed grill which has 2 steaks – bife de chorizo (sirloin) and bife de lomo (fillet) as well as 2 sausages and some provolone cheese . Oh and some black pudding just in case you hadn’t got the meat sweats yet.

The steaks were excellent – really juicy and perfectly cooked. I’d go for the fillet steak which was perfect. The sausages and black pudding were good, but I could take or leave them, and the cheese although lovely was random. No necessito in my humble opinion. Decent Malbec (I ordered the Zuccardi because my friend Aileen fancies the owner’s son) but not amazing and I’d have loved to see some better names on the menu. Main disappointment? The sides were terrible. In Buenos Aires, the best meal I had was at La Cabrera where you got amazing steaks with delicious sides of mustardy things and salads and veggies. But at Santa Maria the sides were rubbish – a salad was some lettuce and tomatoes with not much else and the peppers were tastless, although the chips were good (I avoided – damn no carb diet). We finished up with a delicious flan with dulche de leche

All this food, with G&Ts to start and a bottle of Zuccardi Serie A (£27) came to £65 each which I think is a bit much for a local restaurant. The steaks were good and the but I’d have a fillet steak with chips next time and hope they’d improved their sides, with a cheaper bottle of wine. Still a lovely atmosphere for a date though, which explains why it was fairly heaving with couples.

Santa Maria Del Sur on Urbanspoon

Some nice places I’ve eaten at lately

I’ve been trying to lose some weight so I’ve restricted my dining out to … oh … three times a week or so. Here’s a little selection of the places that have tingled my taste buds in the last couple of weeks:

1. Mason & Taylor, 51-55 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6LA

A cute little bar near Old Street serving an incredible selection of craft beers and real ales – best beer I’ve had in London and so nice to see some great blonde and amber Belgian beers like Chimay and Westmalle served ice cold on tap.

Accompanying your beer are some well-thought out locally-sourced organic English tapas plates. Sadly these weren’t as amazing as I wanted them to be. Unlike Terroirs (French), Polpo/etto (Italian), Dishoom (Indian) or most Spanish tapas, you just didn’t get that zing or oomph in every small plate. This isn’t necessarily their fault – the menu is certainly really interesting – but the food was a little under-seasoned and The Chef pointed out that trying to do English tapas is hard because you don’t get those powerful flavours and spices that you get with other cuisines. Everything was nice – ox tongue, Scotch quails eggs, wild boar sausage with beetroot mash, arbroath smokie, beef sirloin – but just a little dull. To oomph it up you’d need much more seasoning, some spicy mustard or horseradish perhaps, full “wow” flavours, something a bit deeper. But it was my first experience of jerusalem artichoke (which was lovely with a nice aioli) – delicious and indeed fartichoky. I would certainly not have been welcome in Malawi last Wednesday evening.

I would definitely go back to try the delicious beers again and am reliably informed by a friend that after several beers, the Scotch quails egg tastes like manna from heaven so they may just have got it right after all.

The Chef and I were guests of Mason & Taylor and thank them very much for their kind hospitality & lovely service.

Mason & Taylor on Urbanspoon

2. The Telegraph, Putney Heath, SW15 3TU

This place prides itself as being a country pub in London and it is indeed – huge and high-ceilinged with wooden tables and chairs and a fire in winter and lots of greenery outside. I also thought you might like to admire my new bike panier in the foreground of the shot (newly christened bike geek!). Anyway, like all good Sunday lunch pubs, it serves a good spicy Bloody Mary, decent Chilean Merlot, and a nice roast dinner. It’s also a nice cycle ride from here to Richmond Park if you wanted to work all that food off.

It’s a good place to come if you’ve got kids or want to watch the rugby – but the room upstairs contained about 200 small children – including 20 or so newborns (scary-looking NCT Sunday lunch?) – so if you’re feeling a little delicate from the night before you’d probably be better off sitting downstairs.

A bloody mary, pint of cider, starter, roast dinner and far too much red wine came to £35 each.

Telegraph on Urbanspoon

3. Lantana, 13 Charlotte Place, Fitzrovia, W1T 1SN

I’d tried a Lantana coffee a while back for my coffee shop project, but had never eaten there, and was tempted to go back to meet Maximillian for lunch and to eat their corn fritters with bacon, rocket and creme fraiche. I am a massive fan of corn fritters having had a fetish for them ever since my mother used to cook them with our Sunday fry up. My mother’s corn fritters remain the best I have EVER tasted, second place being at Bill Grainger’s restaurant in Sydney. We need MORE corn fritters on brunch menus please, as well as more huevos rancheros.

Anyway Lantana is a nice place only I wish they’d just knock down the wall between “in” and “out” to make it a bit more open and less narrow. And that they close the door as it was freezing throughout lunch (I realise I’m verging into whingeing territory here which is very un-HPL but Max and I have this covered – we are setting up an anti-HPL blog for the express purpose of whingeing & moaning, so this blog can remain as enthusiastic and positive as normal). Anyway, the corn fritters were yummy – lovely salsa and creme fraiche and nice crunchy bacon, only I’d have loved to taste the creamy salty corn a bit more – el madre could maybe give them a few tips. Lovely flat whites to finish too.

My corn fritter, apple and elderflower juice and flat white with 12.5% tip added to the bill (not really necessary for lunch?) came to just under £20.

Lantana on Urbanspoon

A lament about eating out too much and a celebration of thai salads (thank you Rosa’s, Soho)

I have enough self-awareness to realise that I’m unlikely to make many friends by complaining about how much I eat out – I know a lot of people (especially my friends with kids) whose hearts will NOT be bleeding right now. But I thought some of you might be in the same boat (for work or if you have several different groups of friends to catch up with, for example) so I thought it was worth offering a few thoughts. As you know, this January I was meant to eat out less. And do exercise and stuff. Well, it started fairly well. Went to the gym, did ADVANCED circuits (ow), met up with Giovanna for a yoga class (first time we’d met sober in years), booked a dance class.

But then the eating out creeped up on me. Post-theatre meal with Emmissima. The Chef’s birthday supper. Today The Ledbury (hurrah), meals out in Vienna, Burns night, tea and cake at the School of Life, lunch with school and Uni friends, the list is fairly endless. I think I eat out at least 3 times a week for dinner and at least once for lunch which has got to be bad. I decided that I was only to eat out once a week from now on (which is already loads). But then I looked at my diary for February and I’m eating out at least 4 times in the second week already. At least it’s not as bad as living in Brussels, where I ate Italian for lunch and steak frites almost every night and put on 3 stone. But still it’s not great.

However, when I meet up with friends I want to talk and talk and talk. Talking is good for you, at least an hour a week, uninterrupted. And that’s hard in a yoga class or a dance class or the cinema. The ideal is to go for a nice long walk and ideally I’d arrange that more often, or to talk to your partner if you live with them, but it’s rubbish weather at the moment and I live alone. And I like catching up with friends as often as possible, and trying new places regularly. This blog is my downfall perhaps (but a fun downfall). Any suggestions of good ways to catch up with friends and being able to talk that don’t involve being outside, food or wine, then please let me know. But bet we can still find a way of fitting wine in…

Anyway the other night with Emmissima, we were peckish, it was 10pm and we’d had some wine. We wanted a quick and fairly healthy bite to eat and I thought of Rosa’s – that lovely Thai place in Shoreditch and on Dean Street, and a friend of the HPL. And for the first time I ordered a thai salad – we shared the beef sirloin steak salad topped with spiced mint and chilli sauce and the mixed seafood salad topped with spiced mint, lemon grass and chilli sauce with Tom Yum soup. Oh and a carafe of wine. And all for about £15 each.

I don’t know why the hell I have never ordered Thai salads before but they were absolutely delicious – the sirloin tender and spicy and delicate and the seafood was yum too. A little kick and freshness and (I think) they were vaguely healthy. Bonus. And the service, especially at that late time, was wonderful. On reflection, I think the key is that if you have to eat out a lot – for work or pleasure – then you need to vary salads and soups and healthy things with 7 course tasting menus and burgers and steaks and similar, you need to get in a ton of exercise, eat healthy breakfasts and when you’re in, eat something small or not much at all. If you’re haven’t deleted this email in disgust already then I am genuinely grateful for your thoughts!

Rosa's Soho on Urbanspoon

A semi-detox night in Soho – Koya and the Prince Charles cinema

So this month, I desperately want to catch up with friends, but every call or email contains at least one if not all participants complaining that they’re too fat / skint and can we do something healthy /cheap (this won’t last long I assure you).

I am one of them, and therefore this month you will see less restaurant reviews, less burgers and coffee, more active stuff and culture. And all cheap as chips. I’m so proud of my friends – having never seen one of them in a pair of “proper” trainers, we have now booked in yoga classes on Saturday mornings (and paid for, can’t feign hangovers), dance classes at Frame (followed by wine – well it’s a Friday), bike rides and meeting up for a run (seriously hope this is not going to happen). But in the meantime I had a fairly healthy and cheap night out in Soho last night that I thought I’d share if you’re short on ideas:

1. Dinner at Koya, 49 Frith Street, Soho, W1D 4SG

Food bloggers and twitterites have been loving Koya for months but it was my first time. Which is not the first time I’ve discovered a trend 6 months after everyone else. It is a Japanese restaurant specialising in udon noodle soups – y’know those big fat noodles. If I’m honest I have never been a massive fan of those big noodles – finding them too slurpy and dense. And I haven’t got a clue about sake. So it was a bit of a learning curve for me but thanks to the lovely people of twitter I got some recommendations of things to try (I turned up with them written on a post-it note FFS).

Anyway sake is a revelation (see above). It’s bloody nice. And healthy. Well not really because it’s booze, but healthier than wine and beer. Its 18% roughly and we ordered the dewasanan (£13.30) (going by the “pick the second cheapest” school of wine ordering) which was perfect for the meal and tasted delicious, like a warm sweet sherry. I have memories of necking sake when I was younger that was rough as hell but maybe this is just the good stuff. Anyway try it.

We ordered a few small plates as starters (1 each is plenty, we were piglets) and then udon soup as a main. The onsen tamago (poached egg) in a miso broth was delicious as was the kaiso (seaweed) salad – both tasted ridiculously healthy, and the cod tempura and lotus root chips was perfect – really light and delicate (want to try the prawn and veg tempura next). Finally the pork belly which was deep and rich and fatty, so not massively healthy, but a little guilty-pleasure and delicious.

So for the mains, we had the hot beef broth with cold udon (served separately – something about texture) and the hot mushroom broth with hot udon and walnut miso. The soups were lovely – the beef one really deep and rich and the mushroom one was really light and delicious with the nutty walnut miso. They are also sooooo filling so actually I couldn’t finish mine – it’s a meal and a half in itself. I’m still (sorry) not 100% in love with the thick globby udon which reminded me of the droopy snakes you get in pick n mix sweets, so I’d probably order the cold udon again so I could just have them as and when I wanted. Anyway it was wonderful – simple, delicious, great value, quick. All that grub and sake was only £30 each so that’s where the cheap bit comes in. There’s no reservations so just rock up and grab a table.

Koya on Urbanspoon

2. Prince Charles cinema, 7 Leicester Place, Soho, WC2H 7BY

After a pavement-side coffee (see no booze, well done us) to watch the crazy world of Soho go by, we headed to the Prince Charles cinema. And let’s start with a slight correction – the Prince Charles cinema advertises the fact that it has cinema tickets from £1.50. But let’s be clear – this applies to students and I think members only. And to weekday matinees. And the first matinee only. But the beauty of this place is that you can see films after they’ve stopped being shown in mainstream cinemas – y’know you reeeeally want to see that film and you talk about it all the time and then by the time you’ve got your diary out and found a date and convinced your friend to join and been in the mood to go… then they’ve stopped bloody showing it argh! You literally have a 2-week window in most cinemas and that’s not enough if you’re busy or lazy or disorganised or all three.

And so we went along to see The Social Network last night (FANTASTIC film – highly recommended – and Justin Timbersnake a great actor, who’d have thought) which isn’t playing at my local cinema anymore. But as it’s a new release we paid £10 each so it wasn’t cheap. But they also play tons of classics like old Martin Scorcese films which will set you back only £6.50. And they do sing-along-a-Sound-Of-Music – hurrah! ALMOST failed health kick by eating popcorn but luckily The Chef has appalling taste and ordered sweet so managed to avoid another hurdle. Off to Soho Theatre tonight to watch Bea with Emmissima (told you I’m culture-ing it up) – am aiming to avoid post-play dissection of erm symbolism n’ stuff over copious amounts of red wine…

Lisboa Grill, 256A Brixton Hill, SW2 1HF, and thoughts on spicy food

So one day, I was sitting on the pavement of a dusty street in Mexico, eating spicy tacos from a roadside stall, and the conversation turned to this: “Which country in the world makes the spiciest food?“. It seemed obvious at the start – Indian food can be startlingly hot and heavily spiced – I have eaten fish curries in Kerralla that were so hot I couldn’t physically put them in my mouth. But then what about the dry spice of Sichuan peppers and the warm burning heat you get from them? Or Mexico with its spicy chilli and peppers? Or Thai Tom Yum. Or Jamaican jerk chicken (YUM)? Can you tell it’s lunchtime and I’m hungry?

But after our experience at the Lisboa Grill last week, I’d say Portugal and its peri peri is right up there. To put this in context, I’m pretty much a spice wuss. I love spice but it makes me drip with sweat and turn purple (my father did the same but didn’t care – he’d happily eat a curry with sweat dripping down his face until his shirt was two-tone). The waiter in Tayyabs got so worried about my wellbeing, he fed me Indian ice cream. I sweat with Nandos MEDIUM peri peri sauce. Mustard makes me sweat, as does balsamic vinegar. I have even been known to sweat with an extra hot mint. But there is also something addictive about spicy food. When I order a curry that isn’t a bit hot , I get disappointed. And post-ohmagod-mymouthisONFIRE kick, I want to try some more later.

So I heard about the Lisboa Grill – an authentic Portugese restaurant on Brixton Hill – and went along to try it out. You have to walk through the front takeaway down the stairs to the restaurant, and it’s all tiles and dark and cosy and a nice mixed crowd of friends and couples. They have a decent wine list and I was impressed that they decanted the bottle of red for us to drink. And then the food:

They have a lot of seafood too but we ordered a giant mixed grill (around £25 for two) of sausage, chicken, steak, ribs and pork, all tender and cooked really well, and eaten with a big plate of salty chips and a salad. Think Bodeans but a hell of a lot better. It came with several different types of peri peri sauce that were medium to hot spice and went perfectly with the food, but then we requested something hotter. I love how the hot sauce came out by request only in a Pooh Bear-type honey jar with “V. HOT” handwritten on it. So very Homer Simpson at a fair.  

It was an incredibly hot spicy peri peri that came with a warning from the elderly waiter and just about blew my tongue off. To the point that I would happily have kept my tongue lolling in a glass of water like a dog if I weren’t in public. It was a dry intense heat that disappeared and made you want to try a bit more, and if it is spice that you are after, then this is the place to get it.

The service was slightly iffy – they were all lovely and friendly but we would have stayed for digestifs if we’d been asked and had to wait around a bit for the bill. But this place has character and charm and is a lovely addition to the eccentricity of Brixton. I’ll be back with a group of mates and in my best Nike dry-sweat clothes to try some more. The huge mixed grill plus chips and salad and a nice bottle of wine came to around £30 each, so great value too.