Lan Zhou Noodle Bar, London

i cannot believe i it took me 2.5 years to discover this hidden gem right in the heart of leicester square; if i had known of it earlier, i’m sure i’d have spent many a cold night there slurping up oodles of noodles, elbow to elbow with other hungry patrons of this hole-in-the-wall…

it was a cold and rainy day and having just ticked one off the london bucket list by ice skating at somerset house, my ravenous friends and i decided that a large bowl of piping hot noodles sounded really, really good. so off to lan zhou la mian we trooped!

lan zhou la mian is not a shop i would venture into if it wasn’t recommended to me by friends – their shop window is filled with trays of (if i may say) dubious-looking extremely brightly-coloured ready-to-eat hot food (think mr wu’s chinese restaurant eat-all-you-can-buffet-style food that always makes me upset because i hate that it would make some people who don’t know any better think that that is all chinese food is about – fried spring rolls, lemon chicken and “singapore noodles” (the most offensive thing ever!!!)) and given how it is so well-located just a stone’s throw away from leicester square tube station, it appeared to me to be the type of shop that serves sub-standard chinese fare at cheap prices. we couldn’t have been more wrong though, and hurrah for that!

venture into the little shop and you will find (1) an almost 100% chinese clientele (a sure sign of its legitimacy) and (2) a chef hard at work making noodles before your very eyes! needless to say, i was ultra excited – the last time i had fresh hand-pulled noodles was about 3 months ago in sunny singapore, its taste quickly becoming a fading memory in my mind…
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they have an extensive menu that includes a range of cooked dishes and cold and hot appetisers, but we were there for the noodles, and that alone left us spoilt for choice. besides all the different types of noodles they have, you can get them all soup/dry/fried, and you can choose how thick you want the noodles to be. there are countless permutations and combinations that will be made-to-order just for you:20141205_140946

the aforementioned friends who recommended this place highly recommended the beef noodles, so the stewed beef la mian soup is what every single one of the 4 of us opted for. the noodles took quite a while to arrive (one would expect faster service using all the other casual chinatown eating spots as benchmarks) and the waiting time was exacerbated by the fact that it was 2.30pm and we (or maybe just me) had just done the most exercise we’d done all year by skating for an hour.

words cannot express my utter delight when a huge bowl of piping hot noodles was placed before me some 15-20 minutes later:
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mid-way through the monstrous bowl
we couldn’t have been happier with our huge bowls of noodles (#asiankidsforever). the broth was thick, tasty and flavourful, and the beef brisket was tender, well-seasoned and added in generous amounts. note the addictive chilli oil in the picture that was added in copious amounts for that extra spicy punch, making this bowl of soupy goodness even more satisfying than it already was on its own. as for the noodles, i was sold after taking my first bite. you could tell they were definitely freshly-made (the waiting time was warranted after all) – bouncy, springy and cooked for just the right amount of time to give it the perfect bite. i could not stop enthusing about the texture of the noodles as i made my way slowly but steadily through the huge bowl. soon it was all gone and i ain’t gonna lie, i was a little sad (as i tend to be when i have nothing left on my plate that previously contained a mountain of all things delicious).

at just £6.50, this bowl of goodness was like a warm, comforting hug on a cold winter’s day, and i will certainly jump at any chance to return. mega plus points for the fact that it opens till the wee hours of the morning (5am on saturdays?! truly a #rarespecimen in london), so this is certainly a place to visit when you’re in need of a late-night supper or desperately need to satisfy a sudden intense craving for oodles of noodles before bedtime. love me some la mian!!!

Lan Zhou La Mian (Noodle Bar)
33 Cranbourn Street
London WC2H 7AD

Prata Place, Singapore

and the search for the best prata in singapore continues! my all-time favourite prata stall is found in a relatively nondescript coffeeshop in sin ming (see here), but to my greatest horror, it was closed on the day i headed there for a prata fix 😦 was super disappointed because i had been craving it and had planned to head down on that day quite a bit in advance! and was even more shattered when the kaya toast stall aunty informed me that she didn’t have french baguettes for the kaya toast that day (i love it). there was a serious lack of spring in my step as i left the coffee shop…

refusing to settle for prata house along the main upper thomson stretch itself (i used to go there as a jc student; the prata is oily, and so are their floors), we decided to give casuarina curry a go since i hadn’t been in quite a while, and was interested to see how it oompared to my more recent prata adventures. googling the address however, the reviews didn’t seem as stellar as they used to be; it was suggested that a prata place in springleaf now served prata that was much better, and so that’s where we decided to head to!

tucked at the very end of a row of shops (many of which were food outlets) facing the main road with a sleepy residential estate behind is prata place. its not a very big shop, but spacious enough to serve a decently-sized crowd. it is extremely casual (perfect shorts & slippers kind of place)  and just very functionally decorated (though i don’t think anything more is usually/should be expected more of a prata shop) but a huge plus point is that there’s air-con so this is the perfect place to take visitors (or anyone for that matter) who dislike sweating it out in hawker centres to get good prata. service is also extremely friendly and efficient (orders are taken on ipads!)
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they have a huge range of pratas/thosais/murtabaks including some interesting choices like a chicken floss prata, red bean prata and a prata burger! here’s the very exciting menu:20140103_12561220140103_125623

check out the fascinating inverted V-shaped paper prata that the neighbouring table ordered:
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the paper thosai also looked very good!

we ended up ordering a plaster prata and a fish briyani set (because by the time we reached prata place, we were famished and needed some rice) for the 2 of us. and of course a milo dino couldn’t be left out of the picture 😉 (who even eats prata without a milo dino/teh tarik as accompaniment anyway?!)20140103_130002fish briyani – $4.50

we weren’t wowed by this at all; it wasn’t anything to shout about though it was definitely very authentic. quite a big piece of fish was given (though you can’t really see its size in the picture), as well as a very generous serving of briyani rice accompanied by pappadam and achar. the briyani sets seemed to be quite a popular option with the lunch crowd though, so maybe the chicken/mutton briyani is more exceptional!

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plaster cheese prata – $3

the only thing better than a cheese prata is an egg (with a wet egg yolk, no less) plastered across its top. this was amazing – i was in prata heaven. the prata was crispy on the outside but soft and fluffy inside. i absolutely loved the addition of the egg on top of the prata rather than within in like in regular egg pratas (my first time having a plaster prata!!!), and loved how the cheese they used here wasn’t a slice of sandwich cheese inside the prata, but was instead mozzarella bits sandwiched between the prata and the egg. i was really extremely satisfied and decided that plaster prata was probably one of my new favourite things to have (going through a plaster prata phase now – had one the very next day at tekka market, but was sorely disappointed because it paled in comparison to prata place’s). the curry was also good – not too sweet not too spicy, and was not the diluted/tasteless type.

i was intially intending on ordering an additional plain prata to really put their pratas to the test, but after having my plaster prata, i decided that that wouldn’t really be necessary 😉 the crispy outside and the fluffy inside really shone through, and i doubt their regular pratas will be anything less than that. definitely want to try their red bean prata the next time i visit though! (i saw pictures, it looks like a tau sar pia!)

the only thing holding me back from returning more often is the distance; it’s about double the distance to get here compared to getting to sin ming from home. but given that it opens all day (nearly – till midnight!) every day, who knows how long more i’ll be able to stay away from that plaster cheese prata…? 😉

The Prata Place

1 Thong Soon Ave
Singapore 78743120140103_12585220140103_132817

BRGR.CO, London

brgr is yet another place that has added itself to the already long list of choices we have for burgers here in london. being the first outlet outside of lebanon where it originated, i was initially apprehensive of how it’d fare but it came highly recommended from friends so this is where i ended up on a thursday night when i was craving some manfood! hahaha.

you’ll find it at the end of wardour street that’s closer to oxford street, and this location was extremely welcome since it shortened the trek from school after a torturous jurisprudence lecture (am sure it’ll be as welcome if you’re heading over with aching legs after intense christmas shopping too)! the interior of the shop was not quite what i was expecting – in contrast to other burger joints like patty and bun (possibly still my favourite burger in london; see review here), the decor in brgr is not what you’d expect from a typical burger joint – it seemed to be going for a more smart & sophisticated vibe with its dark colour scheme, and staff were dressed in crisp white shirts.
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at brgr, you can construct your own burger, choosing the kind of patty, followed by any sauces or cheeses that you want to add to it. here’s the menu:20131205_183229

they pride themselves on the beef they use (premium beef sourced only from the duke of buccleuch’s estate in scotland), and the signature burgers are supposed to contain only the best cuts, more so than the standard patties in their regular burgers. my friend and i both decided to go for the 6oz “butcher’s cut” plain, without any distractions from the fancy cheeses or sauces, and could not resist getting a serving of the parmesan truffle fries to share (it was calling out to us once we spotted it on the menu).

service was prompt (though it was hard to get the staff’s attention as it got later and the place filled up) and we were served our food rather quickly! the burger came deconstructed, with the veggie left out by the side – still not sure what the idea behind that is…
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6 oz “the butcher’s cut” – £7.95

lifted up the top half of the burger bun to reveal the AMAZING slab of beef patty within:20131205_184845

i don’t think the picture does how good it looked justice at all – it looked absolutely tasty and juicy and perfectly-cooked and made me want to dig right in. but alas, i had to snap a few shorts of it to share so i had to resist that urge for a bit. my friend on the other hand, promptly attacked hahaha.

all put together now:
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the beef patty certainly did not disappoint – the quality of the beef lived up to what it was made out to be. it was tender, juicy, sweet, wonderfully seasoned, and perfectly chargrilled to a pink medium rare. tasted like a gourmet beef patty, and even had that melt-in-your-mouth goodness at some points. the veggies in the burger were simple but very fresh, and the brioche burger bun was yummy – super soft and light and fluffy in all its glazed goodness.

what struck us most about the burger was its simplicity – no fuss in the form of dripping sauces or melty cheese; it was simple and very clean, and that is what makes the brgr burger special in my opinion. after finishing the whole burger (which i thought was a pretty good size), i didn’t feel like i had just eaten something unhealthy (which burgers that are heavier tend to result in) at all! in fact, it was not at all unthinkable to order a second one; it was that light! so it really depends on what you like in a burger – if you’re looking for something hearty and heavy and bursting with flavour, then i think brgr is not for you. (try patty & bun instead!)

we were also extremely impressed with the parmesan truffle fries:
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parmesan truffle fries – £3.85

these were calling out to us once we saw them on the menu, and we were not disappointed! the fries were thin and crunchy like what you’d get at macs, but a hundred times better with all that cheese and the fragrance of truffles! i loved how the parmesan was melted over the fries instead of just having shaved parmesan sprinkled on the top, and both the cheese and truffle were well-spread throughout the pile of fries such that each fry had the taste of both. (the worst thing is when you have to eat fries plain because all the toppings are just heaped in the centre and at the top – hate when that happens!!!)

finally, we had a dessert special (they have specials written on a blackboard) – the DESSURGER:
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dessurger – brioche bun, lemon custard, chantilly cream, vanilla parfait crusted in pistachio and blackberry jam

SIDE VIEW:
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my jaw literally dropped when it arrived at our table – it looked amazing and i had never had a dessert burger before so this was all very novel and exciting!!! luckily it tasted as amazing as it looked or i would have been sorely disappointed.

the brioche was lovely and light and fluffy, and though i was worried that it would just be a giant cream puff-like thing, i was pleasantly surprised that it was not the case at all! all the different components of the “burger” came together wonderfully – the chantilly cream was unbelievably fresh and light, the pistachio bits added crunch, the lemon custard was firm (a little like the texture of ice cream, just not as cold!) so that it didn’t get lost along with the cream, and added a nice and refreshing (slightly tart) lift to the dessert.

at some point we realised that maybe we should really be eating it as a burger so this is what we did:20131205_191944it was like a massive jam donut, only much much better.

we agreed that it was definitely worth trying but its a special item on the blackboard menu that changes, so i’m not sure how often they have it! just means that if you’re there and they happen to have it, you should definitely order it then 😉

all in all, we enjoyed our experience at brgr and concluded that its a great place if you’re looking for a light and clean-tasting burger. if you’re looking for something greasy or heart-attack inducing however, then this is probably not the place for you.

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BRGR.CO

87 Wardour St
London W1F 8ZD

Swee Choon Dim Sum, Singapore

[disclaimer: sorry for the unoptimal quality of the pictures in this post!!! i only had my phone on me to snap pics and also by the time the food came, we were so starving that i wasn’t too fussed about getting the perfect shot before tucking in heh. especially sorry for the unappealing pictures of half-eaten food!]

finally managed to head down to the famous swee choon dim sum recently for a mega dim sum feast! headed there after an intense wednesday at work and was tricked by google maps into thinking that it was really near to lavender mrt station; it was not very near after all and by the time we spotted the big red swee choon sign, we were starving and dying to eat.IMG-20130814-WA0031 unsurprisingly, there was a queue when we arrived around 7pm but thankfully it moved quickly and we were soon comfortably seated at a large table in the air-conditioned part of the restaurant! (we originally considered sitting outside so we wouldn’t have to queue for a table, but the outdoor seating is in this extremely dark alley behind the restaurant – not a very pleasant or optimal eating environment at all!) the queuing time is also made better by the fact that there are seats for you to sit while waiting, and menus and order forms are given to you so you can order and the food arrives soon after you get seated at a table.IMG-20130814-WA0029 the menu is very excitingly extensive:20130814_19195020130814_19195520130814_191935given the huge range, it’s really easy to get carried away ordering everything that takes your fancy. but then again over-ordering always happens without fail when i’m eating with these two, so my take on the consequences of being spoilt for choice by a huge menu is probably just an excuse for the fact that we ended up ordering $90 worth of dim sum that night. (who said swee choon was cheap?!)

20130814_194305 dim sum feast for “three boys” because apparently i eat the equivalent of what a 3rd boy would eat

20130814_193844 what always happens when food is served #asianproblems

20130814_194241 1. drunken chicken
the drunken chicken was quite decent though i would have preferred it to be a little more chilled. the meat was tender, moist, and well-flavoured while the sauce was light and tasty. we all quite enjoyed it! 

20130814_194422 2. mee sua kueh
the mee sua kueh is one of swee choon’s specialities. i’ve don’t think i’ve ever had anything like it! we all agreed that it was quite an interesting item on the menu – mee sua is fried together into these block-like pieces which have crispy brown outsides. i think its worth ordering just to give it a try, but it fills you up rather quickly and can get a bit boring to eat after a while since there’s nothing else (ie no meat, veggie etc) added to it. its pretty much eating plain fried mee sua in “kueh” form. will probably give this a miss the next time i’m there!

20130814_1944473. har gao
i enjoyed the har gaos although i would have preferred the skin to be a tad thinner. as for the filling, it was really yummy and they were generous with the prawns that were fresh and crunchy!

20130814_1946534. pei tan porridge
the porridge was very average, neither great nor bad. always a nice accompaniment to dim sum though, and they do a decent enough rendition of it, so its worth ordering if you want some porridge to go along with your dim sum.

20130814_1946595. pancake with egg & meat floss
another swee choon specialty! sounds like quite a strange combination and looks that way too, but it was pretty good! tasted like an asian savoury crepe, and the cucumber stick in the centre added bite and crunch to the otherwise soft mix of things. it was a good combination of tastes and textures!

20130814_194702 6. xiao long bao
i didn’t have very high hopes for the xiao long baos but they were actually pretty good and one of the better ones I’ve had in Singapore i feel! we ended up ordering 3 longs in total (omg now that I think about it that 1 long each hahahahaha. extreme eating with these 2 once again.). they were really well done – the skin wasn’t too thick and the soup and meat within were very yummy, especially when eaten fresh and piping hot!

20130814_1947107. egg tarts
the egg tarts were not bad, but nothing to shout about. they were portugese-style tarts as you can see from the pictures and the crust was flaky and crispy while the filling was quite wobbly and smooth, and not too sweet. didn’t get as excited as i usually do about egg tarts though… not sure why. i’ve been trying to think of what it was missing but i can’t seem to pinpoint it. maybe the filling was a little too wobbly and soft for my liking? the texture was almost like that of steamed egg; i guess i prefer fillings that are a little firmer!20130814_200445
very soft filling – a little too soft for my liking

20130814_1947358. prawn and banana fritter
i used to think that prawn and banana fried together in a fritter was an extremely strange combination, but i’ve come to really enjoy it! swee choon’s rendition of it was good. the banana was nice and sweet, the prawns were juicy, and the batter wasn’t too thick. the oil it was fried in was fresh (hate when oil is re-used to fry things; i always taste it in the deepfried sticks of things at old chang kee), and the 3 components all complemented each other well.

20130814_1949149. cha siu bao
the cha siu bao was good! the skin was fluffy and nice and they were generous with the filling that was juicy and not too sweet! yumz.

20130814_19535210. siew mai
they were generous with the siew mai filling which was sweet and juicy, and the skin wasn’t too thick! i remember thinking that it was a little heavy/dense and could have been more daintily done though, but then again this isn’t fine dim sum dining so i guess expectations should be managed in that aspect!

20130814_195436 11. (ryan and) big pao
the big pao was stuffed with minced pork, chicken, egg and mushroom. the ingredients made the filling nice and juicy and it was great when eaten hot, but i felt that the skin could have been a little thinner (even though it was quite fluffy).

20130814_20092912. liu sha bao
can’t have dim sum without having liu sha bao!!! swee choon’s liu sha baos are definitely one of the best i’ve had in singapore – they nailed the most important part of the bao which is to have the piping hot filling ooze out when the skin is broken. besides that, the taste of the custard filling was really really good. it was a perfect mix sweet and savoury with a texture that wasn’t too smooth; i feel that liu sha bao filling needs to retain a hint of graininess to represent the salted egg yolk that goes into it! we had another round of these treasures and i was clearly extremely pleased:IMG_20130814_221113

20130814_20294113. sesame pumpkin
i quite enjoyed this – it was basically sesame-coated pumpkin encasing red bean paste! everything went together quite nicely and i love how the sesame seeds coating the pumpkin added bite to the otherwise soft and mochi/tang yuan-like texture of the pancake. could have been a little less greasy though!

20130814_20370214. fried prawn dumplings
didn’t try this because by this point, i was completely dimsum-ed out and about to pass out from a food coma but my friends raved about it. supposedly really really good wan tons with amazing juicy prawn fillings. i would probably have had one if they weren’t fried, but i just couldn’t stomach anything so greasy anymore!

15. we also had their fried rice with shrimps and fried hor fun with shrimps (which i don’t have individual pics of), both of which we were disappointed by. they were nothing exceptional and hence not worth filling yourself up with at all! am definitely going to stick to the dim sum items on the menu the next time i visit.

20130814_205248 16. dessert
their desserts were decent! we had 3 desserts to share (even though we were close to rolling around on the floor in our stuffed states by this time) – grass jelly, ice jelly, and mango with pomelo and sago. the jellies were smooth and not overly sweet, while the mango with pomelo and sago was not bad but could have been thicker and less diluted. i was not expecting much at all since the focus of this place is on their dim sum and desserts would probably be more of an afterthought on the menu but was pleasantly surprised.  a good way to wash down all that food and end the meal on a sweet note!

20130814_210019doctor-to-be warning us of the potential ailments we might suffer from next time if we keep feasting so uninhibitedly each time we meet

given that there are not many places in singapore that serve dim sum at night (swee choon opens from 6pm-6am), its quite likely that i will be back at swee choon one day if i’m in search of dim sum past daylight. there are some hits and misses but it is overall a pretty good place with a very extensive menu so that everyone can satisfy their varied dim sum cravings. its definitely not a place for finely-made dim sum, but for the price you pay, i feel that you can’t complain at all!

(especially if you aren’t as crazy as the 3 of us who somehow managed to chalk up $90 worth of dim sum:20130814_210948
i do not know how my work clothes survived it… thankfully i did not have to go home with split seams hahaha.)

Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant Pte Ltd

191 Jalan Besar
Singapore 208882

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feasting friends forever