Yalla Yalla, London

when i told my housemate that i was going to yalla yalla for lunch, she asked me if it was a singaporean restaurant. i said no and was slightly puzzled why she jumped to that conclusion, but it all made sense on my walk to the restaurant – she thought it was “ya lah, ya lah” (for the non-singaporean readers out there, this basically means “yes”, with some singlish (singaporean slang) thrown in in the form of the word “lah”.) … i was thoroughly amused hahaha!

contrary to what she thought though, yalla yalla is actually a lebanese restaurant that serves beirut street food. i love how flavourful middle eastern food is, so i went to yalla yalla with pretty high hopes, and am happy to say that i was not disappointed 🙂

they have several branches around london, but the winsley street one is where i visited for a late lunch on a thursday. it was nearly full when i arrived around 145pm, but we were nonetheless shown to a nice corner table very promptly. the restaurant is modern, tastefully decorated, open, bright and gives off a casual yet sophisticated vibe. service is friendly and prompt. its a great place for a casual lunch!20131128_134515

the menu has a huge selection and i’m pretty sure everyone will manage to find something they fancy:
20131128_133654prices are reasonable and servings are big, so that’s already a huge draw in my opinion!

some complimentary olives and pickled things to keep us company while dealing with the challenge that picking what to order from an extensive menu always proves to be (happy problem, happy problem i know):20131128_134028we were pretty hungry (or maybe just greedy) so between the 2 of us, we ordered 2 starters plus a main each.

the first starter we ordered was the makalé samak, which we were eyeing once we saw it served to the table next to us. it was basically a plate of deep-fried seafood – so sinful but so good!
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makalé samak: deep fried tiger prawns, calamari, and white bait with spring onions, crispy aubergine and chilli minted greek yoghurt – £6

don’t think there’s much scale for you to judge the size of the plate from the photo, but it was BIG. we basically had a mountain of lebanese-style tempura placed before us, and we were certainly not complaining 😉 the batter was very light, not too greasy and definitely not too thick. i could tell that they used fresh oil to fry it, and the prawns, calamari and fish were all nice and fresh! served with some spring onions, pomegranate seeds and topped with a generous squeezing of lime, we really enjoyed this dish. although it was a really generous serving, it was completely polished off and we could see the reflection of our (fatter) faces in the clean bottom of the plate by the end of our meal. it also came with a minted yoghurt dressing but it remained relatively untouched, not because it was bad, but because the seafood tasted good enough on its own.

the next starter we chose was named by time out as one of the 100 best dishes in london – my friend was not a fan of liver at all but we decided that we had to try it given its accolade! 20131128_140111
sawda djej: sauteed chicken liver with garlic and pomegranate molases – £4

i LOVED this – in my opinion, its a must-try if you’re at yalla yalla! make sure you do like liver though, because my friend didn’t and so this plate ended up being all mine. definitely wasn’t a problem for me though; i gladly accepted the challenge of finishing it all wahahahah 😛 the sauce was amazingly tasty and the liver was cooked to perfection – not overcooked till it was hard, and retaining some crunchiness (nothing beats my mum’s homecooked liver dish still though ;)). something different, and definitely worth trying if you enjoy liver/feel like being adventurous and having some.

for our mains, my friend got the seabass fillet, while i got a mixed platter.20131128_140205
lokoz meshoué: charcoal grilled sea bass fillet with citrus scented rice and spicy tomato and coriander sauce – £12.50

i didn’t have much of this, but i had enough to conclude that the fish was extremely fresh and well-grilled – crispy skin, while the meat was firm and naturally sweet. you can’t see the 2nd piece of fish very clearly in this picture, but the serving was extremely generous with 2 big pieces of fillet atop a bed of rice and some accompanying sauce, which was tasty and was a nice tangy lift to the fish and rice. i would say 2 people could share this if they don’t want to overdo the mains and want to save room in their stomach to enjoy a greater range of appetizers!

as for me, i was excited to try as much of what yalla yalla had to offer as possible, so i opted for a platter:20131128_141349
street platter: hommos, tabboule, warak enab, kibbe lahme, chicken rakakat and chicken wings – £7.75

the hommos (chickpea puree, tahini and fresh lemon juice) was delicious and i loved not just slathering it on nearly everything that entered my mouth but also just licking it off my cutlery and having it plain.
the tabboulé (salad-like thing in the front – chopped parsley, mint, spring onion, tomato, olive oil, lemon juice & cracked wheat salad) was very light and refreshing – the myriad of ingredients came together very well to provide a good palette cleanser in between having the different items on the platter!
the grilled chicken wing was good but nothing to shout about; in fact i don’t remember much about it at all…
to the right of the chicken wing is the kibbeé lahmé, a deep fried lamb and cracked wheat parcel filled with onions comfit, minced meat and roasted pine nuts. this was a bit like a lamb falafel and i really enjoyed it! for the worried, the taste of the lamb was not overpowering at all (which is what many fear when having lamb).
the next item to the right is the chicken rakakat – a deep fried pastry filled with marinated chicken, garlic, shallots and harissa. i really enjoyed this as well! the flavours were strong and the skin of the pastry that enclosed the yummy chicken filling was thin and crunchy. it was like a yummy chicken spring roll! 20131128_141609
the insides of the rakakat and the kibeé
the last item on the platter was the warak enab which is traditionally lebanese – stuffed grape leaves! this was really interesting and unlike anything i’ve ever had before. the grape leaves were extremely moist as if they had been soaked in something for quite a while. the texture was almost like seaweed – wet but not soggy or mushy, almost kind of slimy? which sounds quite gross i know, but i didn’t find it so at all! it was actually very interesting!20131128_142252
the inside of the warak enab
if i’m not wrong, the stuffing was a vegetarian (i don’t remember tasting meat) mix of onions, tomatoes, parsley, mint and other yummy things, and the entire roll was probably soaked in something lemon-y. it was good but definitely something that i see people either loving or hating.

we were also given naan as an accompaniment to our mains. the naan was light, soft and fluffy. yummy, but i didn’t manage to have as much as i would have liked to because of all the other amazing food we had before us!

and finally, on to dessert! we were really stuffed by the time we had finished (yes, we finished it all!!!) our starters and mains, but thank goodness we decided to go ahead and share a dessert because what we had was really out of this world:
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yalla jou jou: vanilla mousse speculoos, velvety dark chocolate coating and dark chocolate sauce with a very vanilla ice cream – £5.25

if you’re going to have dessert at yalla yalla, this is what you need to get. SERIOUSLY. my friend and i agreed that even though we were really very full, we would have ordered another if we didn’t have to rush off to our jurisprudence lecture… we also agreed that if there’s one thing we’d return to yalla yalla for, it’d be this amazing dessert. it’s not like anything i’ve had i think, and i normally dislike mousse but this wasn’t typically mousse-y at all (i actually think its misleading to call it a mousse!); it was much more firm than a regular mousse, almost like vanilla ice cream covered in this amazing speculoos crumb coating and topped with chocolate sauce. they were also right in describing the ice cream as “very vanilla” – it was extremely fragrant and the bits of vanilla bean spotted in the ice cream were testament to how good it tasted! oh my, i’m craving this just looking at the picture… it was a really really yummy and unique dessert (not something run-of-the-mill that you can get anywhere and everywhere) to end off a great meal.

given the reasonable prices, generous portions and great taste of the food, i will certainly be back. you should check it out too – yalla yalla (“hurry up” in Arabic :P)! 20131128_14084420131128_153457

Yalla Yalla

12 Winsley Street
London W1W 8HQ

Bloomsbury finds, London

had the chance to explore more food options in the bloomsbury area when the family visited and stayed in cartwright gardens just before i came home for summer! what a pity i never got down to trying these outlets earlier; i would probably have visited them quite a bit. good thing i’m not moving very far (at all) next year and so i’m going to have plenty of chances to frequent these places and make up for lost time hahaha!

1st place on the newly-discovered list: Chilli Cool!
should really have tried this place earlier. i think its the perfect place for students to get a legitimate asian food fix – reasonably-priced authentic sze chuan food in generous portions that are perfect for sharing! my friends and i had heard of and toyed with the idea of checking this place out and the hotpot buffet they have there at some point during the year, but just never got round to going… i think the lure of the juicy roast duck (and hazelnut + pistachio gelato at oddono’s after) at goldmine normally triumphed.

but because my dad is the ultimate china man (he needs his chinese food everywhere he goes – steamed white rice, piping hot soup etc), chilli cool (2 minute walk from our hotel) was the obvious choice for dinner on the first night we were back in london after cruising for 2 weeks with a lack of proper chinese food. (according to my mum, my dad’s cheeks had were getting more and more sunken by the day lol)

chilli cool occupies 2 spacious units along leigh street and is simply decorated but quite homely. we visited on a friday night and it was nearly full, patronised by a good mix of both asians (more often than not, a sign of the real deal when it comes to asian food heehee) and caucasians. besides the a la carte menu, they also have a hotpot buffet option – perfect for a cold winters day! we weren’t up for stuffing ourselves (post-cruise detox time!!!) so we ordered a few dishes from the a la carte menu to have with rice.

(sorry the pictures i have aren’t great at all; the lighting wasn’t very optimal and everyone was starving and wanted to tuck right in!)

here’s the chicken fried with chilli and cumin which was recommended by the waitress:
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not sure if you can see from the picture, but the servings are pretty big compared to what you’d get at a typical chinatown restaurant, and really good for sharing in a group. this chicken was probably my favourite dish of the night. it was fried to perfection and extremely flavourful! crispy on the outside in this yummy batter and juicy and tender on the inside. the chilli and cumin were also added in just the right amount, giving the dish a really satisfying kick! definitely going to order this again when i return… SO yummy that it made me forget every bit of deep-fried unhealthiness that was being consumed wahahaha. unfortunately, the picture really does not do the dish any justice 😦

another typical szechuan dish: fried long beans with chilli20130628_210335
the beans were fresh and not overcooked such that they retained a nice bite. it was again a generous serving, but i wouldn’t recommend it to the faint-hearted (when it comes to spicy food), especially if you aren’t armed with tissue paper for dripping post-chilli noses. it was spicy even for us and we were really impressed by the caucasians at the next table who were happily devouring all of it… immunity achieved from repeat visits, maybe? 😉 the dish was really tasty and was delicious when eaten with rice.

HUGE bowl of fish soup:
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the bowl was seriously gigantic. to give some scale, the diameter of the bowl was nearly the width of the table!!! but our initial worries of not being able to finish it turned out to be unfounded since it was so delicious that there was nearly nothing left by the end of the meal. the soup is typically sze chuan and was served piping hot, full of green and red chillies, preserved vegetable, potato and plenty of fish slices. the fish was extremely fresh (definitely not the frozen kind), and what i really liked about it was that they were very generous with the ingredients, as you can probably see from the picture. this soup is perfect for sharing in a big group (it was way more than enough for the 4 of us) and i can imagine it tasting even more delicious on a blustery winters day… my only qualm about it was the shocking amount of oil that formed a thick layer at the top of the soup when it was first brought to our table, like an oil spill at sea. i was initially quite put off by it but we managed to scoop out most of it before tucking in, and once i did, it was so good that all oily thoughts were banished and everything was fine and dandy.

this was probably the most forgettable dish out of everything we ordered – tofu with black fungus and edamame:20130628_212108

in terms of flavour it was definitely outshone by the other dishes, but i suppose that’s what made it different from the rest, and not necessarily in a bad way! it was good palette cleanser since it was light and the least oily of all. definitely the healthiest too! the serving for this dish was exceptionally small though, and i probably won’t be ordering this the next time i go.

chilli cool was a great experience overall. service was prompt and friendly, and my family enjoyed the food (my dad certainly left a happier man with fuller cheeks :P) though we all agreed it definitely wasn’t the healthiest kind of food around given that most of it is fried and oily. nevertheless, am quite certain that i will be back, brandishing tissue and an empty stomach to try the hotpot buffet, maybe! if not, the a la carte menu has an extensive range of dishes so i have many more to try!

Chilli Cool

15 Leigh Street
WC1H 9EW

2nd place on the list: North Sea Fish Restaurant

another joint along leigh street, which caught my attention on the way to chilli cool because of the impressive number of stickers and accolades they had stuck in the shop window:
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(i was particularly taken in by the tripadvisor certificate of excellence + 2012 winner sticker wahahaha i am a tripadvisor review junkie)

there are 2 shops to the restaurant: one of them is for takeaways while the one is a proper sit-down restaurant that appears to be a nice  little cosy and chill place for a good seafood meal. the mother and i were craving some good fish and chips one night after a long day of shopping and decided it would be perfect to buy some fish and chips back to our hotel to feast on 😉

they have a range of fish available (check out the menu below), but we went with the cod as recommended by the very friendly guy behind the counter in the shop! we also wanted to try the salt and pepper squid but were sorely disappointed when we were told that they didn’t have them that day 😦20130629_212343 20130629_213031

the service is efficient (which should be the case in takeaway outlets) and there were a few pieces of fish being kept warm in an oven-like thing, ready to go whenever a customer came in with an order. we ordered a jumbo-sized portion though, and so had to wait for about 10 minutes for it to be fried. there was a steady stream of customers coming in and leaving happily with their takeaway bags while we waited, adding to the anticipation that was building from the moment the gregarious guy behind the counter told us was the “only fish and chips you’ll eat in london from now on”! i later found out that the fish and chips here has been touted as a contender for the best fish and chips in london!

bag of purported goodness:
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got back to the room and was greeted by this piece of fish gloriously glistening away under the light:20130629_214427
we felt that it was definitely worth paying a little more to get the jumbo-sized portion because it was really a rather big piece of fish! but of course if you’re having it alone then a regular-sized portion would probably suffice. the fish was EXTREMELY fresh – we were told that the restaurant only uses fresh fish and never any frozen fish at all, which i really like about them because usually for fish and chips and other fried fish dishes in general, its often the case that frozen fish is used instead of fresh catch and not much attention is paid to the quality of the fish used.

the batter was light, crispy and not too thick. it was clear that the oil used was fresh, and i know i’m repeating myself here but the fish was really of great quality. a drool-worthy close up of the fish: 20130629_215152
as for the chips, they were alright, but nothing to shout about. i felt that they could have done with a bit more salt & vinegar, but that can be easily requested for when placing your order. i would also have preferred them to be a little crispier on the outside. its possible that they became slightly soggy from the condensation that resulted from being wrapped up in paper while hot, but the walk home was only three minutes and so i think they probably weren’t very crispy to begin with. do note that they charge separately for the fish and the chips.

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think i might go with a different accompaniment to my fish the next time i patronise north sea… am eyeing the beer battered mushrooms and the salt and pepper squid! might also give the sit-down restaurant a try – they serve a range of seafood in a range of cooking styles (grilled, fried etc) along with homemade desserts.

best fish and chips in london? i would say its definitely one of the better renditions of this national dish, but wouldn’t be so quick to say its the best, especially since i felt that the chips could have been done better! i have also had some really good fish and chips at Bonnie Gull (21A Foley St, London W1W 6DS). both are worth a try!

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North Sea Fish Restaurant

7-8 Leigh Street
London WC 1H 9EW

3rd place on the list: King of Falafel

grabbed a quick bite from this little cafe serving moroccan/lebanese-type food, and immediately wished i had discovered it earlier on in the year!!! had the falafel wrap which was SUPER delicious, filled with the yummiest falafel ever and lots of fresh salad and scrumptious homemade sauce. i had it in a normal wrap, though there’s the option of paying a little more and having the wrap in homemade spinach/tomato (if i’m not wrong) moroccan bread. there’s also the option of adding halloumi cheese, which i am sure is delicious! its a big wrap which they cut into 2, and it’s overflowing with goodness heehee. i LOVE falafel, and this is probably one of the best i’ve had. it was perfectly spiced and just the right amount of crumbliness while not being too dry at all – a must try for all falafel fans out there!!!

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i definitely want to go back to try their range of meat skewers and salads and houmous. was eyeing the super hearty and wholesome plates of food that some at the cafe were having while i was getting my wrap to go. just look at that hunger-inducing display that’s filled with all things amazing:
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everything is really reasonably priced too! they have coffees for under £2, and the lebanese falafel wrap was just £3.50 if I’m not wrong…
king of falafel is definitely going to be one of my first stops once i’m back in london after summer!!!

King of Falafel

5 Tavistock Place
London WC1N