Strangers’ Reunion, Singapore

this cafe has already gained such a following since its opening that before reading this, you’ve probably already decided that you’re going to give it a try no matter what reviews say about it! well, i’m going to be joining the majority with a relatively positive review (about their famous buttermilk waffles at least!), so this will probably serve to egg you on and reaffirm your decision to go forth and pay it a visit 🙂

it having been around and being talked about (especially their buttermilk waffles) for quite some time now (if i’m not wrong, it was one of the pioneers in the latest wave of new cafes popping up all over the island; its been around long enough to warrant a refurbishment of the cafe recently), i cannot believe it was only this christmas break that i managed to check this super popular place out!

visited on a thursday around noon, and it was already nearly full when we arrived. we were lucky to snag a seat! the cafe has quite a large seating capacity compared to some other places though, and service is quite efficient so even if you need to queue, it shouldn’t be too bad!
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here’s the menu:
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gotta love all-day breakfast places

the menu is pretty large, but not so extensive that you have a hard time picking what to eat – very optimal for those like me who love having a range of things to choose from but are promptly wracked indecision and fail miserably at picking something, the kind of person who has a panicked expression on their face when they realise the waiter has taken everyone else’s orders and is now just waiting on yours; also the kind of person known to regret his order right after placing it. but i digress… back to the point now; we opted for the corn & zucchini fritters and a serving of their famous buttermilk waffles (how could we not) to share between the two of us.

20131219_130237 corn and zucchini fritters with avocado, poached egg and spicy tomato relish – $18

not sure if you’re thinking what we thought when this dish was placed before us –  we both agreed that it looked rather messy, unappetising and very homemade! like somebody just heaped everything onto a plate just before it was served, with little finesse or care. i was quite disappointed when i saw it but luckily it tasted pretty good, so that kind of made up for the poor presentation. the fritters were very light, not oily at all, and had bits of yummy corn and zucchini in them. the avocado was very fresh and perfectly ripe, while the egg was poached to perfection. the spicy tomato relish was important in bringing all the different components of the dish together, but i wish they had dished it out more generously. the serving was small – 2 corn & zucchini fritters topped with a few slices of avocado and just 1 poached egg.

i didn’t really think this was worth the $18 we paid, especially because $18 (and maybe a little bit more) can get you something much better presented, bigger and possibly even tastier elsewhere (at most of the other brunch places i’ve reviewed – maison ikkoku, nassim hill bakery, artichoke etc)

they had a waffle special (so exciting – i love specials!!!) that day, and that’s what we had:20131219_130247
buttermilk waffles with passionfruit, white chocolate, coconut zest & vanilla ice cream – $14.90

now this, unlike the fritters, was something worth writing home about. being ever present on the list of contenders for the best waffle in singapore, i ordered these with high expectations and am happy to say that they did indeed live up to them! the waffles were perfectly crisp on the outside but soft and fluffy inside. they remained this way for quite some time, and did not turn soggy rapidly like many others tend to, especially when served with ice cream! i loved the combination for this waffle special – the passionfruit added a nice zesty twist while the white chocolate balanced that out with its sweetness. the vanilla ice cream with coconut zest was also rather delicious! it was a very nice and light change from the usual chocolate-doused waffles with bananas (a good combination no doubt, but this was a good change!).

it was overall a pretty good experience at strangers’ reunion in a nice environment with good service. i would return to strangers’ reunion for their buttermilk waffles (though there are other amazing waffle options at creamier (belgian waffles) or DOC, but probably not for any proper food (though they do serve some more substantial lunch/dinner options) – i thought the food wasn’t anything to shout about at all (besides the waffle) though; even the eggs that several other diners were ordering didn’t look great but i’m not sure how they tasted – i do think they need to work on their presentation! we weren’t particularly full after what we had since the servings were rather small, but nothing was calling out to us from the desserts menu or cake display so we passed on that too (shocking, i know :O hahaha).  i’m happy that i finally checked this place out, but it was all a little overrated, i feel! 20131219_125627

Strangers’ Reunion

37 Kampong Bahru Rd
Singapore 16935620131219_145300
hi lou!
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Artichoke, Singapore

located in sculpture square (a place i think not many people even know exists), artichoke is like an oasis of calm amidst the usually bustling bugis area. my friend and i had a great time there when we met for brunch on a saturday morning – we ended up staying for 3 whole hours having great conversation over amazing food in a nice setting.

we knew how popular artichoke is, especially on weekends, so we made a reservation and managed to get a lovely raised table meant for 4, by a big window that looked out into the artichoke courtyard. yay!Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

the cafe exudes a laidback yet sophisticated vibe; it is casual but not sloppy and spacious but still cosy. it is also bright and airy, and i love how the tables are well spread-out so that it doesn’t get too noisy and you don’t have to worry about other diners hearing your entire conversation.20131221_11305920131221_113150

they serve dinner tuesday-saturday, and brunch on saturdays and sundays. here’s the brunch menu for the saturday we visited (i heard it changes):
20131221_113329i was really excited by the menu – everything was different from the usual brunch fare available elsewhere, and had nice middle eastern/turkish/arabic touches to them. artichoke prides itself on serving moorish cuisine. not quite sure myself what exactly moorish cuisine entails, but that might be because that is exactly what it is – a cuisine that comes from a huge variety of sources and has all kinds of influences (african/spanish/middle eastern etc), with no true definition that encompasses everything under it.

we opted for the scrambled eggs and mushrooms and the lamb shakshouka, and boy am i glad we did, because they were both amazing.

first, the scrambled eggs:
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scrambled eggs and mushrooms: local farm mushrooms/grilled halloumi cheese/za’atar toast – $22

this was super yummy! being an egg and mushroom lover, this was heaven on a plate. the mushrooms were fresh and juicy, and were cooked to finger-lickin’ perfection 😉 love how they’re local farm mushrooms too! nothing gourmet or fancy, but tasted just as delicious. as for the scrambled eggs, they were also pretty much perfect – not too wet nor dry, wonderfully creamy but not mushy at all! the eggs & mushrooms were topped with some fresh greens and these unidentifiable crispy bits (still don’t really know what they are) that were glazed in something (couldn’t really place what the glaze was either… oh dear) that were extremely delicious and added texture to the dish. the za’atar toast was also delicious, making for a super satisfying plate of goodness. our only (tiny) complaint was that we found the grilled halloumi a tad too salty. but other than that, it was grilled well and yummy like everything else! not sure if you can see in the picture because of the lack of scale, but the serving was pretty big! definitely filling, yet light.

instead of the mushrooms, an alternative is to have to have the scrambled eggs with “thick cut maple bacon chop”. when they say thick, they really do mean thick – the slice slab of bacon was about half an inch to an inch thick, and we spotted it glistening away in all its smoked glory at many tables. looked incredibly delicious but also very very sinful. best to eat in moderation! hahaha.

20131221_121628lamb shakshouka: stewed eggs/tomato sauce/roast lamb/cheese/pistachio dukka/toast – $26

i was really impressed with this. it was a pan full of bold flavours and hearty goodness. it was something like baked eggs, but even better. a giant serving of tomatoes, two runny eggs (hidden somewhere in there), amazing braised lamb shanks, cheese, topped with dukka, pistachios and some yoghurt – my idea of moorish food heaven! it was very filling, but so delicious that i just couldn’t bear to not finish it! though it sounds like a huge mess of flavours and things piled together in a pan, i must say it was a pretty organised/beautiful one 😛 the flavours and different components combined wonderfully and the lamb (which they were very generous with) was braised to perfection – it was moist, tender and extremely tasty, with none of the “smell” that people sometimes complain of when eating lamb. dunking the toast in all this was really, one of the best things ever.

case in point:Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetdespite the slightly heftier price tag, i would highly recommend this to anyone dining at artichoke! the serving is big and its definitely something different from the typical brunch fare of eggs benny etc, and in my opinion, in a really good way. its pretty heavy and and can get jelat though, so best to share this and some other lighter dishes with your dining companions if you want a greater range of things to eat.

given the big servings for the mains, we were stuffed by the time we were done with our mains, but were so pleased with the food that we decided we just could not pass on dessert. besides the desserts on the menu, they have a little bakery next door that sells an impressive range of tarts/muffins/baklava (traditional middle eastern/turkish dessert) etc where you can order some sweet treats to be eaten at artichoke:
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the tarts and their really interesting flavours were highly enticing, but we eventually decided on the sticky date pudding from artichoke. once again, no regrets at all because it was very very delicious! check it out:
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date pudding: burnt milk custard, coffee jelly, peanut caramel, smoked salt – $14

it appeared at our table completely different from what we expected, and looked good enough to warrant some oohs and aahs from us and envious glances from neighbouring tables. serving was like everything else big, and the pudding itself was sitting in this deep dish of burnt milk sauce, which to me sounded very interesting but to others might sound odd, i realise. if you belong to the latter category, do not let that deter you from ordering this, because trust me, it came highly recommended and with good reason! the date pudding was not cloyingly sweet like many sticky date puddings tend to be. neither was it very sticky actually! but it was moist and dense and was heavenly when eaten with the sauce surrounding it, the coffee jelly and the caramelised peanuts that topped it. the salt also added a very nice salted caramel-ish twist to the dessert. its priced rather steeply but the serving is definitely huge enough for sharing. so very satisfying! need to try the turkish apple crumble next! and some overdoughs delights.

as you can tell from my pretty much rave review of artichoke, i thoroughly enjoyed it and will be back for more. i loved the ambience, the food, and the service (they give each dinner a pack of sour gummies as you leave the cafe – a nice little touch and really helps in cleansing the palette after all that delicious food!). it was quite pricey but i thought it was nevertheless pretty worth the money. be sure to make a reservation on weekends or you might have to queue or be relegated to an outside seat (which is fine on a breezy day, but rather unoptimal on a sweltering one). i think they allow dogs in the courtyard too! saw some people dining with their furry friends so that’s something worth noting for dog owners out there.

i’d like to return for dinner one day, to see what they have to offer! they do communal dining for dinner, and i’m sure the great food and excited passing around of large sharing plates will make for a lovely experience 🙂

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outside seating area

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my habibi & i 😉

Artichoke Cafe & Bar

161 Middle Road, Sculpture Square
Singapore 188978 Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Flesh and Buns, London

i’d been wanting to try flesh & buns since i heard that it was owned by the same people behind one of my favourite bowls of ramen in london at bone daddies. the thought of roasting your own green tea s’mores was also too good to resist, so it was flesh & buns that we headed to to celebrate one of my housemate’s birthdays!

occupying a pretty large space in the basement of a building at seven dials, it is an izakaya restaurant (drinks accompanied by food) that made its debut quite recently in the london dining scene. decor is simple and modern, with large tables that make it a good venue to meet up with larger groups of friends. it was rather quiet when we visited on a sunday night:
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its a really dimly lit place so unfortunately the photos aren’t going to be great because all i was armed with was my s3 camera 😦

as their name suggests, they pride themselves on their handmade buns, which are to be eaten with their mains. their buns are basically kong bak pau buns (for those who have absolutely no idea what i am going on about, kong bak pau are chinese braised pork “burgers”) – delicious steamed buns that are eaten with different fillings:
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the menu seemed to be going in the direction of fusion, with a mix of interesting asian and western dishes. they do things tapas-style, the idea being for you to order a number of dishes that the whole dining party can sample.
here’s the menu:20131208_203234

the first dish to arrive at our table was the beef tataki:
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beef tataki with onion ponzu & enoki mushrooms – £10.50
this was probably my favourite starter of the night. the sauce was delicious and the beef was fresh and sliced to just the right thickness – not as thin as beef carpaccio but not thick to the point of chewiness. neither was it stringy, which is another huge plus point! eaten with the condiments that topped it, it was a really yummy burst of flavours in the mouth.

the second appetiser we had was the fried squid aka calamari:
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fried squid with japanese pepper and lime – £8
there was nothing very outstanding about this starter, in my opinion. we really wanted to try the grilled beef skewers (with kimchi & yoghurt) but they had run out by the time we placed our orders 😦 it was good calamari and the batter was light and tasty, but nothing exceptional at all.

we also ordered the eel cucumber roll and the softshell crab roll:
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eel cucumber roll (grilled eel, sweet soy) – £10/ softshell crab roll (jalapeno mayo, chives) – £9
we all thought the rolls were rather pricey for the serving size (5 pieces each?!). they weren’t anything to shout about; i think you can easily get better rolls elsewhere. the jalapeno mayo was an interesting addition i suppose, but again it can be recreated pretty easily at other joints, i feel.

the last starter we ordered was the grilled corn:
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grilled corn with lime spice butter – £4
i loved this starter, especially because i adore corn!!! the corn was grilled to perfection and slathered in butter, naturally sweet but yet made even yummier by the extremely tasty butter. i. love. corn.

now on to the mains, which definitely impressed me more than the appetisers (thankfully!). we ordered 4 to share among the 6 of us.
first up, the crispy piglet belly:20131208_210208
crispy piglet belly with mustard miso & pickled apple – £14.50
the crispy piglet belly was basically like chinese roast pork. but it was a pretty good rendition of it! the meat was tender and juicy, and the skin was thin and crispy. the layer of fat wasn’t too thick and it wasn’t too oily too! it went well with the mustard miso, and we all really enjoyed the amazingly thin slices of pickled apple that were a very refreshing twist to the meat!

we also had the crispy duck leg:
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crispy duck leg with sour plum soy and beetroot pickles – £13.50
the duck was also really enjoyed by all of us – it was like duck confit with a slight asian twist. the skin had that yummy melt-in-your-mouth texture, while the meat within was moist and tasty! if i return, i would probably order this if i’m looking for a meat to go with the steamed buns.

our third choice of main was fish; we got the grilled sea bass:
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grilled sea bass with coriander miso and kimchi pickle – £16.50
i remember this to be very yummy, probably something i’d order if i return! the fish was extremely fresh and grilled to perfection. the skin was crispy and coated in just the right amount of coriander miso, while the meat was firm, moist and naturally sweet. our only gripe was the small serving, given the price we were paying.

the above 3 mains are meant to be eaten with the steamed buns or vegetables (which come together with the buns):
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i thought it was good that they had lettuce and other vegetables to eat with the mains – too many buns would fill you up really quickly, and veggies are always a healthier and lighter accompaniment.

finally, we went for the spicy beef hot stone rice aka flesh & bun’s take on bibimbap:
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spicy beef hot stone rice with mushrooms and sesame butter – £8.50
i think this was probably the most reasonably priced out of all the mains we ordered – the serving was definitely the biggest of everything we had ordered! i really enjoyed this dish and how the many ingredients and sauces added culminated in a big bowl of goodness. i felt that there was something different about it when compared to what you get in regular korean restaurants, but couldn’t quite place it. it was really tasty and the veggies added were fresh and retained their crunch. this dish had me scraping at the burnt bits at the bottom of the pot when we were done (not the healthiest thing to do, i know).

and finally, definitely last but not least, we had our dessert – one of our main motives for going to flesh & buns. out of the 4 we ordered though, i felt that only 2 were worth the hype and out of those 2, only one was something i’d return for.
the dessert menu:
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first, we had the bone daddies sundae:
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bone daddies sundae: matcha ice cream, blueberries, jelly, honeycomb, cream – £7
i felt there was too much going on with this sundae – it was nice and exciting to have a huge range of toppings added to the sundae, but the (major) downside is that i thought the matcha taste of the ice cream was almost completely masked. there was also something in it that we could not identify, but that made the whole thing kinda sour..? i’d probably give this a miss if i visit again.

we also had the yuzu meringue pie:
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yuzu meringue pie with raspberry yuzu sorbet – £7
this was very refreshing! the combination of yuzu and raspberry made for a very tart but yet not too sour dessert, and was a good break from the sweetness of all our other dessert choices. i thought the yuzu pie was delicious, as was the raspberry sorbet. i’m not really a fan of meringue so can’t say much about it! if you’re into sour things, this is definitely for you!

we also had what flesh & buns has become pretty famous for (how could we not) – the green tea s’mores!
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s’mores: marshmallows, biscuits, green tea chocolate – £8
we were beyond excited when the charcoal stove was brought to our table for us to roast the s’mores. there was definitely a major novelty factor there – the idea of DIY roasting not just regular s’mores, but green tea s’mores at your table. it was a really fun experience (though the marshmallows ended up being kinda burnt), but i wouldn’t rave abut the taste. we all agreed that the green tea chocolate was pretty lightly flavoured, but teamed with the biscuits and melty marshmallows, still made for something rather satisfying. given that we were only given 2 s’mores though, i would again say this isn’t really value-for-money though it might be worth paying for the fun experience.
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birthday girl with the completed s’more

and finally, on to my favourite dessert and quite possibly my favourite dish of the night:
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kinako donuts with black sugar custard – £8
these. were. amazing. DELICIOUS. amazing. they were like giant sugar-coated exploding donuts. pictures to illustrate my point:
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just look at that!!! the outside of the donuts were as good as the inside – they were light and fluffy, of just the right thickness to hold the amazing oozy custard, and coated in sugar. so sinful but so good, especially because they were served warm. the black sugar custard actually tasted quite like normal custard, but it was extremely smooth and creamy and not too sweet at all! if there’s only one dessert you have space for after dinner, its these amazing balls of goodness that you must go for!!!

all in all, we had a pretty good experience at flesh & buns but i’m not sure how soon i’ll be returning just because i thought it was rather pricey (though looking at the pictures of the donuts again, i now realise that they are indeed quite hard to resist :P)! some of their dishes are rather novel though, so i suppose its worth trying at  least once. they also have a lunch set-type thing, which seems quite reasonable!
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Flesh and Buns

41 Earlham St
London WC2H 9LXProcessed with VSCOcam with c1 presetIMG_20131209_101906
night out with my chicas bonitas aka best housemates ever 😉 ❤

Scandinavian Kitchen, London

i liked this place even before i stepped in, when i saw this outside their shop:
20131211_132251the humour was a sign (pun unintended) of good things to come – good food and good service in a nice environment! it was packed when i had lunch there on a wednesday afternoon, and with good reason, we soon learnt 🙂
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the lunchtime crowd

what you can order for lunch (which they start serving around 11.30am) at scandinavian kitchen is simple – smörgåsbord (your choice of sandwiches/wraps/salads), swedish meatballs (with your choice of 3 salads), or a scandi hotdog! everything is available for takeaway as well – the eat-in price is slightly more than the takeaway price, and taking away is hence extremely reasonable! see prices here:20131211_132522

a mix of sandwiches/wraps/salads can be chosen for your smörgåsbord from the glass display at the counter – they had a pretty wide range and everything looked good so that made picking just 3 (we opted for the 3 pieces one) quite a difficult task! the sandwiches & wraps:20131211_133232and the salads:20131211_141453

we settled on a smörgåsbord and a plate of swedish meatballs to share! you place your order at the counter, and bring the food to your table yourself, helping yourself to cutlery and water along the way.

the smörgåsbord:20131211_133442smörgåsbord (3 pieces) – £6.50 (eat-in)

i can’t remember the exact names of the things we picked, but the one in the front on the left was something with prawns (no surprise there) and going in a clockwise direction from there, we had one with pate at the back, and last but not least, one with a warm salmon topping. 

i can’t pick a favourite because i thought they were all really yummy. if only they were bigger.. 😛 guess i’ll have to opt for the smörgåsbord with 5 pieces to be truly satisfied next time! the ingredients were very fresh – the prawns especially; i remember them to be naturally sweet and crunchy. they went together really well with the egg and tomatoes to make a very light and refreshing open sandwich. as for the one with pate, the pate was smooth and did not taste too strongly of meat. it was topped with bacon which i would have preferred to be crispier, but all was still good. and finally for the warm salmon one, it wasn’t exactly warm but i suppose they called it that since it wasn’t cold like smoked salmon slices and was instead cooked and made into something like a chunky spread. it was tasty and went really well with the dill and rocket that topped it!

however, if i had to pick one out of the three that i wouldn’t order again, it’d probably be this salmon one – it wasn’t bad at all, but i felt that it wasn’t as flavourful as the rest or as i had hoped! or maybe its because it was served on a crisp flatbread as opposed to the other 2 which had rye as their base, some extremely delicious rye at that! i was tempted to buy a loaf home (they sell it in their grocery section) but resisted, since i was leaving london and heading home really soon. next time i will!

we also ordered a plate of meatballs with 3 side salads to share:
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swedish meatballs with 3 salads – £6.95 (eat-in)

this was a really generous serving – we were given nearly 15-20 meatballs, accompanied by 3 big servings of salad! we opted for the apple and beetroot salad (bottom left), the artichoke and rye kernel salad (bottom right), and the pizza salad (top right).

i loved the beetroot salad, and not only because it was my favourite shade of pink! it really reminded me of what i had in panama (see here), but this was a lighter version in a dressing that was less thick and mayonnaise-y. the beetroots were fresh and juicy, and the rare apple bits added a nice touch! i also loved the artichoke salad, with its bits of feta and rye kernels. it was something quite different with an interesting combination of ingredients. as for the pizza salad, what went into it really shed no light on why it is named as such – consisted of cabbage leaves that seemed to be soaked/dressed in a light vinegar; an interesting salad that is apparently quite typically swedish!

the meatballs were super yummy. i liked the fact that they were small and almost bite-sized, served warm and quite crisp on the outside while soft and moist within. i would definitely come back for these! they also have a meatball open sandwich, if you don’t think you can handle a whole plate of 20 balls at one go.

having finished all that, we had dessert accompanied by some pomegranate cider! i must first say that the pomegranate cider was really nice – do try it if you’re a cider fan and you’re at scandinavian kitchen. it was light and refreshing, and my friend liked it so much that she bought a few bottles home. as for dessert, they had a few cakes and sweet pastries to choose from:
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we ended up going with something that one of the staff recommended, and did not regret it one bit. behold, the amazing kladdkaka, a traditional swedish sticky brownie:Processed with VSCOcam with m5 presetsticky brownie with whipped cream – £2.75

the brownie was. amazing. i am normally not a huge fan of things that are this chocolate-y, but this was pretty heavenly.  as you can probably see from its glistening interior in the picture – it was incredibly moist and sticky, having an almost half-baked/cookie dough-type texture. might sound weird to some people, but we thoroughly enjoyed it. i also loved how the top was crisp and went so wonderfully with the soft inside and the freshly whipped cream that topped it. it really had the homemade feel to it as well, which i really liked; it made me feel like i was having a really good piece of cake in someone’s wooden cabin in the middle of some scandinavian woods 😛 come to think of it, maybe scandinavians are just really good at making chocolate cake – i remember having really good chocolate cake while i was in norway with my sister last year! i’m definitely returning for more of this yummy brownie.

besides serving food, scandinavian kitchen also has a little supermarket section at the back that is well-stocked with a range of scandinavian products. throughout our lunch, there was a steady stream of customers browsing the shelves and the majority of them seemed scandinavian – looks like its a one-stop shop for them to get a taste of home!
20131211_155353besides the seating area you see in the above picture, they have more seats downstairs!

scandinavian kitchen is a wonderful little hangout along great titchfield street. it offers food that is legitimately scandinavian – everything is made using fresh nordic produce and though simple, they come together to make some very good dishes! as my friend said, everything tasted “… scandinavian.” we felt that there was really something different about the food there! service is friendly and efficient (pretty sure the staff are nearly all, if not all, scandinavian), and the staff all wear shirts with cute slogans at the back (not particularly relevant i know, but it adds to the experience!). the cafe itself is nice and it was not difficult getting a table at all despite the lunch crowd – most people seemed to be getting takeaways. i will definitely be back for more 🙂

Scandinavian Kitchen

61 Great Titchfield Street
London W1W 7PP20131211_15584920131211_155915

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

Franco Manca, London

food options along tottenham court road have just gotten more exciting with franco manca’s recent opening of a new branch there! excitedly paid it a visit a few days ago, and we were not disappointed at all.

i had heard it was good, but got even more excited when i saw some reviews they had selected to put on their menu – people were really singing praises about it! “if you only eat one pizza this year, make sure it’s franco manca” – tatler. they were also dubbed the “best in britain” by the observer! seeing all that really made me take my first bite of the pizza with high expectations, and i am pleased to say that they were certainly met 😀 also, i was actually pretty full that day having had a really big breakfast, so the fact that i still thought it tasted really good probably means it really did 😉

they only serve pizzas at franco manca (along with some simple sides), and what is special about them is that they are made from sourdough and baked in a special oven made in naples by a specialised artisan (all this info is found on their menu). the oven produces a heat of about 500 degrees celsius (wow), and the cooking process is supposed to lock in the flour’s natural aroma and moisture, giving a soft crust.

we went as a group of 7 which allowed us to order a range of pizzas to try – we ordered 1 of everything on the menu except the most basic tomato, garlic & oregano, which we replaced with the veggie special of the day. it was all very exciting 😉
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here’s the menu:
20131121_131849 20131121_132615and the board of specials:20131121_134820

service was good and efficient despite the lunch crowd, and we soon had a SPREAD before us:
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HAPPINESS, seriously.

in a clockwise direction starting from the bottom left pizza:

1. gloucester old spot ham (home cured), mozzarella, buffalo ricotta, wild mushrooms – £6.85 (bottom left)
this was my favourite of the lot! i loved how there was a little bit of tomato but not so much such that it became a tomato-based pizza; this made it different from what you normally get with most pizzas (either completely tomato-based or no tomato at all), especially those from pizza chains. the ingredients that topped it were also really yummy – the ham was delicious, as was the combination of cheeses. the mushrooms were just icing on the cake, because i really love mushrooms. admittedly the ingredients do look pretty sparse in the picture, but somehow it didn’t seem to be a problem when we were eating the pizza. i do think that everyone loves toppings though, so a little more would be highly optimal. but even without, it was really yummy. tasty and satisfying but still remaining light!
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2. wild broccoli, mozzarella, gloucester old spot hand sliced sausage – £6.75
this pizza has no tomato at all, which is probably why i didn’t like it as much as the rest! it was still very good and tasty, but i do like the what tomatoes bring to pizza. without any tomato at all, i felt that it wasn’t as flavourful – just cheese on (very good) pizza crust with some (good) toppings. we were quite puzzled by the description of the veggie as “wild broccoli” – maybe we are ignorant but we thought it seemed more like something similar to watercress?! (mosdef asian kids hahaha) i liked the chunky texture of the sausage – good quality stuff; definitely not the processed kind. somehow it tasted quite like lamb though? oddly, this pizza reminded me a bit of an indian-inspired naan-type thing…?
without tomatoes, the taste of the delicious pizza crust really shone through!
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3. veg special – tomato, mozzarella, baked mixed peppers, olives, topped with rocket and pecorino cheese – £7.50
i love it when pizza comes topped with rocket and cheese (and parma ham oooh yum) so i quite enjoyed this. loved the tomato base, and the baked peppers that topped it were yummy! not the usual crunchy raw-ish peppers that you get on most pizzas. definitely a good vegetarian option. wonder what veg specials they have to offer on other days; it’ll be interesting to see what other exciting veggie toppings they have in store.
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4. tomato, mozzarella, basil (seasonal) – £5.90
this was simple but good! probably the best thing to order if you want to go back to basics. and because i really like their tomato, i thoroughly enjoyed this because that’s mainly what the pizza was about!
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5. tomato, cured organic chorizo (dry & semi-dry) & mozzarella – £6.95
this was my second favourite pizza! i loved the chorizo which was moist and juicy – the perfect addition to a simple tomato and mozzarella base. so good.
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6. tomato, garlic, oregano, capers, olives, anchovies & mozzarella – £6.70
i quite like anchovies and olives so i enjoyed this! but i can imagine that they are things that not everyone likes, so this might not be a hit for all. the anchovies added a nice saltiness and together with the capers and olives, i thought this was a pizza with very strong and satisfying flavours! my third favourite of the day.20131121_133158

ultimately, i think the highlight of the pizzas at franco manca is definitely the crust – it is light, tasty, and crisp on the outside but delightfully fluffy inside. thin and with just the right amount of bite (i hate it when crusts are super thin and you end up feeling like you’re having something close to flatbread), i think you can’t go very far wrong with your order since all the toppings end up on the same amazing base.

your choice of toppings is really a matter of personal preference, and they a good range of options 🙂 i definitely preferred the tomato-based ones though; thought they were tastier and hence more satisfying/hearty. all the toppings used are also top quality – most of them are sourced directly from italy, and i thought the difference is taste was definitely noticeable. all this at an extremely affordable price too!

franco manca occupies a very bright, pleasant and relatively big dining space (turnaround time is quite quick so even if you have to queue, you probably won’t have to wait too long!) that is perfect for a casual lunch along TCR. food is great and service is good too, so i will definitely be returning, especially given the very reasonable prices. its probably going to be quite a hit with all the ucl students in the area; it has certainly already won over my friends and i 😉

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remnants of the lunch crowd

Franco Manca

98 Tottenham Court Road
London W1T 4TR

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L’eto Caffe, London

i have never once walked past this cafe along wardour street without stopping to admire the cakes on display in the shop window. i never ventured in however, until the queue at breakfast club (see review here) proved to be way too long on a sunday morning, and this seemed to be a decent substitute that was round the corner. it was busy when we visited but not overly so, enough to have a nice lively atmosphere but yet not too crowded and noisy. we were pleasantly surprised by the pretty good range of breakfast/brunch items that were all reasonably-priced.

there was a steady stream of customers the entire time we were there, and when we left slightly before noon, there was a crowd at the door waiting to be seated so its definitely quite a popular choice in soho for good food! here’s the menu:20131020_104228

having seen the amazing cakes in the window, we seriously contemplated just having a massive breakfast of sweet cake treats, but since we had woken up that morning with our minds set on breakfast club pancakes, we decided that we would not be happy if we didn’t get our pancake fix, and ended up ordering the pumpkin and honey pancakes, 3 poached eggs served with tomatoes and avocado, as well as l’etos famous honey cake:20131020_110208

the servings were actually pretty small (or maybe they just seemed small in comparison to what we would have gotten if we had braved the breakfast club queue) but given the price we were paying, we were satisfied. service was brisk and extremely attentive, so we were happy customers!

20131020_105801pumpkin and honey pancakes with fresh berries and honey buttery sauce – £7.90

the pancakes were good! we both loved how they were really rather pumpkin-y, both in terms of texture and taste. they were light but i thought they could have been a little fluffier (they seemed to be more of the dense type of pancakes, possibly because of the pumpkin?) and maybe prettier too if they were more regularly-shaped (but this of course, is rather irrelevant because taste is what is most important, right?) 😛 i would also have preferred a more generous serving of berries, but was satisfied otherwise with the yummy honey drizzled all over as well as the nutty bits sprinkled on top that really added bite to the otherwise rather “soft” dish. i would say our pancake craving was successfully satisfied after this, so thats’s a good sign!

20131020_1102483 poached eggs served on warm artisan bread toast with tomato and avocado – £7.90

on hindsight, this is actually a really simple dish that can be put together at home for a fraction of the price, but i can never resist perfectly poached eggs and some avocados of perfect ripeness! the star of this dish was definitely the toast – the artisan sourdough bread they used was really yummy that it made me consider buying home an entire loaf. the eggs were poached to perfection (just look at that golden yolk just dying to burst and ooze out onto the bread!!! sorry i know my yolk fanatic tendencies are emerging once again…) and though simple, it was a satisfying dish of a trusty combination of ingredients that can never really go far wrong.

20131020_105550honey cake (about £4 for the slice if i’m not wrong!)

this cake is something i will return to l’eto for. we were spoilt for choice when it came to picking something sweet to end off our meal and were very tempted by other fancier looking tarts and amazingly prettily decorated cakes (check out pics at the end of the post), but this was the one cake that was highly recommended by the staff as their specialty and one of their most popular. i can definitely see why! despite the alternating layers of cream and cake, it was amazingly light and had a lovely honey flavour without being overly sweet as one would imagine. in fact, it was rather subtle (there was actually a stronger taste of caramelised biscuits than honey, i thought? not sure why though!), the cream was wonderfully fresh and i thought the cake had an interesting texture which i cannot quite describe. its definitely something that is rather unique and won’t find often at other cafes, so i’d recommend ordering this if you pay l’eto a visit!

besides cakes and things on the menu, they also have a counter for you to pick from a good range of salads and quiches if that’s what you prefer:
20131020_104058i certainly wouldn’t mind returning to give these a try!

l’eto is a good place in soho to have a light and affordable meal, and it seems that those cakes do taste as good as they look. so the next time you stop in your tracks to admire the amazing display of cakes in the shop window, why not allow yourself to succumb to temptation and have a cup of tea and some cake? i highly doubt you’ll regret it 🙂

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L’eto Caffe

155 Wardour St
London W1F 8WG