The South Bank is usually a hive of activity on evenings and weekends when special events are happening. For such a busy place, there aren’t many great places to eat as most the places around there are all of the chain variety.
However, some chains are better than others. One of these that offer a consistent quality of food is Feng Sushi at the Royal Festival Hall.
The decor is generically modern and very spacious with a choice of low tables or high stools. I love the large cherry blossom graphic on one wall, giving the only hint that this was a Japanese Restaurant.
The menu is quite extensive for a chain restaurant with a nice selection of cold and hot dishes. It is nice to see that all the fish served here are from sutainable sources. This led to them taking Unagi off the menu as they could not find a sustainable source for this in the UK.
The Sushi selection was quite extensive and well made but I like my sushi rice with more seasoning, which I understand is a regional Japanese thing. It was nice to see brown rice sushi as an alternative on the menu too.
The rock shrimp tempura did not have the typical tempura batter, it was a bit thicker and crispier but tasty nonetheless.
We had to try one of the seasonal dishes that were on offer and we chose the Handpicked Devon Crab Donburi which is a bowl of rice topped with crab. There was no discernible flavour in the rice, save for the few slices of pickles and no dressing of any sort, rendering this dish quite bland.
One of the few vegetable dishes besides the vegetarian sushi and a few tofu dishes was the Vegetarian Tempura. Perfectly light batter and crisp fresh vegetables was a real winner.
To finish we shared a dish of Black Sesame, Green Tea and Sweet Chestnut Ice Cream.
The service at Feng Sushi was friendly, attentive and competent, they kept my green tea cup regularly refilled. This is one of the better meals to be had around the Royal Festival Hall and I like the way that the menu is designed so that you can have just a quick bite or a more substantial meal.
If you work nearby, you can also order Sushi to takeaway via their website www.fengsushi.co.uk
SlowFoodKitchen was invited to review Feng Sushi.
My new new thing all this summer was making ice cream, with lots of summer fruits and experimenting with other strange flavours. One of the favourite recipes was making Strawberry Ice Cream. The first time I made it was such a lovely surprise as it produces a delightful pink coloured concoction and it was really quick to make too.
This Strawberry Ice Cream recipe is very simple and doesn’t require you to make a custard before hand. I have made it lighter by substituting some of the double cream with fat free yoghurt.
For this recipe, I used my new Cuisinart Ice Cream Deluxe Ice Cream Machine which has a 2 litre capacity. The recipe is enough to make about 1 litre which is enough for about 4 servings. Cuisinart makes the best Kitchen Appliances like their amazing Food Processor which we saw recently at the Food Bloggers Connect Conference.
Before you can use this Ice Cream Machine, you need to freeze the bowl and this takes about 12 hours. When the liquid in the bowl is frozen solid, it will then take about 20 minutes to make the ice cream.
The machine is very simple to use with only one setting. You need to set the machine up with the bowl in place with the lid firmly and turn on the ice cream machine before you pour the ice cream mixture in. If you don’t the mixture might freeze and this will prevent the mixing arm to move around. You will know when the ice cream is ready when you hear the machine change speed, it will sound like it is slowing down.
You can buy Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker
There is always excitement and buzz when something new appears in an area. On this stretch of St John’s Hill, the area is seeing an influx of new restaurants with the opening of The Plough Clapham and Ben’s Canteen recently.The Plough is yet another Youngs pub who seem to be dominating this corner of South West London.
On a recent weekend, we decided to have Sunday lunch here and it was their first Sunday of service. When entering The Plough, you might be confused into thinking that you are entering a restaurant rather than a pub as there is a greeter at the door. Strange.
The place is really spacious with high ceilings and bright pink velvet chesterfields in the front window, great for lounging on while having a Manhattan or two. It’s that kind of place.
The dining area seems larger than bar area which probably highlights the ambitions of the management. Tables are well spaced out so you don’t feel like you are shoe horned into a corner of pub as an after thought. It wasn’t completely full but there was a nice buzz and a mixed clientele of families with kids and people rolling in for a hangover cure.
Menus offer the regular pub fare with daily specials on a blackboard near the kitchen. The kitchen is open to the dining area via a large hatch and there seemed to be a lot more staff in there than servers in the front of house.
We had the Roast Beef with all the trimmings.The serving was enormous, the beef was flavoursome but slightly overdone, the goose fat roast potatoes were fab but the leek and vegetable concoction was practically raw.
Being their first week, we didn’t expect perfection. I guess the kitchen is still finding their feet. The management dealt with our comments about the food really well, taking the drinks off the bill and came to apologise too. Very professional.
We didn’t stay for pudding this time but will be back again soon to try out the other offerings on the menu like the intriguingly named Parrot Wings. The Plough is a great addition to this area which sorely needed casual dining room.
Our lunch came to about £25 for two without drinks.
The Plough Clapham
89 St. John’s Hill,London, SW11 1SY
The beautiful Moon Goddess waits patiently for this day every year to be reunited with her mortal lover on Earth. Thousands of years ago, a forbidden love affair was formed between the immortal and her mortal lover, a cow herd, on earth. When they were discovered, the Gods banished the Moon Goddess to the Moon and forbade her to contact her lover. The villagers who witnessed this love story were so moved to help them that they baked mooncakes with hidden love messages to help the lovers communicate.
To this day, the Moon Festival is still celebrated by Chinese Communities the world over and if you look closely at the moon on this night, you might see the Moon Goddess too. (There are many other version of the myths about the Moon Festival that have evolved over the last 4000 years and this is the version that I heard growing up.)
The Moon Festival is also popularly known as the Mid Autumn Festival and it falls on the 15th day of the 8th Month of the Lunar Calendar and this year. This is the second most important festival after Chinese New Year and Chinese communities around the world celebrate it by having a big family meal, lighting coloured lanterns, letting off fireworks and eating mooncakes.
In London, you will see the lanterns festooned across Gerrard Street and restaurants packed with families celebrating this festival. In Asia, all the children will get paper lanterns shaped to the likeness of today’s superheroes which they will parade around the neighbourhood with their friends. A bit like Trick or Treating at Halloween without the costumes. Meanwhile, the grown ups will sip tea and eat mooncakes while admiring the moon.
Mooncakes and the varieties
Mooncakes are usually made with a thin pastry crust that is shaped around a mould and filled with a sweetened filling. Chinese ones are usually made round and have messages stamped on the crust. A well made crust is usually really thin and is usually made with lard.
This year, I was sent a moon cake from Singapore from the Szechuan Village restaurant which was filled with lotus seed paste and 2 salted egg yolks. The texture was a bit too soft and it was lacking in one of the main ingredients, melon seeds. Good enough but not great. Was trying to get the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong to send me some of their award winning ones but they insisted they wouldn’t travel well in the post.
Every year, the mooncake manufacturers try to outdo each other with ever more outrageous flavours. They all look and taste really weird like Durian Snow Skin Mooncake (which has a tasteless white outer skin and durian flavoured filling) , strawberry, orange, green tea, pandan and chocolate. I still prefer the traditional ones with either lotus seed filling or red bean filling.
In London you can buy locally made mooncakes at the Far East Bakery on Gerrard Street. They are the only people who make their own. All the supermarkets in Chinatown sell imported ones, mainly from Hong Kong or you can buy them online from our friends at Wai Yee Hong. (Tip: Most the shops in Chinatown sell them at a discount the day after the Moon Festival. )
Besides mooncakes, we have other special foods for the Moon Festival like these strange looking water chestnuts shaped like a horn, called Ling Kok also known as Bull’s Horn in English. This is boiled and then cracked open to eat the starchy filling. It doesn’t taste of much but has some sort of traditional significance which has been lost.
Learn more on the Mid Autumn Festival here.
Walking around Soho looking for a quick casual meal might stump you as there are so many choices of new restaurants with cuisine ranging from Indian wraps to Venetian Cichetti to Asian street food. A welcome new addition offering Indochinese Cuisine is opening on Wardour Street this week, Banana Tree Soho.
Banana Tree Soho is part of a a chain of Casual Dining Asian restaurants around London and this newest outpost in Soho has just opened on Wardour Street. This chain is run by William, an ex architect turned restauranter, and his lovely wife Anne. In the last 20 years, they have steadily turned this chain into a very popular Asian restaurant with high ratings on sites like Urbanspoon.
The new Banana Tree Soho has an industrial decor, with exposed ducting and bare brick walls, studded with a few Asian accents including the large Asian Hat shaped pendant lamps which were custom made for the space.
Seating is either on the raised communal benches or tables around the dining space. Noise reverberates off the hard surfaces, creating a vibrant buzz.
Banana Tree Soho’s Indochinese Menu
The menu of this branch differs from the other branches where they have incorporated more Indochinese dishes, basically giving them more of a leeway to add more flavours and dishes from around Indochina, South East Asia and surrounding countries. It was also a pleasant surprise to see that instead of simple one plate dishes, there are a lot of dishes you can order to share Asian family style.
At the pre opening trial run, we sampled a range of dishes from their new extensive menu. As we were quite a large group with a few kids in tow, we ordered dishes to share.
The achar or spicy pickled vegetables were quite superb and the belly pork was crispy with a hint of 5 spice. I would definitely order these pickles as a side dish and even take some home if they can bottle it.
For mains, we ordered a variety of dishes to share, family style. You can opt for individual one dish meals or just a noodle dish if you wanted a different option.
After 19 years, they have reintroduced Beef Rendang onto the menu after finding a method to perfect this dish. The rendang is cooked to their well tested recipe after vigorous testing the many ways to cook this dish, resulting in a consistent quality that does that inhibit the flavour. The meat was tender, spicing was balanced but a bit too light on the chilli for my taste.
This was deliciously soft melting pork belly, perfect with a bowl of rice and some of their chilli sauce that is on every table. The flavour was reminiscent of something my grandma would make at home.
My favourite dish, crispy fried fish with a spicy tamarind sauce, what’s not to like about this.
This dish was laden with seafood in a thick coconut curry, with a heavy curry leaf flavour.
We had a some papaya salad, stir fried greens and the grilled aubergine to accompany these dishes. For drinks, there is an array of freshly squeezed juices, a wide wine selection and an eclectic cocktail menu, don’t miss the Dirty Thai Guy cocktail.
In summary, you could have a lovely family style Asian meal or a quick bowl of Yin Yang Laksa or Fried Rice (Nasi Goreng). The flavours are authentic and have not been dumbed down too much and you will be ensured of a great meal at a really decent price. Starters start at about £3 and the mains are around £6, a full meal with drinks will work out less than £20, which for the West End is a real deal.