Saturday, 31 January 2015


Blimey, is it the TENTH BackBench at Koya already?! 

Well the tenth since they started, but only the ninth for me as I missed the one in November - I know, even I was appalled at myself...

So there I was at my regular seat for lunch on Monday, eagerly anticipating for the first course to be served. Instead of sake I went for the safe option of cold brew oolong, knowing what alcohol does to me at that time of the day...

We arrived slightly early and watched as Chef Junya was prepping the crab for one of the courses. 

| Mochi, Hare, Salsify & Dandelion Zoni |

Zōni or o-zōni is a Japanese soup containing mochi rice cakes, and is strongly associated with Japanese New Year celebration. It was also a tradition to eat rabbit/hare in the old days - a bit of a historical and cultural theme going on here. Even though we are almost at the end of January, it was still an interesting way to start off the first BackBench of 2015 - the soup was warm and comforting, the hare tender and the mochi had a pleasant chewy texture.
If only everyday was Japanese New Year. 

| Rhubarb Ohitashi |

Ohitashi is a traditional Japanese side dish, and a popular way to eat boiled greens. Ohitashi means soaked, whereby the vegetable, commonly spinach, is soaked in Dashi sauce. Chef Junya decided to give the dish a bit of a twist by utilizing rhubarb, an ingredient commonly used in desserts. I must say that I am not much of a fan of rhubarb, but the way it was prepared may have made me change my perception of it - it had a crisp and crunchy texture and really fresh flavours with a hint of sharpness. I can't quite remember what the paste was made of, but it tasted like miso...

| Kombu Cured Mackerel & Tokyo Turnip |

The kombu cured mackerel has always been one of my favourite dishes to order whenever I dine at Koya. The mackerel is unbelievably fresh (supplied by the one and only Matt @cornishgrill), and cured in kombu, an edible kelp commonly used to flavour Japanese soups, noodles and stocks (dashi).
This was served with some cubes of Japanese turnip, which are generally more moist than English turnips, and spicy mustard.
I would be happy to eat an entire kombu cured mackerel...

| Steamed Oyster, Celeriac & January King Cabbage |

We had fresh oyster at the last BackBench, and this time it was steamed. I have to say that I still prefer fresh oysters in general, but nonetheless it tasted good. And I even had an extra serving as Mr P kindly offered his to me - I wish that he would have done the same with all the other dishes.

| Brockman's Turnip Tempura |

Chef Junya used an English turnip for this dish, which has much deeper flavours as compared to the Japanese turnip used in the mackerel dish. The whole turnip was deep fried for approximately 20 minutes, resulting in a really crisp coating and a soft, but not too mushy texture on the inside. This was served with some salt and chilli powder.

| Crab & Jeruselam Artichoke |

I am usually excited for every BackBench, but the sight of crab on the menu just took it to the next level. The Brown crab was grilled over charcoal to produce more intense flavours. And as you may have seen in the very first photo at the top, the crab was being carefully shelled and picked - guess that takes the messy bit out of the way.
I don't think that Mr P would have appreciated me flinging bits of crab legs at him...

| Red Mullet Mandarin Miso Dengaku & Searadish |

 I was secretly hoping that I would get the tail which is my favourite part, and I did! 
Or maybe I was whispering under my breath a bit too loud that he overheard me...either way it worked out well for me.
The red mullet was cured with some salt and mandarin miso. The flesh was really fresh with a nice, flaky texture. And that full of flavour.

| Mallard & Wild Onion Nanban Udon | 

The udon dish is often the dish that I most look forward to as I clearly LOVE all things noodle-related. The broth as usual was really clean and warming, the mallard nicely seared and there were those cute wild onions again that Chef Junya foraged.

| Amazake Ice Cream | 

No sake-kasu ice cream this time, but instead we had amazake ice cream - a traditional sweet, non- (or low-) alcohol Japanese drink made from fermented rice.

| Seville Orange | 

And some candied Seville orange peel to finish, which went well with the ice cream. 

A great first BackBench of 2015, and still one of my favourite seats in London.
Thank you once again to Chef Junya and the Koya team, and see you at the next BackBench.

For my previous BackBench posts, click on the links below:

The BackBench #1
The BackBench #2

The BackBench #3
The BackBench #4
The BackBench #5 
The BackBench #6
The BackBench #7
The BackBench #9

The Cheekster, signing out x


Monday, 26 January 2015


After over 8 years since leaving the UK, Shuey (Shu Hui) is finally back on British soil, which meant that it was time for a much needed reunion!
Moving to live in Birmingham after four years in bustling Sydney was probably not the most exciting move for Shu, so it did not take much for me to tempt her to come visit me in London for the weekend.

Having been starved on the train journey down from Birmingham, we stopped by Shoryu in Kingly Court for a little snack. I had the onigiri with pickles, whilst Shu had a couple of buns - enough to keep her going before our late reservation at Sticks 'n' Sushi.

I was only able to book a couple of seats at the Yakitori bar on their website, but when we arrived at Sticks 'n' Sushi, the waitress kindly offered to seat us at a proper table upstairs, which was nice.
We ordered a bowl of edamame beans with spicy miso and grilled corn on the cob just to nibble on before dessert. I have been wanting to try their Sweets selection for quite a while, and I finally decided that I could not put it off for much longer...
There were nine petite desserts, and amongst them, my favourites were the dark fondant (with chocolate caramel and peppermint heart, topped with crunchy hazelnut brittle) and the black sesame ice cream with nougatine. 
I always love the concept of having small sample-size portions so that I can try a bit of everything.
The only thing I would pick on was probably be the presentation for it as it came in a round wooden serving dish (like for serving sushi), instead of the wooden box as pictured in the menu - it just would have looked much better in the photo...
Other than that we had a really relaxing and enjoyable evening, and we were pleased with our waitress who was very attentive and efficient.

After a bit of a late night, we had an early-ish start the following morning, starting at Maltby Street Market in Bermondsey. 

We stepped into Comptoir Gourmand, a French patisserie company that offers a delicious range of desserts and savoury treats.

We then grabbed ourselves a brownie each from Bad Brownie - I had the blueberry cheesecake whilst Shuey had the salted caramel. I intended to save mine for breakfast the next morning but ended up eating half of it before bed...

Shuey had a sudden craving for eggs, so I brought her to one of my favourite cafes in London - Damson & Co. in Soho.
Shuey ordered a single Eggs Benedict, and I had the tasty Breakfast Muffin with a glass of healthy matcha latte with hazelnut milk.

I have recently been quite addicted to the cupcakes at Crumbs & Doilies at Kingly Court. The flavours seem to change daily and I usually get about 2-3 mini ones, so that I can try more flavours at one time...
After all, that's only equivalent to one normal sized cupcake, right? Just you know, being calorie-smart...

It was quite late by the time we got to Portobello Market, and most of the stalls were closed by then, so we went to seek shelter at Parlour. I have been eying those sweet chestnut macarons that Jesse posted earlier on in the week, and I made it in time to try it whilst it was still on the menu...

I had booked a table for us that evening at Kushi's at Kitchenette - an incubator restaurant that helps start-up food entrepreneurs.
A relaxing evening catching up with good food and dining by the canal - a nice way to wind down after a long day.
Click here for the full post on our meal at Kushi's.

The next day, we had a lazy morning in before heading out to town for our Traditional Afternoon Tea at Brown's Hotel in Mayfair.

Part of my 'grand scheme of things' to get Shuey to adapt back to British life!
And what better place to have afternoon tea than at The English Tea Room at London's first ever hotel that opened in 1837. The interior was stylish and sophisticated, with a blend of traditional and contemporary decor.

There was some delightful music being played on the Baby Grand Piano as we sipped on our teas and nibbled on the freshly cut sandwiches. We hadn't had breakfast in the morning, so we hastily wolfed down the first plate of sandwiches before another serving was brought to us.

Not long after, a plate of warm buttery scones was brought to our table - freshly baked fruit and plain scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserve.
Everyday should be a scone day...

And finally we started digging into the plate of assorted cakes and pastries - my favourite was clearly the macaron, which is no surprise, knowing how much I just LOVE macarons...
We also did not miss out on the cakes from the trolley - victoria sponge and treacle tart, both of which were really tasty and indulgent.

Apart from having to endure being seated next to a rather loud table, it was a fine afternoon indeed at Brown's Hotel...

It has been a fun and enjoyable weekend spending time with you Shuey - you're always welcome to 'crash' into my life anytime! After all, that's what friends are for.

The Cheekster, signing out x


So, as I'm kind of falling behind on some posts, I'm going to combine two weekend posts into one...

First up is Wild Serai's January residency at The King & Co., the Malaysian supper-club specialists who have put together a menu showcasing their favourite Malaysian streetfood dishes.
The last time I was at The King & Co. was for Donostia Social's residency which I thoroughly enjoyed - both the food and the venue. I have heard good things about Wild Serai but have never had the chance to attend their past supperclubs/pop-ups, so I was thrilled to find out that they were doing a one month residency at The King & Co.
I do often have cravings for food from back home, and there are not that many places that serve good, authentic Malaysian cuisine in London, so anything that comes close to it is always worth trying.

We popped in for lunch on a Saturday and ordered a few dishes to share. There was also a Special on the board that day which was the sharing platter, which we ordered. 
My favourite amongst the small plates/side was probably the sambal sardine puffs - light, fluffy pastry, and knowing just how much I am obsessed with sambal...

| Bloody Caesar |
- with Clamato juice and Moskovskaya vodka -

| Sambal Sardine Puffs |
- light parcels of puff pastry stuffed with sardine chilli sambal -

| Crispy Pork Belly |
- with lettuce leaf wraps, served with soy, lemongrass, sweet vinegar & bird's eye chilli dip -

| Sharing Platter |
- Malaysian grilled chicken and beef satay with tangy spicy peanut sauce; Pineapple, cucumber and coriander Nyonya salad; Crispy deep-fried wan tan parcels with sweet chilli dipping sauce; springs rolls and fishballs -

The nasi lemak, which is a signature Malaysian dish, was pretty good as well. The rice was nice and fragrant, the anchovies crunchy, and I did really like the prawn sambal.

| Nasi Lemak |
- coconut rice garnished with egg, cucumber, peanuts, anchovies and served with prawn sambal and beef rendang/Malay fried chicken -

We also obviously could not miss out on dessert, otherwise the meal just would not be complete...
Two traditional Malaysian desserts - the bubur cha cha was quite tasty and close to what I usually have back home. The cengkodok maybe not so much...

| Bubur Cha Cha |
- coconut milk, sago, sweet potato, banana and palm sugar -

| Cengkodok |
- deep-fried banana balls -

The Wild Serai residency at The King & Co. runs until the 31st of January 2015, so hurry and get yourself down there if you want to try them out!

Address: 100 Clapham Park Road, London SW4 7BZ
Contact No.: 020 7498 1971

And now moving on to Kushi's residency at Kitchenette in Ladbroke Grove - an incubator restaurant that help start-up food entrepreneurs.
Located in a beautiful setting on the canal (and much closer to work and home!), I was excited to try them out after eying some rather mouth-watering photos on Twitter.
A friend was also visiting for the weekend, and I thought that this would be a fun opportunity to introduce her to the creative food scene/concepts in London.

We started off with some house pickles, which had a nice variety. I was a particular fan of the watermelon and shiitake, both of which was the first time I had served pickled.
The Jeruselam artichoke tempura was certainly very tasty and more-ish and I could have easily devoured a few portions of it on my own. Such light and crunchy batter and nicely paired with the nori mayonnaise. The fried chicken also didn't fail to impress - delicious flavours, with crispy batter on the outside with the meat still succulent and juicy on the inside. To help 'balance out' our fried dishes, we also ordered the sprouting broccoli and roasted beetroot which was quite refreshing.

| House Pickles |
- watermelon rind, shiitake, beetroot, cherry, daikon -

| Jeruselam Artichoke Tempura & Nori Mayonnaise |

| Kushi's Fried Chicken |
- gochujang, sesame, chives -

| Sprouting Broccoli |
- served with shiso lime vinaigrette -

| Roasted Beetroot |
- with pear, wasabi horseradish crema, chives, caramel peanut crumb, sorrel -

We ordered three of the four taco dishes on the menu - crunchy tacos with a generous amount of toppings. I really liked all of them, but if I was to choose a favourite, then it would probably be the duck leg tacos. Unfortunately I didn't try the ox cheek taco as Shu is not much of a meat fan, but I'm sure that it would have tasted just as good. 
This just means that I will have to make another visit, just you know, to be doubly sure...

| Tacos |
- Cavolo nero, mizuna, shimeji mushroom, feta, schichimi -
- Duck leg, barley miso, pickled cherries, feta, coriander -
- Asahi-battered coley, jalapeno, crema, napa cabbage, red grape -

There was only one dessert on the menu, which was churros. We ordered it with black sesame condensed milk which was really tasty, or you also have the other option of a kinako and salted caramel sauce.

Overall, it was a really relaxing and enjoyable evening. Some fun and tasty dishes that you can have as a snack, or just order everything on the menu and you would then have a pretty substantial meal.
Kushi's residency at Kitchenette runs until the 26th of February 2015, so there's still plenty of time to get yourself down there to sample their food!
There are also more interesting residencies coming up in the next few months at Kitchenette which are worth checking out.
The West is after all where it's at these days, right?
Address: Wharf Building, 344 Ladbroke Grove, London W10 5BU

The Cheekster, signing out x