Busy busy weeks with lots of meals eaten out, with friends, with relatives, with each other. I am biased towards oriental food - Japanese, Chinese, Thai, fusion - all yumm in my books. V is not so. I mean he'll eat it with a smile on his face but Italian tops his favourite food bias without a doubt. Say 'Pizza' and the guy who agrees quickest and smiles broadest is V!
The first of our oriental outings was with our friend M to a Korean restuarant in far away Raynes Park, south west London. We combined the plan with a visit to Wimbledon to see friends with a newborn baby girl. On a cold Sunday evening the Korean place was warm and full of Koreans eating dinner (to me the surest sign of authentic and tasty cuisine is that people from the country of origin will slurp it down smiling - although I would say beware of snake and insect eating cultures). We'd never eaten Korean before and had no clue what to expect. Ga-Chi is on a lonely lane close to Raynes Park station. It's sign well lit and welcoming we went into the warmth and carefully read the menu. We made no decisions before M arrived (he's been before) except on Korean beer and a fried Calamari starter. We finally ordered 3 main dishes: the first was a traditional barbeque; the second a chicken in chill garlic sauce and the third a hot pot. The chicken arrived first. Fried chicken in a very light and tasty sauce, eaten with no accompaniment was excellant - it needed no rice or noodles to complete it at all. Then the kind Korean waitress brought the ingredients for the barbeque to our table and cooked them on the hot plate in the centre - marinated sirloin steak and pork with a few mushrooms. The Korean barbeque is eaten in a particular manner. A lettuce leaf forms the base on which you put a few springs of spring onion, some soyabean paste, spicy chilli kimchi. Then whip up a piece of cooked meat from the central hot plate, fold the lettuce leaf much like a dumpling and pop into the mouth. Simply sterling! The final dish was the hot pot. Rice, egg, korean hot sauce, meat and some quick mixing by the waitress at the table and this hot stone pot produced a fine small bowl of steaning food for each of us. It was the prefect ending to a sumptuous meal. It's all fresh ingredients, cooked at the very last minute possible to keep in the nutrients and taste, very neat and tidy and tasty - I am taken with Korean food and Ga-chi is highly recommended! Oh, I think you need a booking as they are very full usually.
Our next oriental eating opportunity was disasterous. V and I were roaming around Oxford Street in search of an elusive red jacket that I want to buy and as the sun went down and the cold fingers of the evening gripped us tighter we decided to nip into the relatively new (a couple of months I think) 'Yo Sushi!' behind the new Boots. What a disappointment! V and I both love Sushi and regularly frequent the other famous sushi bar chain Itsu. We'd never been to Yo! before and decided that some green tea and a plate each of sushi would be our evening warmer. The decor was neat and clean but the couches were mighty uncomfortable to get into. The passing conveyor belt was full of neat little plates of sushi making their way to every diner. Unfortunately not a single palte was marked. All they gave us was this menu. The problem is this: identify sushi that looks good, then flip through all the pages to find out what it is, like the description and decide that that's what you'll have, look up and its long gone, hovering three tables away, where another bewildered guest is doing the same dance. Why couldn't they just put a little holder on each one identifying what it is - like every other sushi bar in the world?! Next problem: two spouts coming up through the centre of the table marked fizzy water and still water, surrounded by numerous glasses. You'd think that it was a kind reaction to every tired Oxford street shopper asking for a glass of water. Or that the person who seated you would mention that it cost some money to use them. I finally gave up on the conveyor belt and chose a mackrel kedgeree from the menu (it was cold and disappointing - in sync with the theme of the place) - and V chose something from the escaping conveyor and pronounced it 'average'. Bill paying time and we've been charged £1 each for the water we drank - "per glass you use madam". Never again. I am on a boycott Yo Sushi stance now......
V's brother and my brother were here at the weekend and we went to Hamley's in Regent Street in search of toys to keep our young niece happy when her father got back to Mumbai. After an hour in overcrowded toyland, with our hands full of toys and goodies we made our way to the Japan Travel Centre in Picaddilly. The Toku restaurant has been revamped from a squashed few tables next to the travel desk to a bright red walled, many tabled and utterly buzzing restaurant. The last time I had been there with a friend the service and food had been delightful if hurried. The seating is still a bit constrained but the service was friendly and the food every bit as tasty as before. There is a large menu and its not cheap as chips but its good sized portions of fresh food. We had a selection of sushi (and even Nik - my bro - tried some - this is amazing but why is another post) and then all three boys had rice bowls with chilli pork (accompanied by 'can-able bottles' of Sapporo beer) while I devoured a chicken teriyaki set. Our meals were hot, delicious and so beautifully presented that even that quick meal felt wholesome and relaxed. I'm not sure where the travel desk has moved but the basement is a supermarket of Japanese groceries and the first floor a japanese bookshop. If ever in the area and looking for a quick, healthy fast food option the Japan Travel Centre is highly recommended.
There you are - 3 completely different oriental meals with 3 very different outcomes. I still love Oriental food!
Ga-Chi: 34 Durham Road, Raynes Park, London, SW20 0TW; Tel: 020 8947 1081
Yo Sushi! : All over the city like a rash - avoid any and all unless you are a glutton for punishment - don't say you weren't warned!!!
Japan Travel Centre/ Toku restaurant: 212 Piccadilly, London W1J 9HG; Tel: 020 7255 8255