I don't know how your weekends panned out when you were a kid, but for me and others who grew up in north west London, Saturdays and Sundays meant one thing: Yaohan Plaza, which later became Oriental City and eventually became a vast empty complex on the Edgware Road in Colindale. The demise of OC, as it is colloquially known, was one of the most disappointing stories for citizens of the aforementioned areas and those from around London who would visit from far reaches of the city. Luckily the old shop owners and restaurateurs fought hard and some even reopened in different locations, though the feeling was that it just wasn't the same. After reading a blog post by meemalee which suggested a new opening for Utsuwa Tableware would be imminent, my brother and I decided to check it out for ourselves, living only a short walk away from the Wembley City complex.
Surrounded by giants of middle England's favourite superstores, such as Land of Leather, Carpet Right and Wickes, Pacific Plaza evokes the old charm of Oriental City from the first glimpse; strangely located in the shadow of Wembley Stadium in a retail park, but a gem nonetheless.
A sign indicates that the Plaza opened on 5th December, though some of the restaurants have been open since the 1st of December.
As soon as we entered, the smell of bread filled the air and we turned left into one of the only store-fronts that was up and running. Tetote factory is a Japanese bakery and coffee shop, with about 7/8ths of the store dedicated to the baking area, equipment and coffee machines. We tried a couple of pastries to see how they fared.
Curry pan was great. Crispy outside from the panko breadcrumbs which gave way to a soft, doughy bread inside and then the curry filling, which was subtly spiced and very more-ish. A great rendition, better than the version at the Japan Centre and Wonderful Patisserie, as points of reference.
Epi was also very, very good. Something I've not tried before, this was a sort of sourdough plait, filled with a cheese (cheddar, perhaps) and studded with bits of smoky bacon. Most easily compared to good Neopolitan pizza crust, this was chewy, salty and greasy…in a good way.
Finally, we tried the Custard pan. Another success, this time the custard filling came in a satisfyingly soft bun topped with three flaked almond pieces which gave a pleasing crunch to the overall consistency. The custard filling was essentially a creme patissiere, smooth and flecked with vanilla beans.
We then headed to doki, the new tableware company that was previously Utsuwa. This has a larger range of plates, bowls and cups than the Japan Centre, with pleasing prices as for now a lot of the items are half price. Great for Christmas gift buying, especially the tea sets which come with a teapot and cups.
Also open on the ground floor is O's Beauty, which deals with all things…beautiful. Hairdressing, waxing, manicuring. You name it, they do it.
Most of the other places on the ground floor were unoccupied at the time of writing, but there was a sign that one of the shops (8am Healthcare) was going to be selling 'Chinese herbal medicines and acupuncture'.
Finally on the bottom floor, a large space will be occupied by a supermarket, just as with OC and it's J-Mart.
Walking upstairs reveals even more to get excited about, with a glimpse into the past via a food court that resembles its Colindale cousin. The similarity stops with the plaza type setting though, as this is a much newer and shinier edition. As of now, only two places had any signs of life: NP Star Snack Bar, which will do takoyaki and will open at the end of this week (7th-13th December).
The other restaurant open on the first floor is a place called Hot Korean, which does the usual Korean classics, such as galbi, bulgogi and kimchee.
The Korean rice punch was something I'd never tried before but fell instantly in love with. With my first sip it was quite like what I'd imagine drinking the water you wash rice in would taste like, if you added a sack of sugar. Also quite like a cup of sugar cane, but more ricey.
The bulgogi deopbap was slices of short ribs, marinated in sugar, sesame oil, garlic and soy sauce, then stir fried with julienned carrots, spring onions, courgettes and cabbage, then topped with sesame seeds. Served with a mound of sticky rice, this dish was garlicky, smoky, sweet and delicious. The rice was pleasingly bland, picking up all of the flavours of the marinade. At £6.50 it's still rather cheap and in line with old OC prices. Dishes range from £2-4 for starters, then £4-8 for larger plates.
By the end of this week there should be some more places opened and hopefully by the beginning of next year, there will be a new destination for foodies to go in north west London, apart from the wonderful Alisan which has great dim sum nearby.
020 8903 0235
Open 7 days a week 10.00-18.30
020 8903 2559
Open 10.00-19.00 except Tuesday
Wembley Retail Park