Outsider Tart, Chiswick

Sunday, 28 February 2010 | |

Outsider Tart on Chiswick High Road, W4: 'outsiders' as in the two guys who started it moved from the US to London (and also a play on Outsider art, perhaps?). Noticing that there wasn't, at the time, any decent American-style cakes or desserts, they set about opening Outsider Tart. Originally baking in a kitchen at Frith St, Soho and selling at farmers markets on the weekend, they moved to a new shop in 2009; they still sell at some farmers markets, though.

The shop front.

Some products on the counter. Brownies in the foreground, sausage rolls (vegetarian; turkey; pork) in the background. There is space for six people to sit inside and enjoy some of the baked goods, food and a bottle of Jones Soda. Most of the people coming in when we were there were taking things away.

Raspberry layer cake. I think it was raspberry, anyway. We didn't try it, but it goes for around £3 for a huge slice. Next time.

Chocolate buttons, for baking. As well as oodles of desserts, there is a considerable wealth of baking supplies available, and also American groceries (at eye-poppingly inflated, transatlantic-shipped prices).

'Outsider Tart' tote bag.

Pulled pork in ciabatta (£6). Pork shoulder, cooked for seven and a half to eight hours, then easily forked apart. Incredibly tasty, especially compared to the travesty that is the version at Bodean's. The bread is also a huge success. At first glance, I thought the ciabatta would overwhelm the filling, but this was no ordinary ciabatta. Wonderfully chewy and considerably crispy, exhibiting the freshness of the bread.

Another angle of the sandwich. It was huge, by the way. Well worth the six pounds paid for it.

Whoopie pie with peanut butter filling (£3). Cupcakes are "so 2009" apparently; whoopie pies are the big thing in 2010, with Outsider Tart as one of the pioneers of them in London. See also: Hummingbird Bakery (where they are smaller and not as good). There were three varieties on offer when we went in: the peanut butter filling, original (buttercream) filling and a carrot cake whoopie pie. We tried the peanut butter and carrot cake, missing out on the original as it had sold out. The peanut butter filled whoopie pie was moist and the filling was perfectly judged, with just enough sweetness. The bits of chopped peanuts added a nice crunch. The carrot cake whoopie pie was also a triumph in baking. A well made carrot cake sandwiching a just-sour-enough filling. These are as good, if not better, than the Wicked Whoopies I had in Freeport, Maine last summer.

Kahlua and pecan chocolate brownie (£2.50). The texture was perfect: crispy top, soft and gooey filling. The chopped pecan nuts delivering an earthiness to compliment the hints of coffee from the Kahlua, which didn't taste boozy at all. A really good brownie, but it was overly greasy to be honest. Look at that brown paper bag - it's like it was carrying a Philly Cheesesteak or something.

For anyone who is a fan of good service, great baking and American classics, Outsider Tart is a must-visit. Go get a pulled pork sandwich if they have it - the food changes depending on what they feel like making -  an A&W root beer (£1.50 for a can), a whoopie pie and chat to the lovely staff. A great way to spend an afternoon.

Note: They should get some IBC Root Beer in to make me even happier with the place, but that's an aside.

Outsider Tart
83 Chiswick High Road
W4 2EF

Poncho no 8, Spitalfields

Saturday, 27 February 2010 | |

Advertising itself as a 'gourmet burrito' shop, poncho no 8 in Spitalfields isn't the first burrito joint in London by any stretch of the imagination; that's fine, there is always room for competition, though it may all be fruitless when the Chipotle circus rolls into town in April 2010. American burritos are better, as every expat now living in London will tell you (even if you don't want to hear it). Despite this, I think the burrito scene in London is pretty good, with Chilango and Daddy Donkey as my top choices. I'm still yet to try Luardos, though this will be rectified soon. Anyway, poncho no 8:

Barbacoa beef burrito with pico de gallopinto beans and rice. The meat tasted like nothing and despite being tender, was kind of glue-like. The rice was bland (I received plain rice, due to the coriander rice running out - everyone else after and before me got the proper stuff). The pico de gallo was a strong point, tasting fresh, zingy and adding some much needed flavour. The pinto beans were fine. The actual tortilla itself was basic and soft enough, though it carried some stale bits.

A pretty disappointing burrito, especially considering the recent positive write up on the excellent Good For Lunch. Perhaps I had a spot of bad luck. In fact, I'm sure I did, as both the beef and then the rice ran out as soon as I was ordering, admittedly near closing time. I'm sure they're doing well though, as one of the managers explained to another customer that they were looking at opening another store, whilst I was eating. I'll stick to Chilango, I think.

Another Visit to Maltings Cafe, Southwark

Wednesday, 24 February 2010 | |

I won't really write many words, I'll just post some photos instead. Nobody even reads what I write, do they? Another visit to one of my favourites, The Maltings Cafe in Southwark. 
Note: I didn't eat all of the food here. There was three of us.

Menu on 24th February, 2010.

Cannellini beans with tomato and sage.



Pork, paprika and piquillo peppers.

Chocolate ginger bread and custard.

Italian white chocolate and almond cake. On the house, as it was the last piece and the chef considered it too small to sell. It was sizeable, and delicious.

Large cappuccino. 

The bill.

Great food once again, and incredibly accommodating and friendly service. London's best kept secret, definitely.

Check out my first review of The Maltings Cafe here.

Phoenix Palace, Marylebone

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 | |

There's nothing like a dining club to get you visiting places you've been meaning to for ages, is there? After the inaugural meeting at Silk Road in Camberwell, the follow-up was pencilled in a few weeks later. A dim sum feast at Phoenix Palace, a restaurant I'd heard a lot about, with good things written about the yum cha on offer and also the evening menu.

Note: There are a few pictures missing. It's quite tough photographing dim sum, especially as a lot of the baskets arrive at the same time.

The tick sheet. Rather than old ladies pushing around carts, Phoenix Palace employs the tick sheet system; you tick off your choices and when they arrive at the table, the staff member will cross it off. I prefer this system to the trollies, as there's no rush for items and you know everything will come out fresh from the kitchen (well, it should, anyway).

Beef ball dumpling. Minced beef mixed with mushed peas. Rather strange, and I've never come across this item before. It was nicer than it looks. Well seasoned beef and fortunately the taste of peas didn't come through too strongly. A very decent meatball.

Fried dough cheung fun. Another one I hadn't come across before, but really liked. The noodle roll itself was perfectly dense, while the fried dough filling was nicely crispy. Wonderful when dipped in to the sweet soy sauce provided on the side. Like a dining companion joked, the Scottish influence on Cantonese cooking is evident here.

Har gau. Perhaps the defining dim sum basket, and a good indicator of the overall quality of dim sum available most of the time. The version at Phoenix Palace is wonderful. Translucent, thin skin hides plump prawns which have a great flavour and are pleasantly juicy. 

Glutinous Rice in Lotus Leaf. Not bad tasting rice.

Mini ribs in black bean sauce. Decent tasting, but mostly bones and ultimately quite pointless.

Vietnamese spring rolls. Nicely fried, with a good flavour.

Taro dumpling. I love taro dumplings, as I've documented already on this blog. The version here has a good flavour, but is not freshly fried and suffers as many editions do, becoming quite flabby. I'd still order it again though.

Turnip cake. Rather disappointing lack of prawn pieces and pork (in the form of Chinese sausage) but the turnip cake itself is good. Nicely crispy on the outside and well flavoured.

Xiaolongbao. Otherwise known as Shanghai soup dumplings, these things can be wonderful. Hot soup exploding from the dumpling and scalding your once-beautiful face, the lingering flavour making it all worth it. That is, if you are eating them incorrectly. Look at this article on how to eat xiao long bao. Unfortunately, this guide wasn't needed at Phoenix Palace, where the dumplings yielded no soup at all and were depressingly dry. The flavour was fine, though the skins were far too thick and the lack of soup is criminal. Avoid.

Dipping sauces. Not sure what you are meant to dip in these sauces or what they taste like as I didn't spot them on the table until the end of the meal.

Peking buns. I thought these would be a savoury item. Instead they were steamed, bready-type items with a condensed milk dipping sauce served on the side. Not dissimilar to doughnuts, really. Not bad.

The bill. £10 each.

Some items at Phoenix Palace were more successful than others, such as the har gau, and the overall quality was good. It's a good option for a dim sum lunch on the weekend, though beware of queuing times. I've heard it is not uncommon to queue for up to 45 minutes, even if you have booked previously, due to the two covers they serve on a Sunday. Also beware the gruff service. Don't expect a reply if you ask for something, just expect a shrug, the waiter to walk off and your requested item to appear shortly.

Phoenix Palace
5 Glentworth St

Phoenix Palace on Urbanspoon

Ottolenghi, Islington

Monday, 22 February 2010 | |

Hello everyone! I'm not Ibzo. I'm Samantha. I eat food sometimes too. Specifically, today I ate lunch at Ottolenghi. Having visited the smaller Kensington branch earlier this year, I knew that they make delicious cakes. Today I planned to pop in for a takeaway coffee, after their mention in Time Out's Best Coffee feature. But due to being frozen stiff and rather hungry, I ended up trying some of their lunch menu too.

Flat white (£2.30). I am the biggest lover of flat whites and while this one was pretty tasty, it didn't blow me away (unlike the coffee at Dose, which I believe is brewed from the same Square Mile blend). It was a pretty tiny cup too, considering its one of the dearer on the Time Out Top Coffees list. It did have a good rich flavour, but the froth didn't satisfy me as much as coffee froth usually does...not sure why. Perhaps because the coffee itself was over in about five gulps!

Small main and and 2 salads plate (£12.60). Consisting of chargrilled salmon, chickpea, rocket and butternut squash salad, and mixed beetroot salad. The lunch menu has four plate options: 3 salads, 4 salads, 2 salads and one main, or 3 salads and one main. I chose the cheapest option bar the 3 salads, wanting to experience both salad and a main. I would have been happy with one of each, in fact it baffled me why this option was not offered. All three selections were very tasty, particularly the salmon when coupled with the Mediterranean-style garnish, although sadly the garnish was quite sparse. The beetroot salad was incredibly sweet and worked well with the creamy dressing accompanying it. The salmon was cold; I would have preferred it hot and freshly prepared, but I knew what I was getting, since I saw it ready prepared when I walked in.

I was quite surprised at the high price of the lunch menu, considering the food is identical to that in the takeaway boxes (priced by weight). However, it was definitely a hit with the clientele, with one woman seated nearby me ordering three salads and, soon after, ordering three more!

Ottolenghi offers a good selection of interesting dishes, and I do like the idea of trying several of them on one plate. The takeaway boxes are also a good option if you're after a lighter meal. However, it is definitely possible to find fresher, slightly cheaper food of similar quality, as we discovered when we visited Maltings Cafe.

Despite the high price of lunch and the somewhat disappointing coffee, I would consider myself a fan of Ottolenghi. Ibzo owns Ottolenghi: The Cookbook and it is a hit with me, I'd recommend it. Hopefully we'll be cooking some Ottolenghi at home sometime soon!

There are four Ottolenghi shops in London -- the one I visited, a stone's throw from Angel tube, is the biggest, seating around 50.

287 Upper Street
London N1 2TZ
020 7288 1454

Ottolenghi on Urbanspoon

Pacific Plaza, Wembley Park (Updated)

Saturday, 20 February 2010 | |

Since posting about Pacific Plaza in December, a lot of progress has been made on the site. For a start, they have a website, a Wikipedia page, an entry on Randomness Guide to London, a flickr group and even a Facebook fan page (become a fan for discounts and real time news). I've been visiting regularly ever since the initial launch, taking in the development as it happens, with bi-weekly visits. Going so often has also allowed me to sample most of the stalls available. I visited this morning (20/2/10), a week before the ceremonious "soft opening" on the 27th. Here are some pictures.

The menu for Nambu Donburi-ya, opened on the 20th of February, 2010. The menu features about 15 items, all rice bowls, ranging from Yakiniku-don to a simple curry with rice.

The sign for Nambu. Eye-catching.

As per the opening, they are offering £1 off every food item.

Miso soup. This comes with every bowl purchased. Decent enough, though no where near as good as the version at Dinings.

A picture of the miso soup and an orange, given free with the food. Perhaps they thought I looked ill or unhealthy...I appreciate it, all the same.

Chicken katsu don (usually £6 but £5 with the opening offer). Let's be honest, it looks like a mess. It didn't taste much better. The chicken was flabby and under-seasoned. It takes a certain skill to mess up fried chicken in breadcrumbs, but they managed it. Using the cheaper cuts of chicken (thigh) and leaving the skin on seems to be the main problem; I advocate the use of brown chicken meat in most instances, but for katsu, I always prefer the breast. It wasn't just the chicken that was the problem though, and the rice was a lesson in stodginess. I appreciate that it has to be sticky, but this was Congee-like in places, though my girlfriend disagrees and said I was being overly harsh. Perhaps, but the strange-tasting egg didn't help matters much, and nor did the aggressively sharp onions. A bad dish, all round. Unbelievable that it's the same price as the outstanding katsu at Tsuru. It's only their first day though, and things can improve. They asked for feedback after noticing we left most of it untouched, which was fair enough. I'll give them another chance.

Seleramu. A real family run operation, serving Malaysian cuisine. I've tried the Nasi Lemaksatay and roti canai and all have been good renditions. The nasi lemak is particularly noteworthy. I'll be sure to try the newly-added biryani soon, highlighting the Indian influences in Malaysian cooking. This place also has the best drinks, with Malaysian A&W and Sarsi.

Spicy thai. The only stall I've not tried. Had a steady stream of business during my visit.

The Spicy Thai menu.

Hot Korean. Already featured in my first blog post about Pacific Plaza, I've since tried the gimbap (excellent) and the sundubu jjigae (incredibly tasty).

China House. Cantonese food; dim sum, roast meats and noodle based dishes. By far the most popular stall, encompassing three stall-spaces. If you look at the Flickr group, you can see some pictures of the decent and keenly-priced dim sum, as well as some pictures below.

Taro dumpling. Unfortunately they don't fry it to order, so you can sometimes get it lukewarm, or worse cold. Ask them if it's still hot. If it isn't, don't bother.

The filling of the taro dumpling.

Pu-erh tea. Complete with tea bag and white, styrofoam cup. The nature of Pacific Plaza's food hall probably doesn't allow for loose leaf in a pot, but it's still a bit of a shocker.

Shan. Pan-Asian delights from a Beijing-born chef. The cumin lamb was good, and the brisket noodle soup is as good as the great version at HK Diner.

Sawadee Thai. Offering Thai classics (and massage, oddly). The tom yum was bland, while the tom kha gai was even worse. Really disappointing.

tetote factory. Here from day one, it is definitely the star of the show. The team, from Kyoto, learned their trade in Japan and are heavily influenced by French boulangeries. The baking skills on display are outstanding, and I have previously written about them, but they're a must-visit at Pacific Plaza.

Maple flat bread. Sort of like a palmier, but less puffy and more cakey, with a great maple-y flavour and a not-overpowering or sickly sweetness.

Check out those blisters. Wonderful.

The absolutely outstanding baguettes. Rather pricey, but the quality is clear to taste. Note: not available on Wednesdays, possibly due to the closure of tetote on Tuesdays, and the need for proofing time. If they're available, get one. Crunchy on the outside and chewy inside.

Fantastic with some butter and Fleur de sel.

Pacific Plaza
Unit 16
The Junction
Wembley Retail Park
Engineers Way
Nearest tube station: Wembley Park