Bristol vs the world

A travel (and sometimes fashion) blog about exploring Bristol and the rest of the world, one post at a time.

Category: Food Friday

Food Friday: James Brooke Bistro & Cafe, Kuching

james brooke necesarry indulgences

A double post today – I spoil you, I know. But I wasn’t organised to get my last post up before today, and I felt I had to give you a sense of Kuching’s waterfront before telling you about James Brooke bistro, a pavilion-style, open-sided restaurant which overlooks the river from the Chinese History Museum end of Jalan Bazaar.

After spending two days eating in Singapore’s – tasty, but not hugely relaxing – hawker centres, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at a ‘proper’ restaurant. In my last post, you might have got an idea of how electric Kuching’s waterfront promenade is, especially after dark. So a restaurant overlooking it – close enough to observe some of the hustle and bustle, but set back enough to feel out-of-the-way – was immediately appealing.

The restaurant’s decor itself was equally attractive. The tables are surrounded by plants and an array of what looked like traditional crafts pieces, big and small.

Although you’ll probably find more authentic recipes in some of the city’s hawker centres, James Brooke bistro offers a Malaysian menu featuring typical rice and noodle dishes – which come as generous portions. These include their ‘special’, a Wild Borneo Laksa, as well as the traditional Sarawak Laksa; I can highly recommend the latter – rich, creamy and slightly spicy, but not overpoweringly so.

james brooke sarawak laksa necessary indulgences

(There are also more Western-style food options on offer, but these were more expensive. But as we both tried the – excellent – Malay dishes, I’m afraid I can’t offer an opinion on these.)

Although the restaurant was relatively busy, it wasn’t full. So we could eat and drink at a leisurely pace, enjoying the flavours in our food and drink and taking in the sites around us.

From memory, two main courses, a lime juice (the obsession continued…) and a beer came to about £10 – so while not cheap for Asia, it’s certainly good value for us Westerners.

If you don’t mind being a bit of a tourist (most of our fellow diners were also clearly holidaymakers. Or should that be ‘travellers’?), James Brooke bistro is the perfect place to try some Malay dishes while soaking up the magical Kuching nighttime.

james brookes modern nomad

James Brooke asiaforvisitors

PS. Wandering about the name? Find out more about James Brooke here

The Details
James Brooke Bistro & Cafe
Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, Kuching – at the end of the waterfront promenade
Phone: 0145204007 (no website)
Booking: I’m not sure if it’s an option, but it didn’t seem to be necessary

First interior photo, Sarawak Laksa: Necessary Indulgences
Exterior shot: Emre Bennett on Flickr
Second interior shot: Asia for Visitors


Food Friday: The Potted Pig, Cardiff


I graduated from Cardiff University in 2009. In many of the (numerous) photographs taken as we made our way to the ceremony at St David’s Hall, the second-most noticeable thing about them is a strong sense of change. (The first is how ridiculous I look: swamped in a gown and the red-and-white hood already falling off my shoulders, I definitely do not look like someone old and mature enough to have recently started their first ‘graduate’ (aka salaried) job.)

Not just change in the metaphorical sense (graduating into a life without 10% Topshop discount and constant lie ins, and having to work more hours in a day than I spent in lectures in a week. Why was I smiling in those photos again?). But in a very literal one too. You can see streets temporarily narrowed to pedestrians as improvement works took place, buildings clad in scaffolding.

Five years on, that part of the city centre is barely recognisable to me. These were the streets we only stumbled down to get to Walkabout* and Welsh Club and Chippy Ally (Caroline Street). The occasional visit to Hobos. The road to the train station, where I could be whisked back home for much-needed weekends of sleep and Sunday roasts (my parents’ house was still ‘home’ then). (*I would apologise for my 19-year-old self’s choice of venue here, but I can’t bring myself to: Thursdays at Bounce were both horrendous and brilliant in equal measure.)

But the extension of St David’s shopping centre has not only brought shiny chain and designer shops and restaurants to this corner of the city. It also seems to have attracted independent businesses, many of which (judging by an extremely scientific survey of those who stayed in Cardiff’s Facebook statuses over the last few years) have fast become renowned among locals for all the right reasons.


One such place is The Potted Pig restaurant, which opened in 2011. So when my Dad asked for recommendations of places in Cardiff to take Mum for her birthday meal a couple of weeks ago, I knew I had to suggest it. (They aren’t Cardiff natives, but were going on holiday to Tenby, so we hopped across the bridge to join them mid-journey for the festivities.)

Sat near the top of the High Street, The Potted Pig is situated in a former bank vault. Some of what I assume are the original features are still intact, with bars separating a lounge-y area from the more-formal-but-still-(relatively)-informal, small restaurant at the back. The walls and arched ceilings are exposed brick. This all makes it sound a bit trendy and try-hard, but it’s actually the complete opposite – relaxed, unpretentious.


We visited on a Saturday lunchtime and all chose to ended up eating from the lunch menu. While the main menu was tempting, we just simply weren’t in the mood for the slightly fancier food it offers on that particular occasion. The lunch menu is simpler, more ‘pub foody’ – and at 2 courses for £12 it’s amazing value.

Between us we tried the truffled Welsh rarebit and courgette and Stilton soup starters, both of which got the thumbs up from everyone. For mains, Dad and sister Hannah went for the burger and the rest of us went for the pulled pork sandwich. I’ll be honest, it’s quite hard to review this more simple kind of food in any depth so all I’ll say is that the portion sizes were huge, but it certainly wasn’t a case of quantity over quality; we all thoroughly enjoyed our feast.

If that doesn’t sound like what you’re after, do check out the wider range of choices on the main menu. They’re more expensive (starters are £6-£8 and mains are around £16-£22, stretching to £27 for the 16oz porterhouse steak), but I’m told absolutely worth it. The menu highlight has to be the fact that you can order a whole pig. Well, you can if you pre-order. And there’s eight of you. And you don’t mind paying £300. Still, it’s AN ENTIRE PIG. (And photos suggest it even comes with an APPLE IN ITS MOUTH.)


You might have noticed from all this meat-talk (and the restaurant name) that this is not a particularly vegetarian-friendly restaurant. There were a couple of meat-free option on the lunch menu, but I couldn’t see any mains that looked like they might be. So I’m afraid this might not be one for any herbivores reading.

One thing the menu isn’t lacking, however, is drinks choices. My Mum was particularly excited by the huge number of gins on offer. There’s also a decent selection of wines, ciders, beers and non-alcoholic drink.

Overall The Potted Pig turned out to be the perfect place to wile away a Saturday lunchtime. The staff were friendly, everything happened at a good pace – despite the restaurant being pretty much full, we weren’t at all rushed – and the food was tasty. I can certainly see why this fast became a firm favourite among my local friends. I’m just hoping it won’t be too long before I can go back and try the main menu – there’s some crab on toast and a steak with my name on it!


The details
Where: 27 High Street (underneath Zizzi), Cardiff, CF10 1PU
How to book: You can book online or by phone on 029 2022 4817. Deposits are required for bookings of 6+, and they cannot accommodate parties larger than 8.
Menu: Lunch / Dinner / Sunday

All pictures taken from The Potted Pig website.

Food Friday: River Cottage Canteen Bristol


Considering this blog is called ‘Bristol vs the world’, so far I’ve spectacularly failed to post much about the ‘Bristol’ side of things (though in fairness to myself, I have only been in this guise for a month. Any posts over two years were written before I moved here on another journal. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it). So for today’s Food Friday, we’re going local – in more ways than one.

Sitting on Whiteladies Road, Clifton, River Cottage Canteen – a venture from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – opened just last year. He may not be a resident chef, but his influence is very much present. The Canteen’s big ‘thing’ is organic, seasonal produce – and I believe 90% of food is sourced from within a 50-mile radius of the restaurant.

The first time we came here, I’d heard good things but was a little worried – I know people who love a certain chain of restaurants with a celebrity name that proclaims to be affordable, but I personally find it massively overpriced, especially considering the quality of food you get. The fact that River Cottage Canteen sits in a similar price category to the other chain (£10-£15 for most mains) didn’t help matters. These niggles were somewhat assuaged by the incredible smells coming from the open kitchen when we came in – and after one bite of the soft, flavoursome complimentary bread I knew I had nothing to worry about!

Not only did it smell good, it looks pretty attractive too. Housed in a converted church, a number of the original features – including stained glass windows – have been retained. Together with the wooden floors and furniture, it’s simple and unfussy, but that’s somehow that’s what makes it so appealing. Quite like the food.


The open plan also creates a great atmosphere – a constant, underlying chatter comes from surrounding diners (anyone from young families to older couples seemingly popping in after a walk) to create a buzz, but it never but really impedes your conversation.

This is probably helped by the fact that – even though they could probably fill more tables – they don’t try and cram you in. Although I appreciate some restaurants don’t have that luxury – and I often like to eat in those places – it really frustrates me when bigger restaurants pack you in so tightly that you feel like you can’t move your chair back an inch for fear of clipping the person behind, or when their conversation seems to invade yours somehow. River Cottage Canteen has none of those problems. Overall the experience is just very, well, pleasant.

The staff really help with making that experience. The menu isn’t especially fancy in terms of the ingredients it uses, but it does feature some unusual combinations (polenta lasagne) and words (‘speltotto’, meaning pearl barley risotto) and they’re more than happy to explain these to you or give you a rundown on a particular dish, what it features and sizes – without making you feel stupid.

And then, most importantly, there’s the food. My potted crab was delicious and the texture was perfect – smooth, but not so much so that it felt more like a pate or baby food! This dish was actually on the ‘lighter’ menu (meant for small lunches or starters) and so was only served with an artichoke salad and crostini. However with a side of chips it was the ideal size for a main meal. And the chips were well worth it – the perfect balance of crunchy on the outside, soft on the in and the seasoning was just right.

My sister, predominantly a vegetarian (too complicated to explain in a short blog!) went for the speltotto which she really enjoyed. I may have snuck a taste and can confirm it was really tasty. Not too heavy and while you could taste all the individual flavours, they also worked together really well.

John went for fish and chips. I’m not usually a huge fish fan, but he forced me to try and bit and even I have to admit it was pretty tasty – nice and meaty and not too, well, fishy… (I’m told that’s the sign of a good fish dish, so is intended is a compliment!) I do enjoy a bit of batter, too.


And then there were the desserts. When we ordered two the waitress warned us that we’d regret not having one each. We – already quite full but taken by how good other people’s had looked – laughed at what we assumed was a joke.

It was not. We shared the chocolate and coffee cake and a slight variation on their rhubarb and vanilla mess (they had run out of meringues, so it was served with ice cream instead), but I could quite easily have wolfed down either (or both!) on my own! Both were rich, but not in that way where it’s really heavy. Needless to say that we left our plates very, very clean!

Another thing worth noting about River Cottage Canteen is it’s great drinks list, which also sticks to the local ethos – Bristol Beer Factory and Orchard Pig (both for ciders and soft drinks) both make an appearance, alongside your typical wines and a few cocktails (alcoholic and virgin).


The only thing that might be a slight negative for some is that service can be a little slow – on both occasions we’ve been there have been quite long gaps between taking orders for each part of the meal unless you prompt them – though the actual food didn’t take too long to be brought out. For us that wasn’t a problem – we didn’t feel like we were being rushed out for the next table and thoroughly enjoyed our leisurely two-hour lunch. But if you have a limited amount of time then it might just be worth mentioning it at the beginning of your meal.

Overall our meal – three mains (well two mains, and one ‘lighter’ meal + chips), two desserts, one bottled beer and one bottled soft drink – came to £55, not including a tip. Not too shabby!

I don’t think it needs to be said that I would thoroughly recommend the River Cottage Canteen (although now I have…). If you’re looking for good value, tasty food in an informal, unpretentious environment then this is the ideal place for friends, families and couples alike. Book your table now!


The details
Where: St John’s Court, Whiteladies Rd, BS8 2QY
How to book: Under 6 people in your party? The easiest way is online. For larger groups, phone 0117 973 2458
Menu: Changes every day (I won’t link as it’ll be out-of-date almost as soon as the post goes live!) but sample ones are available online

Photo Credits

All photos except exterior shot via River Cottage’s Flickr
Exterior shot via Zawtowers

Food Friday: Cheap eats in Singapore

As I mentioned in my last post, Singapore isn’t exactly a budget travel destination. The prices aren’t quite London standards, but they certainly don’t tally with what you expect from the majority of South-east Asia.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t eat well on the cheap. Instead of heading to a restaurant, seek out the city’s hawker centres – huge food courts selling Singapore’s version of street food (actual on-street food carts don’t really exist here – these hawker centres are Singapore’s way of regulating them and, I imagine, helping to keep their deserved squeaky clean reputation). Not only are they well-priced – you’re looking at less than £10 for a meal for two with drinks – but they’re also an unmissable experience in themselves. Buzzing and busy, they’re where the locals meet and you could find yourself sharing a table with a huge range of interesting people. In fact, it was thanks to the Chinese family sat next to us in one food court that I discovered lime juice (so. good.). Even if you end up with a table to yourself, these are perfect places for people watching.

In fact, all factors combined, I’d probably go as far say that the hawker centre experiences were some of my highlights of our time in Singapore.

Top tip for hawker centres? As everyone will tell you, the longer the line at the stand, the better the food. So don’t be tempted by convenience (you’re on holiday, what’s the rush?!) and instead make time to queue up – it’ll probably be worth it!

We tried out five different food courts – here are my thoughts. (NB. I’m a rubbish blogger and forgot to write down the name of the stalls we tried, so I’ve concentrated more on the atmosphere and experience than food itself. TripAdvisor contains some great reviews with stall recommendations, however, as do blogs – or you could just do as we did and gamble!)

Maxwell Road Hawker Centre, Chinatown
Although not as busy as some of the more central centres, Maxwell Road is still quite well-known on the tourist circuit. Due to a jet-lag induced late morning nap on our arrival in Singapore, we visited relatively late for lunch so had no problems with queues or finding a table, but I’ve read reviews that suggest there can be. Not the most atmospheric of the food courts we visited, but this was probably because it wasn’t as busy. But the food is excellent – we both had (very generous portions of) seafood rice, which I’d highly recommend if I could remember the name of the stand… At this point we hadn’t discovered the joys of the fresh drinks on offer, so were boring and went for canned drinks so I can’t offer advice on them.

Tiong Bahru Market
Making the most of our unlimited SMRT journey tickets, I convinced John that we should make a trip to the Tiong Bahru neighbourhood so I could visit Books Actually (deserving of a post in itself). And OK, I also quite wanted to see the shop that only sells glass-less glasses (the area is like the Singapore Shoreditch). As we were in the area, we decided to stop in a Tiong Bahru Hawker Centre for dinner, which I’d read good things about; many local bloggers claim to make special journeys here from far-off (or as far-off as you can get in Singapore) districts. This certainly appeared to be the case on our visit; even mid-week, we noticed a lot of people arriving and leaving by taxi. It certainly felt more ‘local’ and less touristy than the other centres we visited, though the same could be said for the Tiong Bahru area in general.
Tiong Bahru hawker centre is also, in its way, an historical destination. Although, as mentioned above, Singapore doesn’t really have ‘street food’ any more, it used to be a big problem for the city. Tiong Bahru market – originally Seng Poh – was the first of these regulated centres, opening in 1950. With just one floor, the centre was quite different to the one you visit today. Renovated between 2004 and 2006, it is now a multi-story experience that can seat up to 1,400 diners at any one time. To put it into perspective, the UK’s biggest restaurant (Bristol’s Za Za Bazaar) seats up to 1,000.

Despite its size, Tiong Bahru hawker centre wasn’t as intimidating an experience as you might expect. Possibly because this was the quietest of the centres we visited – a lot of stalls were closed in the evening so if there’s a particular stand you want to try then I’d recommend a lunchtime visit. However the food we tried – chilli tofu for me and a rice dish for John – was probably some of the most flavour-full we had in Singapore.

Tekka Centre Food Court, Little India
Brightly-coloured buildings on hot, dusty roads: Little India feels like a world away from the rest of Singapore and is a must-visit. While you’re here, be sure to visit the local food court, which is close to the SMRT station exit. Although not quite fair to judge (it was the only centre we visited for lunch rush-hour, which appears to be the busiest time for the centres), this was also definitely the liveliest of those we ate at. Finding a table wasn’t easy, but we did manage to do so! But many others appeared to get around the problem by eating at the stands they had just bought from.

It was also possibly the least well-kept of the centres we visited, feeling slightly dustier and older. If it had been the first we visited I can imagine having felt quite intimidated by the whole experience. But it’s worth sticking out – the food was tasty, cheap and offered a different selection to the others we visited; unsuprisingly, there were more curries on offer than elsewhere.

It’s perhaps worth noting that the traditional Indian way of eating many of these meals is with your hands. However there’s plenty of stalls that provide cutlery (we were boring and ate at one of these, and the food was still perfectly good). If you do decide to go for the hands-on experience then there are taps at the exit – so get stuck in!

Makansutra Glutton’s Bay
Located in near the touristy harbour, Glutton’s Bay understandably isn’t the most authentic of hawker centre experiences. It’s just that bit too clean and shiny and ordered. That isn’t to say it’s not worth a visit though – of the centres we visited at night, it was probably the livliest, the location is ideal, and we enjoyed eating in the (properly) open air.
We didn’t try a main meal here so you’ll have to trust TripAdvisor for that, but we just had to try the Durian fruit desserts. It definitely tastes better than it smells! We also shared a huge coconut water – well, it has to be done.

Glutton’s may not be the ‘real deal’ like some of the others, and it’s a little more expensive, but if you’re looking for food in the bay area then you could probably do a lot worse.Chinatown Food Centre
This food centre is huge. As with Tiong Bahru, the ground floor is dedicated to wet market stalls. Head upstairs and you’re confronted with a labyrinth of stands offering starters, mains, desserts and drinks. This is where I was introduced to lime juice by a family sat next to us – and it was probably the best lime juice of the whole trip (believe me, I tried quite a few of them…). The deep-fried prawn balls with chilli sauce were also pretty tasty.

As with Tiong Bahru, a lot of the stands were closed in the evening. However it was still full of families, friends and lone locals enjoying the food. Despite it being busy, the atmosphere was just that bit more relaxed that at the Tekka Centre without being too quiet (which Tiong Bahru was on the verge of being). That, combined with nabbing a table by the edge which allowed for people watching on the streets below, probably made this my favourite of the centres we visited.

Photography Credits
Maxwell Road Hawker Center (exterior): Etour Singapore; Maxwell Road Hawker Centre (interior): Your Singapore; Tiong Bahru (exterior): Go Asia @; Tekka Centre (interior): Gogobot; Tekka Centre (exterior): All images should link through to original page. All other images are my own, please credit if using.

Food Friday: Take it away

To make up for the severe lack of Food Friday last week (and posts in general!), this post includes… multiple recommendations! This week, I decided to start compiling some of my favourite London spots to grab lunch if you’re in a rush but don’t fancy conventional fast food or sandwiches.

This list doesn’t include markets/street stalls (that’s for another post), or restaurants that do take-away versions of the restaurant food, for example Pizza Express. I’m starting with three of my favourites today, but will be adding further haunts, new discoveries and the many places I’ve forgotten as time goes on, too, so do leave any recommendations and favourites in the comments!

Rasa Express lunch box. Photo Credit: Ewan Munro

Rasa Express: Rathbone Street (Nearest Stations: Tottenham Court Road / Goodge Street), Euston Road (Nearest Stations: Warren St / Euston Square)
Hidden at the back of the main restaurant, Rasa Express is one of the best value eats I’ve ever found, in London or elsewhere. The Keralan restaurants initially started as a vegetarian Indian, and has now grown into a small-chain of restaurants with different specialities, such as fish. (I know I said these weren’t takeaway versions of restaurants, but Rasa Express needs writing about – and is a little different to its restaurant counterpart).

The ‘speciality’ of Rasa Express is that is serves delicious curries and snacks in meal box form, all of which cost under £5. You can choose between vegetarian and meat, and the size of meal you want. On my last visit, I chose go all out and get the two curries, rice dish, side, bread and a pudding, which sorted me out for the day. However there are cheaper and smaller options if you’re after more of a snack, such as dumplings and potato balls.

The only negative is that there’s nowhere to sit and eat it – fine for us lucky folk who work nearby, but not ideal for visitors to the area. However the benches of Bedford Square and Soho Square are within a 5-10 minute walk, both lovely spots for outdoor eating when the weather’s right. And even if it’s not: these curries are worth withstanding a bit of drizzle for.

Benito’s Hat Exterior: My Metropole

Benito’s Hat (Various Locations)
I’ve noticed a lot of burrito takeaways in London recently, and can’t claim to have tried them all. However of those I have tried, Benito’s Hat provided the best combination of good burritos and good value. Moreover, a lot of my colleagues are (very) regular visitors: high praise indeed considering us publishers aren’t exactly on bankers’ salaries, and so can’t just splash the cash on any old take out.

The food at Benito’s Hat isn’t limited to burritos, with tacos, soups and salads all making an appearance on the menu. Once you’ve chosen your meal, you then pick your base (a choice of beans), filling (veg, steak, two types of chicken or pork) and topping (various sauces, cheese or lettuce) – all for under £7, making it cheaper than a lot of other burrito outlets, and they don’t scrimp on the fillings either.

Eat in, take-away and even delivery (if you order before 11.30am) are all available.

Don’t have a Benito’s Hat nearby? Chilango is a little more expensive, but some argue that the burritos themselves are of a slightly higher quality. Try both and decide for yourself!

Oriental Star exterior. Photo Credit: The Local Data Company

Oriental Star, Finchley Road (Nearest Stations: Finchley Road / Finchley Road & Frognal)
Planning a trip to Finchley Road’s O2 Centre? Fancy something to eat? The centre itself, admittedly, is hardly short of affordable eating options, from Wetherspoons to Nando’s. However, your best bet is to leave the centre and cross the road (admittedly easier said than done – this is Finchley Road) to visit the unassuming Oriental Star noodle bar.

One of the best things about this place is the range of noodle and rice dishes on offer alongside the standard Chinese fare. The atmosphere there can vary – often it’s people in a rush, but on some evenings you will find locals shouting across the canteen-style tables to one another. Quick, tasty and cheap (most dishes are under £5 and very generous portions), this is a hidden gem on Finchley Road.