Bristol vs the world

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

Tag: bloomsbury

Food Friday: Siam Central, Charlotte Street, London

One of my main memories of Summer 2011 is the smell of Thai food. More specifically, the memory of standing outside the Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street, cider in hand and catching the scent of the Thai restaurant opposite that made the Salt & Vinegar crisps we were sharing between five feel even more inadequate (the realities of being students/publishers in London, eh).

Outside Siam Central. Photo Credit: Square Meal

That restaurant was Siam Central. It being on Charlotte Street – home to many an expensive and upmarket restaurant – I had always assumed it would be out of my price range and made do with the crisps and cider. How wrong I was! A couple of weeks ago, tasked with finding a restaurant for a department meal, I decided to take a walk up said Charlotte Street to find affordable options (there are more than I first thought, incidentally). But it was Siam Central’s smell, alongside its Express Lunch Menu options starting at £6 that sealed the deal. I mean, for that price even if the food was awful then we wouldn’t have paid much for it. And at least it would smell good (hopefully).

Even at 12.45 on a Tuesday, Siam Central was pretty busy; it filled up considerably in the time we were there so I’d recommend making reservations. We were seated in the basement which was quite simple but more than adequate. Upstairs has a bit more of a ‘Far East’ theme, but nothing particularly extravagant. Not that you’ll be concentrating much on the decor once the food comes along.

One of Siam Central’s USPs is that you can choose from either a regular menu (mains around £7-£8 out of lunchtime) or to have ‘Thai tapas’. Although these cost a little less than the standard mains, other reviews suggest they’re worth indulging in – interesting and tasty.

However, we all went for the express menu, 2 courses for £8 option (you can also get 3 for £10). For starters most of us opted for the spring rolls (fresh, rather than crispy) and prawn toast. Although the latter might sound more suited to a Chinese menu, it still went down well with our crowd and looked tasty. My spring rolls were full of flavour, and the accompanying dip was perfect.

Pineapple fried rice, duck penang curry (I can attest to the lamb version being excellent),  chicken pad thai (very popular with our group) and chilli and basil stir fry with beef. Photo Credit: The Catty Life

For my main, I had the lamb curry. I was a little concerned that the spice might overpower the taste, but needn’t have worried. My only quibble was that there wasn’t more of it. Not because the portion wasn’t generous – it was what you’d expect really – but because I loved it!

Other popular choices were the Penang Curry and Pad Thai. A perpetual favourite with those who chose it, they all agreed that this was an excellent version of the dish. The only critique I heard was that the drunken rice was a little spicier than expected, but still tasted good.

The only downside to the meal is that express menu really did mean express. We didn’t take particularly long over out starters, but some main were brought out while some still had food on their place from the previous course. That said, we still spent an hour or so in the restaurant and otherwise the service was fine so it’s not something that would stop me recommending the place or even returning and eating from that menu again.

The perfect place to go if you’re looking for cheap and tasty Thai food in Central London.

The minimalist Far East interior. Photo Credit: Square Meal

The Details
No website, but reviews can be found at London Eating.
Location: 14 Charlotte Street, W1T 1LX
Price: Express lunch set menu costs from £6 – £10. ‘Thai Tapas’ cost more. Drinks are anything from £2 for non-alcoholic to around £15 for the cheapest bottle of wine (apparently).
Reservations: 020 7436 7460

Food Fridays: Trattoria Mondello’s, Goodge Street, London

Trattoria Mondello, Goodge Street, London. Photo Credit: Steve Bowbick on Flickr.

Even before tasting the food in Mondello’s, we could tell we’d make a good choice. Situated on Goodge Street, this cosy Italian feels like you’re eating at a family friend’s house. A family friend who happens to be a very good cook.

Although slightly old-fashioned, the rustic décor is immediately inviting. Wooden booths line the wall, with smaller wooden tables in the middle that can be rearranged to suit group sizes. The walls are decorated with murals and the specials chalked slightly haphazardly on the board at the end of the restaurant, tempting you with delicious sounding food. It’s not going to win any design awards, but it was cosy and unassuming and perfect for the sort of food served here.

But even more welcoming than the décor are the family who run the restaurant. A lovely Italian couple, they joked and chatted with us just enough for us to feel like they were really paying attention to us and appreciating our custom without at all intruding on the meal. Service was relatively quick, but we never felt like we were being hurried or rushed out as you can do at some many central London restaurants at lunch (admittedly they weren’t full, but we were taking up a lot of space).

The only problem is that their menu, full of classic Italian dishes (pasta, pizza, meat and fish), is huge. All of us found we had too many options to choose between before even finishing half of it!

In the end, though, I went for the meat cannelloni. I think I may have gotten a bit of menu blindness, as I often steer clear of bolognaise-based food in restaurants. Firstly because it can be a bit bland, and secondly because I’ve been spoilt by my Grandma’s bolognaise; renowned for being pretty sensational among our family, its exceptional flavour is rarely matched elsewhere. But I needn’t have worried. The sauce was lovely and rich, with just the right amount of sauce to be creamy without overpowering the dish. Served in the oven dish it had been cooked in, some of the food had crusted onto the side. Not only was this also really tasty, but I thought it really adding to the home cooking feel. Overall I think it possibly even rivalled Grandma F’s. And even better, it cost just £7.50.

The only slightly odd thing about our meal was the pasta special of sausage in tomato sauce. Instead of the sausage being mixed in with the pasta, it was placed around the outside in large chunks – more sausage with pasta as a (large) side. Not quite what what we’d expected! Apparently it was still good, but not quite as appealing as it had sounded when described and probably not worth the extra price compared to the standard menu pasta dishes. However the other food we tried, including chicken, pizza and plenty of pasta, all went down very well – great food, excellent portion sizes.

Although we didn’t try pudding ourselves, we got to salivate over them plenty. The owners bring round a dessert trolley (retro!) so you can ‘pick your own’ (and so they can tempt fellow diners like us in the process). They all looked incredible, a decent size and an even better better price – all except one cost £3-£4. I can’t say we weren’t very tempted.

Our bill came to £10 each including service and a bottle of red wine (although this bottle was shared between quite a few people so it would probably cost a little more with a smaller group). Still, I think even with two courses and a drink, or three courses, you could probably eat for under £20. From our experience I’d say that it’s probably best to stick to the main menu rather than splashing out on the specials, but overall it was a really great experience – I’d definitely like to go back, if only to pick something off the dessert trolley. The perfect place for affordable, tasty, traditional Italian in a friendly, unpretentious setting in the heart of London.

Trattoria Mondello
36 Goodge Street, London, W1T 2QN
Phone: 020 7637 9037
No website, but The Picky Glutton has put a menu on their blog which seems up-to-date in terms of food selection and price.*

*You might notice that their experience of Mondello’s unfortunately didn’t seem to be very good. However having looked on TripAdvisor and elsewhere, the positive reviews far outweigh the bad, making me more than happy to recommend this restaurant!