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: 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

Photographs
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

pottedpigrest2

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.

pottedpigentrance

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.

pottedpigbarentry

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.)

pottedpigpig

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!

pottedpigbar

The details
Where: 27 High Street (underneath Zizzi), Cardiff, CF10 1PU
Website: http://thepottedpig.com/
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

Images
All pictures taken from The Potted Pig website.

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 @ About.com; Tekka Centre (interior): Gogobot; Tekka Centre (exterior): Singapore.com. All images should link through to original page. All other images are my own, please credit if using.

Food Friday: Mishkin’s, Covent Garden, London

First off, apologies for the lack of posts this week – birthday weekends and weeks aren’t very conducive to blogging! However, I couldn’t let Food Friday go – even belatedly – without tying it into the holiday season.

You’re probably wondering how exactly I plan to tie-in restaurants and Easter. A Hot Cross Bun Café? A chocolate shop dedicated to Easter eggs? Or just somewhere that does a particularly good roast to rival your Mum’s?

No, no and no. (Although I may do a pop-up Hot Cross Bun Café next lent – imagine the smell!) Because this weekend in my World isn’t Easter, it’s the beginning of Passover. A Jewish festival. And for me this is a good enough connection for me to be reviewing Mishkin’s, a ‘kind of Jewish deli, with cocktails’ in Covent Garden – the latest venture from the Polpo Group.

Photo Credit: We Love Food, It’s All We Eat
Photo Credit: Total Access
Photo Credit: Restaurant Gossip

By kind-of, they mean that the food served is based on Jewish comfort food, such as salt beef sandwiches, chopped liver and chicken matzo/matzah ball soup. However the restaurant isn’t, and doesn’t pretend to be, kosher. In fact, it suggests on its ‘About’ page that they serve hot dogs (that said, either I completely missed it, or this has changed recently, but I can’t actually find this option on the menu itself).

My main reason for visiting Mishkin’s was the salt beef sandwich (and before anyone points it out for me, I am aware of the irony (if it can be called irony, anyway) of reviewing a sandwich on Passover*. But I’m doing it anyway). It didn’t disappoint. The beef was tender and moist – perhaps a tiny bit less salty than I think is the ‘norm’, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And the portion size was more than generous. This was John’s first taste of a salt beef sandwich, and it far exceeded his expectations.

We ordered chips and onion rings for sides. The chips came with their skins on, which made them better than your average chip. As John pointed out, onion rings often have a tendency not to ‘break off’ properly, leaving you with a mouthful of onion and clutching some empty batter. These definitely did not do that, making them some pretty tasty onion rings in our opinion. I think in future, though, I’d either order one side to share, or one carb-y side and something else like the slaw – this was our main meal of the day, we hadn’t eaten lunch and we were still unable to completely finish everything between us.

Besides the food, the other thing worth noting about Mishkin’s is the décor. It’s American diner with a twist. Red booths surround Formica tables boasting plastic condiment bottles and plastic water jugs and plastic-topped salt and pepper shakers. The floor is black and white checked, the walls exposed brick and feature a specials board using those plastic white letters to spell out the food of the day. I also loved that the blue and white bowls in which our sides were very similar to some dishes and plates my Grandma has. It’s a lot sleeker, and nowhere near as as busy  (in terms of décor) as the American-Jewish diners on which it’s modelled – no photos of celebrity guests all over the walls for example. Nonetheless, it still succeeds in feeling like a diner – it’s just a bit ‘cooler’ than your average one.

Photo copyright Paul Winch-Furness
Photo Credit: Rocket & Squash
Photo copyright Paul Winch-Furness

Although I’ve heard mixed reviews about Mishkin’s, we had no complaints. (Though most of the negative comments seem to relate to the non-sandwich based dishes, and suggest that portion sizes don’t quite live up to American-sized expectations. Definitely not a problem with the sandwiches!) It was reasonably priced: sandwiches are £9, sides £3-£4 and desserts around £5. Drinks are a bit more expensive, at £6+ for a glass of wine and £7+ for cocktails, but not extortionate considering the central London location. Service was fine – if nothing to write home about. And then there’s the interesting surroundings, full of interesting details and objects to spot.

If you want an authentic Jewish experience then there are definitely better places to go. But if you’re looking fun, filling New York deli-inspired food with an accompaniment of cocktails in the centre of London then Mishkin’s is definitely worth a visit.

*For the uninitiated to Passover, you eat unleavened bread for the duration of the festival. You can find out more information here.

The Details
Mishkin’s
25 Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5JS
Bookings: 020 7240 2078
Menu available on their website

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