Sunday, 27 January 2013

Deviate from the norm, you might surprise yourself!

Growing up in a village in Somerset, restaurants were a few and most of the nearby towns only had Italian chains, Indians, Chinese and a Weatherspoon. And still with this limited choice you always had the same Indian or Chinese that you went to, and very rarely deviated from the norm.

Since moving to London although I am presented with so much choice, I still have my favourite Indian:  Tayyabs in Whitechapel - check it out!!! However I have yet to find a Chinese restaurant to be loyal to. So when told of a restaurant in the nearby unsightly Elephant and Castle that even Jay Rayner sings its praise, who was I to say no?

It's true, Elephant and Castle is extremely run down and opposite this restaurant in question stands several ex-council buildings completely boarded up bar the odd tenants who still refuse to leave. Whilst a bit of an eye sore on one side of the road, on the other there stands a bright red door guarded by two dragons: very in your face and perhaps out of place, but hey something needs to stand out in that ghostly part of town!

Entering this Cantonese restaurant, Dragon Castle, you are greeted by a lavish water fountain and a waiter to take you to your table through a set of red draped curtains. I find Chinese restaurants all quite the same, in decor that is, but also I am guilty in ordering the same old dishes wherever I go: beef chow mein and some sort of prawns in a ginger sauce with a side of prawn crackers. This time I was determined to choose something completely different, and something completely different is what I went for.

To start: seasoned jellyfish with cucumber and scallops with garlic and vermicelli, and for main: wok fried eel with coriander and soy sauce and sizzling beef fillet in black pepper sauce (OK, kind of standard, but de-lishh). Where do I start? The scallops were beautifully presented in their shell, full of flavour and so very succulent and the garlic although seemed to be plentiful, did not overpower the flavour of the seafood. Now... the jellyfish. I have NEVER eaten jellyfish, and really did not know what to expect. A stark contrast to the scallops with a chewier texture, these strips of seafood were beautifully complimented with strips of cucumber and chilli. Having these two dishes as a starter were a great combination providing different textures, flavours and temperatures, with the jellyfish being served as a cold starter. Simply delicious.

How do you lead on from that? Well gorgeously tender strips of beef fillet, more tender than any steak I have ever had, served in a black pepper sauce, as well as wok fried eels... Oh the eels. They in my eyes are the rats of the sea. Sorry but there is something about them which makes me squirm. And I was shocked to discover that the dish was actually quite scrummy! Wok fried, they had a crispy skin and beautifully flakey flesh served in a tasty sauce of coriander and soy. I'm actually salivating now thinking of that wonderful experience...

A nice Cantonese is hard to come by, so as you can imagine that comes with a price, costing about £65 for two courses for two, plus a couple of beers each. However it is well worth a visit, and definitely deviate from the norm, you might surprise yourself!

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Get yourself down to your local!

Personal touches go along way in my books when it comes to serving your customers. Dining out isn't just about the food, it's about the experience. This is more often than not lost when it comes to many of the big restaurant chains, which is why it is always great to try out your local restaurants.

Having recently moved to another area of South London, there was one little place which clearly stood out: Bar Lenuccia. Set on the corner of Camberwell New road and Vassall road in an old pub, this pizzeria seemed a little out of place among the kebab shops and builder's cafes, yet it seemed friendly and inviting and a shame not to try it out given it was just around the corner!

So for my housemates birthday and 14 tummies needing to be fed with no where booked, it was decided that we would give our local a try. When we arrived they had clearly made an effort and put up balloons and banners around our table. A simple and welcoming touch which was even more appreciated given that we had only booked earlier that day - the birthday girl was very pleased!

The restaurant walls were filled with wooden musical instruments and local artists' work, quirky and interesting surroundings which one of my friends called it Ramsey's worst nightmare. I think this made  for an interesting setting and far better than the odd picture here and there. An added bonus which Bar Lenuccia offers is a ballroom at the rear with comedy acts, theatre and dance classes throughout the week, which if you eat in you are able to join in for free! 

Having worked in a restaurant for many years, there's nothing more intimidating than a large group of mouths to feed. However the lady that served us did so without panic and made her way down the table taking our orders, and names, so that not only would they know who took the orders, but also saving hassle when it came to billing at the end - even if she did take my name down as Ealy?!

The menu offered a vast array of pizza and pasta dishes as well as a few meat dishes, however no one does pizza and pasta quite like the Italians, so they were definitely on the cards! My choice (after much deliberation) was Tagliatelle al Pistacchio: freshly made gorgeous pieces of tagliatelle, served in a creamy sauce with smoked lardons and laced with crumbled pieces of pistachio. This according to the manager was new to the menu, and I hope it stays as I have to say this was one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had. True I am a big fan of Zizi's Pollo Picante, but the surroundings and service made for a far greater experience!

Service was swift, although a few dishes were slightly delayed, but the waitress was very apologetic and we were all in good spirits, so all in all there was very little to fault. Even to the end personal touches were being added, with a birthday Tiramisu complete with candle and a pre-recorded birthday song, was very much a welcomed touch!

Bar Lenuccia, expect to see me more often!