Nude Espresso

I’m a bit divided about this place. The coffee is really good – well made espresso using proper beans, and lattes and cappuccinos that have just the right amount of milk and froth and still taste strong. They’re all around £2, about the same price as most places in this area.

They also have an enticing choice of cakes and sandwiches laid out. The cookie I had (£1.20) was big and tasted like it’d just been baked – all crisp on the outside and soft and doughy inside. The paninis looked well made, with good quality bread and filling ingredients nicely balanced.

But on the down side these sandwiches are close to five pounds, taking the total bill for lunch up to near a tenner. To me, this seems like a bit too much to be paying for lunch on a regular basis and would put me off coming here more often. I’d rather go somewhere that had slightly more basic food but at a lower price.

The décor is stylish and would appeal to a lot of design conscious brick lane types. But everything feels a bit clinical and the hard, slightly cramped seating doesn’t really invite you to lounge around for long. I’d prefer somewhere a bit less fashionable, but with more individual character and a sense of cosiness. Brick Lane Coffee springs to mind.

So overall, I’d say it’s good for grabbing a quick coffee but bad if you want to eat or hang out for a while in comfort.

Directions

26 Hanbury St, London E1 6QR


Contact07804 223590

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Las Iguanas (Southwark)

Recently, a friend and I went to one of the Las Iguanas chain restaurants on the Southbank. Iguanas calls itself a Latin American restaurant, but it’s a vague kind of Latinness that’s closer to foreigners ideas of what the Americas should be than anything real and refuses to pin itself to the culture of any one country. I often wonder why oriental and continental chains insist on embracing the diverse cultures of such huge landmasses when this only diminishes everything they touch.

The one aspect of Latin culture that Iguana had got down was casualness. After a good ten minutes gazing round like lost cows for a waitress, we realised that nobody would come. Eventually, I got up and went to catch a waitress to ask her if I could maybe have a menu. “Oh, right, here,” she said as though I’d stopped her in the street to beg for change. The A3 sized cardboard menu reminded me of a broadsheet newspaper, crammed with enough dishes and drinks to keep me reading all evening. The person responsible for putting it together clearly chose to forgo selecting good items to bombard diners with as much choice as possible.

A special offer for Tapas stuck out until I realised that the seven o’clock cut off had already passed. Instead, I settled for just two tapas dishes and a pint. I got up again, stopping another waitress to order. “You need to go to the bar,” she said with a friendly smile and a shake of her head. “We don’t take any orders from outside.” With a grim kind of reducto ad absurdum, I wondered how far this might go. Would need to go and collect my food from the kitchen as well? Anyway, with the food ordered and a pint in hand I went back to the table.

Beer does wonderful things for your appetite and I eagerly awaited the orgy of cream and salsa and crispy nachos that was coming my way. But not since my first kiss teenage has anticipation so far outstripped the outcome. Instead of the expected heap, there were a few chips scattered loosely across the wide white plate. If you’re going to serve a wartime ration of food then at least put it on a small plate so that there’s a chance people might be fooled into thinking they’re getting a decent helping.

Pizza Express had the sense to do this when their bases mysteriously shrunk in the wash one night a few years ago. But this sparse spread of chips was just pitiful. Nachos aren’t sushi or goats cheese toasts, and so you can’t really defend a miniscule portion of them by calling it high cuisine. But these were the other end of the spectrum. The nachos themselves tasted dry and papery. Some were covered in a thick layer of cheese that had the texture of dried glue and didn’t really taste of anything at all. In the middle of plate was a pot where watery canned tomato seeped together with cream and a vague green paste that would be difficult to call guacamole.

As we were enjoying this, the waiter brought out the plate of Calamari. These turned out to be four or five small squid which just about covered a (thankfully) smaller plate but still seemed to be taunting our hunger with how few they were. I stared at them bleakly, my stomach restlessly indicating that I was going to have to spend more money in an hour or so to give it something real to eat. Maybe they would at least taste good though.

Sadly, not so. They shared the nachos overwhelming impression of being turned in a microwave until they were warm and slightly soggy. The squid itself was overly chewy so that it stretched out and tasted much like an elastic band when you tried to bite into it. In keeping with their seaside origin they had been rolled around in what tasted like sand – small, grainy breadcrumbs that didn’t add any crispness. Only by rolling them around until they were covered in the mayonnaise could you get them to taste of anything at all. Directions Royal

Directions

Festival Hall, Festival Terrace, Southbank Centre, Belveder Road, London

Contact

020 7620 1328

Sweet and Spicy

I was disappointed with this place. I’d gone based on the other Yelp reviews and the hope of getting some reasonable food for a bit less money, but I didn’t save much and felt like the food I got was really lacklustre.

Okay, so this place probably is cheaper than the others, saving you maybe a pound or two on a curry and about 50p on some of the breads. But I’d question if it’s really worth it. The lower prices definitely impact on the food.

It’s served from big metal trays at the front of the store and then reheated in a microwave and brought over to you. I have nothing in theory against keeping the curries like this to server them, unless it affects the taste. Here it affected the taste, meaning that instead of sizzling hot curry that tasted as though it’d been on the boil for a few hours just before, you get something that was just kind of warm and felt like it had been made a long time ago.

The lamb korai had meat that was really tough, so there was no way you could break apart the big pieces with a fork and they just tasted dry and chewy. The sauces with them was thick and not too oily, but it didn’t have an especially exciting blend of spices. The Korai flavour was there, but it was a really muted version of it and nothing to get especially excited about. Rather than sitting in with the other flavours, the spice also stuck out starkly.

Saag (Spinach) dishes are some of my favourite of North Indian cuisine because the spinach can have such a strong, earthy, rich, vegetable flavour. Here though, the spinach in the sauce just tasted a little bit watery and limp.

We also had chapatti and paratha, both of which were microwaved to warm them. Of the two, the chapatti fared better. The paratha, because it had been fried and was more oily, came out of the microwave with that soggy greasiness that sausage rolls get when they’re reheated the same way.

Nothing was absolutely terrible (Hence 2* and not 1). It was just that I wouldn’t want to come back here in a hurry. I felt like this place could make much better food if it didn’t try so hard to keep it really cheap. If a bit more care was put into the preparation of the curries, and they were made that morning instead of days before, then all would be a lot better.

Directions


El Parador

Came here after having a few drinks in Camden and searching on Yelp / Time Out for somewhere to grab a late meal. As promised, it offered straightforward service and good no-nonsense food that helped satisfy slightly a couple of slightly drunk people overdue a meal.

The portobello mushrooms were well cooked so that they were tender and meaty without going soggy as they can do if they’re over done. They had a dark, rich tasting mushroom juice that was soaked up by the great addition of scattered pine nuts which contributed texture and heartiness to the dish.

The pork belly came as two big coiled strips of meat which was boiled until meltingly tender, the fat and skin adding to the flavour.  Herbs held between each layer of the coil also gave more interest to the pork, which can sometimes be a bit bland tasting. A scattering of rocket leaves was a nice addition.

Meatballs tasted earthy and homemade with a fairly delicate hint of herbs. I would have preferred something a bit stronger tasting and had to keep dipping them in the rich tomato sauce they came in to add flavour.  Still, they were fairly satisfying.

Scallops though nothing fancy, plump and fresh tasted and went well with the slices of black olive that accompanied them. Like all the other dishes except perhaps the meatballs, this was a good sized portion for just over five pounds.

This is definitely somewhere I’d return to when I’m next in Camden. I might even forgo the pre-dinner drinks and couple a few of their tapas with a bottle of wine.

Directions

 

Little Hanoi

About

If you’re looking for authentic Vietnamese food in London, then this small restaurant, tucked into the streets near Liverpool Street station, might just do the trick. Other recommended Vietnamese restaurants can be found here.  

Their Cha Ca (a fish dish cooked in a metal basin) is excellent, the fish being cooked well and satisfyingly scattered with a liberal amount of dill that gives a very distinctive flavour. Fresh spring rolls really did taste freshly made, instead of the dried our versions you get in some restaurants, and came with a thick, slightly sweet dipping sauce. The pho was also good, although I’ve had better elsewhere.  

Directions

147 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, London. Nearest Tube – Old Street or Liverpool Street.

Price

About £20 a person

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