Archive for March, 2010

Vietnamese at Cây Tre

March 25th, 2010

Despite absolutely stuffing myself to the point of bursting with delicious Indian food earlier on this afternoon for a colleague’s leaving do, I’d already arranged to have dinner with Chris tonight at a Vietnamese restaurant so out I went again.

Unfortunately I’d forgotten the name of the restaurant that had been recommended to me (it’s pretty much a running joke that I forgot almost everything) so Chris had to do some last minute restaurant picking, he came up with the goods though!

After a short walk from work down to Shoreditch and a quick stop for a few relaxing drinks in Casita Bar (plus a free shot of Jager, thanks guys), we carried on to Old Street and found ourselves at Cây Tre.

From the outside Cây Tre is a colourful little place, though on the inside the two floor restaurant is quite small and minimalist, packing many people quite efficiently into the space. We were lucky we got there when we did as not long after we arrived the queue for a table was out the door and along the street.

Smells coming from the adjacent tables spoke wonders about the food, so I was adventurous and went for the “swimming crab” to start with and then Pho Tai for my main. Chris ordered some prawn summer rolls and sizzling seafood.

The crab was good, mixed with prawns, noodles and mushrooms, however the crab was swimming in what was apparently a crab broth… despite actually not tasting all that bad it was pretty unsightly and reminded me of something else that I really didn’t fancy eating!

Snuck a bite of Chris’ summer rolls as well and they were lovely and fresh, served along with a hoisin sauce mixed with a chilli paste that gives you a kick of warmth under the sauce.

I knew my Pho was going to be spicy when I ordered it, it’s usually a given, but perhaps I underestimated *quite* how spicy it might be. My eyes started watering slightly immediately after it arrived at the table.

Despite putting me into a full on sweat and turning my face and lips an interested shade of purple that I really hope nobody other than Chris noticed, the Pho was absolutely delicious. The broth was packed with flavour and the hit of the spices wasn’t too harsh to the palate, the noodles were fresh and soft, the beef had been cooked in the broth making it tender and full of flavour and whatever else was lurking in there was also tasty.

I’d definitely recommend Cây Tre to anyone that can tolerate a bit of spice, though being based in Shoreditch it also helps if you can tolerate Hoxtonites!

Biriyani at Muhib

March 25th, 2010

Given that I’ve worked on Brick Lane for almost two years now, I haven’t really explored many of the Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants along it’s length, not even tempted by the touts offers of free beer and the best curry in the country, cooked by the best chefs in the country!

Comedy of the touts aside, the few restaurants I have been to with both colleagues and friends in the past have been a mix of experiences ranging from cold curry, hour long waits, to the horror stories of kitchen staff washing themselves in the kitchen sinks (Shampan, feel free to write me and tell me nothing I ate went via that sink).

Recently though I’ve been introduced to Muhib by one of our client directors, we ate some take out from there on one of the evenings of the epic 12 day stint on trying to get a project launched, and despite them getting the order a little confused it was all pretty good.

Said client director is now taking the smart move to grab a month of well deserved rest before the next client comes along and to celebrate the occasion a good bunch of us headed over to Muhib for an Indian banquet.

First off it’s worth saying how friendly and accommodating  the guys at Muhib are, they weren’t caught off guard by 18-20 people wandering in off the street (whereas Las Iguanas in Spitalfields couldn’t even cope with 10-15 the other day).

We all munched on papadums with various chutneys whilst working out what to feast on from the menu (clearly I’d forgotten at this point that I was meant to be going to dinner in the evening too).

I opted to keep it simple and ordered a peshwari naan and the house biriyani.

Pleasantly surprised by what arrived, the house biriyani has a thin egg layer covering the mix of saffron rice, chicken, lamb and prawns underneath, and comes with a vegetable curry to mix in.

Packed full of flavours and spices and was so filling that I was literally at bursting point. May have had to stealthily pop a jean button after eating I was so full!

I’ll be going back, what more can you ask for than friendly service and good food?

Fresh Pasta at Kitchen Italia

March 22nd, 2010

Trying to catch up on writing up some of the experiences I’ve had at restaurants recently, it seems like I have run fairly short on time over the past couple of weeks. Might as well start with the less than originally titled Kitchen Italia, a relatively new and small chain that has sprung up in a couple of sweet spots in London.

I first bumped into Kitchen Italia at Westfields whilst hunting out some pre-gig grub near Shepherds Bush Empire. First impressions weren’t all that fantastic and I have to say with chain restaurants that really does put a dampener on visiting others in the chain. The service was pretty much non-existent, though the waiters did make extra sure that everyone knew where the toilets were (have they had some disaster story we should all know about?!)

The food was reasonable at the Westfields branch, however for the price I find myself poking around amongst the pasta wondering if they couldn’t have been a little more generous with the spicy sausage that seemed somewhat lacking in my dish.

Despite initial apprehension I also gave the Covent Garden branch a go.  Things are a similar story for the most part, they have the same long social tables (you know, the ones where everybody glares as anybody else sits down at the table), mostly empty too so the atmosphere was a bit dull.

Food was of a much better quality though with very fresh tasting pasta and lots of flavour in both mine and Josh’s dishes. I had aubergine and goats cheese tortellini with cap0nata  which was really nice if a little small, along with some arancini because the main wasn’t filling enough. Josh had some angel hair pasta with black truffles which he swears was delicious.

All in all not bad, but if I was to be blunt, it is only a pasta place, the food is fairly expensive, the wine is ridiculously over-priced, and the service wasn’t all that in either branch.

Seems if they’re going to expand further it’d be worth evaluating price and service before doing so, get it right at the restaurants you started with and all that.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot at Barbican

March 21st, 2010

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot

The Curve at the Barbican has been taken over by flock of zebra finches that like to rock out, they seem to have expensive taste too – £1,500 Gibson Les Pauls for the lead guitar loving finches and £1,000 Gibson SG Standard Bass for the finches that like it heavy.

The installation by French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot is supposed to draw on the rhythms of daily life  to produce sound in unexpected ways, with the finches freely able to fly between the electric and bass guitars, microphone stands, and cymbals filled with either seeds or water.

Some of the guitars seemed to be open game for any of the finches to fly to and use as a perch, but others had two finches attempting to build nests on them and any other finches that tried to perch there would be shooed off.

The nesting finches seemed to lay down a rhythm, as they would frequently fly off to root out something to use to build the nest, then fly back and land on the guitar stings in a number of places. Other finches would crash loudly onto the bass guitars but not stick around for long.

The cymbals were an interesting idea, as the finches peck at the seeds they bash the cymbal, depending on where the cymbal is bashed you get a slightly different sound.

Overall with the various guitars sounding (with some reverb and delay), alongside the cymbals sounding and of course the finches own bird song, you get a strong ambient vibe from the installation that essentially is just nature doing it’s thing, not composed and completely unique.

Despite really enjoying being in an environment where sound was being created in such a unique way, I have to admit I came back with mixed feelings. Guitar surfaces are lacquered and as such the finches that were attempting to nest efforts were in vein; anything they built up eventually slipped off onto the floor. The finches were slipping around on the guitars too.  Seems a tad cruel, I’d expect more from the Barbican.

Admission to the installation is free and it’s open until 23 May 2010; due to the open nature of space there is a limit of 25 visitors at a time, so expect a bit of a queue (30 mins roughly) if you’re going during peak times.

Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin at ICA

March 12th, 2010

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin

I’ve been privileged to be working alongside a bit of a musical buff the past few months who has been challenging and broadening my taste in music, even branching me out into Jazz which I have touched on but never really given much time.

It’s through this colleague that I found out about Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, a quintet from Switzerland that describe their music as somewhere between zen-funk and ritual groove music, and what better way to get to know a band than to see them live and in person.

I’m not sophisticated enough to describe Bärtsch’s music in the terms that he rightly deserves and frequently earns from passionate fans, but the structure of his compositions are really appealing even for someone only just broaching the edge of interest of this genre of music.

You have an intertwined mixture of Kasper Rast’s delicate approach to the drums (stroking even a finger over a drum to get a texture of sound from it), Björn Meyer’s versatile array of styles on the electric bass that plainly left me with my jaw hanging, Andi Pupato on a variety of bizarre percussion instruments including the wonderfully obscure hand crafted Skin-Udu, Sha’s beautiful sax and commanding bass clarinet, and of course Nik Bärtsch himself on (and in) and number of pianos squeezing out any number of sounds.

As individuals it’s clear that each of the band members have strong character, though each play a balanced part in each of Bärtsch’s compositions for the most part, as they progress through the composition the intensity builds and each gets to become the focus of play, absolutely shining.

Aside from their sheer talent as individuals I truly respect how much they appear to be enjoying themselves and I’m amazed at how they do not ever veer off from the complex polyrhythm that Bärtsch has laid out for them. Though I have to admit that I did find that I kept trying to find a beat within the organised chaos, and quickly ended up confused as the time signatures changed and shifted and I was left bopping to the wrong beat.

Nik Bärtsch is nothing short of a musical genius; you’ll see this for yourself if you ever see him live just by reading the expressions on his face; as he watches his Ronin play he looks almost franic following every little tone like a hawk. His passion is addictive.