Charmaine Mok reviews

Burger & Lobster (Mayfair) - 4/5

Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - The whole lobster (fat, juicy creatures from Canada) can be ordered steamed, or steamed then finished off on the robata-style charcoal grill; we recommend the latter, as the subtle smokiness really emphasises the sweetness of the lobster. Can't decide between plain clarified butter or butter jazzed up with lemon? Alternate your unbridled dunking and order both, as our waitress insisted...This is an easy-going sort of place, so if you're wanting the burger (a whole ten ounces of pure, freshly ground beef) with cheddar and/or bacon you can have it for no extra charge. Go for it - the smoky bacon is snappy and crisp without being dry, the cheese adding an extra indulgent tang.

Salt - 4/5

Wednesday, December 21, 2011 - The coffee blend is from Square Mile, and the cuppas from Waterloo Teas. Tea enthusiasts will clock the tasting notes and recommended brew times written out on the menu. But food is where Salt also excels; the owners run an artisan bakery, Seven Seeded, so the bread is excellent...Chorizo, cabbage and chickpea stew - a steal at 3 quid - came generously loaded with sausage, and was a perfect winter lunch. Sandwiches are on the small and pricy side, but are loaded with great ingredients.

Busan - 3/5

Monday, December 19, 2011 - We loved the description of the sundubu jijae (soft curdled tofu stew), the experience likened to 'eating a spicy cloud'. Indeed - the soft tofu curds were gloriously silky and light, suspended in a rich chilli- and seafood-spiked soup, mellowed by the addition of a sunny egg yolk. Good, but not better, was a galbi tang (beef shortrib stew), a peppery, milky broth laced with slippery glass noodles, chunks of tender daikon radish and pieces of (not quite as tender) beef...Service demonstrated a solid sense of hospitality - commendable, as it seemed it was Mrs Lee who was singlehandedly working the room on our visit. Welcome back, Busan.

ICN Cafe - 3/5

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - Foodwise, the cafe doesn't do many hot dishes - apart from miso soup and pre-packed udon noodles - as everything is pre-made and displayed in chillers in the style of the Wasabi or Itsu chains, but with more of a home-style quality. We liked the nimono (simmered dishes) of lotus root, burdock, konnyaku jelly and carrots, and the marinated deep-fried chicken; staff will microwave the food for you. The gallery features its own brand of high-quality Japanese teas from Shizuoka in Honshu, under the AOI brand. We loved the toasty sweetness of their genmaicha (roasted rice with green tea). Come for a chinwag, a brew and perhaps a small wagashi (Japanese confectionery) after some art appreciation.

Birdhouse - 4/5

Thursday, November 10, 2011 - The wait was worth it - Birdhouse is one of the best cafes to open in a while...A smooth but punchy flat white (the beans are from Climpson & Sons) and a bittersweet hot chocolate came crowned with neat heart-topped rosettas. Lunch was limited on our visit, but the mushroom, feta and pesto toasted ciabatta sandwich, served in army mess tins, was skilfully balanced in flavour and texture. As it was the only choice on show, they even rustled up a second sarnie for us, of chorizo, black olive tapenade and roasted red pepper; both excellent. Still, we had room for toasted banana bread (own-made), served with softened butter for spreading.

Okan - 4/5

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - This pared back cafe specialises in Osaka-style okonomiyaki (a sort of savoury Japanese 'pancake') as popularised in London by venues such as Abeno Too in central London...All are topped with the requisite Japanese mayonnaise, sweet okonomiyaki sauce (a bit like a thickened Worcestershire sauce), dried aonori (green seaweed) and tissue-thin dried bonito fish shavings. Crisp and golden-brown on the outside and packed with the advertised ingredients, there isn't a better okonomiyaki to be found in the capital.

La Gelateria - 3/5

Thursday, August 11, 2011 - The staff have an infectious enthusiasm for their product, encouraging patrons to try as many flavours as possible before making their selections; the highly recommended pistachio (made with nuts from Sicily) was indeed very good, with a deep buttery flavour and an addictive salty tang. Sea-salted caramel is sure to be another favourite, but the mellow sweet potato has an unexpected allure, too. Less successful was the white sesame, which frustratingly lacked any distinctive nutty flavour; the black sesame version fared far better. We'll be looking out for other promised offerings too - pear sake and bellini, say.

Chelsea Gelateria Valerie - 3/5

Friday, August 05, 2011 - Handmade on site each day and with more than two dozen flavours are on show at any one time, the selection should sate even the pickiest of gelati connoisseurs. If you're eating in, the coolly decked-out interior offers swivel stool seating all along the glass frontage, as well as a range of ice-cream sundaes, like the 'Picasso' (6.70), combining seeded vanilla and wild strawberry ice-cream with fresh strawberries, whipped cream and raspberry sauce.

Polka Gelato - 4/5

Thursday, August 04, 2011 - Refreshing fruit-based concoctions steal the show in their number and variety, from peach and pineapple to black cherry and pink lemonade sherbet. We were impressed by the creamy, slightly bitter matcha (a type of strong green tea) and a sweetly herbal rooibois; more on-trend flavours in the 'super sonic' range (their description for flavours made with 'super foods') include pomegranate and mango, lime and goji berry. The texture of the gelati is thick and chewy, without being cloying or melting too rapidly. We'll be back to try more flavours, and have a pop at their 'polka pop' ice lollies.

Shoreditch Grind - 3/5

Wednesday, July 06, 2011 - The smooth, well-textured flat whites don't need much tweaking, though we found ours perhaps overly milky. The staff are guarded about the origin and blend of their beans, and all roasting is done by a third party. The food selection on our visit was sandwiches and a few cakes. Lunch might include organic ciabatta filled with salami, mascarpone, tomatoes and rocket, or baguette with prosciutto, parmesan and tomato. The owners aren't so quiet about their plans for the space, which includes serving alcohol in the evenings, an expanded menu and alfresco seating.

New Cross House - 3/5

Friday, June 17, 2011 - The newly expanded ground-floor space is light and airy, with bentwood chairs and cosy leather booths. You could spend many an hour bending an elbow here, with good brews and cider from Sharp's, as well as the company's own Bonobo or Weasel beers. Taking centre stage among the food offerings is a large wood-fired pizza oven, with thin-crusted choices including a super collar of pork, mozzarella, tomato and garlic mushroom, though a well-intended chorizo, fennel salami, mozzarella and pecorino version was far too salty. Better are the small snacks, such as breaded halloumi with a parmesan and cauliflower dip, or the light salad of smoked chicken with a poached egg.

Kimchee - 2/5

Friday, April 15, 2011 - The best dish of the night was a big bowl of humble budae jjigae (also known as Johnson tang or army stew). Ours was a good reflection of this unusual marriage: spam, frankfurters and baked beans swam in a hot spicy stew, with some ramen thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, the other dishes disappointed. Barbecued pork belly came cold and dry, not sizzling; skewers of beef tongue (also cold) varied in thickness, and were overseasoned with cumin. Mixed namul, consisting of pickled radish, seasoned beansprouts and spinach, were bland and watery.

Beijing Dumpling - 2/5

Friday, April 08, 2011 - Xiao long bao, which originate in Shanghai, are lumped under 'Beijing dumplings' on the menu - and the ones we tried were unworthy of the name. The skins were dry and thick instead of moist and thin; the filling of pork was good, but the soup was scant. Much better were the vegetarian dumplings, stained light green from vegetable juice, filled with a flavoursome filling of carrots, wood ear mushrooms and vermicelli, served in a light-tasting broth...Beijing Dumpling is not the worst place to dine in Chinatown, but it needs to do much better to be worthy of its name.

Keu! - 3/5

Friday, April 08, 2011 - On our first visit, the bread was tough and gum-scrapingly hard; it took some effort to first cut the sandwich in half, then eat it. We had opted for a classic combo of ham terrine, spiced pork belly and chicken liver pate - all excellent ingredients, though the accompanying pickled carrot and daikon definitely needed more zing and crunch. So close, and yet so far. A second sandwich a week later - filled with juicy Cantonese-style roast duck - was better, the bread lighter and fillings more generous.

The Icecreamists - 4/5

Tuesday, March 01, 2011 - Everything is bonkers, from the hospital drip-bags full of absinthe to the 'Toast Mortem' dessert of molten chocolate and frangelico gelato served with toasted panettone...Our Sex, Drugs & Rock and Roll was a high-standard milk chocolate number, while Caramelted (dulce de leche) was top notch, both dense, creamy and full-flavoured. It isn't cheap, though - a regular tub with two flavours of your choice clocks in at a very cheeky 5.90. We couldn't resist a naughty Miss Whiplash either; part of the Vice Cream Cocktails list, it's a martini glass of Glastonberry (raspberry sorbet) whizzed with plenty of vodka and topped with orange zest for a powerful punch.

Hakkasan Mayfair - 3/5

Tuesday, November 30, 2010 - A new dish of black truffle roast duck with tea plant mushrooms comprised of beautifully cooked duck breast, moist and tender with crisp skin, but the truffle element was muted and failed to add anything to the plate. Braised pork belly in double soy sauce with osmanthus flower on the menu made us think fondly of Dongpo pork, but it was barely recognisable when it came to the table...It's telling that the simpler dishes seemed to work the best, as though the kitchen were not quite au fait with melding certain ingredients and techniques together. But there is no doubt that Hakkasan will do well in the area.

Yashin Sushi - 5/5

Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - At the bar we watched as various nigiri were very lightly brushed with a soy sauce mixture before being blow-torched; shavings of chilled foie gras atop glistening raw botan (spot shrimp, a hefty prawn from the north Pacific) were transformed into a decadent molten topping, while salmon and tuna belly take on even silkier textures by the melting of the fat in the top layer...It has been a long time since a truly good sushi restaurant has opened in this city. And one that brings something new to (or rather, takes something away from) the table is all the more exciting.

Ceena - 3/5

Friday, November 05, 2010 - Ceena is pretty good, no worse (or better) than many other Korean places in central London, offering dishes (barbecued and otherwise) that are not dumbed down for its City location. Most of the selection is reassuringly classic: excellent bibimbaps (rice served in awesomely hot stone bowls), mung bean pancakes and pungent kimchi. The signature galbi (marinated beef shortribs) were cooked to order on a grill at the end of the U-shaped bar counter. The tender beef emanated a sweet smokiness that was commendable. Pan-fried vegetable dumplings (mandu) were flavoursome despite oddly stiff, plasticky cases.

Mino Kitchen - 2/5

Friday, October 15, 2010 - Some of the staff manning the charcoal grills at Mino Kitchen still seemed a little green. Fundamental errors included the bamboo skewers being burnt to blackness at the tips, imbuing the morsels that slipped off them with a bitter taste...The grilled dishes may offer better value for money. Salmon teriyaki may be a cliche, but here it looks mighty tempting - three fat, small steaks slowly grilled over the charcoal grill and brushed with sweet and tacky teriyaki sauce, served with grilled vegetables. Likewise, a whole sea bass on long metal skewers is equally impressive.

Koffmann's - 3/5

Monday, July 26, 2010 - The food, a hearty representation of Koffmann's Gascon background, is devoid of pomp and circumstance. Much is made of the informal, rustic French dishes, including several of La Tante Claire's signatures: scallops with squid ink, stuffed pig's trotter and pistachio souffle. We had all three of these and found them faultless: the scallops crispily seared and just-cooked within, the trotter rich and gelatinous, the pistachio souffle proudly risen and light as air. Snails and girolles in a creamy, truffle-scented parsley garlic sauce and mash was sublime.

Le Wei Xiang - 3/5

Monday, July 12, 2010 - From the 'Genuine Chinese Tastes' section, we sampled refreshing, ginger-tinged shredded potatoes, shredded pigs' ears in chilli oil and best of all, a generous, wobbling plateful of silky chilled tofu in a vinegared soy sauce base and chopped, creamy preserved duck eggs. In close second was a large claypot of sliced sea bass stew in a milky, intensely flavoured broth; large chunks of suan cai (pickled Chinese cabbage) lent the stew a refreshing sour note, as well as a curiously smoky undertone.

Cafe Luc - 2/5

Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - The crab meat in our tian of Cornish crab had strands that were sweet and tender, laced with dill; we could have done without the thick puck of gluey cream cheese on top though, and the messy streaks of tomato sauce and too-grassy avocado puree were superfluous at best. Chicken supreme with black trompettes and pappardelle did not come with the distinctive trumpet-shaped mushrooms, but bog-standard caps...For quality that matches the cost you might be better off strolling over to Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, which has similar aspirations, but is a brasserie de luxe of established reputation.

Tsuru (Bishopsgate) - 4/5

Thursday, June 03, 2010 - The eight-hour katsu curry (with crisp breadcrumbed pork) is one of our staple orders, but the small plates of Japanese classics, such as spry nuggets of tori karaage (fried chicken) are also worth trying. Other bitesized dishes such as gyoza (pork and vegetable dumplings), creamy potato korokke (the Japanese answer to the croquette) and sea-fresh sashimi and nigiri are all excellent, and fairly priced. Japanese beer is available on draught as a refreshing way to wash down the umami-rich food.

Ottoman Palace - 3/5

Thursday, June 03, 2010 - 'Palatial' isn't quite an overstatement in this joint, where intricate wood carvings, velvet-cushioned seats and high ceilings in a collection of rooms set over an expansive space do well to mimic Turkish opulence...Silky aubergines cloaked in a tomato, green pepper and garlic sauce was delightful, and the houmous had a pleasant coarse texture and notable garlic and lemon zing. Mains here turn out to be rather epic in size, and a recommended lamb sarma beyti used good-quality, well seasoned hand-minced meat cooked over charcoal grills. Sharing is a great way to keep the bill down.

Lumen Cafe - 4/5

Thursday, June 03, 2010 - The menu is reassuringly brief, though varied, taking in salads (such as bright shards of fennel or Tunisian-style lentil), hearty sandwiches (made with good-quality Born & Bread loafs), fat tortillas and a hot dish of the day. It's clean, vibrant food that tastes all the more virtuous for its commendable provenance. A salad of roast chicken comprised tender meat with golden-brown skin, atop dill-speckled new potatoes and spring lettuce; seasonal sprigs of roasted asparagus completed the dish. Our Spanish tortilla was perhaps erring on the rubbery side, but the accompanying aioli was big on garlic, in a good way.

Koya - 4/5

Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - Cold 'tenzaru' udon (served with prawn and vegetable tempura) was artfully arranged on a bamboo mat in a meticulous manner; the tsuyu (a sweet soy, dashi and mirin mixture) dipping sauce was intense and savoury. There are small plates, too, and we slurped up dishes of onsen tamago ('hot spring' eggs), slow cooked in their shells at a low temperature to give the whites a silken quality and the yolks the rich texture of a soft chocolate ganache. The food speaks for itself here and news will spread fast.

Caravan (Exmouth Market) - 4/5

Thursday, March 04, 2010 - The all-day menu encapsulates the sort of polygastronomy you find in New Zealand and Australia. The weekend brunch menu only has a slight nod to the Antipodes, with fry ups, eggs on sourdough toast and fruity porridge among the offerings. The 'Caravan fry up' is one we'd return for: a plateful of crisp streaky bacon, sweet roasted tomatoes, two eggs cooked to your liking, sourdough or wholegrain toast and, curiously, 'creamy soy mushrooms' that packed double the umami factor. Just as good was a metal dish of baked eggs in a tomato and red pepper ragout topped with tangy Greek-style yoghurt.

Angels & Gypsies - 4/5

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - Camberwell has never had before is a destination eatery. Until now. Although it appears to be a tapas bar, the menu of Angels & Gypsies is peppered with a range of influences, from Sephardic to Basque cooking...Standout savoury dishes included a tender, milky roast pork belly with a cool cox apple salad and a spoonful of rum and plum jam. Scarlet curls of intense Iberico chorizo cooked in Basque cider would put any Brindisa creation to shame. Roast cod was curiously lacking in flavour, although expertly cooked and presented. Best of all, the service was sweet, boisterous and accommodating.

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