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Restaurant

London, Reviews

Oklava

Oklava entrance

A foodie friend recommended Oklava. Soon after, I booked a table for lunch with said friend and another equally lovely and equally foodie friend. As the day to eat there approached, the hype got bigger. The expectations and the amount of saliva in my mouth grew in equal measure.

As you arrive, you are greeted with a most unassuming welcome. The restaurant is a small room dominated by grey concrete and grey fixtures, glass and metal, with modern and simplistic décor throughout. Very Shoreditch. And in true Shoreditch style this is a thoroughly relaxed place. The partially exposed kitchen giving out that relaxed vibe like none of the other features does.

So far so good. But what about the food? The menu is perfect in size – on the small side but with enough promise to keep you changing your mind about what to order, scared you are missing out on the other delicious dishes your stomach won’t be able to hold. The good news is that between the 3 of us we should be able to cover most of the really interesting ones (however, we will have to come back to eat the others, damn it).

Oklava's menu

Oklava’s menu

Well, I can only say they had me at the date butter. From then on, the meal was an endless parade of clever dishes and delicious flavours. Food with soul and lots of love.

Let’s go back to the date butter – not even a dish but just a standard couvert option offered to everyone. For the date butter alone (and the amazing Baharat bread, served warm) I would come back here. After a lot of involuntary satisfied murmurs and positive interjections from the 3 of us, we moved on to the dishes we actually chose.

Baharat bread with Medjool date butter

Baharat bread with Medjool date butter

We started with ‘snacks’, the first one was grilled Haloumi with lemon and London honey. The smoky charred flavour and glistening honey elevate the humble haloumi to a level I hadn’t experienced before.

Grilled Haloumi with honey and lemon

Grilled Haloumi with honey and lemon

Some almost-healthy-sounding courgette, feta and mint fritters followed and they were creamy and crispy at the same time, both light and moorish. Definitely one to repeat.

Courgette, feta and mint fritters

Courgette, feta and mint fritters

A fabulous whipped feta with candied pumpkin on top of chilli crostini came next. What a handsome dish – white creamy feta topped with translucent jewels of sweet pumpkin, with flavours to match. Probably our top choice for ‘snacks’ and also one to repeat.

Whipped feta with candied pumpkin on chilli crostini

Whipped feta with candied pumpkin on chilli crostini

For ‘mains’ (although this is a tapas/small plates kind of place) we ordered the sour cherry pearl barley with crispy kale, yoghurt, chilli butter and sheep’s cheese. This dish is oh-so-good… Even though most of the ingredients are associated with bland super-foods we eat out of guilt, there is nothing bland about this dish. It was sweet and sour, salty and spicy, creamy and crispy and moist. I forgot I was eating pearl barley with kale and felt like I was eating a feast of forbidden foods. This was also one of the top 3 of dishes for the day.

Sour cherry pearl barley with crispy kale

Sour cherry pearl barley with crispy kale

Another huge surprise was the chilli roast cauliflower. A humble not-so-hot vegetable that managed to make it to the top of the leaderboard. The smoky and buttery flavours contrasted beautifully with the freshness of the vinaigrette and red onions and the nuttiness of the pistachios. A little crunch ensured the perfect texture. Who knew cauliflower could provoque such pleasurable sensations?

Chilli roast cauliflower with red onion, parsley and pistachios

Chilli roast cauliflower with red onion, parsley and pistachios

I then spotted the word ‘octopus’ in the menu. If you read my blog posts you probably know by now that octopus would be my death row meal, should I ever indulge in capital punishment crime. So I couldn’t resist the braised octopus flatbread with ricotta, honey, olives, pickled caper shoots and thyme. This was delicious and quite substantial, so if you are looking to fill your boots with one dish, then this could be it. I really liked the dish but have to admit I have eaten better octopus in Portugal, but that is not necessarily a derogatory comment for Oklava’s octopus, just that my standards for octopus are very high (some of the best octopus I’ve had was here).

Octopus flatbread with ricotta, olives, honey, pickled caper shoots and thyme

Octopus flatbread with ricotta, olives, honey, pickled caper shoots and thyme

Another favourite for the day was the crab and green chilli Gözleme and cheese fondue that was a kind of stuffed chapati, wonderfully crispy and buttery. I know cheese and crab sounds like a strange combination and although the restaurant calls it a fondue, I would say it’s more like a cheese sauce. The combination really works.

Crab and green chilli Gözleme & cheese fondue

Crab and green chilli Gözleme & cheese fondue

We also tried the short rib flatbread, which was also lovely and the crispy pomegranate-glazed lamb breast, which was also very nice.

Yes I know, we sound like gluttonous beasts… no shame there I guarantee you. And yes, we could barely walk and had no space for dessert (definitely need another visit!). And we rolled into work with the mental capacity of a goat. I feel not a hint of regret. If anything, I left feeling slightly annoyed that I work so close to this place and hadn’t tried it before. I will be back and it will be soon.

This is what I call a 5 stars place. It is 5 stars not because it produces Michelin-starred food or it houses Damien Hirt’s art suspended from the ceiling, nor it is housed in a 5-star hotel. It is 5 stars because it delivers 5-star quality food in tandem with what it promises to deliver. It is meant to deliver delicious carefully-crafted Turkish food and does exactly that. Not more, not less. Furthermore, it is honest both with respect to what it offers and how much it charges. It is what I call a ‘well worth it’ £50 meal (for one, with wine), and one of the best I have had recently.

Where: Shoreditch, London

Cuisine: Turkish, small plates

Type: Restaurant

Occasion: Lunch or dinner

Price: On the pricey side but good value

Rating: 5 stars

Would I go again? Yes, already booked

 

Inside Saboriccia
Food Drink Cooking

A week of Portuguese gastronomy

Happy New Year, dear blog readers!

2015 ended with a familiar picture – a week in the city of Porto, in the north of Portugal. I unreservedly LOVE this city. Not only because I was born here and lived here for over 25 years, but because it is genuinely one of the top cities in Europe to visit. It has everything: tradition and culture, sea and sand, river, architecture, rich history, lots of sunshine and, of course, beautiful food. I won’t dwell too much on all the positive aspects of this city or go into too much detail about food in Porto – that would need a whole series of blog posts. What I want to do is give you a little glimpse of this last food week, using photos I took (when I remembered!).

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Reviews, UK

Jeremy’s

Inside Jeremy's

Inside Jeremy’s

We had been meaning to try this 2-Rosette awarded restaurant set in the grounds of Borde Hill Garden (West Sussex) for a while. We have eaten at its younger sister Café Elvira a few times but were always intrigued by the more luxurious Jeremy’s just next door. In the surrounding villages, Jeremy’s seemed to be well-liked and was often mentioned by locals as a place to go.

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London, Reviews

Taberna do Mercado

 

As a Portuguese person living in England and working in London I was really excited to hear about Nuno Mendes’s new place in East London. Taberna do Mercado is a little tavern-evoking restaurant serving typical Portuguese food. And for once, it really promised typical Portuguese food and not some adaptation, even though it has been upgraded to a more fine dining level. I had to go try it and soon!

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London, Reviews

Rosa’s Thai Cafe

Rosa's Carnaby Street

Rosa’s Carnaby Street

A friend of mine who lived in the Far East told me that when it comes to Thai food, Rosa’s is not far from what you get in Thailand. Many of the foreign foods we get served in our countries get ‘localised’ (for lack of a better word), so when someone tells you there is Thai food in London that resembles food served in Thailand – you pay attention. Inevitably I had to try it and I have been 3 times since.

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The Man Behind the Curtain sign
Reviews, UK

The Man Behind the Curtain

There is absolutely nothing conventional about the experience of dining at The Man Behind the Curtain. It is avant-garde in every sense: in name, décor, location, people, ambient music and of course, the food. You just have to visit their site’s homepage to get a feel for what I mean – there is a cat with an astronaut helmet floating in space next to a giant open mouth with a man’s face inside and some other strange elements scattered around. Got the idea yet? Me neither. Continue Reading

Barrafina menu
London, Reviews

Barrafina

I had read and heard really good things about Barrafina. And it has two major pluses for me: it serves Spanish tapas and it’s in Soho. I LOVE Soho. And I love Spanish tapas too! But my experience with tapas in England has been mixed. To be quite frank, good tapas are in Spain. I think the disappointment with tapas in England stems from two main things: an adulteration of the original to fit the local taste (which is a well-known phenomenon across many foreign cuisines in this country) and a lack of ingredients as they come in those countries – ripened under much more sunshine and considerably higher temperatures throughout the year. The tomatoes here are not the same, the garlic is not the same, the onions, the potatoes, you get the idea. And so the food can’t really taste the same. Especially if we are talking about food that is simple. A lot of the dishes you eat in Spain (and Italy, for example) are prepared with only a handful of ingredients. You can, however, get very close here and there are a few examples in London. Barrafina is undoubtedly one of them. And Barrafina is more than that. It has elevated the humble tapa to something a bit more glitzy and upmarket, and still managed to keep it delicious. Continue Reading

Il Gallo D'Oro Lobster medallion
Portugal, Reviews

Il Gallo D’Oro

Michelin-starred restaurants are always a treat. You sort of know what to expect but then you don’t because you get surprised and delighted every time. They are all unique experiences with individual highlights and their own twists and turns. This was no exception.

Il Gallo D’Oro is a 1-starred restaurant inside the Cliff Bay hotel in Funchal on the island of Madeira, and is led by chef Benoît Sinthon. His whole philosophy rests on local produce and the discovery of the Island of Madeira, adding ingredients from the Iberian peninsula, and coupling the food with top Portuguese wines.

As expected of restaurants at this level, especially ones that are hosted in hotels, the atmosphere was formal, restrained. People spoke softly and sat up straight. The décor was plain and unassuming. You come here to eat nice food, let’s make that clear from the outset.

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The outside of the Fat Duck
Reviews, UK

The Fat Duck

Reviewing Heston Blumenthal’s 3-Michelin starred Fat Duck is a near-impossible task. I am already lost for words and haven’t even started.

The Fat Duck is not a place where you go to have dinner. It is more like going to the theatre. It is a theatre of food.

The outside of the restaurant is very pub-like, set in the heart of the leafy village of Bray. By the time we arrived I was feeling butterflies in my stomach in anticipation. As you go in, the room is surprisingly simple, plain, almost dull. But then this place is all about the food, why waste time on props and décor and draw attention away from what really matters? Still, the tables were impeccably set, the cloth immaculately white and smooth. We sat, asked for a glass of champagne, and then the show began.

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Ruby sign from the street
London, Reviews

Ruby

Ruby is a 15m2 room with a huge stove bustling with pans at one end, a wooden counter that runs along the window and three small tables. At lunchtime, it usually has a queue that spills into the street, which is a testimony to the quality of the food. The queue moves fast too because the men that run this place are part of a well-oiled machine, used to serving hundreds of hungry office workers around Shoreditch on a daily basis. You can take away or eat there, but space can be an issue.

Ruby inside

They have a set menu and a handful of dishes that change daily, most of which are pasta, with at least 3 different ones being prepared every day.

Ruby daily menu board

From the set menu the chorizo, roast peppers and rocket sandwich is delicious. The chorizo is sliced diagonally and placed on a hot plate with the roasted peppers to be finished off and warmed before going into a two slices of ciabatta-style bread with the peppers. The chorizo unashamedly oozing orange fat into the soft bread. Not-to-be-missed.

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