Tag: 14/20

At Siam, London, United Kingdom

Originally I was meant to be going into Soho for a quick fix of my sushi craving on a weekday evening with Russell. Then we thought that since it’s early maybe we could get a table at Arbutus without reservation. But as we walked down Soho Square, he said “Oh there’s this new Thai restaurant on Frith Street, shall we go and have a look?” – so somehow a last-minute joint decision meant that we ended up at At Siam (@Siam)!

We were greeted by the staff as soon as we stepped through the door, even though the restaurant already had quite a few customers. The decor was less traditional Thai, but more modern design with a hint of Thai incorporated. The menu was not huge but there were more than enough dishes for us to exercise our brains in choosing.

Our starter was Ruam Mittr, an assorted selection of Thai appetisers with salad. I was surprised by the generous portion, with no less than 8 pieces of the corn fritters for a start – do they somehow know that I just love corn fritters? The yam spring rolls were interesting enough. The chicken satays did not have enough spices in the marinade, resulting in a more bland taste. The prawns and salad on the lettuce leaves tasted good and refreshing.

As soon as we finished the platter, we were presented with Yum Pu Nim Tod Krob, which was the battered soft shell crab with chilli jam and mixed vegetable salad. Maybe it would have worked better with the soft shell crab on top of the salad, with the chilli jam on the side, as the batter was rather soggy when we had it. Still, the salad was itself was good, with more unexpected ingredients like pear and pomegranates.

We had two main courses to share: Kae Padd Prik Thai Dum (stir-fried lamb with black peppers and Thai seasoning) and Gaeng Phed Ped Yang (roast duck red curry with lychees and pineapples). Both were nicely flavoured, without the spices being too over-powering. With the sticky rice to accompany these two dishes, there was no leftover.

 

On the whole this was a welcoming addition to the Thai restaurant brigade in Soho – I more or less gave up eating Thai food in Soho with the demise of Sri Siam and then Thai Pavilion quite a few years ago… But maybe now there’s one that I can go to again.

Address: 43 Frith Street, Soho, London, W1D 4SF, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7494 4511
Website: www.atsiam.co.uk

Opening Hours: Daily: 12.00pm to 3.00pm; 5.30pm to 11.00pm

Food: 7/10
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 14/20 [Based on visit in June 2011]

Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong

Billed as the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world, Tim Ho Wan is one of those places you just have to try to see what the fuss is about. So on a business trip to Hong Kong in January 2010, I simple had to go there and see for myself.

I went there first on a Friday at 3pm, thinking naively that it would be well after the lunch break but before everyone finishes work or school, so there shouldn’t be much of a queue – how wrong was I!!!! So I decided to return the next morning instead.

Saturday would always be a risky day to visit this place, knowing that many locals would be making the same trip. I had all the good intention to get there by 9.30am, half an hour before the restaurant opened. But I overslept and only just managed to get there at 10am. There was already a long queue all the way to the end of the street.

 

As the restaurant can only hold 20 customers at a time, a member of staff strolled down the queue to give out numbers and jot down the number of people in each group. The couple in front of me, numbered 30, was told that they would have to wait for at a very minimum of 1 hour and they should go for a walk in the neighbourhood and return in an hour. I was the only person in my group no. 31, and I was told that I should stay in the queue in case I could join another table and jump the queue. I was handed over a piece of paper with all the dim sum dishes, and I marked a few dishes that I fancied trying.

As people got their numbers, many disappeared off for a walk round while more people arrived, so the queue hasn’t got any longer. However, by about 10.15, the number had already got up to about 54 (it was a group of young lads from Australia), and by 10.45, the number shot to seventy-something.

Number 1 was called at about 10.50, and then there’s a rush up to no. 7 by about 11.00. Then a few minutes after that my number was called (Thanks to the lady with ticket no. 34 – she was right by the door and heard my number being called) and I was ushered to a table and joined a family of 3. The restaurant itself was tiny – it could only seat about 20 people in total at any one time.

At last minute I decided to add one more dish to my already rather greedy choice of 5 dishes, but I thought it’s worth pigging out just for the energy I used up queueing for an hour.

My first dim sum dish of the peanut and pork ribs congee arrived pretty quickly. The congee had just the right consistency – not thick as a paste, and not watery either. It was beautifully seasoned and the pork just peeled off from the bone easily. It was a promising start.

 

The next 2 dishes came more or less at the same time – the har gau (steamed prawn dumplings) and the main attraction of the restaurant, namely the baked char siu bao (roast pork buns). The dumplings were bursting with large succulent prawns, and were perfectly cooked. The buns were a real winner and did not disappoint – it’s one of the most famous dim sum dishes from this restaurant, and the twist of having a sweet baked topping instead of just the plain old steamed buns works magic – the sweetness of the topping blended in so nicely with the roast pork.

While I was happily and greedily scoffing down all the food, the staff were busy taking orders, delivering freshly made dim sums to the customers, topping up tea (a choice of pu ‘erh or shou mei) and collecting money.

Spring rolls were next – the filling was garlic, cheese and prawn. An interesting combination but I didn’t think it worked well – the garlic and cheese were just too overpowering.

 

When I finished the first four dishes, it was a rather long wait for the fifth dish – steamed beef balls with orange peel. By this time I was rather full and so I didn’t enjoy the beef balls as much – while it was soft and tender, the texture was actually a bit too soft for my liking…. it was like eating a ball of fat though it was not that greasy. And although I was no longer hungry, I managed to finish the whole dish and once again I was patiently waiting for my last dish, feeling slightly embarassed that I was sitting there with no food in front of me while there was still a large group of customers gathering outside the door waiting for their lucky numbers to be called out and watching everyone in the restaurant eating.

While I was still waiting, the family of 3 got their final order and they put the food into polystyrene boxes that the staff provided. This was the family’s fifth visit to the restaurant, and they recommended the roast pork buns as well as the Chiu Chow dumplings and Turnip cakes. They said that some people started queueing at 8am – so that’s a good 2 hours before the opening time, and that most people with numbers beyond 100 would usually have to wait until late afternoon or early evening before they could even comtemplate of eating here, and number 200 onwards would basically have no chance of eating there. They then left the restaurant at noon and I was then joined by a couple – they were no.18 in the queue!

Finally after about 10 minutes wait, my final dish arrived – it was sago pudding with taro. That was well worth the wait – the sago pudding was perfectly cooked, and the taro paste was smoothly blended into the soup base.

Once I finished the sago pudding, I promptly paid. Six dishes came to a grand total of HKD 78, which works out to HKD13 per dish ie less than USD2 or just over GBP1 per dish.

When I walked out of the restaurant, there was still many people gathering outside the door, including Mrs No. 34. I gave her instant feedback on what I thought of the dishes I had, wished her good luck and I departed.

So was it worth a visit? I am two-minded about this. It’s certainly unusual to find a Michelin-starred restaurant so cheap, the quality was very good for this rock-bottom price, and the baked roast pork buns were to die for. However, having to queue for so long (my legs were aching for the rest of the day) and the rather cramped uncomfortable seating, you’d be better off paying a little more, save the time to do other things and eat elsewhere, unless you are prepared to stand for a few hours first thing in the morning to guarantee a seat before lunchtime. Rumour has it that the restaurant will move to a bigger venue after Chinese New Year – it remains to be seen if the expanded restaurant would be able to keep up with this quality.

Address: 2-8 Kwong Wah St., Mong Kok, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Telephone: +852 2332 2896
Website: not available

Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 10am-10pm

Food: 8/10
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 3/5
Total: 14/20 [Based on visit in January 2010]

Viajante, London, United Kingdom

[UPDATE: 2021-12-28: This restaurant is permanently closed]

Years ago I went to a gastropub/restaurant in Hoxton called Bacchus which, at the time, was one of the most exciting eating places I had been to, with dishes that were so out-of-the-ordinary and well executed. The head chef was Nuno Mendes, hailed as the next most exciting chef to watch out for in the UK since Heston Blumenthal. Then the place disappeared, and Nuno Mendes did various things on the opposite side of London that I didn’t take much notice, until he opened Viajante in East London, and then I decided to pay a visit again. It has taken a few attempts to get there, as every time I wanted to book for dinner (even quite well in advance), I didn’t manage to secure a table at the time I wanted.

The website did not give away any hints on the menu – the only thing was that for the 12-course menu, the booking must be for 8pm. That didn’t bother me and so I booked a table for one Sunday evening in September.

The restaurant was set in a town hall in Bethnal Green. With its high ceiling, the place felt pretty spacious. Not long after we ordered, the food started arriving….

(1) House sashimi – Interesting dish that played with the mind. I expected “sashimi” meant that the dish was based on raw fish, but there’s grilled peppers in there which gave a similar texture and confused my mind and taste-bud.

(2) Grilled broad beans – slightly on the dry side, and a rather unmemorable dish otherwise.

(3) Thai explosion II – this was a fish mousse sandwiched between two wafers. Interesting texture and the flavour did have a strong hint of the Far East.

(4) Razor clam, red pepper and pumpkin seeds – I love razor clams but this dish didn’t wow me.

(5) Bread

(6) Botan ebi, smoked yogurt and rosemary

(7) Tomatoes, water, mozzarella and strawberries – very interesting combination and a refreshing dish.

(8) Scallop, pickled cucumber and celery juice

(9) Wild mushrooms and artichoke, cured belly and pine nut milk – Full of flavour and it was one of the better dishes.

(10) Charred leeks, white asparagus, hazelnuts and milk skin – a bit of a messy presentation and the overall taste was OK but not great.

(11) Braised salmon skin and fried aubergine – Could have been mistaken this as a dish from a Japanese restaurant. It was good, but not so original.

(12) King crab with chicken jus and spicy paste – It was a little bland and I wasn’t sure if the texture worked either. For some reasons it looked more like processed chicken roll.

(13) Iberico pig neck, langoustine and broth – This was probably one of the best dishes in the whole meal. The pig neck could have been slightly more tender but it was nicely flavoured without one ingredient overpowering the others.

(14) Halibut, confit yolk, courgette ribbons and sofrito – it was a shame that the halibut was overcooked but the combination of the ingredients was well thought out.

(15) Squab, beetroot yoghurt and pistachio praline – the squab was cooked well but not spectacular. Interesting mixture of flavours.

(16) Green tea and shiso – a refreshing start to the desserts.

(17) Blueberries, goat’s curd, lemon thyme and caramel – I wasn’t sure about the combination went well together. The ingredient that I enjoyed most was the blueberries unfortunately.

(18) Panna cotta ice cream, yoghurt, crumbled oats, hazelnuts, thai basil and apple – presentation was somewhat messy and despite the contrast in texture, there’s not much taste to this.

(19) Petit fours

Maybe I was expecting too much after Bacchus. However after the whole meal I felt that the standard had gone backwards. For something as experimental as this, I did not expect to like every single dish. But the hit rate seemed to be rather low this time.

Address: Patriot Square, London E2 9NF, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7871 0461
Website: www.viajante.co.uk

Opening Hours: Daily 12:00-14:30 & 19:00-23:30

Food: 7/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 3/5
Total: 14/20 [Based on visit in September 2010]