Umu, Mayfair 

Um business card

Umu is a Michelin starred Japanese restaurant that has been around for over ten years now. It’s owned by the same group who run The Greenhouse and Morton’s members club.

Outside

It was a slightly stern welcome from a chap who could have easily been a headmaster as opposed to a maitre d'; certainly not rude but not forthcoming with the lovin’ either. The room was a nice enough space with a counter overlooking the chefs preparing the sushi. As it ain’t cheap, not in the slightest, I would have preferred not to have had disposable chopsticks though.

Inside

A simple salad generously drenched in a red onion dressing was a really lovely start. As was the cup of rich, hearty red miso soup. As the sushi we ordered was taking a while to prepare, we were treated to an extra little dish of goma-ae, which was a delicious mound of sesame flavoured spinach.

Salad

Red miso

Spinach

We decided to avoid the set lunch bento box (£35) and instead opted for the chef’s special sushi selection (£38). It looked pretty but there were a few greasy fingerprints on the plate, which you’d hope not to be the case at that level of restaurant. The scallop and eel nigiri were my favourite.

Sushi

We also opted for some of their signature style nigiris; toro with shishito pepper (£9.50), lobster (£7.50), langoustine (£9.50) and seared scallop (£5.50). Certainly not cheap but worthy of their price due to the superb quality of each piece of fish.

Signature sushi

Welsh wild eel kabayaki (£32), which refers to the preparation and cooking of the eel in a sweet soy sauce, was a proper corker. The skin was insanely crispy and the soft, oily flesh had soaked up the sugary soy, resulting in an indulgent mouthful to say the least.

Eel

At the more gimmicky end of the spectrum, the Japanese fish and chips (£28) were pleasant pieces of tempura stone bass and prawns, but the chips were little artichoke crisps which brought nothing to the party. They should have just served some really lovely pieces of tempura fish on their own.

Fish and chips

A small dessert of fresh fruit with white asparagus ice cream was included with the sushi selection. Some things are destined to remain a vegetable and I think I can now safely say that white asparagus is one of them.

Fresh fruit

Umu was eye wateringly expensive, but then again, you are in a mews in Mayfair eating top notch sushi. But even so, there’s other places I can think of where I’d rather go and do just that. I didn’t leave feeling besotted with the place (which I was kind of hoping I would) but it was a very pleasant lunch.

3/5

Umu on Urbanspoon

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Cereal Killer Café, Brick Lane

Cereal Killer Cafe

So this is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea; a café in Shoreditch from twins Alan and Gary Keary offering over 100 different types of cereals along with 20 various milks. They even sell Poptarts. But I have to say, it was rather fun.

Outside

It’s a cramped little spot where you order at the counter then frantically find somewhere to perch. With so much choice on offer, everyone (including us) takes forever to order hence the usual huge queues. We sat in the small dining room downstairs which was full of teenage girls which was just a bit weird; it felt like we were at some kind of sleepover.

Cereal

Inside

I opted for a bowl of Lucky Charms with almond milk and my gentleman companion, like a man possessed, went for a mix of Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme and Kellogg’s Fruit Loops with bubblegum milk (bright blue of course). I won’t patronise you by describing what a bowl of cereal tastes like (the refreshing milk contrasted the crunchy cereal etc) but all I will say however, it was sweet. And totally ruddy delicious.

Cereal

The idea sounds ridiculous but Cereal Killer Café was actually a lot of fun, and for under eight quid it was actually very good value for money. When they opened, a Channel 4 news presenter successfully got the reaction he wanted when he raised the fact they were selling £4 bowls of cereal in one of London’s poorest areas (watch the clip here), which seems like such a silly point. If we all took that stance then we’d never ever buy another skinny soya extra wet cappuccino from Starbucks again, just because it was in Deptford.

If you’re after a quick and cheap snack that’ll send your blood sugar levels into meltdown, then get in that queue and join the sleepover.

8/10

Cereal Killer Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Bao, Soho

Boa business card

It looks like Soho has got itself another new cracking restaurant and it comes in the form of Bao from brother/sister trio Erchen Chang, Shing Tat and Wai Ting Chung. Their Taiwanese buns (Bao is Taiwanese for bun) have been selling like hot cakes from their stall on Netil Market so as expected, their first restaurant is a bit of a hit.

Outside

At 12:09 during our lunchtime visit on only their third day of opening, the queue was humongous. We were eventually seated on a teeny stall facing a giant wooden wall with my coat dangling in my face; it was claustrophobic to say the least.

Inside

The menu was on a small piece of paper and you had to mark down what you wanted; it’s all so reasonably priced you could easily order everything. We tried all the baos. The panko crumbed daikon (£3.50) was probably my least favourite as I found it a touch boring. The classic (£3.75), which featured braised pork topped with peanut powder, and the confit pork (£4.50) were my favourites. Both offered pork with such intense flavour it was pure comfort food.

Daikon

Classic

Confit pork

The lamb shoulder with garlic mayo (£5) was very British in flavour which made for a nice change; it had a touch of a 3am kebab about it. The fried chicken bao (£5) came in a sesame bun which gave it a strange-looking grey colour, but it tasted absolutely delicious; like a fancy Zinger burger.

Lamb shoulder

Fried chicken bao

The Taiwanese fried chicken (£5) could have done with far more of the hot sauce which had been squirted over it. We asked for some garlic mayo which was gladly provided but perhaps it should have come with some anyway. The crisp exterior combined with the soft fatty chicken was absolutely heavenly though.

Taiwanese fried chicken

Pig blood cake (£3.50) came with the ooziest yolk you’re likely to find (if you like oozy yolks, click here to see my Vine) which really added to the richness of it all. Talking of richness, the trotter nuggets (£4) were about as rich as it gets. Fatty trotter meat encased in crisp breadcrumbs; pure indulgent bliss.

Pig blood cake

Trotter nuggets

My favourite dish was a simple plate of thinly sliced 40 day rump cap (£6) which was so dainty looking yet it packed an almighty meaty punch in terms of flavour. A must order.

40 day rump cap

Bao is a really exciting little spot. Fair do’s it’s not the sort of place you’ll spend a leisurely afternoon (unless you enjoy staring at a wooden wall) but with delicious food priced staggeringly generously, I left wanting to immediately return for dinner. I just hope the gigantic queues won’t be a permanent instalment.

9/10

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St John, Farringdon 

St John business card

I remember my first dinner at St John, a Michelin-starred institution by Trevor Gulliver and Fergus Henderson, a good few years back. I tried tongue for the first time, both lamb and ox, and my gentleman companion struggled to finish a grouse so rare it was practically squawking. It was brilliant.

Outside

We recently returned on a Thursday evening (after Lizzie Mabbot‘s Chinatown Kitchen book launch at the Drapers Arms – do have a look at it on Amazon) with no reservation and they managed to squeeze us in – only just. The dining room was packed with an intriguing mix of suited, high-fiving men and trendy chaps with beards. Service was quick-paced but super friendly.

Inside

We decided to share the brown shrimp with white cabbage (£7.80) and the roast bone marrow with parsley salad (£8.20). The latter was utterly divine; you had to scoop the marrow out of the giant bones, spread it on the toast, sprinkle with smoked salt and top with salad. It was proper heart attack grub but my God, it was absolutely heavenly. A definite bucket list dish.

Prawns and cabbage

Bone marrow

For main, the lamb sweetbreads, carrots and wild garlic (£18.20) was basically a plate of hearty stew. The sweetbreads, and there was bloomin’ loads of ’em, were cooked to perfection. The brill with aioli (£23.80) was also cooked spot-on but the red wine leeks were a little overwhelming as there was such a huge pile of them. A side of greens (£3.70) was just what we needed to accompany the rich food.

Lamb sweetbreads

Brill

Greens

For pudding we opted for the profiteroles (£8.20) which had been stuffed with vanilla ice cream. The jug of hot chocolate sauce (click here to see my Vine) added to the decadence. We couldn’t resist getting half a dozen freshly baked Madeleines (£4.50) which really were so very tasty that we polished the lot, even though we were at the point of combustion. I challenge you to find a finer baked good than one of those Madeleines.

Profiteroles

Madeleines

Years have passed since our first visit but St John is still a ruddy good restaurant. It’s as unpretentious as it gets; simple food cooked simply and served in simple surroundings (the dining room is a bit like that episode of Mr Bean where he puts a firework in the pot of white paint). If you haven’t been before, then go, and if you haven’t been for ages, then go again, you won’t regret it.

4/5

St John on Urbanspoon

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Naughty Piglets, Brixton

Naughty Piglets business card

It’s a random name for a restaurant I’ll give you that, but this new and cute little spot in Brixton (we drove, don’t worry) from husband and wife team Joe Sharratt (chef) and Margaux Aubry (front of house) is really rather good.

Outside

There’s a small dining room out the back, which is incredibly dark (too dark?) or the bar with stool seats at the front which is where we opted to sit. The kitchen is tiny and there’s just two chefs so it was fascinating to watch it all. Everyone was so lovely too, there was a wonderful energy about the place.

Inside

We started with some ham croquettes (£4) which had a really lovely crunch to their exterior which gave way to a soft and gooey centre.

Ham croquettes

‘Burrata, courgettes, mint, basil’ (£6) was exactly that and if it wasn’t the best bleedin’ burrata I’ve ever eaten then I don’t know what is. Its sloppy innards practically exploded when prized open with my fork, creating an avalanche of creamy goodness. The mint and basil providing an unusual alliance to match the raw courgettes; utterly brilliant.

Burrata

A long, thick strip of pork belly (£9) came with an intriguing Korean chilli paste and some undressed baby gem. It was a bold statement “here’s three components which work brilliantly together and that’s all you’re getting” – and they got it so very right.

Pork belly

An XXL diver scallop (£11) was draped in lardo (pig fat) which is surely the only way you can better a scallop. The brown butter sauce it came generously drenched in only added to the richness of this sensational dish.

XXL diver scallop

BBQ lamb leg (£15) came with mini roasted Jersey royals, spinach and an almost spicy salsa verde which was divine. Meat, potato and veg; this was simple cooking elevated to somewhere a lot of chefs don’t seem to quite manage these days.

Lamb rump

It was only after reading Fay Maschler’s review in the Evening Standard that we got to hear about Naughty Piglets, so I owe having my best meal of the year so far, to her. The stools might be a bit high, the dining room might be a bit dark, and the toilets might be a bit old fashioned (I think they ran out of money), but my God, that food is amazing.

9/10

Bó Drake, Soho 

Bo Drake

Bó Drake is an East Asian BBQ restaurant (just a few doors down from 10 Greek Street) that serves an interesting mash up between Korean and Mexican – Korexican if you will. Unlike Jinjuu in Carnaby Street, it does so rather well.

Outside

Inside it’s very dark and sexy. You can sit at tables in the small dining room out the back but the real fun is to be had at the large bar in the front. Every time I’ve been, which is a few times now, I’ve ended up drinking far too many bottles of Hite beer with shots of Soju; it’s that kind of place.

We started with the brisket bao (£9) which featured beef that had been smoked for 12 hours along with pickled cucumber stuffed inside soft, fluffy buns. The balance between sweet, salty, meaty and smokey was absolutely bang on.

Brisket bao

A side of sweet potato fries (£3.50), with a seriously fiery kimchi aioli, were moreish as they weren’t limp and lifeless as is often the case; they had a real crunch to them.

Sweet potato fries

Korean lamb cutlets (£13) were a little overdone on this visit which was a shame as on previous encounters with these plump and juicy cutlets, the meat has been nothing short of outstanding. The sesame seeds sprinkled on top add a really pleasant nuttiness.

Lamb cutlets

A stack of smoked ribs (£12) offered meat that slid off the bone with the merest flick of my tongue. The flavour was intense, which might have been due to the crisp, charred exterior of the pork.

Smoked ribs

Panfried cauliflower with mushroom purée (£5) looked ever so dainty next to the big plates of meat. It made for some light relief and a welcome break from all the richness of everything else.

Cauliflower

If you’re after a fun night out, with a good old drink and some tasty BBQ food to go with it, then Bó Drake is your place. The staff are so incredibly friendly too which makes it that little bit more special. Just be warned, prepare for the impending hangover.

8/10

Bó Drake on Urbanspoon

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Bleecker St. Burger, Spitalfields 

Bleecker Burger

This was never going to be the longest blog post; there’s only so much I can say about tucking into a burger while sitting on a park bench in Old Spitalfields Market. What I can say however is that it was the best bloomin’ burger I think I’ve ever eaten.

Bleecker St. Burger started life as a food truck and it has had stints all over the place including a successful run on the Southbank. Now, however it has its very own mini shop-front in Spitalfields. I was hoping it would be a restaurant but no-such-luck; you have to perch on a picnic table, which in the freezing cold isn’t particularly enjoyable/glamorous.

Outside

I’ve eaten pretty much all the burgers London has to offer but the Bleecker Black (£10), which had a layer of black pudding sandwiched between two gloriously rare patties, was exquisite. I’m talking super exquisite. The slight let down was the seeded brioche bun which had been left slightly too long under the toaster, but it almost didn’t matter.

Bleecker Black

The double cheeseburger (£9) was equally noteworthy. The beef is dry aged for about forty to fifty days and it comes from The Butchery in Bermondsey; the flavour really is intensely meaty.

Double cheeseburger

A side of angry fries (£4) which were drenched in a fiery hot sauce AND blue cheese sauce were as devilishly delicious as they sound. Washed down with a vanilla and chocolate, or ‘black and white’ shake (£4.70) (they stop serving alcohol after 7pm which is a shame) and I was in pure junk food heaven.

I’m a bit late to the Bleecker St. party and if you are too then it really is worth trying. I just wish they had opened a restaurant.

9/10

Bleecker St. Burger on Urbanspoon

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