Words by Kamal.
There’s something beautiful about falafel. How it’s origins are claimed from so many different countries; how it’s so versatile to fitting into a sandwich, wrap, salad, or shining alone; how it’s just about the best vegetarian option you could ask for; how the way it’s served holds such history.
The traditional way of serving falafel is to offer customers a piece, and to allow them to taste what you have made, while they wait for their full order to be ready. Almost like a passing on of wisdom through food, it’s a wonderful tradition that I enjoy a lot. I’ve seen it in falafel joints from London to the Middle East, and any custom that involves complimentary fresh falafel is just fine by me.
Foul W Hummus is one of the many restaurants me and Beth just happened to stumble upon. We like walking around and exploring, and often as a result find establishments which serve up great grub. With Foul W Hummus, we saw someone inside eating a great looking falafel wrap, so we went in.
Don’t let the name ‘fool’ you! Although the name of the restaurant draws emphasis on the falafel’s long lost pal foul (cooked and mashed fava beans, served with olive oil, chopped parsley, onion, garlic and lemon juice), it’s all about the falafel here.
This place knows how to cook falafel, the way I remember it as a kid. It needs to be shaped the right size, small enough so that every part of it can be cooked to golden perfection, with that thick crunchy crust. The insides are just the right texture - not too mushy, just dry and crumbly enough. And then there’s the way it’s dressed. Sprinkled with some somac, and dipped in their very own delicious, silky smooth, tahina-heavy hummus is the way to go.
As soon as we walked in we were offered a free taster falafel, then asked what we would like to order - perfect. We ordered up a plate of falafel and to go with it - hummus with pine nuts and shredded meat.
Along the way, the server consistently filled our table with more falafel, as if to say, eat until you are satisfied. And we did, until we could eat no more. Did I mention this place was cheap? it’s only one dirham for three falafels here. ONE DIRHAM. I don’t know if I can think of anything that is that cheap in this country.
Well done Foul W Hummus - you’re great.
We just walked past this place in Barsha one night and thought it looked kind of outrageous, so just had to give it a shot. What’s the worst that could happen!
This place is a seafood restaurant, and quite a traditionally Arabic style one. It’s pretty vast, it’s got TVs playing football on silent, the walls are covered in photos of old Arabic movie stars, and as with all great restaurants, it has a heavily moustached mascot, Ibn Hamido the fisherman. There are set dishes on the menu, but the best way to order is to look at what fresh fish they’ve got out on display that day, and decide how you want it cooked.
We went for some massive grilled shrimps. Truly massive. Too massive!!! I think the texture of prawns/shrimps/whatever they are works best when somewhere in between massive and tiny. The garlic-herby marinade and the smokey grilled flavour was awesome, but I kind of couldn’t handle the size of this shit. Still you can’t help but be impressed by the sight of these monsters!
Little crispy fried fish, which I think were called gishkal on the menu, were the best part of the meal for me, not least because they tasted just like anchovies. They looked just like anchovies too. Come to think of it, they were probably anchovies?? I hesitate to make that statement though, you never know. With a fresh squeeze of lemon, eating these babies whole was pretty damn satisfying, whatever they were.
Lastly, we went for some mullet. This looked really great. Covered in tomatoes, peppers, onions, and charcoal-grilled till crispy, it reminded me of this other extremely successful fish we had at Tabreez in Bahrain. But the reality disappointed, some kind of oomph was missing, and it didn’t live up to the sweet, beautiful memory of Tabreez’s sea bream… The juicy topping tasted almost cheesy, in a not unpleasant way. And those crispy charred bits went down a treat! Looks like I’ve talked myself round to approving of this one.
Ibn Hamido’s tabbouleh was lemony fresh, and the perfect accompaniment to the fish, but the bread on the other hand, was shit. Someone doesn’t have a clay oven!! Why even bother making Arabic flatbread without one, guys? Why.
Kamal thinks I’m being harsh on Ibn Hamido’s, but the thing is, it wasn’t bad at all! It was just averagely satisfying, and I suppose if I wasn’t such a diva that would be good enough. But it’s not!!!
Just kidding. Carry on, Ibn Hamido. You’re alright.
We’ve been very aware of all the kimchi fusion happenings the past few years (in London especially, see Kimchi Cult and Kimchinary for just two great examples of street food vendors doing that thang), but somehow we never got the chance to actually try out a legit kimchi burger! So we took it upon ourselves to make one instead.
Living near a Korean super market which stocks 3 varieties of kimchi is a rare luxury we know, and we fully take advantage of it! 1004 Mart in Barsha have got cabbage, radish and spring onion kimchi (our new favourite). Who knows how long we will be lucky enough to live next to a place that serves fresh, cheap, abundant kimchi. We live that shit up, and we add it to everything (to varying degrees of success).
So for our version of a kimchi burger, we grilled up some a couple of all beef patties, melting cheese on top as we went. We embraced the Korean theme and put together a little bulgogi ketchup - made easily by mixing bulgogi sauce, ketchup, chopped chives, and sesame oil. And we topped that with pickled Korean carrots and spring onion kimchi.
The balance of all these flavours really do make for a beautiful concoction of a burger. You got the sweetness from the bulgogi, the sour taste from the pickled carrots, the spiciness from the kimchi and that melted cheese on a perfect meat patty, creating an alliance of excellence, you might say.
One afternoon a couple of months ago, we found ourselves in an audience watching a filming of Talentadong Pinoy Worldwide Middle East, aka the talent search show with the longest name ever, aka basically Philippines’ Got Talent (on tour). A friend of ours was on the judging jury, and it was an afternoon filled with wonders and talent I will never forget.
To the guy who sang a beautiful song, while creating a masterpiece with felt pens stuck on his fingers, I salute you. When you flipped the canvas around at the end, and it was a picture of Jesus? Wow. I never saw that coming. And to the firedancer - an honourable mention must indeed go to your self-customised leggings. Lindsay Lohan just lost her moniker ‘Firecrotch’ to a new worthy champion.
The Filipino belly dancers, the little girl singer who definitely wasn’t emotionally ready for such a manipulative game-show, the smart phone magician - you were all winners in your own way. Well, until you lost to that pretty teenage girl who murdered that Jessie J song. It really shakes your belief that talent is more meaningful than good looks, doesn’t it?
An afternoon of talent-watching builds a healthy appetite, so we headed for a nearby Chinese restaurant, New Times, lead by our friend Lee (who had got the recommendation from his mum). And the weirdness continued. We entered into a huge, extravagant hallway, a cold expanse of marble and chandeliers. It felt more like a hotel lobby than a restaurant. Somewhere in the distance, a woman sat at a monstrously big reception desk, taking important phone calls (probably from China), and making notes in a fat pad.
As we made our way into this glistening gold palace of a restaurant, it occurred to me that New Times was weirdly devoid of a) sound, and b) atmosphere. Just as we were about to sit down in the main room, Lee told us “No! We’re not sitting here!” He lead us briskly through the dining room, past the kitchen, past the chef with his iphone placed riskily on his chopping board, past tanks of crabs, lobsters, fish.Those crabs had the fattest claws ever, and I dreamed longingly of all the meat inside them as I silently followed the group up a wide, winding staircase.
Finally we made it into our private dining room. Entering through a heavy wooden door, my eyes were hit by silver shininess from every direction. More chandeliers, draped curtains, marble wainscoting. In the middle of the wide, round table lay a glittery Lazy Susan, and my bum was nestled into one of ten plush velvet devore seats. The room felt hushed. This was intense.
Just when I thought I couldn’t get anymore baffled, it appeared that the only menu that New Times had in English was a singular iPad. I HATE iPad menus - but that is a rant for another time. Kamal and I left it up to the others to order, minus one controversial dish of our own choosing.
Within minutes, a waitress appeared with a big bowl of noodles, and dished us each up a small serving. The were unusually buttery, with not much interesting flavour to report on.
Beef buns came next, with grilled spring onions. These were soft and doughy with a perfectly crispy crust, the yummy meat stuffing keeping things juicy and flavoursome. I wanted more of these doughy pillows.
Now for the controversy.Tripe. Oh yeah, we TOTALLY went there. Cut into strips, served hot in a silky smooth soy and sesame sauce, this was much softer than expected, almost like eating warm, floppy chicken skin! If that description doesn’t get your saliva glands going, I don’t know what will. Get the stomach lining idea out of your head, and this was one of the best dishes of the day.
Tofu with century eggs - these are eggs that are encased in a clay mixture for several weeks. Some kind of chemical fermenation shit happens, and they turn black, translucent, and jelly-like. They also taste weirdly pungently great. New Times’ century eggs melted in your mouth, while the accompanying tofu crumbled into slippery pieces at the merest poke of a chopstick. The combination was so foreign to me, but it tasted damn good!
This quite nice beef and mushroom dish had a completely unnecessary spun sugar heart garnish. Totally uncalled for. But the madness of it was almost appealing.
And then for me, this dish was stranger than the tripe. Orange prawns. Deep-fried and crispy, coated in the gloopiest sauce known to man, and gum-rottingly sweet. I think this took that whole sweet/savoury juxtaposition a little too far. It was kind of unsettling. Yet I kind of liked it. No way was I touching that watermelon though.
And thus ended an extraordinary day. New Times?? More like, WEIRD Times!!
Here’s something that will get your heart-a-trembling, your belly-a-rumbling, and your mouth-a-chuckling: a guest post from the one and only Melissa Fu! Our good pal from Mei Mei’s Street Cart has a razor sharp wit and shares our love for great food of all kinds. We got her to fill us in on her favourite Chinese spot in London.
The first time I set foot in Gourmet San, my expectations were admittedly low. I’d recently been to it’s sister restaurant (My Old Place, just down the road in Liverpool St) and found that the food lacked the kind of big flavours and eye-watering spice I expected from a Szechuan joint. It seemed like our dishes had been dumbed down for a western palate and overall made for a disappointing meal and thus explains my reluctance to go to Gourmet San.
I soon concluded that My Old Place is the evil twin sister.
I’m seriously addicted. I go every 3 weeks and Gourmet San has yet to disappoint. A seriously unpretentious setting - the plates are all plastic, the interior is small and shabby with sticky PVC tablecloths and a few random Chinese decorations. The service is quick, and direct - the staff aren’t exactly what you’d call friendly but this is all forgotten as soon as you take the first bite. I’ve come to find their rudeness oddly comforting and look forward to an evening sitting down, ordering, eating and leaving without all that fake bullshit chit chat and hovering around making you feel like you’re the only one in the room blah blah blah (now leave me a fat tip asshole).
I’ve boiled it down to the all-time greats. The ones that keep me awake at night in a hot, szechuan, sweat.
First is the Beef Belly and Beef Tendon with tomatoes in a hot pot. Tenner. Served in a big steaming hot pot, it continues bubbling away on the hot-plate. The Beef belly is soft and gelatinous - bite sized pieces dissolving into the beefy, tomato-ey soup and melting in your mouth. Then the cubes of tendon, slow cooked to perfect tenderness and moist as hell.
Next, is the braised Aubergine. Arriving on a big round plate in a heap, the quarter-moons are soft and translucent but with a crispy edge, and braised in a sweet sauce with a perfect balance of sharpness. This is usually the first dish to disappear and I’ve had many chopstick wars over the last piece.
The stir-fried green beans were crunchy with sweet nuttiness, accompanied by big dried chillies and small morsels of Pork which made for a really good texture with the tender beans.
Now, usually I wouldn’t dream of ordering sweet and sour Pork and frown on those who do, knowing that they actually WANT to experience the feeling of cheap Pork bits dipped in nuclear waste and sugar, rolling around in their half open trap. BUT Gourmet San is the exception and their sweet and sour Pork is the best I’ve ever had. Instead of balls, they slice the Pork thin so they resemble more of a small pig’s ear. The sauce is light and subtly sweet, but the best thing about it is the texture. Because it’s so thin, it becomes satisfying crisp and tender. Eat it while it’s hot though because it tends to get a bit chewy when it’s cold.
Out of everything though, my favourite is the braised Pig’s Feet. My first experience with trotters and I haven’t looked back. They came cut up into small-ish pieces quite indiscernible as to what they are. It’s quite a battle though, trying to grasp a big piece of saucy trotter in your chopsticks whilst tearing the meat off with your teeth. Trying to eat them in any kind of dignifying way is impossible so just forget that. When you do succeed in getting the moist, gelatinous, tender flesh off it’s a revelation of sweet-saltiness and incredibly addictive.
There’s also a Cold dishes section of the menu which, although doesn’t sound glamorous, is actually full of delicately flavoured and multi-textured dishes such as the Mixed Vermicelli - strands of vermicelli, dry tofu, firm jellyfish and preserved Pork in a garlicky sauce. Bliss.
I always get a few Cumin lamb skewers too, which are usually good but are no match for Silk Road’s spicy ones.
If you want good Szechuan food, this is the place. For me, Gourmet San is a safe haven - leave your troubles outside, guzzle a few Tsingtaos and dive face-first into a pile of trotters. There is still an anthology of dishes that I have yet to consume at Gourmet San, and quite frankly I cannot wait.
As our summer comes to end, we can only look back to the things we experienced, places we went and the food we ate. Kamal’s band Flamingods went on tour in the UK this summer playing great festivals such as Latitude and Green Man. With a bunch of free guest tickets they were given, we were off, friends around us for the whole summer, staying in surprisingly sunny British weather and basking in all the street food that was on offer at such establishments.
We had a LOT of street food over the summer, we all know it’s definitely something that’s blown up the past few years. Some great - Caribbean joint at Latitude HELLO! Some not so great - floppy bacon floury bap at Green Man, I’m talking to you.
A week before we left to go back to Dubai, we took the opportunity to finally head down to Street Feast, in Dalston Yard. We’ve heard a lot about this place from friends such as Melissa, who often runs Mei Mei’s Street Cart here. A sort of open space haven for street vendors and food enthusiasts. You can find anything from rum flavoured popsicles to smoked jerk and Korean tacos.
Here are a few photos from our day, the highlight being the low and slow mesquite smoked beef rib w.squid ink kimchee and pickles from BBQ Whisky Beer - just beautiful.
We’ve been trying to come up with a new wings recipe for a while now - in particular, one that’s not brown (so it looks different to photograph), and doesn’t include soy sauce.
It came to me a few weeks ago, around the same time I was entrenched in a world of bibimbap - a Korean wings sauce! That bibimbap sauce which is truly the nectar of the gods - couldn’t we use those ingredients and adapt it a little for wings?? Imagine it… well, I did imagine it, and I drooled, and I became certain that this would be to die for.
So very simply, the sauce is based again on gochujang red pepper paste, mixed with sesame oil, sugar, water, garlic and Korean cooking vinegar. It’s slowly heated while the wings are deep frying (having been coated in flour), so it goes from runny to syrupy, the sugar gets things sticky, the garlic mellows out, and everything basically turns to GOLD.
Toss the crispy fried wings in plenty of the sauce, and sprinkle sesame seeds all over. That sesame oil which I am so obsessed with is what makes this recipe so damn delicious - it’s so nutty, rich, smooth and deep. The red pepper paste by itself is pretty hot and harsh, but with the sesame oil, and the addition of sugar, it calms down into the perfect crispy meat coating.
I don’t know why we didn’t think of this before, but I sure damn am glad it’s a part of my life now. Long Live Gochujang.
Ceviche - a Peruvian restaurant in Soho - has been totally hot on my radar lately somehow - I guess it’s all over the internet, magazines and newspapers now that they’ve released a cookbook. Which incidentally I am desperate to buy - even more so now we’ve eaten there.
As well as that, Peru is a country that Kamal and I really want to visit… Machu Picchu, Nazca Lines, and ceviche - what more could you want from a holiday?! Well, that’s not happening anytime soon, so here’s the next best thing.
I’m really big on the colour turquoise, so with it’s jewel-toned aqua colour scheme, Ceviche had a place in my heart from the moment I laid eyes on it. Inside, it feels cosy with old wooden furniture, brightly coloured posters, plants, tiles and a whole lotta character. I love a restaurant that puts real effort into transforming their space in the middle of a city into another world - and this has got a great atmosphere.
We started with Yucas and Huancaina Sauce - aka fried cassava with a spicy sauce made with queso fresco. I had dreamy flashbacks of sweet potato fries and fried plantains drunk at festivals and thought this would be on the same lines. Sadly not. These were pointless, dry logs of nothing. Don’t bother - and with the quality of the rest of the food, you would think that they would know better. I did enjoy the sauce though.
Well, onto the good stuff - Don Ceviche (seabass) in tiger’s milk with red onion and a couple of sweet potato crisps - this was an absolute dream. Sour, fresh, tangy, acidic, and fantastic, all the elements were there to make us weep.
Similarly, Alianza Lima - seabass, squid, and mussels - was just amazing. The super-soft squid was my favourite element of the whole meal. Cast all memories of chewy, rubbery squid aside - this is how God intended it.
Tiger’s milk - the marinade used in these dishes - sounds truly mental, but it was the stuff of gods. Made with fresh ginger, garlic, lime juice, chilli, and coriander, this is potent stuff. If you could buy it by the bottle i think a dangerous addiction would ensue. But the very nature of its beauty makes this impossible - apparently once made, it only keeps for four hours. Such fleeting freshness is but impossible to grasp.
After much arguing from me about their pointlessness, Kamal ordered Peruvian marinated olives (in reality I just wasn’t in the mood for olives, and apparently if I don’t want something, no one else can have it either). I couldn’t deny that these were some juicy little babies, and were definitely in the best olive marinade I’ve had in a long time (Tesco’s, you’re outta here).
From the hot dishes, we went for the Corazon Mio - supposedly “tender” beef heart skewers. These went cold in a split second (despite being warned by the waiter this would happen, I was still shocked by just how quickly they cooled down), and didn’t have the same punch in the mouth fresh tang of the ceviche. In fact it tasted pretty much burnt, and not in that smokey charred way I love. Just not in a very pleasant way.
We also went for the Hot Ceviche - seabass and clams in spring onion, coriander, lime and chilli, grilled on a corn husk. I can’t deny that this is some beautiful presentaion, and it tasted better than the skewers, but again, lacked the vibrancy of the raw dishes. So next time we’d stick to the classic cold ceviche. And maybe get a few cocktails. Eh eh eh.
This of course, is an imaginary next time, as we are now back in Dubai for the foreseeable future.
So long Ceviche! See you in another lifetime.
We recently came across this place in Deira, which promised an “Asian Food Bonanza”. Naturally, we were intrigued. We love a food bonanza, Asian or otherwise.
On the counter was this big fat pile of big fat, juicy, crispy vegetable pakoras, and at just 1 dirham for 2 (less than 20p), we couldn’t walk away empty handed. They turned out to be the best pakoras we’ve ever had!! My memories of the flaccid reheated M&S varieties in those party packs just got blown to pieces. This is the good stuff - the stuff you find for pennies in a badly-named restaurant on a nondescript road in Deira. I think we got through four each. It was a good day.
We had reached that point. It was the tail-end of a long day bra shopping in central London - we all know what a nightmare that is, right girls? Eh eh eh! I was dehydrated, irritable, sweaty. Our legs ached, our bellies rumbled.
Out of nowhere, The Kati Roll Company flashed into my eyeline. Hmmmm. Spicy meat wrapped in a warm Indian flatbread? I could go for that.
The menu of rolls offers up a variety of meat, vegetable, paneer, and egg options to fill up your paratha bread wrap with. We went for a chicken tikka and a beef tikka, in which both meats are marinated overnight in yogurt and spices.
There’s also red onion for a little tangy crunch, and a healthy smear of herby chutney. There’s nothing like juicy, spicy meat, laced with coriander, to calm me down. The slightly doughy texture and smokey flavour of the paratha was a tasy and welcome twist on the standard wrap.
The rolls reminded us in their concept of shawarmas. Because of the large Indian population in Dubai, you often get shawarmas where the meat is marinated in Indian spices, so it’s really similar. Here it was cubes of grilled meat rather than shavings, but the wrap, sauce, meat combo is such a familiar concept. I guess a lot of cultures have their own versions of this ingenious invention!
Inside, it’s a charming little place, the walls decorated with sassy vintage Bollywood posters, which I am always a fan of. You come across this kind of stuff more in Dubai than England. In Dubai there’s countless new franchises and business embracing the old traditions in a modern setting - it doesn’t always work, but the good vibes at The Kati Roll Company make it a success. This business started in New York, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a Dubai franchise popped up soon enough. We’d be down there for sure.
Crisis averted. Stomach filled. Bad mood sated. You’re alright with me, Kati Roll Company.
24 Poland Street (between Great Marlborough St. and Oxford St.) W1F 8QL
This recipe took me the majority of a weekend to master. Before you go thinking I’m very sad - well, let me tell you, any time spent on bibimbap is time well spent. So all things considered, that was one hell of a productive weekend.
We recently ate bibimbap at Koreana, and afterwards I couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s just vegetables and rice - why is it so damn good?? How??? Well it turned out that each vegetable is individually flavoured and dressed - and there’s a whole lot of garlic and sesame oil involved. I couldn’t have been more desperate to make this Korean masterpiece if I tried.
After some lengthy internet research into bibimbap recipes, I pieced together the best of what I saw, added a couple of my own touches, and winged it.
Bibimbap is traditionally served in a steaming hot clay pot, which makes the rice at the bottom turn deliciously crispy. If you don’t have one available, you can just serve it all up in a big bowl or something - but the crispy rice is pretty integral, so see if you can get your mitts on something heatable. We got a clay pot from our favourite Korean supermarket a couple of months back - best purchase ever!!
Bibimbap always comes with an egg on top, and a little dish of gochujang red pepper paste on the side for stirring in - though the meat and the vegetables can vary widely. You can use pretty much anything, or any leftovers you might have.
I just got whatever I could find in my local shop - this time carrots, shiitake mushrooms, spinach, and cucumber, and kimchi.
I decided to forgo any meat - with the party of textures from the vegetables, and the kimchi flavour bomb, it just wasn’t necessary.
The mushrooms and thinly sliced carrots were quickly sauteed in sesame oil, and seasoned with a little salt and pepper.
I covered the sliced cucumber in salt for 15 minutes to drain out all the excess water, then dressed it in sesame oil, garlic, sliced spring onion, and sesame seeds.
With the spinach, this was just quickly blanched to wilt, squeezed out, then dressed in the same combination.
To get the rice to go crispy (something I sadly did not achieve on my first attempt, much to my heartbreak), you need to take some time to slowly heat the clay pot up over the hob. Keeping it on the hob, add some sesame oil to the bottom so it doesn’t burn and stick too much, and once this is hot, add in some cooked rice.
Fill the pot about two thirds, leaving room for all the vegetables. Each vegetable should be laid out carefully, taking up an neat fraction of the circle. Then cover with the lid, so it can get hot all through - and most importantly, crispy on the bottom. You should hear it sizzling.
In the meantime, prepare the gochujang sauce - made simply by combining a couple of heaped dessert spoons of the paste with some sugar, sesame oil, and water. The result is gorgeously warm and nutty, a little hint of sweet to counteract the heat. Such a satisfying flavour.
Ok then cook your egg - or if you like it eggy (who doesn’t), cook two. Really you want an egg per person, and our pot makes a serving for two. For the picture we could just fit one, but when combining it all for eating, we added a second. You just want to fry the egg quickly so the yolk is still runny and brilliant.
Taking the pot off the hob, add the egg on top, and once everyone has admired your lovely presentation, mix it all together somehow without spilling it all over the table. Eat a big steaming bowl - it will be extremely hot at this point. Drizzle over some extra sesame oil, why not.
And then just die. Because that’s it - that was the best moment of your life.
Our relationship with Mei Mei’s Street Cart is a long and illustrious one. It is one well documented throughout the ages (both HERE and HERE) - Melissa has always fed us well with her tasty jian bings, and to top it off, she’s the kind of gal you’d give up your last wing for.
So we were enormously proud when we heard that in collaboration with Kitchenette, she’d be hosting Wong’s - a summer pop-up restaurant in a disused car garage in Angel, with a menu and decor inspired by Wong Kar-Wai’s classic movie ‘In the Mood for Love. I haven’t seen the movie, but you can see a trailer HERE, and it looks like a stylish treat for the eyes. How many sexy, high-neck, perfectly tailored, printed silk dresses can a lady own?? Evidently never enough.
With hot and sticky 1960’s Hong Kong in mind, the car garage has been transformed into a twinkling and atmospheric space to share some amazing food with your favourite buddies. What you experience at Wong’s isn’t just a meal - it’s a lovely social affair, an evening-long metaphorical hug, in the form of dining and cocktails. For us it was, anyway.
You have the option of ordering the whole set menu (which varies slighty week to week) for £35, or single items - I’d recommend ordering both the meat and vegetarian set menus, then sharing everything between everyone.
I know as meat eaters, we often scoff and dismiss the veggie options as the shit cop-out version of the real meat dishes. But as Wong’s proves, in cuisines other than British, the vegetarian dishes are among the greatest. It’s kind of only here and in America that we all freak out at the thought of a meat-free meal, “No WAY am I going to get full from vegetables and LETTUCE.” Time to get over that fear.
Finally to the food. Each set menu serves up three starters, followed by a main, so trust me, £35 is value for money. You will be more than full by the end. First up was fried Turnip Cakes with crispy fried onions, the meat version containing shrimp and Chinese bacon. I had no idea what to expect from a turnip cake - and definitely wouldn’t recognise a turnip if it slapped me in the face - but this soft, sweet and smokey slab was a rather saliva-inducing start to the meal, and still one of my favourite courses by the end.
Alongside all courses we had bowl after bowl of chilli and garlic sauce, peanut and chilli sauce, and my old friend Kewpie mayonnaise. Perfect accompaniments.
Obviously I was excited about Popo’s crispy fried chicken with a little spicy black bean sauce on top, and it didn’t let us down. The wing’s meatier cousin is a welcome addition to any meal, and Wongs’ chunky little fella threw itself down my throat with reckless abandon.
Seabass fillets were pan-fried till crispy and silkily tender, flavoured perfectly with chilli, ginger, spring onion, while steamed cashew and vegetable cabbage parcels were similarly brilliant, what the dolma wishes it was.
I’ve never been the greatest tofu advocate, but after Wongs’ chilli fried tofu, I am a total drooling, sobbing, crawling-on-my-knees convert. Served with a cashew and Chinese cabbage salad, these gorgeously, velvety soft nuggets of tofu were enveloped in a spicy, crispy fried jacket, and made me swoon.
Big Pig Ribs were marinated in a black bean, chilli and garlic rub, the super-soft meat coming sliding off the bones in my eager teeth. It was a refreshing change to have ribs that weren’t slathered in a sickeningly sweet barbecue sauce, instead the subtly salty-savoury rub lending a moreish flavour, without rotting my teeth. They were bloody great!
But potentially the surprise winner of the night was the Szechuan braised aubergine, served with addictive sesame-speckled rice and a fried egg. My Lord. This gooey, warming, spicy and sweet, melt in your mouth concoction blew my mind. From here to Hong Kong. And I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - a fried egg improves everything.
Unfortunately Wong’s was just running weekends in July, but we’ve heard rumours they’ll be back sometime in the future! So keep a look out.
A few weeks ago we visited Bur Dubai to take some photos and investigate into an article we’re writing for a magazine - we were looking into Dubai’s clashing identities - old Bur Dubai seemed like the best place to start.
We walked down the alley ways, talked to the venders and shop keepers, collected fabrics and smelt the fresh whiff of shawarmas being grilled in masala marinades right in front of our eyes. It’s safe to say that this is our kind of place, we feel at home in these types of surroundings.
We later went for a beer at the Sherlock Holmes Pub, an English style pub within the chintzy Arabian Courtyard Hotel, that has a happy hour of 12 - 8 PM. Our friend Hala was performing poetry here, and amidst the almost time-warp like surroundings, we spotted Lassi King right outside the window. We had a few beers down us and were pretty hungry - this looked promising.
Lassi King’s setting is something I’ve been seeing a lot of in Dubai - a mix of traditional meets modern, that results in a surprisingly cozy atmosphere. It’s not that I have anything against modern surroundings taking on traditional motifs, but it’s just that it’s something that can easily go wrong. Luckily, this place isn’t particularly classy or pretentious, just a clean-cut, fun-hearted kind of place - as they describe it on the sign, “a desi fastfood hangout’. ‘Desi’ refers to people of Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi descent, so has much the same welcoming implications as the Filipino ‘Kabayan’.
We sat in the seating area outside on the pavement, right next to the road and immediately ordered two lassis - one salty and one sweet, it had to be done. It’s all in the name! Lassi King make lassis the old school way, a traditional style of using a pestle and large jug, grinding yoghurt and swirling it around until frothy and delicious. You choose your consistency, some like it thick and some like it runny, everyone wins.
We then ordered some chaat - something we’ve been exploring recently, and have completely fallen in love with. It’s unlike any Indian food we’ve tried before. It’s a street food favourite that mixes in a whole bunch of surprising elements, in all sorts of varieties - often including chickpeas, broken crispy fried bread, maybe some potato, loads of yogurt, coriander, chopped onions and tomatoes, and lots of tasty masala spices. That mixture of fresh flavours and textures is pretty damn addictive.
Theres a lot of chaat joints around areas which have a large Indian population - like Bur Dubai - and I’m guessing it gets quite competitive. Lassi King’s is an exceptional contender, and though I’m no professional when it comes to chaat, this was some good shit, my friend!
We also went for Pani Puri, another street food favourite that consists of deep-fried hollow nuggets of dough (puri), spicy water, tamarind chutney, and chickpeas.
While we were eating, a bystander in the table next to us noticed that we were doing it all wrong. I had earlier taken a photo for him and his wife and we therefore had a chum-like relationship going - he was not going to let me do it wrong. The technique as he taught me involved cracking the puri open, adding your condiment of choice and filling it in chick peas, leading to quickly putting the whole thing in your mouth in one big bite of flavour, before the water sogs it through.
This was a good day - one filled with true interaction and good, honest grub. Theres something endearing about walking around aimlessly and trying to find new places to eat, it’s a nice feeling that runs warm and deep. Drifting yourself away from the city glitz of Dubai is a must, especially if you want to come across such lovely independent ventures such as Lassi King.
Words // Kamal