Friday, June 29, 2012

The Espresso Room - (London)

  The Espresso Room in London is a tiny hole-in-a-wall sort of café..  During my recent London trip I have already committed myself to ensuring that I pay a visit to here,  as I missed out last time due to my poor plannin!  I was finally granted my wish this time,  and the coffees did not disappoint either.

Literally just an Opening within a wall -
But it is popular.


The Custard Tart and Croissants -
They seem to stand out amongst the rest.
I will try them next time around when I am less full.



The familiar Square Miles and Has Bean Coffee offerings from UK -
They do a lot of guest beans here, 
and not just locally from the UK either.  It works on rotation.

Square Miles ‘Red Brick’ Blend -  Synesso Pulled
As mentioned before in the Notes Music & Coffee  review,  I drank the exact same coffee blend made at 3 different cafes during the same day,  and I have also had the privilege to try this at numerous other cafes at other times!    The espresso here tasted quite different from the other 2 cafes doing the same blend though ~  it was mainly Lemon Meringue Pie which was quite balanced.   I personally preferred the Espresso Room version here vs Notes Music & Coffee,  but then again,  they are all using different methods and machineries. Too hard to judge precisely?    ~  9/10

Yirgacheffe Single Origin – Cupping
I was lucky enough to have walked in at the crucial moment, when they were doing some coffee cupping and to train another barista.  Out came a ‘cupping’ shot on the courtesy of The Espresso Room…   That Jasmine tea like aroma was instantly unmistakable!  And it was a bit sweeter than I had expected for a Yirgacheffe.   It brings back good memories of a Yirg.

Black Cat Project – Honey Badger,  pulled on Synesso
The barista said this was roasted around 1 month ago and slightly beginning to drop off it’s form.  I did find it to be quite smoky and brood,  but it was still decently balanced.  Having quite a few normal shots from Black Cat Project,  I think this was actually approachable enough for a daily drink.  ~ 7/10



Price: British Pounds £6
Ease of Access – 3/5
Coffee:  ♕♕♕♕♕ -  ♕♕♕♕♕ 1/2

Opening Hours -
Mon to Fri - 7:30am to 17:00pm
Sat - 9:30am to 14:30pm
Sun – Closed

Address: 31-35 Great Ormond Street  London WC1N 3HZ
Ph: 07760 714883

Friday, June 22, 2012

Notes Music & Coffee - (London)

  Notes wasn’t originally on my to-do list,  but several local baristas recommended me to visit here as more than 1 person has told me,  they believe they carry the best Single Origin espresso (roasted by Square Smiles) currently in London.   So here I was,  except to find that the popular Single Origin espresso had run out and they are waiting for the roaster to replenish the stock.  I didn’t come away empty handed however,  as I found out something very interesting for myself during this trip.



Just a Street away from Covent Garden’s Monmouth Coffee (I).
The Borough Market branch of Monmouth Coffee (II) review is also found here.


The Music Selection playing in the Background is part of the enjoyment & reason to come to here to relax over some teas, cake and coffee -
Seems like communal tables are really thriving in anywhere else,  apart from Hong Kong.
Which is ironic,  considering Hong Kongers are so used to eating in Cha Chaan Tengs and sharing tables for a quick meal,  but most people still reject the idea of a communal table at a café! Smile 


Espresso of Square Miles Red Brick blend - 
Made on La Marzocco Strada MP
The Pressure Profiling is operated manually by hand here.   The espresso here was quite orange marmalade like with a peel astringency but slightly bitter.  What I found really interesting,  despite the café not serving their default espresso single origin,  was how I had visited 3 separate cafes during the same day, all using exactly the same coffee blend by Square Miles,  but all utilised different Espresso machines and Grinder set ups,  and all 3 of them tasted just so different.   I have also drank this blend in HK  cafes before,  and this seasonally adjusted blend tasted yet different again.  Surprised smile  ~  7.5/10


Cortado,  using also Red Brick Blend - 
Similar to a Piccolo Latte,  I usually only order a Cortado in Spain
but I asked the barista for his opinion on how this blend can work at it’s best when combined with milk.  This drink was his suggestion based on his preference!  This was indeed very balanced and the silky milk cancelled out the slight signs of bitterness above.  This wasn’t overly sophisticated but it was interesting enough and also very balanced,  without being too earthy or roasty or 1 dimensional for the beans terroir,  it is definitely right up there stuff!  Could drink this on a daily basis.   ~  8/10


Coffees Here were excellent -
The combination of the machines and barista, 
made it taste quite different from 2 other cafes using different machine set ups,  even when extracting from exactly the same coffee blend.   It is like opening the Pandora’s Box,  and you have got to eliminate the variables one by one to work out how it all works out in the end!  A great café and personally,  also an educational visit for myself!

Price: British Pounds £6,50
Ease of Access – 4/5 
Coffee:  ♕♕♕♕♕ -  ♕♕♕♕♕ 1/2

Opening Hours -
Mon - Tue: 08:00-22:00
Wed - Fri: 08:00-23:00
Sat: 09:00-23:00
Sun: 10:00-18:00

Address: 31 St Martin's Lane, Covent Garden, West End, London WC2N 4BE
Ph: 020 7240 7899

Monday, June 18, 2012

Il Bacaro Cucina e Bar (Melbourne, Australia) - ♕♕♕♕♕ 1/2

Il Bacaro in Melbourne is seriously one of the most under-rated Italian restaurants in town, if not the world, but very little credit is given to here.  One could probably say the same about Enoteca Sileno,  which is also often operating under the radar,  but over there it is good but not exactly trendsetting stuff.   The food recipes here at Il Bacaro in the mean time are even more upscale and selling itself to be half-way between being traditional Italian fare but also bucking the trend  by exploring with new methods of cooking Italian dishes and creating something extraordinary out of the well established stuff!   Take for example the 1st dish below of the Barramundi Carpaccio.   A raw fish Crudo or Carpaccio dish is already a typical starter in most coastal cities in Italy.  But here,  it is paired with Crab infused Mayonnaise,  Raw Octopus and sous vide compressed Apple along with some Micro-herbs to give it a refreshing taste as a starter.  And the Crab and Marrow risotto was even more exciting and cooked perfectly and so memorable!  In fact, not a single dish we had here could be faulted at all.    Why this restaurant doesn’t get rated much in the local Good Food Guide,  is truly baffling to us.  The same can be said about the recently demoted Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons,  which despite the occasional flaws in execution or weaknesses in certain recipes,  is definitely on par with the best of Italian cuisines in the world.  But over here,  it is truly deserving of being upgraded and worth another look..


An Unassuming Shop Front.
But no belying that this is probably one of the most sensible Italian restaurants in the world, perfectly juggled between sensibility, tradition as well as creating a movement to re-define modern Italian food.

A Local Olive Oil -
The bottle was pretty and this EVOO Olive Oil was more of the lighter fragrant type.
It was good rather than great,  but at least the restaurant went to lengths to source this and let the customers marvel at this perfume like bottle!

Sesame Bread -
As mentioned before about 2 million times.  Bread overseas is different from bread in Hong Kong.  HK people expect a myriad of bread offerings and they have to be soft in the centre,  never mind if they might not carry much bread or butter aroma.  It just needs to look rather than taste right!
Here,  it was decent but not exceptional to be fair.

A Sparkling Wine to start off with -
Didn’t really like that fluted glass for some reason. 
May be a little too triangular shaped for comfort?  Winking smile

Carpaccio di Barramundi con Polpo,  Granchio e Mela -  AUD $24
Thinly sliced raw barramundi with octopus,  is served with crab mayonnaise and compressed apple. This was a spectacular dish and really sweet and balanced.  The beautiful presentation with the slicing and on black slate is reinventing the Italian Carpaccio dish.  ~  10/10

Caciofi fritti con crema al Caprino, Funghi, Nocciola e Rosso d’Uovo – $22
Jerusalem artichoke with goats cheese custard, pickled mushrooms, hazelnut and egg yolk was another sublime dish,  with the cheese custard fluffily light and topped with a small yolk.  ~  8/10


Tortellini de Cervo e Cioccolato con puree di Moscato, Ricotta e Cervo affumicato -  AUD $37
Venison is stuffed into a chocolate paste tortellini, with Verjus, Moscatel puree,  Ricotta foam and pieces of Smoked Venison.  The smoked venison was the highlight of the dish,  and the chocolate based pasta skin was also a very smart idea,  since game meat works well with chocolate!!  The Moscato puree was refreshing with the ricotta foam.  The only downside to this dish was that the tortellini skin was a little too thick and hard.  ~  7/10



Risotto di Granchio e Zafferano con Osseo, Pomodoro e Ravanello – AUD $28
This risotto of saffron, crab meat and bone marrow with dried cherry tomato and radish crisps was truly sensational!  The saffron and seafood broth taste was really strong and the crab meat sweetness was also present.   Bone marrow is both infused into the risotto and also grilled and served whole with the slightly greener and sour elements.  The risotto was cooked to the perfect state.  Encore!   ~  10/10

The Food here has always been Great -
But it seems to have become even better!  It is not easy to break out from the established Italian mode of operating a restaurant and modernised Italian recipes are often met by the customers with resistance.  Most people think that Italian fare should be kept to being simple and the more down to earth is better,  but the same applies to French cuisine.  Some pioneers in the mean time will try to lead the way and show the future direction of a particular cuisine without over-doing and fixing what isn’t broken,  it is the next logical step.  I found this pioneer at il Bacaro and their endeavoring,  it is truly one of it’s kind.  It is also very surprising that Sarti just around the corner has a 1 hatted status,  and Café di Stasio at St Kilda has been consistently awarded 2 Hats,  when the food there is easily below this unhatted restaurant.   Just because here,  they don’t have a celebrity chef?




Price: AUD $60 – $80
Ease of Access – 3/5  (In the CBD and close to a Tram Station.  Easy enough for locals, but come with a GPS in hand!)
Food:  ♕♕♕♕♕ 1/2 - ♕♕♕♕♕♕

Opening Hours -
Mon – Sat:  12:00pm – 3pm,   6pm - 11pm
Sunday:   Closed

Address: 170 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, Australia.
Ph: 03 9654 6778

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Harwood Arms (London) - ♕♕♕♕♕

Michelin 1 Stars

 Our world constantly changes for the better!!   Sometimes there exists grey areas that need to be addressed again with a more opened mind.   Take for example The Harwood Arms,  which is a modern British Gastro Pub which shares common ownership structure with the highly praised Michelin 2 Starred The Ledbury (London).    At gastro pub level,  the dishes served here were expectedly more than affordable but it was the overall package which really amazed   I instantly fell in love with this pub,  and kudos to the Michelin Guide UK for giving here recognition as it is due.  Unfortunately,  the same cannot be said about the Australian Good Food Guides,  which are way too conservative to award Hatted Status to places which truly deserve them on an International level.  After all,  1-3 Hatted or Starred places are meant to be well spread,  and it will do good for the local businesses.


It’s a bit far away -
Took me a while to work out how to walk here from the Metro Station..



Normal A La Carte Menu -
There is also a Pub Food menu and daily Lunch Set Menu.
All are worth exploring as they carry diff items.


Blenheim Palace Mineral Water -
This is served at HK Michelin restaurants,  albeit at around 4-5 times the price. Confused smile

Nice Communal Gastro Pub Setting.
Totally my style of dining. 
Although I do enjoy Fine Dining once in a while,  this is just so MOIS !!


Cremant de Loire Rose,  Cuvee de la Chevalier -  Pounds 5.50
Don’t ask me,  I have a soft spot for this style of rose sparkling to start off my afternoons…  Brilliant! 

Bread and Butter -
The bread was superb,  it was addictive with that strong wheat flavour and crisp external texture.
Definitely very fresh bread.   It still baffles me as to why bread in Europe is just so much better in general.  They don’t need to come in all fanciful shapes,  as long as they taste right!  ~  9/10


Grilled Cod Cheeks with Fennel, Radish and Chanterelles -  Pounds 8.0
The fish cheeks were done 2 ways,  one fried and one grilled.  The mushroomy fish broth was excellent,  so was the fish texture and overall balance.  The chanterelles with fennel didn’t over power either.  Very great starter.  ~   9/10


Venison Scotch Eggs -  Pounds 3.50
Herbed judicially,  the venison meat was still moist and so was the slightly runny egg yolk inside. 
This was gorgeous stuff and not found on the normal menu. This is only found on the Pub Food menu,  thanks to other local regulars who know to order this by default.  ~  9/10



House Red 175ml – Pounds 4.0
For only 4 British Pounds,  and as mentioned before I am starting to become curious with House Wines as of late (something to do with diminishing returns vs. minimum standards that is constantly running in my business mind lately).    This was more than decent.  A well chosen cheapo wine which does it’s job for a lunch quaffer.

Rabbit Shoulders Cooked in Cider with Spelt Dumplings, 
St George Mushrooms and Mustard Butter – Pounds  7.50
I couldn’t believe how cheap this dish is,  it is really value for money for a Rabbit dish cooked 2 ways.  The whole Rabbit shoulders and rabbit legs were brilliantly cooked,  what more can you ask for?   ~  9/10


Cheek and Jowl of Middlewhite Pork with Grilled Celeriac, White Cabbage Puree,
Breakfast Radish & Crackling – Pounds 17.50
Another 2 way cooked dish with the famous UK Middlewhite strand of pork.  The version I ate here was heaps and bounds better than the lifeless version I ate at equally Michelin 1 Starred - St John (London) not that long ago at much more expensive.  At least the crackling was bubbly crispy here,  the pork had Middlewhite pork taste and also tender,  although the pork cheek was a little dense and can be improved.  Overall, a very memorable dish bar the cheek.   ~   7.5/10


The Food and  Drinks here, 
carried A Lot of Soul in their planning structure -
One can instantly recognize the effort put into every course and the individual wine selections,
and this coincides with the recent movement with real hearty food or dude’s food done with a real passion.  I found the same at Paris’s Les 110 de Taillevent,  which also served excellent food with perfect wine pairings.   It isn’t Fine Dining,  but this is precisely where it performs above it’s peers and it is just another place I could visit all day long and fine my groove as a regular.  It is a pity this is found in London,  currently not somewhere I can have access to on a daily basis!

Price: British Pounds £$6 – $8
Ease of Access – 3/5  (10 mins walk from Metro Fulham Broadway,  easier to know if you’re a Chelsea fan!)
Food:  ♕♕♕♕♕ -  ♕♕♕♕♕ 1/2

Opening Hours -  (Too complicated to post,  just read their website as it varies daily.)
Address: Walham Grove, Fulham, London SW6 1QP
Ph: 020 7386 1847

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Monmouth Coffee ( II ), London - ♕♕♕♕♕

   The last visit to Monmouth Coffee (Review 1) was quite educational but not overly exciting, but thinking back I had too high an expectation?    It is fairer to explore all types of coffees from the same shop and to monitor it over a longer period to come to better conclusions,  and it is more useful to have enough drinking experience elsewhere to form reference points to compare.   I think I am changing my stance as I found Monmouth Coffee much more enjoyable this time around.  It is not perfect but overall it is the type of soothing café that I would love to visit regularly as a customer,  rather than as a coffee snob too indulged in extracting the best floral aromas from coffee,  when you’re probably going to do much better by Aero Pressing you Tea Leaves instead!



The Monmouth Coffee at Borough Market, London -

Single Origins via Hand Drip Pour-over,
or their Monmouth House Espresso or the Organic blend.

It’s easy here.
If you want Espressos order either that or milk coffees,  but be warned milk coffees here are weakish.   If you want black Single Origin coffees order just that,  which has been roasted to suit that method. 

Some Lovely Home Made Sweets -

Panela Sugar -
Perfect partner to a coffee if you like it..
I often wonder what use it is to those of us who don’t add sugar to coffee.  May be I should 1 day!



The Drip Station -
The method used to make Pour Overs here will have many Baristas give you a funny look.
The dosage here is on the high side and so is the cup’s volume,  but it is poured pretty fast,  unlike those into delicate pours.

Finca El Mirador,  Colombia – Pour Over
This was enjoyable but in a 2 Dimensional way.  It seemed a little rushed in the pour,  but the taste was still somehow clean.   Slightly herbal with a balanced plum sweetness and a hint of animal fur,  with a nice fruitiness background.   Sometimes,  I drink a lot of black coffees which have very interesting characteristics but they are not always balanced or have sharp drop-offs or bitterness.   The one here was more the opposite.  It was soothing enough all the way.  If I had to pick one which showed both peaks and flaws,  and one which was so drinkable and balanced I would probably pick the latter.  But obviously any cup that has the best of all worlds is always the best.   ~  7.5/10

Finca Las Lajas,  Costa Rica – Pour Over
I have had this before and in some previous instances,  this could be super zingy sour.  But this cup was more simple with a raw blueberry and honey note,  which was equally soothing as the above but has more fruit sweetness overall.  Still quite enjoyable.  ~  7.5/10



Espresso Station -

Monmouth House Blend – Espresso,  La Marzocco Linear
Brazil Fazenda Santa Ines,  Colombia Café Vereda Matituy and Guatemala Finca La Perla forms this constantly updated blend.  Not surprisingly this tasted almost exactly the same as the ones I drank in Monmouth before (As covered in previous review).   The tasting note says this is medium-thick body but to me this is quite thin in body and crema.  It still has that Apricoty Orange note and is again a very soothing drink but also balanced.   I think Monmouth Coffee’s style can be quite enjoyable in it’s own way,  although many other London Cafes and Baristas try to distant themselves from this style  ~   8/10



Monmouth Coffee is different in it’s Cupping Qualities -
It is approachable,  but in a very refined and elegant way.
From a coffee enthuasist’s point of view,  it might not stand out and wow you in the face.
Yet sometimes when you just want to sit back and relax,  this is exactly what I need to have!

Price: British Pounds £$6 – $8
Coffee:  ♕♕♕♕ 1/2 to ♕♕♕♕♕ 1/2
Opening Hours -
Mon to Sat  7.30am to 6pm

Address: 2 Park Street, The Borough, London SE1 9AB
Ph: 44(0)20 7232 3010


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