Monthly archive

October 2015

Kricket, Brixton

in Restaurants by

For the last couple of years I’ve fantasised about living in a shipping container converted into an apartment. They look cool, one would be about the size of a small studio flat, and you’d have thought that they’d be quite cheap. Maybe these are the solution to the housing crisis?

So far the closest I’ve come is going to retail ‘popups’ like Boxpark Shoreditch and Pop Brixton, the latter of which is really rather nice, feeling like a set from a post-collapse science fiction TV show. The ‘street food’ there is also quite impressive – Miss P’s Barbecue making a decent stab at beef brisket and pulled pork, and Koi Ramen doing a remarkably good tonkotsu broth (so good, in fact, that I ordered a bowl after already eating a whole pizza, just to enjoy the flavour).

Kricket is one of the more upmarket places here, having its own container with tables and seats to eat indoors. It’s small and cute and surprisingly spaceous indoors, though still only looked as if it could seat sixteen, though they did have space outside as well. I guess they plans to move if and when it hits it big, because even though we had no trouble getting a table at Saturday lunchtime I can’t imagine that’s the case in the evenings.

Kricket do little plates of food meant for sharing (four or five between two people, they told me), so between four of us we ordered one of everything on the menu. 

Bhel Puri was a bowl of puffed rice with spices, yoghurt and mango sauce, and even though it reminded me a little bit too much of a bowl of savoury Rice Krispies its vaguely ‘Indian’ aroma and the pleasantly crunchy rice were a nice opener to the meal.

Bhel puri

Samphire pakoras (samphire being a sort of weed with fleshy stalks that grows by the sea) were impressively light and crispy – it was more like tempura than most pakoras I’ve had – and came with a sweet chutney on top and very mild creamy sauce on the side. The sauce was, perhaps, a little too mildly flavoured.

Samphire pakoras/tempura

Smoked aubergine was surprisingly flavoursome though its cold chutneyish presentation was not at all what I’d expected. Like many of the dishes here it came with a yoghurt on the side which balanced with the spiced smoky sweetness off the aubergine nicely.

Goat shoulder raan

One of the two best dishes of the lot was the goat. Now, I love goat. It’s flavoursome, rich, exotic and has a lovely tough stringy texture that I gather I’m not supposed to enjoy in meat but I do. And I loved this goat – it was cooked beautifully, with a slightly crispy edge and most of the fat rendered off. It was presented more or less on its own, a brave but correct call because it tasted good enough solo. I was annoyed that I had to share it and perhaps I will order two bowls of it next time.

Fried chicken with curry leaf mayonnaise
Fried chicken with curry leaf mayonnaise

Both the fried chicken and wood pigeon were forgettable – the fried chicken was competently done in a light batter, but the curry leaf mayonnaise it came with didn’t taste of anything. The wood pigeon was just dull, although the girolle mushrooms it came on top of were cute.

A big bowl of crab meat
A big bowl of crab meat

‘Bombay butter garlic crab’ is a slightly grandiose name for what was really just a big bowl of sweet crab meat with some poppadums on the side. I suppose, looking back, the butter helped make it richer and creamier than crab meat would otherwise be, and indeed it was quite delicious. I believe this was Ben’s favourite dish of the meal, and certainly if you like crab you’d like this. If not, I guess you wouldn’t order it in the first place.

Kedgeree
Kedgeree

The posh kedgeree (or ‘kichri’) had a warm heat and subtle curry flavour mixing nicely with some quite nutty-tasting rice. It was flecked with smoked haddock and, brilliantly, little bits of pickled cauliflower, and the raw egg yolk on top (which we stirred into it) gave it a lush creaminess. Funnily enough, the bites I had with some of the parsley on top were the best, and there should probably be a bit more parsley so those bites are the rule, not the exception.

Gulab jamum

It feels strange to write about the dessert because I almost never bother with desserts (why would you, when a bag of Haribo is usually a fifth of the price?), and Indian food is, I think, not exactly renowned for its desserts. Well, let me tell you, the gulab jamums deserve to change that reputation.

These were little balls of cake soaked in syrup (yes, I know that sounds disgusting) served with ice cream and ground up carom seeds. The carom seeds made the dish – they taste a little bit like cardamom, and a little bit like thyme, and offset the sweetness of the cake perfectly. This was so good that we ordered a second plate so that each of the four of us could have the equivalent to one ball each. One ball is probably all you need, though.

£83.60 for lunch for four is hardly cheap (although that does include two beers and a cocktail – I was a bit hungover), and I did not leave the meal feeling particularly stuffed. But that’s not really the point of Kricket – as Ben said, we were having the equivalent of a good tasting menu for a third of the price.

And the food here certainly is worth tasting, much more so than Dishoom, which is similar in concept if not execution. My main complaint is that they sometimes erred a little too much on the side of ‘subtlety’: while never bland, some of the dishes could have used a little extra oomph.

But that’s a minor quibble – there’s no shortage of brutally overflavoured ‘street food’ out there, and it’s impressive when gently-seasoned dishes like the samphire, crab and goat end up so well. So, at least until I manage to find a shipping container to move into, Pop Brixton and Kricket itself will keep me coming back.

Score: 〶 – one medal. (For explanation of our scoring system, see here.)

Bao, Soho

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After hearing Ben and Philip fantasise for months about going, I was pretty pleased with myself for making it to Bao before them. A Taiwanese steamed bun restaurant that started life as a stand at the street food collective Kerb, Bao has quickly built a reputation as one of London’s most popular restaurants, with a long queue even from its opening night.

We did have to queue, but got there early enough (by about 6:20pm) that it only lasted fifteen or twenty minutes. And, once you’re inside, Bao is very cute: densely packed into a space only slightly bigger than my bedroom, it’s all clean, neat lines of walnut tables and chairs, humming with the sound of people eating. It doesn’t seem like it’d be very accommodating for groups of more than three or four, but for two it was quite lovely.

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We’d looked over the menu while we queued, and after ordering food came as it was ready, which spaced out the meal nicely.

A very small glass of peanut milk
A very small glass of peanut milk

After the little glass of ‘peanut milk’ (which just tasted just like a thin peanut-butter milkshake), first up were pigs’ trotter nuggets. These were grated portions of dark meat and fat in a crunchy breadcrumbed shell, and had a rich, deep flavour that went well with the smoky green chilli sauce they were served with. They were quite small and there were only four of them, but their deep porky flavour made them worth the asking price (£4).

Trotter nuggets
Trotter nuggets

Taiwanese-style fried chicken was my favourite part of the meal – they were big and chunky and their breadcrumb coating was crispy but light. I’ve had so many variations on fried chicken recently (Korean-style, Southern-style, Chicken Cottage-style) that I didn’t expect to find these very interesting but the lightness of the outside, despite being thick and crunchy, was quite remarkable. These came with a drizzle of a sauce that was sort of halfway between sriracha and sweet ketchup.

Taiwanese fried chicken
Taiwanese fried chicken

But my first bao was unimpressive. The classic’s bun was soft and fluffy and the ground peanut gave it a nice, sweet smell, but the stewed pork inside wasn’t particularly flavourful at all. It came with shredded coriander which I couldn’t really taste and the stewed texture of the pork (like a very soggy pulled pork) together with the bun just ended up tasting like a meaty mush. I liked the first bite of it, but the whole thing needed something else – a slice of one of the pickled roots that came as part of the house pickles might have given it a nice sharpness and offset the other flavours and textures a bit.

Classic bao (with house pickles)
Classic bao (with house pickles)

I’m sorry to say that the other bao weren’t much better either. The confit pork one, with the same sweet and spicy sauce that came with the fried chicken, was overwhelmed by the dried shallots that came with it. The lamb shoulder bao, done with garlic mayo and coriander sauce in the style of a very posh doner kebab, was the most interesting of the lot – though still not especially tasty. The fried chicken bao was fine: the same as the fried chicken we’d had earlier with some kimchi and a bun (but with considerably less chicken!).

Bao details
Bao details
Crumbed daikon bao

The best bao was the crumbed daikon one – a deep-fried mash of winter radish with a slice of the pickled root that I’d craved earlier and, I was happy to see, really did elevate the other flavours.

Overall, then, Bao didn’t impress me very much. Three bao each filled us both up (even though all the portions seemed very small for the price), and at £52 for two including beers and service the bill wasn’t too painful, but I didn’t see what about Bao seems to have won so many other people over. Is it just hype? Maybe – and to spare other people a long queue in the winter cold, this may be one ‘sacred Bao’ that needs slaying.

Score: No medals. (For explanation of our scoring system, see here.)

Chick ‘n Sours, Dalston

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For most of my life I didn’t believe people who said that they preferred brown chicken meat to the white stuff. To me, the thighs and legs were greasy, fatty offcuts that you ate with a roast chicken to remind yourself that, like all good things, the breast and skin came with a price tag. Anyone who volunteered to eat the brown meat was a pathological altruist and not to be trusted.

That’s usually been my experience in restaurants, too, which in London somehow seem to struggle with deep-frying a chicken wing enough to make it edible, let alone a thigh or leg. So I was nervy about the menu of Chick ‘n Sours, which demoted breast to ‘boneless white meat’ below the leg and thigh ‘House Fry’, but I went for the brown stuff all the same.

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We started with the St Agur blue cheese salad, which came dotted with little bits of what I think was guacamole and sprinkled with bits of bacon and fried chicken skin, and the Szechuan aubergine, which was cubes of deep-fried aubergine with a spicy, sweet sauce (this was their take on fish-fragrant aubergine).

Gem lettuce, St Agur, bacon, pickled apple, chicken skin (and unadvertised guacamole)

The salad was just a little bit too understated for my liking – even good, fresh lettuce is usually quite flavourless and I was hoping for a stronger blue cheese flavour. The aubergine was crispy and the sauce so good that we drank it straight from the bowl (just as at Som Saa).

Szechuan (aka fish-fragrant) aubergine

And then came the House Fry chicken – two large, rich brown pieces with a side of pickled watermelon, along with a blue cheese dip and a sriracha and sour cream dip we’d ordered separately. It was astonishingly textured and crunchy. As we tore it apart I was shocked and pleased to discover that this brown meat was not greasy, slimy or fatty – it was more like a confit duck leg than any chicken leg I’d ever had before.

House Fry with pickled watermelon

We followed this with the Guest Fry, which was the same thing with a peanut satay sauce, coriander and thai basil. This was a little redundant – I love these flavours but the chicken coating mostly overpowered them, and eventually I just ended up dipping them into the lovely blue cheese sauce as if it was the normal thing.

Guest Fry chicken with satay sauce, coriander and Thai basil

Sides were good: the pickled watermelon rind tasted sweet and vinegary, just like my mother’s homemade pickled cucumbers but with more bite. The kimchi coleslaw was much better than any coleslaw I’d ever had before, although that might sound like damning it with faint praise. Both of these were acidic enough to cut through the richness of the chicken skin and sauces and paired very well with them.

Pickled watermelon rind, kimchi coleslaw and beef dripping chips

The beef dripping chips were the first beef dripping chips I’ve tried that actually tasted like beef dripping, and indeed the bottom of the bowl ended up with quite a deep pool of dripping that, while slightly gross, tasted very nice.

All this was so good that my companion at one stage wondered if she could go and make herself throw up so she could continue eating. I’m happy to say she didn’t do that but I understand why she considered it.

Sours cocktails

Sours-style cocktails were a bit underwhelming, although at £6 each I didn’t feel as ripped off as I usually do with boring cocktails. My daquiri-style one was just bland, and the strawberry-flavoured house cocktail was too sweet and fruity for my tastes, although my companion enjoyed hers.

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Chick ‘n Sours lived up to the impressive hype it has built, and if it wasn’t all the way up in Dalston I’d go back regularly. To cook brown chicken meat so well that even a white-meat supremacist like me loved it is an impressive feat, and the accompanying sides were interesting and delicious in their own right. Like many pop-up style places Chick ‘n Sours felt like it was being prepared for expansion into a chain. Unlike most of them, I hope it will be.

Score: Two medals. (For an explanation of our scoring system, see here.)

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