Tuesday 25 July 2023

Kachori, Elephant and Castle

There's a lot to be said about the redevelopment/regeneration/whitewashing (delete as applicable) of Elephant and Castle, and I am singularly unqualified to say it. I'm not trying to avoid the issue (honest), but am very aware that having nothing invested in the old place and being hardly a frequent visitor, I just don't know whether the old 60s shopping centre was worth saving or whether the new public spaces, footpaths, cycleways and - yes - fancy bars and restaurants are a net benefit to the community. All I will say is that they wanted to knock the Barbican down, too, in the 80s - and just look at it now.

Anyway it's hardly Kachori's fault that they are where they are. Like a number of interesting, independent businesses here and in Vauxhall they're taking advantage of artificially low rates while the residential properties above and around are on the market, until such a time they're all sold and Kachori and the like can be kicked out to make way for a branch of Zizzi's or Wagamama. At least, I'm assuming that's the plan.

But although it's very easy to be cynical about the area as a whole, the experience at Kachori is so utterly charming you can easily put aside worries about gentrification and the eviction of traditional communities while you nibble on your mini poppadums and house chutneys. The people involved are ex-Gymkhana which comes across very clearly in the DNA of the menu, and the quality of the food and drink offering - this is all brilliant stuff, at prices that reflect the ambition of the kitchen without being unreasonable.

Guinea fowl tikka is the second superb guinea fowl dish I have been lucky enough to try this month, the other being a classic French version at the Beehive in Berkshire. Maybe it's just very easy to make this bird sing, or maybe - and more likely - they were just two very good restaurants. Beneath a deep, rich spice mix was a wonderfully soft and moreish boned leg, with just the right level of fat and a gentle charring from the tandoor. Great stuff.

"Bikaneri raj Kachori" was a single giant puri filled with tamarind and yoghurt and bung beans, and scattered with pomegranete seeds and pea shoots. Breaking it apart into bitesize chunks proved a rather difficult - and messy - task, but we were rewarded with a lovely fresh starter full of crunch and colour, well worth the effort.

Lamb chops - I am duty-bound to order lamb chops in any Indian restaurant - were also pretty much perfect, with another deliriously good spice mix and a nice crunchy char from the grill. They also, crucially, had a bit of a bite - I don't mind the super-soft cut-with-a-spoon texture that some places offer, I just think I want my lamb to fight back a bit. Makes the whole experience a lot more fun.

"Lahshuni Jheenga" was a dish of three shell-on king prawns, crisped up on the grill but with a nice firm texture, served with a refreshing avocado raita thing. And OK yes, £20 is a lot to pay for three prawns, but they were good, and good seafood is never cheap.

Naans, as you might hope for an expect somewhere like this, were tip-top too, all bubbly and bouncy with a delicate pastry-like texture. They were very useful for mopping up the leftover sauce from an excellent butter chicken dish, which used thigh meat instead of the more usual breast for a more interesting bite.

Service - with the usual caveats applying about service on invites - didn't put a foot wrong, and managed to be attentive as well as enthusiastic about the food and drinks they were offering. It also, impressively, didn't slow down as the room filled up - as by the end of our dinner every single table in the room was taken. Not bad, really, for a new restaurant in a reshuffled part of town. Oh and this is a chai masala creme brulee with summer fruits, and a lovely little thing it was too.

So whether you let the Elephant in the room (or in this case, the room in the Elephant) steer your judgement or not, in the end, objectively, Kachori is a very good restaurant, and if I'm here to do only one job it's to report that. An ambitious, regional Indian menu from ex-Gymkhana was always going to impress, but we should never lose sight of the fact that just because they make it look easy, doesn't mean it's necessarily a done deal. I enjoyed Kachori very much, and I can see myself going back. Maybe I'm part of the problem.


I was invited to Kachori and didn't see a bill. Expect to pay about £70/head with cocktails and wine.

Tuesday 18 July 2023

AngloThai at Outcrop, the Strand

Part of the vast, shiny new 180 Strand development, AngloThai at Outcrop is an entirely outside - albeit thankfully mainly covered - restaurant designed to make the most of the summer months. Unfortunately on Friday the weather was a bit more traditionally Anglo than Thai, bucketting down with rain and temperatures in the teens. Still, there is a certain cozy appeal to the space, attractively decorated with plenty of green and rows of growing herbs, even if I did get completely lost on the way and ended up having to enter rather dramatically through a fire exit (with the permission of the nice staff).

I was never going to dislike AngloThai. I've had a keen interest in John Chantarasak & Diz West's husband and wife operation for many years, and was very pleased when they announced they'd - finally - found a permanent home. But as we all know, the restaurant industry is completely broken, their deal fell through, and they found themselves hosting yet another popup in this new Soho House building, albeit a popup that will last a few months instead of the usual couple of days.

Alongside a couple of welcome cocktails - Tomato Top Negroni was lovely, a kind of half-negroni half-Bloody Mary, Crop Circle Cooler could have done with a bit less of the elderflower cordial in it as it was rather sweet, but still drinkable - we had Carlingford oysters dressed in a chilli and sea buckthorn mixture which was incredibly clever. Chilli and citrus always work well with seafood (at least, I can't think of any instance when they don't) so this was a great start.

A couple of bits of pieces of blogger-bonus extras appeared throughout the evening. This is flatbread with shrimp paste butter and Cornish shellfish, more on the Anglo side of things than the Thai you could argue but none the worse for that, with nice fluffy fresh bread and plenty of nice fresh seafood.

Things kicked into the next gear with the arrival of an utterly wonderful hot & sour turbot bone broth, the liquid containing both a generous amount of mussels and some hen of the woods mushrooms alongside good knows what else. The seafood and vegetables were very good, but really this was all about that broth, a perfect balance of chilli and sour notes and something I could have devoured pint after pint of.

Equally impressive in a totally different way were violet artichoke tempura with yellow soybean and sugarcane vinegar. The "tempura" was quite different from the Japanese style, almost like fried pastry, or string hopper. The flavour of the artichoke inside shone, and the clever gels and sauces dotted on the top presumably were the soybean and vinegar elements. It all combined to be soft, crunchy, sharp, soft, sweet, sour all at once and alongside the broth I would consider this dish a must-order.

Only slightly less successful in my opinion was the venison tartare, which seemed like it needed a lot more of the advertised scallop roe chilli jam and makrut lime to balance the rather bland protein. Or maybe it just wasn't for me; I'm a bit fussy about tartare.

It's unusual for me to order a large sharing dish for a main - it does, after all, mean I have one less dish to talk about - but we definitely didn't regret this giant half chicken with palm sugar glaze, cooked to a nice golden skin and beautifully moist inside, and going excellently with a rather addictive soybean and elderflower dipping sauce. On the side, a nice Thai salad of julienned veg with hazelnuts, and a very meaty bowl of spelt with cured beef heart and long pepper which nearly finished us off.

But the promise of dessert proved too great since we were enjoying ourselves so much, and both were briliant - a tea burnt cream and summer berries creme brulee thingy, and a marvellously smooth and refreshing fig leaf sorbet which came with a mandala-shaped coconut ash cracker in which they'd cleverly managed to get blobs of caramel inside the folds of the biscuit.

The bill came to just over £90pp, basically the new normal for central London dining, and certainly bang on what was reasonable for cooking of this style and imagination. Look, I was never going to dislike AngloThai and I didn't, but there's a certain extra heartwarming pleasure in seeing these guys back where they belong serving Thai food made with British ingredients and a well-chosen wine list (Diz) to a room of happy punters, and served by a front of house team whipped into shape by Clove Club boys Johnny Smith and Daniel Willis no less. I really hope they do find a permanent space sooner rather than later. But in the meantime, AngloThai at the Outcrop is here, and it's great, and if you have any even passing interest in what happens when the finish British ingredients are treated to intelligent Thai techniques, look no further.


Monday 10 July 2023

Chungdam, Soho

I generally try and avoid focusing too much on service on invited meals. If the front of house know you're in to review they usually try and be that extra bit more attentive, and occasionally too much so, and either way it's rarely an accurate reflection of the average punter's experience.

However, rules are made to be broken, and I feel duty bound to mention the service at Chungdam because it's amongst the most pleasant, knowledgable and mesmerisingly efficient I've come across in a long while. The experience of eating there is like having your own personal chef and confidant, who patiently explains how everything works, offers advice on what goes best with what, and occasionally personally handles the cooking of certain items with a grace and skill that's so utterly transfixing it's like watching close up magic done with beef instead of playing cards.

Now, great service is rarely, if ever, enough of a reason to visit a restaurant by itself, but fortunately Chungdam is serving rather nice food and drink as well, to boot. Our welcome drink was a soju cocktail served in a very pretty frozen coupe glass, wide and shallow, that felt very special even if it did require both hands to safely pick it up. Or maybe that's just clumsy old me.

As you might hope and expect, house pickles were the first foodstuffs to arrive. Sesame beansprouts, house kimchi and pickled radish all had things to recommend them, but we particularly liked the radish which had that irresistable funk of daikon matched with a gentle sweetness.

Japchae arrived alongside the pickles, a dish of glass noodles with beef and wood-ear mushrooms, amongst various other stir-fried veg. Perfectly decent, although looking back at the end of the meal, almost painfully overstuffed with various different cuts of beef and noodles, I think this is one dish we probably could have done without. Would make a nice lunch by itself though.

The real excitement began with the arrival of the first beef dish, raw tartare with slices of pear. The sesame oil made a good dressing but what lifted this dish was the addition of at least an entire bulb (I may be exaggerating... but not by much) of raw garlic, which made the thing burn in the mouth like you wouldn't believe. I'm a huge fan of too-much-garlic at the best of times, but this was unreal. I can only apologise to anyone who shared my carriage on the southbound Northern Line later in the evening.

Alongside that arrived seafood pancake - very good, particularly the citrussy dipping sauce it came with - but eyeing up the five more courses to come on the menu and given how generous the portions had been so far we just tried a square or two each. Bear in mind though, this was a press menu, so you should be able to construct yourself something a bit more reasonable on your own visit.

I was very excited at the prospect of the grade 1++ Korean beef listed on the menu, and it was certainly very nicely marbled and had a good flavour, but in conversation with our waiter it turns out it's not actually Korean, or officially graded 1++ (think Japanese Wagyu grading but for Korean cows) but the closest approximation they could find from UK butchers. Which is absolutely fine and wouldn't have been a problem if they weren't listing 1++ steak on the menu, which I'm fairly sure is against some trading standards laws. So they might want to look at that and put it in inverted commas or something in the future. Anyway we greedily demolished strips of this ultra tender steak with chilli, sesame oil, salt and a number of other interesting dips and sauces, some of which I have no chance of remembering how to describe or spell.

Brisket and short ribs both came sliced ultra-thin, thus needing no more than a few seconds on the tabletop grill before they could be eagerly gobbled down. The brisket came with some nigiry-style pieces of lovely vinegary rice which made a great foil for the beef, but in almost all cases with the beef I preferred it either with the soy dressing or the sesame salt, both of which brought out the flavours in interesting and addictive ways.

A final savoury course of cold noodle soup with kimchi, which even through the fog of beef-addled defeat I could tell was a very intelligent and nicely constructed thing. I half thought about asking for some to take home with me but didn't trust myself not to spill it on the tube, so in the end ate as much as I could - which unfortunately wasn't much - and left the rest. I hope they'll forgive me.

Matcha roll cake was more easy to devour - different stomach for dessert and all that - and was excellent, made by their sister Japanese cafe Shibuya. I've heard good things about Shibuya actually, particularly their ice cream, so I'm determined to make a separate visit there one day.

Meanwhile, I shall continue to digest my meal at Chungdam and recommend wholeheartedly it to whoever asks. True, they've dropped a point or two for mislabelling the beef and for not having proper charcoal tabletop grills like they do at the more authentic New Malden joints, but the former can be easily fixed, and the latter is very likely to be a limitation of their Soho license, who knows. Either way, all that is made up for in spades by carefully presented food of vigour and imagination, and service that you'd cross oceans to enjoy. I imagine it's very, very difficult to have a bad time at Chungdam.


I was invited to Chungdam and didn't see a bill. I think if you had a normal amount of food and a drink or two you might expect to pay something like £60/head.