Misato’s chicken katsu curry is better than Wagamama’s

 

The long queue outside Japanese eatery, Misato, suggested that the food must be good, yet, looking inside, my confidence waned. Diners were crammed tightly together on basic wooden tables and chairs, and the plain beige walls lining the small space desperately needed some cheering up. It seemed to lack ambience, especially for a Chinatown restaurant. Still, every table was full and diners were chowing down on bountiful portions of sushi, noodle and curry dishes. I decided I had to leave my preconceptions at the door.

Following a twenty-minute wait in the queue, we were seated and quick to order. As the chicken katsu curry promptly arrived at our table, I was alarmed at the presentation. The rice was piled up messily and there was a huge breadcrumbed chicken portion resting on top with a generous drizzle of thick curry sauce. A mixed salad sat beside it all. The meal looked like it had been hastily thrown together by someone eager to clock off from their kitchen duty, but as I looked around, I noticed fellow diners’ dinners appeared in the same fashion.

As I got stuck in, I was pleasantly surprised. The fried chicken was crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, and the curry sauce was flavourful. The salad was dressed well and complemented the flavours with every mouthful.

Misato gives Wagamama’s much-loved chicken katsu curry a run for its money – plus you get almost double the portion for less money (£6). Now the rice did not arrive in a perfectly-formed mound as you would get at Wagamama, but the salad portion was sprawling, and the overall taste of the meal was as good as, if not better than that you get at the restaurant chain.

At Misato, it seems the food is cheap and tasty and the portions are big. Our meal for two came to just £18 (payment is cash-only), with drinks and service included – something that’s often unheard of in London. The queue outside Misato is worth the wait and, as that old saying goes, looks can be deceiving. 

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El Parador is the veggie-friendly tapas joint you’ve been searching for

When a friend suggested we dine at an “insanely good” (his words) family-run tapas restaurant in Mornington Crescent, I didn’t need much more convincing. Giving it a hasty Google a couple of hours before visiting, I was excited to see that El Parador was winning in the reviews too – always rated at four out of five stars, or higher. Needless to say, I arrived with high expectations.

Open since 1988, the restaurant is cosy, split over two floors, with basic décor, and located just a few steps away from Mornington Crescent station. There’s an outdoor terrace, but on the evening we visited in the middle of August (hello, summer?), it was pouring with rain (*rolls eyes*), so it was out of action, but this didn’t dampen my spirits.

EL PARADOR MORNINGTON CRESCENT TAPAS

The restaurant only accepts bookings for groups and there were some reservations so we were seated downstairs. Down a narrow staircase, we found a dimly-lit dining room with no actual windows – it felt a bit like a casino as we were oblivious as to when the daylight gave way to darkness, but it’s nice if you want a bit of privacy.

Peering at the menu, I was amazed at how many vegetarian options there were – as many or more than the options for meat eaters or pescatarians, which you don’t get often in tapas joints. Even better, for such a small restaurant, the menu was full of variety.

We started with the house red, which was very good, and came highly recommended by the friendly waiter. We indulged in deliciously garlicky aioli with crusty bread, followed by patatas harra, flavour-packed roasted butternut squash with oregano, garlic and feta (yum), and spinach and cream cheese puff pastry parcels (really good). Whatever you go for, be sure to try the show-stopping pan-friend artichoke hearts. I’m still thinking about how to recreate that at home. For afters, we devoured a slice of creamy cheesecake.

Dining in the downstairs capsule, we lost track of time and managed to while away three hours without noticing.  Despite being tucked away from the main action, we weren’t forgotten about, with attentive and friendly service throughout. The bill came to £66 for two, including service, a worthy price to pay for such a delicious vegetarian meal in central London.

El Parador seems like a bit of a local secret, and yes, it’s definitely worth the hype – just don’t go telling your friends.

Party to the sound of live music at Piano Works

piano works farringdon london

Pop your dancing shoes on and have some song requests ready for Piano Works, the warehouse bar with an exceptional live band in Farringdon.

It’s not often you walk into a bar and everyone is dancing and singing at the top of their voices, but that is what you find on a Friday at 9pm at Piano Works.

Yes, it gets loud and a little cramped (despite the 400-person capacity), but the atmosphere is great. Plus, the musicians only play the songs requested by the audience, so the playlist is in your hands.

Two pianists are accompanied by a saxophonist, drummer and guitarist on the night we visit, and they play everything from 80s classics to R&B. They don’t shy away from the trickier requests – despite not being familiar to the song, they managed to give a rendition of Trap Queen by Fetty Wap because it was requested by a guest.

This is more than just a piano bar, and it’s buzzing. If you’re after a quiet bar with a pianist tinkling in the corner – probably a better option for a first date – you’re better off going to Piano Kensington.

The drinks at Piano Works are on the pricier side and there are long queues at the bar as the night goes on, but if it’s a feel-good night of music you’re after, this is the place for you.

As soon as you get there, look for a napkin [they double as song request forms], jot down the song you want to hear and perhaps a little message, and pass it on to the band – the earlier you get in your request, the more chance you have of hearing it played. When it comes on, be sure to sing like nobody’s listening…

On cloud nine with candy floss and ice cream in Covent Garden

Candy floss ice cream London Covent Garden

After the hype of ice cream cookie sandwiches (Blu Top, Chin Chin Labs) and ice cream macaroons (Yolkinmacice), now Londoners can get soft serve ice cream – basically posh Mr Whippy – served in a candy floss cloud, thanks to new dessert cafe Milk Train.

Located just behind Covent Garden, Milk Train offers three flavours of the ‘premium’ soft serve (£3.50-£3.95) – vanilla, chocolate or matcha – and charges £1 extra for the candy floss cloud. There are lots of toppings and sauces also available at extra cost, (50p) or choose from the menu for a pre-selected combination.

It might all get a little bit messy, but it sure is a lot of fun. In one bite I was transported back to the days of cheerily scoffing candy floss at the funfair as a child. The soft serve was really tasty too, however it does melt very quickly so don’t spend too much time taking pictures for your Instagram feed.

The lovely thing about this place is that everybody leaves clutching their ice cream with an even bigger grin than usual!

Find the Milk Train on Bedford Street, WC2E 9HA.

Warning: queues possible and sugar overload very likely.

A chocolate lover’s paradise: Said in Soho

said soho hot chocolate best in london

Word on the street is that Said serves up one of the best hot chocolates in London. It’s true. A cup of heavenly thick, rich molten chocolate, it is best devoured with a spoon. The taste of pure, melted, quality chocolate comes through with every mouthful – and between them it’s so satisfying to dip and swirl a spoon in the gooey liquid before you.

Said Dal 1923, as it’s officially known, is the London branch of a well-established chocolate shop in Rome, so it uses real handmade chocolate in its drinks – there’s not a trace of that powdered or watered down stuff here. And while the hot chocolate deserves to be shouted about, there’s another hidden gem here that shouldn’t be missed.

Chocolate bubbles behind the counter of this cosy little boutique shop-cum-café on Broadwick Street in Soho, and slabs of chocolate line the window and shelves. When we arrive at 8.45pm on a Monday evening, every seat is taken. To reiterate, it’s Monday evening, and it’s a full house.

said soho chocolate london

It’s clear to see that Said’s hot chocolate is popular – looking around at least 60% of customers have an empty cup in front of them, but there are also quite a few people forking cake into their mouths, sipping on coffee and munching on chocolate.

We’re soon seated next to a roaring fire in the centre of the café, it’s the epitome of cosy. Browsing through the four-page menu, it is full of sweet and savoury delights. As well as chocolate-coated strawberries, homemade cakes, profiteroles, tiramisu, ice cream, cheesecake, chocolate pizza (yes, it’s a thing, coated with Said’s own version of the popular Nutella spread, jars of which are available to buy), there are teas, coffees, and savoury items available.

There’s so much to tempt us that we can’t quite make up our minds. I quickly decide that this will become my new dessert spot so I can work my way through the entire menu.

After much umming and ahing, we opt for one milk hot chocolate (£2.50) and one dark hot chocolate (£2.50). It quickly arrives, and as we’re trying to scoop up every last drop, a plate of profiteroles arrives at the table beside us. There are three large profiteroles, each respectively drenched with warm white, milk and dark chocolate. The guy seated opposite me is about to take a bite and sees me eyeing them up. “They’re really good,” he says. I put an order in for them.

said soho chocolate shop

The profiterole-eating man couldn’t have been more right. I’m so deeply grateful for his tip-off. The profiteroles (£8) are a MUST – the best I’ve ever tasted in all my 26 years on this planet. But eat them quick, while the chocolate is still hot. And eat them in this order: the white, the milk and then the dark, so you get the optimum flavour from each. If there are two of you and you only order one plate as we did (it’s plenty!), cut each one in half so you get to sample every chocolate flavour. You can thank me later…

Slurp noodles at the new Ichiryu Hakata Udon House

ichiryu udon house tottenham court road london

A brand new “Udon House” has opened its doors on New Oxford Street.

Ichiryu, the brainchild of Take Tokumine, the CEO of Shoryu and Japan Centre,  prides itself on its thick, chewy white udon noodles, which are handmade on site and served up either hot or cold with toppings such as prawn tempura, fishcakes and beef.

The menu also features sushi, tempura (cod, aubergine, chicken, fishcake, burdock root and courgette variations, all cooked in rapeseed oil), rice bowls, and Japanese classics such as edamame, miso soup and Hirata buns. Plus, there’s sake, beer and Japanese tea to wash it all down.

Located just a few minutes from Tottenham Court Road station, the eatery has been designed in a grab ’n’ go-style perfectly suited to the work crowd, although there is a small relaxed seating area for those who wish to dine in.

At the launch, Mr Tokumine revealed that every Ichiryu employee is gifted a share in the restaurant upon joining (in a similar way to John Lewis’ organisational structure) – so the company’s success will be shared by its staff.

A chef at Ichiryu also explained what makes udon dishes a little different: while Ramen, the Japanese noodle soup, is most often flavoured with pork-based broth, udon dishes have a fish broth base.

Standout dishes, in my opinion, are the sushi and the refreshing chilled udon dish, Buta Shabu Niku – I’ve only ever tasted udon noodles steaming hot, so this was a pleasant surprise.

Find it: 84 New Oxford St London WC1A 1HB, nearest station Tottenham Court Road

Can you keep a secret? Weekend film club at The Soho Hotel

Soho Hotel film club

There’s nothing better than kicking back for a movie on a Sunday afternoon – except, perhaps, doing it in style.

Think comfy leather seats, free popcorn, and drinks delivered directly to your seat…

Intrigued? A well-kept secret is that The Soho Hotel runs a fantastic ‘Weekend Film Club’ where you can watch the latest releases in the luxury surroundings of its state-of-the-art screening rooms.

With twinkling ceiling lights, and chunky smooth leather seats, the intimate screening rooms do not attract the likes of youth who spend the entire length of the movie on their iPhones, but a well-heeled audience, many of whom are carting around their shopping bags from Oxford Street – and you don’t have to be a guest at the hotel to take advantage.

Tickets for the film screening alone are £15, but most people make an evening or afternoon of it (as we did) – for £35 you can enjoy afternoon tea, lunch or dinner in the hotel’s Refuel Restaurant before making your way down to the screening room for the movie of the week.

What’s great is that as you enter the screening an air of calm descends, and you’re invited to pick up a free box of popcorn and take it to your seat. Seats are not pre-allocated – it’s a choose-as-you-arrive situation.

The screen is large, sound quality is as good as you’d expect, and there’s a generous amount of leg room. The cherry on top is that you don’t have to sit through a row of adverts before the film begins – and it starts bang on time.

Also, note that if you want a specific drink and you place your order before you enter the room, a waiter will bring your beverage to your seat.

Film screenings take place on both Saturdays and Sundays – see the line up for The Soho Hotel and the Charlotte Street Hotel, which runs the same thing.

So if you’re looking for something a little different – but relaxing – for next weekend, this might just be it.