Min Jiang, why haven’t I visited you before?? Maybe because you are in South Ken and I don’t really go west of Marble Arch BUT I may need to start making some exceptions. Because of you! Where else can I hang out with the South African rugby team (apparently they stay at the Royal Garden Hotel whenever they are in town) AND stuff myself with only two of my most favorite things in the world: dim sum and roast duck!
The views from Min Jiang over Hyde Park were stunning on the day we visited — London at its autumnal finest. In the distance, we could see all of London’s tall buildings. I could have sat in the bar forever, drinking Min Jiang’s excellent Mai Tais, and watching the leaves turn more golden and more brown.
Because the restaurant is a narrow space, it’s hard not to have a table with a view but should you book a table (and you should), make sure to ask for a table by the window because really, the views are that pretty. London, I forget how beautiful you are sometimes. (To be honest, I really don’t forget. But it’s still nice to be reminded.)
We did not choose our own food so you will have to rely on the detailed notes over on London Unattached for a complete list of everything we ate. Fiona very capably got the restaurant staff to point out what was arriving with each dish. I always find it a little odd when restaurants invite people like us in and then don’t provide us with any information about what we’re having and don’t seem to want us to take a menu either.)
Now, although I am slightly scolding Min Jiang for not being as prepared for us social media beings as they should have been, I have to say that I really, really, really loved our slightly omniscient server, who told us later in the meal that he’d been with Min Jiang for five years. He’s a keeper, that one.
As dim sum should be, our lunch started off with a veritable parade of dim sum. Soup dumplings, pot stickers, baked char siew puffs (can’t. stop. eating. them.), and an assortment of steamed dumplings. The highlight for me though was the yam croquette with seafood. I remember asking if it was taro and I could swear someone said yes so is taro yam? I had no idea! (LMGTFY…apparently, taro and yam are not exactly the same.)
While we were very happily demolishing all the dim sum, I kept wondering…where is the duck? What will the duck be like? When is the duck coming?
Our lovely server
And it came, along with a very shy chef who wasn’t too keen on having his photo taken. (That’s our server in the photo.) But suffice it to say the shy chef’s carving skills are excellent. The duck was — as duck is supposed to be — beautiful. Crispy skin, and darkly dark flavors.
While our shy chef was carving up the duck, I watched him take small choice bits that he carved from the neck and set them aside. These were presented to us along with a small bowl of sugar. If you’ve never considered dipping your duck in sugar, YOU REALLY SHOULD. It was pretty amazing. Stick a fork in me, I was done.
But we weren’t done! There was more! Was this one of the best days of my entire life? I wasn’t quite sure, but I was sure that if life on earth had ended at that moment — as it sort of had because the US election and had just happened and now Donald Trump would be the next president of the United States — I would have died a very happy woman. Tiger prawns, a beef dish, and some asparagus with lotus root completed our lunch.
And then they brought us dessert! Flaky egg tarts, cutesy sesame dumplings shaped like mice, and a little dessert wine too.
May all our meals be this delicious, this varied, and this interesting.
The Background: I'm heading to Cardiff. With a bunch of Australians. For the rugby. Australia-Wales. Craig and Leanne have rented a car so we're leaving first thing Saturday morning. They invite me to spend the night at their super-gorgeous flat on the other side of town–Westbourne Park–and we make plans to have dinner the night before. My choice.
I choose Kitchen W8. Because it's new. And because sometimes, you read stuff. Like here. And here. And here. And sometimes, I wonder…how is it that we all have different views on the same thing? See, I went to Catholic school my entire life…grade school, high school, university. It was a lot of sameness. Looks. Clothing. Prayers. Thoughts.
But then I went to business school. And there was a lot of differentness.
Who were these people, I thought, and why hadn't I met them sooner?
Sometimes, us here in the food blogging community get slagged off because we all write about the same things. I, in fact, have slagged this very topic. (Sorry, "slag" (v. NOT n.) is new favorite word.) Yes, I am very inconsistent. Don't listen to anything I say. Really.
But you must remember that I'm also kinda into math. And new restaurants…well, it's somewhat of a numbers game. X many new openings. Y food bloggers (Y > X). Probability of Y – N food bloggers visting New Restaurant Z = Very High.
The Entrance: We're a little late, but they don't hold this against us. But then I see our table, and it's sort of in the bar/waiting area. There are three other reservable tables in this area, but then there's a general "sit here and drink your drink til your table is ready" six-top. I feel like I'm at the kids' table at Thanksgiving. Just a little. Off in the back are all the "real" tables. But I get over myself quite quickly.
The Little Freebies: Cod-y fried puffs of deliciousness. I could have had more of these. Really. Delicious!
The Main: Craig and I had the special of the day…the venison. And you know what? I thought it was pretty gorgeous. It turned out to be smoked venison and the two of us kept looking at each other, saying, "This is really nice, this smokiness." This was served on a bed of spinach which was neither here nor there…not bad, but not oustandingly good. Just nice. Really, the venison was pretty super.
The Funny Bit: This guy stopped by the table to pour the wine and I bursted out with, "Wait a second…I fell like I know you from somewhere!" He was the lovely sommelier from Hibiscus back in 2007. And funnily, he looked at me and said, "I'm glad you said that because as soon as you walked in, I knew I knew you and checked the name on the booking"
The Service: Sweet and enthusiastic. But I'll note four main things:
When they described the cod fish puffs, I had no idea what they were saying.
And at one point, they delivered our mains, while we all looked at them in a confused fashion…these weren't the mains we ordered. The staff very politely swept the dishes away and then put them on the table behind us. I kinda thought that was just a little weird. The dish was in front of me for at least a full minute before they figured out that they had served us incorrectly. I wouldn't have wanted to be on the final receiving end of those dishes.
It took a pretty long while for us to get our mains. Venison was worth the wait however.
When we asked why the venison was so smoky, the answer was, "Because it's smoked." Um, thanks.
The Dessert: Lemon tart! My favorite! I have a photo of it, but it was after I had already dipped into the ice cream, and you don't want to see that. But it was pretty darn nice.
The Verdict: If K&A were still here–they used to live right down the road–I imagine I'd go here all the time. But they've left me for somewhere in Connecticut. Still sad.
The Question I'm Dying to Ask: Where do you go when you're in Notting Hill and South Kensington?
The Victims: Many. Kellie, James, Matt, Tahnee, Simon, Feathers, Julie, Bryan, Stacey, Carrie, Dave, Feathers’ Little Brother
The Damage: £40 each
The Background: Feathers has organized us. We are wandering the streets of Notting Hill, en masse. It seems like everyone is out in Notting Hill tonight. In a good way. I feel absurdly festive.
Geales is not what I was expecting. It’s all gray and black and hotel bar-esque. They have nice hand soap in the ladies. (Although to dry your hands, there was just a stack of cocktail napkins. Classy.) Our waiter is good. Very good. There are 13 of us and we are all talking at once and he has no trouble dealing with this. (And when the food arrives, it is all CORRECT.)
The Starters: Kellie and James have just been here, and they heartily recommend the mussels. And I can understand why. These are good plucky mussels. The calamari is less exciting. The tarmasalata is nice, but only nice.
The Mains: Mine is haddock. I like it. It’s golden and crispy and they are generous with the lemon wedge and the tartar sauce. The fries–not pictured–are good but they could have been a bit crispier. And goldener.
Afterwards: We go to Montgomery Place for the cocktails and we see Claire from The Apprentice. And then we go to a very dirty but strangely filthy but charming basement bar on Portobello Road (Baltic something or other) where we drink 275 ml Carlsbergs and I narrowly I escape the clutches of a drunk Scotsman.
The Victims: Sarah, Rachel, and Arielle, all of us on a little bit of a sugar high.
The Background: After polishing off our Crumbs & Doilies cupcakes in the car, we make our way to Buttercup in London’s South Kensington. It’s tucked into a sidestreet, and Rachel wants you to know that the parking is crap. It’s a sweet little shop with two little tables. We order three big steaming mugs of tea and an assortment of cupcakes.
The Cakes: My favorite is the peanut butter and chocolate cake…the icing is just right. Just peanuty enough, not cloying. I have trouble with the vanilla cake…the icing is so sweet, my teeth ache.
In comparison to the Crumbs & Doilies cakes, the cakes at Buttercup look a little amateurish. Part of me says that’s part of their attraction, but the other part of me says I could probably do better myself.
I start to get a headache from all this sugar…and we’re not done yet…
The Background: The movies on my flight back from LAX sucked. With one exception. The Bourne Supremacy. I don't normally like Matt Damon, but man is he great as Jason Bourne.
Well, The Bourne Ultimatum was set to debut in the UK on the 17th, but somehow, we found it at the Coronet in Notting Hill on Thursday the 16th. This was perfect because I had to catch a flight the next day to Sardinia.
We chose The Mall for its proximity to the theatre, and man am I glad we did. Because it was a really good meal. (With one exception, which I will mention in two secs.)
The Starters: We get a plate of hummous and babaganoush to start. The hummous is fine. The babaganoush is lackluster. It's missing something. A lot of things, actually. It's just plain eggplant. No seasonings. Weird. Anna and James get the prawns and they look really really nice and fresh.
The Mains: I get the roast chicken with broad beans, and man, I gotta tell you…it was PERFECT. Really really great. I was so very pleasantly surprised. It was a nice and simple dish, perfectly executed.
The Service: A bit spacey. And did not know what beers they had.
The Loos: Eh. Saloon style doors are weird.
The Movie: FANTASTIC. If you haven't seen it yet, you should go immediately!
Language Lesson Learned: Theatre vs. Cinema. You can drink beer at the theatre, apparently. The Coronet is a theatre.
The Verdict: I liked it. If I'm ever in the 'hood, I'll be sure to stop by again. But I'll skip the babaganoush.
See, Whole Foods employs people who are either experts in things like wine or cheese or who want to become experts. So it was always a pleasure talking to the staff about wine. And about cheese. They always had a recommendation.
On-site food and wine experts don’t exist in Dominick’s or Jewel in Chicago. Maybe behind the meat counter, or the fish counter. But not anywhere else.
So I was excited when I heard in 2004 that Whole Foods was planning on opening a shop in London in 2007. Three years seemed like an awfully long time to wait though!
But here we are, three years and one London food blog later, and here is Whole Foods South Ken. And I’ve just dropped £60 on all the goodies I could carry back on the tube.
Here’s what I liked about the Whole Foods on Kensington High Street… 1. The staff are friendly and omnipresent. I saw tons of people asking for particular products, and Whole Foods’ team members were practically holding their hands as they led people across the store. 2. You’re not just staring at food on shelves, it’s all around you in stacks, particularly the fresh fruit and vegetables. 3. The fish counter is beautiful. 4. I loved the way the eggs were displayed…it was pretty much serve yourself. 5. When I went to check out, the salad dressing I bought was not on the register. So they gave it to me for free. My cashier noted that it was their fault that it wasn’t in the register, not mine, so why should I have to wait while they sent someone to check the price? He said they are really good at making sure that once that happens once with a particular product, it doesn’t happen again. I thought this was a fantastic piece of marketing/customer service…because you know, I bet you at other stores when stuff is not in the system, once they manually key in the price, the product probably still doesn’t get into the system. By taking the loss on my dressing, they give themselves an incentive to solve the problem. Permanently. 6. The baskets. Rather than just plain old hand baskets, they have little baskets that you tote around behind you like carry-on suitcases. This is clever. Because hand baskets get heavy. (I think these would be even better if they were like those newish suitcases that you roll along right beside you, as opposed to behind you.) 7. The cheese room. 8. The sun-dried tomato pesto from the antipasto bar. DELICIOUS. 9. The marcona almonds. YUMM. 10. The coconut macaroons. 11. I liked how they took a Disney World approach to the queue at the till…as you enter the queue, they tell you how much time it’s likely to take. I didn’t time them, but the 3 minutes they noted seemed about right.
What I didn’t like about the Whole Foods in South Ken… 1. I kept going to the wrong side of the store to get to the right escalator. They need better Up/Down signage. 2. The wheelie baskets are GREAT, but every five year old in the store seemed to have one. So it was a bit of a traffic hazard. 3. People who don’t get the "no sampling" thing. As I was filling up on sun dried tomato pesto at the antipasti bar, an American woman was considering the regular pesto with her daughter who was about eight. She gave her daughter the serving spoon and let her stick her grubby little fingers in it. I gave the mother a "You are a disgrace to my country" look. 4. They didn’t have my artichoke dip. They had another type of artichoke dip, and although it’s nice, it’s not great. 5. The checkouts make you feel like you should have your passport and boarding card ready. They need something going on while you’re standing in the huge queue. 6. The crowds. I wish I had gotten there at 10 on a Saturday instead of a little after 11. 7. Despite my request to be invited to their launch events, I wasn’t. 🙁 If I were them, I’d want me there! Their loss.
Well, as I write this, I’ve just boiled up some Whole Foods linguine and I’m getting it ready for the sun dried tomato pesto. And then I’ve got Whole Foods salmon steaks in the frying pan, crackling away. And I’ve made a nice Whole Foods baby spinach salad with my free Italian dressing. (Yes, I do cook occasionally…when inspired!)