Gastro Day – Bao Fitzrovia, Tombo and Okan – a day of food

From a 6 seat market shack to a roaring success in Soho and now a 3rd instalment in Fitzrovia, whatever next hey? I’ve visited their Soho restaurant just the once and although the food was delicious, (I get why it’s so popular) I couldn’t see the justification in queuing. That’s the downside, perhaps a victim of their own success? Of course, and the solution? Well you open another restaurant in neighbouring Fitzrovia. Our visit was during lunch service in late July, roughly about 3 weeks after their launch and getting in was a seamless affair, no queues you see. And this is where we start our Gastro day.

The simple menu format is the same as the Soho restaurant, just mark down how many dishes you’d like in the vacant box’s. Our enthused waitress with the perma-smile is already in sales mode advises that many of the small plates and Cod Black Bao are exclusive to Fitzrovia. The Beef Cheek & Tendon Nuggets, crispy prawn heads and the Fried Chicken Chop with hot sauce seem to be singing a song that we couldn’t resist.

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From the small eats.

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Crispy Prawn Heads with creamy sauce (perhaps mayonnaise derived, at least that’s what it tasted like) £2. There is a simple reason why Bao have served the prawns sans the body, it’s because the heads contain the deepest umami and bisque richness. Don’t be shy with this. I can only describe them as crisps from the sea.

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The Beef Cheek & Tendon Nuggets. The craggy-crisp exterior contains the darkest seasoned meat once-upon-a-time from the well used muscular jaws of the animal. It’s slow cooked until the gelatinous layers melt into the proteins. It’s wonderful work.

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Sanbei Octopus £6. The briny octopus is cooked to the right amount of al-dente and served with soft peppers. I can taste soy and perhaps the some cooked down mirin. Not a stand-out dish but I’m glad I’ve tried it.

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Fried Chicken Chop, Hot Sauce £5.50. A classic from Taiwan and cooked to a perfect crisp and the chicken juice retaining. Burst the soy marinated yolk into that shiracha-esque sauce for additional flavour on flavour. This is a must have.

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Duck Hearts, Chilli Garlic Sauce £5.50. Cooked to a blush-pink and served in a similar soy/mirin style sauce sans spring onions as my dining chum has a irrational fear of anything onions. They’re delicious organs – I know that I make it sound good.

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Beef Short Rib, Marrow, Eryngii £6.75. This one is from the “Chi Shiang” section which are rice bowls filled with the good stuff.  Beef Shortrib is something I’d have over most cuts for it’s intense beefy flavour, combined with that golden egg yolk along with the reduced beef stock it’s gives you a warm beefy embrace in flavour.

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Cod Black – Fried cod, Ng sauce and hot sauce £5. The cod is fried in squid ink batter which comes as black as the night against the white flakes of the fish. The dark exterior is as crisp as can be which is enhanced by the umami of the ink, the sliced cabbage echoes the bitter sweet texture. The sauces give layers of spice, acidity along with some sweetness matching well with the sweet black sesame bun. This is unreservedly my favourite bao – it’s awesome work.

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The ‘Classic’ – braised pork, fermented, coriander, peanut £4 each. The pork is slow cooked, pulled in sauce with the deepest flavour which is enriched by the distinct  fermented vegetables. It was umami in a bun and oozed juice.

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The verdict:

When did I go? July 2016
The damage: Expect to pay £30-£45 per head with drinks.
The good: The 2 floored venue seems much more relaxed than the snug no bookings Lexington St branch, (snug is when I mean having your back brushed every time I tried to take a bite of my bao by the fleeting waitresses!) which is conducive of a much more pleasant experience. The cod black is a thing to behold and I’ve since gone back for another bite of the cherry which was every bit as good as the first.
The bad: Not much!
Rating: 4.5/5
Address: 31 Windmill St, Fitzrovia W1T 2JN
Closest tube: Tottenham Court Road
Phone: 020 3011 1632
http://www.baolondon.com

 

So onto desert after Bao, doing so often helps you calibrate for the next meal…  

Tombo have 2 bars in London – one in Kensington and their D’Arblay St in the heart of Soho bar opens in June 2016. The latter bar specialises in Hawaiian poké – the marinated raw fish rice bowls that seemed to be making a bit of a splash at the moment and of course Japanese matcha which we’ve come here for.

Here is the magnificent Matcha Sundae which comes with matcha ice cream, matcha brownie, Azuki paste, granola, date syrup and a cone biscuit £5.95. It’s not my first time having a matcha desert as I’ve eaten green tea ice cream before. However, this experience is the most delectable so far. I love how the ice cream is mildly sweet with the bitter earthy layer of matcha flavour. The fudgey brownie’s and Azuki paste are perfect little accompaniments too. Perhaps the granola and date syrup would have benefitted as toppings too as it gets too sweet as you reach them towards the bottom.

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When did I go? July 2016
The damage: Expect to pay £6.
Rating: 3.5/5
Address: 28 D’Arblay St, Soho, W1F 8EW
Closest tube: Tottenham Court Road/Piccadilly Circus
Phone: 020 7734 1333
http://www.tombocafe.com

When we we’re done a brisk walk to Brixton was the next mission of the day to burn off some calories ready for the next meal at Okan..

Okan specialised in Okonomiyaki – a street food savoury pancake originating from Osaka Japan often found in little shacks or small shops with their own unique personality. ‘Moto’ the owner has been cooking okonomiyaki from street stalls around Brick Lane since 2002 and opens his first shop in Brixton 3 years or so ago paying homage to the Osakan classic.

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The inside is strictly no thrills – shack-like, plates stacked up high and all kitchen apparatus visible for all to see. But that’s part of the personality and to hear the sizzle of batter and noodles cooking right before you is enough to whet the appetite.

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Elder flower and ginger £1.50 – a palate cleanser.

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Here we have the Yaki Soba egg noodles with beef, kimchi and a variety of mix vegetables including some pickled ginger. It’s dressed with seaweed and Japanese mayo too £9. If you’re expecting Cantonese style wok-hei noodles then look away. They are were nice enough but certainly not worth walking from Soho for.

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King Prawn Okonomiyaki £8.50. Yes the bonito fish flakes you can see do a little dance, the heat from the pancake penetrates into the thin slithers of preserved fish causing them to Mexican wave at will. Gimmicks aside they actually add flavour and this pancake needed it as it found it to be a little on the bland side. The vegetables however, including the juicy prawns were cooked well, perhaps a pinch more seasoning and lashings more of that Worcestershire sauce based condiment would have elevated it more.

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Okonomiyaki with mochi and cheese £8.50. Gooey cheese (perhaps mozzarella) with chewy mochi with plenty of that sauce smeared on the top. Now we’re onto a winner and I particularly endorse this dish as it outshone the others.    unadjustednonraw_thumb_1113d

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The verdict:

When did I go? July 2016
The damage: Expect to pay £15 with drinks
The good: The mochi and cheese okonomiyaki was worth the trip alone and if you fancy a little taste of Osaka and a decent price then come here. You really can’t ask for more for the price of a coffee shop sandwich I know what I’d rather be spending my money on.
The bad: The other dishes were average compared to our much and cheese okonomiyaki. It’s cash only and no booking too so be prepared.
Rating: 2.5/5
Address: Unit 39, Brixton Village, Brixton Village Market, Coldharbour Ln, London SW9 8PR
Phone: 020 7734 1333
http://www.okanbrixtonvillage.com

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