Spicy pork and fennel meatballs at Polpo

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There’s something deeply comforting and homely about meatballs. But I wasn’t sure whether they could be truly gourmet food. One of the criteria we’re using to judge is the ‘daydream test’. I.e. do we find ourselves dreaming about eating the dish again, in that deeply evocative way that tastes and smells can be. I was, quite simply, wrong. I’ve daydreamed about these several times.

“Whatever it is, I’m in heaven”

These meatballs were a cut above. In fact, they were several cuts above. These are effectively skinless spicy Italian sausages – but you can tell immediately that no horror pig-parts feature here. They managed to be light, and almost fluffy, not leaden lumps of gristle or solid meat. But they achieved this whilst also managing to avoid floury stodginess – these were no pork dumplings.

Presented in their threes simply in a bowl of the freshest, like-your-Italian-momma-used-to-make tomato sauce, this dish is intended to be shared (as the waitress was at pains to point out when we ordered three portions). But the dish, remarkably, stands up well on its own – not just in terms of portion size, which was just right (at least, after a day of remorseless eating), but also in terms of mix of flavours. Not one bite became boring.

“I’ll be back for these again. And again”

Perhaps it’s the chilli-warmth, that’s like sitting in front of a wood-burning stove. Or maybe the hint of aniseedy fennel. The pairing with the crisp, tart sauce. Or maybe it’s the sheer comforting indulgence of eating what feels a little like it belong on the kids menu, or out of a can. Whatever it is, I’m in heaven. I’ll be back for these again. And again.

12/100 best dishes in London

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich at Spuntino

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There was much debate about whether this was an ice-cream sandwich. That is, before we reached Spuntino a couple of Chowdown Showdown Getsarounders were insistent that they weren’t interested in eating a plain old peanut butter and jam sandwich. In spite of my insistence, we couldn’t be totally sure until the dish was put in front of us.

“It’s funny, sweet, caloric, unsubtle… and the perfect American dessert”

Of course, the moment it arrived we got the ‘joke’, and a very witty one it is too. It’s a sandwich, and an ice-cream sandwich, and neither. ‘Bread slices’ of peanut ice-cream are sandwiched around raspberry jam (yes, it’s jelly in the American sense), with a sprinkling of peanut brittle on top.

And you know what? It’s delicious. Massively indulgent, rich, and clearly a treat. I don’t even know if I’d (rush out to) eat it again. But it’s funny, sweet, caloric, unsubtle… and the perfect American dessert. The ice-cream was moreish, melting into a creamy, nutty pool. The jam was super-sweet, tart and fresh. The brittle crunchy and chewy.

I’m eager to eat at Spuntino again, and this madcap dessert adventure has certainly made me want to see what other tricks they have up their sleeves.

28/100 best London dishes

Classic beef pho at Cay Tre

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A big bowl of south-east Asian noodles is always warming and comforting, especially when you’re drenched in a sudden October shower. This bowl had the right mix of aromatic, sweet, and, with the addition of the red chilli served with other herbs on the side, heat. Hand-made noodles were a cut above the standard packet fare.

“I’d happily have a party at Cay Tre, with tastier food than, say, Wagamama. But would I rush back for this pho? Unclear.”

The star of the show was the beef. Some slices of grilled beef and some melting brisket were both spot on, and took on the fresh crispness of the broth while still being warm and luxurious.

I wasn’t terrible enamoured with the decision to serve a (huge) pile of herbs and beansprouts on the side. Perhaps I’m being a philistine (and, yes, I know many places serve pho in this way), but getting you to flavour your own stock seemed to shirk the responsibility of creating a delicious dish. This isn’t Koya with its amazing walnut miso concoction. Perhaps I should have just dumped my whole plate of herbs into the bowl, but anything else amounts to Mongolian hotpot, where the only one to blame if you don’t like the mix is yourself. This was only emphasized by one companion who fished out the onion, which had been served in the bowl.

The other downer was that I tried someone else’s spicy-garlicky pho, and thought that broth was really spectacular. In the end, I’d happily have a party at Cay Tre, with tastier food than, say, Wagamama. But would I rush back for this pho? Unclear.

71/100 top dishes on London

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Matcha bubble tea at Boba Jam

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Hello Kitty. Dressing up as characters from Manga cartoons. Fluorescent drinks with lumps of goo? There are some things so exotic and quintessentially Oriental that westerners just aren’t going to get it. But is bubble tea one of them?

“Vulgar, sugary cocktails of fruity milkshake plus tea… what’s not to like?”

The concept is straightforward, and, to unaccustomed eyes, straightforward barmy enough. Take balls of sticky, translucent tapioca, plonk into milky tea and add flavours, anything from fruit to chocolate, so long as you can think of an appropriate bright colour to identify it.

Two members of the Chowdown Showdown Getsaround crew already disliked these drinks. I generally love them. Vulgar, sugary cocktails of fruity milkshake plus tea plus fat straws with ideal dimensions for firing sticky blobs at your companions if you’re so inclined / bored of drinking (/eating?) them – what’s not to like?

I get the picture that they’re a bit odd, but they come in such varieties of flavours that, unless you’re inured to inoffensive lumps that just add fun (I don’t think they even take on the flavour of the liquid), how can you object?

My problem, though, is that this just wasn’t the best bubble tea I’ve had. It also wasn’t the best matcha I’ve had. Perhaps I wasn’t in the mood, but rather than being vibrant and indulgent this was more grainy and dull. The lychee milk someone else had was more interestingly flavoured with a strong fruity punch.

I’ve been there before, I’ll probably be back. But I reckon there’s a better bubble tea to be found in London. Answers on a postcard, or in the comments below.

67/100 best London dishes

Bacon naan at Dishoom

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Could this be the perfect way to start the day? Especially for those who’d been out the night before.

“But boy what a bacon butty…”

Grilled bacon meets sweet, tangy tomato chutney (it would be unfair to call this fresh, well-spiced sauce “ketchup”), yoghurt and a handful of coriander. This is all wrapped in a freshly-baked naan, which surprised us all by being fluffy, light and soft rather than dense, heavy and hard as we’d incorrectly imagined it might be.

Later in the day someone remarked that they just wanted some normal food rather than kidneys or bubble tea. This dish is definitely ‘normal food’, fused with Indian tastes and taken to an extreme. It’s just a bacon butty, but boy what a bacon butty! Along with sweet chai this is breakfast to get out of bed for. And yes, the perfect hangover cure.

53/100 best eats in London