Kedgeree at The Wolseley


If you haven’t eaten at The Wolseley – do so! Based in what was once a car showroom (think Rolls Royce not Vauxhall), and if nothing else the setting is utterly splendid. Perfect for a romantic evening, so long as you like a buzzy, busy atmosphere. And the food won’t totally break the bank. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t expensive – it is – but there are a variety of more affordable options on the menu. Kedgeree, at £12.00 is one of these more affordable options.

“It’s about as far from the vibrant, coronation chicken yellow that it can sometimes be”

Eschewing the obvious breakfast appointment for the dish, Rachael and I headed to The Wolseley in the evening (having taken our permission from the Time Out instructions that the dish makes as nice an end as it does a start to the day). I take things one step further with a starter of Eggs Benedict. This turns out to be a bit of a error, though not because of the dish itself. A perfectly toasted muffin holds an exquisite poached egg, and the most sumptuous, giggle-makingly delicious hollandaise I’ve even tasted. The reason it was a bit of a mistake is that said exquisite egg rather pre-empted the exquisite egg perched on top of the kedgeree! My mistake.

The kedgeree itself is more lightly curried that I would generally expect. It’s about as far from the vibrant, coronation chicken yellow that it can sometimes be. Rachael compliments the way that every grain of basmati remains separate, and it’s true: it hasn’t taken on any risotto or congee consistency, but remains a dish of many individual grains. I think this may be because the stock is a little watery, at least to my taste. Flakes of smoked fish are small, but make themselves known, and this certainly helps to bring the whole dish together: rather than delivering a bowl of weakly-flavoured rice with chunks of protein.

That said, the egg, once cut and allowed to ooze gloopily across the pile, takes things to another level, and what looks like a small plate does manage to satisfy. I insist to Rachael that the egg must be cooked sous vide (don’t all big top restaurants employ the technique for eggs?) – but this may be more down to my obsession that the truth. Without it, I think this dish would have been a pleasant, but rather ordinary one – lucky it was there!

Sea Urchin Sushi at Nizuni


This is our second visit to Nizuni.

“I’ve been calling, every couple of weeks, to ask if they have any sea urchin”

The first time round, when it came to ordering, the waitress said, totally matter-of-fact, “Sorry, we don’t have uni”. As if she had no idea of the terrible, disastrous import of the words that came so easily to her. We just went on ordering, too far committed to get up and leave… then ate our meal and headed to Manchurian Legends for their skewers!

So I’ve been calling, every couple of weeks, to ask if they have any sea urchin yet. Every time they’ve said no, or there’s another delivery next week, or there’s a supply problem and we don’t know when we’ll have some in. At no point did they say “Oh, it’s the urchin obsessive again”!

On Monday, though, everything changed. I phoned up and she said “Yes, we do have that”. As if she had no idea of the terrible, wondrous import of the words that came so easily to her. I immediately phoned Rachael, who couldn’t adjust her plans, so we braved it and called again the next day. They went above and beyond: having the fabled foodstuff two days in a row!

So we’re here again, with a round wooden platter holding two of these unexpectedly difficult to come across morsels. And yes, expectations are raised.

Biting in, I’m surprised. I guess I’d expected something tough and chewy, at the cuttlefish end of the sushi spectrum. Instead it is gooey, mushy, and almost gritty. It tastes characteristically like roe, with that fishy, smoky, not quite there yet flavour. So, of course, I feel a bit slow off the mark when I discover that, sure enough, you only eat the roe – or, more precisely, the gonads (bite on that!) – of sea urchins. The rest is generally considered inedible.

I prefer cuttlefish sushi to roe (if I’m honest), but this has a uniqueness of aroma and sparks my interest in its colour and solid-liquid texture.

Worth the wait? Well, if I tell the truth, I’m not convinced it was as fresh as the clear difficulty of getting hold of it might imply. I can imagine a cleaner, less fishy taste, and one that feels richer and more indulgent. Had expectations not been raised, I might have been more pleasantly impressed. Unfortunately, they had been.

Natto Maki at Atari-ya


Fermented soybean – natto – that’s basically rotted legumes. It’s gotta taste nicer than it sounds, right? Wrong, at least to my palate.

“It indisputably has a unique flavour”

As I understand it, many people really enjoy the flavour of natto, generally raw, and often in sushi. And I can understand why some people might particularly enjoy the stuff – it indisputably has a unique flavour. It’s just to me that really is a flavour embodying exactly how you might think rotten beans might end up, down to the slimy, grainy texture, pungent flavour and putrid aftertaste.

All I can say is that if this is an acquired taste, it’s not one I’ve achieved yet. After the chicken livers this is only the second dish on the list I actually can’t eat. You might hope there wouldn’t be any to achieve that accolade, but I do accept that part of the Chowdown Showdown endeavour should be challenging taste boundaries and ‘calibrating our palates’. This was just one challenge too far.

Shredded Pork Summer Rolls at Café East


Without Rachael’s watchful eye (she’d already eaten these rolls before we started the Chowdown Showdown), I broke the rules and ordered one portion of summer rolls between Tom and I. This turned out to be the right decision, since the size was extremely generous.

“Without Rachael’s watchful eye, I broke the rules”

For those who’ve only ever eaten Chinese spring rolls it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking Vietnamese summer rolls will be very similar. While they’re close in terms of approach – wrapping thinly sliced vegetables and/or meat or seafood into a sausage-shape, that’s where the proximity ends. Vietnamese rolls tend to be served cold (is that what makes them summer rolls?), with fresh, crisp ingredients, intended to be punchy with clear flavours embodying that country’s sweet, sour, salt culinary approach.

Café East’s are the perfect example of summer rolls. With a translucent skin of rice paper they are light and juicy – a far cry from the limp (or worse, greasy) versions you can end up suffering if unlucky. Shredded pork skin has a profile far nearer to beancurd skin than pork scratchings, and adds a smoky, salty hint to the various flavours of the rice and vegetables, rather than hogging the limelight.

Dipping in sweet chilli or tart vinegar only improves their palate-cleansing crispness. I’d happily make a meal of just these!

Soondooboo Chiagae at Koba


Korean food is still a bit of a mystery to me. I think it remains a mystery to many people who are totally at home guzzling miso soba or steamed dim sum. It’s not at all that I don’t like it – a good bibimbap is easily up there with the perfect, reliable comfort foods, with the added joy of scrambling it together yourself and the need for a special bowl. So the opportunity to be challenged to try a different dish that I would probably never think to order really appealed.

“We’d have to come back for barbecue”

As soon as we got inside the restaurant, I knew I’d have to return. Everyone else was eagerly devouring centre-of-the-table barbecue that seemed to be the place’s signature offering. We’d have to come back for this.

This was a spicy, tomato, seafood stew, with a tangy Eastern flavour, served with plain white rice. Bites of squid, octopus and mussels swim with a variety of tasty vegetables.

Our fellow diners ordered – you guessed it – bibimbap, and I’m glad they did, since it had just that mix of tastes, textures, colours and heat that pushes the dish into the pantheon of superb national staples. Which isn’t to say that our seafood soup-slash-hotpot wasn’t superb, but it didn’t seem the most exciting thing on the menu.

I’d have hoped that each different type of seafood would have a distinct flavour, above the spicy, tomato-y broth, but apart from their textures there was little to distinguish each forkful. The overall result was delicious, but not as varied as I was looking forward to.

I’ll be back, probably, but for barbecue. And maybe bibimbap.

82/100 best Time Out dishes