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.

All Balls at Cinnamon Soho


It’s pretty unavoidable to point out. As ‘tapas concepts’ go, spherical-foods is a little… odd, even if the food futurologist we saw a couple of years ago at the V&A did predict that the future was balls. C.f. cake pops.

“As ‘tapas concepts’ go, spherical-foods is a little… odd”

The truth is that being round isn’t the only thing that connects these five morsels on offer at Cinnamon Soho. In fact, in common with most Indian-starter treats (at least as represented in British curry houses), they are all deep-fried, and either battered, crumbed, or basically batter themselves.

The least traditional is their take on the scotch egg, with a (quail’s?) egg surrounded by a spiced mincemeat and breadcrumbs. The crabcake is subtle, and if I’m honest, overpowered not just by the other flavours on the plate, but the excellent chutneys individually selected to match each bite. At the other end of the spectrum, the beef example was rather like a beef-flavoured bouncy ball, and whilst it shouted its essential taste, its texture didn’t do much justice.

My favourite was probably the potato fritter, which reminded me of Passover latkes – gentle enough to match their pickle well, and without arguing with the other balls in an attempt to justify its presence on the platter. The final ball, a vegetably-cheesy affair was both the most authentically, challengingly Indian and, I felt, the least successful. Ingredients known for abundance and cheapness don’t naturally scream ‘small dish’ to me, and what might well have made a charming vegetable side ended up an inconsequential and forgettable mouthful that I suspect was just making up numbers.

Overall it feels like full marks for concept and effort, but the end result just isn’t that stellar.


Chips at Comptoir Gascon


These chips were disappointing.

What else can I say? Well, lots, actually.

At Comptoir Gascon they serve you spectacularly delicious wine. We had some excellent red wine, and it was glorious.

“At Comptoir Gascon they serve you spectacularly delicious raisins”


At Comptoir Gascon they serve you spectacularly delicious starters. I had a crackling soft duck egg in a bed of truffled polenta. It was absolutely delicious, with the warm, aromatic polenta delivering a mushroom, woodland, dreamy background to an oozingly soft duck egg, perfectly poached. Rachael has scallop, artichoke and oyster tartare – a dish as fresh and marine as anything you’d find at the seaside and which brought out – impressively – the individual flavours of the constituent molluscs and subtle vegetable.

Both were presented beautifully as well.comptoirpolenta

At Comptoir Gascon they serve you spectacularly delicious burgers. I had the ‘duck burger classic’ where Rachael opted for the deluxe version. The difference: 100g of foie gras. I thought it would tip the sandwich over the edge of the too-rich cliff, and I was right. But the whole concept – duck ground, grilled and stuck in a bun – is one I must admit to having been sceptical of, but I was proved wrong. Spectacularly delicious.


But at Comptoir Gascon their french fries, cooked in duck fat and liberally drenched in salt, were… disappointing. Limp and rather tasteless – beyond the salt – they would have let down an otherwise perfect meal, if the rest of the food hadn’t been so damn good that even with these fries you could only drop it a notch back down to ‘perfect’.

In a world of triple-cooked, molecularly-calibrated chips, these don’t cut the mustard. They’d even provided a huge bowlful (thankfully we were warned, so only ordered one portion) – so concentrating on quality over quantity would be a wise move.

That said…

At Comptoir Gascon they serve you spectacularly delicious raisins. Spectacularly, spectacularly delicious raisins. We had a portion of the ‘raisins dorés’ – soaked in sauterne wine and coated in dark chocolate. It is almost impossible to describe the feeling on biting into one of these. The raisins are almost candied, with a tingly, almost sherbet effect. Sweet but tangy and instantly moreish. I’d go back for these alone.

But the chips were disappointing.

Mussels with Nduja at Elliot’s Café


There are a few dishes on the Chowdown Showdown list that we are worried about. This was one of those – because Time Out warned that everything in Elliot’s is seasonal, so this could not be on the menu when you visit. Helpfully, they point out that everything at the ‘café’ is delicious, rather missing the point of the challenge they set when compiling a list of 100 top dishes! But luckily, Rachael spotted it on the menu and we rushed there the next day.

“A range of Mediterranean influences, from fresh Italian to complex, African-influenced Spanish”

I must admit I’ve not come across Nduja before. I can’t say I’ve a great deal of experience with it now, because this spicy, spreadable sausage had melted away completely into the soupy sauce in this dish, leaving the mussels bathed in a spot-on hot, tomato broth. I felt envious, because Rachael had a substantially larger portion than I did – I think they were trying to emphasise that all their dishes are for sharing by dividing two portions unevenly between two bowls!

The dish is balanced just right – and while the moules did take their usual place as more protein and texture than a taste explosion themselves, they take on a velvety, warming flavour and aroma that hints at a range of Mediterranean influences, from fresh Italian to complex, African-influenced Spanish. There’s a hint of citrus cutting through the oniony and herby vegetable bulk.

We each asked for extra bread, which is definitely needed for mopping!

18/100 top dishes according to Time Out

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

Squid and mackerel burger at Arbutus


Let’s get the first thing out of the way immediately: this burger is a ‘burger’. It doesn’t have a bun. It doesn’t have salad garnish. And there isn’t any ketchup in sight!

“Every mouthful was a cascade of flavours”

What was surprisingly on-message, though, was quite how meaty the burger was. This could easily have ended up a squashed fish-ball, or a sloppy, fishy mush, or, worst of all (given the main constituent parts) a rock-hard bullet of seafood. Instead, it was genuine burger-consistency, and had a flavour that would satisfy a carnivore.

The main affair (though, it should be noted, this dish is actually a starter) is accompanied by razor clam, chopped and sautéed with shallots, plus fabric-thin strips of squid. Every mouthful was a cascade of flavours, and complexity was added by the unusual pairing of coriander in the ‘burger-meat’ and a generous sprinkling of dill across the dish. These herbs shouldn’t match, and yet they do, and even brought the whole dish together.


Okay, so we’re under strict orders to judge just the dish, and not the whole meal, but it would be mean to fail to mention that the rest of the dinner was also spectacular. Cod fillet, crisp chicken wings (boneless), pink grapefruit, ginger and honey preserve was as delicious as it sounds, with every element perfectly matched. The silky, subtle cod bouncing off the sparkling ‘marmalade’ and complemented by the crispness of the chicken. Rachael had Grilled piece of beef, heritage carrots, cavolo nero, gratin dauphinois, which sounds like a fairly straightforward offer, but every part was oozing flavour, distinct, and stood up as part of a whole.


“For sheer burgerness, for braveness, for spot-on flavours, it’s making it into the top twenty”

I was a bit jealous of her Vanilla and rosewater scented cheesecake, roast Provençal figs, which was a riot of different (and individually perfect) tastes, whereas my Chocolate ‘aero’ bar, pear, salted caramel suffered from having the only let-down of the meal: I felt the dark, aerated chocolate was on the side of being bland and bitter without that punch you get from a solid block of 80% cocoa chocolate. I even ventured that an actual Aero, sliced in half, might have been a bit more joyous. But the pear, wrapped round a fluffy salted caramel foam was spectacular.

I couldn’t eat this well every day. There was so much going on, so much sophistication that, when compared with the pared-down, use-the-best-ingredients-and-cook-one-thing-perfectly culinary culture rightly in vogue in London, it made me realise that sometimes twenty ingredients really does add up to something better than five. But there was so much competition for my taste buds that I couldn’t do it all the time. It wasn’t relaxing, and I felt like the next day I’d want a hearty soup where every spoonful was deliciously, comfortingly the same.


Forget the last three paragraphs: we’re rating the ‘burger’, and, for sheer burgerness, for braveness, for spot-on flavours, it’s making it into the top twenty.

19/100 best dishes in London.

Robata-grilled Scallops at Roka


Who doesn’t love scallops? Okay, so they’re not for seafood-allergy-sufferers. And perhaps they weren’t the perfect dish to eat at the start of Yom Kippur. But I love scallops. The taste, the texture, the simplicity and elegance. So long as they aren’t overcooked, they tend to be delicious. And the bigger, plumper, more ‘real’ the better.

“The star of the show is the scallop”

And I like Roka’s scallops. Grilled, presumably super-briefly, because these are the perfect textured and tender but full of flavour, brought out by the wasabi and shiso (a leafy, culinary herb – no, I didn’t know either). The ‘topping’ is a sideshow to the freshness and subtlety of the seafood itself – as it should be – you definitely wouldn’t want to compete with the main event.

If there’s any criticism I could level at this dish, it’s just that: the star of the show is the scallop, and it isn’t clear that the crack chefs at Roka (judging by the other dishes we ate, they know what they’re doing) really added a great deal to this star. Could these be the best scallops I’ve ever eaten? Probably yes, but, again, it’s hard to compare when they’re routinely so delicious. It’s not like a lasagne which sometimes comes together with the right taste, texture, balance of ingredients, etc., which amounts to something truly delicious. This was simple, elegant scallops.

I’m not complaining. Who doesn’t love scallops?

40 / 100 best dishes in London

Mini crabcake pasta


Looking around for recipes, I came across one for crabcakes, but felt in the mood for pasta – so I went for a combination of the two.

I’d rather imagined marble-sized balls of crabcake in a garlicky olive oil sauce. It didn’t quite work out like that, but was nice enough.

I served this with spinach, rocket and watercress salad, with diced tomatoes since I’d chopped too much.


Mini crabcake pasta
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 4
  • 100g fresh white crab meat
  • 2 large handfuls brown breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 bunch coriander (roughly chopped)
  • 1 red onion (chopped)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Olive oil
  • 1 large handful mixed spinach, watercress and rocket
To serve
  • 300g dry weight pasta (boiled)
  • 1 medium tomato (diced)
  1. Beat eggs and mix in crab meat. Add chopped coriander (that's cilantro for our American friends. Add breadcrumbs and mix well. You don't want the mix to be too wet.
  2. Heat a little oil in a heavy frying pan over a medium heat. Make cakes with the mix in heaped teaspoon sizes. Mine didn't stay as balls, so I flipped then and fried each side until dark golden brown. Fry in batches and remove to a plate.
  3. Add a bit more oil, then fry onion and toss in the mixed leaves and garlic.
  4. Mix pasta, tomatoes, onions and leaves and most cakes, retaining a few to place on top when plated. Drizzle with any remaining oil.