All Balls at Cinnamon Soho

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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.

 

Som Tam at Kaosarn

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Papaya is an interesting fruit. When really ripe it’s sweet and aromatic. Overripe and it can take on a revolting vomitty taste. But when underripe it has a crunchy texture and a (relatively bland) vegetable flavour almost like kohlrabi.

“[It] rendered both Tom and Rachael unable to speak”

Here it is sliced into matchsticks, mixed with lettuce and tomatoes and dressed with a sour-sweet sauce of (I’m guessing) lime, holy basil, fish sauce and similar Thai flavourings. Oh, and of course no Thai salad would be complete without slivers of the hottest red chillies to be found, which rendered both Tom and Rachael unable to speak when they were unlucky enough to happen upon a piece.

It’s perhaps unfortunate that we scheduled this (okay, that I scheduled this) right after Rachael had just come back from Thailand, since it wasn’t likely to compete. Even so, and to my UK-acclimatised palate as well, it was fairly underwhelming. More Thai coleslaw than blow-your-mind dish it’s clear there are other more tempting options on offer in Brixton Village (in fact, we had a superlative British cheeseboard for dessert in next door Market Row).

I’m afraid I won’t be rushing back.

Shredded Pork Summer Rolls at Café East

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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!

Khow Suey at Mandalay

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You have to walk quite a way up Edgware Road to find this grotty café serving Burmese food. Time Out has included it in its list of 100 best dishes in London, so you should expect something a bit spectacular.

“I was ready to order a completely different soup!”

Luckily, Rachael insisted on asking what the dish was, since it was (slightly absurdly) listed in Time Out by its Burmese name, when the menu is in English. This was lucky, since I was ready to order a completely different soup!

We were asked whether we wanted it spicy or not, queried whether spicy meant really spicy, and chose to each order the mild option. Luckily, we had some additional conspirators with us, so they ordered the spicy version safe in the knowledge that they didn’t have to eat the lot! It turned out that the mild wasn’t hot at all, and the spicy one only pleasantly tingly. The spicy version was certainly better, so we added some chilli sauce / oil (provided on the table) – which I’m pretty sure was the only difference anyway.

The broth was a coconut milk-based, gentle laksa-like affair with a nutty, aromatic depth. Brimming with chicken and crispy rice vermicelli it would certainly make a large, comforting meal in itself.

“It was certainly no Koya Walnut Miso Udon”

Ultimately, though, we were hoping for something with a bit more pizzazz than your standard noodle soup, and if I’m honest that wasn’t there, at least not enough to drag me this far away from my usual stomping grounds. It was certainly no Koya Walnut Miso Udon, that’s for sure.