Saturday, May 31, 2014

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Po Chung Ma Cha (Tottenham Court Road)

An unpretentious Korean restaurant, Po Chung Ma Cha is situated on a street sandwiched between several other Korean and Japanese restaurants, two of which I have reviewed here. Such is the dense competition on that road alone, product differentiation between these eateries is tantamount, and perhaps it was the extra spices the chefs added to their dishes, but this place definitely stood out, taste-wise.

The interior decor was nothing special, bordering on shabby, with an option to sit around the area where the food is prepared in a setting that is almost canteen-like. The upside of this is that the people there have gone to the restaurant with the sole aim of eating and catching up, not for posturing. And personally, I find being in the company of other people who love eating heightens my enjoyment of the meal more.

Your bill will be considerably cut by the fact that Po Chung Ma Cha supplies unlimited amounts of green tea, all exceptionally well-brewed. The meals are nothing short of delicious. For starters, we shared fishcakes, although these turned out to be fishcakes like nothing I’d ever seen before, swimming around in noodle stew. Once you get over the fact that it doesn’t look like what you’re accustomed to, it’s an absolute treat. For mains, I had a beef bibimbap, and again, they were great. Despite it being quite chilli, I asked for even more spicy sauce, because the ingredients were utterly moreish; the cucumber, in particular, went very well with the sauce.

We didn’t sample any of the carbs, so I can’t speak for them (my experience from Korean restaurants is that rice tends to be fairly run-of-the-mill), but in terms of meat and vegetables, I really liked it here Points were sadly lost for the fact that we were all but ushered out of the place by waiters, who were a bit too keen to get to their lunch break, as well as the nuisance that arose from not being allowed to split the bill when paying by card. These two foibles aside, you won’t find a better Korean place that boasts better flavour around Bloomsbury.

Grade: A-


Edit: 19th October 2014.

I went to Po Chung Ma Cha again on a Friday night, and the place was absolutely buzzing! By the time we left, a queue of about 10 people had formed outside. This time seafood pancake was ordered, as well as a fantastic stew of an assortment of seafoods and a spicy chicken bimbimbap:

The service was fantastic; the lady saw that we hadn't applied the sauce to the bimbimbap evenly, so she helped us out. The seafood pancake has been done better at Koba, but the seafood stew was an absolute dream! Sat on an electric heater so the food was piping hot throughout, it featured a mishmash of mussels, crabs, and all sorts of seafood delicacies that I adore. The spiciness of the stew it was in was optimal too, and paired with the rice from the chicken bimbimbap, the whole thing was delicious.

Thus, my grade of A- from last time was reinforced, although this place impressed so much this time round, it is extremely close to an A! (Just the seafood pancake let the side down I'm afraid :P)

Friday, May 30, 2014

FILM REVIEW: Maleficent (Robert Stromberg, 2014)

Turning the well-known story of Sleeping Beauty on its head, Wicked-style, Maleficent tells the story of two lands. One is ruled by a vain King, and inhabited by discontent mortals, unhappy at the extent of inequality facing them (an apt parable for society today, perhaps). The other is full of mythical creatures, including pixies, walking trees and lots of fairies, one of the most prominent of which is the titular Maleficent.

At the start of the film, Maleficent is but a girl, and, given her advanced magical powers, already somewhat of a protector of her land and those in it. She is alerted of a human boy of about her age, Stefan, who has crossed boundaries to her land, and tried to pickpocket a diamond. Confronting him, she forces him to return the diamond, but, despite the compromising circumstances in which they meet, she comes to like him. He, like her, is an orphan, and, when he accidentally singes her with his iron ring, throws it away as a gesture of goodwill. Maleficent is deeply moved by this, and the two become friends, and then lovers.

However, whilst the young Maleficent is a romantic, Stefan is more of a pragmatist. After he hits adulthood he leaves her to fulfil his ambitions, and makes his way up to become one of the King’s cronies. On his deathbed from a failed siege of Maleficent’s land, the King promises he will name his heir and betroth his daughter to anyone who can slay Maleficent. Stefan is fond of Maleficent, but he is much, much fonder of power and glory, and, whilst he stops short of killing her, abuses her trust, drugging her to sleep, and cutting off her wings so as to give the impression that he did indeed slay her. And that is where our good girl turns into the embittered, malevolent figure of villainess that we remember from the Disney cartoon.

Hot on the heels of last year’s multiple-Oscar-winner Frozen, Maleficent is another Disney movie that subverts the conservative ‘girls need a Prince Charming to swoop in and save them’, and instead, promotes solidarity between sisters.

The central dynamic here is between Jolie’s horned fairy ruler and Elle Fanning as Aurora, the good-natured, trusting princess whom she had cursed as a baby. Both are well-cast; Jolie’s English accent is spot-on and she delivers her sarcastic lines with relish and genuinely instills fear into the audience. We genuinely believe hell hath no fury like a fairy scorned.

Elle Fanning impresses in a role that, in just about every other young actress, save perhaps Hailee Steinfeld, I would have found extremely grating. Aurora is naive, bordering on gullible (in one brilliant display of dramatic irony, she calls Maleficent her ‘fairy godmother’), but Fanning's winning smile and sweet performance keeps her endearing rather than dopey. The relationship between the two is the strongest part of the film, and when Aurora comes to learn the horrible truth, it is genuinely emotional; we feel as disappointed as she does.

Whilst the leading ladies are well-cast, the supporting men is more of a mixed bag. As Diablo, Maleficent’s sidekick raven, Sam Riley is an inspired choice. I’m so used to seeing him in offbeat indie movies like On The Road and Control, so to see him in such a high-profile blockbuster was a delight in itself. Diablo is a bird Maleficent rescues, with the view to becoming her wings after her’s are stolen from her, and whilst Diablo goes about his tasks, he is not afraid to question his mistress and give her lip back, elevating him into a much more interesting character than the standard Crabbe/Goyle-type yeomen.

However, as King Stefan, Sharlto Copley is a bad, bad choice. I feel the film’s casting directors missed a trick, because, whilst we’re obviously not supposed to sympathise with the man who broke Maleficent’s heart and betrayed her trust, there’s nothing wrong with making him dastardly handsome, just to yo-yo with our loyalties a bit. Copley is unattractive, and sports an angry Scottish accent. As such, I was firmly on Maleficent’s side, no matter how horrible her actions. Not ideal.

The middle act of Maleficent dragged, and some of the dialogue is pure cheese (such as when Aurora meets the young pup who we believe to be her Prince Charming). I was also somewhat underwhelmed with the three good fairies; I adore Imelda Staunton and Juno Temple, and cheered inside when I saw them. But whilst I found them amusing, I feel their foolish antics somewhat outstayed their welcome in the film, as did the meandering sequences where Aurora gets to see Maleficent’s kingdom.

That being said, the fantasy action sequences are nothing short of breath-taking: hyper-energetic and thrilling without being overly violent, and the showdown finale was brilliantly staged. All in all, a good popcorn movie that was a little on the indulgent side, but it promoted empathy and girl power. And that’s never a bad thing in my eyes.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Vegetarian toad-in-the-hole, onions, cauliflower cheese and roast potatoes.

Price: £3.00

Mark: 9/10 (one of the most satisfying dishes I've had from my work canteen).

Friday, May 16, 2014

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Belgo Centraal (Covent Garden)

Audrey Hepburn. Hercule Poirot. Eden Hazard. What do that three eclectic threesome have in common? That would be the element they also have in common with this restaurant: Belgium. Prior to visiting Belgo Centraal I wasn’t sure just what constituted ‘Belgian cuisine’, expecting nothing more than a wide selection of waffles.

Having been to the restaurant, I must admit that I am not any closer to being enlightened. The croquettes we had for starters, whilst being perfectly edible, didn’t have any crowning features that elevated it above the McDonald’s cheesy bites, so I was left pondering just how Belgian it was. My main – garlic chicken – whilst certainly lightyears ahead of the dross they serve at Nando’s, again, didn’t seem to have a particular secret ingredient that made it any more Belgian than anything else I’d ever consumed. Perhaps I’m being churlish – had the waiters spent more time educating me, I would have left the restaurant happier, and my taste buds feeling more cultured. Instead, I just felt like I’d had a nice meal, but without any geographical component to it.

The majority of the food tasted good, although the frites ordered for sides did not deliver; the stuff they churn out at KFC is less stale than the Belgo crap. The turnover for food orders was swift, but I can’t help feeling the quality suffered at its expense. The mussel-to-shell ratio was also disappointing; the mussel in the above photo are so artfully arranged that it detracts from the fact that you aren't actually getting very much fish at all. Same goes for the prawn starters - it cost about six pounds, but  the shell took up far more space than any real food. I dislike being conned, just saying. Do you want to know something else I dislike? Waiters who take ages when you ask them for tissues. The food at Belgo was very difficult to eat tidily, and I requested some extra tissues. They did arrive – but only after I prompted the waiters again. Not impressed.

The highlight of my visit to Belgo was undoubtedly the beer selection, arguably the only legitimately Belgian thing about the whole place. There were some wonderfully quirky sounding beers, served in such a generous portion that the alcohol content almost makes you forget about the chips that you’ve been ripped off for. Even for those who aren’t usually big on beer, I guarantee there’ll be something in the selection at Belgo there – check out the fruit beers.

Overall, I enjoyed my dining experience at Belgo, and would particularly recommend it beer-drinkers. In terms of food, I was satisfied, without being so blown away that I would hurry back.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

PUB REVIEW: Bierpalast (Temple)

Watching football and drinking beer pretty much go hand-in-hand where I’m from. However, having attended Bath University (a sports uni that was big on its drinking games) and being an economist, when it comes to beer, I usually opt for the one that will get me the drunkest for the least money, as opposed to that which tastes the best. Pre-Chelsea game, I can be found hovering around Fulham Broadway tube station with a can of Stella in my hand, dodging the security guards who will give me a talking to if they find me. Such is the extensiveness of my drinking beer that I’ve actually grown to like the terrible brews like Stella and Foster’s. However, when I have a classier brand, like Peroni, I can taste a discernible difference, so obviously my tastebuds haven’t completely gone in the beer department. For that reason, I thought I’d check out a German beer house.

The first beer I went for was a wheat beer with undertones of vanilla and banana, and it was wonderful. I was brave and went for a whole stein (more than two pints worth), so it was lucky that I picked one I liked so much. The next brew was a darker wheat, which I enjoyed less (I consider Corona and Peroni superior), but it was sure as hell nicer than Carling. For food, I had meatloaf and gravy, which was fine, but the pub was a little miserly on the gravy for my liking (I’d been to a British pub just days before and my meal then had been lathered in gravy, just how I like it). Because I didn't mix my alcohols, my hangover the next day wasn't too strong, yet by the time I left the pub, I was in extremely high spirits, so the alcohol had done its short-term job.

The experience of Bierpalast, on the whole, was hugely enjoyable. The waiters were more than happy to stop and impart their expertise, and the guy who told me about the beers clearly had a fondness for the vanilla-tinted one, so I feel he recommended well. The majority of the pub is situated in the basement, and it wasn’t anywhere near as over-crowded as a nearby pub that I’d walked past on my way there from Temple station. One of the most off-putting elements of most pubs on a Friday at 7pm is just how choc-a-bloc full of people it is. It can be very claustrophobic, and damn near impossible to find a seat for two people. But for some reason this place was populated without being over-crowded, and neither did it blast some obnoxious popular music so loud you couldn’t hear yourself think. Come to think of it, the fact that it stayed true to its German roots (most of the waiters/waitresses had thick German accents) rather than pandering to British tastes, probably dissuaded the more nationalist clientele, but for the likes of me with no nationalistic agenda who just want a good beer, I was super-grateful. For people who enjoy a good brew, I would give this place a huge thumbs up.

Grade: A

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014


Steak and onion pie, mashed potato, peas and copious amounts of gravy, £3.30

Sunday, May 04, 2014

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Ibérica (Marylebone)

Offering a killer collection of Spanish tapas as well as dinner dishes, Ibérica had been recommended to me by someone actually from Spain, who had been none-too-impressed with the La Tasca-type tapas places that I personally enjoy. So, my logic was, if I liked La Tasca and they wasn’t impressed with it, then Ibérica must be something special to merit applause from them.

The quality of the food is unanimously high, albeit not pandering to people’s common perception of what Spanish food is (olives are starkly omitted from the menu). For starter, I ordered a platter of meats, all rich (and deliciously salty - even the ham impressed me, which is saying something as that’s my least favourite of the red meats) as well as croquettes, which were to die for. I’m all for the easy (read: cheap) option of mozzarella dippers from McDonald’s, but sometimes you just have to treat yourself, and I wolfed down my five croquettes in a matter of seconds. They were that good. For main, I had a bowl of black rice, which tasted much better than it caused me to look (my teeth were all tinted), and steak, which was possibly the weakest of the ensemble. I prefer steak in a big, juicy slab, but this was sliced into many pieces, and as such, looked like an anorexic steak. Not that edible.

The highlight of everything I had in my visit, however, was the dessert, la tarta de la abuela. Packaged in a kooky glass-with-a-lid, it was the most glorious concoction of nuts, chocolate, caramel and biscuit. Heavenly - make sure you get yourself some of that!

Whilst I would definitely recommend Ibérica from a gastronomical point of view, the prices were a little inflated for what they were. Spacing wasn’t ideal either - they squash you in in the most constricted of spaces, so that if you move even an inch, you affect the table next to you. Lastly, the waiters weren’t the cleverest. A shame, really, because the food was intelligently planned, joyfully cooked.

Grade: B+