Archipelago – An exotic meats restaurant, London

I love trying different foods from different cultures, different chefs and different ingredients. Claire and I decided on exploring Archipelago, which was a very different experience from your usual London restaurant.

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As you walk in, you feel like you are no longer in London. It has a coziness to it with little treasures and trinkets placed everywhere, which were obviously from the owners’ explorations around the world. I spotted an eclectic collection of bits from Thai, Indonesian, Egyptian, Moroccan, Australian Aborigine, Indian, Turkish and African cultures as well as peacock feathers and palm trees in every little corner. Claire described the feeling as being much like when you were a little kid and you build a fort and you had created your own little world.

The drinks menu came in a wooden cylinder box with carvings on it. It was rolled up inside and on one side of the paper was a map and the other side were the drinks. The food menus were also rolled up and they were tied with a plastic flower and placed in a little treasure-chest-type box.

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After we ordered our meals, which the waiter was very helpful with to give us an idea of tastes and flavours, we were given a platter of nibbles. This was mixture of mini goat cheese and caramelised onion tartlets, a mini Thai flavoured chicken and mango tartlet, a couple little slices of garlic pitta bread, a couple of dips and mini bowl of sweet potato chips.

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Before we knew it, we were greeted with our starter of crocodile wrapped in vine leaves with sweet plum sauce, which we shared. It came looking like the Greek Domades, which is rice wrapped in vine leaves. It had a smoky and almost cigar-type smell to it and together it tasted very much like kad kapraw gai which is a Thai minced chicken dish with basil and lemon grass. To be honest, because of all the strong flavours, I was unable to taste the actual crocodile, which was disappointing. It just had the texture of chicken.

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I ordered the kangaroo for my main, which tasted like Rendang (An Indonesian/Malaysian beef curry). It came as a very generous helping in a little Chinese bowl with a stir fry of Pak Choi and water spinach (which is known in Indonesia as Kang Kung) and a little Chinese soup spoon of Tzatziki-type sauce on the side. The flavours of the curry sauce, although absolutely delicious, definitely overpowered the meat and therefore it tasted very much like beef. Again, disappointingly, I couldn’t taste the actual kangaroo.

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Claire had the Bison, which came medium rare and had a side of watercrest salad, some cassava chips and a little Chinese soup spoon with a mushroom sauce. The bison had a mixture of interesting flavours to it. It had a liver-like taste and texture and the outside was very gamey and tasted slightly like fennel. The cassava chips were very much like little hash browns and the mushroom sauce tasted slightly boozy and very earthy.

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Claire insisted that we order what was named on the menu as a Love Bug Salad, because if we were going to come to this restaurant to be adventurous, then we might as well do it right. This salad was a mixture of rocket leaves, spinach leaves, a sweet and spicy dressing and (of course) the bugs, which were locusts and crickets (mmmm… Yummy… please sense the sarcasm).  I am very adventurous when it comes to food, but not when it comes to bugs as I do have a HUGE fear of them. Claire put me to shame as she dug straight in a crunched a cricket without batting an eyelid. I must say, it took me a couple of tries to allow myself to put that fork with the toasted and seasoned cricket into my mouth and (don’t ask why) I had to chew it very fast with my eyes closed. After swallowing it, I realised it wasn’t that bad. It tasted like a tiny little piece of barbequed meat. I could not bring myself to eat the locust, but Claire said it also tasted exactly the same. And now, Reader, I can only dare you to try it for yourself.

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And as the evening came to an end, our waiter brought out the dessert menu and casually noted, “We’re out scorpions and beetle, but we do have some crushed worms”.

At first I thought he was joking so I laughed, but he kept a straight face and explained that this was definitely not a joke.

“Oh good”, I thought, “Well, at least they have the crushed worms”.

In the end we were too full to even think about ordering a dessert so we just got the bill, which ended up being £40.00 per person. I thought it was very overpriced for the quality of the dishes as they were not high end to say the least, but the bison and the bug salad were definitely interesting to try. Also the atmosphere was very interesting and the service was excellent.

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http://www.archipelago-restaurant.co.uk/

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Shoryu Ramen – The Battle of the Soho Ramen Bars, London

As the winter approaches and the grey, rainy, months that London is infamous for begin, where the sun stops shining and the birds stop singing – you can find sanctuary in the warmth of the new craze of the Ramen bars in Soho.

Ramen, Hirata Buns and Japanese Tapas seem to be what all the cool kids in Soho are eating these days. So, one rainy Friday evening Claire and I decided to try out Shoryu Ramen, just down one of the side streets off Shaftsbury Avenue in Soho, London.

They don’t take bookings but if you get early enough you will definitely get a table – but by 8pm a queue begins at the door. As you walk through the Japanese Noren door curtains, you’ll be greeted and taken to your table through the wonderful smells in the restaurant. The waiters/waitresses really know the food and are happy to help you decide what to order.

As it was still happy hour in the restaurant (£5.00 per cocktails during happy hour), we obviously had to have a cocktail to start off the evening – we had a Wasabi Martini, which was sweeter than I expected but delicious all the same. With an open kitchen, you can see your food being freshly made by the chefs – and the wonderful smells coming out of the pots and pans are mouth-watering.

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We wanted to try everything on the menu but ended up ordering the Pork Belly Hirata Buns (£4.00 for 1 or £6.00 for 2), Tempura Soft Shell Crab (£7.00), and for the mains I had a Tokyo Shoyru (£9.90) and Claire had a Tori Kara-Age Men (£10.90).

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Hirata Buns are the new talk of the town with their sweet, fluffy, yet sticky buns, shaped like pita bread and filled with either fish, pork, chicken, prawn or mushrooms. We ordered the bbq pork belly which had a lovely bbq sauce, cucumber, salad leaves, and a Japanese mayonnaise.

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Tempura Soft Shell Crab are an incredible invention. These soft shell crabs are dipped into a tempura batter (shells stay on) and it is deep fried and served with a sweet, sesame soy-sauce on the side to dip. Crunchy on the outside, soft and meaty and seaside flavours on the inside – you do not even notice the shell of the crab as it just blends with the batter.

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Tokyo Shoyu is made with the original thin Hosomen Noodles, which are the original Ramen egg noodle and have a great bite to them. Soaked in a soy and pork broth and then decorated with some bbq pork, nitamago (a delicious soft boiled egg seasoned with soya sauce – my favourite bit of the noodles), nori (a crispy seaweed), picked bamboo shoots, naruto fish cake (which have a completely different taste to the western fish cakes that are made with potatoes; instead these have a much bouncier and smoother texture to them and a much sweeter flavour), spring onions and bonito flakes (salty, fish flavoured flakes) sprinkled over for a finish. The broth was absolutely heart-warming – It tasted like miso soup, but with the flavours of the pork stock coming through. Ramen are an art form in Japan and these came looking absolutely stunning! On the table there is chili oil, sesame oil, fresh garlic and a garlic crusher, and other condiments to make the soup your own.

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Claire ordered the gluten-free noodles with her Tori Kara-Age Men, which tasted very much like a softer Vietnamese pho noodle.  have to admit that this was not to my taste. I am more of a ramen girl. The broth is a miso soup made with shitake mushrooms and konbu soy and it is decorated with fried chicken (tori kara-age is a Japanese friend chicken), nitamago, kikurage (a jelly textured, black fungus mushroom), nori, kelp, mushrooms, spring onions and a naruto fish cake. It had a very earthy flavour to it and was also very tasty.

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Exactly how I would imagine a little ramen bar in Japan to be like and we headed back out into the rain with very warm and happy bellies.

http://www.shoryuramen.com