Category Archives: Asian

Chaophraya Graduation Menu, by guest blogger Lucy Reynolds 

With all the new pop-ups and high profile restaurants opening in Leeds, it is easy to often forget the old faithfuls that have served the city amazing food well before the culinary revolution of the last few years had taken hold. Chaophraya is one of those places – a steadfast beacon of high quality, traditional Thai cuisine in beautiful surroundings which seems to have always been in Leeds, and well respected as a place for fine dining. Due to the saturation of new places opening in Leeds, offering competitively high quality fare, it does make you wonder how older establishments compete with the new influx of trendy eating spots, including award winning Zaap, which boasts Thai street food. I think the answer has to be quality – or to put it more bluntly (yet grammatically incorrect) : if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!  
I had been to Chaophraya years ago and was very impressed with the exotic interiors of the restaurant and the sumptuousness of the food (not to mention the traditional procession with drum beating which seemed to happen comically every time my friend and I were having an in-depth conversation). This time round, nearly 6 years later, nothing had changed. It looked exactly the same and had the same sense of class and glamour that I had remembered from my first visit. Even my friend, who works as a chef and who had accompanied me as my plus one, commented on how fancy it was – and that was just the bar area. 

The event we had been invited to was the launch of their new Graduation menu, tied in with a few of the other experience packages they offer, like the cooking school and cocktail making masterclasses. We felt really lucky to be taking part in this as there were only two other bloggers there, which gave us a glimpse of what a private cooking class might feel like. After a complimentary glass of bubbly, we were whisked upstairs to the demonstration area, where Fon, our lovely hostess, showed us how to make our first delicacy, sweet corn cakes. We all donned a surgical rubber glove (and avoided the inappropriate gags running round our brains) and got stuck in, mixing sweet corn, red Thai curry paste, flour and eggs and making small patties to be fried. It was easy, fun and lovely to see them all fluffed up after being cooked. We also tried our hand at making vegetarian Thai spring rolls, with the help of the amazing Lady Noi, a senior chef from the restaurant who could chop vegetables up at lightning speed and work a wok like a true culinary artist. After she had cooked our fillings for the rolls, it was now our chance at donning an apron, a tall paper chef’s hat and mimicking Lady Noi’s effortless spring roll preparation. Whereas hers took seconds, mine took minutes and whilst my first effort looked like a flabby Swiss roll, after a bit of practice, I had actually learnt how to roll a spring roll. Chiyo! as they’d say in Thailand.(Yes, I googled that). Fon also taught us how to make golden baskets too, with a skilful twist on the tying of the same wrap used for spring rolls

After cleaning up, we sat down to our beautiful set table and were promptly served with our homemade sweetcorn cakes and spring rolls with lashings of sweet chilli sauce. Alongside these we also received two more of the Graduation menu appetisers, with scallops and black pudding and Mahoh (finely diced pork, with palm sugar, sweet turnips and peanuts, served on pineapple) being served up with a real eye for artistry.

Our Sweetcorn cakes were absolutely delicious (definitely something I’m going to try to cook at home) and the Spring rolls were crispy, light and delicious when dipped in the addictive chilli sauce. The Mahoh, whilst looking like little peanut butter balls resting on the back of a pineapple swan, were less appetising, being far too sweet for my palate. I couldn’t taste the pork at all and it didn’t appeal to me or my diners, but I’m sure the sweet toothed may enjoy it. The real star of the appetiser line up though was the scallops and black pudding which, Fon told us to our horror, was being taken off the menu due to not being as popular as the other dishes. This would be a gastronomic tragedy! The scallop was perfectly cooked, with juicy slices of mango and spicy chilli, which were perched on what has to be the best slice of black pudding I have ever tasted. Everyone sat at our table agreed how wonderful this dish was, so I hope this heartfelt plea stops the powers that be at Chaophraya from removing this from the menu. Save our scallops!

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The portion sizes for the appetisers were incredibly generous,so much so that we had to take some home with us (my colleagues at work were jealous the next day – spring rolls beat sandwiches any day). Our main meals were then presented, again with hugely generous portion sizes, offering up roasted duck in red curry, steamed sea bass with ginger and soy sauce and wok chicken noodle with sriracha sauce and a mountain of steaming egg fried rice.

Each meal was as delicious as the next, with the sea bass fillets beautifully dripping in sticky soy emulsion and the tender duck being strangely yet deliciously complimented by a mixed berry sauce which worked well with the spice of the red curry. The sriracha dish was probably my favourite, as I am a huge hot sauce fan, with the soft noodle and tender chicken melting in the mouth and the spice being well balanced so as not to overpower the tastebuds. From looking at the menu, vegetarians also have a great choice for the mains, with a veggie green curry, sweet and sour crispy tofu and stir fried aubergine and basil being offered. 

After filling up another take away box with the delicious remnants of our mains, we were faced with the task of making our own fruity cocktail. Headed by a friendly barman from the restaurant, we all learnt how to properly mix our cocktail, blending mixed berry purées with a shot of vanilla vodka and Chambord and shaking it like a Polaroid picture. It was wonderful fun and the cocktail tasted brilliant – so fruity that you hardly noticed there was any booze in it – dangerous and moreish, like a good cocktail should be. This was then followed up by our dessert, a bubbling chocolate fondue with exotic fruits served in a pineapple. A lovely fresh way to end the meal, although none of us were sure about the combination of pineapple and chocolate, so stuck with the old favourite of strawberries instead. 

In my opinion, if you had just graduated, Chaophraya would be a great place to celebrate, with the opulence of the surroundings and the high quality of food adding to your special day. The set menu is innovative and delicious and would satisfy anyone’s taste buds, especially if the black pudding dish remains. The cooking demos and cocktail classes are great fun (Lady Noi is a legend!) and would be suitable for hen parties, birthdays or any get together with like-minded friends who love good food and getting their hands dirty. Chaophraya may not be one of the newest restaurants in Leeds, but it is one of the best, showing that quality always keeps people coming back for more. 

Chaophraya

20A Blayds Court

Swinegate

Leeds

LS1 4AG

http://chaophraya.co.uk/venues/chaophraya-leeds/

Photos by Lucy Reynolds

Chicago

Ok, so why visit Chicago?? It’s probably not the first place that springs to mind when picking a North American holiday, but as we found out it’s got lots going for it. Before the trip my knowledge of the city came from stuff like the Chicago marathon, their love of deep dish pizza, Edward Hopper’s painting ‘Nighthawks’, being called the Windy City and watching The Good Wife. Fairly standard stuff, apart from that I was a bit clueless. 

Here’s some great things about the city:

It’s so flat!!

Chicago’s dead easy to get around on foot, but if walking big distances aren’t your thing or you want to venture further afield, the L (elevated train system) is cheap and straightforward to use. On our walkabouts we found Chicagoans so likeable and friendly, the city was far less crowded than New York and I’d say a lot more relaxed too.

Make the most of FREE stuff!!

One of the best things was the amount of free stuff to enjoy, including:

Millenium Park 

A public park slap bang in the Loop where you’ll find Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, Frank Gehry’s Jay Pritzker Pavillion and the Crown Fountain. Definitely a tourist magnet, Cloud Gate’s seen from North Michigan Avenue and is a landmark that just lures people in.

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Free views anyone?!

As much as I wanted to experience the Sky Deck in the Willis Tower, I didn’t like price tag, especially when I found out a well known ‘secret’ spot with a fantastic view for free in the John Hancock Centre. Venturing up to the Signature Room on the 95th floor rewarded us with a great view for nowt, in our case we nipped into the ladies toilets where the photo was taken, as the restaurant wasn’t open yet. 

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We got another free view at Cindy’s in the Chicago Athletic Association, this cool bar has a terrace overlooking Millennium park and cracking cocktails to go with it!

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Chicago Cultural Centre

We loved its Tiffany-stained glass domes, marble lobbies and mother of pearl mosaics. 

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Lincoln Park Zoo 

Easy to get to, lots of different animals (200+ species) to see and free to boot; what’s not to like?! We spent a couple of hours there easy!

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Museum of Contemporary Photography

Centrally located, just off Millennium Park and the Chicago Institute of Art. It was one of our lasts stops before our plane back to the UK and I’m glad we managed to fit it in as this small but perfectly formed museum likes to show contemporary work from new national and international photographers.  

Public art 

The city has so much free art on display, some donated by world famous artists, such as Picasso, Miro, Chagall and Henry Moore. We saw many wandering around the city, whilst many were in the city’s municipal buildings. 

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Garfield Park Conservatory 

Easily reached with a trip on the L, this is one of the largest conservatories in the country and was well worth a trip out. There’s a beautiful palm house, fern room, dessert house and tonnes more. If you LOVE succulents, cacti, ferns and palms you will absolutely LOVE this place!

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National Museum of Mexican Art

Another highlight reached by a trip out of town on the L, this museum’s located in the Pilsen neighbourhood. The area itself has lots of character with street art and this gem of a museum, full of thought provoking and beautiful pieces. I wished we’d been able to spend more time to really explore Pilsen, in particular see the colourful murals and try out some of amazing Mexican food we kept smelling. 

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Explore the outer neighbourhoods

I kept reading about Chicago’s hipster suburbs and in hindsight we should’ve done more of it. The 606 is a useful stretch to consider – an elevated park trail linking four neighbourhoods together (Humboldt Park, Wicker Park, Logan Square and Bucktown). A couple of hours spent in Wicker Park before our flight home were definitely well spent, soaking in a bit of suburban culture and a tasty Furious Spoon ramen feed en route.

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Chicago by night

Many of the buildings become illuminated and bring the city’s skyline to life at night. 

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Obviously not everything’s free (shame), here’s some of our favourites:

Chicago Institute of Art 

A place I could’ve stayed all day – their collection of American Art, Impressionist and Post Impressionist pieces were plenty to satisfy my artistic needs. One high point was seeing Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, I was like an excited child when I spotted it from afar! 

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Architecture boat tour

This was one of the best things we did – learning about the history of the city, the architects and their buildings that shaped the area after the Great Chicago Fire from interesting and knowledgeable guides. I can’t recommend doing this more, 75 minutes well spent!!

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Great food scene

Maybe it doesn’t possess the reputation of other cities, such as New York and San Francisco, but Chicago has plenty going on. With lots of fantastic independent restaurants and bars, the city has a great food and drink scene to brag about, it’s not all deep dish pizzas and hotdogs either! 

Some of our food highlights included:

Minghin Cuisine – this all day dim sum joint was our first port of call after landing in the city. With lots of dim sum classics and roasted meats to choose from, I was completely in my element and ordered far too much (no surprise there!), and ended up being so full I couldn’t manage any more food until the following day!

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Korean at Crisp was a great lunch stop – quick service, inexpensive menu choices (korean burritos, bibimbap, sandwiches, fried chicken etc) and really tasty food. My Seoul steak bowl of bulgogi beef and rice, paired with two awesome sauces was particularly good, inparticular their mayo based ‘atomic sauce’ and ‘smoky spicy BBQ,’ a spicy gochujang sauce.

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Japanese at Momotaro was booked weeks in advance after reading fab reviews. The restaurant, located in popular Fulton Market District had an interesting cocktail list and mixologists who definitely knew their stuff. Waiting staff were helpful, which was much needed as the menu covers a lot of bases, so even for those knowledgeable with Japanese cuisine it may take of bit of deciphering. For me the hot dishes stood out more compared to the sushi, but on the whole we enjoyed the experience.

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The Publican in Fulton Market District is one of the city’s current hotspots (along with Momotaro), it’s basically a large beer hall serving great food and lots of it! Expect a menu heavily laden with seafood and pork dishes, brought to diners sitting at long communal tables stretching across the hall from end to end.

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Tanta, this Peruvian restaurant really showed off the art of fusion food, with a concoction of European and Asian influences their menu makes a point of the cuisine’s diversity. I really liked the helpful serving staff, great cocktails; the Pisco Sour is recommended, great plates ideal for sharing and a lively atmosphere. We really loved the anticuchos skewers with New York strip, potatoes, corn and huacatay and the chafe aeropuerto, a side dish  of pork fried rice in a hot bowl, topped with a shrimp tortilla and a huge smack of spicy garlic in there for good measure. Enough to get scare off vampires! 

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Frontera Grill (N. Clark Street) was our Saturday brunch spot. A popular haunt with locals and tourists alike, it soon became full after we arrived and I’m not surprised – great brunch cocktails, lots of choice on the menu, really friendly staff and tasty food.

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Coffee 

Chicago has great specialty coffee shops committed to serving direct trade coffee, we visited a few whilst we were there including Bowtruss, Intelligentsia and Asado. These three are definitely worth popping into with skilful baristas and great coffee!

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Doughnuts

I had no idea Chicago had a thing for doughnuts, but the city has shops aplenty with a huge variety for anyone with a sweet tooth to try! We saw many people going in for breakfast, one with a coffee seemed the done thing, from a long list we tried Firecakes, Do-Rite and Glazed and Infused, our favourite was definitely Firecakes. Personally I  found many just too big and too sweet (emphasising my lack of a sweet tooth), however saying that I still wish we’d managed to try The Doughnut Vault and Bombobar also.

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Have you been to Chicago, what did you make of it?

Is there anything we should’ve done that we didn’t?! 

On The Bab, Covent Garden

On The Bab, Korean street food purveyors are found in Covent Garden Opera Tavern. Their food I’d seen on Instagram and basically just wanted to get my hands on their fried chicken, take a look for yourselves and you’ll see what I mean. Our lunch stint at the Opera Tavern had filled me satisfactorily, but when seeing this place on the way out I couldn’t help going in, I’m hoping you’ll forgive the lack of willpower?!

On entering, tables fill a fairly narrow space and work their way around the counter where all the action in the kitchen and bar happens. With just a few spare bar seats unoccupied, we took up the remaining counter spots after a little struggle to get there. The place is a little short on space and diners may find themselves squeezed within close proximity of neighbouring diners on three out of four sides. However, that brings along with it a lively atmosphere.  

For such a busy time of day, they seemed a tad short staffed out front and the waiter seemed completely rushed off his feet, bezzing around as best as he could. Now who was I kidding when I said I only wanted to try the fried chicken, if only I had the willpower to resist ordering more. Even though I’d only just finished lunch!! Their buns on the menu sounded great, so my resistance wained without much effort and alongside the fried chicken were a couple of buns, one filled with spicy pork, the other with crispy chicken. 

The best bit – the fried chicken which were crispy, coated in a sauce that did as advertised (sweet and spicy) and topped with crushed peanuts to add texture. The chicken itself was like popcorn chicken, wolfed down within a minute and could’ve done with being chunkier pieces resulting in juicier meat. The buns could’ve been hotter, one wasn’t very hot at all, verging on the side of just warm. The better of the two fillings was the pork – sweet, spicy, sticky and sloppy. Whilst the crispy chicken was a tad anaemic and could’ve done with a bit longer in the fryer to crispen it up more. The other half’s spicy pork on rice didn’t do his gluten intolerance any favours, but was a tasty filling bowl. 

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Sojito and Sojito breeze
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Yangyum chicken

 

Crispy chicken bun

 

Spicy pork bun
Spicy pork on rice 

On reflection I’d say On the Bab does decent grub overall – it’s definitely not perfect, but turns out tasty food and is reasonably priced for the location. Don’t be going there for a leisurely long lunch or intimate dinner, it’s not kind of place at all I think, to me it’s more of a quick pit stop. They need to brush up on their service, more people out front would help no end. 

On the Bab

36 Wellington Street

Covent Garden

London

WC2E 7BD

http://onthebab.co.uk/coventgarden/index.html#4thPage

Chinese New Year @ Naturally Chinese, Surbiton

Increasingly more places are getting to grips with catering for those with a gluten intolerance, however it can still be a challenge at times, in particular for those with a love of asian food. When Chinese New Year arrives the other half would usually have slim pickings, where dishes not containing the dreaded gluten would be few and far between. Luckily since moving down south, we’ve found Naturally Chinese – the first Chinese restaurant to be gluten free accredited. As you can imagine this is no mean feat, making it the obvious place for us to go for Chinese New Year. 

Having been last year we knew it was good, booking in advance to avoid disappointment, we turned up Friday evening. For me it was a bit of a triple whammy meal – Chinese New Year, end of half term and Valentine’s Day.

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Automatically my eyes head straight towards the starters to see if there’s any dim sum on the menu. My favourite ha gau dumplings were a given, juicy prawns wrapped in gelatinous translucent wrappers, followed by crispy belly pork (of course) with a good meat to fat ratio and decent crackling. Whilst gluten free goodies included crispy squid, spring rolls made with rice paper and a beef brisket hot pot. Service was friendly, not over-facing and like our previous visit were on hand for advice with the gluten free menu. Personally I can’t fault Naturally Chinese – it’s a popular restaurant, however still retains a relaxed ambience, the food is spot on and those with a gluten intolerance can rest easy in the knowledge that all the highest standards and guidelines have been followed to the nth degree.

Starters – ha gau, prawn toast, spring rolls and crispy squid
Crispy squid
Rice paper spring rolls
Sesame prawn toast
Roast pork belly, beef brisket hot pot
Beef brisket hot pot
Crispy pork belly

Naturally Chinese

59-63 Brighton Road

Surbiton

Surrey

KT6 5LR

http://www.naturallychineserestaurant.co.uk

So’s Kitchen, Woking

I’m very slowly working my way around Woking, trying to find tasty independents to get fed and wondered if there was a decent Chinese in the area. I’d seen a Chinese restaurant called So’s Kitchen near Woking train station and after a little research that was wholly positive I suggested going for lunch. Stepping inside it was kinda refreshing not seeing the traditional red and gold interiors and was quite modest in comparison. The menu had classic dim sum, a lunch menu with both rice and noodle dishes then an a la carte menu, no surprises to catch you out and all pretty standard stuff.

Lunch started really well with dumplings – tasty pot stickers filled with pork and prawn, nicely charred on the bottom and polished off in a couple of minutes. The ha gau dumplings were juicy, lovely and translucent, however I’ve had plumper ones with more filling.

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Off the lunch menu there was a pork and rice dish that my husband fancied, the pork was of the char sui variety and tasty, however the rice was very very dry, I may be wrong but it’s like the rice was precooked, left to go cold so it loses moisture then used for the dish. I know this is often a method used to keep the grains separate but it did seem overly dry. I was, as always completely predictable with my choice – beef ho fun noodles! If I’m honest unless it’s a full on dim sum affair, being a creature of habit it’s what I ALWAYS order; they were ok, no more than that.  For me, a great beef ho fun has a delicate balancing act between soy and oiliness – too much oil makes it messy, too little makes it bland and dry. Finally the beef should be tender and soft. I love the oiliness of the dish, but these rice noodles didn’t have the glossiness, were a touch dryer and not as moreish.  It wasn’t saved by the seasoning either as it was lacking, the beef was bland and had lost tenderness.

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Overall it was ok, saved by the dumplings which was the highlight and I couldn’t fault the friendly and efficient staff. It was a bit of a shame, especially after reading lots of positive stuff on the web, I should probably revisit at some point, probably for the dim sum.

So’s Kitchen

1 White Rose Lane

Woking

Surrey

GU22 7AA

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sos-Kitchen/127966857252270