Friday, 8 December 2017

Good to see YUU again! // Yuu Kitchen restaurant review

If you like pretty plates of food, you have come to the right place! October marked the first birthday of Yuu Kitchen, a pan-Asian restaurant in London's Aldgate which I had the pleasure of attending the launch and opening of last year. When the Yuu Kitchen team invited me back to try some things from their new season menu, excited was an understatement!

On arrival we were presented with two of the most exquisitely presented cocktails. I don't normally drink cocktails with a meal (usually I would drink them beforehand / after / or before AND after if I'm feeling particularly fancy!) but both cocktails were beautifully light and pleasant to drink, not clashing with any aspects of the meal.

The first was a sharing cocktail called the Blushing Geisha which was presented as the cutest little tea set on a board with edible flowers. Said to contain cold infused jasmine tea, umeshu liqueur, vodka and sugar syrup, I couldn't initially detect any tea and only got hit with the liquor in a massive way. But over time, you could taste the tea. This was a light and fresh offering, which didn't detract away from the food.


The second was a one person cocktail named the Junk Boat, and contained gin, lemon juice, crème de apricot, vanilla syrup, and egg whites. I have never before had a cocktail that was so wonderfully multi layered like this one was. On the initial sip there was a lovely fresh and light citrus aspect to the drink, then a peach element as you caught a bit of the peach foam. This cocktail reminded me a little of a pina colada and brought a bit of sunshine to a dark winter's evening.


After such a impressive start, we sat hotly in anticipation of what was to follow.

Okra fries

Coated in a perfectly light batter - I don't like too heavy a batter on things - these were a delight to dip into the chilli mayo which had a little kick of heat, but not too much. The contrast of the crispy batter against the smooth puréed dip was a marriage made in heaven. These were deliciously moreish and I discovered the okra were especially delicious when dipped into the dipping sauce which accompanied the mushroom dumplings (below)


Salted edamame

Edamame is something that I usually order when I am out, so I was really pleased to see these on the menu. These were salted to perfection with a great crunch. Yuu also offer a chilli edamame alternative if you prefer - but I personally find you can't beat thick grains of sea salt!


Mushroom dumplings

There were unlike any mushroom dumplings I have ever had before. Ones I have tried elsewhere have either been slimy or greasy, with some water leakage (unfortunate), overly thick casings which feel heavy, and a distinct lack of mushroom filling. These were hands down the best mushroom dumplings I have ever had. Generously filled, these really celebrated the humble mushroom and had a beautiful earthy flavour. The casings were perfectly thin and the sides were seared on the grill, giving them crunchy edges (something you don't usually see!). The dipping sauce was sweet and subtle enough not to overpower the earthiness of the mushrooms. I adored the dipping sauce and used it for other things too (my okra comment above!).


Thai chicken larb

This was one of my favourite dishes of the night. It was a very generously sized portion and was a little like a Pad Thai, but with a twist. This dish consisted of minced chicken, peanuts and lime, topped with red chilli and accompanied by a giant rice crisp. Admittedly it was quite a difficult dish to eat with chopsticks. I used the rice crisps as a sort of scoop but occasionally they would crumble if you stacked them too heavily with chicken larb (guilty!). But I adored the flavours and there was a good combination of textures thanks to the addition of the rice crisp. 



Grilled duck hearts

Yes you are reading this correctly. The hearts of a duck. I was fascinated when I saw these on the menu but wasn't sure if I was brave enough to try them. I eat most things, but I actively try and avoid any organs. But you know what? These were actually really, really tasty. You had to put the fact they were actual hearts to one side, and try and concentrate on the taste. I expected them to be quite chewy, but they weren't tough at all. Admittedly they weren't as soft as say liver, but they tasted more like beef than duck, and weren't too irony like I thought they would be. They were topped with the most beautiful BBQ sauce. When I say that the BBQ sauce was smokey... it was a lot more intense than that... like it had been smoked in a wood chipper or something. I have never before had such a wonderfully smokey, woody flavour. To counter balance the savory element to the dish, the clever Yuu chefs added onions to add some sweetness and colour, and garlic crisps for added crunch. Don't be scared to try this dish - it is beautifully done and worth being brave for!


Tuna tartare

Beautifully presented on individual spoons, the tuna tartare was accompanied by avocado, a spicy coconut miso and topped with onion rice straws. The straws were a nice addition and added a crunch to a softly textured dish. I was a little nervous about this dish as coconut isn't one of my favourite things... however in this context it was more of a coconut milk instead of shredded coconut, and coconut milk I am fine with. This was a lovely light and fresh plate, and was a great palette cleanser. There was a hint of spice which was perfect for me, but the real MVP had to be that tuna which was beautifully soft and melted in your mouth.


Bubble tea

Midway through the meal, we were asked if we wanted to try any of the house bubble teas. Having heard that bubble tea was a bit of marmite drink and having heard more bad things than good, I declined. But the attentive staff at Yuu Kitchen brought two over regardless, and you know what? Like with the duck hearts, I'm glad I gave it a go. With the choice of a black tea or green tea base, and not the tapioca pearls like in a traditional bubble tea, there was a variety of flavours to choose from, including peach, lychee, apple and lemon. The lychee bubble tea was deliciously light and fresh. I couldn't initially taste any tea - just lychees - but I did detect the tea later on when I worked my way further down the glass. My first experience of bubble tea was a peculiar one. Sipped through a suitably girthy straw, every so often you would encounter a bubble not unlike a small grape which would burst in your mouth. That splendor of what-is-in-my-mouth-right-now was much like my first dabblings in popping candy where you can't quite believe the firework display happening in your mouth. The peach bubble tea wasn't as fruity, but the tea flavour was stronger in this one. Whilst I can't guarantee that bubble tea is this nice outside of Yuu Kitchen, I highly recommend the lychee bubble tea if you ever visit!


Grilled broccoli

What a breath of fresh air. I love broccoli and I often order it as a side. However usually I find that a broccoli side dish is steamed and fairly plain and boring. Yuu Kitchen's offering was a far fancier and tastier affair. With sweetness coming from an apple oil dressing and heat coming from the chilli sprinkled on top, there was also a great crunch -  the result of crispy onions and the broccoli having been grilled. Wow.


Crispy rice and salmon

With a crunchy-meets-chewy rice base topped with salmon and a jalapeno dressing, these were pretty as a picture. Unfortunately I couldn't eat very many of these as I was defeated by the heat of the jalapenos. But from what I tried, the salmon was beautifully soft. I found these quite big, so there was no dainty way of eating these. I do think the salmon and jalapeno topping would be better suited to a tostada chip - like the ones I had at their launch night - to make these a little easier to eat. To me, these were like an elevated version of avocado toast and I don't mind that one little bit (I could eat avo toast for breakfast, lunch AND dinner quite happily). However the addition of salmon, chives and the rice base made it extra special.


Baby back ribs

One of my highlights of the menu - I just wish these came out earlier when I was less full! But having said that, I did manage to polish them off despite being so full ;) ...a testament to really good plate of ribs! These were the smallest, daintiest ribs I ever did eat and the meat literally fell off of the bone in the most satisfying of ways. Flavoured with an Asian BBQ sauce, these weren't smoky like I am used with traditional ribs, but instead had more of a sticky sweet quality to them, without being too sweet. The spring onions and sesame seeds gave a lovely added crunch, and the chilli, an added fiery kick. Unlike ribs I have ever had before, I was blown away by this dish.


Coconut cake with ginger

I'll be honest, at this point I was far too full for dessert. But smelling this when it came out, soon changed my mind! I will never forget that beautiful buttery, vanilla smell. Very generously sized, it was quite an intimidating sight to see a portion that big when you feel that full, however the cake was nicely textured and light as a feather. I clearly loved it as I cleared the whole plate! The cake came out warm - a nice little surprise! - and was vanilla based containing desiccated coconut. I'm not really a fan of coconut, but it was so subtlety used here, the balance was perfect and it wasn't too sweet. The cake was accompanied by a ginger biscuit ice cream which gave a little heat and was a nice touch. The MVP of the plate was the cake though - never before have I had such a beautifully soft and light sponge.


Thank you so much to Yuu Kitchen and sous chef William for having me and making me feel so welcome. Every visit to Yuu is a delight and I will be returning soon for a bowl of the Thai chicken larb and your fluffy bao buns (both of which I have heavily craving lately!). See Yuu soon!


* my meal at Yuu Kitchen was complimentary in exchange for a review, however as ever, all thoughts and opinions are my own!

Monday, 13 November 2017

An evening with Rome Tourism

The other night I was invited to a Rome tourism press event at the Crystal London by Comitel & Partners. Travelling is one of my favourite things to write about on this little space of mine, and having never been to Rome (or Italy in fact!), I was intrigued to learn more about what this beautiful city had to offer.

I arrived at the Crystal in London - a beautiful building that I never knew existed in London until the other night! - to warm welcomes and a journalist pass pressed into my hand. With my press pass around my neck, and my camera and notebook in hand, I made my way to the press room filled with a mix of journalists, travel writers and bloggers.

Speaking to us that evening was Leonardo Maria Costanzo, the head of Rome Tourism. He was a passionate speaker and clearly very proud of his city. He invited us to watch a couple of videos which combined panning shots of a city so palatial in its architecture and so full of history, with the now in the form of couples dancing the Charleston on Rome's streets. He said that seeing the videos always filled him with pride and emotion. And it was not difficult to see why. Seeing this video footage gave me a further urge to hop on a plane to this city that I have yearned to visit for the longest time.

Did you know that the average visitor to Rome only spends 2 days there? Leonardo said such a length of time was an insult to the city, as that was not nearly enough time to enjoy the very best of Rome. A lot of people associate Rome with the key tourist hot spots like the Trevi fountain and the Colosseum, but Leonardo stressed how Rome is so much more. I had never heard of Cinecitta Studios or Cinecitta world theme park before (located just outside of Rome), but I have since googled it and the attractions sound amazing!

What I found most fascinating was that I didn't realise that Rome was such a great hub for visiting other places in Italy. Did you know that Milan is only three hours away by train or one hour away by air from Rome? And that Naples is only one hour away by train, and from Naples, Capri is within reach by ferry? The possibilities are endless.

Interestingly enough, the previous mindset of the city was that Rome didn't need to be promoted, that reputation alone would be enough. Leonardo explained how tourism spend had gone from thousands of euros to millions of euros, as they want to drive a high quality, more luxe visitor experience going forward. Part of this being the rather exciting opening of new luxe hotels in Rome. For instance Rocco Forte Hotel in 2019 and  W by Marriott in 2021

One thing that struck me (and several others it seems!) was the lack of Italian cuisine in Leonardo's presentation. But fair enough, he simply didn't want to adhere to stereotypes and said he couldn't deny that food is still very much a key element to their city!

And with that, the press conference ended and we were invited for food. We were offered a selection of Italian salads, breads, cheeses and cured meats. Chefs wheeled out cauldrons of pasta amatraciana to applause. This was not something that I have had before, but I was told it was a local specialty consisting of a tomato based sauce containing some form of ham, be it sliced ham, pancetta or pork cheek. It was absolutely beautiful - especially when paired with a glass of Italian red wine - and to this day I am still so inspired, I will be recreating myself at home next week!


Seafood salad with smoked paprika and peppers



Lemon chicken with tomato and olive dressing




 Mozzarella and freshly made pesto



The whole meal was a blessed celebration of Italian cuisine, accompanied by wonderful music. Another first for me was the orzo and pesto salad. Fret not dear readers, I have OF COURSE had pesto before (life would be really sad without pesto!), but it was the orzo I had not tried before. And you know what? I would again. Orzo with pesto is a tasty, tasty thing.


I miraculously managed to avoid any penne amatraciana or pesto spillages on my white blouse. And I was secretly quite chuffed that my bag - a new purchase from Accessorize the other day -  matched the wine I was drinking. The bags I carry are usually linear with their straight lines and corners, so going from this to round with zero corners was quite the adjustment. I love the autumnal berry shade and the way it swings when you walk.



Dessert was delicate little pots of tiramisu. I would have smuggled some home if humanly possible #SmallBagProblems



And with that, the evening took an even sweeter turn when I was offered a stay in Italy, this country I have always yearned to visit. Excited is an understatement. I cannot wait to document my journey and share the hotel with you!

Thank you to Comitel & Partners and Rome Tourism for inviting me and I look forward to visiting your beautiful country soon!

#EnjoyRespectRome

Friday, 27 October 2017

Quinoa, lentils and hummus... but not as you know it!

Maybe it's hibernation mode kicking in, but this time of the year I'm all about the snacking. When sat in-front of the TV of an evening, it's all too easy to grab a packet of something and work your way through it without a second thought (something I know all too well). There have been countless times I have opened a family size bag of crisps with the intention of a cheeky handful or two and then a few minutes later discover that said crisps have done a vanishing act. WHAT IS THIS SORCERY.

My favourite flavour has always been salt and vinegar, but more recently I have dabbled in the world of healthy crisps, trying vegetable crisps - a mix of beetroot, parsnip and sweet potato - and kale chips seasoned with sea salt and rosemary. All tasty. tasty things.When you snack as much as I do, healthy alternatives can make you feel a little less guilty. When Eat Real asked me if I would like to try their healthy range of chips  - including hummus and lentil chips - I was intrigued to find out what they would taste like.


Sun-dried tomato & roasted garlic quinoa chips



From first appearances, the best way of describing these would be little ridged crackers which smelt strongly of tomatoes. The quinoa chips had a nice Mediterranean taste to them and you could really taste the garlic and tomatoes. These were a lot like croutons and I would happily buy them again to sprinkle on salads and soups as they carried a good strong flavour.

Sour cream & chive hummus chips


Containing 48% less fat than other crisps, these felt pretty guilt free right from the offset. Again like the quinoa chips, these had a good strong flavour. I couldn't tell these were hummus as such, but the sour cream and chive aspect was crystal clear. Thankfully these didn't smell strongly so you wouldn't be offending your work colleagues if you opened a pack of these up at work! Appearance wise, these were dusted with herbs and were like little poppadoms.

 Lentil chips


These again looked like little poppadom bites, but these were even healthier with 40% less fat than your standard packet of crisps. Although sea salt flavour, these weren't particularly salty. They were a plainer chip compared to the others I tried, but I would happily buy again and use as accompanying mini poppadoms for homemade curries.

Vegetable straws


First impressions, these did what they said on the tin and were maizey, bubbly little straws in an array of colours. Each colour represented a different vegetable - kale, tomato and spinach - however if you don't like any of these vegetables the straws would suit you well as they didn't exactly taste of these things. The flavouring was plainer than some of the other ones I tried, but I still really liked them as they had a pleasant ready salted feel to them. And with no saturated fat and at just 109 calories a bag, I can't complain!

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All the chips I tried were vegan friendly and some were gluten free too. With so many dietary requirements and allergies floating around these days, these would be great poured into sharing bowls for social gatherings like Halloween, Christmas and other social events. It can be really frustrating to be singled out when you can't eat the same things as everyone else, so I really liked the idea of these being something that everyone could eat. Although low calorie and low in saturated fats, Eat Real's chips weren't tasteless like some healthy products out there, and from a blind taste test, I never would have guessed that these weren't standard potato chips!

There are lots more flavours in addition to the ones I tried. I will definitely be looking out for their tomato and basil hummus chips and their quinoa, kale & cheddar puffs which sound delicious! I hand on heart really liked all the packs I tried, making it a little tricky picking my favourite. But by a whisker I would have to say it was the sun-dried tomato & roasted garlic quinoa chips as they had the most incredible flavour and I could envisage using them as croutons for soups and salads too.

Have you hopped on the healthy crisp bandwagon yet?
* Eat Real very kindly sent me the chips for review purposes, however all opinions and love of snacking all my own!

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Quick and easy breakfast for people on-the-go // REVIEW // Pulsin porridge oat bars

Golden leaves. Chunky knitwear. Pumpkin spiced candles. Steaming bowls of porridge first thing in the morning. These are just a few of my favourite things about autumn. So when the wonderful people at Pulsin sent me some of their porridge oat bars for review purposes, I was excited to mix up my morning porridge routine and instead try a portable on-the-go version!


Super Seed & Maple

I thought that perhaps this one would smell sweet (it did not). I was pleasantly surprised by the sweetness levels as I sometimes find maple too sickly sweet. The Super Seed & Maple porridge oat bars contained a hint of sweetness, without being too much. It wasn't too dry, and was a good of mix of chewy and crumbly. It did indeed taste oaty and like porridge - which is great for a porridge oat bar product!


Apple & Cinnamon

You can't get any more autumnal than the harmonious pairing of apple and cinnamon. Think smooth apple puree in a crumble or pie, with a little touch of cinnamon to make your taste-buds sing. Or chunky pieces of apple in a wonderfully flaky strudel with lashings of custard.

This was the bar I was most excited about! Admittedly I didn't taste a whole lot of apple, but the cinnamon really came through. This was drier than the other bars, and had more of crumbly texture than a chewy one. The Apple & Cinnamon porridge oat bar tasted wonderfully festive. Bring on Christmas!


Orange Choc Chip

I was a little nervous about trying this one because I don't normally like orange and chocolate as a flavour combination, however as this contained a subtle hint of orange which wasn't too strong, this converted me! The Orange Choc Chip porridge oat bar had a good texture and was a good mix of chewy and crunchy, without any dryness. The chocolate chips in it were lovely, and there was something in the smell and taste of the bar that felt quite festive. A nod to the Christmas clementine perhaps?

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I tried Pulsin's raw chocolate brownies before, however these porridge oat bars were even better and definitely something I'll be adding to my weekly grocery shop. Containing all the benefits of porridge, but as an easy grab-and-go sort of breakfast, these bars are great for those cold mornings where you can't be faffed with making actual porridge and opt for extra time in bed instead (we've all been there!). Oats provide slow releasing energy which is great for maintaining your energy levels throughout the morning and keeping you full for longer  - great for people like me who are serial snackers!

* Pulsin very kindly sent me the bars for review purposes, however all opinions and love of extra time spent in bed in the mornings all my own!