Restaurant Review: Maze Sushi

I believe I have mentioned my goal to sample all the Gordon Ramsay restaurants in London while I am here. As I progress through the list, I’ve mentally ranked all of them in order of preference.

Current king (queen?) of the list is: Maze Sushi. Specifically the sushi bar, which took separate reservations than the Maze Restaurant or Maze Grill.

The ranking might not be particularly fair.. but sushi done well has always had a special place in my heart. If anything, I walk away regretting the years of not knowing and opportunities to visit this place more regularly.

Of first note was the bar. The sushi bar was really an extended addition to what would have been the bar counter itself. Perched in the corner, we had a great view over the bar.. and saw three large glass canisters of some liquid infusion. Intrigued and distracted from the drink menu, we kept guessing what it could be until one of us worked up the curiosity and courage to ask a server. What novel solution. The answer? Maze infuses and makes their own flavoured spirits. How awesome is that? Of course we had to order something that incorporated those ingredients, and fruit martinis all around it was. They were gorgeous, sweet but not overly, flavourful and deceptive. It was tempting to gulp the whole glass down and order a second.

We opted for the Chef’s Menu, as expensive as it was:

Edamame
Salt and pepper soy beans

Kani snow crab
Snow crab flakes, wakame seaweed
pickled wasabi

Sea bass truffle
Sea bass, shiso, ponzu,
truffle oil

Hamachi pecan
Yellowtail, yuzukosho
pecan nut, pecan oil

Sushi platter
California roll
Spicy tuna roll
Seared salmon belly
Hamachi
Tuna
Sea bass
~
Main
Dumpling of lobster,
Tiger prawn and salmon,
Aromatic lemon grass broth
~
Sweet
Strawberry and mint sundae
~
Lemon meringue pie

I had my desserts substituted with sorbet because of my lactose intolerance. Actually, they forgot, so as an apology, we got an additional scoop of sorbet. What a lovely and unexpected gesture.

 The extra bonus wasn’t the sorbet or the consideration. It was the service. We felt truly valued as customers. The restaurant was busy, but Laura, our server, always came back to us with her bouncy enthusiasm and follow up. Her asking how the food was didn’t feel like routine, but a sincere interest in ensuring that we were happy with our plates. At the end of the day, good food is easy to come by, but good service is what keeps us coming back.

Travel theme: Symbol

I am still marveling, more than a year later, my luck of actually already being in the UK when the Olympics happened!

I thought it would be a nicely timed one, in honor of Mandela, as the Olympics represented peaceful competition and respect, portrayed by each country’s athletes.

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At Eton Dorney rowing venue.

Thank you, Ailsa, at Where’s My Backpack, for inspiring us on these travel themes.

Restaurant Review: Foxtrot Oscar

Seriously.. unless you lived just around the corner, I have no idea how anyone would have found this place, Foxtrot Oscar. If it weren’t for the Gordon Ramsay name. Unlike his other restaurants in London that I’ve sampled so far, this one has a small neighborhood gem kind of feel.

The space was narrow. I felt like our party of five were greedy, taking up three tables that jutted out into the center aisle. Yes, aisle, like a plane. On the opposite side of the room, more like an arm’s reach away, were lined with many couple’s table, with a cushioned wall bench running the whole length of the room. It’s date night on this Saturday evening.

The furniture was simple. The accents were minimal, mostly the bold wall colours with the spaces of seat cushions on the bench. Framed photographs hung on the wall, mostly black and white, I believe. I remember finding the one closest to our table confusing because it was of a location unrelated to the restaurant or London, in colour, and seemed disproportionately small compared to the larger frames on the opposite wall. But of the exact subject matter, I have already forgotten.

As a person who rarely eats beef, I found my menu choices limited. The menu is already small, more like a dish of every main protein. The mussels tempted me, but struck me as a main I would normally be able to make on my own. I didn’t need a Ramsay dish to set the bar so high I would be discouraged from cooking it on my own again!

I ordered:
– Pan fried gnocchi with peas, broad beans, sautéed morels, rocket and Parmesan
– Side of buttered spinach
– Dessert… I forgot. Something with salted caramel ice cream.. and fondant? Other than that the honey comb on it is amazing!!!

The gnocchi was amazing. I was afraid of the heavy feeling that comes after a carb-rich dining out meal. But the portion was just perfect.. the balance of the peas and arugula helped prevent the sense of coming down with scurvy. And the gnocchi were crispy! Making it super yummy and a bit different. I had to resist licking my bowl.

Amongst the rest of the table:
– Chilled tomato gazpacho, cucumber and black olive
– Spring pea, broad bean, mint and aged feta salad
– 28 day dry aged 10oz shorthorn sirloin, beer battered onion rings,
horseradish crème fraîche
– Dingly dell pork chop, crushed peas and spiced tomato chutney
– a lot of other gnocchi orders
– Sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream
– Chocolate brownie with milk ice cream
– Various drinks around the table

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I think its small size makes service confusing. In larger places, the wait staff are assigned zones. Given how small this restaurant is, we seem to be served by every single member of the front of the house staff. Shouldn’t be a big deal but we’ve caught the team in their communication gaps. Each person was extremely gracious and helpful, but as a team, not as cohesive. Which is such a shame, because I couldn’t find a thing to complain about the food.

Borough Market: Outdoor Whole Foods

I’ve tired of hearing so many people rave about the Borough Market only to sheepishly respond that I’ve never been there. Now I understand the appeal.

It’s unusual to me.. Its fascinating history doesn’t reflect. Architecturally, it’s surprisingly uniform in style, if not in layout, and orderly, despite being grown over time, not as a planned market.

DSC_0008 One of the oldest markets in London, it pre-dated the railway tracks that now shelter it. It sits on the southern bank of the Thames, a very convenient location for boat traffic. It wasn’t hard to imagine what a bustling market it must have been back in the day.

The market is largely covered. A corner extended outside, but was partially sheltered by the railway above. Clearly gentrified, the entire market was furnished with green fencing and doorways. A path is marked to keep pedestrians walkways clear.

The products featured felt both varied and monotonous. There were quite a few bakery stalls, featuring very similar breads and pastries,  even though they tried to carve out a niche: I am French inspired! I am organic! I feature potato dough! Fresh produce was surprisingly sparse while  displays of jams and oils and other non-perishable products rather established. I found only a handful of seafood stalls, disappointing given the proximity to the water (and the lack of good ones near my residence).

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While some things are reasonably prices, the other half the stalls felt expensive. £6 for two small Portuguese egg pastries! Loaves of bread are cheap, individual pastries, expensive. While I do favor artisan vendors, I’d be hard pressed to be convinced that I should come here instead of the closest market to my home.

Personally, I prefer the crowds and smells of a wet market, even the sticky wet floors. This one, I felt, was yuppified. The vendors weren’t even shouting. Or mingling, for that matter. Maybe I came at a wrong time.. that I should have come during the traders’ hours, not when it’s for the pedestrian customers.

I’m a sucker for any market, though.. and I walked away with a full carrier bag. Souvenir double oven mitts, a loaf of rosemary bread, potato buns, chocolate, a mesh sack of mussels. Guess what I’m having for dinner tonight. My first homemade mussels.

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My Favourite Things: Coffee

I am an American coffee drinker, through and through. I love my drip coffees strong and black. I can’t stand Starbucks for their burnt flavor. I refuse to order Americanos.

Travel has made my keenly aware what my coffee taste is. I had taken it for granted, until I learned the hard way that everyone drinks their coffee differently.

Chains

– Dunkin Donuts. Hands down the best ever. I grew up on DD and I acquired my taste for coffee through DD. Any New Englander knows that you just walk right into any DD shop and order a “regular” coffee. Which is hot, with cream and sugar. But you don’t need to specify all that because they already perfected the blend. None of the yuppified Starbucks “extra shot, soy milk, caramel sauce, three packs of sweet n low,  blah blah blah.” While I was living in Asia, I stocked up by the crate on DD beans whenever I was back in the States. Sadly, the franchises overseas have not replicated the perfect coffee. What a crying shame to the name.

Caribou. I am shocked, in a pleasant way, to see one in Istanbul, Turkey. First encountered in Colorado, I always associate this chain with fresh coffee beans of the hearty West. It is one of the places that don’t drown out the coffee flavor in their espresso mixes

Beans: Oddly, the most memorable beans I’ve had come from the most unexpected. And least accessible for many of us.

Saffron. We bought a couple bags while we were resting in the shade of one of their cafes on a really hot humid day of sightseeing. I am a fan of going to the local coffee shops instead of the chains, but coffee isn’t even that common in Laos. And it was such a fragrant fresh batch I had.

Yemen. Yemenis drink tea these days. But the history of coffee as a drink we know today originated in Yemen. First records of the drink was in the Sufi monasteries in Yemen. Mocha is the name of a major trading port in Yemen. So doing the math, Yemen traders played a vital part in spreading the popularity. I had a friend who was working in Sana’a for a few months and he picked up a kilo of beans for me. When I asked him how much I owed him, he said it was cheaper than the beer I would buy him. Sadly, Yemen is not a destination of choice these days, but it was such a potent pungent bag of beans that I was sad to finish.

Vietnam. Vietnam is a major bean grower in the world’s production of coffee. However, they are not known for their bean quality, often been used in blends as fillers. Their flavor tends to fall flat, and lack in that bitterness I like to jolt me awake. Then my father bought a bag off the street vendor.. and it smelt like rich dark chocolate. The secret? The beans were roasted in butter. Really, how can you beat butter?

Those Neighbourhood Gems: Every place has one of them.. a locally run, independent cafe, that might roast their own or feature a specific coffee source. As a traveler, I just wanted a good cuppa sometimes.. and I always am ecstatic when I finally do, especially if plain black coffee is hard to find.

– San Francisco. How is it possible to pick one out of a city of independent neighborhood businesses? At the end, it all comes down to where you are and what is convenient.

Kitchen & Pantry, London, UK. No matter how I try to time, pace, schedule.. I am always exhausted and thirsty when I walk around Portobello Market in London. There are many local shops to pick from, but I find myself gravitating towads K&P every single time. It’s hard to beat the selection, and the leather couches remind me of home.

Kuppa, Bangkok, Thailand. Sometimes I just want a hiatus from the chaos of a bustling changing modernizing Asian city around me. Walking into Kuppa is like an escape from the concrete high rises, into a contemporary zen, accented with old fashioned burlap sacks used for beans. Ordering plain coffee rewards you with a generous French Press to drink at your leisure.

– Chez Moi. Finally, well, I did out myself as a coffee snob. So what better place to drink it the way I like it than a home? I don’t even have fancy makers.. I have an assortment of them, but I always go back to my reliable drip machine. I tend to buy my beans whole, purchased from all over the world as I try to make a trip to the supermarket wherever I am, and ground a bag at a time.