Food reviews and recipes

Restaurant Review: Dine in the Dark, Phnom Penh

In February I took Mr. A to Dans Le Noir in London as part of his birthday present. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, at Dans Le Noir you dine in complete darkness. I mean, you can’t see the hand in front of your face, and for most people it’s probably the first time you’ve been somewhere without a single source of light. It was a great experience – dulling the sense of sight seemed to heighten the other senses of sound, touch and smell, making a really unique culinary experience.

As great as Dans Le Noir was, I preferred Dine in the Dark, located on Street 19 opposite the Lovely Jubbly hostel in the heart of Phnom Penh.

Dine in the DarkDine in the Dark

Perhaps it was the fact that I opted for the Khmer menu (the other choices were International and vegetarian), and that it was my first time having Cambodian cuisine. Or, perhaps, the fact that the restaurant was set up with the help of a local NGO (Krousar Thmey – School for the Deaf and Blind), who employ visually impaired guides to help you to your seats promoting equal opportunities. Either way, Mr A, my friend Sophie and I had a great time.

The lovely Fredo, our guide, encouraged us to use our hands to eat our meal, which was such a relief. At Dans Le Noir there were several moments where I put my fork up to my mouth to find there was nothing on it! Using my hands allowed me to feel the texture of the food, all of which was delicious. I also liked the fact that I wasn’t limited to ‘surprise’ cocktails like its London counterpart, and as a result had a few too many cosmopolitans with my meal.

We ended up having a gorgeous salad with beef, spinach, cashew nuts and prawn crackers as a starter, followed by a fish amok curry in an aubergine case served with sticky rice. After this came a trio of soups in shot glasses, a lovely touch, and an incredible rice pudding. And I mean that – I am so not a fan usually but the addition of the exotic fruits and condensed milk was absolutely divine. After we finished our meal (two hours later – time just flew by!) Fredo led us back into the light, and we were shown gorgeous photos of what we’d just eaten on an iPad. I did sneakily take some photos of my own which I’ve decided against sharing – you’ll just have to go and experience it for yourself!

We retrieved our phones and cameras from the locked box (so you aren’t tempted to whip your phone out and ruin the experience for everyone else) and jumped into a tuk-tuk to go bar hopping. After months of £11 cocktails, can you blame me if I was a tad overenthusiastic at the prospect of $2.50 cocktails?

Amnesia

The aptly named Amnesia, from Jaan.

Blue Mekong

Followed by several Blue Mekongs, sipped as I looked out over where its namesake meets the Tonle Sap.

Restaurant Review: The Sushi Bar, Phnom Penh

On our second day in Phnom Penh we headed down to The Sushi Bar.

We went to the Boeung Keng Kang, or ‘BKK’ location, surrounded by some of the best spas, bars and shopping in Phnom Penh. The area has a cosmopolitan feel, probably due to the concentration of international schools in the neighbourhood. The South-East Asian chain has several dotted around Ho Chi Minh, but only opened in Phnom Penh in 2012.

Sushi Bar Phnom Penh

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I’m usually fairly picky about my sushi – despite my limited budget. Which is why, on first sight, the front cover of the menu didn’t fill me with confidence – sushi ain’t something to joke about! A big red flag for me when I go into a sushi place is mayonnaise anywhere near the rolls – it is just unnatural,  and same goes for cream cheese in my opinion. I’m open minded and up for fusion cuisine but there are just some things you don’t mess with.

Sushi Bar PP

Luckily this wasn’t a problem at the Sushi Bar. I was really impressed with the selection – particularly with the negi tuna handrolls and the aburi, or broiled tuna sushi which I have yet to find in London.

Sushi Bar Phnom PenhI went for the sushi set A – my personal favourites were the eel and ikura (roe) as well as the salmon. I really loved my meal, but the others weren’t so keen on the scallops or the squid – they found theirs chewy to the point of inedible.

Aburi tuna

I greedily ordered the aburi tuna (centre) while the others ordered a negi handroll (left) and salmon avocado handroll (right). I  loved the aoshiso addition but again, the others weren’t a fan! All down to personal taste.

Negi TunaAnd being on holiday and all, I just had to order the negi handroll – I was getting bad food envy!

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Washing it down with a few sips of the local draft beer – (Angkor), my experience at The Sushi Bar made me a very happy girl. I definitely recommend it!

Sushi Bar Phnom Penh

Review: Once, Po-Cha and a Royal Sighting

It’s funny how as siblings get older, they can get closer, too. My sister and I used to fight like cats and dogs, but recently we seem to be getting along. She’s midway through a performing arts course in Kent, so we’ve made it a monthly tradition to meet up and go for dinner and a show. I’m personally not the biggest fan of musicals but they are her absolute favourite – and I get a kick out of how excited she gets!

She was born in South Korea, and as kids we spent a few years living in Seoul. We both love Korean cuisine so we headed for the little strip of Korean restaurants just under Centrepoint, on Saint Giles High Street. Po-Cha seemed to be full of Korean customers, which is always a good sign! It gives off a good vibe – a pretty bare, fuss-free decor with the promise of delicious authenticity.

We settled in and ordered a pot of jasmine tea as we scoured the menu. My sister is the kind of person that immediately gets food envy so we decided on splitting everything, and ordered a pajeon, which is a savoury Korean seafood pancake for our starter.

Po-Cha Pajeon

Pajeon in sauceFor our main we chose a kimchi, tofu and beef hotpot. Hotpot, in my opinion, is the perfect winter meal – what can be better than gathered around a delicious warming stew? It’s also extremely healthy, and doesn’t require any oil. Kimchi is a traditional korean staple made of spicy, fermented cabbage. Not the most appealing description, I know, but it is absolutely divine, trust me! My sister was pretty much bottle-fed the stuff.

Kimchi beef hotpotThe hotpot was delicious but slightly too much for the two of us to handle – it would’ve been perfect for a group of three. Our meal came to a total of £38 which I felt really reasonable for the quality of the food. For an authentic Korean dining experience I would really recommend Po-Cha.

photo 1Bellies full, we settled the bill and walked 5 minutes to the Phoenix theatre, where we were going to see the musical Once. I want to start my review by being upfront, and  re-iterate that I am not a fan of musicals as I don’t want to put anyone off from going to see it! As we walked into the theatre some of the members of the cast were up on the stage, which was set up like a bar, and were strumming along and singing songs with some members of the audience up there too. It was a really lovely atmosphere and you felt like you were in some kind of alternate-universe pub where people spontaneously burst into song. I loved the set design – although throughout the performance you could feel the tube running under you which I found slightly distracting.

What I loved about the performance: really excellent acting, the amazing set and execution. The actors were all so talented – there isn’t an orchestra in Once, so every member of the cast is playing an instrument (often cello, violin or guitar) and more often than not are dancing around the stage with it. As a former cellist myself this is no mean feat! However, I personally didn’t find that the songs stuck with me – it just wasn’t my cup of tea. My main issue with musicals is that I often find the music takes away from the plot. But I was accompanied by two musical theatre geeks and they absolutely loved the show, so what do I know?!

The one naughty photo I managed to take before I got yelled at by a grumpy usher.

The one naughty photo I managed to take before I got yelled at by a grumpy usher.

My personal highlight of the evening though, was not the show, but a member of the audience! As we were leaving the theatre we got a good look at Prince Harry who was also there to see Once. I wonder how he found it?

Onion Burger with Homemade Chunky Chips

It’s almost obscene how simple and delicious this recipe is. I probably shouldn’t even be writing about it because a) technically it’s cheating (cause I’m using something packet-based) and  b) I should really be keeping this recipe a secret so I can impress my dinner guests with my culinary wizardry. But there you go.

I used an American brand of powdered soup for this recipe, but you can try and substitute this with any onion soup mix you can find. Having said that, this onion soup mix from Lipton is ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE so you should try and get your hands on it if you can. It makes for the juiciest, most flavourful homemade burgers I’ve ever eaten and they’re definitely a crowd pleaser. You can also mix this packet with soured cream to make an incredible dip, too.

One packet of french onion soup mix (I used Lipton's) 600g beef mince 4 large maris piper potatoes Oil Salt, Pepper

One packet of french onion soup mix (I used Lipton’s)
600g beef mince
4 large maris piper potatoes
Oil
Salt, Pepper

Start off with pouring oil into the bottom of a baking tray, and letting it heat up in the oven on a high heat (around 220 degrees celsius). While the oil is heating up, cut the potatoes up into thick chips while keeping the skin on. Put the chips into a saucepan and bring to a boil, then drain.

ChipsBring the hot baking tray out of the oven and carefully tip the boiled chips onto the tray. Make sure each chip is coated in oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Chips: Seasoned

Pop the tray back into the oven, and cook them for 45 minutes. Take the tray out of the oven at 20 minute intervals so each chip crisps up evenly. Once they are done, pop them on a paper towel to get rid of the excess oil before serving.

When the chips have gone in, start making the burgers. Put the mince into a bowl.

Mince

Those who know me well know that this is a pretty dangerous stage for me as I love raw meat. Steak tartar, which is French for ‘raw mince with tabasco in it’ is one of my favourite meals. Anyway, resist the temptation to start eating the raw meat (because you aren’t some crazed animal, as I am) and add the packet of onion soup.

Onion burgers - Lipton

Mix the powder through the meat before adding 1/2 a cup (or 120mls) of water. Leave this to stand for 10 minutes or so – this lets the flavour permeate. Shape the mixture into four patties and pop them in the oven with the chips for 15 minutes. Once the oven is turned off, you can add some cheese to the patties and it will melt into the meat perfectly.

Onion burger with chunky homemadechips

Serve with peas or salad, and enjoy one of the juiciest burgers you’ll ever have! You’re welcome.

The Poor Girl’s Guide to Yakisoba

I cannot wait for February to end.

Mainly because it means that it will be March, and I will be on holiday,  but also because I’ve just looked at my bank account to see that my balance is horribly depleted (mostly due to my frivolous spending). Mercifully, payday is close by, but as I scour the kitchen shelves to feed myself this feeling brought me back to my days as a student, and what I used to cook at university.

My idea of fast food growing up was my mom making me yakisoba, or fried Japanese noodles. I always seem to have the ingredients for my cobbled-together, frugal version of this meal to hand. It is by no means the proper, traditional recipe (so please don’t tell my old-school Japanese grandmother), but it is cheap, healthy and tasty which is fine by me.

The first time I cooked for Mr. A, I attempted to impress him by making yakisoba. Unfortunately it’s not one of those dishes you can just leave on the stove and come back to – it needs constant supervision. At the time, I was too busy paying attention to him instead and all the noodles clumped together to make one super noodle. It was seriously embarrassing and Mr. A referred to it as ‘noodle surprise’. Luckily he lived above a chip shop in Manchester at the time so neither of us were subjected to this monstrosity.

However, I like to think that I have learned many things since my time at university and how to cook noodles properly is one of them. For this recipe, you will need:

IMG_7510

What you’ll need:
Packet of udon or rice noodles
Spring onions
1 tbsp of oil (I used sesame)
4 tbsp soy sauce
Dash of Worcester sauce
Egg
Mayonnaise
Dried seaweed, nori
Peas
Garlic

If you have bought dried noodles, start to boil them in a saucepan. Ready to cook noodles can go in towards the end. Once the pan has come to a boil, strain the noodles and the rinse the noodles with cold water. This will keep them from clumping up (and becoming Super Noodle, or Noodle Surprise). They will be heated through again once they are fried.

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In a frying pan or wok, fry the spring onions and garlic in a wok on a high heat with a dash of pepper until they are lightly toasted. Add the soy and worcester sauce, then turn down the heat.

IMG_7518Pour the noodles into the pan with the sauce and vegetables.

IMG_7521Stir through until each noodle is coated in the sauce, and add the peas. As you would with a carbonara, crack an egg into the noodle mixture and stir it through so that the egg is incorporated into the mixture. (If you are vegan, you can leave the egg out, it will not make much difference). Once the egg has cooked, dish out the noodles.

IMG_7523Once served, add a little mayonnaise and sprinkle the nori seaweed on top. The nori will give it a crunchy texture. I love nori. So much that I named my cat after it.

And there you have it! This dish is pretty versatile – it is easily vegan friendly (just leave out the egg and mayo), and if you’re one of those people who can’t accept a meal without meat in it then this is a great meal to have with bacon. Just use sparingly, if you insist on keeping the mayo in, too.