Last week, I ended up dining in Soho’s hottest new opening by accident. A friend and I had been at a launch party so were feeling peckish after canapés failed to satisfy our hunger. Walking down Frith Street, we spotted Freakscene, a pan-Asian fusion restaurant which opened just a month ago. The bar-style seating overlooking the kitchen gave the venue a really buzzy feel and easily pulled us inside. We grabbed two stools and were immediately hit with the amazing scents coming from the Kobata grill. I’ve visited South East Asia quite a lot and the love the hawker open-kitchen style so this really appealed to me.
Freakscene’s arrival in Soho comes after a hugely successful pop-up in Farringdon from Chef Scott Hallsworth and co-founder Phar Shaweewan. Like many, we were intrigued by the name and Phar told us it was named after a song by 90s grunge band Dinosaur Jr. Hallsworth was previously head chef at Nobu, Park Lane for eight years before finding Kurobuta Izakaya on the King’s Road so really know his stuff when it comes to Asian cuisine. The menu describes Freakscene’s dishes as ‘curious Asian plates’, which I interpreted as pan-Asian fusion tapas.
As you would expect, we started with drinks. As it was a warm night, I was attracted to the Freak Smash (St Germaine, Gin, Grapes, Mint), a light and refreshing cocktail. We also ended our night with the saucily titled Wet Pussy shots (peach schnapps, vodka and a twist of lemon and lime), which was quite nostalgic as we reminisced drinking schnapps a lot as students in the ’90s.
When it came to the food, the menu is short and manageable, with a selection of around 12 dishes and sides to choose from. As we had eaten a bit already, we went for a small dinner than usual, but enjoyed everything so much, in hindsight probably could have ordered more. Like in a tapas restaurant, the various dishes just arrive as they’re cooked so your meal is stretched out into a relaxed and informal sitting. Our first dish to arrive was the Chili Crab and Avocado Wonton ‘Bombs’. Served in a crispy taco-esque wrap, the ‘bomb’ really packed a punch with a flavour explosion, with the avocado cooling down the heat of the chili. After our first bite, my friend and I actually looked each other and murmured ‘soooo good’ in unison. The crab bomb set the bar high for the remainder of our evening and we were not disappointed. My friend chowed down on the unusual Chicken-Fried Chicken with Peanut Soy and Picked Cucumber, which she thoroughly enjoyed. As a pescatarian, chicken was off-limits, but I was kept occupied by the Foil Baked Garlic Mushrooms with Sake, Soy and Butter, a tasty light side dish. The garlic was evident, but subtle so I wasn’t overpowered by the flavour. We finished with the Miso Grilled Black Cod Tacos with Sushi Rice and Scorched Red Chili Salsa, which was pretty special. As a huge fan of Mexican and Asian cuisine, this creative mix was a perfect combination.
I cannot recommend this place highly and have already been telling numerous friends to go. I am not exaggerating when I declare it was one of the best meals I’ve had in London in a long time. Every single dish was delicious and so different from anything I’ve tasted before. If you’re a fan of more informal dining in more of a bar atmosphere, than Freakscene is definitely for you. This venue is a cool and valuable addition to the Soho dining scene in a time where there’s too many chain restaurants creeping in for my liking. As Arnie says, I’ll be back… and soon!
- Freakscene, 54 Frith Street, Soho, W1D 4SL. Nearest station: Tottenham Court Road. Tel: 07561 394 497. Open Tues-Sat 12pm-11pm, Sun 12pm-10.30pm. For more information, visit the Freakscene website.
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I’m a huge fan of brunching – in fact I would go so far to say it’s my favourite type of meal. However, many brunch options London has to offer can often blend into one they’re so similar. So for those looking for a brunch with something a bit different, then Tootoomoo is a good place to start. Tootoomoo is a small, independent chain of Pan Asian restaurants and takeaways across north London. They recently announced a new Bottomless Brunch deal at weekends giving you all you can eat and drink for £35.
I went along to the Islington restaurant last weekend with a friend to check out the new brunch menu and wasn’t disappointed. It’s a cute, bijou restaurant just a few minutes from Highbury & Islington station. The tables and décor did remind me of some of the cafes I have visited during previous holidays to Cambodia and Vietnam. We took a seat nearer the counter so had a good view of other diners’ dishes coming out of the kitchen for inspiration.
The menu is Asian tapas style, featuring popular dishes from Chinese, Malaysian, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. When we were presented with the menu, we were a tad overwhelmed by the choice so started with a rather easier decision – what to drink. Among the bottomless cocktails on offer include classics such as Margaritas, Mojitos, Cosmopolitan and Caipirinha. However, Tootoomoo’s fruity twist on the Caipirinha – rather appealed so I ordered a mango one which was refreshing and sweet.
The menu features a wide choice of dishes, grouped into small plates, sashimi and salad, tempura and grill, sushi and wok. For those with food allergies, things are labelled gluten-free to make ordering easier. Among the dishes we decided on were Crispy Smoked Chicken, Vegetarian Potstickers, Hamachi Sashimi, Popcorn Rock Shrimp and Soft Shall Crab Maki Sushi. I hadn’t come across Vegetarian Potstickers before and were informed by the waiter they were similar to gyoza, which is one of my favourite Japanese foods. Served with ponzu sauce, the dumplings were crispy and tasty, and I could have ordered a few more. One of the highlights of the meal for me were the Popcorn Rock Shrimp, served with nori dust and yuzu mayo. Shrimp wrapped in batter really did look like popcorn and had that moreish, can’t-stop-nibbling allure like its namesake. I don’t eat poultry, but my friend really enjoyed the Crispy Smoked Chicken – served in batter with chili salt and spicy mayo to give it a kick.
As well as drinks and the meal, the Bottomless Brunch also includes dessert options – Fro-Yo and a variety of toppings, which we unfortunately didn’t have room for. Re-reading the choices as I write this review, I’m regretting not making some room! During our meal, the service was friendly and not over-bearing. Our first dishes came out promptly, which was just as well as we were pretty hungry. I’d definitely recommend it for a Bottomless Brunch alternative to the same old smashed avocado and poached eggs offerings so many places seem to offer these days.
- Tootoomoo, 278 St Paul’s Road, Islington, N1 2LH. Nearest station: Highbury & Islington. The Bottomless Brunch is on at the Crouch End and Islington branches every weekend between 12-5pm. £25 for all-you-can-eat or £35 for all-you-can-eat-and-drink within a 1 and half hour period. For booking and more information, visit the Tootoomoo website.
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Asia de Cuba has been on my dining wish-list for some time. The London branch of the Asian-Cuban fusion eaterie was originally opened at St Martin’s Lane Hotel in 1999, following the success of the New York original. However, last year, the restaurant was given a warmer makeover with retro furniture, drapes and plant pots replacing the previous more contemporary space. The menu has also been reinterpreted with some new additions alongside old favourites by Cuban-born executive chef Luis Pous.
Recently, a group of five of us booked a Sunday evening table for a birthday dinner. Being a Sunday, the restaurant was inevitably a bit quieter compared to the rest of the week, but there was an atmospheric buzz thanks to the other diners, but good acoustics made it possible to hear other members of your party. The restaurant is located on the ground floor of the hotel and is easy to see upon entering. Immediately upon arrival, I was struck by how friendly the staff were, with the warmth from the hostess setting the tone for her colleagues’ behaviour for the remainder of our evening.
We had booked a set menu – three courses and a Mini Mojito for £30 which was very good value. Our Mojito was indeed small as the name ‘Mini’ would suggest, but it certainly packed a punch and was sweet and refreshing. When it came to the food, the choices all looked fabulous, so instead of ordering our own individual dishes, we opted to order many to share, sort of Tapas-style. For starters we had Crispy Calamari Salad with banana, chayote, cashews, hearts of palm and orange-sesame vinaigrette; Roasted Duck Salad with almonds, mandarin orange, napa cabbage, radicchio, baby sorrel and spicy miso vinaigrette; Shrimp Ceviche with Shiso, aji amarillo and wasabi; and Black Bean and Plantain Empanadas with Rocoto sweet and sour. The fusion of the Asian and Cuban ingredients really turned the dishes on their head, with some giving unexpected (but delectable nonetheless) tastes. Amongst our party, the general consensus when it came to our favourites was the Shrimp Ceviche and the Crispy Calamari Salad – both an explosion of flavours which made for quite the culinary treats.
For mains, we shared again, splitting the Chipotle Glazed Tofu with Asian green, green papaya salad and calabaza chips; Mojo Duck Confit with Brown rice, orange, Thai basil, Thai chili and poached egg; and a couple of Green and Papaya Marinated Palomilla – an 8oz flat iron steak, tatsoi, pickled vegetables and Thai chili mojo. The Tofu was cooked well (a dish I often find places end up leaving rather bland) and really had quite a kick to it thanks to the Chipotle glaze. The Palomilla was particularly popular with my carnivore pals and they were quickly demolished with glee.
Finally, for dessert, we went off piste and ordered our own dishes. I decided on the Mexican Doughnuts with caramel sauce, which was light, sweet and delicious. Another one of my party opted for something lighter – the Thai Coconut and Lemongrass Flan, served with honeydew and caramel, which was presented quite dramatically and was a good choice for someone who doesn’t like their desserts too sweet. The Chef was to be particularly commended on the Guava Whipped Cheesecake with Coconut tuile and dehydrated tropical fruit. I have never seen a cheesecake in such a physical form before and tasted amazing, according to the diner in question.
Overall, the whole evening was just divine. The staff were absolutely brilliant, with the chef even popping out to say hello. The menu was varied and exciting and really took us on a culinary journey. For me, 10 out of 10. A great choice for a special occasion or a romantic meal.
- Asia De Cuba, St Martin’s Lane Hotel, 45 St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4HX. Nearest station: Leicester Square, Covent Garden or Charing Cross. For more information, visit the website.
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Chinatown is more of a draw for tourists than London foodies these days, hence the casual, frantic nature of many of the restaurants in the area. I’ve yet to find a restaurant that’s stood out amongst the others, until now. During a recent evening out with friends, one of my pal’s grandfather’s (who has lived in London for decades) chose the restaurant, declaring that Yming serves the best Chinese food in the West End.
Located on Greek Street, just off Shaftesbury Avenue, it is admittedly just on the boundaries of Chinatown. With its aquamarine interior and pristine white tablecloths, it is evidently a more upmarket venue than many of the other Chinatown eateries. We were greeted by the warm and friendly staff – good service being something my friend’s grandfather had noted – and shown to a large table by the window so we were able to watch the people of Soho go by during our meal. We started off ordering a bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc (£17.50) from their extensive drinks menu, which was light and refreshing on a humid summer’s day.
Although there is a good choice of set menus available, we opted for several dishes from the predominantly Cantonese choices and shared them amongst ourselves, tapas style. We started with Scallops Delight, which came stuffed with prawns, which was delicious combination and an unusual way of presentation. A popular choice was the spare ribs and homemade vegetable dumplings. For my main, I ordered the Sizzling Prawn with Fresh Mango, which was literally still sizzling as it was presented on the table. The mixture of seafood and fruit made for a sweet and zingy combination. For a side, we stayed traditional and opted for a large portion of egg fried rice.
Overall the food was tasty and very filling – none of us had room for dessert. The service was very friendly and attentive. Although prices were a little higher than similar cuisine establishments in the area, the quality of the food, setting and service made it worth the increase. I will definitely be returning.
- Yming, 35-36 Greek Street Soho, W1D 5DL. Tel: 020 7734 2721. Nearest tube: Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the Yming website.
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