Restaurants in London: My Experiences in 2021
One of the many things that I missed during lockdown was eating at a restaurant with J and my friends. Throughout the whole pandemic in 2020, J and I often had take-aways from our favourite restaurants to support them in what was probably one of the most difficult times in their business history. So, when the lockdown was fully lifted in March last year, I couldn't wait to finally eat and catch up with my friends whom I didn't see for over a year.
It was also last year that Jollibee opened a branch in Leicester Square. I guess it is important to share this here because having lived conveniently close to the fast food restaurant, I used to go there frequently, perhaps every month for the first four months when it opened. And when I got fed up of paying over £20 for slow and bad service, anaemic and tasteless spaghetti and just okay chickenjoy, I decided to spend my money elsewhere. Hence, a collection of London restaurant experiences that I am happy I am able to share with you here.
1. Cafe Biltmore- 44 Grosvenor Square
- I am very lucky to have friends who are as curious as myself and would not hesitate to try restaurants that they have not heard of before. Kuya Dennis is one of those friends, and I am glad that he said yes when I asked him to go to Cafe Biltmore with me, as I have heard so many good things about this restaurant. It is the 4th Jason Atherton Restaurant that I have been to and the quality of the food and service is consistent in every restaurant. At Cafe Biltmore, we had an amazing time not only because we had the restaurant all to ourselves, but because the food and service were excellent. Their calamari was paired with sweet chilli sauce which complimented the rich batter. We both ordered steak for mains which satisfied our cravings for protein. I would love to go back to Cafe Biltmore for brunch or an Afternoon Tea.
- My friend Pearl and I have birthday traditions that we started a few years ago.Our birthdays are less than a month apart, so we often go to an Afternoon Tea for my birthday and lunch for her birthday. Last year, Pearl chose Gunpowder Restaurant for her birthday lunch- a modern Indian restaurant that is located just a few metres away from Tower Bridge. I have been to a few Indian restaurants in London, some Michelin starred, and Gunpowder is not far behind as far as I am concerned. Their grilled prawns and soft shell crab made my eyes water, but that didn't stop me from eating every bit of them (even the prawn head). They were that spicy good! The spare ribs was perfectly spiced and cooked that it fell off the bone easily.
- The trip to Scott's in Mayfair was a Christmas Meal with my Ate Elvie, my seafood buddy. It was also a part of our quest to find our favourite crab, but somehow we still got it wrong. And so we ordered the Devon whole cock crab. I mean it was good. A crab is a crab, it will always be a luxury for me. But, as much as we enjoyed our time in Scott's because we also loved the octopus carpaccio and griddled prawns, we still wished the crab was cooked in a different way, hence our journey to finding the best crab continues.
- If you have been following my blog, you know that The Ivy in West St is consistent on my annual list of London Restaurant experiences. I have been to a couple of The Ivy Collection restaurants, but the experience is different. There is no doubt that our dining experience at The Ivy in West Street is more special. The customer service is always delicate and attentive. The ambience, always graceful. By now, we have tried all the dishes on their roasts and grills menu and a few more others, but of course there's more to try. I am also happy that my favourite sticky toffee pudding is now back on the menu. So yeah, The Ivy remains our favourite restaurant in London, and if you ask J where he wants to have dinner on his birthday this year, I have no doubt that he will say The Ivy in West St. :)
- Refreshing is the word that best describes the food at Mildred's. It was my first 100% plant-based restaurant experience and it was a really good one. I know of Mildred's because my favourite chef Matt, who sadly passed away in 2018, had a residency there. I have always been curious how it's like to dine at Milred's because I love my meat, and I was worried I wasn't going to enjoy it. But it definitely proved me wrong. Just by writing this and looking at the photo, it already brings me back to that fresh, tasty and simply amazing food. A restaurant that is definitely on my "to go back to" list.
6. Imperial Treasure- 9 Waterloo Pl, St James's
- There are only two Chinese restaurants in the West End area that J and I frequented when we lived there- Imperial Treasure and Orient. I have been to a few restaurants in Chinatown as well, but the service has always been careless. I was previously told that this is to be expected in Chinese restaurants, so I no longer expected otherwise. Until I discovered Imperial Treasure (and Orient). So when my friend Kristy suggested Chinese for our first catch up post pandemic last year,I brought her to Imperial Treasure. It was then my fifth trip to the restaurant, and I was reminded why I loved going back there. We were greeted by friendly, smiling staff. The service was polite and efficient as always. The ambience remained calm and relaxing. And the food, pure excellence. And if I haven't mentioned before, I also love the fact that it is discreetly located in a less busy street near Piccadilly Circus. So if you are in London and craving for a really good Chinese food, perhaps try Imperial Treasure. You will not be disappointed.
7. Orient- 15 Wardour St
- J is not as keen on Chinese food as myself, however if I crave for roast duck and ask him to go with me, he would but only if we go to Orient. Hence, Orient is J's official favourite Chinese restaurant in London. Orient can be quite busy at times, however the many times that we have been there, we were always guaranteed a seat. J loves their stir-fry beef, whilst I would always order the mixed barbecue platter to have some of my favourite meat dishes on one plate- roast duck, honey roast pork and pork crackling. Dining in Orient with my friends is a completely dfferent story though, as we often order ridiculous amount of food and will devour them like it was our last meal. I guess Orient is the place you go if you want a quick, no fuss Chinese food fix.
- The sister restaurant of Romulo's Cafe was an instant hit when it opened in Central London late last year, and I wasn't suprised. If you are probably used to big servings in a Filipino restaurant, you will not necessarily appreciate Kasa and Kin. However, if you have the understanding of their tapas concept, then you will love the food. I have visited the restaurant a few times since it opened and I have so far enjoyed every visit. And whilst some people said that they were left unsatisfied, I was more than satisfied. I suppose because I have learned through the years to appreciate the quality of food rather than the quantity. And this is exactly what Kasa and Kin has to offer. I have been to two other Filipino restaurants in Central London and I was very disappointed twice over. I guess what makes Kasa and Kin extra special for me is the personal touch from the owner, Ate Rowena. The only contact I had with her prior to Kasa and Kin's opening was through email and instagram during the pandemic. However, whenever she sees me in the restaurant, she would always come to my table and say hi. For me, this adds more meaning to the experience.
- I know this blog is about London Restaurants, however I cannot write about my food experience in 2021 without mentioning my favourite Filipino chef in London, Mae. I only ever met Mae on social media and she became my instant favourite because her recipes are simple and easy to follow. Would you believe if I say that before I came across Mae's tortang talong recipe, I didn't know how to cook this basic Filipino dish? Yeah, so I owe this to Mae. Anwyay, she used to have pop-up Kamayan Boodle Fights in various locations in London. And when I found out that she was having one in Covent Garden, I knew I needed to go. It was my first kamayan experience in London and it was so much fun. Mae was very hands-on and her crew was very nice. I believe that Mae's success is not just her talent, but also because she connects and engages with her customers in a humble way. I am also happy that she finally has her own small business. So, please if you're from London and reading this, support her via &dine.
10. Coco's Lounge- 12 Willesden Lane, Kilburn
- I didn't realise that in 2021, I went to five Filipino restaurants, actually six including Jollibee. One of the Filipino restaurants I went to was Coco Lounge which I never heard of before. I liked their bilao concept which was new to me as well. The food was very good. The bilao contained most of my favourite Filipino dishes. I guess it's fair to say that the portion was good enough for 4 people. We also ordered pork barbecue on the side which tasted authentic. Just looking at the photo makes me want to go back again and indulge myself with some Filipino food goodness.
- My first vist to Ading Ysa's was fantastic. The food was cheap and cheerful. J and I were flat-hunting at the time and I've just heard of this Filipino restaurant in Tooting. J, although quite picky with Filipino food, agreed to have breakfast at Ading Ysa's with me. J ordered their tapsilog whilst I ordered their longsilog. We also had sisig on the side. I enjoyed the whole experience, hence I went back for the second time with friends from work. It was an authentic carinderia experience and I loved it. The price was also reasonable. In fact, the food here is better than some of the fine dining Filipino restaurants that I've tried. Promise.
- When Ramo Ramen opened in Soho, I was excited to go because their menu included oxtail kare kare and chicken sopas ramen. I was aware that this was fusion, however I expected that the Filipino taste will dominate the ramen. I was disappointed when my oxtail kare kare ramen didn't taste like kare kare at all. The only thing that made it kare kare was the small beef that perhaps was slow-cooked in peanut broth. And my cousin's chicken sopas was literally chicken Japanese ramen. I'm not normally critical about food, however I expected more distinct Filipino taste in my ramen and Ramo didn't deliver. Besides, the restaurant feels cramped and staff exuded an "I Don't Care" attitude. So yes, my experience wasn't great. I would rather spend my money in other Japanese Ramen restaurants to be honest.
13. Madison- Rooftop Terrace One, New Change
- Another dissppointment was my second trip to Madison. When J and I first had dinner at this rooftop bar and restaurant, we already knew that we would not go back. However, my friend Pearl and I decided to go for the St Paul Cathedral's view. Of course, this was a mistake because you don't really need to pay for the view, and we knew that. But it was too late to change our minds, so we had lunch at the restaurant. We were surrounded by younger people who were in competition with the loud music, intoxicated at 230pm. Actually, from my experience dining in rooftop restaurants, this is quite common. Anyway, their chicken salad was mediocre and my pasta was very dry and bland. It definitely was not worth our money.
It seems that my 2021 London Restaurant Experiences was mostly about Filipino food. I didn't even realise this until I started writing this blog. It was also nice to go back to some of our favourite London restaurants and discover new ones.