There is a three letter word that you really should be in the know about. It's a delectable little word, making a sizable impact in and around the Hackney area. A word coined by its three patrons to sum up what they do best, Bao. Which means buns, not the butty kind nor ones sticky with icing. But theirs are sweetly tinged clouds, split just so revealing their favoured filling of unctuous pork belly with home preserved mustard greens and peanut shavings.

Photo: baolondon.com/gallery.php
The menu is made up of dishes that are small yet perfectly formed, each milk bun is made from scratch, the bacon is home cured and even the soya milk for the chicken dredge is made in the Bao kitchen. The gua bao pork bun is naturally the signature dish with its own custom made clay holder to boot. Fried options easily win over the crowd in the form of soya milk fried chicken and more unusually daikon and cured bacon croquettes, which are delightfully sweet and savoury. Vegetarians, do not fear they have catered for you also, the pomelo salad with citrus nuggets, shredded carrot and red onion laced with fried wonton and vermicelli noodles is a highlight on its own. Other dishes like the tofu bao, "smacked" cucumbers and potato salad are rotated in and out of the menu too.

The food the trio conjure up from the fryer,giant bamboo steamer and slow cooker are in their blood, recipes and concoctions from their far eastern origins. Despite the unpredictability of our nations weather al fresco eating by way of the street continues to pull in the crowds. Original East-enders before our time were snacking on jellied eels and pies from street stalls, in Taiwan night markets xiao chi stalls litter the streets, each one specializing in their own substantial snack . Bao has hand picked a selection of authentic little bites to bring to a new throng of curious eaters, currently pitching up within local cafes and pubs but a more permanent outdoor spot firmly set in their horizons.

With two successful dining events under their belt the third is sure to be the same. Next Bao stop is tomorrow night at The Dalston Victoria, the menu will be made up again with ten or so dishes, specials have previously included pig's ear terrine, razor clams and confit garlic and some deserts chucked in for good measure like red bean crumble cake. So even if you have been before you will still be able to sample some new flavours or because of the tapas sized portions just fill up on a dozen of what you already know and love. Mark my words Bao is going to be big.

Home cured bacon and daikon croquettes
Pomelo Salad
Smacked Cucumbers
Heavy duty bamboo steamer 
Black sesame ice cream and peanut shaving, mildly sweet and delicately creamy
An East meets West desert, red bean crumble and cream.
Congee with hundred year egg, topped with tongue and pig crackling.



9 Duke Street, London W1U 3EG - 020 7486 9699

It has almost been five years since I had gorged on Argentina's finest red stuffs for a month and the same amount of time since such epic meat sweats! Eating experiences in situ naturally out run their distant exported cousins. So I have abstained at length from particular cuisines back in London because of this until now. It was the draw of the hand on heart words of promise from trusted individuals coupled with the promise of my beloved Torrentes that swayed me to try Zoilo.
From the outside it looked like an ideal place to thaw out with a bottle of Mendoza's finest. We peeled apart the chill proof curtains and noticed we were the first to arrive, all eyes and smiles were on us as we were led downstairs to the fish bowl bar. I am a sucker for watching chefs work, their movements so precise, agile to the finger tips, and chose our position at this bar below because of this - although there is another bar on the first floor if you prefer watching mixologists at work. Central to the kitchen and in fact Argentinian cooking is the parilla, the grill. Priding themselves on the quality of their meat, particularly their prized cattle characteristically tender due to the countries flat herbaceous plains for easy, relaxed movement and tasty diet. Argentinians like nothing more than simple charred quality meat. Other signature ingredients such as blood sausage and offal appeared. As does their infamous empanadas, like miniature Cornish pasties but invigorated with spices, sure to be a crowd pleasers. We sampled all three, the two meat options clearly fell from the same tasty tree, super savoury and spiked with cumin, although the spinach was the dark horse sweet with jewels of raisins and pine nuts.
Then came the small plate of gnocchi, with roast pumpkin and sage which was saved from being a tad run of the mill with crunch and a nutty bitterness from the crushed amaretti biscuits on top. We had a moment of madness and ordered a dish currently gracing a vast majority of eateries around the country in one guise or another, beetroot and goats curd. Thankfully as with the rest of the menu there was an Argentine twist, from garrapiñada, caramelized peanuts that were ground then incorporated in the coating of the deep fried cheese, adding texture and another level of sweetness.
We noticed many a little frying pan packed with cubes of white cheese go in the oven then topped with thyme which turned out to be a version of the Italian cheese provolone. As we chatted away to the chef, he explained quite vividly origins of dishes which mirrored flavours from across the Atlantic, chorizo, polenta and various cheeses had a stable home amongst Argentinian cuisine. For the meat dishes we went for the asado flank steak with creamy celeriac and bone marrow gravy, which was a mini plate of a hearty richness. For me it was  the pork, chorizo and prawn al ajo dish that brought me back. Each meat cooked to maximise their flavour, the belly sous vided for optimum succulence, chorizo pan fried to ignite it's mild fieriness and the prawns flamed on the grill all topped with a herby garlic mix.To finish we opted for the three in one desert of dulce de leche creme bruleé, silken and sweet with a perfect crust, and banana split ice cream complete with dark chocolate chunks. 

I would quite happily return and exhaust the menu completely, the sweetbread dish and "humita" crab soup are next on the list. The only reason I would not rush to do so is the price tag the meal comes with. I am a "small plates" fan. In theory, you can sample double the amount of dishes at a lower price, win win. However following the recommended three to four options per person you will end up with a dishes decreased in size with a price that doesn't follow suit. But come back I will for another throwback to the country built on great meat, even better wine and all the other delicious things inbetween.

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Katz Orange

Bergstrasse 22, 10115 Berlin, Mitte   Tel: 0049 30 983208430 
Berlin, like London is flooded with openings of restaurants, bars and new hangouts every week and Katz Orange looked like the city's newest gem. Promising inventive organic gourmet dishes in Wallpaper worthy surroundings, all killim rugs and wild flowers. We turned off the main strip at Torstrasse into a courtyard tipped with snow and followed the sound of jazz to the far end illuminated by an ambient amber glow.

Inside was a trove of collected treasures, an elaborate display of a well travelled person, skulls of horned beasts and floor length embroidered wall hangings. Katz Orange was a dreamy split level space, good looking and charming. On paper the menu too read like a sure fire hit, familiar flavours like homely chicken cassoulet and equally comforting banana chocolate bread, something for everyone. Surely a place so beautiful would have food to match, expectations were high as we placed our order and waited to see what was between the Katz' ears.
It was a bad start as the waiting staff seemed to have disappeared entirely from the mezzanine level. After taking our food and drink requests we were left to our own devices, we were left thinking that we were maybe supposed to quench our thirst with the water in the flower vase or subdue our hunger by biting our nails as opposed to bread like folk on the surrounding tables.
After much head turning our yearning looks were finally met with something edible. A canoe like bowl filled to the brim with golden crunchy chips and our two sauces. Although we had to coax our waiter into coming round to the fact that one was in fact not what we ordered, anyway they were both tasty, a heady curry and saffron mayo and creamy remoulade. Despite the very hearty portion of chips our mains were leaning towards dainty with my dining companions looking questionably patched together by a heavy handed waiter. Although no negatives were used to describe the dish no words of sweet amour either, I always think it a shame in any circumstance to just provoke a ho hum response. My champignon mousse and tatsoi salad, admittedly looked a picture, jellies of earthy mushrooms and twirls of enoki, a pleasant mix of textures and flavours.

We were now half way through our meal and still without wine, when pointing this out my most loathed response followed; a blank stare with an empty line of words with a distinct lack of an apology. It did however make it in perfect timing as a digestif. There was a questionable amount of substance to Katz Orange's style. The food was a mixed bag, nothing urkingly disconcerting but it did seem odd to get chips as a side to a dehydrated crumb and micro herbed main. But the main flaw was Katz Orange's choice of company, no matter of your beauty the company you keep can define you, that night we were subjected to service laced in irreverence and tardiness.   Saying that like a butterfly to the flame I would chance it all again, to be amongst beautiful things but will just come with the knowledge that the dishes may not come with a smile and the drinks may not come at all.