Korean food done quickly, done well & done deliciously at Mee Market…

Mee Market is one of London’s newest and shiniest hidden gems in both the fast-casual lunching landscape and the delicious Korean food scene. Opened earlier this year and tucked away behind ‘Les Miserables’ on Shaftesbury Avenue, it’s the sort of place you bookmark for a return visit while you’re still finishing the rice bowl in front of you.

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It isn’t big, although there’s room to sit & dine in downstairs, but it is gorgeously unpretentious with beautifully clean lines of white marble counters, wooden crates of rainbow produce and shelves of Korean groceries & homeware that will make you want to fill one of the linen tote bags with things you’ve never heard of before to take away. Mee Market can also lay claim to some of the sweetest & loveliest staff in the capital; smiley, a tiny bit shy and a little bit giggly, they are absolutely delightful and happy to both explain what things are and to offer quietly honest opinions.

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Freshly made to order rice & noodle bowls & boxes are generously sized so go hungry and in need of spicy flavours & layered textures. Prices run from £6.90 – £8.90 for the bowls and sides start at £3 and whilst you could definitely share, I’d suggest getting two different things and rotating halfway through because really, isn’t that the whole point of having a dining with a friend?

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We did just that with the Mee Bowl and the BBQ Bowl, both with spicy chicken. There are plenty of different gorgeously flavoured component parts to choose when assembling your dish; everything from egg to bean sprouts and kimchi to edamame is fresh, colourful & delicious and with different sauces, proteins & rice and noodles to select from, I guarantee anyone will be able to piece together a lunch they’ll love.

Korean food is big right now but while a lot of places start and focus on fried chicken and beef bulgogi, both of which totally have their place in life and my belly, Mee Market offers something a little bit lighter, fresher and crisper and if you love the complex flavours & spices of Korea, you’ll find yourself one very happy person eating here.

Pastaio; a jewel in London’s pasta-obsessed restaurant crown…

Stevie Parle’s Clerkenwell based Palatino was responsible for one of my finest 2017 date night dinners. The venue perfectly straddled the cosy-stylish divide, the service was top notch and the food was flat-out fantastic. Carbs are taken as seriously as Trump in my house and their Gnocchi alla Romana is the stuff of dreams though it is, of course, quelle horreur for Atkins devotees.

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Opening a new, very centrally located place is something that’s always going to be accompanied by a whole new set of sky-high expectations as well as a new crowd of diners, for whilst EC1 is a barely-worth-putting-outdoor-shoes-on length stroll from my North London home, it’s considered something of a trek by anyone living elsewhere on the capital’s compass. This just-off Carnaby Street location is moments from theatres, cinemas & flagship stores so understand that you may well spot an M&M’s World bag or a Hamley’s survivor inside – you’ll recognise them by the look of shell-shock on their faces.

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Like a similarly named, no-reservations, South London counterpart, Pastaio specialises in fresh pasta and, apparently, drawing the crowds. During its recent soft launch, my attempt to feast on the cheap was rebuffed by a 2 hour wait, something my at-the-time growling stomach made quite clear was not going to happen. Returning a week later for a Thursday night, girl date supper we were seated immediately and the restaurant was quiet enough in the no man’s land time period that falls between finishing work & beginning to dine for us to fall a little bit in love with the place.  Long communal tables in beautiful flecked stone, an open plan kitchen constantly blurred behind puffy clouds of steam and a warm, mellow glow from the sort of lighting that makes everyone look that little bit more attractive. Read More

A hidden gem filled with London’s best noodles…

Confession time – I never know where to go in London for good Chinese food. I can give you some awesome Italian suggestions and I can list half a dozen places where you can fill your face with tacos in a way that is unladylike yet thoroughly understandable but decent Chinese food has always eluded me.

Until now.

Until my gorgeous friend L took pity on my persistent pleas for help and spirited me away to a place where the noodles are hand pulled, the booze is BYO (hands up if you’re in already) and the vibe is decidedly understated. That’s right kids, it’s all about Holloway Road right now, specifically Xi’an Impression opposite the Emirates Stadium.

Bringing the flavours of Shan Xi Province, home to Xi’an City and incidentally-and-completely-unrelated-to-food-but-a-nice-piece-of-pub-quiz-trivia the Terracotta Warriors, to North London, this place is a total hole in the wall that, unless you have a friend like L in your life, you’d probably never stop at and I mean that as the highest compliment.

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Unassuming and low-key in the extreme, staff are friendly and totally chilled about sharing their tips from the menu and although the table turnover around us was pretty high on our recent visit, we were never once rushed or made to feel as though we needed to make way for a second wave of people looking to get their noodle fix.

Ease your way into dinner with a couple of picks from the street food segment of the menu; the Xi’an Cold Noodles and the Xi’an Beefburger should both be confident and definite orders. Light, fresh & soft, the noodles come soaked in a deeply savoury chilli-tomato oil and pair nicely with crisp cucumber matchsticks.

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Rocking up in what is undoubtedly the love child of a crispy, toasted bun and a soft, squidgy-middled bao, the steak inside the beefburger is hot, spicy and quite literally mouth watering. We had one to share; frankly, I could easily have polished off three on my own.

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Now you’ve gently stretched out your stomach, it’s time to get down with whole reason for being there. No, I don’t actually mean the BYO wine that you arrived clutching in your un-named corner shop carrier bag. Actually, to be fair, we didn’t even class it up that much. One bottle into one handbag. Done. But I digress…you should have been lubricating yourself with grape juice or happy hoppy liquor for a while by this point. The reason for you being there is the beautifully supple & silky noodles.

Portions are ample for sharing and the biangbiang arrive piled high in satiny stacks on a plate slick with chilli sauce. Be prepared for the fact you’ll end up wiping spatters of deeply fragrant, spicy oil off the face of the lovely people you’re dining with – probably not ideal for a first date kind of situation but taking someone here would totally guarantee you a second one.

If you’ve ever shared my concern that the search for spectacular noodles would require you to trawl through Chinatown like a selfie-stick-toting tourist lost in their A-Z, fear no more. Take an adventure on the Northern Line and lose yourself in an unexpected noodle wonderland.