Nuff Nang

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Il Bocconcino

Via Ostilia 23, 00184 Roma

After a full day at the Colloseum and then the Musei Capitolini, it was time for a hearty dinner. Il Bocconcino is a cosy little restaurant just a few minutes walk from the Colloseum. I loved the red checked table covers, quirky little ornaments and *ahem* rather cute and not to mention extremely helpful waiter.

We have since discovered that restaurants in Rome generally charge you for their bread baskets even if you do not eat any. And if they dont, a 'coperto' (cover charge) will be added to your bill. It is also virtually impossible to get tap water served at your table - it is always either naturale or frizzante.

AS had the Rigatoni ala Carbonara at EUR8.00 which was very good. Made with good quality pancetta in a light sauce. Compared to our first night in Rome, this was world's apart. No scrambled eggs here thats for sure. The only, very minor complaint was the salt content which was on the high side.

I had the Tagliolini con Ragout di Anatra e Timo (Pasta with minced duck and spices) at EUR10.50. There were some lovely yet subtle meaty flavours here. The pasta was not quite as delicate as Il Pompiere but more than decent by any London standards.

As far as main courses go, Ill Bocconcino served up hot and hearty, simple meals. Not quite gastronomic but certainly wholesome and very rustic.

Dessert however, well...
For dessert we had Fondante al Ciocolato (Chocolate Fondant) at EUR6.00 which was served warm with a light custard cream. The fondant was absolutely divine, very rich, very moist and very delicious! The delicate custard at just the right consistency was a perfect compliment.

Tiramisu at EUR6.50 was light and refreshing, a welcome contrast to the richness of the fondant. Although Il Pompiere's tiramisu tops my list, AS preferred Il Bocconcino's offering for precisely the reasons I favoured the other. The tiramisu here was lighter and not quite as decadent as Il Pompiere's but good all the same.

We also had 1/2 litre of the house red wine which was perfectly drinkable and quite a bargain at EUR6.00. Our total bill came to EUR40.50 which we considered reasonable for our 4 courses, wine and bread.

I'll certainly be back!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Societe Lutece

Piazza Monte Vecchio 17, Roma

An ecclectic somewhat 'boho' yet more than trendy bar, Societe Lutece is perfect for travellers who want to feel like part of Rome's in crowd. Almost impossible to find, with an unassuming entrance, this bar is arty and modern yet somehow lost in time. Old fashioned Italian classics set the atmosphere and makes you dream of an ancient, much grander Rome.

Between 6.30pm and 10pm daily, the bar hosts an 'apperitivo', essentially an 'eat all you can' buffet table for the price of a drink. I ordered a white russian which was made with 2 shots of vodka and 2 shots of kahlua for only EUR8. I cant say I know anywhere decent in London where you can 4 shots for less than GBP8! What a bargain! Especially when we saw the spread they had put on.

Although aperitivo's are not usually meant as a full meal, there is more than enough to go round, keeping your tummy filled until your next meal. The fare at Societe Lutece consisted of cold dishes but there are other aperitivo bars that also serve hot dishes. This aperitivo is perfect for cooling down on summer evenings.

We started with crudites which were served with five different dips and dressings, all delicious!

Then we moved onto the cous cous dishes - there were four! A vegetarian dish with a wholesome tomato base, cauliflower salad, mixed garden cheese salad, an apple and cinnamon salad, plenty of fresh bread and a number of other dishes too. The food here was generally very good. The apple and cinnamon salad was my personal favourite and both AS and I had three helpings each!

I loved the quirkiness of this experience although this cold aperitivo couldnt quite be billed as heartwarming fare in the chill of winter. Nonetheless, I will certainly be back in the summer.

PS Stay well clear of the toilets, they are pretty dismal, wet floors to boot! If you plan on checking this place out, I recommend you go early. The music changes to some sort of strange Euro funk from 8pm and doesnt get any better.

PPS Oh yes, and carnivours need not apply.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Al Pompiere

Via S Maria dei Calderari 38, Roma

Last November, my girlfriend AS and I spent a week in Rome. Our obsessive compulsive tendencies meant that we spent weeks thoroughly researching our trip, mapping out our week's itinerary (including good food hotspots) down to a very militant 'T'.

Although Rome is an expensive city, you cant eat well and cheaply if you know where to go. This entry marks the first of our culinary adventures in the Eternal City.

On our second night in Rome, we trekked all the way to Jewish Quarter to a restaurant that had been recommended to me by an old friend. BB is a food connoiseur if there ever was one and any recommendation of his was certainly worth trying out. I spent a week in Milan with BB not so long ago and was pleasantly surprised but all together delighted that a non Malaysian could be such a keen and refined foodie. In Milan, BB successfully converted me to the world of risotto with a very local and a very authentic Risotto Milanese. This was quite an achievement considering risotto had always been one of my culinary pet peeves. It just confuses me somehow - not quite rice congee but hardly fluffy rice. Call me a Philistine, but I confess I struggled with the concept. That is until, an evening in Milan.

So there we were in the dark and cold, AS and I, traipsing from crooked street corner to crooked street corner in a quiet, somewhat dingy neighbourhood and wondering very much whether we should turn back. However, from our disastrous dinner the night before, having arrived late in the night, tired and hungry, and dining at the first place our B&B owner recommended round the corner, we were determined to rid ourselves of that memory by having a good meal. We arrived at Al Pompiere, Via S. Maria dei Calderari 38 just as we were about to give up. It was one of those places you would never have found unless you knew it was there.

Inside, the place looked slightly daunting. There was a a sweeping staircase leading up to the main restaurant and it looked expensive. We nervously examined the menu on the far wall at the bottom of the stairs and were pleasantly surprised to find that the prices were reasonable.

Upstairs, the decor was charming and slightly quirky. Old fashioned street lamps adorned the walls right next to quirky oil pastel art. I really like the exposed beams on the ceiling and the tables were simple yet tastefully decorated. Everything was spotlessly clean and we were welcomed more than graciously.

Once seated, we were promptly served with a freshly baked bread basket and breadsticks. We thought it was a nice touch until we realised at the end of our meal that they billed us EUR4 for it. I would suggest leaving this basket well alone unless you fancy paying the extra.

For starters we had:

Fiore di Zucca Ripiero (Fried Squash Blossoms) EUR4.00

This Roman speciality was absolutely delicious. The batter was crisp and crunchy contrasting beautifully with the light but flavourful cheese and blossoms inside. It was melt-in-your-mouth divine and you cannot dine at Al Pompiere without trying this house special.

We also had:

Bresaola con Rughetta (Carpaccio of Beef with Rocket) EUR9.00

The Bresaola was nicely done. AS doesnt like rocket which meant that I was in charge of the greens. This suited me just fine as I love rocket! Is this partnership made in heaven or what? The beef was of excellent quality, delicately sliced but generously served. Our starter plate had approximately 10 slices. It went really well with the rocket and the olive oil was premium. All together, it was subtle yet delicious.


Taglioline al Limone (Taglioline in Lemon Sauce) EUR12.00

This has to be, by far, the most sublime culinary experience I have ever had. The pasta is freshly made in house and had such a delicate yet 'perfectly right' texture. Without a doubt, tagliolini is now my favourite type of pasta. Forget the spaghettis/linguines/fettucines of the world - tagliolini is the way forward. The creamy cheese sauce was light, silky and smooth (no scrambled eggs here thank you very much!) and the lemon added such a lovely zestiness and freshness to the dish that made it compelling. I have to confess that I guarded my plate quite jealously that night and would certainly not have passed the test for the "Sharing is Caring" campaign poster girl.

AS had Tonarelli con Carciofi (Tonarelli in Artichoke Sauce) EUR10.00

This dish, in many ways, was almost the complete opposite of our first pasta dish. The flavours were full and earthy and almost bordered on being too rich and too flavourful. A real treat for artichoke lovers, the artichokes were plentiful and extremely tasty. Very delicious and once again, very generous on the ingredients. Definitely top quality here. My only gripe would be that the pasta was served on the extreme side on al dente but as we understand it from our hosts tonarelli is served just so in Rome.

Then it was time for Dessert!

Tiramisu della Casa (House Speciality - Tiramisu) EUR7.00

This is very likely the best Tiramisu I have ever had. Ever. Melt in your mouth texture made with excellent quality Italian coffee that leaves a lovely, dreamy aftertaste in your mouth. The zabaione mascarpone cream was a genius twist, and this dessert was light but rich and I greedily tucked into all of it with only a half hearted attempt at sharing. All Tiramisu's should be made this way.

AS had a glass of prosecco at EUR3.50 which is perfectly decent pricewise and tastewise too.

Although Al Pompiere might not be the cheapest eat around, it compares well to London prices and is excellent value for money. Really authentic Roman fare, excellent service and ambience. Such a bonus that this place is so discreetly located and well away from tourist traffic. I certainly got the impression that only 'Romans-in-the-Know' patronise this establishment. You can dine here in the smug knowledge that the majority of your fellow tourists would be stuck dining on insipid Menu Turistico's roundabout Termini Station.

After examining our empty plates, I certainly did!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Raiding My Fridge...

I raided my fridge this evening and had an impromptu dinner for three. Although not strictly a review on good eats in London, it's still a cheap (and good) eat nonetheless. I fed three at the dinner table and still have enough left over for lunch tomorrow. Best of all it only cost me GBP2.99!

In my fridge & kitchen cupboard I found:


1 bulb of garlic

1 large onion

4 birds eye chilis

3 sticks celery

3 ripe tomatoes

4-5 pcs sundried tomatoes

1 tin plum/chopped tomatoes

1/2 tube tomato puree (ketchup works almost as well)

50g parmesan

A handful of fresh basil

1/2 packet of Spaghetti

I then nipped to my friendly neighbourhood Super(market) and picked up 1kg of (in-season) Scottish rope grown mussels for GBP2.99. Bargain!!!

This dish is incredibly easy (and quick) to make - although the mussels do need debearding and cleaning. To debeard, grab a hold of the scruffy 'beards' that are attached to the inside of the shells and pull hard. Then run under cold water and wash off any dirt or grit on the shells. Remember to discard any open or broken ones unless they clam up when you tap them gently on their shells. For the novice mussel 'debeard-er' & cleaner, this should take about 15 minutes but the results are well worth it.

Cleaning aside, on the hob, this dish is done and dusted in 15-20 mins.

1. First chop up the garlic, onions, chilis. Pop them into a pot on low heat with some olive oil and a knob of butter. (I also found a wee bottle of truffle oil that my brother-in-law's brother had given me a few months back so I added a generous tablespoon to the mix). Fry gently for approx 5 minutes.

2. With the garlic, onions and chilis frying merrily away in the pot, slice the celery and sundried tomatoes. Add to the pot. (Do NOT combine Step 1 and 2 as the onions need time to melt down, the garlic to sweeten and the chili to lose its acidity).

3. Then chop up the fresh tomatoes, throw them into the pot too. Give it a good stir then chuck in the tinned chopped tomatoes. Simmer for approx 5 minutes.

4. Add tomato puree or harissa paste, or even ketchup to bulk up the sauce. Salt and peper to taste.

5. When you are happy with the base, throw in the (debearded and cleaned) mussels. Bring the sauce to a boil and cook for about 5-7 minutes until the shells have opened. Discard any that remain closed.

6. Add the grated parmesan and chopped basil. Mix well.

7. In a separate pot, cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. I usually add olive oil so the pasta doesnt stick and salt to season. Once cooked, drain and serve in a deep dish with the mussels.

And voila! Three happy bellies!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Gastronauts, Gourmets, Foodies & Novices - Welcome...

Good food, (note the emphasis on ‘good’) is what being Malaysian is all about. Up there at the top of our priority list, right next to oxygen, good food is the cornerstone that punctuates every activity, however trivial or magnanimous, constantly dictating the agenda of our daily routine. It’s not unusual for Malaysians to drive for hours in the worst conditions (including bumper-to-bumper-traffic a.k.a. the most excruciating form of torture known to man, second only to ‘burning in the fires of hell’) to satisfy the ‘burning’ desires of their super-refined palates – perhaps heading up north for Ipoh Chicken Rice, down south for Laksa Johor or across town for Kajang Satay!

So it never ceases to amaze me how so many here in London are either oblivious or indifferent to the countless varieties of delicious cuisine readily available in this city. From European haute cuisine right through to Oriental hawker foods and straight across to African game delicacies – we really are spoilt for choice! And with that magical catchphrase ‘special offers’, there really is, in my mind, and I’m sure most Malaysians would agree, no excuse and no reason to settle for anything less than divine.

Recently, I was taken on a ‘date’ to Wagamama’s. Yes, that’s right. In 2009, I was dragged kicking and screaming, by the back of my hair to Wagamama’s in Spitalfield’s Market. Now don’t get me wrong, I am ALL for cheap eats but this is where I draw the line. The food is close to inedible and so far from authentic, you might as well head over to Mr Wu's Eat All You Can in China Town for an Indian Chicken Karahi! If there is one thing, and one thing only that you take away from this blog, do NOT, whatever the circumstances, take your date to Wagamama’s. Ever.

Ladies & Gentlemen, consider this your very own ‘Good Food Guide for the Frugal Gourmet.’ Lads (or ladettes) looking to impress your dates, friends, family, whoever - look no further! Within the pages of this blog you will find a systematic breakdown of what’s good and what’s not, where to go and where not to. To the exacting standards of a Malaysian Foodie, and best of all, without breaking the bank.

And if I’m in a really good mood, I might even throw in a few of my personal recipes should you decide to go that extra mile to really impress and cook up a storm at home. The surefire way to a (wo)man’s heart is, after all, through her tummy. If the very idea of cooking makes you feel like poking your right eyeball out with a sharp pencil, never fear! Coming from someone who once could not differentiate between an herb and a weed, a courgette and a cucumber, and even beef with lamb, my recipes are entirely idiot proof.

But then again, if you make something idiot proof, does that make someone a better idiot? Food for thought? ...