06 September 2010

London Restaurants Around Finsbury Park

London Restaurants Around Finsbury Park

Sophie and I have been down in London for the last few days, leaving our children with my parents, while we enjoy the delights of exhibiting at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair trade show at Olympia.  We have been staying at my brother’s house in Finsbury Park, but because he is having some building work done we were forced to eat out of an evening (alack and alas, I hear you cry).

The first night we went to a Thai restaurant called Cats – Café des Artistes.  We ate early as we had failed to have any lunch which did not help the atmosphere of the restaurant which was bright and empty, with customers only beginning to turn up as we left at about 7.30.  As starters, we had BBQ Ribs and Vegetables in Tempura Batter, which were okay at best; the Ribs were a bit indifferent with lots of fat, tough meat and a seasoning that had a hint of chemical about it, while the tempura batter was stodgy and had no lightness to it. 

For the main course, we shared Garlic Beef, Penang Vegetable Curry and Sticky Rice.  The beef was fine but heavy on the garlic, while the vegetable curry needed a hotter curry sauce than it was cooked in, or covered in.  I have had this a number of times recently with prepared food – whether restaurant or from the shops – that vegetables or meat are cooked in one way then all the components are mixed together later and then (sometimes) a sauce added over it, but because the ingredients are cooked separately and a sauce added at the last minute, none of the flavours blend and infuse together, creating a flavourless industrial type of food.  In this case, the vegetables must have been precooked then the sauce added later, so the vegetables did not have any Thai flavours in them and it jarred as a whole. 

My final disappointment was that the food was a bit tame and is not really hot enough for Thai food.  Overall prognosis - okay for food fuel, but not great Thai cuisine.

On Sunday night, it was a wholly different experience.  We went out to Dotori at 3 Stroud Green Road (N4 2DQ).  This is a small restaurant hidden by Finsbury Park Tube Station and opposite the Twelve Pins Pub, none of which seems to bode well until you enter the building.  Inside, it is a hive of activity and has that happy, noisy sound of a busy place with contented and joyful customers.  The decor is simple izakaya style with tables and seats that are a functional dark wood.  The buzz emanated from the kitchen at the back and the tall chef’s hat and brightly coloured shirt of the sushi chef.

Dotori is not full of doctors nor is it a sanctuary to Frankie Dettori (I had misheard the name), but has a half Korean and half Japanese menu.  I had thought it was some type of fusion and was concerned about that, but a mix of two styles with different menus was much more in balance.  We chose a variety of dishes from both menus and they came as they were ready and we shared everything, so the style became Far Eastern rather than Korean or Japanese.  I drank green tea while the others had Hite beer (per the label Korea’s number one selling beer) and white wine.  Between 4 people, we had 7 dishes plus two rounds of drinks that came to a truly amazingly low price of £70.85 (including service) and we were all sated.

As for dishes, we had starters that were a gratis salad, Korean dumplings with a chilli-soy dipping sauce (Ojingeo twigim), squid in a batter and a chilli sauce (Gunmundu), Japanese chicken in crispy batter (chicken karage).  The salad has a lovely sweet dressing with sudden bursts of an umami kick from soya paste and soy sauce that came through in waves.  The dumplings were nicely light and without that glutinous outside that you normally have with these, as they must have been dried fried afterwards rather than simply steamed.  The batters on the squid and chicken were different – the squid was a rich deep fried batter with a spicy chilli coating from a thick sauce, while the chicken was in a light, crispy starch batter (probably corn starch) and was delicious drizzled with lemon juice.  I think that the dumplings were my favourite of those.

For main courses, we had the Tokyo sushi selection (8 slices of a big roll and 3 pieces of sushi fish on rice), chicken noodles (chicken yaki soba), salmon teriyaki and bulgoggi beef.  I am certainly no connoisseur of sushi, but this was really something else – fresh, clean tasting and full of an almost meaty umami taste without any overload of fishiness ruining the palette.  The big rolls included vegetables as well as fish rolled in seaweed with an outer layer of rice, which was then sprinkled with false caviar and flecks of wasabi; these really balanced well against the meaty fish tastes of the fish.  The fish was tuna, salmon and prawn.  The salmon teriyaki was perhaps a little overcooked, but was in a decent sweet teriyaki sauce, while the soba noodles were a good everyday noodle dish that filled the stomach.  The bulgoggi beef was really interesting, as it had a tenderized texture to it that gave it an almost liver-like smoothness of bite, which was then balanced by rolling it into a crispy lettuce leaf.

Overall, Dotori was an unexpected pleasure.  Good value, great food and interesting flavours and textures.  I would really recommend hunting it down if you are in this part of North London, but prepare to queue or book ahead as it is popular.