Review: Lincoln

10 October 2013
Upper West Side

I’ve recovered somewhat after a fortnight since returning from that very trying trip to London. Kept a pretty low profile since getting back to New York, as I needed to sort out the logistics of my upcoming move. This is why I keep all my boxes even after I finish moving…

But for now I’m returning to my roots, when music was the centre of my life. I had a series of impressive concerts coming up — all at The Iridium in Manhattan. And tonight, after dinner, is a short but interesting set by the legendary Ginger Baker. I wanted to treat myself before the gig, so I decided to finally (I’ve put it off so long, not sure why) trek north-west and go to the very-well regarded Lincoln.

Not surprisingly, the restaurant is located at Lincoln Center, and is popular with many diners heading to events. My show didn’t begin until 10pm, so I had some flexibility, so took my time and enjoyed my evening. The restaurant was already busy before 7pm, but the one thing I noticed — it was extremely dark. So dark I could barely read my menu even with my phone light — so I do apologise about the edited photos.

The drinks menu featured an entire section on make-your-own Negroni, so that was a nice touch for NYC. My server suggested using rye (off the menu) instead, and that sounded intriguing so I did so, making my Negroni with Rittenhouse rye, Campari and Carpano Antica. It was delicious, as the rye brought out an extra herby complexity. Not too bitter for a pre-dinner drink. Excellent.

After relaxing a little I gave my order — both food and drink — to my server, much to his approval (he’s already happy with my Negroni selection). The wine list here is fantastic, but with already a Negroni in and a long night with more booze at The Iridium, I decided to self-pair my courses.

Pretty soon the first dish arrived, il crudo di capesante — day-boat sea scallops. To be honest, these didn’t work at all. I could barely see my dish, though I can see the scallops were sliced so thin there was essentially no flavour. The urchin helped, but this was the blandish tasting scallops I’ve ever had. The key is to bring out the sweetness of the scallops — like the fabulous scallops crudo I had at Texture in London — but this fails, badly.


At least the glass of Kerner from Trentino was good… The photo has been severely edited so you could see something. I was severely disappointed at this point, as I felt this place was so promising…

Then my second course, the first of two pasta dishes, arrived, and finally we start to see some of Jonathan Benno’s genius. Many questioned his post-Per Se move, but this dish was better than anything I’ve ever eated at Per Se…


Gli strozzapreti al ragù di mare was utterly fantastic, one of the best pasta dishes I’ve had in years. The strozzapreti boasted extreme richness from the bounties of the sea, leaving every tasting like some special experience. The spicy peppers added the kick that brought this dish from excellent to extraordinary, a perfect balance rarely achieved in large restaurants. Kudos to Chef Benno and the kitchen team for execution! I enjoyed this course with an excellent rose cannonau from Sardinia…mmm…

That last dish redeemed the first and more. Wow, it was really memorable, and pulled off in a big restaurant. That’s the real surprising thing. Obviously running a kitchen like Per Se helped Benno with quality control in a crazy busy place like Lincoln. I was utterly impressed. What scallops?

My second pasta dish was next, which I paired with a simple Nero d’Avola. I garganelli e ciauscolo… At this point I can say Lincoln is the best place for pasta in NYC, it’s better than all of Batali’s places…


The garganelli was again cooked perfectly, this time with the tasty smoked sausage ciauscolo and sheep ricotta. The menu is featuring items from Marche, so I figured I’d try one of the specialties tonight. Excellent taste, a completely different monster from the previous pasta, the perfect balance once again. Kudos once more to the kitchen (and to my excellent selections!).

I was relaxed and happy and surprisingly I went for a dessert of gelato and a little grappa before I headed out to The Iridium. But here’s a photo that shows how bloody dark it was. I tried editing the same photo but couldn’t do much. This juxtaposition shows my main gripe with this restaurant.


I headed out very happy, having had 2 scrumptious and amazing pasta dishes that showed off both Benno’s flair *and* his staff’s execution. I told the staff that “they were too good” for serving people rushing off to shows. The service was fantastic too. An excellent dining experience.

I then headed down to The Iridium, only to end up queuing for over an hour to get into the Ginger Baker gig…

Let’s just say this was not the Ginger we all knew and loved from years past. Nowhere near even how he played during the Cream reunion shows a few years back. It’s an old man struggling, and it was a little sad to see. I wish it was as dark in The Iridium as it was in Lincoln on this one night as I downed a few martinis getting through his set…

Lincoln Center
142 West 65th Street
New York, New York


Review: El Pirata

23 September 2013

As I had chronicled both parts of my trying London excursion in the last few posts, I leave my former favourite place in the world with one review I’ve deemed worthy of a separate entry. For one difficult afternoon I chose to visit one of my favourite places in all of London to chill, and that’s El Pirata in Mayfair.

The always-busy Spanish eatery has been an oasis for me for over a decade, and I drop in for a late lunch nearly every time I am in the town. Simple and good food done right, frankly. And sitting at the bar removes the need to deal with the often slow service.

I relaxed and enjoyed the quietness as the restaurant has always been in a mobile signal dead-zone, so no distractions. Just my wine and me — until the food comes to disturb the peace. I began the meal with a pair of asparagus dishes…


I have to admit these didn’t quite live up to expectations at all. The whites tasted tinned, the greens tasted very ordinary. Oh, that’s too bad… But now to the good stuff…


Two of my favourite dishes. First, the gulas (make what you will, but they do it damn good here) was very flavourful in a sizzling garlic sauce. Then the masterpiece, the best arroz negro in town. It’s less than the awesome one I had a few days earlier at Fino, but it’s creamy and inky in a way that I cannot describe.

Wow, that was good. I relaxed with more wine, letting the food digest. And instead of a dessert as always, I went for a plate of pata negra…nothing better for digestion…


Now I miss these things so much living in the States. The slicing is abysmal at best in the US, and the portions are all wrong there. This is heavenly…

A simple and good Spanish late lunch in London. No one does it better than El Pirata. Now back to the bad ol’ world…

El Pirata
5-6 Down Street
London, England

Birthday Trip to London Part Two: Climbing Up a Slippery Slope…

After the disastrous first half of my London trip seemed arrested by the fine dinner at Fino on that Friday night, I was hoping I’ve turned a corner for the rest of the trip. I thought of cutting things short and heading back to NYC earlier, but it was just total inertia that prevented me from doing that…

The next morning I limped my way around the Paddington canals. My former usual brekkie place is now gone (Core Grill), so I meandered all the way to the far end of Paddington and went for a dimsum at Pearl Liang.

I had a good and voluminous meal there a few months back so hoped for a similar experience. The food was solid again, starting with some tasty fried turnip cakes.


This was accompanied by some excellent pork and chive dumplings.


With some wine in hand, I tried to relax and enjoy…but wasn’t easy. Lots…I mean LOTS of annoying children everywhere. Crying babies, unruly kids that parents don’t seem to want to control. This really made the experience totally annoying. But I digress… Next came the scallops shumai.


These were very nice. And finally some steamed tripe…


This last dish was just what I needed. I quickly settled up before I shouted at some of the parents for letting their children run around and throw things at other tables…

I took a long walk around the Paddington canals trying to do some thinking, but that failed. Nothing got resolved. I ended up back in my room trying to sort things out and spent hours online dealing with paperwork that I didn’t need to do yet. but I chose to do them now, so I can really just close up shop.

I didn’t even want to do anything that Saturday evening, so went to get a quick takeaway and headed back and just brooded…not exactly the glamorous Saturday evening fun you’d expect in London…

Sunday began no better. Slept extremely badly, and that ulcer is getting worse. I got a few replies from yesterday’s emails and things moved ahead quicker than I thought for shutting down the rest of my work. So I said, what the hell, made some quick and very decisive — and life-changing — decisions and headed out for lunch.

I went to one of my “comfort” places in London, a place I’ve been hiding in since the 1990s: San Miguel’s just across the street from Edgware Road Tube. It’s not mind-blowing food, but it’s comfortable like a glove. The staff, which remained the same since I’ve been coming here, immediately asked why I haven’t been around for so long. Ah, to be missed…


I started with a trio of tapas — mushrooms in garlic sauce, some solid albóndigas, and the obligatory pulpo. Nice and relaxing to enjoy these three with some nice wine and catching up with the staff, all with footie in the back. I took my time and decided to add a fourth tapa, some nice gambas in garlic sauce.


These were nice, flavourful and cooked perfectly. I relaxed more there as they gave me the usual brandy on the house, and I left happily — though the climb up the stairs was not helpful for my ailing ankle…

I limped around that part of London for a little but was told that there was a demo by some radicals down Edgware Road, so decided to ensconce myself back in my room for awhile. Sorted out more stuff, and basically pulled all the triggers I needed. Wow, life is all change now…

I met with a dear friend for dinner back at Medlar — where I had a fantastic meal a few days earlier. I think it was really now that I felt relaxed…knowing I’ve did all I can this weekend to make things move, and now it’s all on auto-pilot. And it’s good to unburden to someone who you trust 101% — and there are very, very few people on earth who I trust so much.

So by Monday morning I was somewhat back to a near-normal state mentally, but physically not improving. In fact, the left ankle remained bad while the right lower leg was getting worse. And the ulcer from the NSAID really got worse too. Ugh…

I had a nice big and relaxing lunch — I will write this up in a separate review next. But that afternoon’s meeting with a friend turned into a longer drinking session than expected, and the Guinness really helped to exacerbate my stomach situation. I managed to grab some takeaway and headed back to my hotel and just slumped over in pain…ugh, the damn NSAIDs….

I felt much better after the rest (finally slept relatively well) and made my Tuesday brunch with a good friend and former boss. The limping wasn’t better, and now an added problem. My back is starting to really go, as well as my shoulder. It’s like the stress is just moving up and my whole body is falling apart… Geezus, and I’m only 41… It always happens when I miss my gym sessions…

I went back to the room and tried to stay on my back and soak in the tub, but neither helped. So I managed to get an appointment with a therapist that a friend recommended, but not until tomorrow. So I just tried to relax the day away. Didn’t bother with lunch or anything, just tried to minimise movement…ugh…

Now dinner was a total disaster. I agreed to meet a good friend at Umu in Mayfair. Crazy expensive, but I had a wonderful meal 2 years ago here. This time was total rubbish… Poor service, server was utterly confused and we couldn’t get proper descriptions from him. Wrong cocktails were brought, and our wine was warm (not even room temperature). The tempura veg was awful. The eel was excellent as well as the proper wagyu seared, but the experience was so piss poor I didn’t take pictures nor want to say more about it. But it was pure pretentious shite and this place is an embarrassment to London fine dining. Everything that’s wrong about the restaurant scene in London can be seen in this one experience…

But the evening was rescued by my mate, who dragged me to Dukes for drinks afterwards. We were greeted by the maestro himself, Alessandro Palazzi.


He personally made us several rounds of his amazing Martinis… Now that was a great way to close off the trip really. I headed back to the hotel that night, having been distracted from all my physical malaise and the horrible Umu dinner, somewhat relaxed. But I was glad I was headed back to NYC tomorrow…never have I wanted to leave London so badly…

And, of course, my final day in London just had to end in farce… I went to the midday appointment to the therapist and this person turned out to be just awful. Pressure put on wrong places, didn’t do much good for my lower back, and if anything, my shoulder was in more pain afterwards! I was looking at the walls for which bloody institution issued the damn licence…seemed more torture than physical therapy! Perfect metaphor for this entire trip!

Ugh. To say that a 30-minute ice cold shower at the Virgin Atlantic lounge in Heathrow was the best moment of the day is saying something. Back to NYC…ugh…

Pearl Liang
8 Sheldon Square
London, England

San Miguel’s
256 Edgware Road
London, England

14-16 Bruton Place
London, England

St James’s Place
London, England

Review: Fino

20 September 2013

My last post chronicled the first part of my hellish birthday trip to London. Needless to say where it left off, Friday evening, needed a catalyst to change my luck — and salvage the rest of this trip. Sitting in that hapless Hilton Metropole, despite it being Friday night, I called — and got — a counter space at Fino on the later side of the night. Finally something’s going right again.

I always liked Fino, the excellent Spanish restaurant by the Hart Brothers. My friends like their cut-down Barrafina, but for some reason Barrafina never really did it for me. I always prefer the “mother ship” at Fino, and I was hoping for some excellent food to lift my mood.

My ankle and leg was better, so I decided to walk. Wasn’t easy dodging the drunks on a Friday night, but I needed the walk to help clear my mind and do some thinking along the way. I was early, so hopped into Newman Street Tavern for a mediocre martini to start the night. Finished it quickly as the ambience was pretty lame inside, and headed to Fino around the oddly-shaped block.

The place doesn’t look too difference, as I’ve not been back since the devastating flood that shuttered the restaurant for a period a few years back. I was shown to the counter along the kitchen and began to relax with a fine sherry and I began the feasting.


The night began with a pair of queen scallops. To be honest these queenies were pretty bland, and the herby topping really did nothing for them. Oh geez…


Next was the morcilla topped with quail eggs. These blood sausage morsels were excellent, tempered by the yolks. But they were on the salty side and tasted a bit too “unbloody” if it makes any sense… But a beautiful dish. I just wish the morcilla was a bit more rustic.


But the first real star of the evening were these big and juicy razor clams. Flavoured nicely, these plump treats were naturally succulent. Oh my goodness, I almost ordered another set right away, but need to balance…and be tempered… But damn they were good!

Nice start! With some nice wine the first round was over, and I moved into the second round. So far this meal was moving in the right direction and I felt more relaxed than I had in days.


Round two started with a little of a whimper with this stuffed courgette flower. Tasted as a poor man’s tempura, as the consistency was a little messed up. Could have been executed better to be honest.


But the kitchen staff more than redeemed itself with the amazing arroz negro. Full, rich and flavourful, the inky rice hit and exceeded any expectations with its depth. The generous amount of shellfish with this large dish further enhanced its overall deliciousness. Wow, this is one of those nearly perfect dishes…


And as if I couldn’t have enough of these things, another spectacular dish arrived — the grilled cuttlefish. These generous pieces, covered by flakes of pancetta over a small pool of ink, were utterly heavenly. Grilled to perfection, not too stringy or plasticky. Nice, especially with more of the arroz negro to finish. Wow.

I was more than full now, though I really wanted another order or razors or some pata negra. But I decided not to, as it’s been a good, satisfying night. Enjoyed some brandy chatting with the staff, especially over some comedic “complaints” from a guy sitting next to me about poor cooking and ingredient use — clearly showing the guy has *no* idea what he was talking about. His bemused date had the “you’re not getting any after this performance” look. We all had a good laugh after they left.

I eventually headed out feeling finally some relief that things are improving on this trip. However, as I got up the stairs, it all came back to reality. My ankle really stiffened up during dinner. So instead of enjoying a nice walk back, I hopped onto a cab and back to my morose… At least I have the memory of an excellent dinner as we approached that horrible Temple of Fail called the Hilton Metropole…

33 Charlotte Street
London, England

Birthday Trip to London Part One: Descend Into Darkness…

Well, the first part of my birthday trip to relax in London has been rather shambolic, with plenty of utterly unexpected episodes that define Sod’s Law (or if you rather, Murphy’s Law). To say it was going pear-shaped is to put it mildly…

From the emotional curveball of the flight to the painful (and annoying) ankle and leg damage, as chronicled in my review of the rather good and voluminous late dinner at Royal China (see here for review), the whole trip began with me already slipping off a slippery slope…somewhat literally…

My first full day in London was spent in much pain, as it was not easy to walk with my damaged ankle. It may not look like I was limping much, but I was in a lot of pain trying to look as normal as I can walking. Was good to meet with a well-respected author of German and European history during lunch at the underrated Indian restaurant Hason Raja in Bloomsbury, and dinner was a treat for myself at the excellent Medlar (see here for review). The evening was much better, as I caught up with a dear friend over some drinks to celebrate when it turned midnight — and I was officially 41.

On my birthday proper…and really, I eschew celebrating them at this age…I did treat myself again to another excellent meal, this time at the impressive Texture (see here for review). Pain was a little less though the swelling was still on the large side. I had to be careful with the NSAIDs…they may be anti-inflammatories but they also mess with your stomach…not helped with the drinks here in London…

To add to my woes, I was brought back to grim reality at a meeting in the afternoon when it was revealed to me that a “strategy change” cost me my biggest client. Utterly unexpected at this point, and frankly at this point it’s not worth doing any more consulting work. I see much less travels to Europe in the future…

This was really not the birthday gift I needed. Basically alongside the whole moving fiasco it is probably right time to shut everything down and retire for real… I got back to my hotel room and sent emails to start shutting down the rest of my work. It’s time for a total change…

I met up with 2 friends for cocktails in a South American bar in Kensington to toast my birthday. Of course I was late, having been given the birthday prezzie by Transport for London with being stuck on a hot and packed District Line train full of Chelsea supporters… We then went to dinner at the excellent Piemontese steak restaurant Maxelâ.

After the last experience there (see review here), it was a safe bet for a solid meal. We began with the tagliere misto — comprised of salami, carpaccio, bresaola from the Fassone beef, as well as the awesome lardo d’Arnad, and others.


They were excellent, especially the lardo, which had an extremely rich flavour in the already intense selection. Utterly fantastic.

Before the main course arrived, as we continued to enjoy the wine, I got a rather shocking text message. I won’t get into details, but a dear friend back home had suffered a traumatic experience and that really threw my mood for the rest of the evening. To say I was worried was an understatement…


The beautiful costata Maxelâ, at about 1.6kg for the three of us, was fantastic. But to be honest I was too distracted to really enjoy this treat, and only ate 2 pieces. I was not great company by that point. After a much-needed pineapple we parted at the Tube, and I limped back to my hotel room to see how bad the situ back home has gotten. I won’t elaborate further, but thank goodness it worked out for the best at the end…

But frankly this was a crazy birthday…little did I know it would just get worse afterwards. The next day I had to switch hotels into a far inferior one…which I shall not mention. But had a solid lunch at Little Persia on Queensway before limping back. Earlier the injury issue had been the swelling on the left ankle, but now the tibia on the right is getting much worse from the bone bruise…shit…

A lacklustre day where I did a lot of thinking about what my future hold continued in farce. I cancelled most of the other meetings I had on this lengthy trip — both social and professional — as I just need some “me” time… So for dinner I went to the Georgian restaurant Colchis in Notting Hill.

I love Georgian food and wine, so I was hoping for a good evening in a place that I liked in a past visit. However, reality bit when I got there and saw the addition of a “British menu” aside the Georgian delights…always a very bad sign. I chose to order 2 starters to see where it goes.


The first was the bazhe (ბაჟე), a walnut sauce – this time with sturgeon. Frankly this was done really bad, like having cheap pieces of fish thrown into a sauce that had been sitting around. I barely finished this. And not enough bread for the sauce.


The khinkali (ხინკალი) was rather typical, nothing special. The wine was nice, but the food was nowhere as good as I remembered last year. Plus, a loud, loutish table was annoying everyone else in the restaurant, and I chose to leave.

I ended up doing a takeaway at Kam Tong en route back to the dreary hotel…to be greeted by major AC problems in a steamy hot room… I ended up prying the windows open, as it was about 15 degrees warmer inside… Barely slept…

I got up the next morning with pain in 3 places — left ankle, right lower leg, and stomach. I think the NSAIDs is getting to me with the wine consumption…shit… I’m not taking the NSAIDs for the pain (I can bear it) but to stem the swelling on the left ankle. It’s starting to stabilise, but…

I switched hotels once again this Friday morning and went to the Hilton Metropole, one of London’s largest with over 1000 rooms. It seems they decided to do a major IT update last night and it’s not back up, so they couldn’t check me in. Why would they do this on a Thursday/Friday night before a busy weekend, and on a week with so many European football matches in London?

I left my bag and went somewhere that’s usually safe for lunch — Hereford Road. Limped and got a table and saw that Tom (Pemberton, chef/owner) was not running the open kitchen. Sadly the last few experiences (including this mini-review) when Tom was absent have been mediocre at best.


My starter was grilled herrings. Sadly these were not grilled well at all. They were undercooked and just wasn’t very good. The fact the 2 fish had different eye conditions tells me about the supply too…


My main was the Blythburgh pork chop, from the well-regarded free-range pigs from the coastal area. However, this chop tasted rather bland… Sigh…

This really saddened me as one of my “regular” places has now failed me multiple times. And with less travel to London in the future, I can’t see myself coming here again — especially if Tom is not around for quality control. Very sad…

As a final insult to injury on this early part of the trip, when I got back to the Metropole the system was *still* down. In fact, it wasn’t until way past 5pm before they finally checked me into a functional room; they had tried to put me somewhere at about 3pm but I had to abandon the room due to chemical fumes… Talk about utter shambles. Never again.

After checking into the room, I sat there and thought…how much further can this trip fall? How far into the darkness can I descend? It’s Friday night, I’m running solo and just want this trip to end… At first it was the sighting of my ex that threw me into a funk, but it was the events of my birthday that really acted as the mule’s kick to the back of the skull. What a fucking mess…

How do I remedy this, especially this Friday night? To be continued…

84 Brompton Road
London, England

39 Chepstow Place
London, England

Hereford Road
3 Hereford Road
London, England

Review: Royal China [Queensway]

16 September 2013

I apologise for going backwards on my reviews, but when I found the pictures I had to write this review. It fell into a neglected folder because of the dramas of the day, which was dramatic to say the least — and not in a good way.

I had woken up early in the morning across the ocean and boarded a flight in the early AM in Newark. As I was in the middle of writing a tweet, my ex-gf walks past me down the aisle of the same plane…that really threw me… The dictionary definition of WTF… I didn’t know at the time but she didn’t see me. But that threw me in a major funk all flight, and I barely ate…and oddly, barely drank… Was just zonked…

When I arrived at Heathrow I headed out as quickly as I can to prevent an accidental sighting and I was off by the Express to Paddington. Got to my hotel near Bayswater and was hungry, trying to forget the surreal flight I’ve had. But it was late, and I didn’t want to go too far so I walked into an old familiar, Royal China on Queensway.

Funny, when I lived nearby up the road near Royal Oak Tube, I never came here. It really became a standard since using some of the hotels (Hilton, Doubletree) nearby, and it’s always been reliable — dine-in or take-away. This time I chose to dine in, as it was a quiet late night.

I relaxed in a quiet corner, where no one can bother me…where there’s no chance of my ex walking in…with a large glass of wine in hand. On this they have improved…years ago they would not bring the correct wine until about the 3rd try. I relaxed and tried not to think…

I ordered two starters as I was hungry. The first was a small one, two braised sea cucumbers.


I love sea cucumber, and this was just a nice little snack. Chewy with the sauce, very nice. My second starter, more substantial, was the salt and pepper fried mushrooms.


With a large meal coming I didn’t want a meaty deep-fried starter. Nice flavour, what you’d expect in a salt-and-pepper fry dish. Solid.

With more wine, now drinking with a little pace, I was to enjoy my dual main course. I could always take these away, so I happily ordered two. The first was the steamed minced pork with preserved egg yolk.


This is one of my favourite dishes and Royal China does it better than most places. The saltiness of the strips of yolk meshes well with the mince. Delicious. My second main is the lamb belly hotpot.


Now this was also excellent, with a rich lamb flavour that’s not restrained. The bean curd sheets help absorb the richness, and this — together with the pork — worked easily with a small order of plain rice.

Now thanks to not eating since the previous evening back in the US, I was ravenous. The wine helped me to finish all four dishes somehow (though I ate only a little of the rice…how un-chinese…). I was full and finally relaxed…

I headed out happy to be “home” in London, my old hood, the memories of what happened this morning dissipating somewhat. But I got a message from her, a reply of saying I saw her this morning, with her saying she had no idea what I was talking about…

I became so distracted as I walked out. And knowing Sod’s Law…I walked the pavement of Queensway like the thousands of times I have in the past and for once I stepped on a dodgy bit that sank/broke near one of the buildings close to the tube…and went down. The left ankle twisted badly when it fell through the broken pavement, and I landed hard on my right lower leg…

Ouch. Lucky I have such a high threshold for pain… Looking at my ankle and the hole in the pavement, the shopkeeper — who saw it, proclaimed it a council issue and not his shop. Well, it was both, but the part that sank (opened up) was council. And from my previous experience with Westminster Council I wouldn’t get any resolution this evening…ugh…

I limped my way to my hotel to see my left ankle about the size of a grapefruit and my right tibia severely banged up and swelling… Oh, what a great start to my relaxing birthday trip… I can’t blame the email for distracting me, I should have been more careful. But it just sums up how this trip began…

Frankly if it wasn’t for the fine food tonight it would have been a total loss…

Royal China
13 Queensway
London, England