Saki, London EC1

Saki calls itself a Food Emporium. Upstairs, you’ve got a little Japanese supermarket, all bonito flakes and kewpie doll mayonnaise. Downstairs there’s an elegant bar and a small, lacquered-box red and black restaurant.

I have spent half an hour staring at a largely blank page, because I have a dilemma. Should I begin this post by telling you about the food or the toilets? I was charmed by both…but I’m going to start with the loos, because although they were probably slightly less fun than the magnificent food, they were a heck of a lot more fun than any other restaurant toilet I’ve ever used.

This is because Saki, being a self-respecting Japanese establishment, doesn’t have normal toilets. They have washlets (the Japanese high-tech loo with the retractable bidet washy stalk thing and the jets of hot air and the heated seat and the thing that squirts you in the bum with such astonishing precision that you come to the conclusion that there must be a camera in there for targeting purposes) in the bathrooms. Allow yourself longer than you expect you will need for your meal, because you’ll want to make a few lengthy trips to the lavatory to make sure you’ve tried out all the thing’s functions. And do not push the wash button if you are not sitting down.

Shame on all the men in our party, who refused to use the things, sticking (manfully?) to the urinals.

Enough on the toilets, anyway – we were here for the food, and decided that the best way to sample the best of what was on offer was to go for the omakase, or chef’s choice. Most good Japanese restaurants should offer an omakase meal, which will involve many courses including cooked dishes and sushi, all selected from whatever produce is best and freshest on the day.

Our meal opened with seared lobster sashimi with white asparagus and caviar in a sesame sauce. As usual, I had to ask for an alternative (eating lobster usually results in a hospital visit and adrenaline shot for me), and the chef very kindly substituted barely seared scallops for the lobster. The scallops and asparagus were achingly sweet, and the sesame sauce so rich and good that we all agreed we wished we had spoons to scrape the bowl with. I could have done with more caviar, but it was pointed out to me by Dr W that I could always do with more caviar, so this is not a helpful criticism.

Next up was a little nimono (simmered dish) of duck breast with young bamboo shoot (that’s the yellow thing in the picture), mooli and a fresh, plump and silky shitake mushroom. The duck here had been rolled in rice flour before simmering, which gave it a shadow of sticky coating, helpful in making sure the gorgeous broth stayed close to the moist meat. A surprising hit of wasabi (freshly grated) lurked between the two bottom bits of duck. I checked to make sure nobody was looking and drank the remaining broth from the bowl when I was done.

The chilled Hakkaisan Junmai Ginjo sake from Nigata served with this course was, for me, the best drink of the night. On the whole, sake pairings with this menu were much more successful than the wine pairings which came with certain courses – if you visit, you might want to consider asking for an all-sake pairing with your meal.

King prawn and nanohana flower tempura came next, with a black vinegar sauce. I believe nanohana is the same plant as oil-seed rape – I could be wrong here, though, and would be delighted to be enlightened by any Japanese-speaking readers!

Prepared in tempura style, the flowers were slightly peppery, and very delicate. Some puffed rice had been used in the batter for the prawns, working beautifully with this course’s sake accompaniment (this time a room-temperature brown rice sake from Hyogo).

The menu offered a choice for the next course: black cod with Saikyo miso or rib-eye teriyaki. I chose the cod (black cod, confusingly, is actually a kind of sea bass, and is very rich, so a small piece can make for a satisfying main dish) to see how it compared to the Nobu and Michael Mina versions. Charmingly, it arrived on a hoba (magnolia) leaf imported from Japan, and unlike the versions of this dish I’ve tried elsewhere, the grill had left almost no browning or caramelisation – the fish was barely, barely cooked, and sweet, flaking delicately to the touch. The table was in disagreement about the ribeye teriyaki – my Mum, whose birthday we were celebrating, found the sauce overpowering, but everyone else seemed to be licking it off their plates when they’d done. Teriyaki means ‘shining cooked’, and a good teriyaki sauce should be thick and glossy – personally, I liked the mouthful I tried a great deal.

Sushi. Buttery, melt-in-the mouth Toro (the pink tuna on the left – Toro is from the fish’s prized, fatty belly) was the best I’ve had in the UK. The white fish is yellowtail, which had been briefly marinaded in lemon and garlic – just enough to barely ‘cook’ its proteins and produce a kind of ceviche. The ebi (prawn) was sweet and juicy, and the uni (sea urchin – the black and orange confection on the right) was, again, absolutely the best I’ve found in the UK. It tasted as it should – sweetly iodine-y, sea-like and fresh, fresh, fresh. My sister-in-law, who has had bad experiences with uni, tried this and said it was great – and that uni this fresh was unlike any she’d had elsewhere. (Compare this picture with the awful, elderly uni I had a couple of years ago elsewhere in London, and you’ll see an amazing difference in colour and texture.)

The little chequerboard of tamago (sweetened egg) was good, but I was unconvinced by the vegetable maki at the top of the plate. These rolls were filled with cucumber, avocado, asparagus, carrot…and black onion seeds, which, for me, completely overwhelmed the other flavours in the roll, and made the well-seasoned rice an irrelevance, because you couldn’t taste it over the black onion. The freshly grated wasabi made up for that, though; you hardly ever find it fresh, especially in the UK, and it is an aromatic and sweet m
arvel when you do.

Finally, the dessert (with a birthday candle for Mum), made up of a tiramisu dredged with green tea powder, a fiori di latte ice, and a black sesame panna cotta (my favourite thing on the plate). It’s great to find a black sesame preparation this light – usually, the ground seeds find their way into richly oily desserts, but this panna cotta kept all of the flavour without leaving you feeling weighed down. A wine upset with this course – we were meant to be served a Coteaux du Layon, but what arrived appeared to be a dry sherry. We asked for a substitution…and glasses of something which appeared to be the Coteaux du Layon which we were meant to have had appeared without an explanation.

I’ll let them off. Their toilets are great.

This bounty does not come cheap. With a wine/sake pairing, the omakase menu is £90/head (£55/head if you are not taking the wine pairing). All the same, this is the best Japanese food I’ve found yet in London – or anywhere in the UK – and I liked it enough that I’ll happily go back and pay the same price all over again.

Gordon Ramsay at Claridges

I am not really a lady who lunches. I would very much like to be, but my options are limited, given that I live in the middle of a field in Cambridgeshire. All the same, about once a month I try to meet up with a friend who lives in London, where we lunch as if it’s going out of fashion. I am fortunate in having found a friend who, like me, gets such an absurd amount of pleasure from good dining. She’s one of only a couple of female friends I have who do not just sort of dibble around with wet salads which they do not finish, and it’s good to have a lengthy conversation about hollandaise sauce without being considered a fatso.

Why do so few people I know manage to eat and drink without fear and shame? We worry about the ethics of eating, about the size of our bodies. It’s absurd; food is such a pleasure. Imagine the joy that suffuses your whole body when you eat something as simple as a good bacon sandwich, let alone as glorious as the foie gras mosaic I had at Gordon Ramsay at Claridges. Imagine how good for you all those endorphins and cheery feelings are – and now compare this to the mealy-mouthed, guilt-ridden attitude we’re being encouraged to have to food. You know exactly what I’m talking about – the press releases and government factsheets announcing that any amount of bacon will give you cancer; that eating meat will kill the planet; that thick-sliced bread is making us all obese; that toast cooked beyond the palest gold will fill the female body with specific feminine carcinogens; that the French duck population is being tortured to death to satisfy your shameless greed; that a properly salted meal will raise your blood pressure and stop your heart beating. Where does this awful gastronomic puritanism come from? I believe strongly that the joy, companionship and straightforward sinful pleasure of eating well are in themselves so good for you that any negative effects dealt out by that bacon sandwich are squelched immediately.

This year’s standouts, lunch-wise, have been Le Gavroche (review to follow) and last week’s visit to Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s. Both restaurants offer a really keenly priced lunch menu, and are usually booked out a couple of months in advance – make sure you plan well ahead. The Claridge’s lunch menu comes in at a bewilderingly low £30 (although once you’ve supplemented this with an aperitif and a glass of wine or two, you’ll find the bill creeping skywards).

Gordon Ramsay, for those who have been eschewing food, newspapers, television and conversation for the last twenty years, is one of only three chefs in the UK to hold three Michelin stars – he’s actually been awarded a total of 12 of the things spread among his various restaurants, which starts to look a little greedy. In recent years, he’s also carved out a television career so successful that he’s starting to become almost tiringly ubiquitous. He’s also something of a sex symbol, which might explain the high proportion of female diners at Claridge’s, one of whom was shoving a salad around her plate. (I have never seen the sex symbol thing myself; Ramsay is not referred to by other chefs as Old Celeriac Head for no reason.) Primarily, though, he’s a thoughtful, artistic chef with an eye to the whole dining experience, so service, table dressing and ambiance at his restaurants are given great weight.

The dining room at Claridge’s is surprisingly feminine. Like the rest of the hotel, it’s a glorious slab of art deco frivolity, with soft apricot and oyster touches. It’s a pleasantly quiet dining room with all the soft furnishings and moulded walls, so you can have a conversation with your dining partner without having to listen to everything the people at the next table are saying. I’ve read about Claridge’s daft mineral water list, which can go up to £50 for a litre, but we just asked for sparkling water and were given Badoit – probably my favourite mineral water – and didn’t have to sift through the list of deep-sea Hawaiian stuff and the juice squeezed out of volcanoes.

The amuse bouche was a butternut squash soup. The title fails to do it justice – it was simple but perfect; a creamy, buttery, velvet-soft pool of liquid gold. GSE’s cured trout starter was tender and sweet, and came with delicate little crisps made from Charlotte potatoes and a lovely little salad of cucumber. My own mosaic of pheasant, foie gras and winter vegetables was one of those things I’d be perfectly happy to smear all over myself and run up and down in. It was simply glorious – a perfect foie gras terrine punctuated with jewels of sweet, poached root vegetables and tiny morsels of pheasant. The vegetables lifted the deeply savoury foie to sparkling, twinkling heights, and an earthy little beetroot salad at the side of the plate provided a quiet and sensitive foil. It was one of the best dishes I’ve eaten this year.

Update, Jan 2008 – a couple of months later, Gordon Ramsay published the recipe for this gorgeous terrine in the Times. Good luck sourcing some raw foie gras – if you do make this, I’d love to hear from you.

Partridge, skin seared crisp and then dressed in an almost impossibly glossy, buttery jus came next. It’s good to see partridge at this time of year served innocent of pears – like rabbit and baby carrots, it’s a conceit that is funny the first time you see it, but which quickly gets tired. It came on a bed of diced celariac which had been cooked in more of that wonderful butter – nutty and lactic.

I chose the dessert on the strength of its accompaniment – a ball of star anise ice cream. A plate arrived with an almondy, apple-y paragon of tarts, while the ice cream had a wonderful, almost custardy texture and an intense fragrance from the anise. GSE’s winter fruit crumble, with another ice cream (ginger this time) disappeared before I got a look in.

I’ve only one complaint – my coffee was not, as requested, decaffeinated. We’d planned on some shopping after lunch, and this, in London at Christmastime, is best approached without extreme caffeination. I thrummed and palpitated my way down Oxford Street jittery, but happy beyond belief.


The Great She Elephant does not so much celebrate her birthdays as rue them. She suggested Moro (Exmouth Market, Farringdon, London, 020 7833 8336) as the venue for this year’s quiet lunchtime wake for lost youth. I’m always happy to oblige – GSE has fantastic taste in restaurants.

Moro is a restaurant specialising in southern Spanish food with a strong Moroccan influence, run by the Clarks, a married couple who, confusingly, are both called Sam. It’s been going strong for ten years now, and shows no sign of slowing or losing popularity. Tapas is available all day at the bar, while in the restaurant itself you’ll find a menu that changes weekly, showcasing seasonal produce. (The menu for the week is available at Moro’s excellent website, so if you’re like me and mildly obsessive about what you eat for lunch you can start to decide what you want to order days before you visit.)

The dining room is all stark wood and zinc, with a real feeling of bustle contributed to by the lightning-fast, extravagantly tattooed servers. Moro wins extra points for offering tap water alongside the bottled stuff, and for wordlessly topping up the jug when we’d finished (it was a hot, hot day). Although all these hard surfaces make for a noisy dining experience, especially when the restaurant is full, it’s a lovely atmosphere for lunch, especially if you can get a table near the window, overlooking the busy street, or one at the back where you can see into the kitchen. The wine list, mostly Spanish, is really interesting, and you’ll find a near-exhaustive list of sherries to sip as an aperitif. And somehow, despite the restaurant’s exotic menu and massive popularity, they manage to keep the prices sane.

I started with one of my favourite dishes in the world: sweetbreads. Moro’s were glorious little nuggets, dusted in a seasoned flour and fried to a rustling crispness outside, with nuttily soft middles. A cardamom and preserved lemon dressing tied them to chargrilled artichoke bottoms and left me feeling like I’d just eaten an angel. GSE’s cuttlefish was carefully braised over a long period with sherry, until it was soft and toothsome. A broad bean salad, made from beans so young and tender that they didn’t need removing from their skins, provided a great foil in texture and flavour.

If you see the words ‘charcoal grilled’ on the menu, order that dish. GSE’s lamb, which came with a pea and farika pilaf and pistachio sauce, was delicious; pink and sweet in the centre and charred on the outside. I asked for the vegetable mezze platter, which you can see at the top of the page. Hummus, an aubergine purée, a spoonful of a Syrian lentil dish, more of those baby broad beans, French beans in a yoghurt sauce and Imam Bayaldi (stuffed aubergine) were clustered around a remarkable perfumed, shredded beetroot dish which was flavoured with pistachio and fragrant rose water. I felt the Imam Bayaldi would have been tastier served at a cooler temperature (it and the French beans were hot, while all the other mezze were at room temperature), but this is getting into seriously picky territory. A flat bread, baked in the restaurant and filled with crushed nuts, was served alongside to dip into the mezze, along with some sweet and peppery radishes and other crudités, and a spicy pickled pepper.

These are enormous portions, and this rich, very positively flavoured food is deliciously, satisfyingly filling. We paused for a while and then opted to share a dessert (and I’m glad we did; it was very large and again, wonderfully rich). This yoghurt cake with pistachios and pomegranates was like a deconstructed, Moorish lemon-meringue pie. Moist sponge nestled against a frothy lemon sabayon, and more of those lovely perfumey flavours (this time from scented pistachio and heady pomegranate) underscored the whole thing.

Just walking into this room full of the smell of bread and charcoal is a treat. Eating there’s positive bliss.

Pearl Liang, Paddington, London

I’m incredibly excited to be reviewing Pearl Liang (8 Sheldon Square, W2 6EZ, tel: 020 7289 7000). It’s a new Chinese restaurant in Paddington with a confident website (beware – it plays music), an interesting menu and excellent credentials (the head chef has defected from Queensway’s Mandarin Kitchen). The Great She Elephant and I went for a dim sum lunch yesterday, and my, I’m glad we did.

Dim sum is tricky. There are a bazillion restaurants in London’s Chinatown and in Bayswater serving these lovely little packets of Chinese flavour, and while some do it admirably well, some are pretty mediocre. It can be hard to find somewhere where the dim sum is exceptional, but I think I’ve found it in Pearl Liang, a couple of minutes from Paddington station.

The restaurant has a remarkable interior. It’s a bit like a 1970s brothel/disco, with plushy purple upholstery, modern flock wallpaper, lots of gilding and little ice-cube lights. It’s all in a new development at the waterside in Paddington (use the map and the directions on Pearl Liang’s website, since it can be hard to find without some help), a curious furtive mauve bolthole hidden among the office blocks.

The dim sum menu isn’t huge by Chinese standards; a selection of about fifteen steamed dishes and ten fried ones, alongside cheung fun (wide strips of silky rice noodle wrapped around a savoury filling and bathed in a wonderfully savoury sauce) and noodles are offered on a menu where you tick a box on a form to order each dish. This relatively small menu is a good move – every dim sum we sampled was cooked with real attention to detail. A sampler platter of ten individual dim sum is available for under £10, with the familiar (Siu Mai, the pork dumplings shaped like a cup, open at one end, and Har Gow, the translucent prawn dumplings) alongside the unfamiliar (a diamond of sticky rice wrapped in a leaf of seaweed and flavoured strongly with caramelised onions, and a ravishing little spinach dumpling). Perched in the middle was one of the best Char Siu Bao I’ve tasted.

We ordered the Doug (crispy dough cruller) Cheung Fun and some Lo Bak Goh to go with the platter, alongside a bowl of Malaysian Char Kway Teow noodles. The Lo Bak Goh, a delicious square of grated Chinese radish (one of my favourite dim sum options) was flavoured with a beautifully made Chinese sausage and delicate dried shrimp, and seared to a golden crisp on the outside while softly shredded inside. The Char Kway Teow was spiked with perfectly fresh prawns, and was subtly spiced. If I were being super-picky (and I am), I would have wanted more wok hei, the smoky flavour of a well-seasoned and extremely hot wok, permeating the dish, but hey – it was still as good a dish of Char Kway Teow as I’ve ever eaten in London. Service is charming and helpful.

The evening menu looks extremely exciting as well. There’s lobster steamboat (a kind of Chinese fondue), fresh fish including Dover sole and sea bass, Buddha Jump Over the Wall (the soup which was said to smell so good that the Buddha abandoned his meditation and jumped over the temple wall to sample it) and some other very interesting-sounding options like a pomegranate sweet and sour chicken. I can’t wait to get back there to sample the rest of the menu.

Ladurée, Harrods, Knightsbridge

Ladurée is one of my favourite Parisian tea-rooms. They’ve recently opened a branch in Harrods in London, their first outside France. It’s a jewel of a place, with little linked salons in the style of Napoleon III, serving excellent teas, faultlessly French light meals and some of the best patisserie you’ll find in London. These people have style coming out of their ears; Ladurée is the pastry consultant for Sophia Coppola’s film about Marie Antoinette.

My Mum and I were at Harrods for a day of Ladies’ Nice Things, and stopped off for tea and macaroons at Ladurée. Ladurée’s macaroons are what makes them so very famous: crisp discs of ground almonds with a soft middle, sandwiched together with flavoured cream. The macaroons are served festooned with raspberries, pistachio cream and other good things if you have some in the tea-rooms. I bought a large box to take home as well.

These macaroons are flavoured delicately with the highest quality ingredients. There’s a basic range which is available all year round, and some seasonal flavours. (The black one in this box was a seasonal one; liquorice, which was surprisingly subtle and tenderly flavoured.) The flavours aren’t what you’d expect – the pale pink one here is scented with rose petals, the gold one caramel with fleur de sel (sandwiched together with some of the creamiest, most delicious caramel I’ve ever eaten). At certain times of year an orange flower macaroon is available, and I had a violet and cassis one in Paris a few years ago which I still think about fondly on occasion.

Eating at the tea-rooms themselves is a lesson in luxury. Each salon is decorated in a different style; this is the Black Salon, a tiny room packed to the gills with Etruscan caryatids. Zeus, surrounded by snakes, glowers from the middle of the cupola in the ceiling. I am informed that the velvet on the seats is made from pure mohair, and I can’t think of anywhere nicer to enjoy your truffle and morel omelette.

If you visit Ladurée, ask for the violet-scented black tea. I brought a (very expensive) packet home, and it’s glorious stuff; delicately scented and laced with violet and hibiscus flowers. I’m going to have to make another visit in a month or so – I have a dreadful craving for a black truffle religieuse and a large box of marrons glacés.

Bar Shu, Soho, London

Bar Shu (28 Frith St, W1D 5LF, 020 7287 6688) is a Sichuan restaurant on the borders of London’s Chinatown. Sichuan food isn’t much represented in London’s restaurants; most of the Chinese food you’ll find here is Cantonese, with chefs from Hong Kong and a very different cuisine from that you’ll find in other parts of China.

Although Sichuan food is rare in the UK, I’ve been to a few Sichuan restaurants in Malaysia, and was very excited to find one in London. The food is characterised by the heat of dried chillis and the sharp spicing of Sichuan peppercorns. I’d read several glowing reviews of Bar Shu, and decided that we’d go this weekend, after ticking another box on the ‘things to do before you die’ list and seeing the Bolshoi Ballet at Covent Garden. It was, as you can see, a grim, grim day for August; grey skies and torrential rain made me wish I’d brought a few jumpers. Nothing works better than eating a sack of chillis as big as your head to cure you of the weather-related blues.

The menu at Bar Shu can be a little hard to navigate; it’s structured around photographs of the food. All the starters on offer are cold, although smaller starter-sized portions of street foods including Dan-Dan noodles and dumplings in chilli oil are to be found at the back of the menu.

We started with Husband and Wife Offal, Smacked Cucumbers and the Numbing-tongue Dried Beef with Sichuan Peppercorns. The dish on the left is the glorious Husband and Wife Offal; it was made of feathery pieces of tripe and some other more muscly parts of the cow, all coated with a glossily red chilli oil scented with garlic, herbs and Sichuan peppercorns. Even my Mum, who doesn’t readily eat tripe, was fighting the rest of us for a piece.

This chilli oil is curious stuff. It’s startlingly red, but not blow-your-head-off hot. It had a gorgeous warm intensity, and penetrated the offal with flavour.

Smacked cucumbers (so-called because the cucumber is walloped with the flat of a cleaver to break it up a little and help it absorb the sauce) were delicious and simple. The cucumbers, raw, were annointed with a sweet garlic, sesame and soy concoction, and acted as a good foil for the heat of the other starter dishes.

Numbing-tongue beef is one of the dishes that many of the newspaper reviews I read insisted you try. It’s a dried, chipped beef brisket which is marinaded in a chilli and Sichuan pepper mixture. The fragrant peppers come to the fore here, and cause a curious hot-cold numbing tingle in the mouth. If you’re not familiar with Sichuan peppercorns, you should order this dish, which showcases them beautifully. (If you are familiar with them, try the Husband and Wife Offal instead, which I have dreamed about in lurid detail every evening since Saturday.)

Fish dishes here are expensive, but we ordered a crab, which looked fantastic in the menu photograph. It was a lovely specimen, the shell packed tightly with creamy red roe, the legs full of clean white muscle. It was served in a dry style with more of that chilli oil, some whole garlic cloves, peanuts, spring onions, whole dried chillis, celery and bamboo shoots flown in from China. The spicing was positive and delicious; between four of us we sucked the carcass dry and licked the plates.

Pock-marked Old Woman’s Beancurd was delicious as far as my Dad and I were concerned. Dr Weasel and my Mum, the two people at the table with no Chinese genetic tastebud material, both found it a bit sour, which I think may have been to do with the preserved vegetable in the sauce.

Offal was represented with flair on the menu. This dish is Flower-exploded Kidneys; kidneys sliced like the squid you’ve seen in Chinese restaurants so they form into a pretty shape when cooked, then stir-fried at a blisteringly high temperature for a very short time. It was perfectly done. The kidneys had been well cleaned and soaked, so they smelled sweet and fresh, and they’d been cooked so briefly that there was no hint of chewiness. Cloud-ear fungus and cucumbers provided contrasting textures.

Pork knuckle, braised until the meat flakes softly away from the bone to the touch of your chopstick, was served in a thick, sweet sauce positively glowing with chillis. It was a mistake positioning this in front of my Dad, who perked right up when it arrived, and somehow absorbed the whole thing into his person in one go while I was looking the other way.

I responded by annexing the Fish-spiced Aubergines.

We were full to the gills and starting to run late, so on hearing that the sesame paste-filled glutinous rice balls for dessert would take half an hour to prepare, we decided to call it a day. I think that another visit is in order; there’s acres of menu left to explore. Those interested in exploring some Sichuan recipes should order Fuchsia Dunlop’s Sichuan Cookery. Dunlop is a consultant for Bar Shu, and the book is excellent – both book and restaurant come with a hearty recommendation.

Oriental Supermarket, Oriental City, Edgware

I needed to restock my storecupboard this weekend, so we headed for Oriental City (see my earlier post on Oriental City’s food court for directions). It’s probably my favourite source for exotic ingredients, as the supermarket extends to cover Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Malaysian and Thai ingredients alongside the Chinese bits and bobs you’ll find in many other oriental supermarkets, and has a remarkably good selection of fresh produce flown directly from Asia.

They’re currently reorganising the supermarket to extend the Japanese section, which has a grand re-opening later in August. All of the shelves are clearly labelled in English so those with problems reading Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Korean orthography do not accidentally buy tinned silk worms (something I have still not been able to bring myself to sample). The supermarket is also an absolute joy for fresh ingredients; the pictures below are just a small selection of the fresh goods on offer.

Six different kinds of chilli. There were more on another shelf, and a further shelf of dried chillis further back in the supermarket.

Turmeric, young ginger, galangal and other juicy, fresh roots for pounding into pastes.

Six different kinds of small aubergine. I used the purple ones towards the right in a Thai green chicken curry yesterday.

The fresh fruits, spices and vegetables extend all the way down one wall. You’ll find Asiatic pennywort, pandang leaves, banana leaves, lily buds, gourds, mooli, a million and one variations on the theme of a cucumber, perilla, lotus roots, herbs like Mitsuba…it’s a challenge to recognise everything.

While many places will only stock one kind of soya sauce or one kind of fish sauce, this supermarket prides itself on the choice it offers. I counted six kinds of fish sauce, and one side of an entire aisle is given over to different soya sauces. The chilli sauce aisle is packed tightly on both sides with bottle upon bottle of the red stuff, and there were seven different brands of instant dashi, alongside the bonito flakes and kelp you need to make your own.

Ex-pats craving snacks from home are well catered for. These Japanese snacks are on offer at the moment so they’re out of the way before the advent of the new Japanese section, which will, apparently, carry even more.

Here’s that crab again, with some other fish so you can get an idea of scale. The fish counter is one of the fewI’ve found that will actually carry fresh, properly prepared fish specifically for making sushi and sashimi at home. (It’s also a good place to find roes like tobiko and a fresh salmon roe.) Cuts of meat which aren’t usually represented in UK butchers are also easy to find here; chicken’s feet come frozen or fresh, and there are even duck tongues for the brave.

If you live in or near London, or if you’re just passing through, try to pay a visit to Edgware and see what you can find at the supermarket. Cook with something you’ve never tried before. Try to find out which is the strongest chilli. Use those canned silkworm larvae to broaden your experience. I’d love to find out how it goes.