Balans Café – London, UK


Balans Café
Unit 1034, Southern Terrace
Westfield Shopping Centre, Ariel Way
London, UK
+44 020 8600 3320

Open every day for lunch and dinner
Monday – Friday & Sunday: 9:00am – 11:00pm
Saturday: 8:00am – 11:00pm

The London Underground, also affectionately known as “the Tube”, is a convenient way to navigate the city when you are car-less in London.  Ironically, not all of the rail network is even below ground.  With its distinct logo, the stations are easy to pick out from the street, making for effective navigation by tourists and locals alike.

In the West London district is an area called Shepherd’s Bush.  Walking around the green park common area, I found it had an interesting character – with a balanced mixture of small businesses and eateries, outlets of larger corporations, entertainment complexes and residences.  As I made my way up and down the streets, just exploring on my won, I saw an assortment of people, some young, some old, some working class and some dressed up like they have a white collar office job.  With the large hub of transportation (including a large bus terminal), the area seemed to my novice eyes as a transit-heavy spot, with intersecting modes and lines of transport shutting people into and out of the core of London city.

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Island Freeze – Honolulu, HI


Island Freeze
International Market Place
2330 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, Hawaii
Tel: (808) 971-2080
Open Daily 10:00am-10:30pm

Smack dab in the middle of the tourist and hotel district of Waikiki, is an outdoor shopping centre called the International Market Place that has its own little food court area.

It is a reprieve price-wise, from all of the other eateries and restaurants that market to out-of-towners milling around on the nearby streets.  This eating area is no different in setup from any standard food court you find in a North American mall – only that the food tenants are all mom-and-pop and represent a wide variety of cultures.  Surprisingly, no commercialized McDonald’s or Starbucks inside.  Just rattling a few off from memory, I recall seeing food offerings that were Chinese, Korean, Greek, Mexican, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Hawaiian, and a few others.

As reported earlier, I was already in the area and wanted something cool and refreshing as the summer heat was still bearing down hard and I needed to rehydrate some more after my quick meal at Ono. The photo above was taken after the sun went down, facing the main entrance of the International Market Place.

Now I’d heard of Hawaiian-style Shave Ice before coming to the islands (and got some recommendations from my Honolulu-based friends of some of the best ones to try during my stay – look for future posts), and I headed straight to the Island Freeze.  I wanted to get a quick introduction to the various types and flavours that are part of this ice cold treat.

Here is a bare bones shave ice, undecorated by any other ingredients aside from some liquid flavourings.  Island Freeze allows you to choose up to three flavours to add, and I went with strawberry, lychee and pineapple.  As you can see, it came served in this flower-shaped, light plastic cup container, with a spoon and straw to help you eat it.

Now I realize its just ice, but the texture of it was different from say a 7-11 Slurpee or if you were to slash off fine layers of ice with a sharp blade.  Its neither too flaky so the flavourings aren’t absorbed, or too soft such as in a Slurpee where the liquid dominates.  I think its a combination of the way its shaved and the temperature of the ice that keeps it just so.  The trio of tastes made eating this interesting, as you could just shuffle the cup around to another section and scoop up a new flavour sensation.

All in all, a very refreshing treat!

Island Freeze on Urbanspoon

Prata Man Singapore Cuisine – Richmond, BC


Prata Man Singapore Cuisine
180-9020 Capstan Way
Richmond, BC
(604) 278 1348

Prata Man on Urbanspoon

My travels in the past three years (2006-2008) have taken me to Singapore a whopping six times.  And those are round trips from North America.  If I threw in the short haul trips back and forth from there to neighboring countries as well, that figure could climb up to twelve to fifteen.  Yes, the Lion City and I are good friends.

If you’ve ever done the flying, you know its a long haul.  A big part of what makes it all worth it though, is the great food culture that can be enjoyed there.  And for me, a great roti prata is one thing that I look forward too each and every time, morning, day and night…

The ultimate Singapore-style roti prata for me, is that delicate, light and crispy variation found in the famous places at Jalan Kayu, which I’ve commented on previously.  But unfortunately, Prata Man does the opposite, with its thicker, moister pancake type.  It felt almost like a green onion cake, with the oil having been absorbed and really noticeable when trying to tear it apart or when taking a bite.  These were massive too, IHOP pancake large.

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Oriental Restaurant and Bar – Sai Wan Village, HK


Oriental Restaurant & Bar
Sai Wan Village
New Territories, Hong Kong

[A return to the other side of the ocean with this post, as I try and catch up on my recent travels. Please enjoy them as Vancouver-specific posts will be rotated in, along with Foodosopher’s regular contributions from Alberta]

Venturing into the remote parts of the New Territories courtesy of a four hour long hike along a segment of the MacLehose Trail was a welcome reprieve from the urban madness and concrete jungle that travelers usually associate with Hong Kong. The entire trail measures over 100 kilometers long, and stretches over mountain peaks and valleys across lush forests that truly takes you away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Well into my journey, I came to a small little village called Sai Wan, that appeared as an oasis after long stretches of not seeing any signs of local civilization.

Having exhausted my water supply, I was dying for some liquid replenishment, but as I stepped inside the entrance of the Oriental Restaurant & Bar to buy a bottle of water, I realized that I was also quite hungry. Luckily my two other hiking pals were also in need of some food and we decided to take an extended break on the patio of this establishment, as the sun began to make its way into the late afternoon sky.

To our surprise, we soon saw a bunch of other customers sitting at the tables in the back of the building that faced the Pacific Ocean. Even more unexpected was the fact that all of them looked very refreshed and not drenched in sweat from having hiked the paths that our group had (we later learned that there was a bus stop just ten minutes away that these people had probably used to access this little village). Even in the midst of such splendid nature, these Hong Kongers were taking the easy route – those darn spoiled city folk!

Perhaps some readers would concur, but after some extended, strenuous physical activity, your cravings for food changes. For some, it makes you want to consume more having burned so many calories. Other times, coupled with dehydration, it makes you crave salty things. Both of these sensations had hit me as I sat down on the cheap plastic chair at our table and scanned the menu booklet.

As I closed my eyes to give myself a moment to calm down, I knew I could eat just about anything. But at the same time I was aware that I couldn’t expect too much from a place like this, that was literally in the middle of nowhere, so I opted for a safe bet – the Special Fried Rice. Again, I am not sure if it was my physical state at the time, but this was a delicious plate of fried rice which included simple ingredients such as green peas, onions, egg, etc. Nothing “special” about it per say, but for a hungry hiker, it really hit the spot! For me when it comes to fried rice, its the rice that is vital. Can’t be too mushy and each rice kerenel must have that little bit of a crisp exterior.

And the view didn’t hurt either!

Further adding to my sudden relaxed state was seeing one of the waiters carry out some cold bottles of beer to a small boat that was sitting in the shallow water and wishing I could be on that watercraft.  Talk about paradise!  But I knew my hike was not yet finished so indulging in that desire would have caused my friends to leave me for dead on the intense trail back to the nearest town site.

I love coming across these expectation-exceeding little spots on my travels. They don’t always have to be in these beautiful natural surroundings, a hole-in-the-way food counter in a side street in the city will do just as well. Great food, interesting scenery, amusing service staff, etc. they could all help make these kinds of experiences a long lasting memory. I hope to have the opportunity to continue to explore and find these places that stand out for me and I can fondly look back on many years later. Oriental Restaurant & Bar will certainly be one of them. Happy trails!

Presto Cucina – Vancouver, BC


Presto Cucina
2272 W 4th Ave
Vancouver, BC
(604) 731 7222

I love Italian cuisine, but I am often torn when it comes to dining out.  Mainly because it usually involves the see saw battle between a) unpretentious, affordable, in a casual environment but poor to average tasting; and b) fantastic recipes, skilled preparation and beautiful presentation though more expensive and in much more formal settings.  So I was cautiously optimistic when I received a friend’s suggestion one night when I was looking for a delicious but reasonably priced pasta/pizza dine-in option in Kitsilano, after spending the previous ten days in Hong Kong and wanting to avoid anything Cantonese.

On first glance, the outside of Presto Cucina is nothing spectacular, as it occupies a space in one of the many generic buildings along W 4th Avenue. A sandwich board with take-out menus stood upright just outside the front entrance, and taking a glance inside, I was pleased to see it looked fairly busy.  Stepping inside is where some confusion arose, as I could see servers in the back of the room, but they could obviously not see us.  After five minutes of waiting by the door, during which time I saw two servers walk around in the dining space and they could have clearly seen us, but continued back to the open kitchen area at the back.  Spotting a booth along one wall, albeit still dirty and not cleared, we decided to move to it in the hope that would finally grab their attention.  Not so.  Another five minutes later I was finally able to flag a person down, who then hurried back to the kitchen again, and then another server came by and lazily wiped down the table and disappeared again.  I was beginning to wonder if there was a batton they were handing off to each other and I was part of some magic act with all the vanishing going on.

After finally getting a chance to give our order – deciding to share one of the special menu pizzas ($10.99), with Tomato and Bocconcini; as well as a Shrimp Pesto Penne ($15.99) – I finally got a chance to fully scan the room.  Brightly lit and clean, the customers on this night seemed to be mainly couples, more friends having a meal rather than dates.  When the food did arrive, I was fairly disappointed in the bland tasting penne.  The pasta itself was cooked al dente which was fine, but it just had no flavor, and required a dose of table salt and pepper to try and improve it somewhat.  The shrimp, as you often find in casual pasta joints like this, was a bit tough and overcooked.  The accompanying piece of garlic toast felt stale, either that or severely overtoasted, with the sharp edges easily able to do some damage to the vulnerable parts of your mouth.  The pizza was slightly better, but at the same time simply just okay  Nothing horrible about the flavor of it (which was not skimpy on the ingredients), though I was torn over the lump of pesto that appeared in the centre of the dish, as it was really dredged in oil and had my doubts of its freshness.

Back to the service, clearly, the two wait staff were overmatched.  Every time they came by to deliver drinks, food, enquire how things were (once), and even when they brought the final cheque, it was as if they were on permanent drive-by.  Drop and go, is how I would describe it… a service of blurs.  For what it is, Presto Cucina (a four restaurant chain with other outlets in West Vancouver, White Rock and Abbotsford) does what it advertises itself to be – Italian casual.  Frankly the food though could be found in just about any family restaurant serving up pizza and pasta, and probably at a more reasonable price.  Amid all the Italian options in the city, I think Presto Cucina could do more to help itself succeed in this market, beginning with hiring of more service staff.  I really wish I could find a homey, rustic Italian kitchen that serves us authentic, flavorful dishes at wallet-friendly prices in the west side.  If anyone has any suggestions, I would be open to hearing of them and giving them a try.

Presto Cucina (Kitsilano) on Urbanspoon

Thasevi Prata – Jalan Kayu, SGP


Thasevi Food Original Jalan Kayu Prata
237/239 Jalan Kayu
Singapore
+65 6481 1537

The Jalan Kayu area is very well known by locals at THE place for Roti Prata – usually just called Prata by Singaporeans (although some of my friends also swear by the places on Upper Thompson too, especially for the sweeter variants of this dish).  In fact, that’s probably all this area is noteable for as the street itself is nothing special without the main shops that sell this particular food, that originates from the Indian Paratha.  In the morning, it is a staple of the breakfast meal, and here at Thasevi Prata you can see young teenagers grabbing a snack on their way to school, middle-aged men eating before they head to work, and even seniors who have plenty of time on their hands to enjoy a relaxed morning.  Parking is limited to the stalls along the same street, or to a pay parking lot just up the road.  For me on this day, it was a stopover for a quick bite, on the way to wake boarding in the Straits of Johor.

The setup is very simple.  You go inside, place your order, give them your table number that is painted on your table, and wait to have it delivered to your table.  Many of the tables have used cigarette cans, so beware of that if you are adverse to smoke while eating and pick a table more near the centre of the area.  As well, don’t expect much for service, as the folks inside are quite busy and generally not a cheery bunch.  They have a tendency to make mistakes with orders (as they did again on this day) and they’re not so speedy with rectifying problems.  Try not to raise a big stink, as they’ve been known to respond aggressively.

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Tazza Grill and Deli – Calgary, AB


Tazza Grill and Deli
1105 1st St. NE
Calgary, AB
Tel: (403) 263 5922

[Prologue] A brief three day stay in the southern Alberta city has ended for me.  It was a whirlwind of activity, and in between actual work stints I managed to squeeze in a few new and repeat eating experiences – many in the company of the Foodosopher.  Suffice it to say, the Foodosopher is one of those folks who is willing and able to join you on dining escapades on any given day and at any given time – be it the unknown (a new spot), the recommended (by others), and even the dreaded (that rank in the mostly expected-bad category).  Kudos to the Foodosopher for another entertaining few days of sharing meals and I look forward to our next meeting and discussing our plans for Foodosophy.

Tazza Grill and Deli was the first place that the Foodosopher introduced me to in the Calgary food scene several years ago, during a quick lunch break meeting.  Though my memories have faded since that first visit, I do remember that it was not a place that I minded going to again, and hence, my first pit stop on this recent Calgary trip.  As far as I can tell, the Bridgeland area of the city has blossomed into a distinct neighborhood featuring many solid food and restaurants choices, and one that I enjoy visiting. Despite the growing development of the area, it still retains a cozy feel and I think this is reflected in many of the businesses and the people who run them.

Tazza fits precisely into this category as a family run operation. I am sure the Foodosopher could give a more detailed history on the establishment, but I will leave it at this. Its clear the moment that you step inside and give your order, that this place has the process down pat, almost military in its precision. Looking for an item to go, Chicken Shawarma (or on the wrapping, called a Chicken Shistawouk) was my choice – which strangely has replaced Vietnamese Pho as the most commonly had simple lunch item for me of late. The large chalkboards hanging on the walls near the entrance had that old school feel that contributed to that homey feel I had tried to describe earlier about this neighborhood.

Unable to eat it until about fifteen minutes later once I had settled into my accommodations for the night, I was pleased it was still somewhat warm and the extra grilling time to harden the wrap had held up as well. I can easily sum up the flavor after taking the first bite – a complete and well balanced mixture of creamy sauce, crispy vegetables, and both harder and softer pieces of chicken meat. I am sure it would have tasted even better had I eaten it on the spot, but even still, this was one of the best shawarma’s I’ve ever had. The regular size was probably just right for a meal, though the larger variant would be easy to devour on an empty stomach.

A delicious start to my Calgary eating. More reports to follow soon…

Tazza Deli & Grill on Urbanspoon