Babaji, Piccadilly Circus

Alan Yau is one of London’s most successful and influential restaurateurs, from highstreet favourites like Wagamama and Busaba Eathai to renowned eateries like Hakkasan and Yauatcha. These venues all have one thing in common, serving innovative Asian cuisine. So when Yau launched Babaji, a casual Turkish pide restaurant on touristy Shaftesbury Avenue, we were all quite shocked.

Babaji is a labour of love, the result of a long-standing Turkish connection. Alan’s wife, and occasional business partner, Jale Eventok is Turkish. Babaji is casual and humble, offering simple traditional food with a focus on authentic Turkish pizza, pide. Situated on the edge of Soho, Babaji will be popular with tourists passing by or could possibly become an exotic late night drop-in for hungry drinkers.

We went along on a weekday for an early speedy supper. It was efficient and useful as a pre-show feed, though the food had little wow factor. Many favourite Turkish dishes are represented on the menu, including manti (ravioli-like dumplings), coban salad, flatbread and delicious small plates of meze. With, of course, baklava for dessert.

The restaurant is arranged over two spacious floors, decorated in muted shades of brown and blue with Turkish tiles adding colour and pattern. There is a Middle Eastern vibe although I thought it felt a little like a formulaic chain. The thin and fresh pide pizzas are what most come to try. Cooked in the oven minutes before reaching your table it is steaming hot, light and crisp topped with vibrant ingredients. We tried the kiymali pide with minced lamb, tomato and pepper.

Alongside our pide, we tasted the oven baked halloumi, which looked a bit pathetic on the plate and was a pitifully small portion. However the Beef and lamb kofte was absolutely delicious, highly flavoured with spices and herbs and nicely grilled to give a caramelised salty edge. Ask for some chilli sauce and wrap a bite of kofte in a piece of bread.

If you are really in the mood, you can order a Raki aperitif, designed to accompany your meze, or a freshly pressed pomegranate juice.

Babaji offers passable Turkish food, but if you want the real deal head to Kingsland Road, Dalston where the atmosphere is more alive, the prices more friendly and the food more exciting.

More information here: www.babaji.com.tr

Chinese New Year at Hakkasan, Hanway Place

Hakkasan has been on my ‘desperate to try’ list for a while and their special Chinese New Year menu seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit this renowned eatery. This modern Michelin star awarded restaurant is one of the most successful ventures from famous restaurateur Alan Yau. He opened Hakkasan Hanway Place in 2001, and has since opened a further eleven branches around the world. Executive Head Chef Tong Chee Hwee has remained at the Hanway Place kitchen since opening creating contemporary Cantonese cuisine.

Hidden around an unremarkable corner near Tottenham Court Road, the glamorous venue is dark and mysterious with stone steps leading to a regal red and black dining room. I immediately felt engulfed by the exoticism. We passed by hanging red tags annotated with guests wishes for the year ahead and sat at a quiet table.

The special New Year menu at Hakkasan features some of the restaurant’s signature dishes alongside some new creations. Diners can choose from the a la carte selection or opt for the set menu which is priced at £88.88 per person. We started with a refreshing and bitter Kumquatcha cocktail made with a tropical mix including Germana cachaça, Campari, Kumquats and lime. It was tasty but with almost every mouthful I had to dodge fruit pips.

Many of the ingredients and details of the recipes are emblematic and relate to Chinese beliefs and traditions. The Dim sum platter was delicious, an assortment of light dumplings filled with syrupy sauces and finely chopped vegetables. They were delicious, despite the sometimes intriguing textures. Golden fried soft shell crab with red chilli and curry leaf was a favourite for my guest who hoovered it up in seconds. The impossibly light crab covered in crispy salty topping and fried fragrant curry leaves. I thought the Spicy lamb lupin wrap was the highlight: soft spicy lamb marinated in a heavenly array of spices and wrapped in a delicate skin.

The service was very efficient and within minutes our main courses and accompanying glasses of red wine arrived at the table. We were treated to a few off-menu dishes as well, due to my fussy fish requirements. The black pepper rib eye beef with merlot was a luxurious dish arranged ornately within circular rice cracker strands. The meat was wonderfully smooth and richly flavoured, stir-fried with spring onion. We also tried an extravagantly sticky sweet and sour crispy chicken and stir-fried lily bulb with garlic shoot, which tasted far too good to be a humble vegetable! The anomaly on the table was the duck and truffle dish, which seemed like it had been stolen from a French kitchen, though apparently the truffle is used regularly in Chinese cooking. It was immaculately cooked and seasoned but it tasted foreign compared with the rest of the meal.

Dessert was a perfectly petite taster of rich dark chocolate mousse with caramelised macadamia and kumquat. By this stage my tastebuds were tired of the sharp kumquat flavour, but the presentation of the dish was truly beautiful, replicating a fruit tree.

When I think of New Year in the UK several rather depressing things come to mind: waiting for fireworks in the rain, drunken revellers everywhere and hopeless empty resolutions. Chinese New Year however conjures up images of colour and celebration, dancing and feasting. A traditional annual festivity which is recognised and embraced all over the world.

After a cup of fresh mint tea, all that was left to do was scribble a wish down on a red tag and secure it to the wall. I left Hakkasan full of food and full of hope for the year ahead.

More information and book here: hakkasan.com