SushiSamba (review)

Rating: 9.6 / 10
Average meal per head: £70 – £80
Where: Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, London. EC2N 4AY. (also NY/Miami/Chicago/Las Vegas)

One-line review: Unbelievably good Japanese/Brazilian/Peruvian mash-up food with stunning views, great bar and friendly staff to boot.
Top Dish: CHURRASCO RIO GRANDE (ribeye, chorizo, wagyu picanh served on hot stones with five dipping sauces)
Gripes: Just the price. Come prepared to (quite happily) lighten your wallet.


I was certainly not anticipating my first review on The Whimsical Onion to be of such a flamboyantly swanky establishment but imagine, if you will, the emasculating yelp of excitement I let out when I realised where we had arrived for my belated and surprise birthday evening out. Nestled amid the omnipresent reflective glass and bustling drabness, the neon sign blazed across the City like first light into Dracula’s tomb. “SUSHISAMBA!” it cried. If only the disgruntled sushi chef (who to be fair I paparazzid upon entry) shared its welcoming embrace:

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From start to finish I have to say the whole evening was beyond excellent. Before you hit the main restaurant, there’s a three tier bar serving up awesome Asian/South American fusion cocktails (around £10.50 a pop) and a Sushi kiosk (pictured above) if you don’t fancy coming in for a full blown meal. Needless to say, the drinks and the views are more than enough reason to come by themselves. We took a Tonka Bean Old Fashioned and a Shiso Fine out onto the terrace for a cheeky aperitif.

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2013-05-22 21.28.39And from there we were whisked into the very cool dining-room, where people were munching away to a decidedly funky Bossa Nova backdrop. If you want the best views, best to ask to be booked at the back.

As I’ve already alluded to in the summary above, the food was superb. The menu is a little confusing to start with, divided up into subsections such as ‘Samba Rolls’, ‘Robata’ and ‘Raw’, but our waiter (lovely chap) was more than happy to help out while we munched on some spicy Padron Peppers. We went for three small plates and one large to share at his sagely recommendation. What followed was a taste-sensation:

Wagyu Gyoza

Wagyu Gyoza

Mixto Seviche

Mixto Seviche

Samba Roll London

Samba Roll London

But, and apologies if this has become rather a slide-show of decadence, nothing could prepare us for the main event. The Churrasco Rio Grande: chorizo sausage served on top of wagyu and rib eye steak on a bed of hot stones with five dipping sauces. A veggie’s nightmare, a carnivore’s wet dream.

Churrasco Rio Grande

Churrasco Rio Grande

Linda McCartney can fork off

Linda McCartney can fork off

I can’t remember ever having a slice of beef as tender as the wagyu component of this dish, melt in your mouth doesn’t even cover it. Plus, its not just the tender aspect that makes this dish a winner. The wagyu is offset by its meatier and slightly tougher partner in crime, the rib eye. Plus plus, I’m a massive sucker for anything that includes black beans on the side. A truly spectacular affair and I’m salivating right now more than the collective of Pavlov’s dogs just thinking about it. We were both pretty stuffed at this point but the desserts provided a welcome palate cleanse.

Chocolate Banana Cake & Apple Tiradito

Chocolate Banana Cake & Apple Tiradito

Apparently the same people own the Duck and Waffle which inhabits the floor above and is open 24/7. You can go there to watch the sunrise for breakfast, a feat I imagine is more easily achieved during the shorter winter hours. But still, definitely topping our next hit list for a special occasion. Now just need to rustle one up. Could ridding our cupboard of the moths count? Probably should.

Oh and did I mention the views? They’re not half-bad either.




Quail Scotch Eggs with Homemade Piccalilli

Thanks so much to everyone that took the time to read (and like!) the last post. Greatly appreciated. If you did want to follow, there should be an option at either the top or bottom of the page. If for some reason you can’t find it, drop me a line at and I’ll add you. Or I’m on Twitter @whimsicalonion.

I woke up last Sunday morning (post-Peckham) with a mild to average Pimms hangover and a strong desire to cook something. However, with a full bread basket and the remnants of the cake still knocking around, baking seemed like a decadent option. Instead, in what can probably be notched up as one of my more whimsical hangover purchases, I hopped on the 37 to Clapham Junction, destination Debenhams. £26 lighter and 12 Kendall jam jars heavier I hobbled back home, alco-sweating mint and strawberries all my merry way.

Homemade Piccalilli

Being much more a Branston boy in my youth, my early memories of the enormous Piccalilli jar at the back of our fridge are not fond ones. Garish, pungent and, more often than not, accompanied by the sweet stinging smell of pickled onions, it rarely broached the top 10 on my condiment list. That being said, surely it must be better homemade. I insert the links above as I noticed a few ‘likes’ from across the pond on the last post and I’m not entirely sure what the US equivalent of the above would be. Needless to say, you’re missing out. I actually got this recipe from Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain but I’ve just noticed he’s actually published it online here too. Amazing TV series that went along with this too.

It was actually pretty easy and cheap to make this. The recipe claims to make 12 jam jars but it only filled 6 for me. Maybe Debenhams just produce unusually large jars. I’d hope so at £3 a pop. The only two things this recipe requires is a mammoth amount of veg dicing, particularly the 300g shallots, and also time. Its bloody tasty when you first cook it but Oliver recommends letting it mature for a month once sealed. And who are we mere mortals to argue with Oliver? Just a small tip on the shallots that you might already know; if you put them in boiling water for 30-60 secs and then douse them in cold water, the skins peel straight off and it saves a lot of faff.

I wanted to give mine a bit of extra spice so I whacked in 6 red chilles (instead of 4) and then a pretty generous handful of dried chilli flakes too. Looking forward to cracking into these bad boys in earnest in mid-June with a Melton Mowbray and pint of Doom Bar.

But until then, I just had to have a taste with something of due diligence. And what better than…

Quail Scotch Eggs

Scotch Eggs are easily one of my favourite all time snacks. Perhaps even my favourite. I recently had a passionate (albeit inebriated) debate with a good friend of mine about the Holy Trinity of humble British snacks; the scotch egg, the sausage roll and the pork pie. He was championing the pork pie, I the scotch egg as we fenced and riposted nimbly among the various attributes of both. We reached no conclusion other than that they are all delicious which seemed a fair settlement at the time. Perhaps worthy of further investigation though.

Again this recipe is from Oliver’s Great Britain and again (what a trooper) he has popped a shortened version of the recipe online.

I thought given the short number of steps involved that making these little Elysium nuggets would be a relatively simple process. My main concern before starting off was heating 2 litres of vegetable oil in a casserole pot in our small kitchen to 180 degrees. Especially given my girlfriend’s conviction that any oil heated beyond about 100 will ignite. Fortunately at this point she had inbibed half a bottle of Merlot and dozed off to the Big Bang Theory.

Alas! Oh, if that had been my main concern! For an entire hour I was bent double over our kitchen sink, attempting to peel the shells off half-boiled (key to having a runny yolk upon cooking) quail eggs with very limited success. Those of you with an acute eye may notice only six scotch eggs in the initial photo at the top of the page. That’s because half of these little f*ckers broke, either squashed entirely in my over-zealous ‘tap and roll’ technique or torn asunder and left bleeding yolk out of their sides. I went through a spectrum of frustrated insanity during that hour, meandering between pondering chucking the whole lot in the bin and talking to myself, pretending to be a WWI surgeon.

Once this stage was over though, it was a doddle. There’s even an online how to video here for assembly. In fairness, towards the end it did get easier too (I nailed the final 3 eggs perfectly in a row). Then it was into the oil as per below.

Produced a stonking scotch egg. The slight spice from the paprika and the herb mix combined perfectly. A slather of the Piccalilli and we were well away. Sausage rolls/pork pies eat your heart out.

And as for those award winning Peckham sausages. Bangers & Wholegrain Mustard Mash with Veg and Red Shallot Gravy. Back of the net.

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Dulce de Leche Cake with Pumpkin Seed Brittle / Rye and Spelt Loaf

Basking in an amateurish Instagram light on our living room table, here are my first two physical contributions to this blog in all their finery: a razzle-dazzle Dulce de Leche Cake with Pumpkin Seed Brittle and a juxtaposingly sombre Rye and Spelt Loaf. Let’s kick off with latter.

Rye and Spelt Loaf

This was taken from Paul Hollywood’s Bread book. Despite his recent streak of philandering he is still the ultimate yeast machine and, who knows, maybe the marriage had just gone stale (zing). I’d highly recommend this book for anyone who has ever given bread making a try, anyone who has thought about giving it a try or even anyone who has simply lusted after the smell of freshly baked bread. Word of warning: leave your bread makers at home (or rather in the cupboard), this is hand-made only. Bring your A game.

Because its taken from a published recipe book, I won’t post the details here. What I will say though is it uses both Rye and Spelt flour (obviously) but with a side of Strong White flour to help bind and rise. The most interesting aspect though is it employs an old sponging technique that I was unfamiliar with, at least since I used to steal my mates’ baked beans in my student days (zing 2). It essentially involves pre-proofing (without kneading) an amount of dough. Similar to a Sourdough culture I imagine although I am yet to take on this challenge.

I got a bit nervy on this bake. The loaf came out like a brick and only at that stage did I notice I’d forgotten to add olive oil at the start. However, it was seriously tasty and absolutely perfect with crab pate (which I had handily been gifted by a Chilean customer only the week before). Amazing, crunchy crust.

Dulce de Leche Cake with Pumpkin Seed Brittle

This tasty little number (link to the Good Food site recipe above) was born out of a Mexican themed dinner party I went to last Saturday in Peckham. The hosts always put on a spectacular feast (despite being a veggie, my mate Oli cooks a mean bit of Chorizo). I normally just turn up, scoff my face, win at Trivial Pursuit (no biggie) and leave. This time I thought I’d bring something to pay my way. In the end it was this cake plus a fiver. But I did in turn receive a six-pack of the best sausages in London from Peckham’s Flock and Herd Butchers. They’re nestled comfortably in our fridge and I shall be chomping on them this evening along with mash, red onion gravy, broccoli and (of course) lashings of Colemans. Excited.

Back to the cake. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert cake maker by any stretch of the imagination but fortunately a friend of mine is and she was happy to dish out advice. Specifically around the unusually long bake time (1hr 20mins). However, this is it at a very low heat 140 fan assisted plus we figured (rightly or wrongly) that the Greek Yoghurt would retard the baking process. Which it (or something) did.

It was meant to serve 12 but nearly all of it got munched by about half that number in the space of an hour. Result. Plus the brittle looks dead swanky.

Whims (the first of many I hope!)

On starting this blog my girlfriend has referred to me, not for the first time and probably not for the last, as Mr. Toad. I always took this to be a double-edged compliment as I remember him as a whimsical (albeit bloated) creature of fancy, hence the inclusion of the word in the name of this blog. However, having delved more into the Wiki link above, I perhaps should try to distance myself from the ‘narcissistic, self-centred almost to the point of sociopathy, and completely lacking in even the most basic common sense’ referenceAlthough I suppose all bloggers/writers have a slight tendency towards narcissism whether they admit it or not, but from my very limited experience this also comes with a hefty, offsetting dose of wracking self-doubt as to whether anyone cares about what you have to say or, even worse, does enough to criticise.

Which brings me to my reason for writing this. I’ve started three novels, two short stories and the briefest of screenplays (if you count three pieces of dialogue and a setting). I finished none of these, which of course fuels the increasingly accurate Mr.Toad caricature. However, what I hope this has taught me is that I’d be much better suited to two things; the first is blogging in short bursts may suit my nature as I’m clearly not cut out to write full blown Tolkein-esque epics and secondly, that I need to write about something that I’m passionate about. If you’ve carried on reading this far I hope you can guess at this stage that this is food, drink and anything in between.

At the moment my current whim is baking. Specifically bread but also the odd cake. I’ve baked five loaves in the last few weeks and I’m completely addicted. I fully blame Michael Pollan’s Cooked, not just for the bread-baking obsession but also for this blog. If you care a jot about cooking in any form (Fire/Water/Air/Earth as Mr. Pollan argues) then you need to read this book. Its up there with my top three books of all time. He’s also over in the UK at the end of the May in London for lectures. GO! He’s the man!

Finally, I’ve been asked what I hope to achieve by writing this food blog. As many people like to point out, everyone in London seems to write a food blog these days. Well, the truth is I have no idea. I just wanted to put my thoughts down somewhere and this seemed like the best place.

Now where to begin…maybe with some pics of recent baked goods. Seems sensible. And a picture of Mr. Toad (as I remember him) to toast this new venture!

Senor Toad