Solo Dining Series: Princi

Overview

  • Restaurant Name: Princi
  • Total Spending: £12
  • Dining Duration: 30 min (6:00 – 6:30)
  • Awkward Level: 1/5
  • Seating: Bar table by the wall
  • Interaction with waiters/waitress: 2 times

Pre-dining Expectation

I have passed by Princi many times, but it just never occured to me to walk in and eat for some reasons. One is probably becuase when I'm usually in the area, I am usually with other people, and they tend to lead and choose the places. Two is that the place looked more like a chained restaurant/cafeteria, which are not exactly the type of places I would like to go. When I eat out, I like to explore and potentially finding some hidden gems. I was quite surprised to discovered that Princi is actually not a big chain (not in London, in Milan though).

Once I entered, the wait staffs could probably see the confused look on my face. There were two different areas in the place, and I was trying to figure out why. A manager came up to me and asked, "First time here?" I told him it was my first time and he explained how the place works. They have a pizzeria, which is made-to-order and offers table services, on the left and self-serve food counters on the right. With the self-serving sections, they have a great variety of choices, from cakes, pastries, breads to sliced pizzas and selections of salads. 

With a big plate, you can select up to four different 'dishes'. I got a green salad, pumpkins with creme, beetroots, and quinoa with salmon; and then ordered for a bottle of sparkling water to go with it. It's like eating at a buffet, but instead of getting your own food, they help you to put on the plate. I looked around and found a spot at the bar table, which was facing the wall with some weird water fountain setting. I would prefer the window seats, but it was already mostly taken and I didn't want to sit right next to other people. 

Since I had nothing to do or see while eating, I decided to read on my iPad. The food was nothing surprising but tasted not bad. I liked the fact that I could create my own combination. It didn't take me long until I got full, I couldn't finish the whole thing. So I just sat there reading, and picked on some more food here and there once in awhile. I liked the feeling that I don't feel rushed by the latter customers coming to eat. I could take my time and eat. 

Always room for desserts

I was at the hair salon earlier today, and my stylist told me there's a dairy-free ice cream place called Yorica. I have recently decided to cut out dairy products from my diet and testing out whether my skin condition would improve. Coincidentally, it was just right across the street, so I decided to give it a try. I first tried the ice cream flavors, but since it was made with coconut milk, the coconut flavor was quite strong, which I am not a fan of. I then tried their fro-yo, which was less coconuty, so I ended up getting a vanilla and matcha fro-yo topped with some fruits. 

This time, I sat next to the window and just watching the passersby. It just felt really relaxing and a good ending for the meal. 


Princi
135 Wardour St, London W1F 0UT
www.princi.co.uk
020 7478 8888

Solo Dining Series: The Palomar

Overview

  • Restaurant Name: The Palomar
  • Total Spending: £49
  • Dining Duration: 1 hr (6:45 – 7:45)
  • Awkward Level: 1/5
  • Seating: Open kitchen bar
  • Interaction with waiters/waitress: 6 times

Pre-dining Expectation

When I came across this restaurant on the recommended list for solo diners, I was quite intrigued to see Jerusalem food here in the UK. I have been to Jerusalem when I was in elementary school, but to be honest, I can't recall what types of food we had when we were there. I was also particularly drawn by their asthetic style, seeing their beautifully designed branding immediately added bonus points in my mind. 

I tried to book in advance, but there wasn't any availability during my chosen time slots. Reading from their website and other reviews that there's a waiting bar available, I thought I'd just drop by and if I'm lucky, I get seated right away; if not, I wouldn't mind a drink before dinner. When I arrived, the front house host was busy settling couple groups of guests. He rushed in and out of the different section of the restaurant and apologized to me more than 3 times, asking me to wait on the side. When he finally finished, I told him I was here on my own; he looked through their reservation list and told me that the wait would be about an hour. My heart sank but decided to stay positive and give it half an hour before I go elsewhere to eat. The guy told me that I can leave my numbers and he will call when a table becomes ready. He didn't offer me to the bar area – was it full? or did he think that I wouldn't be interested? I don't know...

I gave him my number and walked to the Costca coffee around the corner, since I didn't want to walk too far away from the restaurant. 

Time to eat

After 30 minutes, the restaurant called - yay, lucky me! I went back and was led to sit at their kitchen bar. The restaurant was probably one of the busiest out of my experiment so far, not only the kitchen staffs were chatting, singing while cooking, guests were also talking, and perhaps the narrow aisle added to that 'crowdness', but it wasn't a negative impression of noisy, it was just lively, which I quite enjoyed. 

There was a couple sitting on my left hand side, and a women in about her mid-40s sitting alone on my right. While I was trying to figure out what to eat, I could hear the waitress coming by to ask whether the lady wanted to order more food or drinks. I could sense the lady got a bit frustrated as she said no thank you but the waitress kept pushing. 

The thing about solo dining is that your eyes are always more hungry than you really are.
Especially if you go to a new restaurant for the first time, you'd want to try many different dishes and making a decision tend to be very difficult. Sometimes you end up listening to the staff's recommendation, and if it didn't turn out the way you expected, you'd wish that you have stuck to your original instincts. Today, I decided to go with my own guts. I ordered fish of the day, which was cod with tomato sauce, polenta with asparagus and mushrooms, and sweet potato chips (i read many reviews about it!). I didn't know what polenta was, but since I love mushrooms (again!) and asparagus, I just got it anyways. 

The sweet potato chips were amazing! It was seasoned nicely and wasn't greasy at all. It also comes with yogurt and mint sauce for dipping, but I like it plain. The polenta was served in a very cute tin pot, it had a texture kinded reminded me of mash potatoes. It was really delicious, and I then learned that it's one of their signature dishes. However, it was too rich that I could only finish 1/3 of it, just eating the vegetables and sadly leaving the rest of polenta. While I waited in between dishes, I saw the chefs grilling some bread that looked fluffy and tasty. I wonder what it was on the menu, thinking I wish I had gotten that or have it next time when I'm here. A few minutes later, the fish arrived, and also served with generous piece of fluffy brioche that I was eyeing for – dilemma solved!

So much food, just for one (full)

So much food, just for one (full)

For dessert, I asked the waitress whether to pick Orange Blossom Ice Cream or the Chocolate Crémeux. She recommended the Chocolate Crémeux, which was a very smooth-textured earl grey infused crémeux, with blood orange, milk streusel, cardamom marshmallow & coco-hazelnut tuile. When they served it, it came on a giant stone-like plate, much more bigger than I expected. I watched the chefs preparing other desserts and they were all served in small cups, so I was expecting something similar in size. If i had known how big it was, I probably wouldn't have gotten it. I don't know why i always like asking for recommendations; I suppose they know better about the food they serve. However, seems like most of the time I always wish I had stuck with my own choice. It could be, perhaps, I would still have not liked what I ordered, but at least I would be more comfortable since it was my own call. I think for future reference, I should just go with my instinct. 

Post-food Reflection

The Palomar is definitely worth coming back again, whether it's by myself or with few other friends. The kitchen bar makes me feel very at ease – people going in and out, and constantly talking noises around, doesn't make me feel out of place. The only thing I would change is to take more initiatives and inform the wait staffs what I am in the mood for and how hungry I am, so I don't over-order.

While I was eating, two other ladies came to sit next to me, both by themselves. One seemed like she just finished watching the show with a program booklet in her hand, and the other one seemed as if she just got off work. So far throughout my experiment, these two were the first solo female diners I came across. I noticed that one of them also ordered a polenta but in a much smaller portion. I felt a bit disappointed as it wasn't available on the menu and the waitress didn't inform me of the option. So I decided to make a suggestion while I was paying for the meal. The waitress (she wasn't the one who took my order) said that she always tell the customers if they are dining by themselves, but she said to make sure the message will be passed on to the rest of the staffs. 


The Palomar
34 Repert Street
London, W1D 6DN
info@thepalomar.co.uk
0207 439 8777
 

Solo Dining Series: Barrafina

Overview

  • Restaurant Name: Barrafina
  • Total Spending: £36
  • Dining Duration: 55 min (5:45 – 6:40)
  • Awkward Level: 2/5
  • Seating: Center bar area
  • Interaction with waiters/waitress: more than 10 times

Pre-dining Expectations

I love the food at Barrafina. They serve a wide variety of Spanish tapa dishes that are great for groups to share. I've been there a couple times and was a bit worried how eating there by myself would be, as I definitely wouldn't be able to get the varieties that I usually could get. Knowing that it's always busy during meal time, I tried to avoid the peak hour and arrived a bit earlier than normal dinner time. When I arrived, it was still quite empty, with only 2 couples and one man by the corner. 

At Barrafina

There are 3 different Barrafina branches, and I went to the Drury one, since I have been to the other two. All Barrafina have an open kitchen with gorgeous marble-topped bar where guests can sit and watch the chefs in action; except the Drury branch has a few tables outdoor by the alley. Right when I stepped in, the waiters all greeted me with friendly smile. With one particularly engaging, I asked him where I could sit. "Anywhere you like, ma'am," he answerd. 

I would usually take the corner seat however since it was already taken, I decided to sit in the middle of the bar so I could have a better view of the food prepping and also made sure that I won't be left alone in the corner and difficult to get waiters' attention. I sat one seat away from the couples, leaving some personal space in between. Since the table mat menus were already set in front of each seats, I began to figure out what I wanted for the day. Not long after, the waiter came with special menus and introducing them to me one by one and occasionally pointing to the fresh ingredients in the back of him. I thought the gesture was particularly thoughtful, not only does it provide an opportunity for conversation, but also allowing me to understand better, since some of the names of dishes I wasn't particularly familiar with. After having that brief conversation, I didn't feel so much intimidated if I had to ask him further questions, or just some simple chit chat.

I wasn't particularly hungry today, but I still wanted to have a bit of variety. So I told the waiter to stop me if I ordered too much. I got a portobello croquette, grilled cabbage and cod tempera, paired with a glass of white cava. While I was waiting for the food, I sipped on my cava and emersed myself in the environment, watching the active interactions happening in the kitchen. I couldn't quite understand what they were talking about, since it was a mix of Spanish and English, but they definitely seem like they were in a good mood while working non-stop.

Time to eat

People who know me well know that I'm a fan of mushrooms, so of course I wouldn't skip the portobello croquette. However, two of those is quite a lot considering they were deep friend and creamy. That's when I wish that if someone had come with me. Reminded me of the past experiences eating here with several other friends, we would all have a taste of something but then wouldn't get tired of the taste and can try more than 3 dishes. 

I thought the portion I ordered was just right. Once again, Barrfina did not disappointed me. My favorite was probably the crispy cabbage – it was grilled with creamy garlic sauce and topped with sliced almonds. Never thought the almonds would go so well with cabbages, this is definitely something I'd like to try to make at home someday. 

After I finished the 3 dishes, I felt that I still had some room for dessert. The lemon sorbet stood out to me, as I wanted end with something refreshing after dinner. 

"What's in the lemon sorbet?" I asked, considering its quite expensive for a sorbet (£6) compared to a scoop of ice cream which was only £2. 
"Just lemon sorbet, but served in a real lemon. It's really good" the waiter replied.
"Ok I'll have a try."

I was curious what makes it so special. When it came up, it was a lemon cut in half with sorbet contained inside. It was cute and the taste was also refreshing, just the way I wanted. But if I had known it was like that, would I have ordered it? Probably not...it was good but not *oh-my-gosh-kind-of-amazing* that I'd pay for the price. Oh wells, lesson learned. As my dad always tells me, it's the experience that you're having while eating, the eating is just a part of the whole experience. 

Post-food Reflection

Tapas is good for solo dining as the portions are small, but if you are a person like me who enjoys variety in their meals, I would strongly suggest to bring a friend or two. I was glad that I stayed in control and get tempted by a wide selection. The portion I had was just the right amount and had a bit extra room for dessert. Besides food, the overall experience was stressfree and satisfying. The human interaction was the part that made my meal most pleasant. From the beginning when they greeted me from the bar, instead of standing at a reception table, made it as if an old friend was welcoming me to their house. Then with a detailed explanation of today's special, it opened up the conversation and broke the ice. Every interaction was between inside the bar (chefs/waiters) vs outside (customers) – simple and straightforward. I never had to look behind me and search for waiters/waitresses; they were always in front of me.

That being said, with all the staffs working in the crowded open kitchen space, the level of collaboration and mutual understandings are crucial. Despite the space was limited, they didn't seem chaotic or rushing around; they handled every customer with great passion and kindness. Perhaps, that's the secreat to their success – of course, the food also add on top of that!


Barrafina
43 Drury Lane, Covent Garden, London, WC2B 5AJ
www.barrafina.co.uk

Solo Dining Series: Bocca Di Lupo

Overview

  • Restaurant Name: Bocca Di Lupo
  • Total Spending: £40
  • Dining Duration: 1 hr 5 min (5:45 – 6:50)
  • Awkward Level: 3/5
  • Seating: Open kitchen bar
  • Interaction with waiters/waitress: 8 times

Pre-dining Expectation

I've heard so many positive reviews about Bocca Di Lupo. In fact, even before I knew it was a recommended place for solo dining, I have tried to dine there by myself twice (usually after a spontaneous stroll down the shopping area); unfortunately, it was always full. This time, I made sure to make a reservation to avoid disappointment. However, the online reservation experience was not so pleasant – seemed like they have blocked out all the prime dinner time unavailable for solo diners. I tried every single day to even a month later...no luck. I couldn't believe it, so I had to make a call. I tried to sound as normal and calm when I called, I didn't want the other end to hear that I had any sort of hesitation of dining by myself. 

Arriving at the restaurant

When I arrived, the host greeted me by the reception stand (not sure if that's the proper name?) and told me that they have arranged me to be seated at the 'chef's table'. I knew that they had open kitchen and bars areas, but didn't know that it had a specific name. That for me was quite unique, especially I love watching the live action of bustling kitchen. Considering my reservation was at 17:45, the bar was still quite empty. I was the only one eating at the bar, and several customers drinking at the bar on the other end. There were also a few tables in the back of the restaurant, which was a seperate area. I felt quite isolated and stood out from the crowd, as I was the only customer at the bar. The staffs probably didn't pay much attention, but I definitely felt a sense of awkwardness, especially their conversation was mainly in Italian – I had no idea what they were talking about me. They could be talking about me and I wouldn't even have a clue (though I doubt that's the case). 

The Food

I ordered a radish salad as an entree and a mushroom risotto from their special menu. While waiting for the food, I munched on some ciabatta, drank some wine and watched the chefs cooking with some fancy pan flipping techniques. The were four chefs on the shift and cooking non-stop. Two of them are mainly in charge of the stove and one with oven and one prepping food on the side. Their conversations are mainly about what dishes are coming up next, what orders have been made; very little casual chatting. All of them looked quite serious. It was definitely intense watching the chefs working, but at the same time quite enjoyable if you're into these kind of things. It's a great opportunity to watch how they streamline the cooking process. The experience was different from my other experiences with open kitchen, which sometimes the chefs would have a brief friendly conversation with you or serve you directly after the dishes are done. Here at Bocca Di Lupo, they have wait staffs assigned to these task. 

From where I was sitting, I was directly facing the sous chef and also nearby where they set the finished dishes; then the expediter would assign wait staffs to distribute them to other tables. The advantage of it is that I get to see what's the most popular ordered dish of the night, and also seeing the variety of food they have, start thinking about what I'd like to eat next time when I come with more people, so we could try out more dishes. The disadvantage is that when the waiters/waitresses are waiting for the upcoming dish, they all grouped right next to me, which made me really awkward sitting there eating by myself.

After awhile, I stopped caring and just enjoying watching how the chefs were cooking the food, and also tried to 'decode' what they were communicating. There is a specific logic behind it. Based on my understanding, the expediter is the key communication person between sous chef and the other wait staffs. He tells the kitchen what has been ordered, and then notify the wait staffs when the dishes are ready to be served. Each table has a unique number, and everytime when a table has finished serving all their meals, the expediter says "Finished", as a sign of completion. With all the numbers and dish names, I was really impressed by how the sous chef could memorize all the information. 

Since I have been dying to try this place for so long, I couldn't give up the chance of also trying their desserts, even though I was quite full already. I had two options in mind but I also wanted to get some suggestions from the waitress. She recommended the 'Bonet', saying that it's not as commonly seen in Italian restaurants like tiramisu but still quite a typical Italian dessert. On their menu it said 'chocolate, coffee, amaretti, caramel and rum pudding', which was hard to resist combination. Knowing that it would probably be a bit heavy, I still decided to give it a try. The first couple bites were pretty good, the dense and creamy texture was very satisfying, but after the fifth bite, I am getting tired of the taste. However, I didn't wanted to waste food, so I kept going...and going...until I finished half way, I finally gave up. I wonder if they could have served a smaller portion? 

Radish, celeriac, pomegranate, pecorino salad, truffle dressing:  Thinly sliced radishes and celeriac tossed in truffle vinaigrette and topped with generous parmesan shavings and pomegranate   seeds to add unique twist. 

Radish, celeriac, pomegranate, pecorino salad, truffle dressing: Thinly sliced radishes and celeriac tossed in truffle vinaigrette and topped with generous parmesan shavings and pomegranate seeds to add unique twist. 

Post-food Reflection

Given the reservation was so difficult, I think unless next time it's for special occasions or a friend specifically requested to dine there, I don't think I would make so much effort of dining here. With the constantly changing schedule of people, it's hard to plan ahead months to eat out. I wouldn't say that I particularly enjoyed the bar experience, since there wasn't much engagement and just sitting and watching. If I was with others, maybe it would be a nice conversation stimulation, but being there by myself, I didn't think it added much. Plus, Italian food tends to be more rich and creamy and having to finish the entire plate by myself is just too much. Ordering a variety and take home the leftovers don't seem like an option either, as the food usually don't taste as good after reheating. Well, at least now I can say that I've been to Bocca Di Lupo after the whole hype...


Bocca Di Lupo
12 Archer Street
Soho, London
020 7734 222
www.boccadilupo.com