Zain’s Restaurant and Grill

by the Munching Mariner (published in East End Life, 11 July)

Zain’s is a reincarnation of The Milestone, next to Mile End station. The Munching Mariner enjoyed a meal there once but noted with surprise how quiet it seemed to be. Zain’s is Bengali-run with a very different theme to before.

Just seconds away from Mile End station

The menu is halal throughout. That means, as my Thirst Mate noted with eyebrows raised, no alcohol. There is an excellent selection of mocktails and milkshakes along with other soft drinks.

We opted for Snickers and Bounty milkshakes. They tasted wonderful, but a little warm for our liking and the waiter was happy to bring us ice.

My Thirst Mate ordered a chicken bhuna along with garlic naan bread. I selected the mixed grill and steamed rice. We also ordered dum aloo to share. That’s sweet and spicy new potatoes, fried in spices and tomatoes. The potatoes were cooked to perfection and the spice was nice.

My Thirst Mate’s chicken bhuna was tasty, but I should have left it well alone as I simply couldn’t find the space to finish my mixed grill. This was a selection of chicken tikka, lamb chops and sheek kebab which also came with a small side salad.

The waiting service was appropriately attentive. The front-of-house staff were obviously keen to please and quick to take care of our needs. Without prompting, our waiter offered to pack the remainder of my mixed grill to take home and it formed a welcome part of our meal at home the next day.

Zain’s is simply decorated with a red trim and dark wood. It is named after the four-year-old son of the owners, who claim to devote as much “care and effort into the preparation of food and service” as they do “into looking after Zain”.

Our meal came to £33.60 but there are savings to be made for students, NHS workers and lunchtime visitors.

Zain’s is at 588 Mile End Road, E3 4PH.  Telephone 8981 4100.


Spice Merchants

by the Munching Mariner (published East End Life, 18th January 2010)

Spice Merchants is in a small and simple but stylish venue with modern décor. The food is Indian, inspired by Mughlai cuisine.

My Thirst Mate and I arrived at 7.30 on a Saturday evening and were guided upstairs to a table by the window. There is a smaller seating area and a bar downstairs. A few people were dining already and more gathered during our stay.


Spice Merchants

We ordered tap water and a bottle of Rioja for £14.50. House wines were £10.50 and Tiger, Cobra and Kingfisher beers were all available.

I opened with lamb tikka and my Thirst Mate opted for vegetable samosas. In both cases they were presented beautifully and tasted great.

For our main course, my Thirst Mate ordered lamb madras which we both enjoyed but was a little hot for her palate.

I ordered the “exotic” xacuti chicken which was richly flavoured, as many of the specials were described. This dish was delicious, containing fenugreek, star anise, javantri and red Goan chillies. It was the first time I’d tried this dish and I’m seeking out a recipe already!

We shared some rice, naan bread and saag paneer (spinach with cheese) which all complimented our main dishes.

The service was friendly and professional. I was impressed at the waiter’s efforts to lay out our dishes, ensuring our space was uncluttered.

The toilets were bright, clean and modern. My Thirst Mate remarked they were among the best she’d seen in a restaurant of its kind.

Our bill was £45.15 excluding service. Spice Merchants hopes to attract “the ever discerning and affluent diner”. We felt that while it was not cheap, the quality of the experience was well worth the price we paid. It is also possible to eat there more cheaply as many of the Indian favourites are reasonably priced.

Spice Merchants is a matter of seconds away from Westferry DLR and is served by a number of bus routes. Takeaways and deliveries are available.

Spice Merchants is at 38 Salter Street, Docklands. Telephone: 7987 8779.

Fat Cat

By the Munching Mariner (published in East End Life, 14th December)

Fat Cat is a cafe-style gastropub in Bow Wharf, just south of Victoria Park.

My brother and I arrived after 3pm on a Saturday for a very late lunch. We were pleased to learn they were still serving food and they had a high-chair available for my brother’s baby boy.

Fat Cat

This venue is part of a national chain, but it’s the only one in London. It has the unusual distinction of feeling both spacious and cosy at the same time. The dark tones, warm lighting and comfortable chairs help create this effect.

The floor is split into two. There is a bar area and a slightly raised restaurant section where we claimed our table of choice. We ordered pints of Guinness and Strongbow and assessed the menu. There is a wide range of sandwiches and typical pub meals.

Burgers would appear to be their speciality, so we opted for a bacon and cheese burger and the Italian burger (with mozzarella, pesto and rocket). They arrived in about ten minutes, laden with their toppings and accompanied by large chips and coleslaw.

The meals went down well with us both. The burgers were thick and rich of taste. They both came medium/well done. We weren’t offered an option on this, but nor had we asked. The chips were as hearty and wholesome as chips can be. We had also ordered a pot of peppercorn sauce which proved a great accompaniment.

The service was friendly and appropriate. Our waiter didn’t trouble us unnecessarily but was quick to catch our eye when we needed him.

Fat Cat has a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere; perfect for whiling away a cold afternoon. I’ve been before for brunch, another experience I’d recommend. There are several long-standing offers. Ladies should visit on Thursday evenings for a good deal and students enjoy a 20% drinks discount at all times.

Our bill came to £28.25 excluding service.

Fat Cat is a 10-15 minute walk from Mile End or Bethnal Green stations. It’s served by a number of bus routes and there is also a free car park.

Fat Cat is at Bow Wharf, Grove Road E3 5SN. Telephone: 8983 4353.

The Mayan King

By the Munching Mariner (published in East End Life, 12th October)

My Thirst Mate and I wanted to mark a special occasion, so I called ahead to be sure of a Friday evening table booking. I suggested 8pm, but 7pm was recommended if we wanted to eat before the DJ cranked up his kit. I appreciated the advice.

The Mayan King, in Victoria Park Village, describes itself as a cocktail tapas bar. It takes its wine quite seriously too.

The furnishings can only be described as eclectic – no two tables or chairs appear to be the same. The theme is evident on the walls; I could imagine some of the decorations in ancient Mayan homes. Some of the plasterwork appears unfinished, but this merely completes ‘the look’.

We arrived at the allotted time and were taken to a small table towards the back. We were offered tap water immediately; a nice touch in an area where they could probably add spring water to the bill if they dared.

Our server, friendly and attentive throughout, recommended two cocktails for us to enjoy whilst browsing the food menu.

As we selected our tapas, it became clear most of the menu was unavailable. There were just four options to choose from. So, with a little frustration, we selected them all.

Our server asked if we would like wine with our food and I asked for two glasses of red. Instead he recommended a Riesling. It was a great complement to our food, but a little pricey at £7 a glass and unusual to be offered a white upon asking for red!

The food came gradually over a period of 20 minutes or so. Tortilla chips were brought to accompany our dishes.

Minilla is a crab based mixture (a stir fry, perhaps?) with crab, red onion, tomatoes, jalapenos, olives and raisins; tasty but plainer than I expected. Ceviche was a real treat and one we wouldn’t have chosen from the full menu. It’s finely cut cod in lemon juice, red onion and chipotle chiles. Each bite came a satisfying punch. It’s worth going in just for this dish. Finally we were brought quesidillas along with humous & pitta to enjoy with the last of our wine.

Our bill came to £48.50 excluding service.

Address: 91 Lauriston Road, E9 7HJ. Telephone: 8986 2120

Golden Bird

By the Munching Mariner (published in East End Life, 17th August)

The Golden Bird is a small Chinese restaurant next to the yellow bridge at Mile End. I took my Thirst Mate along on a Tuesday evening. We arrived without a booking at 8pm and were easily accommodated. Two other tables were occupied during our visit.

The restaurant is bright and clean, and there is an attractive aquarium towards the front with apparently luminescent fish paddling back and forth. The tables are efficiently laid out to cater for numbers. The décor appears to be showing some wear.

With sake on the menu (a new experience), we ordered a quarter bottle to share (£5.50). It arrived suitably warm with a satisfying kick, so we asked for tap water to help us savour our meals.

My Thirst Mate ordered chicken with cashew nuts and yellow bean sauce; for me the beef with satay sauce. We took a portion each of steamed rice which came heaped and sticky.

Aside from the rice, we felt the food was mediocre. The meat was good, but the yellow bean sauce was insipid and the satay sauce was almost entirely devoid of its defining taste.

The service was efficient, but slightly unengaged. The waitress had a chummy relationship with two guests at a nearby table who she chatted to while serving us. We felt she could have done more to make us feel welcome.

Our bill came to £24.70, not including service (minimum £12 per person).

The Golden Bird is just two minutes’ walk from Mile End station and lies next to a number of bus routes. Address: 379 Mile End Road, E3 4QS. Telephone: 8980 3611

River View

By the Munching Mariner (published in East End Life, 4th May)

The River View is an elegant, comfortable Chinese restaurant in Wapping, nestled (as you might expect) against the Thames with great views of the river, Rotherhithe on the far side and Canary Wharf in the distance.  A great location for the Munching Mariner!  Possibly even better in the summer, when seating is extended to the terrace.

My Thirst Mate and I booked for a Thursday at 8.30pm.  I asked for a table by the window and it was noted for our arrival.  Our waitress, who attended to us all evening, offered to take our coats and guided us to our seats.  She promptly presented complimentary prawn crackers and left us sufficient time to choose our meals.  The service was attentive, but unobtrusive.


The River View

The River View

The menu (Peking & Cantonese Cuisine) is broad: plenty of choice under all the main headings.  There are also three set menus, beginning at £20.50pp.

My Thirst Mate and I ordered separate starters, but ended up sharing.  We ordered grilled dumplings and lettuce wrapped minced chicken.  The dumplings had a good texture with just the right level of spice.  The minced chicken was a new experience for us both, and a slightly messy one for me; the meat comes separately from the lettuce and is packed in with a spoon before being eaten by hand.  Awkward, but very tasty!

For mains, she ordered chicken with cashew nuts in yellow bean sauce and I opted for sliced beef with satay sauce (both with rice).  They were both enjoyable, though perhaps the yellow bean sauce was slightly dry; we both preferred the beef.

We debated dessert before sharing a 3-scoop sorbet which impressed us both.

Our bill came to £57.90 including a bottle of house wine and service.  If we had made it between 6-8pm, we could have taken the Early Bird option: a three course set menu including a glass of wine for £14.80pp.  View the main menu at

The River View is at New Crane Wharf in Wapping, E1W 3TU.  Wapping station is closed, but the restaurant is served by the D3 and 100 bus routes.  Telephone 7480 6026.

The Milestone

By the Munching Mariner (published in East End Life, 16th March)

The Milestone is a trendy gastro-bar a stone’s throw to the right out of Mile End station.  It’s clean and comfortable, with a row of hookah pipes on the side. I’ve been in a few times for a drink and it’s been surprisingly quiet so close to such a busy station. I always wondered why, but the landlord expressed such great enthusiasm for his chef’s food that I felt compelled to try it.


The Milestone
The Milestone

I popped in with my Thirst Mate on a Thursday evening and we had our choice of tables. The only other customers were a group of students who – despite knocking back mostly soft drinks – gradually became more raucous as the evening wore on. Another couple arrived later for a meal and then a trio of young men propped up the bar.

The Milestone specialises in “traditional Indian dishes cooked in a modern way”. All the favourites are on the menu though naan bread is conspicuous by its absence (chapatti and parantha take its place). There are a few surprises too; fish and chips among them. The Thirst Mate went for lentil soup followed by chicken bhuna and steamed rice. I chose lamb samosas then chicken dhansak with pilau rice.

The meals arrived within the promised fifteen minutes. It was plentiful and delicious, though the lentil soup was more like stew. We told the barman how much we enjoyed it, but he retorted with an apology: the regular chef was off and his cooking must be tasted to be believed. The service was a little scatty but well-intentioned: the starters and mains arrived at the same time, we had to request cutlery and our drinks arrived after some delay. On the plus side, the manager took an interest in us and was chatty but unobtrusive.

The Milestone has potential. The food and atmosphere were good, but it was still fairly empty. In mitigation, previous incarnations of the establishment were hideous and the new look is hidden out of sight of the nearby tube station. There are no disabled toilet facilities. Our bill came to £31.60 including a beer each.

The Milestone is at 588 Mile End Road, E3 4PH. Telephone 020 8981 4100.