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Best local Indian Restaurant in Essex 2014
One of the finest Indian restaurants in Essex Caraway Indian Brasserie, in Gants Hill, has won the prestigious Best Local Indian Restaurant Award in the Restaurant Guides

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Review

OQO

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Tucked away in the little bit of Islington that you can, should you have had a few, just about convince yourself is actually a village, OQO is part of the new world tapas movement. Admittedly they don’t refer to themselves in that manner: it’s critic-speak for “we’ve spotted a trend and by criminy we’re going to go on about it.” But with even Mr. Ramsay getting in on the act at Maze, the idea of “grazing” seems to be catching on.

And a fine idea it is too. I like variety. Many’s the time I’ve dithered over a menu because I’ve liked the sound of everything (and I’m secretly hoping that the waiter will take pity on me and provide me with a selection plate). The tapas idea – order a few little dishes, share, order some more if you’re still peckish (or if, in the case of us chunky souls, you can squeeze another mouthful in) – is thus one I’m keen to see run and run.

It also means that, should a dish disappoint, well, there’s no real harm done. Just suck up the few quid it’s cost and order something else. Similarly, you can be a little bolder in your selections, rather than just sticking to the chicken. If it presses your buttons and gooses the tastebuds in new and interesting ways, fantastic. If it doesn’t… well, better to have tried and lost than never to have tried before.

So, all in all, The New World Tapas Movement – look, I named it, so I can add capitals, alright? – is a Very Good Thing. Maze, predictably is fantastic. The Eastern-flavoured OQO – the name means nothing, I’m informed, but just looks good as a logo – is a lesser event but, choose wisely, and you’ll still do okay here. And spend considerably less, of course.

The room is open and relaxed, and packs a sort of upmarket canteen vibe. On the left, a long bar, and the kitchen area, on the right, tables and general seating; a pleasant mix of form and function that, even on a weekday lunchtime, generates enough atmosphere to make you think that another plate of the octopus, a second bottle of wine and an early start tomorrow is infinitely preferable to heading back to the office just now.

The dishes that’ll keep you coming back for more are baby octopus in Szechuan pepper and salt (£6) and monkfish in a coat of yellow curry (£6). The octopus had good density and flavour, and is a miniature tentacled and tempura-d bargain at six quid. The monkfish, assuming you can forgive them the rather pretentious “coat of yellow curry” – come on chaps, it’s a sauce, not a bleeding Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical – is also good, the meat of the fish holding up surprisingly well under the attack of the bright and feisty sauce.

Less successful was roast duck and goat cheese pizza with Hoi Sin sauce (£7) and steamed turkey breast in a tart mint sauce (£6). Duck and goats cheese can work well together as Destino – another restaurant that promotes grazing, now I come to think of it – has ably demonstrated. However, there’s a lack of depth to the flavours here and, while pleasant enough, it feels a like fusion too far. The turkey was just a little boring – let’s face it, it usually is – and the sauce simply overpowered the meat.

Desserts – never a strong point in Chinese or even Chinese-influenced places – were a very pleasant surprise though and, again, good value at £4 a pop. Choco-nut dumplings – despite the “kids menu” name – were great, little chewy sesame-coated balls of dough that delivered a satisfying chocolate hit with a pleasing savoury edge. Crackly Chinese milk custard seemed bland initially but ended up as stupidly addictive, the soft filling and crunchy outside combining to comforting effect. Both paled into insignificance against the caramelised strawberry fritters though. These weren’t, as you might imagine, strawberries minced and moulded into patties and ruined by a coating of flabby batter. Instead, they’re the most perfect deep red strawbs you can imagine coated perfectly in sugar, to form a hard caramelized shell. As you bite in, the coating cracks, the strawberry yields between your teeth and the tongue gets the sweetness of the fruit and the bitter edge of the caramel in one eye-rolling hit. Simple pudding perfection and a fine reason to visit OQO. A final bill of around £55 - including a couple of glasses of decent house white – is another.