Chinese

A View to Kill For: A Chinese Soirée at Hutong

Copyright of Hutong. Sourced from Hutong website

Copyright of Hutong. Sourced from Hutong website

Cuisine: Chinese

Address: Level 33, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, SE1 9RY

Area: London Bridge

Nearest Station: London Bridge

Tel.: 020 7478 0540

Website: http://www.aquahutong.co.uk/

Pricing: High

Good For: Views to die for, Atmospheric soirée, Feasting with friends, Place for romance, Smart-casual dining, Efficient service

I can’t quite remember the circumstances under which it happened, but at some point during my birthday drinks I was assigned the task of booking a table at Hutong for my group of friends. We were all given such tasks during a fit of merry proactivity; it was universally decided that Hutong would come first. Hardly fair for the birthday boy, I thought, considering I had just organised a killer night at Little Nan’s Bar (still riding that train).

Since this evening was my baby as well as the first event of what I guess we can now call our Dinner Club, I was a bit nervous as to whether Hutong could deliver the quality experience we were hoping for – after all, some of the reviews I’d read decried the prices charged for mediocre food, along with the ridiculous waiting time to make a reservation (I found that around about 5pm seemed to be the best time to call their reservation hotline). Additionally, if any of the other twelve Dinner Club members flaked out at the last minute, it would have left me being charged £20 per head for their absence, and I’m not sure I really am that generous.

Naturally, such mishaps would have left me feeling just a bit embarrassed, something my friends probably would have constantly reminded me of, because they’re nice like that.

I needn’t have worried. From the moment we arrived, just in time for sunset, we had a great evening. Firstly, you are most definitely paying for the setting: there are some outstanding views across the City, made more exciting by the new generation of skyscrapers rising up in the Bishopsgate/Gracechurch areas. Being up on the 33rd floor certainly offers a different perspective on how London looks – and having our own private room in the northwest corner certainly helped.

Sunset over London

Sunset over London

Staring down my nose at those in the City. Ha!

Staring down my nose at those in the City. Ha!

This enjoyment was further enhanced by the staff, who were very unobtrusive in letting us chat and mingle as we admired the views and waited for everyone to arrive – quite a nice and delicate touch.

Blazing orange over London

Blazing orange over London

Once we were all settled, it was decided that as the token ‘Chinese’ person in the group, my friend (check out her blog here, it’s rather lovely) would do the ordering for us. She was suitably helped by our waiter, who advised fairly accurately how much we would need to feed a whole table of 13 – we hit the mark of satisfied-but-not-stuffed pretty well.

And so the cavalcade of food began, each dish arriving in very quick succession, ensuring that our table – and our stomachs – was never empty.

We had quite a range of dishes – the benefits of being a large group and able to order huge amounts – that included pork dumplings (a suitable start to the night), Chinkiang pork ribs (succulent and extremely tasty), crispy de-boned lamb ribs (could not get enough of this) and Sichuan chilli chicken (these were an astonishing savoury delight), amongst many others.

Duck sliced at the table, as it should be

Duck sliced at the table, as it should be

One highlight of the evening was of course Peking duck. Carved at the table, as it should be, the duck that gave its life for us tonight blessed us with superbly crispy skin and such delicious and soft fat – the least you’d expect for £58 a duck. The second serving of the duck, once we were done with the skin, was stir-fried mince with onions and spices, a wonderful thing to mix in with plain rice. We all hankered after the duck, but alas one duck just about squeezes out enough meat for 13 people. Would it have been extravagant for us to order one more? Maybe. But it would have been tasteful extravagance, I think.

Spotlight on the night's champion

Spotlight on the night’s champion

Another highlight was the signature Red Lantern – a basket full of Sichuan dried chillis, Sichuan peppercorns, and crispy-fried soft shell crab. Aesthetically, it is very eye-catching, all reds and golds mixed together very auspiciously. Gastronomically, the crab was all perfect crunchiness and flavour, and the mix of the numbing peppercorns with the fieriness of the chillis was just about right. Again, it was a tight squeeze for nearly all of us (nearly – one of us has an unfortunately fatal relationship with shellfish) to get some crab.

Auspicious golds and red

Auspicious golds and red

Well-satisfied with what we ordered, we were rather pleased that there was space for dessert: crispy red bean cake (earthy sweetness in lightly crunchy pastry sheets), sticky sesame balls (gooey and not too sweet) and the cutest sweet thing I have seen yet this year: hedgehog-inspired steamed custard buns.

Edible pygmy hedgehogs - living the dream!!

Edible pygmy hedgehogs – living the dream!!

We’d been talking earlier about having pygmy hedgehogs frolicking in my garden (a serious and mature conversation, I assure you), so to have a tray of custard buns arrayed before us, with hedgehog spikiness and little black eyes was good fun. I’m still unsure as to whether it’s pure coincidence or whether they overheard our conversation (if so, for their reaction to involve hedgehog desserts as opposed to slowly walking away is a credit to them), but it filled us with endless delight. It also gave us the opportunity to play with our food. Eeeee!

Hungry hungry hedgehog

Hungry hungry hedgehog

All in all, it was a very pleasant and leisurely evening: a perfect setting, unobtrusive but helpful service and well-presented and flavourful food – the inaugural night of our Dinner Club had been quite the enjoyable success.

St Paul's in light and shadow

St Paul’s in light and shadow

And the best part? Our wallets were spared a massive hit. Sure, you could get just as filling and delightful a meal elsewhere for cheaper, but you wouldn’t have the service, view or the setting. At about £39 per head (sans alcohol, mind), we were able to enjoy all that as well as treat ourselves to a veritable feast, with space to order more if we wanted without seeming extravagant (still could have done with another Peking duck though). It certainly pays to have lots of friends to share food and bills with – as they say, a burden shared is a burden halved.

VERDICT – A good place. Overall, a memorable and enjoyable experience. You could go for the setting alone and be satisfied, but thankfully the food and service were also up to scratch. I’ve always readily enjoyed Chinese food as a banquet for many, and I would heartily recommend that you go to Hutong for the same. Though I’m sure as a romantic setting for your significant other, it would also be very impressive, you big spender you…

Currently listening to: Our Lady Peace – All My Friends

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I want to break free: On the highway out of Canary Wharf to Noodle Street

Copyright of Noodle Street. Sourced from Noodle Street website

Copyright of Noodle Street. Sourced from Noodle Street website

Cuisine: Chinese

Address: 15-17 Pennyfields, E14 8HP

Area: West India Quay

Nearest Station: Westferry

Tel.: 020 7987 8688

Website: http://www.noodlestreet.co.uk/

Pricing: Cheap

Good For: Lunchtime fix, Filling meal, Cheap and cheerful, Smart-casual dining, Takeaway

It’s been over a month since I was placed with my client in Canary Wharf.

I find it an absolutely fascinating place, evoking as it does for me a real feel of Central in Hong Kong – the shopping malls, the high-end stores, the skyscrapers, the bankers… but alas, I have found it lacking in good options for Asian, and particularly Chinese, food.

For East Asian options, yes, there is a Royal China, and yes there is a floating restaurant somewhere, and yes there is Itsu, but there is also Wasabi (OH MY GOD WHY DOES THAT PLACE EXIST!?). And as far as I can determine, there is nothing else on the Canary Wharf estate that offers a quick, cheap and cheerful Chinese meal.

This proved rather problematic the other day, when I was struck by an almighty craving for char siu fan at lunchtime. Okay, problematic is an understatement – it was seriously bad. It was an itch that needed scratching, but it was seven long hours before I was able to stumble into one of the Chinese takeaways in New Cross and order some char siu; I think I got a momentary glimpse into the life of a crack addict.

Will someone put this poor sod out of his misery?

Will someone put this poor sod out of his misery?

The next day, I was pointed in the direction of one of the other business analysts who told me about a small place, called Noodle Street, that she quite rated some distance away from the office (‘some distance away’ as in “difficult to squeeze into a short lunch”). Hmm. I had some conflicting thoughts here: a) I had heard her rating Pizza Express as offering some of the best pizzas she’d ever had (I’m such a snob, right?), b) Noodle Street made it sound a bit generic and potentially like a bland pan-Asian restaurant, c) it could be just some cheap and tacky takeaway, and d) was their char siu any good?

It could do, but it did not seem to be the most promising of solutions.

Nevertheless, since last Friday was rather quiet, I decided to take my full lunch hour (and maybe a few minutes more…! Naughty me) and make the trek to check this place out. I hopped on the DLR at Canary Wharf and within minutes I was stepping off at Westferry, moments away from Noodle Street. “Not such a bad journey”, I thought to myself. “Maybe I won’t just get a takeaway – maybe I’ll have a sit down”.

And it’s a decent place for a sit down – cool interiors framed by sleek, clean and modern lines and a green colour code, with pretty awesome-looking bamboo holders for the chopsticks.

I'll just grow my own bamboo, okay? Sourced from Noodle Street website

I’ll just grow my own bamboo, okay? Sourced from Noodle Street website

I then browsed the menu – it was mostly Chinese (with some pan-Asian flourishes), and had some rather surprising entries: turnip cake, xiao long bao, grilled char siu bao, scallop siu mai, and sago pudding for dessert. And look! There it is! Char siu fan! Okay, this wasn’t just some cheap and tacky takeaway with a standard menu; there seemed to be some thought that had gone into this place. This was starting to look promising…

“But”, I hear you say, “crack on it with mate, how was the char siu fan??” Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but I did not have any. Instead, I was tempted away by the salt and pepper pork chops with egg fried rice, as I had a fleeting vision of a similar dish that I had in Café de Coral back in Hong Kong some years back.

Salt and pepper pork chops with egg fried rice. So meaty.So eggy. So... ricey?

Salt and pepper pork chops with egg fried rice. So meaty.So eggy. So… ricey?

And I think I chose well. The egg fried rice was not greasy at all and had not been over-fried, allowing the rice to retain its fluffiness. The broccoli again was allowed to retain some of its natural crunchy characteristic and was not over-cooked.

And as for the pork: wow. It was amazingly flavourful, with a wonderful balance of the salt and the pepper, enhanced by sweet and spicy garlic-spring onion-chilli mix in which the pork had been fried. The meat itself was tender enough to be cut into by my spoon, and there was more than enough of it on the plate. For £6.80, it was a fairly sizeable portion with all the components in good proportions to each other.

What more can I say about this dish? It is full of comfort, flavour and happiness and evokes memories of Hong Kong. I am salivating just thinking about it. I need to go back, even if just for that dish. And having completed the 10-15 minute walk back, it is definitely doable in a normal lunch hour.

It's really not that far away from Banker-Land

It’s really not that far away from Banker Land

But of course, the original reason why I went there was for the char siu fan. Let’s hope that Noodle Street can similarly deliver on that dish too. And then I can move on to the beef ho fun, and then the dim sum… the temptations just keep on coming.

VERDICT – I may have been only once, and I may be lionising this place purely based on its local context and not the wider scene of Chinese food in London, but I don’t care. It provided an absolutely scrumptious meal, quick service, relief from the scorching sun, and most importantly of all, a fantastic alternative to the chains of Canary Wharf (j’accuse, Wasabi, j’accuse!). I will most definitely be going back for that char siu fan

Currently listening to: Coheed and Cambria – Number City

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Dining out in the Mighty Kong: Part Three

Boy Mestizo’s food adventures in Hong Kong… continued

 

No trip to Hong Kong is complete without a trip down Memory Lane. Memory Lane, in this instance, being the Hong Kong Golf Club. Now I was one of those lucky kids who had a father who’d become a member of this most prestigious and exclusive club all the way back in the 1970s, when it considerably easier to get in – this granted me junior membership.

And so, as a junior golfer, I was able to partake of the fine food delights at the Deep Water Bay branch of the HKGC. Many lunchtimes were spent either eating Yeung Chow fried rice or Singapore Noodles to my heart’s content – the waiters knew me as the kid that ate every single last bit on the plate.

I can still do that, but I struggle a bit more these days. I must have been a real, hungry, fat kid when I was younger… but I had such happy memories!

 

Hong Kong Golf Club

19 Island Road, Deep Water Bay, +852 2812 7070, http://www.hkgolfclub.org/dining.php?s=5&ss=502

I maintain that the Singapore Noodles and the Yeung Chow fried rice at the HKGC are the best I’ve ever had in Hong Kong, and are a definite must every time I’m back in town. But why?

They are such simple dishes, but it is surprisingly easy to get them so, so wrong. Over-use of salt and cheap ingredients in a really greasy rice dish, and under-powered spices and very patchy use of ingredients in an oily mess of noodles… I can see why many treat Yeung Chow fried rice as a periphery dish, and why many Singaporeans dismiss Singapore Noodles as a Western mockery of Chinese food (it isn’t – I think it’s a Cantonese take on what they think Singapore Chinese food should taste like).

Yeung Chow fried rice - the taste of a happy childhood

Yeung Chow fried rice – the taste of a happy childhood

Singapore Noodles - not authentically Singaporean, but still gosh darn wonderful

Singapore Noodles – not authentically Singaporean, but still gosh darn wonderful

But the HKGC know how to make these into fine, showpiece dishes. They are flavourful and well-balanced – the mix of the slightly-sweet char siu pork in the fried rice with the fresh sea flavours of the prawns along with the smoothness of the scrambled eggs; and in the Singapore Noodles, we have the fieriness of the chilli mixing with the saltiness of the soy sauce, the earthiness of the curry powder and the turmeric, with the freshness of the coriander. Again, it’s not rocket science to make these things, but when everything comes together right… damn it, I’m craving some right now.

 

New Baccarat Seafood Restaurant

9A G/F Pak She Praya Road, Cheung Chau, +852 2981 0606

Another trip down Memory Lane was a visit with my father to Cheung Chau. One of the smaller of the outlying islands (and apparently one of the oldest inhabited places in Hong Kong), Cheung Chau is known for its seafood and its geriatric population. If Lamma is filled with expats and hippies, Cheung Chau is filled with care homes (not that the elderly there exactly need caring for – they are probably fitter than you are).

The last time I was in Cheung Chau was on a school trip to one of the holiday camps there, sometime back in the 1990s. I only have vague memories of it, but from what I saw on this trip here chimed very much with what I remember. This is rural Hong Kong, and it has hardly changed. In a city that changes by the year, I’m sure it must be refreshing to find somewhere that still harks back to the past and to tradition – speaking of tradition, I’m still yet to go to the annual Bun Festival, which features brave young men climbing up bun mountains to win a prize, in a sort of commemoration of the gods Pak Tai and Tin Hau.

An interesting aspect of the Bun Festival is that the entire island goes vegetarian for the duration, something even the numerous seafood restaurants adhere to. Since it wasn’t the Bun Festival, I managed to fill my net (belly) with a good selection of seafood at the New Baccarat Seafood Restaurant (thanks to Tamarind and Thyme for the recommendation).

Squidilicious

Squidilicious

Back in Lantau, we always ate salt and pepper deep-fried squid, and so naturally this had to be one of the options that we ordered. It was so crisp and crunchy and yet filled with such juicy and succulent squid, it was an absolute delight. And despite being deep-fried, it most definitely did not feel like there was a lot of grease in there. So, it was rather healthy (!).

And speaking of health, nothing fills me with more well-being and joy than a plate of Chinese greens stir-fried with garlic. We had pak choi in this instance, and there was still enough bite to give this some real substance.

From boat to plate

From boat to plate

Remember the steamed scallops we had in Lamma? I was so taken by them, and I had told my father about them so much, that we just had to order them. Again, tender and juicy scallops swimming amongst sweet minced garlic and ginger, topped off with fresh spring onions and oily vermicelli noodles… how could you say no? There you are, by the sea, with the fresh catches of the day… and you don’t go for the scallops? If you ever went to Cheung Chau on a day-trip and ended up in the McDonald’s there, I would hunt you down and try to slap some sense into you.

 

Tin Yin Dessert

G/F, 9 Tai Hing Tai Road, Cheung Chau

We’d passed this tiny little café on our lengthy stroll around Cheung Chau; the colourful pictures of all of their dishes strewn around the walls were just screaming for our attention. And so, after eyeing them up, we made a mental note to come back here for dessert.

A veritable multitude of desserts

A veritable multitude of desserts


That plan was very nearly scuppered by the feast we had at New Baccarat; but as you do in difficult situations, you must soldier on. My stomach could recover when it was back in the UK.

Absolutely appetising views

Absolutely appetising views

My father went for the ‘safe’ option of taho (dau fu fa), as something he was eminently familiar with; I opted for a classic dish that often receives strange looks because it looks like black soupy charcoal-sand – black sesame soup. Both are substantial yet light desserts that impart a more natural sweetness than, say, a chocolate brownie or a cheesecake, and that’s what I love about a lot of Asian desserts.

So I always find it disappointing when Chinese restaurants back in the UK limit themselves to ice cream or banana/pineapple fritters – it disregards the whole wealth of dessert options that are available. And yes, the tastes, textures and looks may be unfamiliar to the Western palate, but all it takes is a bit of education.

And speaking of education, ever wanted to learn how to dry fish and other seafood?

Just hangin' out, just dryin' out

Just hangin’ out, just dryin’ out

 

Random bits and bobs

Check out these lovely char siu bao from Cheung Chau. We were just idly walking along the street when a giant steamer was brought out of a pokey kitchen, and whipped the lid off to reveal several fluffy white gems. This was a sight to see in itself, but our interest was only stoked further by the queue of people that formed up to buy them, fresh out of the steamer. You could say we were peer-pressured into having some.

Bao, bao and more bao

Bao, bao and more bao

These were really light and fluffy, and the char siu was tender and tasty, but I think the buns were a bit sweeter than I usually like them.

Fare thee well, oh dumplings

Fare thee well, oh dumplings

Here are some Taiwanese dumplings that I had as my last taste of dim sum dumplings. They were rather doughy and thick-skinned, but the filling was delicious all the same. When washed down with some Hong Kong milk tea, it was a fond farewell to dim sum.

Char siu fan - as satisfying as a mother's hug

Char siu fan – as satisfying as a mother’s hug

And now for my last meal in Hong Kong: char siu fan (starting to see a theme here?), or barbecue pork and rice, from Café de Coral (airport branch). Char siu fan is a classic Hong Kong dish, and there is no way I would have any other last meal in Hong Kong if I could help it. Café de Coral’s version is by no means a gourmet meal, and the pork they use tends to be on the fattier side, but for the price you pay and for the absolute deliciousness that you get? It is a meal of champions.

 
And with that, my food tour of Hong Kong is complete. Go there with an empty stomach, and come away fed like a king.

Until the next time, Hong Kong!

 
Currently listening to: Funeral for a Friend – Storytelling

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Dining out in the Mighty Kong: Part Two

Boy Mestizo’s food adventures in Hong Kong… continued

 

It was a rather cool morning; the sun had disappeared behind the mist and the clouds, and a breeze was skipping its way across the waves. I leant against the rails on the pier, staring moodily across the harbour and taking in the ferry making its way over to me. My ferry. Our ferry. Except my friends were late. This was looking like a good start to the week…

I tend to forget that I grew up by the sea, and frequently spent much of my time on it, be it on the Star Ferry wending its way from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui, on the boat over to Mui Wo on Lantau Island every Easter, on junk trips around the islands, or on the catamaran to Macau. Hong Kong is surrounded and shaped by the sea, and it informs the food. This isn’t often something that I feel is really communicated across to the average English diner by your average Chinese restaurant here (chances are it would be Cantonese); the average person instinctively thinks of things like sweet and sour pork, fried rice, stir-fried noodles and crispy aromatic duck, long before they think of things that came out of the sea.

So it was refreshing to head on over to Sok Kwu Wan on Lamma Island, a destination long known for its seafood restaurants, not just amongst the expats who would end their junk trips there, but also amongst locals. There is still an active fishing fleet here and several fish farms, which gives Sok Kwu Wan the double charm of not only having fresh seafood, but also of being a slice of old, rural Hong Kong. And so it is that we take a look at some food…

 

Rainbow Seafood Restaurant

23-25 First Street, Sok Kwu Wan, Lamma Island, +852 2982 8100, http://www.rainbowrest.com.hk/eng/attractions.asp

I remember visiting here when I was younger, but back when I was an ickle sprite, I was not as appreciative of seafood as I am now. But still, there are lines I won’t cross, and one of those lines is sea snails. My friends were very ecstatic about them, and chose the set menu primarily because of the sea snails…. but oh no! You didn’t catch any today? You’re going to replace the dish with clams in black bean sauce?? What a shame…!

He was just all clammed up about this dish

He was just all clammed up about this dish

This was a good, classic dish, with safe and familiar flavours. As clam shells are not particularly edible, it was disappointing that we therefore had more shell than meat. Thinking of which, those shells would have made for good decorations around the flat, say, maybe for a summer beach party. Hmm…

King of the prawns, king of the table

King of the prawns, king of the table

I did very much enjoy the king prawns fried with garlic and chilli, and served with crispy rice cracker bits. Wonderfully savoury, these prawns packed a good amount of juicy flesh, and eating the diced garlic with the crispy rice cracker was a tasty way to pass the time until the next dish.

Beauty in simplicity

Beauty in simplicity

And what a dish this next item was: steamed scallops served with oily minced garlic and ginger, spring onions and rice vermicelli noodles. Oh my. OH MY. Succulent, tender pieces of scallops flavoured with the sweetness of the garlic and the bite of the spring onions, all wrapped up in the yummy oily noodles. This was the showpiece of our meal, as it stunned us with its flavours and its simplicity.

Not your average sweet and sour dish

Not your average sweet and sour dish

Less simply-constructed was a good ol’ hefty fish deep-fried in a light batter and served with sweet and sour sauce. Now, this sauce was not an overly-sweet, gooey concoction packed with sugar and whatnot else; it was actually really refreshing and more-ish. And when poured all over pieces of fish that have been fried in such fluffy and light batter that did not even hint at greasiness, you’ve got a winning dish.

I always imagine these guys to be quite cuddly

I always imagine these guys to be quite cuddly

Oh, and this is another line I’m not so keen on crossing. It’s not because I find cuttlefish cute (look how bulbous they are! Cuuuute eh), but because, well, I just don’t particularly like the taste.

 

Guangdong Barbecue Restaurant

43 Hankow Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, +852 2735 5151

Ah, the Symphony of Lights. Such a corny piece of touristy nonsense if ever I saw one. Victoria Harbour and the Hong Kong are already pretty impressive enough, without a laser show shooting off in time to some cheesy arrangement and faux-American voiceovers. Still, it is something that has to be seen, if only to show the Shard how a laser show should be done.

Lasers shooting off all over the place

Lasers shooting off all over the place

Anyway, we were chilled and hungry, and in search of a quick, cheap fix. And so it was, stumbling around the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui weighing up our options, we chanced upon Guangdong Barbecue Restaurant. Roasted duck and pieces of glazed pork belly hung in the windows, beckoning us in with their “ooh so shiny” allure – it was time for siu mei.

Alas, our sails had some of the wind taken out of them when we quickly realised that Guangdong Barbecue has both a Chinese and an English menu, the latter of which was much shorter than the former. Boo hiss!

I have a feeling that we were also charged higher prices because we ordered in English, which took away a bit from our enjoyment of this meal.

I broke with tradition, and instead of getting the usual char siu fan, I opted instead for the crispy roasted pork belly. Even with just three component parts – roast pork, steamed rice, sautéed choi sum – it is a visually-arresting dish with such vibrant and enticing colours. Alas, the cut of pork belly that they used was rather bony, so I did spend a fair bit of time chewing around the ribs.

Meat, veg and rice - get in my son!

Meat, veg and rice – get in my son!

It was a good meal, but to be honest, you could do better elsewhere.

 

Din Tai Fung

Shop 130, 3/F Silvercord, 30 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, +852 2730 6928, http://www.dintaifung.com.hk/

Ah, another Michelin-starred dim sum restaurant – how glamorous this trip is turning out to be! Din Tai Fung is a chain that emerged in Taiwan, and has carved itself a reputation as being a purveyor of fine, fine, fine xiao long bao, the Shanghainese soup dumplings.

So even though I was destined somewhere else for dinner that night, since I was in the area I knew that I just had to try some – after all, I was determined to get my full dim sum fix this trip. And my friends, before they left to go back to Manila, had prattled on about this continuously.

Having arrived at 4pm, laden with shopping, I was quickly ushered into the near-empty restaurant and to a table by the window. I was the only solo table there – every other table was filled with the remnants of the lunchtime crowd and some ladies having afternoon snacks. Yes, dim sum is best had in a group and shared, but by God I needed this fix baaad. Just one more hit, please!

Bopping with my baos

Bopping with my baos

My first choice was of course the classic xiao long bao. I was extremely tempted to get the black truffle version, but rather foolishly I convinced myself that I’d be able to come back this trip and have some (spoiler alert: I never made it back). But no worries – it was a good choice.

Subtext: if you scald yourself with burning hot broth, YOU ARE AN IDIOT

Subtext: if you scald yourself with burning hot broth, YOU ARE AN IDIOT

Following the helpful instruction card, I prepared my dipping sauce, took up my first dumpling, pierced the skin, added the ginger and consumed. And wow, it was luscious. The skin was not too chewy, the broth was rich and warming, and the filling tender and juicy. Overall, it was a delicious experience; I did my best not to just wolf them all down.

Perfectly-shaped, perfectly tasty

Perfectly-shaped, perfectly tasty

I also had a chance to try their siu mai – and these were rather special ones. With nice chunky prawns in them, there was a great texture and fresh taste to these, infinitely better than any I’ve had in London, and perhaps even better than the ones at Tim Ho Wan. And, rather surprisingly, like Din Tai Fung’s xiao long bao, they were filled with a savoury broth. It was a good thing it squirted away from me when I chowed down on one!

And, since I am a sucker for taho (or, as it is known in Cantonese, dau fu fa), I could not resist getting the almond silky tofu pudding. Very smooth, almost cream-like – and almost like a smiley face J

Smile!

Smile!

 

Currently listening to: Finch – Letters to You

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Find the Jade Door: Chilling out in Opium Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour

Copyright of Opium. Sourced from Opium website

Copyright of Opium. Sourced from Opium website

Cuisine: Cocktail bar

Address: 15-16 Gerrard Street

Area: Chinatown

Nearest Station: Leicester Square/Piccadilly Circus

Tel.: 020 7734 7276

Website: http://opiumchinatown.com/

Pricing: High

Good For: Showpiece cocktails, Good cocktails, Friendly conversation, Place for romance, Chic night

“Am having a drink in an opium den”. Not the sort of thing that my mum was expecting when she texted me, asking me to call her regarding Easter Sunday plans the next day… but, well, it was the truth. Sort of.

My friend and I were feeling on a bit of a roll after having dined out in Flat Iron: the night was still young, there was still a lot to catch up on, we weren’t drunk yet… we needed a suitable venue in which to continue the evening’s pleasantries.

And so, upon her recommendation, we decided to check out Opium Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour. It’s located up some stairs behind a plain jade door on Gerrard Street, right in the middle of Chinatown, so I’m sure the various tourists milling around were somewhat bemused to see us meet-and-greeted by the imposing bouncer, and then let into a secret and exclusive world of Chinoiserie and Orientalism.

As befitting a den of iniquity (the dim sum’s influence, obviously), the lighting was dim and moody, but the décor was cleanly presented and well-executed, giving a real ambience of fun Eastern ‘exotica’.

Sourced from Opium website. I felt too shy to take photos when I was there *blushes*

Sourced from Opium website. I felt too shy to take photos when I was there *blushes*

We had some seats by the bar in the Apothecary, facing the mystery bottles lined up along the back, distinguished by the Chinese numbers adorning them. Sitting at the bar afforded us great views of the show that the mixologists were putting on. So, what did we have to drink?

She had the Year of the Snakebite & Blackcurrant, which was rather sweet, masking the potency of the alcohol. With the lemon sorbet whisked in, there was a lovely smoothness to it. Alongside that, I had the Flying Firecracker, a refreshing and slightly tart concoction that came with complimentary gunpowder balls. “What do we do with these?” I asked, wondering whether we really were allowed to throw them around with reckless abandon. The barman proceeded to show us that, yes, we could just lob these around – his fellow barstaff, the waitresses, even some other customers, were victims to the little pop these balls made. Now if only it were a free flow service…

A witch's cauldron of cocktail goodness. Sourced from www.whattickles.com

A witch’s cauldron of cocktail goodness. No way my camera phone will take as good a photo as this. Sourced from whattickles.com

Later on, after having watched several being made and being extremely intrigued, I succumbed to the pressure and had the Opium Cocktail No. 2 as, well, my number two cocktail. This came in a little, smoking cauldron and was accompanied by a tiny bottle of ginseng which would act as a chaser. It was a fascinating sight to see it placed before me, and my friend and I ooh-ed and ahh-ed as we explored every aspect of it. Alas, they did not have guava jam at the time, but I was assured that the next time I came here, I could use it to offset the bitterness of the ginseng chaser.

Overall, it was good evening of convivial conversation and fun drinks in a rather relaxed and cool setting. We even got to try the crab and samphire dumplings (very tasty, slightly unusual because of the samphire, but you can get cheaper and just as good elsewhere), just so that we could say that we came to Opium and did BOTH cocktails and dim sum.

Cocktails and dim sum… it is a winning combination.

VERDICT – Highly recommended. As I was discussing with someone else recently, it is a bit hard to find a relaxed yet cool place where you can go for really good and interesting cocktails and not be drowned out by the loud music or other groups. The staff here were all really chatty and quite clearly enjoyed what they were doing. When you’ve got all those ingredients thrown into the mix, how can you not enjoy yourself?

Currently listening to: Coheed and Cambria – Key Entity Extraction III: Vic the Butcher

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