Archive for the ‘Chinese’ Category

A sign of the times ?

I read with interest this week that Chinese food has overtaken Indian as the nation’s favourite food. The tikka massala has been overtaken by sweet and sour pork. I did think it a slightly odd story at first, other than for the fairly obvious reason that it gives the press another opportunity to beat up our traditional English dishes (more’s the pity). But I thought a little more about why this may be the case and concluded that it’s actually a very good reflection of trends in British society.

We are eating out more than we ever have and we are getting take-aways and home delivery more than ever. Despite the growth in bistro-style restaurants – and those awful Slug-and-Piano fry-fests – it is no surprise that people prefer to eat Chinese (or indeed Indian) when they go out for something to eat. As the article I read states, they are still viewed as “exotic” despite being also classed as English. Never thought of the English as particularly exotic, but there you go. Then you consider take-aways and the point gets real focus. No matter where you live, think about the take-away menus sat in your end draw of the kitchen. Let me guess – chances are you’ll have at least three pizza menus, a couple of Indian maybe and almost certainly one or two Chinese menus. Traditional English ? Bistro ? Unlikely.

I think it’s a real shame that you can’t get great quality “non-exotic” food delivered to your door, not because it skews the stats for spurious articles such as those quoted above, but simply because I would love to showcase good quality, simple English fayre right in people’s homes. May even encourage them to have a go themselves…

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Knights of the (Chinese) Round Table

Had a quality night this week out for dinner with the Board. I was grateful to be asked to suggest where to go, not because I don’t trust my assistant, but because it was only when I found out on the day we were supposed to be going out that nowhere was booked that I just felt I had to take control. OK, maybe I don’t trust my assistant.

I was trying to think of somewhere where we could talk freely and openly, since I knew there’d be lots of work talk, the Board meeting having been only hours earlier. I also didn’t want somewhere crazy expensive (the CFO was with us), so I settled on getting a private room in one of the best Chinese restaurants in the City. Imperial City (http://www.orientalrestaurantgroup.co.uk/) nestles underneath the Royal Exchange, a few doors down from Hermes. It’s deceptively large, given it’s basically underground, but the decor is tasteful, tables are large and well spaced out and plenty of waiting staff on hand to dish out the prawn crackers.

Our private room was large also, with one huge round table at the end, our own mini-bar etc and the customary spinny-thing in the middle. I always worry a bit with private rooms that you can hear a pin drop and you don’t get the atmosphere of the main restaurant. Certainly, that’s the case in the likes of 1 Lombard or Quaglinos, at least in my experience. Not so with Imperial City, partly because we made our own atmosphere (!!) and partly because it was so close to the main restaurant that you didn’t feel shut out.

I’d eaten at Imperial City several times before, but quite a long time ago, so had forgotten just how good the food is. The plum sauce with the shredded duck was clearly not out of a bottle with fresh and vibrant flavours mixing perfectly with the tender duck. The various main courses, both fish and meat, were excellent if a little obvious. I would particularly recommend the steak with cracked black pepper and lemon grass and the steamed scallops with chilli. Wine was a rather lively Rioja – perfect. If I had to level any criticism at all it would be that the mixed vegetables were a bit heavy on the MSG. I could still taste it the day after, but doesn’t really detract from what was an excellent display of quality Chinese cuisine.

Home comforts, Chinese-style

I arrived back in the UK feeling rather jaded, having slept a maximum of 3 hours on the plane, and probably not helped by the Sam Adams I consumed beforehand. It was great to be back with Fi and the girls but, come the evening, I was seriously craving comfort food.

We’ve only had Chinese takeaways from one place for what seems like forever. It’s not an authentic China-town experience, but then that’s not what I look for when I’m eating Chinese at home. I want comfort food, Chinese-style and that’s precisely what The Summer Palace (http://www.thesummerpalace.co.uk/) give you.

Their spring rolls, aside from being as big as my arm, are absolutely amazing. I’m sure they can’t come from the local cash-and-carry since their ingredients taste really fresh. Chicken in chilli oyster sauce, with Indonesian rice, is fantastic too. Salt and chilli ribs have loads of real, fresh chilli and garlic and you find yourself going back, just for one more. Sure, there’s more than a hint of MSG going on in there but frankly, I don’t care when I order from the Summer Palace. What’s also nice about TSP is, as well as being great at cooking food from their home country (China) they also excel at food from the region : Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand all feature on their menu. It’s like Far Flung Floyd in a takeaway.

Postscript: when I was on the phone to them last night, they told me I can place my order online now. My challenge in this blog now is to find a restaurant that doesn’t have a website. A tough call I reckon, and a real sign of the times.