Thursday, 29 October 2009

Review: YMing (Chinese), London

Where did all the Chinese go ?

YMing is a strange old place, despite having bilingual menus and being within shouting distance of Chinatown, it attracts few Chinese diners. For some that's a bad sign as received wisdom has it that the authenticity and quality of food in a Chinese restaurant is directly proportional to the number of Chinese diners. So I was intrigued to put this theory to the test when I caught up with Mr Wine for dinner. He's not really called Mr Wine but one of my friends suggested that I give my regular dining companions, a nom de blog.

YMing has a great location in the heart of Soho on a brightly lit corner of Greek St and Romilly St. Both the exterior and interior is classy and its understated design reminds me of Hunan in Belgravia. The menu claims to consist of 'traditional Chinese cuisine from the Northern provinces of China' but in reality the offerings are a mix of dishes from all over China, some Anglo-Chinese dishes and a few of their own creations.

The first starter to arrive was phoenix tail (£6.50) – king prawns wrapped in bacon. This was a bit of a surprise as we had ordered prawn rolls with almond flakes (£7.00). It was a cock-up but we were too hungry and a bit 'too-British' to care. There's not a lot I can say about prawns and bacon so let's move swiftly on.

The other starter was spare ribs with cumin – Beijing style (£7.00); fried ribs tossed in a mix of pepper, garlic, chilli and cumin seeds. Ribs can be boring but these were incredibly moreish with the cumin lifting it to another level.

The mains are pictured above; clockwise from top left sautéed flavoured chicken supreme (£9.80), Gansu duck (£9.50), and dry cooked beans (£7.00).

Of these, our favourite was the chicken as it was deeply infused with the taste of the dry tangerine peel (guo pei), a common ingredient in Cantonese home cooking. I initially thought that the duck was a bit bland but as Mr Wine pointed out, the subtle anise notes of this dish were overpowered by the strong Sichuan flavours of the dry cooked beans.

The beans were a faithful rendition of the Sichuan classic and Mr Wine's observation that a more neutral stir fried vegetable like pak choi would have been a better choice was spot on. I learnt a valuable lesson, order for the table not for the blog. I only chose the beans to see whether they were authentic or not.

The food was above average - in particular the ribs and the chicken - but there was no outstanding dish. The portions were also a bit on the small size but with the help of steamed rice we were full. Service was excellent and I think this is the only Chinese restaurant where I've seen tablecloth scrapers deployed.

The bill clocked in at £70 for two including service and a decent bottle of Alsatian Pinot Blanc (£20) – a good choice by Mr Wine - expensive compared to Gerrard St but more than reasonable compared to other eateries in this part of Soho.

So why does YMing fail to attract the Chinese ? I think it's because its menu is not defined by a single cuisine or theme. This is in contrast to nearby places like Bar Shu and Ba Shan which focus on Sichuan food and xiao chi (little eats) respectively. Moreover, there's no dim sum to draw in the Cantonese and perhaps its subtle charms are lost on those who like renao (a Chinese word similar in meaning to the Irish 'craic').

But in my opinion the lack of Chinese diners doesn't make YMing a bad restaurant. There is undoubtedly superior Chinese food in the capital but in terms of comfort and service, it's hard to beat. One last thought, just consider how easy it would be to take the piss out of assorted theatre-goers and tourists in this corner of Soho - the fact that this classy restaurant doesn't is to its credit.

Verdict: YMing might not be amongst my top choices for Chinese food in the capital but I wouldn't turn down an invite to this elegant Soho restaurant.

Other Stuff: A bargain three-course set meal is offered at £10/head (min 2 persons) between 12noon-6pm and after 10pm – ideal for lunch, pre-theatre and post-theatre.

Yming on Urbanspoon

Monday, 26 October 2009

Almond Cakes

Whilst traipsing around Chinatown doing a bit of food shopping, I came across a packet of 'hang hen beng' or almond cakes (although they're actually biscuits). I try not to eat too much sweet stuff nowadays as I have to make some sacrifices for my six-pack but I couldn't resist popping these in the shopping basket.

I'd love to say that these were a childhood favourite but truth be told McVities were more common in the Noodles household. Although that's not to say we didn't have the occasional treat of Chinese cakes and biscuits when I was little. My favourite was sachima but I do remember almond cakes with their crumbly texture and fragrant nutty flavour.

I couldn't wait to rip open the packaging when I got home but when I did, I was disappointed. The biscuits were too crumbly and the almonds had been ground to obliteration. They were also too sweet with a synthetic taste probably from the preservatives that stretched the shelf life to a year.

Sadly, these were a pale imitation of the almond cakes, my Mum brought back from China a couple of years ago. If anyone knows of a better brand of almond cakes then let me know. Otherwise, I'll have to wait 'til the next time I see my parents when they'll mock me about my inadequate Chinese biscuit buying skills.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Review: Ramen Seto (Japanese), London

The Last Noodle

Update: Sadly, Ramen Seto is closing at the end of January 2012. This is a shame, as for a long time, this humble little caff was a torchbearer for ramen in London. OK, it might not have been like being in Tokyo, but it was of a decent quality. But I'm pleased to report that this caff is now reborn under the name: Seto, in a new location in Camden near Mornington Crescent. The food is pretty much the same as before, although they had a few kitchen timing gremlins the day I went. Hopefully, these will be ironed out in due course. 

{Update March 2010 - after a few beers nearby, I returned here with my friends, Mr Fussy and his t'other half, Ms Fush 'N' Chups (guess where's she's from?). We ordered pork gyoza and vegetable tempura to start and yes, Mr Fussy had trouble with the aubergine, courgette,and sweet potato tempura leaving him few options! I wouldn't mind but he doesn't eat prawns, which ruled out my favoured tempura choice. Onto the noodles and other than the hard boiled egg, Mr Fussy enjoyed his shoyu ramen as did Ms Fush 'N' Chups her enormous seafood ramen. Me, well I liked my wonton ramen although it's not strictly Japanese. £15 each with a beer and a generous tip - definitely recommended.}  

To be honest, what started off as a good idea is starting to lose its appeal. Much as I love soup noodles, aside from a round-up, this will be the last post on them until the New Year. So having travelled across China and South East Asia, the noodle tour comes to a temporary halt in Japan, well Soho really. {Update -it's just the soup noodles I'm taking a break from and I'll be blogging about other stuff in the meantime}

Thanks to Wagamama, ramen is what most people think of when you say 'soup noodles' - don't fret, I'm not gonna review this popular chain although I'm not that much of a food snob to totally dismiss it. However if I am going to call myself Mr Noodles then you’d expect nothing less than for me to come up with a 'little place I know' for ramen.

That little place is Ramen Seto, a homely little Japanese caff on Kingly St - ideal for a quick bite if you're out and about around Carnaby St. I've come here on and off for years but I can't actually remember the last time I ate here so it was an ideal time to revisit.

The menu consists of sushi, sashimi, gyoza, tempura, one-dish rice meals, fried noodles, and last but not least soup noodles. To start, I ordered two pieces of sea bass nigiri (£2.80) – there was nothing wrong with it but I don't think sushi is their strength. To follow, I plumped for the negi chicken ramen (£6.50), a hearty bowl of soup noodles served with finely chopped spring onion (negi), half a boiled egg, and topped with fried chicken.

I was initially underwhelmed by my ramen as it seemed a bit basic (no veg or seaweed) and the broth was slightly underseasoned (a tad ironic given my last soup noodle experience at HK Diner). However this bowl of noodles soon grew on me. The weaker broth didn't matter so much as the spring onions added flavour but it was the incredibly moreish fried chicken leg served off the bone that lifted this dish. Mind you looking back, I had a mild hangover that Saturday and soup noodles are comforting. What I'm trying to say is, would this combo of fried chicken and ramen worked as well if I wasn't slightly jaded ?

The other thing that nagged away was whether topping ramen with fried chicken is authentic or not as I've never been to Japan and I'm not over familiar with Japanese food. Unfortunately, I'm one of those saddoes that needs to know if what I'm eating 'is for real' but I shouldn't really care as long as the food is good which it largely was. Service was fine and this charming little caff has a warm homely feel absent from the more corporate chain eateries that sadly litter this part of town.

Verdict: It's all too easy to take the easy option in chain-Britain (even for soup noodles) so if you're in this part of Soho, eschew the obvious Wagamama and Cha Cha Moon and visit Ramen Seto instead. Not only is the food better but you'll also be supporting the underdog.

Other Stuff: The bowls of noodles are big enough - even for me - but if you're really hungry, you can 'super-size' for an extra £2.50.

Ramen Seto on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Beijing & Shanghai – A Quick Guide

What to eat and where to eat it

There's a lot of stuff on my blog about eating out in Beijing and Shanghai so I thought it'd be useful if I put together a quick guide to eating out in these two cities. There are also links to the original posts if you require further details.

The Must Eats
It's pretty obvious that you must try Peking duck when in Beijing. My favourite place is Ya Wang – a whole duck is brought to the table and skilfully carved into slices of meat and crispy skin.

This is served with the usual accompaniments although I recommend trying sesame buns as an alternative to pancakes. Most parts of the duck are also served as starters if you fancy duck tongues and that kind of thing.

In Shanghai, you've got to try xiao long bao (XLB) - the famous dumplings with a soupy filling. These are available in a number of varieties from the basic pork XLB and my fave, pork & crab XLB.

For a cheap and cheerful place go to Jia Jia Tang Bao but if you want to treat yourself then Din Tai Fung arguably serve the best XLB in Shanghai. Din Tai Fung also has branches in Beijing but the word is that the original branch in Taipei is the best.

The Easy Options
Eating out in China can be daunting but there are places that serve up authentic food in comfortable surroundings with the clincher of bilingual menus. For Shanghainese cuisine, I can recommend Xiao Nan Guo/Shanghai Spring which has branches in Beijing and Shanghai. One of their signature dishes is the 'lion's head' meatball with crab meat pictured below.

If you're a fan of Sichuan food then you could do a lot worse than South Beauty which also has branches in both cities. My favourite chilli fried chicken (la zi ji) is pictured. Don't be put off by the fact that these are chains, some of the best restaurants in China have multiple branches.

The Cheap Eats
Cantonese food is very popular in Shanghai and if you fancy some congee, noodles or Cantonese BBQ on rice then the café inside the Cathay Theatre is a good bet. I've already extolled the virtues of xiao long bao but many Shanghainese reckon the crispy pan fried sheng jian bao are superior – try these at Yang’s Fry Dumplings.

In Beijing, the dumplings are simpler and you can pick up boiled jiaozi dumplings or pan-fried jianjiao dumplings at Shun Yi Fu. This is a much better alternative to the street food available in what passes for night markets in the capital.

The Last Word
If you're visiting China, be spontaneous and just try loads of different foods. I also like Hunan, Taiwanese and Yunnan cuisines whilst others swear by hot pot, Mongolian or Xinjiang food. If you've visited China, I'd love to hear from you especially if you have some top tips to share.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Review: Phoenix Palace (Cantonese), London

Best dim sum in London ?

Technically speaking, the best dumplings are probably found at one of the upmarket places but as I'm not keen on spending £6.50 on a portion of three xiao long bao (Min Jiang) or being set a time limit for my meal (Hakkasan & Yautacha), perhaps the question should be reframed.

Favourite dim sum restaurant ? Mine is Phoenix Palace (on Glentworth St just off Marylebone Rd near Baker St tube). Its charms aren't immediately obvious from the slightly gaudy exterior and identikit Chinese restaurant interior design. However when it's busy and it usually is, there's a great buzz which combined with quality Cantonese cooking makes it one of my favourites.

On a recent visit, we ordered bbq pork bun (cha siu bao), beef ball dumpling (sai choi ngau), shanghai dumplings with pork (xiao long bao), bbq pork puff pastry (cha siu sao), octopus patty (mak yu beng), pork in yam croquette (wu gok), rice pasta roll with crispy dough stick (zhaliang) and from the specials menu, steamed wasabi prawn dumpling.

Being growing lads, we bulked out the order with a platter of roast belly pork & roast duck and some fried noodles with beansprouts. To finish, we ordered some egg tarts (dan taat) and cream custard buns (lai wong bao).

Highlights? The zhaliang transported me to Hong Kong - perfectly cooked cheung fun (rice pasta roll) filled with crispy (not greasy) dough stick. I don't usually care for fusion dim sum but the steamed wasabi prawn dumpling (the green ones in the photo) was different class with a real kick from the wasabi inside the dumpling. Of the desserts, the sweet dense coconutty filling of the steamed cream custard buns won us over.

We were also impressed by the quality of fried dim sum like wu gok - so much better than the greasy oily crap often served up in Chinatown. The Cantonese BBQ was spot-on too, particularly the crispy crackling on the roast belly pork (siu yuk).

The only off-note was the diminutive xiao long bao but I’m a fussy sod when it comes to these Shanghainese treats. In fact the only overall criticism was the Lilliputian proportions of some of the dim sum.

Sorry for the lack of photos but all too often the dish was finished before I had the chance to take a shot. Service was efficient and unobtrusive (tea was topped-up unprompted throughout our lunch).

Compared to Chinatown, the prices are a bit higher with dim sum starting at £2.60 - similar to places like Pearl Liang and Royal China - but cheaper than the really upmarket places where prices start at around the £4 mark. As we also ordered Cantonese BBQ and noodles, the bill (for three) crept up to £55 including tea and service.

Between writing this review and posting it, I went back for more dim sum and sampled classics like prawn dumpling (har gau), pork & prawn dumpling (siu mai) and sesame prawn roll (zhima har). But the star dish was a zingy salad of baby octopus tossed in chilli, garlic & lemon juice from the dim sum specials menu.

For more on dim sum, World Foodie Guide has great tips on what to order and where to go in London - although Phoenix Palace isn't on her list (at time of writing).

Verdict: I don't doubt that there's better dim sum served in more stylish restaurants in London but as long as their standards don't dip, Phoenix Palace remains my favourite.

Other Stuff: Unlike many dim sum places, you can make lunch reservations here – essential for the weekend when the must-order BBQ suckling pig appears on the dim sum specials menu.

Phoenix Palace on Urbanspoon

{Update Feb 2010 - for a review of dinner at Phoenix Palace, click here}

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Blogging Under The Influence

Sorting out my photos recently, I came across a couple I didn't recognise - one of the outside of a Pakistani restaurant and the other of its kitchen. It was then the memories came flooding back of a weekend away in Birmingham watching cricket and drinking beer. OMG - I was blogging whilst under the influence.....

Now Birmingham has some decent dining options including an OK Chinatown but after a day at the cricket, there's only really one option, curry - but where ? We were all a bit worse for wear and none of us really knew Brum but my mate had a brainwave - let's ask a taxi driver.

To this day, I'm surprised our cabbie didn't just drive off as we kept banging on about 'an authentic place', 'not any old crappy curry house', 'doesn't have to be near the city centre' with the clincher of 'where do you go for a curry?'.

We were dropped off at Ladypool Road deep in the 'Balti Triangle' and bless our legend of a cabbie, he gave us options from which we chose Desi Grill Khana (probably cos we saw the magic word 'kebab' on their shopfront). Carrying on our theme of not making any decisions, we asked our waiter to bring a selection of their best dishes.

To start we had a fantastic mixed grill of lamb chops, chicken and mixed kebabs. This was followed by some curries served with naan and rice. Apologies for the scant details and lack of food photos - I think I must have just started eating once the mixed grill arrived and stopped 'drink-blogging'.

But our taxi adventure is not unusual as we had inadvertently gone the way of the Taxi Gourmet - the blog where Layne Mosler hops in a taxi every week and asks the driver to take her to their favourite place to eat, previously in Buenos Aires, now in New York. I'm not sure how well her concept would translate to London - it would be very expensive and you'd soon get fed up of the full English with strong tea (apologies to any foodie cabbies). But it certainly came good for us in Birmingham.

My only regret was that I was a bit too 'tired' to do the food justice but I guess if we were sober we wouldn't have the gone the way of the Taxi Gourmet. So the next time you're in a strange town, be spontaneous and ask the locals where to eat !

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Review: Chilli Cool (Sichuan), London

Bad English Great Food !

Chilli Cool is one of a new breed of Chinese restaurants popping up across London that cater to a largely mainland Chinese crowd. It's particularly popular with University of London students as its Leigh St location is very close to the Halls of Residence. There aren't many concessions to non-Chinese clientele so don’t expect to order sweetcorn soup and sesame prawn toast. The few non-Sichuan dishes on the menu like dong-po pork and stir-fried shredded potato are those favoured by mainland Chinese.

I wasn't going to review Chilli Cool as it's been blogged to death but I took a few photos on my phone just in case. Even then I wasn't sure as I'm a regular here and I feared that my review would be biased. However when this restaurant was criminally ignored in the Time Out 2010 Eating & Drinking Guide, I thought I'd redress the balance. Yeah that's right - me humble blogger setting the printed media to rights. Well perhaps not, I'm not that conceited to think that a post on my blog will compensate for a non-appearance in London’s top restaurant guide !

Now Chilli Cool isn't going to win any awards for its interior design, use of English in the menu or erratic service. However there is something about its home-style cooking that wins me over every time I come here. Although Sichuan food is associated with being hot and spicy, milder dishes shouldn’t be ignored. There were seven of us so there was plenty of scope to order a wide range of dishes.

In ascending order of heat, we ordered sea spicy shredded pork (yu xiang rousi) - mild, slightly sweet and served with woodear fungus - a gentle introduction. Double cooked pork (hui guo rou) - so called as pork is boiled then sliced and fried, looks like bacon and crisps up nicely when fried in the wok. Gong bao king prawn with peanuts - doesn't really need too much of an intro although I can’t remember much about this dish as I only managed to bag one prawn ! Stir fried before stewing the jack bean dry (siji dou) – better known as dry-fried green beans - a must-order in any Sichuan restaurant. Despite being fried with dried chillies, this dish isn't overly spicy.

So far so tame but now we enter the heat zone, quick frying chicken with cumin & chilli (lazi ji) - deep fried chicken bits tossed in a wok with Sichuan peppercorns, ginger, dried chillies, cumin, spring onion and peanuts. Unlike the version, I had at South Beauty, the chicken is off-the-bone and there are no annoying bits of Bombay-mix. Possibly my favourite Sichuan dish and as good as you get in China.

Sliced beef Szechuan style beef lavishly topped with chilli & Szechuan pepper (shui zhu niu rou) - more commonly known as water-boiled beef - another must-order. Beef slices are served in a vat of chilli oil with beansprouts - this tastes better than it sounds. The double whammy of chilli and Sichuan peppercorns really does make your eyes water.

As well as steamed rice, we ordered double portions of dan dan noodles and minced pork dumplings with chilli oil (hong you shuijiao) and these sound renditions of Sichuan street food just about finished us off ! It was lunch but if it was dinner, we might have ordered an extra dish or two. As you can see, we didn’t leave much behind although they're happy to oblige if you need a doggy bag.

If we ordered tap water, this feast would’ve only cost £11 per head but we had a couple of rounds of beers so the damage was £17 each – still a bargain ! Even if you added some extra dishes, you'd struggle to spend a fortune in here. Service can be erratic but they are always apologetic if they are slow or get things wrong.

Verdict: Giant portions of tasty authentic food at bargain prices – what's not to love ? Much better than the nearby Snazz Sichuan which Time Out did include in its annual guide.

Other Stuff: Chilli Cool has just taken over the next door premises where they've set up tabletop cookers to serve Sichuan hotpot. I'll definitely be trying this soon.

Chilli Cool on Urbanspoon

Update July 2010 - I remain a frequent visitor to this excellent restaurant and standards remain high. For some belting photos of a recent dinner, check out these reviews by Catty, Uyen, and The Grubworm.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Review: Time Out Eating & Drinking 2010

The Time Out Eating & Drinking guide is the only London restaurant guide I've ever bought and I usually buy a copy every 2 or 3 years. Time Out's magazine and website provides invaluable advice on eating out in London and it's no surprise that their guidebook is equally comprehensive. In particular, I enjoy their detailed and knowledgeable coverage of non-European restaurants which is far superior to what other critics knock up.

The guide follows a set formula opening with a readers' survey, some editorial (eating out in the recession), review of the year, awards, Hot 100 and a 'where to' guide before launching into the reviews proper. The main body of the guide is split into sections either by cuisine e.g. Chinese or by genre e.g. Gastropubs. There are also sections for cheap eats and drinking.

The guide is easy to follow with red stars awarded to very good restaurants and green stars denoting cheap eats. My favourite feature is the menu guide for different cuisines that translates and describes foreign food terms. It's thoughtful touches like these that set Time Out apart from the competition as well as encouraging diners to be adventurous.

Now this wouldn't be much of a review if I didn't have a moan and the first thing that irritates me are the awards. I'm not sure why the awards place so much emphasis on the new with 'Best New....' comprising eight out of ten of the awards. In particular, 'Best New Design' really riles me as trendy design often masks deficiencies in the kitchen especially in London. This award is a bit like a best costume design Oscar – nice but not what you go to the cinema for.

I'm not sure how I'm going to review the rest of the book as guidebooks aren't really meant to be read cover to cover. Also there are whole sections; I rarely dip into (vegetarian – no thanks). So I'm going to mainly focus on the 'Noodlesphere' – apart from Japan & Korea as my knowledge of these cuisines is patchy at best.

Despite the Chinese guide being one of the larger sections, I was disappointed to see the lack of coverage of the emerging mainland Chinese dining scene. For example, are there really only two Sichuan restaurants in London, Bar Shu and Snazz Sichuan worthy of mention ? In the case of the latter, it isn't even the best Sichuan restaurant in its neighbourhood (that's Chilli Cool – review soon). Although I haven't checked them out yet, a quick reccie on the blogosphere identifies more Sichuan places worth trying such as the imaginatively named Sichuan and No 10.

The other non-Cantonese places featured are the bleeding obvious such as Ba Shan and Baozi Inn whilst more earthy places like My Old Place are absent. There's also no mention of places serving Dongbei (North East China) and Fujian cuisines. The Cantonese places listed are less contentious although I can’t believe Hung's is ignored whilst the inferior Cafe de Hong Kong and HK Diner are featured (I promise I’m not in the pay of Hung's). For dim sum, all the usual suspects are listed with some far flung outposts such as Golden Palace in Harrow and Mandarin Palace in Ilford also present. A useful guide to dim sum is also included.

What hacked me off the most was the inclusion of Cha Cha Moon and Ping Pong – dreadful places that are examples of trendy design taking precedence over culinary excellence. The review of Cha Cha Moon reads almost like a PR release and bears no resemblance to the place I tried last year. I remember the XO vermicelli – a couple of prawns in a gloopy sauce (with only a hint of XO sauce) with bits of pork scratchings scattered on top of vermicelli – being particularly hideous. Other dishes fared little better with tasteless stock in the soup noodles and dumplings that fell apart. And don't even get me started on the idiot staff who work there. At least Ping Pong's take on dim sum gets a bit of a shoeing which then begs the question what the hell is it doing in the guide.

There are no obvious omissions in the Malaysian, Indonesian & Singaporean section but there really aren't that many places to miss out. But I can't believe that only three places on the 'Pho Mile' are listed in the Vietnamese section. The Oriental section also bugs me as it consists mainly of places that master none of the cuisines featured on their menus. I'm pretty sure that many of the featured restaurants e.g. Dim T would fail to make the guide if this section didn't exist.

Time Out laments the prevalence of dumbed down Thai food in the capital and whilst the Thai population in London is relatively small, I think more of an effort to track down authentic places where Thais visit could have been made. Some research on the blogosphere reveals 101 Thai Kitchen and Addie's Thai as places to try. I also have an idea where the Thais might go but I'm keeping this a secret for the time being ! Overall, the Thai section is a bit disappointing with few red stars awarded. Mind you, the red star restaurants featured aren't all that special, in particular I can't believe that Busaba Eathai was awarded one – it's good but not red star good.

On the rest of the guide, favourite Indian and Italian places of mine are missing as are a couple of gastropubs I like but for some reason I feel less strongly about this. As I reach the end of the review, I realise I may have been too hard on Time Out - whilst it's easy to moan about a few omissions, it's takes a lot of hard work and dedication to compile and maintain such a comprehensive guide. OK - it isn't flawless but the Time Out guide is definitely worth buying for its insightful and incisive reviews.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Review: HK Diner (Cantonese), London

Salty Fishballs

The little stretch of Wardour St south of Shaftesbury Avenue is full of cheap places to get a bowl of soup noodles. There's the infamous Wong Kei, the resolutely old school Hung’s and a couple of trendier places like HK Diner and Café TPT amongst others. I decided to try HK Diner having had my ear bent over dinner at Hunan on how it's the best 'cheap & cheerful' place in Chinatown. I had my doubts and these weren't assuaged by my bowl of fish ball soup noodles (yu dan tang mein). From the photo, you can't discern anything is wrong and as the fish balls, fish cake and noodles (san mein) are all bought in, there's only one thing they need to get right, the soup.

Soup noodles stand and fall on the quality of the soup and it was obvious that the HK Diner artificially enhanced their master stock with MSG. I don't want to get into a debate over the use of MSG but the soup was far too salty and over seasoned. For hours after, I was thirsty with a lingering aftertaste of the soup in my mouth - all this from a few spoonfuls.

It's funny how the quality of the food impacts on the overall dining experience. Things that in another time and place might not have bothered me really pissed me off. The English language only menu I was handed consisted of 'Chinese Food for Dummies' and whilst there was a double sided specials menu card, this had English translations on one side only. Now I can't read Chinese properly but I can read numbers. Perhaps I'm being cynical but the bilingual side of the menu seemed to have big ticket items on it whilst the Chinese side of the menu had cheap stuff like soup noodles on it.

Was this a purposeful ploy to steer non-Chinese readers to order more expensive dishes by not translating the cheap one-dish meals into English ? I guess it makes a change from the usual menu divide which segregates more esoteric dishes for Chinese diners from the anglicised dishes on the English menu. It's this kind of practice that gives Chinese restaurants a bad name.

Whilst expectations of service aren't high in Chinatown, I also didn't appreciate the bill being thrust my way whilst I was drinking tea and reading the paper. It wasn't as if there were people waiting for my table and I really needed to drink more tea. It was their loss actually as I was going to order some Cantonese BBQ to take home. Instead I crossed the road and went into Hung’s for a take-away portion of cha siu.

Verdict: On reflection, I shouldn't get so worked up about a bowl of noodles and a pot of tea that cost £6.60 but I don't think I'll be switching my allegiances to HK Diner anytime soon.

Other Stuff: I was intrigued by their claypot rice before I got a strop on. They also serve bubble tea if you like that kind of thing.

Hk Diner on Urbanspoon