Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Golden Noodle Awards 2009-10

My friend 'The Ref' isn't really a foodie. I mean this is someone who has the Burger King app on his iPhone. And actually uses it. Nor does he know much about blogging although that doesn't stop him from offering advice on the subject (or any other subject for that matter).

That said, his idea of annual awards was brilliant and his suggestion that they be called 'The Golden Noodle Awards' inspirational. For perhaps the only time in the fourteen or so years I've known him, I have to say I was in total agreement with him. So here goes, five awards covering my first year as a blogger from August 2009. 

The Golden Noodle – awarded to London's best noodles

Winner: Pho Tai Nam by Song Que

I love all kinds of noodles but my preference is for soup noodles. That's not to say the bun dishes, I've had at Mien Tay and at Song Que weren't contenders. A special mention also goes out to the many bowls of dan dan noodles I've eaten, with Sichuan Restaurant's version probably being my favourite.

Now you might think with my Cantonese origins, I'd favour soup noodles from places like Hung's or Wan Chai Corner. The thing is though, I'm too familiar with the likes of wonton noodles and whilst they're good, I know they can be better.

Making a late dash for glory was the noodle on everyone's lips, the udon at Koya. I really enjoyed my niku atsu-atsu and this dish takes the bronze medal. Just ahead in the silver medal position was the fish head vermicelli from Rasa Sayang.

The winner was always going to be pho, a dish I think is the king of noodles. I don't track it down as assiduously as I should but if there's a better bowl of pho in London than the pho tai nam from Song Que then can someone let me know ? This hearty bowl of Vietnamese rice noodles with rare steak and well-done flank is a worthy winner of the inaugural Golden Noodle award.

The Golden Restaurant – awarded to the best London restaurant new to me

Winner: Empress of Sichuan

I decided to restrict this award to those restaurants that I first visited in the last year. This rules out old favourites like Chilli Cool, Little Lamb, Medcalf, Pearl Liang, Phoenix Palace, Rasa Sayang, and Song Que.

After much deliberation, I came up with a shortlist of three. 101 Thai Kitchen presses all the right inverted snobbery buttons in that it's more like a canteen, appeals to the Thai community, and is inexpensive. Undoubtedly, the best Thai meal I've had in a long time and it gets the bronze medal.

Roka seems an obvious choice and whilst the food, service and entire experience was of the highest order, I don't think it's fair to compare their expensive tasting menu to the other restaurants, I've been to. This upmarket Japanese place has to settle for silver.

Sichuan food is the cuisine du jour and I'm always keen to sample new places. Of those I've tried for the first time in the past year, my favourite was the Empress of Sichuan, and it's this restaurant that wins The Golden Restaurant award. Authentic, reasonably priced Sichuan food in comfortable surroundings smack bang in the heart of Chinatown – what's not to love ?

The Genius Award – awarded to a plate of food that shows the most genius

Winner: Squid filled with salted duck egg yolk & seaweed by Ya Wang, Beijing

Have you noticed that the most creative dishes are usually at the beginning of a meal ? I mean you seldom see a main course and think wow. More often than not, it's the small dishes that strike you as genius.

And so it is with the contenders for The Genius Award, as they are all starters and small plates. For example, the fried corn w/salted egg from the Sichuan Restaurant, cold baby octopus tossed with chilli, lemon and garlic from Phoenix Palace's dim sum menu, and pig cheeks w/parsnip & Bramley apple from Medcalf.

However, none of these London dishes comes close to the winner from Beijing restaurant, Ya Wang. This specialist duck restaurant knocked up a dish of such creativity, originality and genius that it is seared forever in my memory.

I bet there's many a Michelin starred chef that wishes they lined a squid with seaweed then filled it with salted duck egg yolk. This dish looks good, tastes better and is a resounding two finger salute to all those who think Chinese food lacks art and finesse. In a word, genius.

The Red Card – awarded to who I want to send off the field of food

Winner: Matthew Norman – restaurant critic

This award is dedicated to The Ref, to thank him for the awards concept. I've eaten some bad food and experienced some bad service but nothing has riled me as much as some professional restaurant critics. I know many do an excellent job but some are worthy of an early bath.

I'd like to show yellow cards to Giles Coren (The Times) and Guy Dimond (Time Out) for aiming little bitch-slaps at bloggers. However my bile is ultimately reserved for those critics who know sweet FA about food that doesn't have European DNA. So Toby Young from the Independent is sent off after two yellow card offences. It's bad enough he once reviewed the set menu from a Chinese restaurant but to do it twice is journalism at its most laziest.

But I'd like to award a straight red card to Matthew Norman for writing in The Guardian:
"The last thing you anticipate from even the finest Chinese chef is the showing of respect to the veg."
How can anyone that makes a living from writing about food come out with such ignorant bollocks about Chinese cuisine ? He no longer writes for The Guardian but Norman's insightful wisdom can now be found in the pages of The Daily Telegraph.

Red card image, courtesy Wikipedia

Album of the Year – awarded to my favourite album of the last year

Winner: Ignore The Ignorant - The Cribs

This has sod all to do with food but it's my blog so I get to choose the award categories. I'm not as up on my music as I used to be and I increasingly rely on the young 'uns in my office to help me out. They've switched me onto some great stuff over the last year, in particular the melancholy tunes of The National.

But my favourite album over the last year is by a band that I didn't need an introduction to. The Cribs were a good band but by recruiting guitar legend, Johnny Marr, they're within touching distance of greatness. The album Ignore The Ignorant harks back to a time when indie music hadn't been watered down to the point of almost being homeopathic.

If you like the sound of Johnny Marr's guitar then you should also check out his work with The Smiths, Electronic, The The, and Modest Mouse


  1. Omg, choosing the dim sum set lunch at Pearl Liang is just soooo lazy - he does deserve a red card. This is a fantastic post! Great list of other Chinese places I should haul my arse to - and I'll definitely try my best to check out Ya Wang!

  2. I must admit I do like Pearl Liang's dim sum set lunch — it means you can have a nice variety of stuff even if there's just one or two of you. I boggle more at the fact that all three of them had the same thing. Surely the reason restaurant critics get to take other people along with them (and expense those people's food too) is that the more people, the more of the menu you can try.

    I have to try that cold octopus at Phoenix Palace — it sounds brilliant.

  3. From top to bottom, a great post, and happy one-year of blogging!

    I'm very appreciative that for your tip on Empress of Sichuan. I go there all the time now, and while consistency is an issue there, there's always at least one dish that's excellent every time.

    Totally with you on Matthew Norman. Esarn Kheaw served some pretty mediocre food (which he *raved* about) caused me to schlepp cross town to Shepherd's Bush. Never again. I mean, look at how rave this review was!

  4. Su-Lin - thanks! When are you off to Beijing? Even if you don't get to Ya Wang, a visit to a Peking Duck restaurant is a must.

    Kake - it wasn't the most imaginative ordering ever! I also winced at his description of "cheung fun noodle pancakes"! Do try the baby octopus, which I think is on their dim sum specials menu.

    AinL - thanks although the blogaversary isn't until the 10th! I know what you mean about Empress of Sichuan, although I've yet to be served a shocker of a dish there. There are a few "odd" Matthew Norman reviews out there.....

  5. The long awaited Golden Noodles Award, I remember chatting to you about this post a few months ago - I couldn't agree more with all your choices, and a "yellow" card to Guy Diamond is very generous/forgiving of you.

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  6. LF - thanks once more for luring me out to Empress of Sichuan, it really is a find for quality Sichuan in a more salubrious setting. I do hate it when critics have cheap digs at bloggers but i hate it more when they know nothing about food. That's why Coren and Dimond get yellow cards whilst Norman gets a red.

  7. I was going to go to Shanghai first but I think your tip in Beijing might have tipped me in a different direction...

    Whilst I am finding some fantastic traditional food it is interesting to see that the Spanish influence of molecular or screw with your food gastronomy is still relatively limited (I actually think that is a good thing). However, Ya Wang seems to have taken those influences and kicked ass with it. Excited.

  8. Tom - both cities are great although I do have a soft spot for Beijing and I strongly recommend Ya Wang. The bizarre thing is that the duck egg dish seemed incongruous to the rest of the experience. The dining room itself is very conventional, as are the other starters like ducks' tongues and duck liver. Then out of nowhere comes this amazing left-field duck egg dish. It's a bit like a wedding DJ slipping on some Arcade Fire inbetween Abba and Van Morrison.

  9. Hilarious! i LOVE the Golden Noodle awards! And I knew I'd find something new to try - gotta now hit up Rasa Sayang for the fish head vermicelli! Sounds DIVINE!

  10. Catty - thanks! I'd love to hear what you think about Rasa Sayang's fish head vermicelli. I'm still gutted I didn't try it when I was in KL or Singapore recently.