Saturday 10 August 2013

Time To Say Goodbye

After exactly four years and three hundred blog posts, I'm calling time on Eat Noodles Love Noodles. Giving up blogging hasn't been an easy decision to make. After all, it's a hobby that's given me great joy, and one through which I've met some great friends, online and off, along the way. Big thanks to you all, especially to those of you who took the trouble to comment on the blog along the way. {Update July 2015 - I've made a kind of a comeback on my other blog - click here.}

Why now? The truth is I've been thinking about jacking it all in for the past year or so. The only reason why I continued was the proliferation of ramen shops in London and my travels abroad. But there's only so much I can blog about ramen, and my mad run of travel this year has come to a halt.

If there's one aspect of blogging I'll miss, it will be writing about food on my travels. I doubt I would ever have started blogging if I didn’t have the kick-start from a trip to China in 2009. And to the end, it's these posts that have given me most pleasure to write.

I won't miss writing about London restaurants so much, though. Despite all the new openings, I've not really blogged about too many places in the capital this year. It's not that I don't take an interest in all the big name chefs and restaurateurs. I do, and I even sometimes eat in their fancy gastrodomes. It's just that I feel the London restaurant scene is a bit like English Premier League football: an exciting and cosmopolitan spectacle, but one where the actuality does not match the hype.

Now I don't want to end my blog on a negative note (although I have been known to shake my fist at crap restaurants, awful food TV and incorrect food grammar), as I've always been passionate about promoting the food I love the most. So with that in mind, I thought I'd end my last post with my fantasy last supper. I've bent the rules a bit in that I've somehow ended up with a ten-course Asian seafood banquet.

My Last Supper
Sashimi selection
I love sashimi and it's the perfect start to my banquet. Of course it's going to be weapons-grade raw fish, with the only stipulation being the platter must include some of my favourite hamachi (yellowtail).

Steamed scallops topped with garlic & glass noodles
This classic epitomises all that is great about Cantonese cuisine: fresh ingredients, simply cooked. This is also the first appearance of noodles in the banquet.

'Chao Tom' - Grilled prawn paste on sugar cane
In this Vietnamese dish the sugar cane acts as a skewer and the prawn paste is eaten by wrapping it with herbs in lettuce and rice paper before dipping in nuoc cham.

Under the Typhoon Shelter pissing prawns
After a relatively healthy opening three courses, the banquet get dirty in the form of fried 'pissing prawns' aka mantis shrimp tossed in a violent mix of fried chilli and garlic. ('Under the Typhoon Shelter' is the poetic Chinese name of this Hong Kong dish more commonly cooked with crab.)

Singapore chilli crab with fried mantou
Things get dirtier still with this Singapore classic where the crab is almost an afterthought. I can foresee much dipping of fried mantou (Chinese buns) into the flavoursome eggy, tomatoey chilli sauce.

Clams in fish soup with rice vermicelli
Asian food is all about balance, which is why this course is a bit cleansing. Having said that, a big glug of rice wine should go into the soup. (Noodlewatch: noodles make a second appearance in the banquet.)

Shanghai-style river shrimp stir-fried with Longjing tea
The comedown continues with a delicate dish of river shrimp, coated with egg white and cornstarch, stir-fried with Dragon's Well aka longjing tea leaves.

'Pla Neung Ma Nao' - Steamed grouper with lime, chilli, garlic, lemongrass & fish sauce
I have to have a Thai dish in my top ten, and this whole steamed grouper (sea bass would do at a push) sat in an aromatic 'soup' is my choice.

Pak choi stir-fried with garlic
Although my last supper is being served banquet style, this simple vegetable dish will be brought out just after the fish. And for those carb lovers, now might be a good time to ask for some rice. Mind you, not too much though…

Lobster fried with ginger & spring onion on a bed of e-fu noodles
So this is it, the coup de grâce. Of course it was going to be Cantonese, of course it was going to have noodles, and of course it was going to be lobster cooked with ginger and spring onion! My apologies to dessert fans, there's no proper pudding but there will be slices of watermelon.

Now I know some of you may be surprised at my choices. For instance, neither dim sum nor Cantonese BBQ makes an appearance. But that's OK, as I had both at my penultimate meal at lunchtime. Being a critic of the concept of pan-Asian restaurants, some may be surprised the feast contains a mix of different cuisines. However, I don't think it's an issue, as all of the dishes are bona fide classics and they will be served 'banquet-style' rather than in a blurry family-style free-for-all. And being a bit of an obsessive, I've also given a lot of thought to the sequence in which the courses will be served.

So that's it. I am now a former blogger, although I will continue to post food photos on Instagram. Thanks again for reading.

PS: Thanks for the good wishes and messages on Twitter - I'm very touched. For clarification, I will be keeping the blog alive but there won't be any new posts. And I'll still be on Twitter.

Thursday 1 August 2013

The 21st Century A-to-Z of Food & Drink

X is for Xiao Long Bao
A is for Artisanal
B is for Blogger
C is for Craft Beer
D is for Denmark
E is for Ethical
F is for Forage
G is for Gastronaut
H is for Hipster
I is for Instagram
J is for Jam Jar
K is for Kilner Jar
L is for Lobster Roll
M is for Macarons
N is for Negroni
O is for Offal
P is for Pop-up
Q is for Queuing
R is for Ramen
S is for Supper Club
T is for Tapas (that aren't actually tapas)
U is for Udon
V is for Vietnam
W is for Wagyu
X is for Xiao Long Bao
Y is for Yotam Ottolenghi
Z is for Za'atar

Let me know if you have any alternatives e.g. S is for Sous Vide etc...

Sunday 21 July 2013

Eating In Bangkok

Whilst I steadfastly insisted on ordering dishes 'Thai-spicy' at every opportunity during my stay in Hua Hin, I was ready to give my guts a breather by the time I arrived in Bangkok. This could only mean one thing for a good Chinese boy such as myself: a trip to Chinatown.

As darkness falls, the streets of Chinatown come alive with hawkers selling southern Chinese treats such as Cantonese BBQ, Teochew braised duck and Hainanese chicken rice. While the roast duck and wontons in my soup noodles aren't going to win awards, they were pretty good for the equivalent of 75p I spent on them.

The Chinese influence on how Bangkokians eat isn't just limited to Chinatown. This is most evident at breakfast time judging by the gusto at which the locals were tucking into bowls of congee and soup noodles. Naturally I started the day with the latter, which came with loads of goodies including fish balls, fish cake, pork slices, minced pork, some veg and fried wonton skin. I tended to go for the broad ho fun rice noodles (called sen yai in Thai) but most stalls offer a choice of noodles. The soup is often quite mild (ideal for breakfast) but there are loads of condiments on the side if you want to pimp your bowl up.

As you might have gathered I ate lots of noodles in Bangkok, and my favourite came from a stall on the edge of Chinatown. Through pointing and uttering random words of English, Chinese and Thai I ended up with a bowl of noodles that appeared to be the lovechild of Vietnamese pho and Chinese braised brisket noodle. By that I mean the herbs and crunchy beansprouts reminded me of pho whilst the anise-scented, melt-in-the-mouth brisket (with bits of tendon, too) was most definitely Chinese. My only regret was that I didn't order a second bowl.

Away from the soup noodles I also enjoyed eating in small hole-in-the-wall joints serving dishes such as duck red curry with kanom jin noodles and pad kra pow with pork. The latter with its aniseedy hit from the holy basil is one of my favourite dishes (remember to ask for it to be served with a crispy fried egg). In other places I may have baulked at the undersized portions but this isn't a problem in Bangkok's hot climate where it's better to eat small and eat often.

One thing I didn't dabble in as much as I would have liked is desserts and sweet snacks. That said I did enjoy crispy pancakes called mae prapha that were filled with egg, coconut, sugar and other stuff. They do look like tacos but I will resist the temptation to call them Thai tacos!

I wouldn't go so far to call it a disappointment but I expected more from the Soi 38 Night Market in Sukhumvit. The food I ate was OK and I may have been unlucky in my choice of stall, but there's a good buzz and when prices for pork skewers start at Baht 10 (less than 20p) one can't really complain.

By contrast I was more than pleasantly surprised by the offerings in food courts such as the one in the MBK Center. I particularly enjoyed the som tam Thai there; it was a damn fine green papaya salad which left me perspiring heavily as I insisted on Thai spicy.

Thinking about it I preferred the som tam from the food court to the one I had at Somtam Convent in Silom. Thankfully, their larb was a far better offering and it went down well with sticky rice. While I liked this hole-in-the-wall, the food was a mixed bag; the dry and overcooked gai yang (Isarn-style grilled chicken) was particularly disappointing. There probably is better Isarn-style food in Bangkok but I lacked the language skills and radar to have discovered it.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Eating In Hua Hin

Hua Hin is about three hours by road from Bangkok, and as such is a very popular getaway for those from the Thai capital. It isn't, by any stretch, the liveliest resort in Thailand, but I'm an old git so I don’t really care. Besides, who needs full moon parties when there is abundant seafood!

My favourite restaurant in Hua Hin is Lung Ja Seafood, which can be found on a stretch of Daychanuchit Road where the night market is located. On my first visit I ordered a whole red snapper in tom yum soup laced with coconut milk. This was a quite amazing dish with a proper spicy soup (just look at the amount of aromatics they put in it) coupled with tender, just-cooked fish. I wasn't sure about the coconut milk at first, but it made the dish into a kind of hot and sour curry, which is no bad thing in my book. By the way, remember to insist on this dish to be cooked 'Thai spicy'.

On my second visit I went for lobster. Whilst it was perfectly cooked on the barbecue, with hindsight I wouldn't have gone with the sweet tamarind sauce, as there just wasn't enough zing. On the other hand I was very pleased with the morning glory, which was stir-fried with plenty of garlic and chilli.

Of the other places I tried in Hua Hin, Koti Restaurant is probably my next favourite. It can also be found on Daychanuchit Road albeit across the road from where the night market starts. The menu is quite comprehensive with all the greatest hits from the Thai canon along with a smattering of Chinese and Thai-Chinese dishes. I really liked the warm salad of seafood & glass noodle (yum woon sen), which had a pleasing yet powerful, spicy sour kick to it. The wok skills here are also very good as exemplified by dishes like stir-fried seafood with peppercorns.

I also liked the crab sausage, which is to all intents and purposes the Teochew-Chinese dish of ngo hiang 五香 - crab and pork meat wrapped in beancurd skin, then deep-fried. Unlike the Chinese version, I couldn't really discern any five-spice flavour, but it was tasty and moreish nonetheless. Incidentally, versions of this dish are very popular in Malaysia and Singapore.

Hua Hin's night market is great for a stroll although I didn't really eat any proper meals there. However, I did enjoy snacks such as rotee (the local Romanised spelling of roti) and the coconut custard puddings known as khanom krok (thanks to MiMi for letting me know what these are). I think I liked the idea of khanom krok, with its crispy outer and wobbly centre, more than the execution, as the ones I tried weren't that sweet or coconutty. Perhaps they're meant to be like that.

The various guidebooks and online guides often cite Sang Thai and Chao Lay as Hua Hin's 'go-to' seafood restaurants. Both have excellent locations with piers stretching into the sea and serve dishes such as fried mantis shrimp (pissing prawns) with garlic, blue swimmer crab & glass noodle claypot, oyster omelette and mixed seafood platters. Both places were decent enough, but I think Lung Ja Seafood is a better restaurant in terms of value and quality. Next stop, Bangkok.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

The Joy of Hake

I love fish. I love it so much that if given the stark choice of giving up meat or fish, I'd go pescatarian. It'd be tough giving up juicy steaks and wondrous Cantonese BBQ but it'd be tougher giving up fish, lobster, prawns, scallops, clams, crab and all the other amazing treats from the sea. One of my favourite fish is hake, which despite being caught off British shores, isn't that popular in the UK. Sadly, most of the British catch goes to Spain, a country where hake is revered. (Not for the first time I wonder whether the much-vaunted food revolution in the UK is an illusion when so much brilliant British fish and seafood ends up abroad.)

Steamed hake with ginger & spring onion
Hake's flaky texture is similar to that of cod but the flesh is softer. Indeed, it's great battered and fried as fish & chips. It can also be grilled, pan-fried, roasted or steamed. When I cook hake, I like to treat it the traditional Cantonese way by steaming it, topping it with ginger and spring onion, splashing hot oil over it before adding a dash of light soy sauce. Alternatively, I sometimes give hake a Southeast Asian flavour by mixing up a dressing of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, garlic and chilli to pour over the steamed fish.

Hake also goes well when paired with meat or seafood. I remember a restaurant in Barcelona that served hake with clams in the most amazing sauce. It was so good, I shocked my friends and waiting staff alike by my new found fluency in Spanish by asking for 'mas pan por favor, mas pan' to mop up the sauce. Alas, I can't remember the name of the restaurant; it was a long time ago, I was on a stag do and it was in the days when I was a civilian.

Anyway, can you guys please eat more hake? For those of you in London, the Furness Fish Stall in Borough Market sells hake steaks from Shetland. I'm sure other quality fishmongers have it in stock and I've seen hake on sale at Marks & Spencer.

Monday 17 June 2013

New York City Eats

I really enjoyed my week's holiday in New York, and as one might expect the food played a large part in that. Rather than do loads of blog posts (I really can't be arsed nowadays) here's a round-up of some of my favourite eats in the Big Apple.

The dimly-lit dining room at Minetta Tavern, while terrible for food photography, is one of the most buzzy, atmospheric ones I've eaten in. And I've eaten in a lot. I kicked off with a generous portion of roasted bone marrow served with shallot confit and baguette soldiers while my friend went with roast baby beets. Both got the thumbs up. For mains, we both ordered the legendary Black Label burger. Made with prime cuts of dry-aged beef, topped with caramelized onions and served in a sesame-topped brioche bun, this was without doubt the best burger I've ever eaten. Oh, and the big mountain of fries were bloody amazing, too. Overall, Minetta Tavern was probably my favourite out of all the restaurants I visited in New York. This begs the question whether Keith McNally opened the wrong restaurant in London.

Minetta Tavern on Urbanspoon

Minetta Tavern, 113 MacDougal St (btwn Bleecker & 3rd St), Greenwich Village, New York, NY 10012
(Tel: +1-212-475-3850)

Kesté Pizza & Vino serves pizza the Neapolitan way with a wood-fired brick oven taking pride of place at the back of the shop. My diavola pizza was pretty much perfect with its blistered chewy crust and quality toppings of homemade mozzarella, spicy soppressata and fresh basil. My friend enjoyed his pistacchio a salsiccia pizza with its subtle pistachio pesto topping and moreish sausage meat. As the name of the restaurant suggests wine is of equal importance to the pizza and this is reflected by the excellent wine list. Along with Biang! and the Minetta Tavern, this small pizzeria is on my A-list of New York eateries.

Keste Pizza & Vino on Urbanspoon

Kesté Pizza & Vino, 271 Bleecker St (btwn Cornelia & Jones St), West Village, New York, NY 10014
(Tel: +1-212-243-1500)

Choosing where to eat in Manhattan's Chinatown is a risky business. One false move and you could end up in a tourist trap. So I was thankful that I had some local knowledge to fall back on in the form of coolcookstyle's recommendation of Shanghai Café Deluxe. Being a caff specialising in Shanghainese food, both 小籠包 xiao long bao (soup-filled pork dumplings) as well as the less well known 生煎包 sheng jian bao (pan-fried soup-filled pork buns) were ordered. Of the two I preferred the latter; I think this might be to do with the fact that sheng jian bao, with their juicy pork filling and crispy bottoms, are nigh on impossible to find in London. Incidentally, these two dishes are listed on the English language-menu as steamed tiny buns with pork and fried tiny buns with pork.

Shanghai Café on Urbanspoon

Shanghai Café Deluxe, 100 Mott St (btwn Canal & Hester St), Chinatown, New York, NY 10013
(Tel: +1-212-966-3988)

Fette Sau may not be the best barbecue joint in New York (the twitterverse told me as much) but it is ideally located to kick off an afternoon out in Williamsburg. I know sod-all about proper American barbecue and have precious little experience of it. So for what it's worth, I thought the pulled pork shoulder, beef short rib and beef brisket were decent enough but that the pork ribs and pork sausages were better. I liked the casual fun vibe of this converted auto repair shop so it was a shame that our lunch was slightly spoiled by rude and inattentive bar service (by the way, the food counter service was just fine).

Fette Sau on Urbanspoon

Fette Sau, 354 Metropolitan Ave (btwn Havemeyer & Roebling), Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY 11211
(Tel: +1-718-963-3404)

I'm pleased to report that there were no such service fails at the excellent Black Brick. Some haters may dwell on the overtly hipster interior design, but quite frankly who cares when the coffee is so damn good. The barista's attention-to-detail was a sight to behold and he also found time to have a friendly chat whilst making my brew. This coffee shop is an ideal pit-stop when strolling along Bedford Avenue, the main drag in Williamsburg. All power to hipsters!

Black Brick Coffee on Urbanspoon

Black Brick, 300 Bedford Ave (btwn Grand & S 1st St), Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY 11211
(Tel: +1-718-384-0075)

Tribeca Grill may no longer be the place to be seen, but I enjoyed my Sunday brunch at this glamorous restaurant famous for being part-owned by Robert De Niro (I had a good look around but Bobby was nowhere to be seen). I adored my jumbo lump crab cake, which as promised had jumbo lumps of sweet white crabmeat. This was perfectly paired with chipotle roasted corn and cilantro avocado mousse. My mate enjoyed his scrambled eggs, country gravy & buttermilk biscuit so much, he didn't offer me any. And do remember to order the basket of bread & pastries if only for the amazing banana bread. This was a fine last meal before heading off to the airport.

Tribeca Grill on Urbanspoon

Tribeca Grill, 375 Greenwich St (btwn Franklin & North Moore St), Tribeca, New York, NY 10013
(Tel: +1-212-941-3900)

To conclude my round-up, here are a few places where I enjoyed drinks and snacks. Eataly, Mario Batali's gastro-shrine to all things Italian, has no less than seven restaurants. Being a sunny day I popped up to the rooftop beer garden, Birreria, and enjoyed a fine platter of salumi. To top-up my Britisher points I spent an enjoyable Friday night at April Bloomfield's gastropub, The Spotted Pig. Next time I'll save some space to eat more than just my share of pork rillette and some shoestring fries. Happy Hour is a great time of the day to take a breather from sightseeing whilst plotting where to go out at night. I found this was best done over drinks, some truffle fries and half a dozen littleneck clams from the raw bar at McCoy in Greenwich Village.

Birreria @ Eataly on Urbanspoon

Birreria @ Eataly, 200 5th Ave (btwn 23rd & 24th St), Flatiron District, New York, NY 10010
(Tel: +1-212-937-8910)

The Spotted Pig on Urbanspoon

The Spotted Pig, 314 W 11th St (at Greenwich St), West Village, New York, NY 10014
(Tel: +1-212-620-0393)

McCoy American Bistro on Urbanspoon

McCoy, 89 MacDougal St (at Bleecker St), Greenwich Village, New York, NY 10012
(Tel: +1-212-460-0900)

[NYC Postscript – updated August 2013] After having a great holiday in New York in May, it was a pleasant surprise to return so soon after for a business trip. This, of course, meant more eats and here's a quick round-up of some more places worth checking out.

There are two very good reasons to visit the Standard Hotel in the Meatpacking district even if you're not a guest: the Standard Biergarten and the Standard Grill. Enjoy German beer in the former before going to the latter to tuck into seafood from the raw bar followed by treats such as seared scallops. A short distance from the Standard Hotel is Fatty Crab in the West Village. I'm not entirely sure what my Malaysian friends might think about this take on their cuisine, but I was a big fan of the signature chilli crab as well as snacks such as coconutty chicken wings and seasonal salad.

Taiwanese-style gua bao seem to be taking over the world at the moment and New York is no exception. Of the bao I tried I liked the belly pork-filled Chairman Bao at Baohaus but preferred the pork buns over at Momofuku Noodle Bar, although they were so amply-filled with pork belly it left little room for the slightly-lacklustre Momofuku ramen. My last tip is an example of what the Big Apple does best: ambience. I have no doubt there is better Japanese food in New York but for a good time vibe, there's no beating the Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya.

Sunday 9 June 2013

Biang! A Gem In New York's Other Chinatown

Strictly speaking, Flushing in Queens isn't New York's other Chinatown, as the Big Apple boasts no less than seven Chinatowns. That said, those-in-the-know consider Flushing to be the one with the best food. Which is why we headed out there to try Biang!, the first proper sit-down restaurant from the highly regarded Xi'an Famous Foods stable.

Being a contrary sod, my first impressions were that the restaurant was too trendy; you know what I mean, exposed brickwork and filament lamps. It felt a bit out of place alongside the more utilitarian feel of Flushing Main St. However, this inverted snobbery soon evaporated when I saw the menu, which majors in the cuisine of Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province in northwest China. This style of food, whilst undeniably Chinese, has Middle Eastern influences given the city's location on the Silk Road.

The main calling card of Biang! is biang-biang noodles from which the restaurant takes its name (biang being the sound made when the noodle dough is thwacked against the work surface). These broad hand-torn noodles are served with a number of toppings at this restaurant. We went for the stewed oxtail biang-biang noodles (腊汁牛尾biang-biang$7.50) and spicy & tingly beef biang-biang noodles (麻辣牛肉biang-biang$7.00). Soup noodle versions of most biang-biang dishes are also available but we stuck with the dry versions given the scorching weather and greater difficulty in sharing soup noodles.

Both bowls of noodles were superb, as the gravy from the stew clung on to the chewy broad hand-torn noodles. My favourite was the oxtail with its warming flavours from star anise, cloves, cassia bark and dried citrus peel. In contrast, my friend preferred the beef with its punch from the Sichuan peppercorns and chilli.

Another famous Shaanxi dish is roujiamo (肉夹馍), which can be found on the menu in English as stewed pork burgers (腊汁猪肉夹白吉馍 $5.00/2pcs). These flatbread sandwiches with stewed belly pork filling were very moreish. I was particularly impressed with the quality of the flatbread that I thought superior to the ones I've tried in China.

We also ordered spicy cumin lamb skewers (孜然羊肉串 $4.50/3 pcs with extra skewers for $1.50 each). These were swiftly eaten when despatched from the charcoal grill. I liked the juicy lamb skewers but I thought the chilli somewhat overshadowed the cumin. But really, that's not a big deal. There are other skewers on offer including esoteric body parts and organs as well as more prosaic offerings such as chicken.

A quick mention, too, for the drinks list; my beer-loving friend was impressed that it included some American craft beers in addition to better known Chinese and international branded beers. Incidentally, wine is not served but you can bring-your-own for corkage of $8/bottle. Overall the bill for the two of us came to a bargainous $45 including a round of beers and a generous tip for our cheery and exceedingly helpful server.

Biang! is a restaurant I would certainly return to if I ever went back to New York. Its menu is really interesting and ideally I would've corralled a bigger group to give it a good going over. Some might be put off by its location in Flushing, but the No. 7 subway train only takes half an hour from Grand Central Terminal, which is no time at all to travel for great food. But if you can't be bothered to go to Flushing then there are three branches of Biang's sister operation Xi'an Famous Foods in Manhattan, which serves a similar menu albeit in less comfortable surroundings.

Biang! on Urbanspoon

Biang! 41-10 Main St, Flushing, Queens, NY 11355 (Tel: +1-718-888-7713)
Nearest station: Flushing Main St

PS: Click here to read about the Shaanxi food I ate in Beijing and here about where to find it in London. And this post by Hollow Legs may be of interest if you fancy having a crack at making biang-biang noodles.

Monday 3 June 2013

Din Tai Fung in Tokyo & Hong Kong

What with my track record, I know you're not going to believe me when I say I didn't mean to visit Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) three times in eight days in two different cities. But I did. First up was a solo visit to the Takashimaya Times Square branch in Tokyo. This was followed with a couple of visits to the Causeway Bay branch in Hong Kong, where I had one meal with a colleague and another one with family.

Three kinds of seafood XLB
Pork & scallop XLB
Naturally, as with any trip to Din Tai Fung, I decided to check out the signature soup-filled xiao long bao (小籠包). I've probably banged on about these far too much over the years and the classic pork xlb in Tokyo didn't disappoint. I also ordered a steamer of three kinds of seafood xiao long bao (海鮮三種小籠包). Of these, my favourite was the pork & scallop with the pork & crab a close second, but I wasn't overly keen on the pork & sea urchin, as the sea urchin was a bit overpowering.

Pork & black truffle XLB
Angled luffa & shrimp XLB
Over in Hong Kong, I thought the classic pork xlb and pork & crab xlb were better than in Tokyo but of these were eclipsed by the sublime pork & black truffle xlb (黑松露小籠包), where the rich truffle filling was out of this world. I also enjoyed the unusual angled luffa & shrimp xlb (絲瓜蝦仁小籠包) – this is a little different with its clean tasting, refreshing filling of silk gourd (aka angled luffa).

Of the other dishes in Tokyo, I was a bit disappointed with the steamed chicken soup (原盅鮮雞湯). In other branches of Din Tai Fung I've been to, this soup has been outstanding, but the version here was lacking flavour and a bit oily to boot. And the shrimp fried rice (蝦仁蛋炒飯) was decidedly lacklustre, too. I mean, just look at the photo of the version in Tokyo on the left compared to the one in Hong Kong on the right. Rather bizarrely, the fried rice came with a konbu seaweed soup, which is a Japanese, not Chinese, affectation. That and the use of local vinegar rather than Chinkiang vinegar also grated.

So while the signature xiao long bao were excellent in Tokyo, the support acts were the weakest I've come across in any branch of Din Tai Fung I've visited. However, this is all relative, and the positives far outweigh the negatives. In particular, I was very impressed by the service. Having sensed my total lack of Japanese language skills, a Mandarin-speaking waitress from Taiwan was assigned to look after me. My Mandarin is pretty shoddy, but it was a nice gesture nonetheless.

Any lingering disappointment from my visit to the Tokyo branch was soon eradicated in Hong Kong. To be precise, it was a cold noodle salad, bizarrely described in English as garlic pork green bean fettuccine (蒜泥粉皮肉), which restored my faith in Din Tai Fung. I just loved this winning combination of soft pork slices, crunchy cucumber slithers and wobbly broad fen-pei noodles in a garlicky soy vinegar dressing.

We also tried the fried shrimp & pork potstickers (肉蝦仁煎餃) for the first time, which were, as is the fashion nowadays, served upturned stuck onto a fried dumpling pastry sheet. This is a bit gimmicky in my opinion, but it did spark off a conversation of how they were constructed. These were good, but there are probably other things I'd order off the menu first.

Stuff like the open-topped shrimp & pork shao mai (蝦仁燒賣) and the various wonton dishes are higher up in the pecking order in my opinion. Of the wonton dishes I preferred the spicy shrimp & pork (紅油抄手), which had a real kick, to the ones in special sauce (乾拌菜肉餛飩). Memo to Din Tai Fung management, I wouldn't use the term 'special sauce' should you decide to open in Britain.

There was other stuff, but I thought I'd go over to one of my dining companions to give his opinion. After all, he's not some dilettante blogger, but someone who's worked in kitchens most of his life and really knows his stuff. I am of course talking about Pa Noodles, and his comments over the course of the meal have been translated from Cantonese into italics:

How meticulous, there's a guy weighing out dumpling dough in the kitchen. The dumplings here really are quite exceptional; this is a PROPER restaurant, they don't take short cuts. Mind you, they could've been a bit more generous with the crab in the pork & crab XLB. My favourite? Probably the wontons in spicy sauce; the sauce has a proper kick. The pork chop with soup noodles (油炸排骨湯麵) is good, too – nice tender meat with good 5-spice flavour. But the rice, the fried rice, it wasn't fluffy enough, a bit too hard. But anyway, I like it here. Is there one of these in London? It'd make a fortune there.

A fair assessment by Pa Noodles, although I think he was a tad harsh about the rice! My mum liked Din Tai Fung too, although she didn't really rave about it. The thing is she's rarely effusive about food that isn't Cantonese. And my colleague liked it so much he's planning to visit the branch in his hometown of Sydney. Me? I've been to the Causeway Bay branch in Hong Kong four times now, and I love it. If only they could open one in London – I know it's a forlorn hope, but here's the link to my petition anyway.