Over the past few years, we have developed a sort of “London orientation” routine. After we check in and unpack, we have a quick shower and set out to walk to a pub in Soho or Marylebone. A cold Guinness in cool weather or a beer in summer for me. HRH the Queen of Kutch will have a glass of white wine. A packet of Salt and Vinegar Crisps [wafers] to accompany.
A Chinese dinner then follows. Often dinner is at a restaurant in Chinatown if we are at a pub I Soho or the fabulous Phoenix Palace off Marylebone Road if we are in Marylebone. Chinatown and its environs offer a huge choice of Chinese restaurants. This time we had identified a new place at Greek Street a short distance from the Chinatown environs as our dinner place. The absolutely wonderful Wun’s Tea Rooms.
Chinese food is experiencing a huge surge in London. The demand for, consumption and knowledge of regional Chinese food is growing. Sichuan, Beijing and Northern Eastern Chinese, Cantonese, Shanghai Buns, Dim Sum, Murger’s from Xian, Hot Pots and many other regional Chinese restaurants are opening all over. Wun’s Tea Rooms is a Hong Kong style tea room. This has two levels, the upper having floor to ceiling windows opening onto the hustle and bustle of Greek Street where you can sit and have tea. The basement has a dining room and bar. The walls are with distressed brick work, large green neon signs, wicker chairs, tiny round tables, banquettes running the length of the back walls, potted plants and the gramophones with old style brass speakers help create the tea room/speakeasy feel.
The drinks menu is set out in a newspaper. All the drinks are Chinese/Hong Kong liquor. Of course, there are cocktails ranging from the Classics – Whiskey Sours, Manhattans et al – to more exotic categorised as Fruit Forward, Herbaceous etc. A short beer list, all Hong Kong craft beers, a short wine list with only Chinese Rice wines and Gins. Everything was Chinese based or specially chosen to complement the food or the atmosphere of a speakeasy.
The food menu was a printed page which you were handed over with a pencil - much like what you get at a Dim Sum restaurant. We pored over the menu, frowned with concentration and ticked off our order. To drink, a bottle each of a Hong Kong IPA. We asked if what we ordered would be enough, being assured it was we waited till the food turned up.
First, what turned up was the absolutely stunning Sugar Skin Iberico Char Sui. Regular readers would know that we are very partial to the Chinese Char Sui Pork and the Chinese Crispy Pork Belly. You see these specimens hanging in Chinese restaurant show windows. This was without doubt the best Char Sui Pork we have ever eaten anywhere. The Spanish have excellent pork clearly evidenced by all the wonderful Charcuterie products they have especially the Jamon. Take the quality pork and cook it with some skill, the Chinese 5 Spice, Sugar, Fermented Tofu and you have a wonderful Char Sui. This is served thickly sliced and warm. The ivory fat melting, the skin crunchy and caramelised, crisp and unctuous.
Above:Sugar Skin Iberico Char Sui
Also excellent was the Hong Kong Typhoon Shelter style Whitebait. Typhoon Shelter Style is very popular in Hong Kong . This is characterised by serving the food with loads, absolutely loads of deep fried charlic and Chilly. Have a look at what this is all about here. Whitebait is a generic name given to tiny, immature fish. Our waiter said this was Sardines. Whitebait is served without the head, deep fried with loads of deep-fried garlic and Chilly. Addictive, delicious, crunchy. Salty, spicy and garlicy. The IPA suddenly tasted better.
Above:Hong Kong Typhoon Shelter style Whitebait
The Pot Rice with Soy and Aubergine was excellent. The Rice was cooked in a clay pot. The rice at the bottom had become crunchy, like the bottom of well cooked Biryani or the Socarrat in a well-made Paella.
Above:Pot Rice with Soy and Aubergine
We had two more dishes, one, a totally luscious XO Sauce Bone Marrow with Fried Mantou. Mantou is a Chinese Steamed Bread or Bao. A dash of Soy Sauce made it all the more delicious.
Above: XO Sauce Bone Marrow with Fried Mantou
The one dud was deep fried Tofu. Yes, the tofu itself was of top quality, the batter light and the dipping sauce good. However, the dish seemed one dimensional.
Above:deep fried Tofu
The food could be classified as Modern Chinese. All of it, except the Tofu, was better than most Chinese food we have eaten. Each dish by itself was stunning. But there was one problem. Somehow, we were left unsatisfied, I don’t mean that we did not have enough food, but more a situation of unsatisfied because of a lack of balance. Because in some way the meal felt incomplete. The problem is more to do with us. When we eat a Chinese meal, we are accustomed to eating a portion of Green vegetable be it Kailan or Bok Choy or Morning Glory. Also, being Indians, we have Daal Bhat hard wired into us. By Daal Bhat I mean we need some gravy or Sauce or Curry or liquid with our food. Here there was none. None of the dishes had much sauce, and in our minds a Chinese meal requires Daal. As I said, the problem was more with us rather than the meal itself.
All in all, this was a very good meal. We had some really good exciting food. This restaurant is fully recommended.