I’ve only recently discovered the Japanese recipe website Cookpad; it’s full of both traditional and modern recipes all provided by the Japanese public. Of course, I don’t read Japanese so I’m eternally grateful to the the translators who do translate the more popular recipes to English. On the Japanese site, the collection is currently at over 1.5 million recipes and at the time of writing, over 18,000 recipes have been translated – that’s still more than one could ever try to cook in a lifetime!

It was on Cookpad (and all the browsing through recipes I’ve done on the site) that I encountered this very simple way of presenting a Japanese nabe: sliced pork and sliced Chinese cabbage are placed upright in layers to great effect. The recipe I present below is a very simple one, with very few ingredients, and it feels quite light and healthy for a cold day (June, what is wrong with you?!). The presentation makes it feel that bit more special.

Pork and Chinese Cabbage Nabe

Pork and Cabbage Nabe
serves 2.

Half a large Chinese cabbage
A length of pork loin (how much depends on how hungry you are)
Soy sauce
Shaoxing rice wine
about 400-500ml chicken stock (I made it from a bouillon powder)
Salt and ground white pepper

Slice the pork loin crosswise as thinly as possible (this will be easier if it’s half frozen). Marinate it with a little soy sauce and a little rice wine. Slice the Chinese cabbage into wide strips crosswise. Layer the cabbage and pork together, alternating the layers, in a large clay pot (nabe) as in the photo. Pour over the chicken stock and season with salt and white pepper, if desired. A little soy sauce here wouldn’t hurt either. You’ll see that I also put in some mushrooms that I had lying about; some spring onions would be good too.

Place the lid on the nabe and place it over high heat. When it all starts steaming, reduce the heat and let it all simmer until everything is cooked. Serve with lots of white rice.

Earlier this year, I met Vi Vian for lunch at Old Tree Daiwan Bee, the relatively new Chinatown offshoot of the Old Tree Bakery up in Golders Green. You may remember that I visited the latter once and loved their pork chop rice and I was very keen to try their more centrally located restaurant.

The place itself is tiny with only bench seating for about 20 people. The small menu is full of Taiwanese favourites and as we couldn’t decide between it all, instead of ordering a ‘proper’ lunch, we ordered a few bits and pieces to share between us. Taiwanese sausage was served with slices of raw leek and were the sweet meaty sausages that I remember from my youth (the Chinese roast meat shops in Vancouver sold long links of them).

Taiwanese Sausage

An oyster omelette was, of course, the Taiwanese kind, with the gloopy red sauce on top. This was quite tasty with its layers of oyster, vegetables, egg and fried starch. Yes, it tastes better than it sounds.

Oyster Omelette

Taiwanese style salt and pepper crispy chicken may have looked dry but was anything but. Whoever’s in charge of the deep fryer knows what they’re doing – we were popping these into our mouths like they were going out of fashion. Wow.

Taiwanese Style Salt and Pepper Crispy Chicken

We still had space for sweets! I’ll admit that Asian attempts at Viennese cream cakes are not my thing (I always find the taste and texture of the cream to be a bit odd) but I was willing to try anything. A big puffy coffee cream bun was first to be ordered. There was a good coffee flavour in the cream inside (of which there was a lot!) the big choux puff.

Coffee Cream Bun

A matcha and red bean cake was also alright – again, this is more a reflection of my taste that the cakes there. I liked the matcha and red bean combo though!

Matcha and Red Bean Cake

Service, however, is surly and you’ve got to be quite assertive to even get your order in. Luckily, the food makes up for it. Still, it would be better if they could train their waitresses a bit better (this also goes for the Old Tree up in Golders Green) as they do occasionally go out of their way to ensure that you feel like you’re being a nuisance to them. I do hope to return though to try their other rice and noodle dishes.

Old Tree Daiwan Bee
26 Rupert St
London W1D 6DH

Old Tree Daiwan Bee on Urbanspoon

Last month, I was invited along to a bloggers lunch for the relaunch of Hutong’s dim sum lunch menu – while dim sum has been available for a while, much of the media focus and emphasis has been on its signature main dishes (mainly northern Chinese and Sichuan). Dim sum is definitely available at lunch times though (12-3 everyday) and being in the Shard, it’s highly likely that this is dim sum with the best view in London.

I’d not been to Hutong (the original Hutong in the Aqua Restaurant Group is in Hong Kong) nor The Shard before so yes, this was a bit of a treat! Up to the 33rd floor I went and I was then escorted to the restaurant’s entrance with its two lions.

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Prior to opening for lunch, we got a tour of the restaurant, with its quirky furnishings (there are washbuckets and original signs from China and even a wall made of tea bricks). We even got a tour of the men’s loos and their (in)famous urinals with a view! It cannot be denied that the views are stunning.

The View

We ended the tour at the bar where cocktails were being made for us. Their cocktail menu is quite fun – all the ingredients are listed with their supposed health benefits (according to Chinese beliefs).

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I stuck to something without alcohol – I don’t think this had a name but it was lovely! Not sure how much those berries were going to help me healthwise though!

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After drinks, we were ushered to our table – by this time, the restaurant was starting to fill with others there for the dim sum too. A number of teas were offered for us to drink with our dim sum –  we sampled a 2005 Puer tea, a Monkey pick Tie-Guan-Yin and a White Peony. I loved them all, especially the last white tea; the waiters were especially attentive as to what tea you had in your cup and ours brought me an extra cup to sample more than one at a time. Then the dishes started arriving.

Crispy Peking duck rolls were well filled and very prettily presented.

Crispy Peking duck rolls

Both Pan-fried lamb and fennel seed dumplings

Pan-fried lamb and fennel seed dumplings

… and Pan-fried mixed vegetable dumplings were excellent toothsome morsels.

Pan-fried mixed vegetable dumplings

The Crispy shrimp rolls with thousand year egg was one of my favourite things that afternoon with the egg and shrimp nicely balanced with a sliver of pickled ginger.

Crispy shrimp rolls with thousand year egg

Shanghai-style xiao long bao were very good though I’d have preferred it if the filling had been a little bit more compact.

Shanghai-style xiao long bao

Vegetable and bamboo pith dumplings were some of the nicest vegetable dim sum dishes I’d had in London. There was a good and non gloopy mixture of vegetables inside.

Vegetable and bamboo pith dumplings

Spicy minced pork dumplings could have used with a bit more spice! I like them firey. Luckily the homemade chilli oil also provided is excellent.

Spicy minced pork dumplings

Rose champagne shrimp dumplings – you couldn’t taste any champagne but they were still like good har gow.

Rose champagne shrimp dumplings

In addition to the usual dumplings, we were treated to an order of the restaurant’s famous signature dish of Red Lantern crispy soft shell crab with Sichuan dried chilli. This was gorgeous (I absolutely adore soft shell crab though) and packed a gentle amount of heat, despite the plethora of dried chilies in which they swam.

Red Lantern crispy soft shell crab with Sichuan dried chilli

And then there were desserts too! From the dim sum menu came both Steamed egg custard buns

Steamed egg custard buns

… and Mini black sesame glutinous dumplings. I preferred the latter, all soft and chewy. The former had almost solid custard inside – I prefer it more hot and melting, like sweet yellow lava!

Mini black sesame glutinous dumplings

All this would have totaled to a much more affordable price than I expected – £29.25 a head. It’s not too bad, especially if you’re trying to impress someone. However, if you can really pack it in, you might find portion sizes a little on the delicate side.

It was a lovely meal. Thank you very much to Hugh from Hutong for the invitation!

Hutong
Level 33 The Shard
31 St. Thomas Street
London SE1 9RY

Hutong on Urbanspoon

I had heard whispers through the grapevine of a secret Chinese restaurant in South Kensington for a few years now and recently, I confirmed its existence. There’s no information online….in English. It turns out that there’s been a bit of chatter online in Chinese and it was my food-loving Chinese colleague who found it and it’s thanks to him that we had a chance to eat there. He had managed to gather 16 of us to try it one night. Its name is Guyuan, which translates to ‘old garden’ or ‘old paradise’.

As for location, I’ll only say that it’s not far from South Kensington tube station! The secret restaurant is run by a restaurateur whose restaurants serve very different cuisines and this is clearly a labour of love to him. There’s only one room that holds a massive round table with a massive lazy susan in the middle. It’s beautifully decorated and reminded us of the private dining rooms we were privileged to try in Beijing. It was difficult to believe that we were still in London!

Guyuan

The meal was a proper feast, with 8 cold starters, 11 hot dishes and fruit afterwards! The food mostly hailed from the south-east of China with many Shanghainese specialities and while I certainly wasn’t familiar with most of the dishes we had, all were delicious. The following were the highlights of the meal for me.

Braised kaofu with cloud ear fungus, lily flowers and peanuts (cold)

Braised Kaofu with Cloud Ear Fungus, Lily Flowers, and Peanuts

Bean curd sheet salad (cold)

Bean Curd Sheet Salad

Fried quail with chestnuts (with a little zing from the addition of Sichuan peppercorns)

Fried Quail with Chestnuts

West Lake fish (lots of vinegar and ginger!)

West Lake Fish

‘Chicken leg mushrooms’ in oyster sauce

Chicken Leg Mushrooms in Oyster Sauce

Scallops and asparagus in XO sauce

Scallops and Asparagus in XO Sauce

Pork and cabbage dumplings

Pork and Cabbage Dumplings

If you’re interested, you can find their phone number at the bottom of this page. You’ll need a minimum of 10 people and will need to book at least two weeks in advance – they’re very popular. We left the menu up to them (after specifying a cost for food per head (£30pp)) though you can request your favourite dishes. I suspect it’s easiest to book if you have a Chinese speaker to help with booking; otherwise, good luck!

All the dishes we had that night can be seen in this Flickr photoset.

On Little Newport Street in Chinatown, next to Baozi Inn (and owned by it too, I believe), there’s a tiny slip of a shop that sells chuan chaun xiang, a Sichuan spicy snack food. It also goes by the name mala tang and is not dissimilar to Sichuan hotpot, only the foods are on skewers and its the vendor who cooks your selection in their one gigantic communal pot. Jeanne and I stopped in one afternoon to try it out.

Chuan Chuan Xiang

The little place has a menu posted outside on the window and inside on the counter. Everything costs the same per skewer and there’s a good variety of meats (mainly processed) and vegetables available.

Menu

Inside, there’s just room for a few people to order over a counter. In the back, all the ingredients are lined up on skewers or awaiting skewering. A plexiglass window stands between you and a bubbling cauldron that seems to only be filled with chilli oil, chillies and Sichuan peppercorns. Don’t worry – it’s not too bad! That day, we split a pork luncheon meat (read: something similar to Spam) skewer and a fish ball skewer since we just had lunch.

Bubbling Pot

When your order has had its time in the jacuzzi from hell, your skewers are dumped into a foil takeaway container and sprinkled with chopped spring onions and coriander. There may have been a sesame based sauce available as well but I’m not entirely sure.

Skewers

The heat was a lot milder than I expected but they were still delicious. Can’t go wrong with Spam in chilli oil. Now, while I say that the heat wasn’t too bad, I did notice that the chilli oil doesn’t cling terribly well to Spam and fish balls. If you were to order the Chinese leaves, for example, my experience has been that those wrinkly leaves provides lots of little nooks and crannies for burning red oil to hide. It’s probably not clear yet but I love the skewers and I love the concept and I wish that there were more sunny days in London in which I may wander down to Chinatown and munch on street food like this.

In addition to the skewers, the little shop also sell massive baos which are also available to eat next door at Baozi Inn. While I believe this is the first chuan chuan xiang place in London’s Chinatown, a competitor has already opened around the corner on Gerrard Street so…time to try them too!

Chuan Chuan Xiang
(next to Baozi Inn)
Little Newport Street
Chinatown
London

A recent disappointing meal at Hong Kong Diner had us looking around for another restaurant in Chinatown that served good Hong Kong style cuisine. I came across a lot of positive reviews for Old Town 97, the year being significant as that was the end of British rule in Hong Kong. We had a late lunch there one Saturday not too long ago.

They have a great lunch deal – £4.80 for a dish of rice or noodles with a free bowl of their daily soup. We chose the char siu on fried hor fun which came out looking quite plain but turned out to be some well fried hor fun topped with a generic Asian brown sauce and some quite good sliced char siu. A bit of chili oil (excellent stuff) and it was a great dinner. The accompanying soup (pork bone, carrot and tomato) was a bonus.

Char Siu on Hor Fun

Soup of the Day

I wanted to try a dish that I’d only heard about online – ‘LSE fan‘ (or ‘LSE rice’, about £9.50); the story goes that the dish was either invented or made famous by an LSE student. On our queries, our waiter informed us that it was a honey and black pepper pork served with egg fried rice. It turned out to be more of a triple eggy delight – egg fried rice, fried egg and the honey and black pepper pork was topped with an additional eggy sauce. It was definitely over-the-top, excellent and certainly almost enough for two.

"LSE fan"

Their drinks are very good there – here’s a milk tea and an iced lemon tea.

Drinks

Sadly, a second, more recent visit wasn’t as good. One of their specialties, Hainan chicken rice (£7.30), had overcooked chicken breast but tasty enough rice and accompanying chilli sauce. A little more care, though, could have been taken over the presentation of the rice.

Poached Chicken

Hainan Chicken Rice

I wanted to try their crispy noodles. Fried noodles with mixed seafood (£8.00) turned out to be mediocre noodles in a wading pool of gloopy (albeit well-seasoned) sauce.

Mixed Seafood Crispy Noodles

It all seems to be a bit hit and miss. While it’s likely we’ll be back to try their beef brisket (thanks for the rec, Lizzie) and their hor fun in eggy sauce (two dishes I’ve heard good things about), as in most places in Chinatown, service left a lot to be desired. Depending on which waiter you get, service can be acceptable or miserable. Why do they do that? And poor Blai is extremely upset that by default, they gave him a fork when he sat down!

Old Town 97
19 Wardour Street
London  W1D 6PF

Old Town 97 on Urbanspoon

It sure doesn’t feel like spring… maybe it was an April Fool’s joke by someone or something above but there was a bit of light snow coming down in west London in the early afternoon today. Spring weather it may not be but it’s still perfect weather for braises and stews.

Braised beef and daikon is a traditional Cantonese stew and most classic recipes online call for Chee Hou sauce, a ready made sauce of soybeans, ginger and garlic used for Chinese braising. I have no experience with the stuff and didn’t have any of it to hand but I did have a tub of white miso paste in the fridge. A spoonful of it went it and didn’t hurt it one bit. Melt-in-the-mouth beef, tender daikon, lots of thick sauce that’s perfect over white rice – this will keep you warm on the inside!

Braised Beef and Daikon

Braised Beef and Daikon
serves 4 with rice.

600-800g beef for stewing (like braising steak, shin, brisket)
2 tbsps oil
4 slices ginger
3 large garlic cloves
80ml Shaoxing wine
2 tbsps oyster sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 heaped tsp miso paste
1-2 star anise
1 stick cinnamon/cassia
a sprinkle or two of white pepper
a small chunk of rock sugar
3-4 cups water
1 small to medium sized daikon
2 tbsps cornstarch

Cut up the beef into large chunks. Heat up a pot over medium heat, add the oil and then brown the beef on all sides. Add the ginger and garlic and stir for a minute or two until aromatic. Add all the other ingredients except the daikon and cornstarch and stir to mix. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat so that everything is just at a simmer. Half cover the pot and let it do its thing for about 1.5 to 2 hours. You want that beef to be tender.

Peel and cut the daikon into large chunks. Add to the cooking beef and then continue cooking all together until everything is tender. Mix up a cornstarch slurry by combining the cornstarch with cold water and then stir as much as you desire into the sauce to thicken it to your liking.

Serve with rice and other dishes if desired. Stay warm, everyone!

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