I’ve been walking by the Lanzhou Noodle Bar (on Cranbourn Street, just around the corner from the entrance to Leicester Square station) without ever paying it much attention. In the window are steam trays filled with the kind of buffet Chinese food that you expect an unsuspecting tourist to order, thinking that this is what real Chinese food is like in London’s Chinatown. Well, who’s the noob now?! It turns out that behind that false front is noodle heaven. (With thanks to Lizzie as I read about the place on her blog first – and yet still couldn’t find it, sigh)

They’ve got an a la carte menu filled with various dishes – I turned immediately to the noodle chart where there’s a choice of either handpulled noodles (la mian – famous in the city of Lanzhou) or hand cut noodles (dao xiao mian), either in a soup or stir-fried. Various meaty additions are available.

On my visit there, I was placed on some strange bar-like seating which I had to share with two guys trying to keep their elbows to themselves. I ordered some tea and a bowl of hot and sour sliced beef handpulled noodle soup and waited while noodles were pulled and thumped behind me. My tea came in a styrofoam cup, which was a bit unwieldy but did its job.

Dotted on the tables were jars of ‘Shanghai red beancurd’ that turned out to be filled instead with what appeared to be homemade chilli oil. Help yourself!

Chilli Oil

After a little wait, a massive bowl of noodle soup was plonked down in front of me. There was a good spicy and gently sour broth, beautifully thin noodles (I asked for thin, I’ll probably go with regular next time), and lots of sliced beef and some token bok choy too.

Hot and Sour Sliced Beef Hand Pulled Noodle Soup

Just having it steam up my face was extremely comforting and yes, it was delicious. The noodles were slippery smooth and somehow I managed to put away the entire bowl. Don’t worry about heat levels – the hot and sour were quite gentle. For real heat, you’ve got to add that chili oil on the table.

And Lanzhou Noodle Bar is definitely not a place to linger – order, eat and go. I’m a-ok with that when the bill is about £8.

Lanzhou Noodle Bar
33 Cranbourn Street
London WC2H 7AD

Lanzhou on Urbanspoon

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This past scorching summer in London had us dining on bits and bobs from the fridge, plenty of salads and pretty much anything else that didn’t actually require cooking. The thought of cold noodles then came to me and I wanted something cold yet rich and filling. Sesame noodles! The sauce is rich and savoury but the vegetables help keep it fresh.

They’re very easy to throw together and if Chinese cuisine is normally your thing, the majority of the ingredients will be in your fridge. It keeps very well in the fridge too and makes for a great snack or packed lunch.

And sure, it’s no longer summer in London but it’s still a good recipe!

Cold Sesame Noodles

Cold Sesame Noodles
serves 2-3.

300g dried wheat noodles

a little sesame oil
1 large carrot
1/2 an English cucumber

for the dressing:
2 heaped tbsps Chinese sesame paste
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp chilli oil
2 tbsps light soy sauce
2 tbsps rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 large spring onions, finely sliced

This recipe couldn’t be easier. Mix together all the dressing ingredients together. Shred the carrot and cucumber (leave out the seeds) and set aside.

Boil the noodles until al dente (or to your liking). Drain and cool with cold water and toss with the carrot, cucumber and all the dressing. Serve.

One of my closest friends has been in London this past year and she very kindly took me for lunch at Min Jiang on my birthday a couple weeks back. With its location on the 10th floor of the Royal Garden Hotel (a hotel whose interior is certainly much nicer than its blocky grey exterior), its views over Kensington Gardens were brilliant; if only the weather that day matched it.

The View

I’d never felt so much like a tai tai (think lady who lunches) that afternoon (leaving work for a long lunch at a swanky restaurant will do that). And as you’d expect in a restaurant like Min Jiang, service was impeccable throughout our lunch.

For our meal, we chose a selection of dim sum and some noodles for the whole birthday thing (their length represents longevity) – their famous Beijing duck would have to wait for another visit. Our first dish, their signature xiao long bao, was excellent. Thin skins gave way to lots of meaty broth and a lovely pork filling; we think they’d coated the base of the steamer with something so that the dumplings wouldn’t stick. With a dab or two of vinegar and ginger, these went down quickly.

Xiao Long Bao

The deep-fried yam croquette with seafood was their delicate version of wu kok. These very dainty bites were delicious but I still think I prefer the more usual robust flavours of a meat filling.

Deep-fried Yam Croquette with Seafood

Har kow had a good prawn filling but the skins were ever so slightly mushy. Roxanne taught me to look out for a good springiness to the har kow wrappers.

Har Kow

The stir-fried turnip cake with XO sauce had a surprising amount of heat and was utterly delicious. Soft chunks of steamed daikon cake had been fried together with the XO sauce and the addition of beansprouts added a great crunchy contrast.

Stir-fried Turnip Cake with XO Sauce

While we were eating, a waiter snuck up behind us, announced the Sichuan dan dan noodles with minced pork and then deposited this on our table.

Uh... Sichuan Dan Dan Noodles with Minced Pork

You could have heard a pin drop.

He then proceeded to giggle at our disbelief and announced that he’d already plated up our noodles and then placed these in front of us. Oh, ha!

A Portion of Dan Dan Noodles

They were very good – more of a light, nutty, sesame laced dan dan noodle dish than the original spicy, oily Sichuan version. They went down easily and were the perfect birthday noodles.

Of course we saved room for dessert. A proper lady who lunches would probably be watching her figure but well, we were just play-acting that day. My fresh mango cream with sago pearls and pomelo was just sweet enough and certainly more mangoey than any mango/pomelo dessert I’ve had in the past. My only quibble would be that more pomelo was needed.

Fresh Mango Cream with Sago Pearls and Pomelo

Roxanne’s fried and steamed black sesame paste dumplings with black sesame ice cream came looking incredibly delicate. Everything was incredibly full of black sesame flavour. Of the two dumplings, the classic steamed dumpling was much better than fried. I loved the steamed dumpling’s soft mochi like texture and its lava-hot black sesame filling.

Fried and Steamed Black Sesame Paste Dumplings with Black Sesame Ice Cream

Was it the best dim sum in London? No, I don’t think so though it was very good and very refined but, gosh, that refinement came with a hefty price. One observation: the strength of the more northern dishes (xiao long bao, dan dan noodles) did lead us to suspect a more northern hand in the kitchen rather than a pure Cantonese one – nothing wrong with that. Overall, our meal there was great – hooray for lovely company and fantastic service and feeling like a tai tai for one afternoon. Thanks very much, Roxanne!

Min Jiang
Royal Garden Hotel
2-24 Kensington High Street
London W8 4PT

Min Jiang on Urbanspoon

By some sheer coincidence, I reckon, two of Hong Kong’s best known wonton noodle shops are located across from each other on Wellington Street in Central. On one side, Mak’s Noodles; on the other, Tsim Chai Kee. It was late breakfast time one weekday, perhaps almost brunch, when we decided to try both of them. I hear both places fill up at lunchtime with all the financial workers in the area so it’s probably best to go either early or late.

We started at Mak’s. Two bowls of wonton noodle soup were ordered (about 25HKD each) – regular egg noodles for me and flat rice noodles for M. Lots has been said already about the size of the portions at Mak’s but even after reading about it all, it was still a bit gobsmacking to have a tiny bowl served to you. You know those Chinese soup bowls that are usually set at each place at a Chinese restaurant? Yeah, that size.

Wonton Mee

Wonton Hor Fun

Four little wontons sat at the bottom of the bowl, under the little pile of noodles. The standard size for a wonton in Hong Kong seems to be of ping pong size but these were significantly smaller. Still, they were tasty with their prawn filling. The noodles were excellent with a great bouncy texture and the soup was very flavourful.

At Mak's Noodle

It was a great bowl but the size of the portion and the price of that portion is a bit hard to stomach. I reckon I could put away at least 3-4 bowls comfortably which definitely doesn’t make this a budget noodle shop. Of course, if this was in London, it would almost be a bargain for the quality evident in the bowl. They’re also famous for their dry noodles topped with shrimp roe but we didn’t have another chance to try those.

Mak’s Noodle
G/F, 77 Wellington Street
Central
Hong Kong

With lots of space still in our tummies, we crossed the road and entered straight into Tsim Chai Kee. The inside was surprisingly modern and all dark wood and a great contrast to the old-fashioned look of Mak’s. The menu is shorter than that of Mak’s with only 3 kinds of toppings available: wontons, sliced beef and fishballs. Prices were lower (about 20HKD for one topping and 23HKD for two toppings) and portions were bigger.

M chose the wonton noodle soup this time and yes, it was a generous portion. Again, excellent noodles but I thought there was more of a lye flavour in the soup which must have leached out from the noodles. Still, I would happily down a whole bowl of these noodles with their ping pong sized wontons.

Wonton Mee

I went for two toppings: wontons and fishballs. The bigger wontons made for a meatier mouthful though in hindsight, I quite like the daintiness of Mak’s wontons. The huge, bouncy, homemade fishballs were excellent – they were made of dace and studded with dried orange peel, not something I’d had in a fishball before. The noodles were just as good as in Mak’s.

Fishballs and Wonton Mee

Oh, I can’t pick a straight out winner. Both were great but for value for your buck (and it’s all about good value here), Tsim Chai Kee is better. When I go back one day, it’ll be all three toppings in a bowl for me (yeah, then I’ll cross the road and have a plateful of dry noodles with shrimp roe)!

Tsim Chai Kee Noodle
Shop B, G/F Jade Centre
98 Wellington Street
Central
Hong Kong

Beef noodle soup. When more than one person recommended the ones at Kau Kee to me, it became a priority visit while in Hong Kong. As befits a 90+ year old restaurant with a speciality, their menu is short – beef brisket or beef slices or curry beef tendon on your choice of noodle soup. There may have been a vegetable too.

At about 8pm on a weekday, three of us found a table with relative ease though the small restaurant was constantly packed while we were there. A bowl of Kau Kee’s special beef brisket in traditional broth (88 HKD, all beef and no noodles), another of beef brisket with e-fu noodles in broth (32 HKD), and two curry beef tendon with rice vermicelli (30 HKD each) had us bursting at the seams.

The bowls weren’t large but they were filled to the brim – lots of noodles and beef and topped up with broth. The beef brisket was just tender and very flavourful and well, beefy, as was the broth. I enjoyed the e-fu noodles though perhaps their strong flavour would pair better with the curry.

Special Beef Brisket in Traditional Broth

Beef Brisket with E-Fu Noodle in Broth

The curry beef tendon was gorgeous. This beautiful bowl opened my eyes to excellent Chinese curries – I had only had terrible yellow curry powder and cornstarch monstrosities prior to this. This was delicious and rich and complex and full of both tendon and beef brisket. I’d never had such soft beef tendon as this before; they must have simmered the mixture for ages.

Beef Tendon in Curry Sauce with Vermicelli

Dinner

We did over order by that bowl of extra beef; a single bowl of beef and noodles each would have been enough and been even more of a budget dinner. Oh, what I’d give for a bowl of the curry right now!

Kau Kee
G/F, 21 Gough Street
Central
Hong Kong

We ate quite a bit of Taiwanese beef noodle soup, growing up in Vancouver. It was one of my father’s favourite noodle soups and he’d look for it when we went out to sup and it grew on us too. I’ve not actually been to Taiwan, of course, but Vancouver does have a good reputation for its Asian food and what I ate as a teenager was all delicious. Anyway, it’s a wonderfully soothing meal-in-a-bowl and while it’s possible to have it in London (I’ve had it at Formosa in Fulham and Mr Noodles recently had a version at Mama Lan in Brixton), it turns out it’s quite easy to make at home. (I’ve since learned that its Chinese name is niu rou mian and it is made all over China.)

Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup

The soup itself has a phenomenally simple recipe and it only gets involved once you’re putting together the bowls of noodle soup. The list of ingredients does seem long but if you normally cook Chinese food at home, you’ll have most of it in your cupboards. They’re pretty much just dumped into a large pot and left to simmer for about 4 hours – what results is a hearty, beefy soup that’s eminently slurpable and tender, melt-in-the mouth chunks of beef. All that’s required is a bit of greenery and a tangle of wheat noodles. If you’d like it spicier, add some chilli oil.

Feeling a little restless while the soup was on the simmer, I put my hand to making hand pulled noodles. The idea had been on my mind after I read a recent blog post on Pulled Noodles, Lady Style on Life on Nanchang Lu (I also found this very good explanation of the technique.) This method takes up less space and less mess than the regular hand pulled noodles (lamian or laghman in Uygher) you see made by men pulling the dough to an arm aching degree and dusting flour all over the place and I believe is made at home in Xinjiang by women. I can’t say I was incredibly proficient on my first go but as you can see, I did manage to produce enough to feed the two of us!

Lamian

Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup
adapted from a recipe from The Newlywed Cookbook (on Gapey’s Grub)
serves 4.

500g beef shin
500g oxtail
2 tbsps sunflower oil
6 cloves garlic, smashed
4 slices ginger, bruised
4 spring onions, cut in half crosswise
1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
2 star anise
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
2 dried red chilies
1 fresh red chili
2 tbsps Shaoxing rice wine
2 tbsps light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 heaped tbsps chili bean paste
2 tbsps sugar
7 cups water (2.25l)

To serve:
wheat noodles for four
spinach or pak choy
chopped spring onions
chopped coriander

This first step is optional but makes things a little easier at the end. Take a square of muslin/cheesecloth and bundle up the star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, dried chilies and fresh chili.

Heat a large stock pot over medium-high heat and add the sunflower oil. Brown the oxtail and beef shin on all sides before adding the garlic, ginger and spring onions. Stir and fry until fragrant. Add the five spice powder, the spice bundle, the chili bean paste, the Shaoxing rice wine, the light and dark soy sauces and the sugar and pour over the water. Bring it to a boil and then turn down the heat and leave to simmer, half covered, for 4 hours.

At the end of the simmering time, take the meat out and separate it from any bones and cut into large chunks. Set it aside. Strain the soup (I used a Chinese spider), skim any fat if there looks to be too much, and keep hot.

Boil water in another pot and boil your noodles until cooked. Drain and place in a bowl. Top with some beef. Bring the broth to a simmer and add the vegetables. When cooked, drain the vegetables and place on top of the noodles also. Pour some broth over the noodles and sprinkle it all with the chopped spring onions and coriander. Serve immediately.

I’m back from my two weeks and a bit work and holiday trip to Beijing (those last three posts were scheduled before I left in anticipation of being behind the Great Firewall of China). Those two weeks felt like two months as each day, I narrowly escaped death each time I crossed the street; no one warned me about the terrible traffic in that city – seriously, green does not always mean go for the pedestrian and yet red always seems to mean go for any driver. And the city is humongous. Walking anywhere is near impossible and yet the alternative, taking a taxi, can be ridiculously stressful too as you watch in fear as your driver cuts in front of yet another speeding lorry. Luckily, the sites were quite something to behold (photos are going up on Flickr daily) and the food more than made up for it all. We ate extremely well – at high end restaurants or at little random restaurants or even out on the street, everything was good and sometimes it was utterly fantastic.

We did plan a few meals but left a lot of it up to chance too – this turned out to be a good plan as it was often difficult to get from one tourist site to the restaurant on the other side of town (traffic was always bad at meal times and sometimes taxis were impossible to get). This meal was a planned one – I had read about Noodle Loft on both Appetite for China and World Foodie Guide and was keen to have some homemade noodles here to build up our energies again after a long day at the Great Wall (at Huanghua).

The Great Wall

Getting here was half the fun (not!). We took the metro to Dawanglu and had to push our way out rather violently to get out of the train; there was some fear that Blai couldn’t get out but we both managed in the end! The twenty minute or so walk down to the restaurant wasn’t entirely pleasant as it involved crossing a number of major roads and essentially we were walking down the side of a minor motorway. We made it there eventually though and the food turned out to be worth the walk!

Noodle Chefs

The two storey restaurant had an open kitchen downstairs and a very pleasant dining room upstairs and we were sat in the latter. The room filled with affluent young couples and businessmen – all of them enjoying the various noodle dishes and non noodle dishes available. Like a lot of the higher end restaurants we ate at, Noodle Loft has a picture menu with names in both Chinese and English. For the two of us, we ordered two noodle dishes and a vegetable side.

The first noodle dish was a simple stir fried handmade noodles with pork and cabbage. Rather unexpectedly, there was a hint of vinegar running through this dish which was surprising but delicious. And gosh I love the chewiness of handmade noodles.

Noodles with Pork and Cabbage

Our second noodle dish was one I’ve wanted to try ever since I saw a photo of it on Flickr ages ago – kaolaolao – Shanxi noodles made with oat flour steamed in a honeycomb pattern. We had ours topped with a pork and vinegar sauce but you can also order them plain and they’ll come with dipping sauces instead. These had a lovely nutty flavour that paired well with the heavier sauce. The vinegar was much milder in this dish.

Kaolaolao with Pork and Vinegar Sauce

The Noodles Underneath

Our vegetable side was a delectable stir fried Chinese kale (just the stems) with fresh walnuts. This was just delicious with the vegetables retaining their crunch while the nuts were green and tender.

Chinese Kale with Walnuts

For London standards, the meal was inexpensive – about 100RMB (or £10) with a couple drinks – but it’s certainly not cheap by Beijing standards. It’s a nice place to try different kinds of noodles though; apart from the ones we tried, they also have knife shaven noodles, one chopstick noodles, cat ear noodles, etc. Any idea why they brought a little plant to the table when we paid? Is this so they know we paid?

Plant

I’ve not got their official website below but instead the link is to a Beijing directory listing where you can find the name and address in Chinese.

Noodle Loft
20 Xidawang Lu
Chaoyang District
Beijing, China