Taiwanese food! I love it and I loved what we tried at Ho-ja on Goldhawk Road in Shepherd’s Bush. I was first introduced to the restaurant by a friend who organised a karaoke night in one of their two private rooms downstairs. While the karaoke was ok (language variety good, song variety in English meh), the food was memorable. I returned last week with Blai.

The location was one I remembered as being an old-fashioned British diner in times past – I recall having Spam fritters for the first time there! The business has turned over a couple times since then and is now Ho-ja. The space is large and is peppered with wooden benches and tables – we’re shown to the end of a large communal one as the smaller tables are all taken. We have menus but one needs to order and pay at the counter and the food is brought out to you when it’s ready.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

Our spread looks good, no? First up was a pork katsu bento – it’s not really in a bento box but is akin to the set meals that are typically Taiwanese. For something like £6, we got a slightly greasy fried breaded pork cutlet, some stewed cabbage, beansprouts, and rice. Portions are certainly hearty.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

A side order of their chicken popcorn is surprisingly greaseless by comparison. It’s extremely addictive and it would be worth ordering this as a bento main.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

The Ho-ja beef roll also comes with vegetables (steamed broccoli here) and are flaky scallion pancakes rolled around lots of salad leaves and some stewed beef. Fabulous stuff! We loved the freshness of the greens with the richer bread and beef. Just watch out for the skewers holding the rolls together… it’s easy to accidentally give yourself an unwanted piercing.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

With a bubble tea and a regular jasmine tea, the bill came to about £22, a pretty good deal. It’s definitely a place to look out for if you’re in search of a bite in the area.

Ho Ja
39 Goldhawk Road
Shepherd’s Bush
London W12 8QQ

Right, this might be the quickest I’ve ever written anything up. But at lunch yesterday, I got to try the street food purveyor Bian Dang, specialising in Taiwanese lunch boxes (the name means that in Mandarin). I actually sought them out when they came yesterday as part of KERB Paddington – when I heard someone was serving Taiwanese lunch boxes, I knew I had to try it! I loved the lunchboxes that I’d tried in Vancouver (I’ve not been to Taiwan) and I adore Taiwanese pork chops.

Anyway, for £7.50 I got The Beast – a lunch box with everything. Everything was their usual rice, minced pork sauce, stir fried vegetables, pickles and half a slow cooked tea egg topped with all their available toppings: fried pork, fried chicken and fried oyster mushrooms.

The Beast from Bian Dang at KERB Paddington

This was brilliant. Of particular note were the fried oyster mushrooms – these were the best fried mushrooms I’ve ever had – and the slow cooked tea egg. But everything in box was excellent. It’s definitely worth trying them out!

Bian Dang
At various locations. Keep track of where they are with their Twitter feed.

Do we need another review of BAO? Probably not but here’s mine anyway! Last week we tried our luck in the queue at 7pm and 90 minutes later, the three of us (me, Vivian, Felicia) finally got in. There’s always a queue here; be prepared for it or be prepared to find another place to leave. Every time we thought we’d vacate the queue, we’d move forward one spot and then we’d wait again. There are only 30 seats inside.

BAO

Anyway, 90 minutes later, we were finally in (while in the queue, I did feel quite sorry for the couple seated right by the window as everyone was ogling their food). Anyway, we’d already made our selections on the order form in the queue so we handed that over and waited impatiently.

With three of us, we were able to sample almost the entire menu. Sides and small eats (xiaochi) arrived first. Turnip Tops, Salted Egg (£2.5) turned out to be raw turnip greens in a spicy black vinegar dressing with, yes, grated salted egg on top.

Turnip Tops, Salted Egg

Sweet Potato Chips, Plum Pickle Ketchup (£3) were beautifully fried and perfectly crisp. The frying in this restaurant was top-notch.

Sweet Potato Chips, Plum Pickle Ketchup

Eryngi Mushroom, Century Egg (£4) – I loved this dish. The mushrooms had been thickly sliced and grilled and topped with a couple of slices of the black jelly that is century egg.

Eryngi Mushroom, Century Egg

Pig Blood Cake (£3.5) was a slice of something like black pudding topped with an egg yolk. This was fantastic – all earthy darkness brightened by the sun. Sorry, that probably sounds ridiculous but it really was very very good.

Pig Blood Cake

Taiwanese Fried Chicken, Hot Sauce (£5) was. just. fantastic. Ah, I’ve never met a fried chicken I didn’t like but this really is near the top of my list.

Taiwanese Fried Chicken, Hot Sauce

Now, I adore aubergine but the Aubergine, Wonton Crisp (£3.5) didn’t exactly light up my life. While I enjoyed the silky vegetable on top of the deep fried wonton skins, perhaps it was overshadowed by that fried chicken that arrived at the same time.

Aubergine, Wonton Crisp and  Taiwanese Fried Chicken, Hot Sauce

Aged Beef Rump Cap, Aged White Soy Sauce (£6) is probably one of their more famous small eats and for good reason. This was some seriously good beef – very tender and flavourful. I’m not entirely certain what white soy sauce is but whatever sauce there was was delicious.

Aged Beef Rump Cap, Aged White Soy Sauce

Trotter Nuggets (£4) were melting little morsels that reminded me very much of David Chang’s pig’s head torchon…only this was made up of the other end of the animal. That green sauce on the side packed a surprising heat!

Trotter Nuggets

Guinea Fowl Chi Shiang Rice (£5.25) was one of my favourites that night. This bowl of rice was topped with lots of lovely things and an egg too. We were told to mix it all up together before tucking in and little bits of fried shallots and pickles peaked through the mixture. Fabulous.

Guinea Fowl Chi Shiang Rice

Of course, we had some of their baos too. Their Daikon Bao (£3.5) was rather inspired. Inside the soft pillowy steamed bun was stuffed a deep fried patty formed of grated daikon. And there’s a thin slice of daikon on top of that to remind you of what’s inside.

Daikon Bao

A Classic Bao (£3.75) was fine with lots of pork in there and peanuts on top too.

Classic Bao

Lamb Shoulder Bao (£5) was braised lamb covered in more of that green sauce.

Lamb Shoulder Bao

Confit Pork Bao (£4.50) – well, at this point, I wasn’t entirely sure what differentiated the confit pork from the regular pork as the mound of fried shallots somewhat overwhelmed it all….and I normally really like fried shallots.

Confit Pork Bao

And for dessert, I was by myself with my Fried Horlicks Ice Cream Bao (£4). The ice cream was brilliant – I do like me some Horlicks – and the pairing with fried bread was fantastic. I would have liked a little less bread but I was pretty full by that point and perhaps this was my stomach crying out for help.

Fried Horlicks Ice Cream Bao

Overall, I preferred the sides and small eats to the main baos; of all the baos we had, my favourite was the daikon one. Perhaps next time I’ll try their fried chicken bao (I can’t see how I’d ever dislike that). I’ve heard the queue is much shorter earlier in the week; I’ll try anything to shorten the length of time I’m queuing!

BAO
53 Lexington Street
London W1F 9AS

Bao on Urbanspoon

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

I ate at Chef Hung’s both on the day I arrived in Vancouver and the day I left. They’re a Taiwanese chain that specialises in beef noodle soup and on the very cold day that I arrived, the idea of a soothing, comforting bowl sounded great.

That evening, I slurped down a bowl of their Champion Beef Shank with Noodle in Spicy Soup (with extra fire chilli soup) and felt all the better for it. I like that you get a choice of noodle – our favourite are their thin noodles though wide noodles, rice vermicelli and others are also available. The spicy fire chilli soup is indeed spicy and numbing too with lots of chilli oil and Sichuan pepper. The beef came in two variants – cubes of stewed shank that were falling apart and slices of another cut (not sure which) that were gorgeously tender. The noodles were just al dente and softened slowly in the broth as I slurped my way through them. This was an excellent bowl of Taiwanese beef noodle soup.

Champion beef with noodle in spicy soup

The next day, this happened:

Along the Seawalk

Unfortunately, that was the only snow I got in Vancouver! Two weeks later, when I was due to fly out, it looked like this:

One week ago, I was here

Sure, all very pretty but dammit, where’s the snow?!

My last meal in Vancouver was also at Chef Hung’s. I love that place. Again we had their spicy beef noodle soup only this time we shared one bowl.

Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

I’ve got to mention the pickles. These are provided with every bowl of beef noodle soup and they are the perfect accompaniment, all tangy against the rich meat and broth.

Pickles

We also split an order of a crispy-on-the-outside-juicy-on-the-inside fried pork chop…

Pork Chop

…and a marinated beef wrap made with a freshly griddled flaky flatbread, slices of stewed beef, hoisin sauce and cucumber and spring onion. Brilliant stuff.

Marinated Beef Roll

The flaky bread was delicious and the whole thing was made less heavy with the inclusion of the vegetables.

Marinated Beef Roll

Portions were so big that I was able to bring most of the beef rolls and pork along with me to the airport to supplement the terrible offerings by Air Canada. Yes, they packed up our leftovers very nicely indeed.

What a great place – it’s yet another chain that I wish would open up in London!

Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle
1560 Marine Drive
West Vancouver, B.C.
V7V 1H8
Canada

Other branches are listed on their site.

Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle 洪師父牛肉麵 on Urbanspoon

And that ends my Vancouver posts this time! As usual, all my Vancouver photos from this Christmas trip can be seen in this Flickr photoset.

I do love a good pork chop rice. While it seems to be available at every other Chinese restaurant in New York City (there’s even a restaurant named for it), this Taiwanese classic is quite difficult to find in London (unless you make it at home as I have in the past). It was on the menu at Old Tree Bakery, though, a Taiwanese bakery-cafe in Golders Green, and I made my way there one Saturday for lunch. I had first discovered the existence of the bakery at one of the annual Taiwanese food festivals and I had been impressed by their biscuits.

It’s not very far from the tube station and it’s a bright and airy space with a case of colourful cream cakes and their buns all on display in the window. There’s something almost unworldly about their baked buns, all hyper glossy and looking fake, like plastic. But I wasn’t there for buns, I wanted pork chop rice.

It was still empty when I arrived but the cafe filled up quickly. The waitresses, all in identical uniforms, were lined up behind the counter and all looked extremely nervous. One left the safety of the pack to give me two menus, one’s the same as that online and the other is of even more Taiwanese specials) and I ordered a bubble pearl milk tea (£3.60) and their marinated pork chop with stewed egg and rice (£6.50). I got my order through easily but a couple near me had trouble with their order as their waitress spoke very little English. Don’t expect great service here.

The bubble pearl milk tea was quite milky but very nice. Cold and refreshing and a good chew on the tapioca pearls.

Bubble Pearl Milk Tea

The pork chop rice came looking a treat. The chop was a thin lightly battered version (sometimes they’re grilled), dusted with a mixture with five spice powder. As is traditional in Taiwan, this was served with rice topped with a rich minced pork sauce and sweet-tart pickled mustard greens. The egg had been cooked with the pork mince sauce and had soaked up all that savoury flavour.

Taiwanese Pork Chop Rice

The meal even included a side of soup, a clear broth with seaweed and tofu. It certainly scratched that pork chop itch. If I had to nitpick, the pork chop could have been thicker.

A couple of buns came home with me for Blai. They’re perfectly fine though the roast duck bun I bought had scant filling for the price (£2.50); in general, their buns are more expensive than the bakeries in Chinatown.

I’ll be back for that chop though. Good things have also been said about their Taiwanese beef noodle soup and I want to try their homemade Taiwanese sausage.

Old Tree Bakery
105 Golders Green Road
London NW11 8HR

Old Tree on Urbanspoon

A few weeks back, I met Mr Noodles and Rahul to eat Taiwanese food at Rahul’s local – Taiwan Village in Fulham. I have no idea why two of London’s foremost Taiwanese restaurants are located in Fulham (the other being Formosa) but hey, as a west London girl, I can’t complain. The chef here at Taiwan Village used to cook at Hunan in Pimlico, well known for only serving up a tasting menu of sorts, and this might explain the existence of a Leave it to Us set menu for a fixed price. Of course, we went for that – we’d be fed…but we had no idea what was coming. We did have one choice though – to go with a more Chinese menu or a more western-Chinese menu. The former, of course.

Things started swiftly. A tangy pork broth with a soft meatball was served in a bamboo cup. It was a gorgeous broth that had a surprising slight acidity to it. We slurped it down and felt like we were in good hands, food-wise.

Pork Broth with Meatball

San choi bau, lettuce wraps with a filling of seafood with chopped vegetables, arrived next. Though the dishes came quite quickly, we never felt rushed.

San Choi Bau

Steamed meat dumplings had delicate skins and a tasty filling and made for a comforting mouthful.

Steamed Meat Dumplings

A trio of delicious deep fried morsels then were placed on our table. Taiwanese fried chicken was beautifully crisp and dry and dusted with five spice – I could have hoovered the entire portion for all three of us. Crispy Tiger Prawns were served with salad cream which always weirds me out a bit but then I end up enjoying it.

Taiwanese Fried Chicken

Crispy Tiger Prawns

The Deep Fried French Beans were nothing short of amazing. They had been lightly battered, fried and then tossed with fried chillies, garlic and spring onions; they were incredibly moreish.

Deep Fried French Beans

We had a short break after these starters while our plates were cleared before a shredded quarter of a Crispy Aromatic Szechuan Duck was brought out. To my surprise, the excellent pancakes that came out with them were homemade and the hoisin sauce was also tastier than that usually found elsewhere. That said, though it was very good crispy duck, it was still the low point of our meal.

Crispy Aromatic Szechuan Duck

Crispy Aromatic Szechuan Duck

It was then time for the main courses and again, another surprise, these were served with Egg Fried Rice. Banish any thoughts of any egg fried rice you’ve had before – this was what all egg fried rices which they could be when they grow up. It was full of fluffy egg threads, seasoned perfectly and not at all greasy.

Egg Fried Rice

A Dry Tofu with Sliced Pork had been cooked with dried orange peel and was fragrant and full of different textures.

Dry Tofu with Sliced Pork

Ma Po Tofu and Mince in Hot Sauce was Rahul’s usual takeaway order and I could see why. It was spicy and fragrant from a light dusting of Sichuan peppercorns and the sauce was thick and meaty.

Ma Po Tofu and Mince in Hot Sauce

The Beef in Sha-Cha (spicy barbeque sauce) was delicious and made me question my lack of sha cha intake in the past.

Beef in Sha-Cha

The classic Taiwanese Three-Cup Chicken with Sweet Basil was good but needed more basil.

Taiwanese Three-Cup Chicken with Sweet Basil

A dishful of clams also arrived in a thick, slightly acidic sauce (does acidity feature strongly in Taiwanese food?). Sadly, most of the clams were closed but the sauce was lovely on the rice.

Clams

A small portion of Hakka style Braised Pork Belly also arrived and was just as rich and delicious as it looked.

Hakka Style Braised Pork Belly

These were all placed in the middle of the table and we feasted. When our egg fried rice bowl was perilously close to being empty, they brought out a whole new freshly fried bowl full.

Dishes

By this point, we were pretty full but I was still pretty gutted that the set menu didn’t include dessert. From the very short dessert menu, we ordered and split two of the Special set dessert – caramelised bananas and Haagen Daz vanilla ice cream and an Azuki pancake (a traditional red bean paste pancake).

Special Set Dessert

Azuki Pancake

Both desserts were outstanding. The chunks of banana were fried in batter and then coated with a thin crisp layer of caramel. The pancake was thin, filled with red bean paste, and topped with sugar, crushed peanuts and the biggest surprise that night – chopped coriander! And to all the doubters out there, it really worked. We asked the owner about this herbal addition and she only smiled and laughed that this was the chef’s innovation.

My part of the bill came to about £35 – that’s for the set menu, dessert and one grass jelly drink. Service was extremely friendly and jolly and we truly did feel very welcome and the restaurant was surprisingly smart with an impressively huge wood carving in the front. Thanks so much for introducing the place to us, Rahul! I hope to return soon to try the dishes from their Taiwanese Specialities part of the menu.

Taiwan Village
85 Lillie Road
Fulham
London SW6 1UD

Taiwan Village on Urbanspoon