Friday 29 November 2013

New World, Chinatown, W1D

If you want to enjoy good Chinese you would do well to keep well away from Chinatown. In London that is, as other Chinatown's somehow seem to be somewhat better (Manchester is a great example in the UK). However, for me, there is one shining oasis in a sea of unattractive ducks in steamy restaurant windows.

New World is one of the oldest Chinese restaurants in London, supposedly, and given that the menu hasn't changed for about 50 years I can believe this. It is also one of the very few places in London to still do a trolley dim sum service. We go semi-regularly as a group of friends and a few weeks ago we squeezed in a cheeky visit whilst in Soho for the evening. Some excellent dim sum dishes were selected from the trolley, my favourite being the big pork buns. About 10 dishes were shared between two of us and all were great, except for chicken feet, which I won't be ordering again. No-one should, ever.

OK, so the staff are rude and the restaurant was closed down by the council a few years ago due to a complete lack of hygiene in the kitchen but all that is part of its un-changed, crumbling 1960s charm. In Soho and want a Chinese? Afraid that a Chinatown restaurant will lead to (at best) regular trips to the bathroom? Give New World a go, right by the Chinatown NCP so well placed as part of an afternoon shopping trip.

Go during the day for trolley service dim sum, or during the evening for one of the set meals (No. 5 is my tip) and make sure you have the salt and pepper squid. If you are lucky you'll get a big revolving table, we like to pretend we are there to conduct an illicit business deal of some kind, spinning our offer around the table (like in the first scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom).

Monday 25 November 2013

Giraffe, Watford (and 48 other locations in the UK)

I’ve visited Giraffe before, at Lakeside, at least five years ago. It was rubbish. So I didn’t go back.

The other day I visited the big, shiny, new Tesco at Watford, where they have a big, shiny, new Giraffe. Tesco acquired the restaurant brand in March this year so that they could fill some of the under-utilised space in larger stores. Smart idea actually, the same applying to the Harris + Hoole coffee shop that Tesco acquired a (non-controlling) stake in.

I was really interested to try Giraffe again so ordered something just right : familiar yet somehow a signature special. I chose the kimchi burger. I’m a big fan of Korean food so kimchi is something I’m really keen on. Burgers I’m keen on too, obviously! This was Westernised kimchi but made a great burger, the slaw was fresh and crunchy if not spicy. For a chain restaurant, this was a decent burger, small perhaps but tasty. The fries were also good and dipped in the BBQ sauce they were great.

So, an enjoyable experience and a good lunch for £9.95. Giraffe is being added to that discreet list that includes Nando’s, Wagamama and Pizza Express as the top end, acceptable face of fast (or semi-fast) food.

Thompson @ Darcy’s, St. Albans (twice in two days)

Just like buses, you wait for ages before trying a new restaurant and two turn up at once. Except they are both the same restaurant and they aren’t going anywhere, so more like a bus garage really. Dropping this analogy now. Last week I was entertaining overseas visitors (from Spain and USA respectively) and traditional British fare was the name of the game on both occasions, coincidentally we ended up going to the same place on consecutive nights (neither of which I booked).

This is a solid, renowned restaurant in St. Albans that has just been taken over by a chef named Phil Thompson, who you will not have heard of; however you may have heard of his previous restaurant, Auberge du Lac at Brockett Hall. Here he held a Michelin star and is no doubt hoping to replicate this fine-dining success at Darcy’s.

To start with on the first visit I had the boudin of confit duck leg with smoked duck salad. This was a standout dish for me, I love duck (especially smoked) and this was a divine starter. This was accompanied by a celeriac remoulade and pistachio, equally divine. This is one of those dished that you really want to cut a piece off of so that you can let a friend try it; although I would obviously never, ever do that. A SUPER-DISH for the duck.

Main course was the ubiquitous and can-always-be-relied-upon-to-be-good pork belly. Specifically, a belly of Dingley Dell pork with red wine braised cheek. It was very nice but not at the top of the pork belly score sheet. The cheek was divine, very rich in the thick red wine sauce. The accompanying cauliflower cheese was OK, as was the crackling.

We didn’t make it to dessert. Well, mentally I did and was looking forward to it, but others were tired so we had to cut things short. Fast forward to day two…

I was first to arrive so was phoned by colleagues and asked to order a selection of starters, which I did. There were eight of us eating and seven separate starter dishes so I ordered one of each plus an extra portion of the duck from day one. In a way, this was sort of like ‘X Factor’ or ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ where one dish has been voted through to the next live show, whereas the others didn’t make it to boot camp.

Main course this time was pan roast fillet of sea bream with a thyme confit and savoy cabbage. I’m a big fan of sea bream and this was a lovely dish. However, I have some major beef with this fish dish : after I had polished it off I remembered that it was supposed to be served with a razor clam, which was conspicuous by its absence. I might not have realised if it hadn’t been for the fact that a colleague had the same dish on day one. Cheated.

Dessert was cheese, a perfectly good but pedestrian selection of British cheese, including the (I think) gimmicky Stinking Bishop). The walnut bread was very nice but the homemade chutney was a little disappointing, it seems to me that my expectations are sky high when a chutney is served in a Kilner jar so this made the disappointment more marked.

All in all, great food on both nights. Some average parts to both meals but I’m prepared to overlook these because I enjoyed the starter so much. Well worth a visit.