I must be 1/2 Asian, because my idea of heaven in a ‘pearly gated home delivery’ way, is to eat Asian food 6 days out of 7 … of course, it’s just marmite on toast on the 7th day, and that’s the semi-fasting day isn’t it?
Those that get out and about tell me that the latest Asian dining fashion is to eat bowls of ramen soup. It is ‘Big In Japan’ as Alaphaville sweetly sang (sing-Along here). In Japan it is standard to have a specialist Ramen soup shop on every corner. In the UK we have been a part of the ‘Wagamama’ and ‘Yo Sushi’ crowd for a few years now, but it’s only recently that the UK has embraced the real Ramen dish. This soup is on basic levels a combo of noodles, broth, vegetables (bamboo and bean sprouts a must), meat, and egg.
If you get the chance to eat at a Ramen bar, then go for it, as when it’s made properly, with expertise, and hours and hours of simmering to find the ‘perfect’ broth, then you will be hooked. Your soup will be either made with a chicken, pork or (no bone) broth, and they are likely to be named TONKOTSU Ramen, MISO Ramen, or SOY Ramen. This food is fun and satisfying for any takers. We take the kids all the time, and what we often do is order them each a bowl of steamed rice, and then share our soup with them. Get the kids their own chopsticks, and get them practising the art of ‘chopsticking’ (?!) and that will kill at least 9 minutes until the soups arrive.
One of the cutting edge Ramen joints at the moment is Bone Daddies Rock n Roll Ramen Bar in Soho, which was set up by Zuma and Nobu veteran Ross Shonhan. Bone Daddies is a heaving and fun place for all the Soho regulars, and visitors. Our absolute favourite though is at the Regent St end of Brewer St : Ittenbari. There are others, and the best bet is to head over to Time Out, and read up on their reviews of London’s Best Ramen Bars to find out where and when to slurp your soup.
We also hear on the blog-vine that there are fantastic take-away dumplings to be had over at Brick Lane, and check out the Rainbo traders van that sell boxes of homemade gyoza, miso soup and edamame at Kings Cross/ Granary Square, (check the Kerb website for a schedule of traders trading). Whilst we are here chatting pop-up market traders, another find of ours was the selection of food to be had at Leather Lane, EC1. There is a huge fan base for Daddy Donkey mexican, and a few other asian and middle eastern stalls that all looked really good when we were last there. I doubt there is much going on at the weekend though, as it’s a commercial part of town. Oh, and not forgetting the now popular Hackney institution that is Street Feast London, located in Merchant Yard opp the Kingsland Road station. It is open from 5pm to midnight on Fridays and on some weekends.
If you want to play the Dim Sum card, then below are a few classic picks around town, but again, we recommend a little flirt with our friend Google, Time Out, Square Meal and your favourite food blogs to find out more, (and if you know your gyoza from your donburi that is). We aren’t top of the pack when it comes to duck tongue and chicken feet knowledge, and aren’t too fussy either, and as you know us Brits are far too polite to complain even if the ceiling caved, in and we were poisoned by a lethal prawn cracker. Let us know how you get on and what you find out.
Long queues for weekend dim sum demonstrate the pulling power of Phoenix Palace, proving that hardcore fans will do almost anything for their fix of duck tongues in sesame dressing or crispy Scottish lobster dumplings – not to mention spring-onion pancakes, ‘briny’ pork croquettes, crispy dough sticks & the odd incursion of Japanese gyoza. The capacious & ornately decorated dining room is stuffed with embossed carvings, lacquered furniture & red velvet curtains, giving it enough superficial razzle to occupy diners who also want to splash out on the likes of sticky braised beef casserole with lettuce, ma po aubergine or – perhaps unwisely – ostrich fillet flambéed with port & shallots. Service can be a tad too brusque for some, but the food remains ‘amazing’.
Royal China, Baker Street
With much more personality than some outlying London branches of the chain, Royal China on Baker Street continues to pack them in for daytime dim sum & a hefty Cantonese menu in the evening. The burnished gold & black interior still feels smart, & prices mirror this, though canny ordering can help to keep bills under control. Popular dim sum includes steamed satay cuttlefish, sesame paper prawn rolls & the house cheung fun, while the full carte (from 6pm) brings a competently produced repertoire featuring Royal China specials such as a hot pot of chicken & abalone or stuffed aubergine with minced shrimp alongside Cantonese standards (chicken with cashews, honey-roast pork, beef with chilli & black bean sauce). Alas, surly & uncaring staff, & some ‘cynical’ behaviour when it comes to extracting tips & service charges have been reported.
Ping Pong, Southbank
This is often on our ‘go to’ list for a few reasons. 1. It is right beside Tower Bridge, the Thames, Design Museum, Unicorn Theatre, Borough Market, London Bridge Station, Hays Galleria, City Hall and so much more. 2. It is one of our best places to scoot. 3. They are kid friendly, 4. In the Summer, there are fun fountains on the paved area right outside the restaurant. The kids go mad for them. 5. I think you get the picture! The dim sum does us and the kids fine. They have a cute bento box kids menu, with ice-cream and chocolate buttons, and although it’s often busy the service is always attentive.
Imperial China, Lisle Street, China Town
They say at Time Out that this regal venue has lost its sparkle, but when we sneaked in for lunch in March, we ate and drank well and seemed to fit in well to the authentic set up, even if we did keep imaging James Bond to swing over on a Chandelier chasing an evil glass eyed baddy. Imperial China has a kind of formal-mafia feel to it, like there could be a few meetings happening behind the scenes between Imperial Royalty and MI5 agents, discussing Russian/Turkish petro-chemical business deals.
We ate the dim sum, which did the trick, and then the flat noodle/beef dish, that beat us, but that was my fault for ordering the prawn crackers again. If you are a Chinese gastro-expert, and worried about a the lack of good reviews, then maybe just stick with the safer options, enjoy the oolong tea, and see how many chopsticks you can balance on top of one another!
Arrive in the afternoon when this dark-panelled, teahouse-style Taiwanese specialist is half-empty, or risk queues and hurried dining. Select any of the following: xiao long bao (crab or the original pork); luscious, soup-filled baozi (an absolute steal at eight for £6.50); meltingly tender belly pork and rice (a fantastic cheap lunch for £5.20); aubergine with mashed garlic and tao pan sauce; or the super-garlicky, salty-spicy chilli garlic crab, already cracked for convenient eating. We don’t, however, recommend the congee. Dishes sometimes arrive at staggered intervals. Try to ignore the purist next to you moaning about how it’s not all truly Taiwanese food, and then leave only marginally poorer.