Chinese

Lucky Duck, Jewellery Quarter

It didn’t take much. Just a image of an pretty blue and white bowl containing some soup and some noodles and a couple of slices of pink duck breast. Pants were pissed in excitement. Cries of RAMEN! like a beaten Rocky Balboa were heard around the city by people whose only reference point is the Bullring branch of Wagamama. Lucky Duck was coming, bringing bowls and buns. We got very excited. And then the opening weekend happened, chock-a-block with people genuinely excited by the prospect of bao and ramen hitting our city with gusto. The initial feedback wasn’t great; it’s not right the forthright people said. It’s awful said the expert who has never had the bollocks to put his money where his insidious mouth is. Concerned looks were everywhere. Lucky Duck has gone from flight to fallen in the space of three weeks.

I went for that duck last night. I sat in the well-lit room on the wooden chairs in the window seat. I used the ornate chopsticks to work the noodles out of the soup and into my massive gob. I quite enjoyed it, the breast meat a virginal pink, the soup with good flavour, a perfect soft boiled egg, and accurate seasoning. The best bits were the jewels of brown meat hidden at the base like sunken treasure. It could be better though, some optional seasoning like bottles of soy and chilli oil, maybe a flurry of herbs, or some Nori flotsam. Little bits of make-up to turn it from bit-part to Oscar winner.

Make-up isn’t going to save those buns, they need a complete re-haul of design. We try one of each, and the positives are in the cooking of the main ingredient. Pork belly braised until the fat turns ivory jelly and cod with brittle batter – just like the duck it is obvious the man knows how to handle protein. But the bao is too dense and the fillings not good enough. The pork belly comes with nothing but a smear of apple sauce, the cod just mayo and a few sorry slices of cucumber. It needs more; crushed peanuts, a mooli salad, some chilli sauce, a squeeze of lime, or herbs. Just about anything to give it character. The eureka moment comes when we order one more and ask them to do the pork belly with the accompaniments of the aubergine. The addition of peanut and chilli gives it life. It deserves this more than apple sauce.

Dessert is roast pineapple, pecans and coconut cream that could have been my breakfast, though it serves a purpose of providing a fresh way to finish up. The bill for all this is £33, a small enough sum to try them again soon. And I will; despite this meal being too average to recommend to anyone, I believe that they could eventually be on to something here. Everything is fixable, nothing terminal. The issue is that the hysteria the concept has caused means that they have an entire city expecting them to run whilst they are still taking baby steps, and that needs to change. The improvements need to come quick if they are going to fulfil the potential. A rethink of those bun fillings seem an obvious place to start.

6/10

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here; http://www.a2bradiocars.com

Peach Garden, China Town

I really hate the term ‘foodie’. I mean really hate it. The term has so many awful connotations of aspirational middle-class Nigella watching farmers market shopping tedium that I want no part of. I’m an adult, call me a gourmand if you want to accurately label my food obsession, or a twat if you just wish to accurately label me. Foodies play Mel and Sue vs Sandi and Noel Top Trumps for fun. They live on diets of flavoured rapeseed oils acquired from the latest food festival. And most of all they love, and I mean really fucking love, telling people where they should be eating. Me? I write about places and I say whether or not I like them. I don’t care for your stomach, you can do as you please, just as long as you keep showing up here and keep voting bi-annually for those sweet, sweet awards.

I say this because I get told where I should be eating a lot. Daily, in fact. Some are well meant suggestions by people who want me to eat well, and others are by foodies who just have to have an opinion in the same way they have to have an arsehole. And those two are often mutually exclusive. It’s the foodies that have sent me to Peach Garden. You must try the triple roast they say, it’s one of Birmingham’s must have dishes. Well fuck you, foodie, I have tried it and it’s about as much must need as your bastard opinion.

The roast consists of pork belly, which is gelatinous and underwhelming, and char sui pork which is better – a striking red which has a far deeper flavour than the belly despite being a leaner cut. These are joined by duck with a skin more flaccid than a male OAP’s appendage and a meat to bone ratio that is greatly in favour of the inedible bit. The meat is cold on top of warm rice, which I am sure is the correct way they do things, but a bit weird to anyone who has a faintly western interpretation of the word ‘roast’. One of Brum’s best dishes this is not, but it is a good feed for seven or so quid.

It fairs significantly better than the Szechuan chicken, which has little heat and bouncy chicken. Again the portions are massive, and this must appeal to some, but we have no intention of finishing it. The dish is gloopy, the sauce crying out for something to bring it alive. Lovely egg fried rice though.

They do something well and that something is a chilli oil full of fire and with the back note of, I think, dried shrimps. The bill is unaggressive, as cheap as the decor we are sat in, totalling a few pence under £20 including a couple of soft drink cans with straws in. Look, I’m sure this is some people’s idea of heaven, it just happens not to be mine. Peach Garden, I’ve listened, I’ve tried and it’s just not for me. And you bastard foodies, i’m never listening to a word you say again.

5/10

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here www.a2bradiocars.com

Peach Garden Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong

A short post by my recent rambling standards, though one I feel is warranted after the previous post on Tin Lung Heen.  I initially wasn’t going to post on Tim Ho Wan, as it was a quick feeding stop for us, yet it offers a different perspective on dim sum dining in Hong Kong; one that is affordable, albeit still frustrating in a different way.

Tim Ho Wan is often referred to as ‘The Worlds Cheapest Michelin Starred Restaurant’, I statement that I certainly wont argue with.  Those familiar with the criteria of Michelin should dispel any preconceptions and approach with caution.  Fine dining, this is not.  No reservations and a queue at whatever time you visit where you are given a slip of paper and a pencil to pre-select the food.  Once you get through the door its a bit like my sexual ability; over too quickly and prone to disappointment.

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We try a variety of dim sum; fresh spring rolls are gelatinous and difficult on the mouth, the chicken mixture inside light on seasoning.  Turnip cake are bland and slightly bitter.  Steamed beef balls are soggy and slimy balls of regurgitated mess.  It takes baked buns to save the day, donut-like sweet buns filled with soft pork meat.  We order seconds.

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For want of a better word, service is not as we, or at least I, know it.  The lady in the queue barks a number to be remembered when its time to eat, servers deliver endless streams of to multiple tables at once, and the bill is taken at to the counter where an elderly lady speaks down to me whilst staring into my vacant soul.  Its an in-and-out operation, cheap and efficient and merciless.  The bill, for three of us and tea to drink, reached £11.70 – less than a bottle of mineral water at Tin Lung Heen – which confirms it as ‘The Cheapest Michelin Starred Restaurant In The World To Not Have A Michelin Starred Experience At’.  Did I enjoy it?  I liked the pork.  But for less than four pound a head I couldn’t really care less.

6/10

Tin Lung Heen, Hong King

Hong Kong is a city punctuated with sky scrapers. From the ground they pierce the horizon like needle points, each a place of work or home for people who don’t mind not having a garden. The highest of these concrete high points is the ICC tower, ninth tallest building in the world, to be found via a maze of ground level building sites that will one day be the new financial district. The top floors of the building belong to the very swish Ritz-Charlton hotel, itself home to this afternoons lunch at the two Michelin star Tin Lung Heen, which must be the highest starred restaurant on the planet. It’s trivial, of course, and the height should hardly matter, but there can be few places on the planet where the view is quite as spectacular.

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The restaurant is a pretty one; ornate and comfortable, elegant and demure. Tables are dressed in thick white linen, spaced well apart over the thick cream carpet. There are flourishes of red that cut through the glossy black walls, whilst the back wall is reserved for Chinese wines and sakes for those whose budget is non-existent. Indeed, this is a place to splurge; we had to search the wine list for a bottle under £75.00 and held our breath when the bill showed mineral water to be £11.50 per bottle. Those dining here come for Catonese food with the most precious of ingredients – they do not come expecting a bargain.

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We start with two dim sum: Excellent cuts of Iberico pork shoulder, barbequed to a dusty pink and glazed  with honey, are stunning – the meat dissolving on the tongue without any effort.  The other was a steamed dumpling with dried scallop, fish maw (dried bladder, if you really want to know), and shrimp.  It was the taste of the sea if the sea had curled up and died, all wrapped up in a soggy polythene casing.  This won’t be the first time that I say this, and I am sure this was exactly how it was supposed to be prepared, but it wasn’t for me.  The flavour was too stagnant, the texture too alien.  It was lost on me, and I’m quite happy for everyone to know that.

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My face said it all on the next course.  A murky soup with lumps of boiled pork shin so grey they could have passed for British summertime, with winter melon of no distinct taste and more of the dried scallop.  There was dried longon, a bit like lycee, which added the faintest of acidity.  It was not nice and none of us got close to finishing it.  Our waiter, the brilliant and affable Leo, tried his best by offering an alternative soup, but by now we just wanted to move on it from it all.

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We moved on to accurately cooked scallops, with souffled pastry pieces and a finely chopped salsa of green onion and ginger.  On the other side of the plate was Chinese kale, which tasted a lot like tenderstem broccoli, and pine nuts.  The precision of all the elements was two star cooking; the veg precisely prepared and cooked, the scallops with a gently caramelised crust.  It was just dull.  Nothing slapped you around the chops or gave you a hug. The morsels of duck that followed were so tender that canines nor molars were required to work, sat in a deeply flavoured black bean sauce to which we piled in rice full of interest with bits of goose, abalone and shrimps.  Lovely, yes, though hardly two star worthy.

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We finish on a dessert that would divide the table.  A set milk cream (panna cotta, if you so like), with a gelatinous peach compote and a fat slice of black truffle.  Whilst my dining companions hated the way that the truffle bullied its way through the dessert, perfuming the milk and overpowering the peach, I actually quite liked it and ended up with three lots to eat.  The honeyed bit of pastry on the side was a nice sweet note to end on, the over set grapefruit jelly less so.

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I’d read a bit about the dubious nature of Michelin in Hong Kong prior to my trip and this meal confirmed pretty much all I read as true.  Maybe I’m wrong, but nothing struck me as truly two star cooking.  Yes, its precise and yes they use luxury ingriedients, but many of those ingredients added nothing to the meal other than an increased cost.  Maybe it’s me and my uncultured western palate.  We indulged a little in the wine list and left with a hefty bill that quickly soared into the hundreds.  For that we had the loftiest of views in a lofty city and a distinctly average meal that left me feeling a little cold all over.

5/10

Chung Ying Central, Birmingham

I’d like to think that my belly is the base of my knowledge. That with every shunned gym visit for a meal with friends that I am learning, little-by-little, more about the cuisine on the plate. Over time I have become well versed in the layering of spices of Indian curries and the balance of sugar, salt, spice, and acidity at the heart of Thai cooking. One country whose food I know very little about is China, partially due to the local Cantonese being relegated to our default takeaway, so when well-travelled friends of ours said they fancy some Dim Sum for dinner I took it as an opportunity to differentiate between Har Gow and Chiu Chow.

Of all the places to go for Dim Sum, Chung Ying Central seemed the obvious choice. From the third branch of the long established Chung Ying group they claim to serve the best Dim Sum in the city. Never mind pigeon-holing into it just the city or small dumplings, I would go so far as saying it is some of the best Chinese food I have ever eaten, though how seriously you wish to take that depends on how much you trust a man whose hangover meal is curry sauce and chips in a tray. All of the dishes we ordered sang of authenticity; a bold move in a country that has basterdised the food of every nation to suit our own primitive palette.  Every Dim Sum dish was a success, from the Chiu Chow’s translucent skin with a lean minced pork perked by rice wine and ginger, to the beef packed with ginger and spring onion.  These steamed pieces have a texture that may not to be everyone’s liking.  Its their loss.

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They do street food equally well; Char Sui buns are little pillows of rice flour buns, hiding long braised pieces of unctuous pork belly that call out for regular revisits.  Crisp spring rolls filled with curried chicken is reminiscent of the roadside snacks we purchased for pennies on a recent visit to Ho Chi Minh.  Here, at £4.00 for a substantial portion, they are not much more and are far superior.

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Yuk Shung with coarsely minced lamb is full of umami notes and aromatics.  The meat has bite in all the right places and is quickly piled high on to crisp sheets of lettuce which soon disappears from the table. A wonton soup had a stock deep with shellfish bones, soured with vinegar and tempered with soy.  The prawn and pork dumplings with good flavour and substance whilst never making the dish too heavy.

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A couple of mains are ordered because we are greedy and also to satisfy my partners curiosity of whether or not Chung Yings chicken in blackbean sauce lives up to the dish she orders weekly as a takeaway.  It does.  The chicken is of higher quality, the sauce more complex.  She scrapes the plate clean.  Had we not been with friends she probably would have licked it clean.  Crispy chicken with salt and chilli is perhaps too restrained; it would be nice to see this with the brakes taken off.  Dishes like this should leave a mark on the soul, whereas this was a gentle hug of heat.

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With a bill that works out at approximately thirty quid each, including beers and a cocktail or two thrown in for good measure, Chung Ying is exceptionally good value.  It transports the true essence of Cantonese cooking from China Town into the heart of the city centre, never flinching from its roots for fear of alienating its cliental.  Our dining companions had not long returned from Hong Kong where they were fortunate enough to eat the very best Dim Sum the city could offer.  Their opinion of Chung Ying Central?  “We’ll be back”.  That tells you everything you need to know.

8/10
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