Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Come Dine With Me

The lights are turned down low.

The delicious aromas of your Chinese déjeuner à deux are wafting from the kitchen into the dining room.

Reaching into the fridge, you carefully remove the chilled glasses of freshly squeezed pure fruit juice - apple for you, orange for your dinner partner - and place them gently on the table.

Your straws caressingly intertwine...

And then the romantic silence is broken as the microwave emits a loud "ping", indicating that your take-away meal is adequately re-heated.

Oh, come on. We've all done it. After a hard day at work, when you've rashly promised to cook something special that night that you've little or no chance of fulfilling without risk of collapsing from exhaustion. It's been a bit like that with me lately. At this time of year my working day starts in the dark and finishes at dusk and, although there's nothing I love doing more than cooking, it's hard sometimes to cook all day and then cook at home later. At college on Monday I finally transferred from the Brasserie to the Escoffier Room. A step up from brasserie food to fine dining, more of which I'll tell you about later in the week. So there's a certain irony that I should choose Monday night to visit a local nosh outlet for a carry-out dinner.

So what's the point of this posting? Why would a trainee pro chef consider mentioning the adjacent "f" words, let alone post a fast food restaurant review? Well, as I'm sure you've already twigged, it's because there's take-away... and there's take-away. In a city beset by greasy kebab houses, burger merchants and cheap pizza purveyors, Noodle King in Bethnal Green Road remains an oasis of half-decent eating.

OK, so this franchise outlet is not what it once was, in the days when the Deptford branch won rave reviews from food critics. The building could do with a good lick of paint and I guess George Auguste Escoffier wouldn't have been over-impressed with the fare. That, btw, is mainly Cantonese because most of us Brits still can't get our palates around Szechuan peppercorns or Hunan chillies, let alone sink our teeth into Anhui warbling frogs. But this is a place that serves healthy, nutritious, good-tasting food in massive bowls at less than £4 a course. Value for money is the point I'm trying to make. If you are going to eat fast food, go somewhere like this, rather than to Kazakh Fried Chicken or MacDoughnut.

The fruit juice pictured above is produced to order right in front of you, using the restaurant's juicing machine. The photos below show (a) wonton soup, (b) roast duck and rice with chinese cabbage* in oyster sauce and (c) fried noodles with sliced mixed meats. Great value at £20 the lot, including drinks and a generous tip for the student waiters. Each dish was crying out to be seasoned with a good splash of dark soy sauce. But then we Brits never really got our palates around that, either. Click on photos to enlarge:
Wonton soup, without the noodles and in urgent need of soy sauce!Roast duck with rice and a side order of Chinese white cabbage in oyster sauceFried noodles with stir-fry vegetables and sliced mixed meats
* For anyone interested in the scientific background to this vegetable, Chinese white cabbage is a member of the pekinensis group of brassica rapa and is a close relative of the smaller bok choi, which is of the chinensis group and has a more mustard taste and celery appearance.


Piers said...

I agree, Noodle King on Bethnal Green Road is great when you dont want to cook! Their sweet and sour chicken is pretty good too.

Ros said...

Quite right, we do all need a take-out meal once in a while and it really helps to know where the good places are.

When I was living in Fulham my destination for late night meals was a fantastic Vietnamese opposite the station. Wish I could remember the name now... Huy Hoang, I think.

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