Thursday, 27 September 2012

The George, Rye

A recent spur of the moment trip to the sea (the Ewing wanted to participate in Beachwatch and I wanted to eat ice cream) resulted in a last minute search for places to eat in the charming Cinque Port of Rye. Luckily there proved to be plenty of choices and, tempted by the local menu, I made a web booking for for a very late lunch at The George.

After a call from the restaurant on Saturday morning (apparently the kitchen is closed between four and five, necessitating our late lunch booking to be shifted to an early dinner), we enjoyed a glorious sunny afternoon having a picnic and paddling in the Harbour, followed by wandering the steep cobbled street of the town, poking around the antiques shops on the quayside and being generally charmed by the quintessential 'Englishness' of the place. Come five o'clock and the bracing sea air had ensured we were ready for some grub.

The George, found on the cobbled High Street is Rye's oldest coaching Inn, and has been host to visits from three King Georges, as well as Wellington and the Mayor of London. After a recent renovation it has reopened as a hostelry that also houses The George Tap, serving drinks and a bar menu, and the slightly more formal Grill, where we were looking forward to eating that evening.

Although the Tap was already filling up, we were the first to be seated in the Grill. I didn't mind being the only ones in the restaurant, but I did find it slightly disconcerting when they pulled the curtain separating us from the pub to gather together for a staff meeting (especially considering the restaurant had been closed for the hour previously). During one, slightly awkward, moment, I was left alone at our table while the waiters and chefs gathered around the pass, a few feet from where I was sitting, to sample the latest addition to the menu. At least it was, by all accounts, very nice.
Despite being unnerved by the Q&A session going on beside me, I can't fault the service, which was keen and very sweet. The two young ladies serving our table were very happy to chat and answer questions, and clearly knew the menu very well, so obviously the training is paying off.

My mood improved with the arrival of  Harveys Bitter, swiftly followed by our mains. I chose the Romney Marsh lamb rump; you can actually see the sheep grazing on the Marsh from Rye, making this truly local food. The meat was cooked a few shades more than I would normally like (although they didn't ask how I'd like it, and I didn't think to specify), but was still gloriously full flavoured and sweet.

Aubergine puree and leeks accompanying it were fine (although missing the 'smoky' punch advertised on the menu). The gravy was glorious; perfectly thick, sticky and glossy, and side order of chips good; not terribly crispy, but with lovely, fluffy centres, and well seasoned.

The Ewing's turbot with sauteed new potatoes; a study in beige. This was a glorious and delicately cooked piece of fish, that had then been rather swamped in a thick, putty coloured sauce which we struggled a bit to identify. I could taste mushrooms, while the Ewing plumped for 'sweet'. Our waitress thought it might have been parsnip, but further investigation found they also had a parsnip and porcini soup on the menu. Puzzle solved.

Although not much of a looker, the dish did taste very good. The soup/sauce had the wonderful, bosky scent of early autumn and the well-cooked fish flaked apart with a prod of the fork's tines; although at eighteen quid you might have hoped for a few greens on the plate to keep the coins of fried potato company and add a little colour.

After the hits and misses of the mains, our puddings were stonking. My sticky toffee pudding with ginger ice cream was a triumph and well worth risking type two diabetes for. It's easy to become blase about seeing yet another STP on the menu, but this was a leader in its field; feather light sponge bobbing in a lake of burnt toffee sauce, all topped off with a lovely, spicy ice cream.

Just to gild the lily, I washed this down with a glass of the ambrosial Chapel Down Late Harvest; a lovely, honey and melon scented desert wine, produced in Tenderden, just ten miles away.

The Ewing, after some gentle persuading, ordered the chocolate fondant with orange sorbet. After her previous, less than successful, sampling of the pairing at The Pony and Trap, she remained rather sceptical of their merits of the two when combined. Luckily this dish did much to persuade her they can live in harmony on the same plate. The fondant was a textbook example, crispy shell and molten interior, the sorbet providing a refreshing zing of citrus and a nice temperature contrast.

Overall, a few awkward moments aside, our meal at the George was a very pleasant experience and made a perfect setting for some good British grub. It also proved to be great evening to catch the sun on the sea, and, after staggering out onto the cobbles and making our way down the harbour, we enjoyed soaking up the last few rays of a lovely late summer day at the seaside.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Grape Wine Pie (Schiacciata con l'Uva)

When I was little we spent a lovely, if not sweltering, holiday in an old stone farmhouse just outside Lucca. The house was set in sprawling vineyards; acres upon acres of beautiful twisted and gnarled vines, weighed down by huge bunches of sangiovese grapes slowly swelling through the summer, turning from green to inky black under the Tuscan sun.
When we arrived another family was already staying there and, in an attempt to be friendly, me and my sister invited the son to join in our games. He quickly suggested we should go down to the vineyards to eat some grapes; food and illicit excitement all at once, what could be better?  Of course we should have spotted the fact that he wasn't quite as keen to sample them, and our excitement in picking the fruity contraband quickly turned to disappointment as we grimaced and crunched our way through the tannic, bitter, seeded grapes that made our gums pucker and tongues feel like shrivelled leather in our mouths. (I got my revenge later by 'accidently' pushing him into the swimming pool.)
Years later and I found a intriguing recipe for 'wine grape pie' while looking through Jacob Kennedy's rather lovely Bocca cookbook; he describes it thus; 'around grape harvest-time, almost every bakery in Tuscany will have a rectangular tray of a low, slightly sinister but delicious-looking cake, studded with purple-black grapes. It is one of those things you see and immediately decide to eat a slice of, even if you have just had breakfast, or are groaning after an epic lunch. Schiacciata ('crushed') is only slightly sweet, as it is made from a plain (and characteristically saltless) bread dough, the grapes providing the same balance as they might in a fine bottle of Chianti - round, ripe, tannic, earthy, fruity. Their prolific seeds give a tremendous crunch, one that will even please some of those who normally spit grape seeds out.'
With such a beautiful description of the dish, illustrated with a glistening tray of glorious looking, grape-studded bread, I finally thought it was time to overcome my distrust of wine grapes (except as a beverage, of course). Sadly I was a little too early for the harvest when I was in Tuscany for my sister's wedding earlier this year, but I was determined to try and recreate it when I got back home.

The first problem was finding the tiny, tannic grapes that would be traditionally used in this dish. The Chiltern Hills is clearly not the place to source such things, and eventually I had to settle for a mixture of red and black seedless varieties. Turns out wine grapes are far less juicy than the table grapes; and while I used the full kilo specified in the recipe, next time I would reduce that down by half (or befriend someone with some vines in their garden). I also quite like the idea of using the same dough, with the fennel seeds and olive oil, and using a handful of dried fruit instead of the fresh grapes.

I must to confess that, quelle surprise, I didn't read the recipe quite as carefully as I might have; instead of putting a third of the grapes on the top layer of dough, I crammed them all inside the pie. While this made for a very pretty cut through, the crispy bronzed top with a vivid purple filling, the bottom crust became rather leaden and soggy, especially considering the juicy table grapes I had used).

Despite the improvisation and lack of attention to detail I really loved the simplicity of this recipe. It's still rather unusual to find grape-flavoured dishes this side of the pond (I still have a soft spot for the American Jolly Rancher candy and lurid, artificial grape bubble gum), but I found the combination of the plain dough, fennel seeds, olive oil and juicy, sweet grapes simple, yet delicious. Perhaps my creation was not how the dish was originally intended, but it still a perfect breakfast or mid-morning snack to enjoy with a cup of strong Italian coffee, and maybe a little snifter of grappa.
Wine Grape Pie
(adapted from the Bocca cookbook by Jacob Kennedy)

10g dried yeast, or 20g fresh
260ml tepid water
400g bread flour
1kg red wine grapes (or 500g red/black table grapes), picked from their stems, washed and dried
100g caster sugar
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra to grease the pan
1 teaspoon aniseed or fennel seeds (optional)
Disperse the yeast in the water, then add the flour to make a dough, kneading it very well until it becomes smooth and highly elastic - a good 10/–15 minutes. Leave to rise, covered, until doubled in bulk - 2 hours or so in the airing cupboard or any gentle warmth.
Divide the dough into two equal parts. Find a baking sheet about the size of an a4 sheet of paper  Roll one lump of dough out until quite thin, and about10cm wider and longer than the baking sheet. Lay it on the tray, so the excess comes up the side. Fill the base of this lined tray with two-thirds of the grapes, and sprinkle over them one-third of each of the sugar, oil, and aniseed (if using).
Roll the second part of the dough out, the same size as the baking sheet and lay it over the top, completely enclosing the grapes beneath. Press down slightly, so it snuggles on to the grapes, and fold the loose edges of the lower tray of dough inwards, towards the centre of the pie, to seal it. Dot the remaining grapes evenly over the top. Sprinkle the top of the schiacciata with the remaining sugar, oil and aniseed.
Leave it to rise for about an hour until it looks a little puffy (with the weight of the grapes, it won't rise a great deal), then bake at 200c degrees F for 1 hour, until the crust on top is an even and deep gold. Let it cool for at least 2 hours before serving.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Doost, Kennington

After dragging everyone across town to sweat for the evening in a steamy Paddington basement, I left the dining destination for the following night of our London jaunt down to the our friends, the lovely Beth and Ellen. And, following an exhausting day at the Paralympics, riding the Thames cable car and sunning ourselves on the river bank, Red Stripe in hand (it's a hard life), we decided not to stray too far their Elephant and Castle abode.

Which is how we came to find ourselves at Doost, a recently opened Persian Grill and Vodka Bar on Kennington High Street. Offering a menu Iranian classics, a fridge full of frozen vodkas from across the globe, and an interior decked out with trendy spotlighting and shiny black wood, I was looking forward to tucking into a refined version of the Friday night kebab with a few cold beers.

We eschewed the great value set menu (twenty quid for three courses and a shot of vodka) to share the fish platter and mixed meat kebab for four. These came with the traditional accompaniments of  grilled tomato, lemon wedges, salad and sliced red onion scattered liberally with sour sumac.

The seafood comprised of some big, smoky prawns, nicely chewy calamari and a blackened salmon fillet, strewn with dill fronds, which was one of the standout dishes of the night. As with most seafood dishes we could have eaten far more, but the portion was generous enough.

The kebab plate, for me, was even better. The kenjah kebab, made from lamb fillet, was lovely; good quality lamb, charred on the outside and pink within; the chicken joojeh well spiced with saffron and lime, and succulent. My favourite, just, was the koobideh, a kebab of finely minced lamb flavoured with lemon, herbs and garlic. Miles away from the miserable, fatty, chewy skewers of meat proffered from most takeaways come the weekend.

The Iranian national dish is chewlow kebab, translating simply as Persian rice with kebab, and we couldn't eat our plates of meat and fish without heaping mounds of buttery saffron rice alongside. (I'm pretty sure our mixed grill also included bread baked in their own brick oven, but we didn't receive any, and even I was far too full by the time we realised).

We also ordered a side dish of yoghurt, mixed with fresh cucumber and herbs; perfect to cool your mouth after the salt and spice from the smoky morsels of meat and fish.

Pomegranate, walnut and feta salad; a great mixture of textures and flavours, with the pop of the seeds, crunchy nuts and creamy, salty cheese working together nicely to provide a freshness in contrast to the smoky grilled dishes.

There were two options offered for pud; Persian ice cream and baklava. The Persian ice cream was glorious, a huge mound of rose-water scented ice, mined with shards of frozen clotted cream, topped with a saffron sauce and luminous pistachio pieces.

The baklava weren't as good as those we had picked upon the Edgeware Road a few days before, but were decent enough, even if they did look slightly swamped on a giant dinner plate.  We all agreed that the best pud was a DIY combination of the tooth achingly sweet pastries and rich ice cream.

Excitingly there is also a separate menu for coffee, which is offered in ten different varieties. Sadly they are all Nespresso pods, which are fine, but all seem to taste pretty much the same anyway. I had the 'blue' one, if you're at all interested.

Doost is a nice little neighbourhood restaurant, and something a little different among a sea of identikit chains and bland takeaway fare. The service was friendly, if a little distracted at times, the prices moderate (our bill came to about 30 quid each, which included plenty of food, and tip, but only two alcoholic drinks between us).

While it might not have the edginess of the Edgware Road, or the belly dancers found in Bayswater, this is decent enough Iranian fare and a useful sort of option to have up your sleeve. It's just the sort of place that would be ideal for nights out with friends or family, or stopping by for some meze and a few shots of iced vodka at the bar. And don't forget to leave some room for the Persian ice cream.

Doost on Urbanspoon

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Heron, Paddington

A little while back London food blogger The Skinny Bib posted a rather interesting and comprehensive (even including a full Thai to English menu translation) blog post on the Heron in Paddington. I was intrigued; between somewhere between my Dad's stints as a teacher, freight forwarder and tour guide on the buses in Windsor (yes, really), he owned a Thai restaurant. Well, two really, but that's a whole 'nother story....

As a consequence me and my sister spent our later teenage years with a steady stream of curry, sticky rice, noodles and spicy fish cakes filling up our fridge. The menu, although cooked by Thai chefs, was mostly comprised of the usual crowd pleasers, with a few exotic dishes thrown in for good measure. My favourites were the duck curry (gang phed ped yang) and the sea food stir fry (pad talay), and maybe a yellow curry with beef and potato if I was lucky.

Although it was all very well prepared and tasty, I did miss the simplicity, freshness and pungency of the street food I had eaten on our family trips to South East Asia. Salty, fishy, sour flavours; flavours that really challenge your tastebuds (and usually make Westerners recoil a little), that are sadly absent from most British interpretations of Thai food.

Luckily the Heron promised all that and more. An anonymous looking estate pub just off the Edgeware Road, it's the kind of place you normally might hurry past. The clientele in the English pub upstairs comprised of half locals bantering with the landlord from their favourite bar stool, and half hipsters drinking Singha and wondering if they were actually in the right place, when we arrived for dinner last Thursday evening.

After enjoying a couple of cold beers at the bar, while waiting for our friends Beth and Ellen, we made our way down to the small basement restaurant. It's a fascinating space, decked out with a few mismatched formica tables and dominated by two big screens playing Thai karaoke videos, but the first thing that hit you is the humidity of the room and a deliciously deep funk of fermented fish and exotic herbs. It is the smell of a tropical adventure, bringing the memories of travelling to far flung places flooding back.

To prove I'm not the only one who orders crazy things on a menu the Ewing picked these duck tongues to kick off our meal. They were strangely addictive, crispy and spicy, with a sweet dipping sauce alongside. Unfortunately I didn't realise they was a central bone in the centre, that was probably best removed before eating, until I had crunched my way through the first few. Crispy bits aside, we all really rather enjoyed them anyway.

Fermented sour sausages. I've eaten these before, and loved them, and that love was not diminished by this plate of these plump, bronzed beauties. They are intensely succulent, garlicky and salty, the side dish of peanuts, ginger and chilli allowing you to customise each forkful.
The only criticism, if I really had to find one, was they were slightly too big to elegantly eat in one fell swoop, yet my cack-handed attempts at hacking through them with my spoon and fork covered everything in a fine spray of meaty juices. Nice.
Larb ped, or minced duck salad with ground rice and chillies. An incredible plate exemplifying the central tenets of Thai cuisine; sour, sweet, salty and spicy. Rich meat, citrus, fish sauce, fresh herbs, and just the right amount of chilli heat (they will tailor it to suit your tolerance level). This was served slightly warm, and was a explosion of funky flavours that we just couldn't stop eating.

The cucumber salad with salted black crab; this turned out to be a hidden danger. Normally an innocuous, cooling plate of vegetables would be a good foil for all the heat that had come before, but this one possessed dangerous strips of red chillies in its depths, catching me unaware. It took Ellen returning to the table to notice my predicament - both my wife and best friend had carried on chatting, oblivious to my choking and streaming eyes - and help dose me up with ice cubes and sticky rice.

The black crab was also a bit of 'aquired taste' and one we were obviously yet to develop. The pieces of leg and shell scattered through the dish seemed too thick to crunch through, and were, unsurprisingly, also very salty. Were you supposed to eat it was it just for seasoning? Who knows, but it did produce much hilarity trying to find out. Having said that, the dish possessed a sort of morishness that made it hard to stop eating, no matter how much gastric discomfort was brewing.

The fried catfish, a recommendation from our waiter as we attempted to order yet another salad. Sadly Beth, Ellen and the Ewing were not as enamoured with this dish, happily I thought it was really great. All the more for me then.

It was a very interesting dish, featuring a mass of fluffy, crispy catfish flakes, strewn with crunchy chunks of cucumber, green papaya and red onions, finished off with fresh herbs and peanuts. Each mouthful was a pleasing mix of crunchy, crispy, salty, nutty and spicy, especially when doctored with liberal amounts of the chilli dipping sauce served alongside.

We also ordered some slightly more 'normal' choices, with good skewers of springy prawn balls and a beef dish that (I think) was stir fried with Thai basil and onion. Although simple, the beef was intensely savoury, the herby juices were lovely poured over a mound of fragrant sticky rice.

Sadly we didn't get to witness any Thai karaoke, although Beth and Ellen seemed to have a worryingly comprehensive knowledge of South East Asian pop music, but the atmosphere was lively and the staff very accommodating, suggesting dishes for us to try and tailoring the heat to a 'Western' level. While it's not quite as cheap as it basement location may suggest, a full feed for the four of us, with beers and soft drinks, came to £25 quid a head, so decent value for some exciting and delicious food.

All in all a great meal and a wonderful evening, topped off half way through all the staff came out the kitchen to cheer, along with the rest of us, Jonny Peacock winning a 100m Paralympic gold on the small TV in the corner. A perfect British-Thai fusion, just like the Heron.

Heron on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Duck and Waffle, City

Duck and Waffle; even from deepest, darkest Italy, with limited phone reception, these were the three words that flooded my Twitter feed every time I managed to get a bar of reception. If there's anybody on the planet to escape the hype thus far, Duck and Waffle is The Place to Be. Set on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, it's a restaurant and bar serving up both modern British food and stunning views of the Big Smoke.

Normally I miss these trends. By the time I get around to visiting it's not even a case of the ship sailing, but rather more like it leaving the harbour, being decommissioned, and later being revived as an overpriced tourist attraction on the quayside. Not that I'm bothered, a good feed is a good feed, no matter how many others have eaten there before you, and I'm far too lazy and disorganised to be a cutting edge trend-setter.

But then last week the stars aligned; I was up in town for a visit to the Aquatic Centre, and needed a Sunday lunch stop en route to the Olympic Park. Enter Duck and Waffle, with its convenient booking policy (no long queues or knock backs at the entrance) and small plate dining, meaning (theoretically) we could sample lots of different things without falling into a postprandial slumber by the humid pool side.

After being greeted by the receptionist at the side entrance we were soon whizzing up the side of the building in the great glass elevator. The views are stunning, but it's probably best to shut your eyes if the idea of the whole of London receding before you gives you the willies. (The Ewing, with her dislike of all things elevated, found it fine, complaining more about her ears popping twice before we had exited the lift.)
Walking through the bar area we came to the main dining room, an open plan space featuring round booths for larger groups in the middle, with smaller tables around the edges of the room. The views, even on a muggy and grey August afternoon, are pretty stunning, with vistas reaching from Wembley to Tower Bridge, via the Olympic Park and Canary Wharf. Our table was in a plum spot, with great, uninterrupted scenes of the Gherkin and straight down the River Thames. 

From the snacks menu the cod cheeks and pig's ears. Already these seem to have garnered a bit of a cult reputation, and with good reason. The cod chunks (cheeks, not tongues) are like springy, flaky fish nuggets, squeaky fresh and served with a zippy tartare and a bottle of Sarson's. The ears (described as a sort of super-Frazzle by our waiter) were strips of crunchy, fatty porcine heaven.

The cocktail list is short but sweet, comprising of three, ever-changing twists on classic drinks. Our waiter, who turned out to be a real hoot, found out the day's choices for us; a Hendricks sorbet G'n'T, a fig and chocolate infused Manhattan and a whisky sour with a truffle foam. The Ewing and I chose the last two, with the Manhattan for me and the sour for her.

The presentation was a nice bit of theatre, with my Manhattan being presented as a bottle of smoking liquid. The cocktail itself was deep and fragrant, smelling like Christmas with its notes of dried fruit and spice. The Ewing's was an interesting contrast between the heady truffled foam topping and the clean and zesty sour beneath.

A good mound of nicely fatty rabbit rillettes came with a sweet beer chutney and was studded with pistachios. Great for scooping up with thick slices of toasted bread.

Scallops with Granny Smith, lime and black truffle. These were big, bold flavours that somehow managed not to overwhelm the sweet, slippery slices of bivalve. The Himalayan salt block they were served on, as well as looking rather pretty, also cleverly served to season each mouthful.

Octopus with chorizo and lemon. A lovely, classic combination; the octopus was butter soft and worked beautifully with the fatty salty chunks of sausage and sharp-sweet citrus pieces. I cunningly ordered this thinking the Ewing wasn't a big cephalopod fan, sadly it turns out I was wrong and we fought to the last tentacle.

The all day foie gras breakfast, another menu item that has received plenty of interest. This features the unholy sounding combination of crispy bacon, fried quails egg, black pudding balls and foie gras, served on a slice of french toast topped with Nutella. It's crazy, but liver and chocolate spread works (just about).

There's no doubting it's a rich plate of grub and, for once, the Ewing was more than happy to share. It's also a bit of a bargain, at twelve quid (yours for a tenner when they first opened), and definitely worth trying, even if just for the novelty value and the lovely black pudding morsels.

Now, I'm a huge fan of big flavours, and would quite happily dine on a salt lick while drinking saline solution, but most of our plates seemed on the verge of over seasoned and lacking in vegetable elements. The salad/side orders didn't offer a big selection in the way of greenery either, with the likes of olives, peas with smoked bacon, and summer vegetables with ricotta salata not giving much respite from the sodium chloride assault. Thankfully our waiter was ready with the iced water refills, but my palette did start to feel slightly dessicated by the end of lunch.

Although getting dangerously full by this point we were craving something sweet and there wasn't a chance we could leave without at least looking at the pudding menu. In a role reversal I plumped for the choclate brownie while the Ewing picked the peach melba.

The brownie was superb; dark, dense, nutty and sitting on great, unadvertised, slab of toasted marshmallow, surrounded by shards of honeycombe. I liked the peanut ice cream a little less; it wasn't bad, but it did taste a little wan and slightly grainy. This was a serious pud, and definitely for those possessing a very sweet tooth.

The Ewing's peach melba was a nice twist on the classic, featuring a Sicilian peach of a bed of sponge, topped with vanilla ice cream, and strewn with candied almonds and raspberry sauce. I enjoyed this a lot, and took every opportunity to dig my spoon in, hoping to get some much needed vitamin c from the fruit. The Ewing was less enamoured; she enjoyed the flavours, but apparently the combo of cake and ice cream is less than desirable to those with sensitive teeth. Being a sensitive wife, I did offer to finish it for her, but she ploughed manfully on and polished off the lot with out too many problems.
Normally the higher you go the further your expectations fall, but the surprising thing about Duck and Waffle was how ungimmicky it actually felt. Despite ticking all the 'right' boxes; quirky entrance, great setting, small plate sharing menu, fancy cocktails; the end product actually delivered. Food was tasty, the prices fair (watch out for booze though, cocktails were £12/13 and the wine list starts at £25 a bottle and careers quickly upwards) and the service friendly and laid-back. Our waiter particularly was lovely, happily stopping to chat to us and offering to take photos.

With plans for round the clock opening, Duck and Waffle seems the perfect vantage point to watch our great City at work or at play. Just make sure to take your Berocca.

Duck & Waffle on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Pearl Liang, Paddington

I first read about Pearl Liang many moons ago, in a raving review written by Giles Coren, a dim sum aficionado, who went crazy for the soup dumplings, sesame prawn rolls and lobster noodles, memorably describing the latter as 'perfectly cooked’ with ‘firm, straggly, munchable noodles’. I needed to go.

Despite it being in Sheldon Square, a mere hop step and jump from my Marylebone stomping ground whenever I come up to Town, the idea of the Paddington Basin seemed almost as remote as the Amazon - not helped by the, admittedly very comprehensive, directions page on their web site that tells you to walk 100m along platform eight of Paddington Station, before turning along a walkway, which leads you up a tow path.... All very Harry Potteresque, and rather confusing.

Finally the opportunity for a visit arose. After a thoroughly enjoyable morning watching the Olympic archery at Lord's we decided to head over for lunch, enjoying a leafy stroll through Maida Vale and along the Regent's Canal,  and managing to find it with relatively little difficulty (apart from getting horribly lost under the Westway, where I started to feel a bit like walking Blur lyric). Very soon we were being seated by our charming waiter and looking forward to tucking in to our first basket of buns.

First things first; a nice pot of jasmine tea and some chilli oil and chilli sauce. These, of course, were meant for the dipping in our forthcoming treats, but I sampled them with a teaspoon, sans dumplings, while the Ewing looking on disapprovingly. Our waiter, however, remained completely unphased by my appalling manners; bringing us a knife after seeing us trying to hack our cheung fun in half, keeping our tea topped up, and patiently talking us through all the specials on the menu.

In fact the service was some of the friendliest I have received for a long time; a far cry from some Chinese restaurants that seem to persevere in the mistaken belief that ignoring you, sighing, scowling and slamming down plates is somehow contributing to a positive customer experience.

We started with a trio of very fine seafood morsels. First up were some Japanese inspired wasabi prawn dumplings. These beautiful emerald green bundles contained a filling of crunchy prawn, with just enough of the fearsome green horseradish to give it a nice bite.

Scallop dumpling were sweet and subtle, crammed full of super fresh bivalve. Perhaps a little understated for my tastes (everything was nicely seasoned, but eating spoonfuls of chillis in oil before lunch can dull the tastebuds a little), but these were one of the Ewing's favourite dishes of the afternoon.

One of my favourite plates was the kings crabmeat with egg white dumpling, each topped with a dollop of neon fish roe. These were glorious mouthfuls, the generous crab filling being gently cradled by the gossamer-thin rice flour wrapper.

Mixed cheung fun with Chinese broccoli and sweet soy sauce. I had mixed feelings about cheung fun when I was introduced to dim sum, not helped by a particularly thick and slimy example I was served up in Chinatown a while back. For a long time I avoided them, suspicious of the sometimes unpleasantly thick and gluey wrappers and the way that, however delicately I tackled them, half the filling always seemed to fall down the front of my shirt mid-bite.

Here I was tempted to try them again, and it proved to be a wise choice. Although still slippery buggers to eat, the rice dough wrappers were light and tasty and the fillings generous. Memorably good was the prawn version, huge pieces of perfectly cooked seafood nestled in their steamed rice noodle coats.

Honey roasted pork bun. The Ewing's love for pork buns knows no boundaries, and it would be impossible to imagine lunch without at least one basket of these. They were good examples, if unspectacular; perfectly light and puffy dough with lots of sweet spicy pork inside.

Bean pastry with prawn in abalone sauce. These are thin rolls of bean curd skin (like that which is sometimes wrapped around Chinese meatballs), served piping hot with a sweet sea snail sauce. A new experience for me, I found these light, delicately chewy and quite delicious.

We finished with steamed chrysanthemum buns filled with custard. These were made from a similar, feather-light and springy, dough as the pork buns, shaped to resemble the eponymous flower. Quite beautiful and just sweet and creamy enough after all the salty, spicy flavours that had come before.

The great thing about dim sum is that (in the vast majority of places) you can as much as you please without getting any where near breaking the bank. Yes, even with our vast appetites. Here was no exception, with each plate costing around the three pound mark, exceptional value for some very tasty dumplings and buns. Couple that with the fact that dim sum is one of the few meals that tastes better with a pot of tea (although a cold beer is also welcome), and you've got a delicious bargain on your hands. That is, of course, if you can find it first...

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