Saturday, 6 March 2010

Little Lamb

Clarice Starling would balk at the thought of walking in here. Naming a restaurant that conjures up persuasions of a sacrilegious intent doesn’t exactly tickle one’s appetite. Little Lamb has been around for sometime and it’s certainly older than my blog. Its location in being sandwiched between the old stalwart that’s New Mayflower and ‘free-soup-for-everyone-during-lunchtime’ Young Cheng can only suggest connotations of a ‘forget me…not that we care, coz we’re a cult’ tag. And indeed they do have a cult following. Could this place be somewhat permanently tied up to all the Chinese Students’ Associations from the various universities (be it loose or Ivyish) because every time I’ve walked past; apart from the rich young things of Mainland Chinese descent and let alone a well-crusted W (Westernised) O (Oriental) G (Gentle-raisin) like myself I’ve never spotted a gweilo in there!

Zoom in and we have Mongolian first and Chinese the token gesture. Little Lamb is a hotpot haven and that Mongolian tag is purely a tried and trusted marketing pull, the exoticness of the term Mongolian sounds so much better than Chinese style fondue! To quote Wiki, ‘hot pot cooking is much better suited to a sedentary culture’- so aptly Chinese and I’m well pertained. Budding ethnic-eaters if you’re thinking of coming here for fermented mare’s milk or mutton fat or boodog (OMG!), then Little Lamb has quite obviously infringed the Trade Descriptions Act. Little Lamb is terribly Chinese but with a twist, you cooks your’s own and sheer fun guaranteed.

Hot pot dining is all about sharing and a communal dig in, so if you’re averse to dipping your chopsticks in the same pot of goodness as your dining companions then wave yourself goodbye and run back home to mummy (certainly no sympathies from me)! Besides we’re dining Chinese here and concessions are hardly acknowledged (hooray and gleefully ouch!). Word of advice, don’t come here alone as you’ll need to aspire to the Hot Pot Set Meal at 20 quid per person (usual rule of ‘min’ 2 persons).

You’ll be given a tick yourself menu like the one I so painfully photographed and found out later that it was tainted by some objectionable looking fat.

First choose the stock. Do go for the Herbal Tonic and Spicy Twin Flavour option. This choice of duo-stocks bodes well with yours truly and it also respects the concept of yin yang. Do not be perturbed by the Herbal Tonic, it’s not at all bitter or medicinal tasting and the inclusion of goji berries and red dates is reassuringly salubrious. The spicy soup should make the fans of Sichuan cooking and sweaty gorgings contented.

Now each of the diners orders five raw ingredients of their choice. Please don’t let me nag on no-nos like crabsticks, silkworms and lettuce!

Needle mushrooms, some of you call it enoki.

Wafer thin slices of beef

Ditto for pork, you have to give Little Lamb top marks for presentation.

Fuzhou fishballs (unique in a sense that they’re filled with minced pork inside)
Winter Melon (Wax Gourd on the menu)- one of my favourite Chinese vegetables.

Dry Tofu

Wood Ear (Agarics on menu)- fungus that’s essential in Chinese cooking.


Prawns on shell

Not shown was a last nominal order of Mung Bean thread noodles to compensate for the carb element. Towards the end of the meal (the soups by now are so packed full of flavour and deliciousness) the noodles go in to complete a fitting finale to a wonderful dining experience.

There’s one thing that Little Lamb has achieved and that is it has washed its hands of the whole situation that concerns unsatisfactory cooked dishes being returned back to the kitchen. There are no chefs here to take the blame except yourself, so don’t overcook your prawns please.

The philosophy behind a hot pot meal is deceptively simple- good stock base* and good fresh ingredients. Little Lamb has precisely done that and at 20 pounds a head, it’s an absolute bargain. A maxed out recommendation is thus warranted.

Now I wouldn’t even dream of coming here until Mr Noodles kindly invited me to join him for dinner at the Little Lamb. If eating Chinese is the raison d’être, Mr Noodles is certainly one knowledgeable person. And should you ever get the chance to meet him then I’m sure you’ll agree with me that he’s a splendid dining companion. Mr Noodles, thank you and this post is dedicated to you.

*Veggies, I can’t vouch for any of the hot pot stocks on offer being meat-free. Chinese restaurants have a habit of answering your queries just to please you.

72 Shaftesbury Avenue
London W1D 6NA