Friday, 30 September 2011

Bright Courtyard

Lai Tong in Cantonese could mean house soup, staff soup or also soup that can be served all day. In larger Chinese restaurants the kitchen has to cook a meal for the staff before service kicks in at midday, this would inevitably include separate dishes consisting of meat, fish, green vegetables and of course soup. Cauldrons of the latter would’ve been made hours in advance to intensify the flavours and ending up what’s essentially pork stock. This bulk product is also the base for other forms of soups, noodles soups and countless dishes found on the menu of your regular Chinese restaurant. But what’s left of the extra broth is not gone to waste, most of the cheaper eateries in Guangdong would pass it on as a freebie as an incentive to accompany your paid one-dish meal. And there’s one restaurant in London’s Chinatown that continues to uphold this practice by serving you a bowl of gratis Lai Tong during lunchtimes. So a big applause to Young Cheng on Shaftesbury Avenue for its charitable deed.

But some folks have the gall to charge you £6.50 for a bowl
(or tumbler) of soup that tastes basically the same as the one served at the above soup Lai Tong kitchen.

Bright Courtyard or to give its full name Bright Courtyard Club (as well as having a sister branch in Shanghai) is a fine dining Chinese restaurant serving primarily Cantonese cuisine with a token bit of regional Chinese thrown in. And in order to appease the newfound eating habits of the rich Mainland Chinese; sashimi is apparently a showcasing speciality of the house (but no sushi). The addition of the misnomer ‘Club’ is probably due to the Chinese obsession with keeping up with the Jones; Royal China Club is conveniently located directly opposite. The Bright Courtyard premises was once briefly occupied by the misguided but thankfully ill fated West Fifty Five.

The dining room belongs to sort of restaurant that’s attached to a hotel or half-decent airport terminal. Warmth was simply done away with from the original interior design brief. But then again PR folks would beg to differ and call it plush modern but I think contemporary banality befits better. The service although good was leaning on overbearing and clingy. On my first visit I asked the lady supervisor about her recommendations, her response was ‘oh I dunno, food too expensive here for me to eat!’ My heart slumped but ‘nuff said and onward we proceeded-

BC’s soup of the day or literally ‘old fire’ soup of the day. For the sake of comparison here’s Young Cheng’s version.

In order to emphasise the perceived value of the overpriced soup, the usually discarded stuff from the bottom of the soup pot is scooped up and dished separately. Pathetic.

The dining companion’s pricier and equally unexciting Cantonese double boiled soup. Essentially the same as the above but with added ingredients to provide a little bit more of yin-enriching and yang-fortifying properties. By ordering this kind of soup one would expect it to enhance one's well-being but unfortunately it was more like enhancing BC’s pockets. A right ‘piddle fart’ of a dish! Pathetic.

The BC cold platter

Supposedly consisting of five spiced beef, drunken chicken, sea blubber, marinated pork shank, and smoked fish. Yes, a couple of prawns somewhat intruded onto the plate.

Pork shank should have been translated as pork knuckle and WTF is sea blubber...fragrant slippery tissue of an elephant seal? The chicken was as tough as my Doc Martens, the beef was too cold and under-spiced, pork was ok and the fish overwhelmed by a sickeningly sweet sauce. We remonstrated about the missing blubber and weren’t prepared to accept the average tasting sweet and sour prawns were a valid substitute.

Ah there you have it, the missing sea blubber suddenly appeared from nowhere as if I was a trading standards inspector about to leap out. Why the hell hadn’t BC call it jellyfish in the first place was beyond me! The cold platter was mean, half-hearted and simply disgraceful. For the best examples of Chinese cold starters the chefs and managers have obviously failed to engage in a bit of industrial espionage at either Phoenix Palace or Princess Garden before they set up shop! Pathetic.

It wasn’t difficult to overhear what one of the cooks in the open kitchen was muttering about in Cantonese, ‘I’m going to take some of that delicious roast duck home tonight since there are loads left over!’ I fell for it and ordered half a bird-

Boneless! A Chinese restaurant immediately commits a cardinal sin when it serves roast duck sans bone (let alone any bird for that matter!) to Chinese diners.

It was ok but it did cost twenty quid and one could have a better whole roast duck for around the same price at any of the Four Seasons restaurants. Pathetic.

Enoki mushroom tofu hotpot. A braised dish of fried pieces of silken tofu and very little of the said shrooms, plus the bleeding obvious additions of soy sauce, oyster sauce, MSG, etc. Considering the base ingredients came to around 2.5 quid in total, you and I could’ve cooked it better. £12.50 was an awful lot dosh to pay for such a simplistic dish! Pathetic.

The small plate of fruit salad came with the bill, a distraction some would say. I paid over seventy pounds* for mediocre meal and for the same amount I could’ve taken away 15 orders of Singapore Fried Noodles from Wong Kei to be distributed among the Big Issue sellers in London or a more rewarding dinner consisting of half a Nanjing Duck, Fried black Cod and Minced Pork, and Crispy Beancurd with Broccoli at the Phoenix Palace and of course not forgetting the ten portions of the delicious laksa plus the free soup at Young Cheng! I left the place bruised and dumbfounded.

*That also included a 10% reduction on all food ordered during their soft opening honeymoon.

Came back as I did but only for the Dim Sum. What with high rents and crippling business rates in Westminster it was inevitable of BC to dabble with the above during lunch hours.

Freebie pickles of cucumbers and mustard greens to whet your appetite.
Courtyard Seafood Rolls or literally ‘thousand threads sea king roll’.

Beautifully crispy but the prawns were scarce as hen's teeth. Sighish ho hum…

Shredded Turnip Cakes or ‘thousand threads turnip short pastries’

Like the above, immensely crispy and the filling was melting beyond words. I actually liked it.

Beef Cheung Fun- steamed rice noodle rolls with ground beef. Disappointingly bland.

Chicken Feet or phoenix claws. It wasn’t braised enough and seasoned likewise, it tasted too much of birds with poor barnyard hygiene.

Har Gau. Excellent lardy tasting fat prawn dumplings and no corners cut. Lush plump prawns within. Ended up mildly shocked but suitably impressed.

Siu Mai- the likes of Dim T and Ping Pong have managed to cock up and misrepresent this hallowed Dim Sum dish big time but BC’s Siu Mais are the best I’ve had in London. Succulent and divine to boot. The addition of the flying fish roe was radther inspirational!

Although The Dim Sum lunch fared better than the doomed dinner, frankly I can’t see BC lasting the distance, the concept is clueless and badly applied. Your only reason for dining here is one of the following-

If either of the two Royal China joints turns you away
A trip to Chinatown might be entirely oblivious
A resident of the Portman Village where the term ‘state pension’ is considered a profanity
Or if you were a ‘made-it’ Chinese person you certainly wouldn’t want to be seen gobbling dumplings amongst the plebs!

Not recommended.

43-45 Baker Street
London W1U 8EW

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

How was your Sunday?

Prepped myself with a tipple of Navarra and a rather large spicy lamb roll from the Ginger Pig in Marylebone. (As for the latter, avoid, ‘twas a case of doing away with excess meat before due disposal’, stick to their excellent pork sausage rolls instead).

Headed eastwards towards the City.

Not the kind of the dish that broadcasts live matches of my beloved Arsenal but Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror.

The reflection of the Lloyd's building…

…but done better by the architects of the Willis Building. Eat your heart out Mr Kapoor!

Pompidou Centre effects courtesy of Baron Rogers of Riverside.

Leadenhall Market
(Pizza Express WTF?)

Quaint vents.

The imminent and second home of the fabulously wealthy Qataris that’s Shard London Bridge.

Peloton re Tour of Britain.

The Monument.

The imposing aquarium that dominates the reception area of the Heron Tower.

And also attached within, The Drift- a place to booze and pile on the lbs.

‘Tis a place that offers fish and chips, pasta, and Thai green curry on its menu or every cuisine of the world except this. Perhaps a little too cringeworthy for discerning food lovers.

A glass of Susie Amy to kill off the remaining afternoon.

Did I mention that the place was littered with seashells.

Tap water nazi.

The HM Revenue & Customs’ biggest nightmare!
But welcome to Café East anyway.

Bánh cuốn

A massive portion with lovely steamed slices of chả lụa. Good bánh cuốn should always be thin and delicate but here they were made too thick and ended up as a poor version of the Cantonese cheung fun.

Chả chiên- fried Vietnamese sausage.
A dish that’s nearly impossible to fluff up. Excellent.


Garnishes for the above.
Once again Café East don’t cut corners when it comes to dishing out generous portion.

Phở tai-
with rare slices of beef.

Although the soup was not as intense as I would've liked but it was still pretty good. Dinner came to 15 quid per person. Long may Café East thrive!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Lucky Chip

A massive thanks to IHC for prodding my shoulder about Lucky Chip. But I shan’t torment you with me sloppy writing about the finer details of LC as Kang the Devourer has already done so and albeit more eloquently. Please read his review here.

The regular menu.

The burger of the week.

The John Travolta’s Royale with Cheese.

An aged beef patty (allegedly of provenance à la Ginger Pig), American cheese, lettuce, toms, gherks and LC’s homemade hamburger sauce were sandwiched between.

How about the droolworthiness? Let’s do away with the negatives first; the patty was over-salted, bordered on medium-well (a heart-sinking consequence) and the special sauce was simply a combo of mayo (sadly it doesn’t bode well with her) and I believed, spiced-up ketchup. Eating the burger was a messy affair (a good sign nevertheless), with the juices running down one’s hands or elbow and as if by nature’s intervention, you simply lap up the excesses instead of using the urban napkins provided. Like HB this was one helluva burger. It was satisfyingly tasty and juicy i.e. double happiness! The Royale with Cheese triumphed with its near perfect formula of combining the good stuff (beef and bun) and the scummish tings (like cheese and sauces) therefore I don’t think it would be churlish to suggest it was the best street burger I’ve eaten in London.

Based on the sole burger I had at LC, a score of seven stands. The best London Burger* for me still resides in Brixton.

*A London Burger needn’t facilitate a slice of Kraft cheese or let alone satisfy the annoying whims of the blind leading the blind disciples of the ‘Burgers are Resolutely American League’, cheddar is perfectly fine as it savours better, it's home-grown and hardly synthetic. Long live whatever Blighty, and long live the London Burger!

I paid seven quid for the Travolta burger.

Netil Market
London Fields
London E8 3RL

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