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


Hollow Legs said...

Waaah. £70?!?! And that soup! We always ate the meat and bits with soy sauce as you were served, but that's home food, not restaurant food; certainly not to charge for. Tsk.

Mr Noodles said...

Well this one's off the list. Seeing that Phoenix Palace, Princess Garden and two Royal China's (the normal one and the Club) are all within 10 mins walk of this place, I don't predict a bright future for Bright Courtyard.

BTW - beef cheung fun! WTF! Never order beef cheung fun is one of the rules of dim sum passed down to me by Pa Noodles.

bellaphon said...

Lizzie- How nice of you to grace us with your try the soups at Shu Castle as they're superior indisputably holistic.

Noods, blame the boy KC for that, he lives for it, personally I wanted cha leong (炸两)! I'm with Pa Noodles all the way.

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