Thursday, 13 October 2011

Mama Lan

If Mama Lan was still an active supper club and I had a disappointing meal there; I would simply walk away and keep shtum about it. Publishing negative reviews about supper clubs are a no-no in my book as it provokes an inordinate amount of sentimental reactions. During the past two and a half years I’ve been to twenty-five supper clubs within the M25 and yet I’ve only penned about a handful of them (rather gushingly I might add). I’m simply not ballsy enough to publicly criticise the cooking of the various hosts, as it would be akin to unceremoniously stalling the ambitions of a three-year-old wanting to be a fire fighter. The amateur status of supper clubs means that they’re fully entitled to get away with murder should they fail to deliver. And by all accounts both the flaws and high-points of paying for your supper in somebody else’s dining room are easily forgiven and embraced without further ado. But I blog about restaurants and as far as I’m concerned the latter either have it or don’t.

To call it by its full name, mama lan @ Brixton is in effect a full-fledged restaurant in Brixton Village Market. Needless to say BVM is an increasingly important destination for food lovers in London. As suggested earlier Mama Lan started off as a supper club with Mummy Lan cooking traditional Beijing nosh and obviously through more than a degree of success they decided to go legit. Setting up a business like this comes with the usual challenges like- rent, overheads, business rates, VAT men, customers, reviews and of course the irritating presences of bloggers. Sincerely, I wish them well.

The menu is compact and no nonsense. To save you bothering with the magnifying glass I’ve copied and pasted the menu from their website-

''Beijing dumplings (5pieces)
All our dumplings are handmade on site and are served with pickled vegetables
Beef and carrot £4.00
Pork and Chinese leaf £4.00
Dill and spiced tofu (v) £4.00

Street Snacks
Chilli oil chicken £4.50
Slow cooked beef with Chinese herbs and spices £5.00
Fried vegetable balls (v) £3.50

Seaweed salad with toasted sesame (v) £3.50
Five spice boiled peanuts, wood ear mushroom and celery (v) £3.50

Mocktail of the day £2.50
Tea blend of the day £2.50
Coke, / Diet Coke / Lemonade £1.50

(v) Suitable for vegetarians
All our meat is supplied by the Ginger Pig Farm''*

*(Correct as of 09/10/11)

I came here with two dining companions, one an established restaurateur and the other one, soon-to-be. We ordered everything on the menu except for the soft drinks.

My tea of day was a refreshing but caffeine-less chrysanthemum and wolfberry blend.

Wet peanut salad et al. Boiled peanuts are generally treated as appetisers before a main meal and provided gratis at most restaurants in China. Now because that we’re in Blighty you’re expected to fork out £3.50 for it but then again Brits do love a novelty or two. Alas, the nuts would’ve tasted a lot better if they were cooked with the addition of more soy sauce and star anise.

Seaweed salad. Highly processed brown alga is technically tasteless and the dish above managed to highlight the fact. Destpite the crunchy texture, the marinade and seasoning was disappointingly short of sesame oil, soy sauce, and generally, taste. Toasted black sesame seeds would’ve lifted the seaweed better than the pointless white ones. I think this dish is best left to the Japanese or Koreans. Poor.

Veggie balls-
The slightest hint of curry spices within evoked a ‘fusion confusion’ moment...ChIndian perchance? The initial joy of the crispy crust was immediately wiped out by the unexpectedly glutinous texture of the tasteless insides. Any aspirations of tackling bhajis or pakoras are immediately thwarted when you and I know that the Indians or Mr Bashir do it immeasurably better. And while we’re at it, Mama Lan, why don’t give this a go instead…it’s less ostentatious!

Chilli oil chicken-
We all know Westerners love flavourless breast meat but an addition of the brown variety would’ve enhanced the dish infinitely. The chilli heat belonged to the Korma School of Spiciness i.e. zeroish Scoville heat units and to make matters worse, the meat was dryish. The ‘lil piece of flat bread was frankly taking the piss, hardly enough for one let alone two or more…imagine a smug Robert Atkins approving. This £4.50 dish possibly confirmed a badly researched and developed inclusion on Mama Lan’s behalf. And as I’m known for rubbing salt in the wound, for the same amount of dosh one could’ve something more rewarding with three pieces of this.

Spiced Beef- it was admittedly the only standout, so a sharp tongue was unnecessary.

Dumplings (jiaozi) are the mainstay of Mama Lan. For some reason or another, outside China jiaozi is perceived as Beijing Dumpling. They’re usually served as shuijiao (boiled) or guotie (pan fried). Mama Lan serves the latter (dare I say to comply with the needs and preferences of the predominantly non-Chinese diners who throng the place).

The 'neither here nor there' beef and carrot dumpling

Some purists would argue that even the most basic of jiaozi dumplings is intrinsically unexciting in taste and you’ll need to enhance the flavours with the addition of rice vinegar and chilli oil (incidentally the latter was woefully cloudy and poorly executed). If that’s the case then Mama Lan have been amazingly consistent with all three versions of the dumplings we had, they were spectacularly bland. And when it came to the various fillings, yet again, was there a chronic shortage of salt, white pepper, spring onion, Chinese chives, sesame oil, and huangjiu when we
were there?

The overall meal was insubstantial, expensive and we remained hungry thereafter. Better tasting dumplings can be found relatively nearby (£3 for 10!) or IMO, the best Beijing dumplings in London bar none (£5 for 8).

The following is a summation from one my fellow diners-

‘If this is the true taste of Beijing then our taste buds have obviously been corrupted and we have moved on. And no thanks to you for dragging me out of my Sunday lie-in, it was a massive disappointment you bloody wind-up merchant!’

If you’re after Chinese food that’s unquestionably mediocre then Mama Lan comes highly recommended.

Unit 18
Brixton Village Market
Coldharbour Lane
London SW9 8PR


Hollow Legs said...

O dear. That all looks very sad indeed - especially that chicken dish, bleugh!

Silk Road's fried dumplings are a thing of great beauty; all handmade, at 10 for £3 it's such a bargain.

Kay @ Chopstix2Steaknives said...

Oh heading to Brixton Village soon, might give their dumplings a skip!

Kay @ Chopstix2Steaknives said...

I'm intrigued that Jen's cafe is your take on the best....I have not tried it. I'll say there is no reason not to now.

Mr Noodles said...

I will give it a try myself but based on your visit, it seems to be mm3 mm4 (neither here nor there to non-Canto types)

London Chow said...

@Mr Noodles
Haha... I had a hard time figuring out that one myself.

I'm one of those who prefers guotia... but the jiaozi over at Jen's Cafe would do just fine. That said, I can't really differentiate between the Chinese guotia and the Japanese gyoza... anyone?

Mr Noodles said...

LChow - the flippant answer is that the difference is £1/portion with the Japanese charging extra. Cos they can.

More seriously, gyoza is how the Japanese pronounce 餃子. Essentially, like ramen and udon, the Japanese adopted dumplings from the Chinese into their own cuisine.

Mzungu said...

I was thinking of trying this place, but may have to leave it for a while.

I heart cupcakes said...

Good grief that chicken dish looks awful. Think I'll stick to Elephant or Honest Burgers when I head to Brixton Village.

theundergroundrestaurant said...

A bit cruel to a start up restaurant Mr Les. In fact the whole thing reads as quite irritable.

N o kosmetykach said...

OMG it's look so delicious! Srebro.

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