A culinary photo tour of China and Tibet

Way back in September, I spent an incredible two weeks split between Beijing and Lhasa. We had a few days in the big city and then a two-day smelly  train ride across the country and into the heart of Tibet. We saw mountains (like, the mountain – Mt Everest), we ate yak, we ran out of breath walking up a flight of stairs thanks to the altitude, I tried lung for the first time (no, thank you) and generally had a wicked, crazy time.

Here’s the evidence…

Crunchy tofu

All this for just £10/person and soooo much better than Chinatown


Yak dumplings

Proper Peking duck

Sweet tofu with edamame

Hot pot beef with dumpling and chilli

A yak feast in Tibet (lots and lots of yak - which wasn't really all that nice)

Yauatcha – Soho

I’d nearly given up on Alan Yau restaurants. Wagamama I love, Busaba is ok as long as you order the right thing, Hakkasan is decent enough as long as I’m not paying, Cha Cha Moon is not and Sake No Hana is, well, a disaster.

So allow me to have been a sceptic when my flatmate Neil kept going on and on about how good Yauatcha was. And allow me to be completely and entirely wrong. Yauatcha should be renamed Yumatcha. I loved everything.

We went for Neil’s birthday as a surprise, and even from walking in and seeing the very delicious looking mini desserts in the waiting area, we all started to get excited. The modern decor, vibrant blues and wicked exotic fish tank in reception were all witness to one of the best meals I’ve had so far this year.

The menu is immense. So much to choose from that we had a difficult time even knowing where to start. First on the list though was the Char Siu Bun:

Fluffy, slightly sweet puffs filled with tender, savoury pork. Normally Char Siu, though almost always tasty, tends to be sticky and difficult to eat, but these were perfect.

The Soft Shell Crab and Salted Egg Croquette were a favourite of mine. The crunchy crab offset by silky egg was served on top of a citrus sweet chilli sauce. There was a lot going on here, but it worked.

The Spicy Szechuan Dumpling was little gloopy for my taste. I found it a tad overwhelming, but it was a hit with the table.

Jasmine Tea Smoked Ribs were tender and delicious, only slightly accented (not overpowered) by hints of floral.

The Crispy Duck Rolls came out piping hot, nearly bursting full of proper duck meat, not just a few slivers like most places. The hoison was rich and plummy, and my only complaint is that they took it off the table too soon!

The Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf was incredibly aromatic for what is essential rice and chicken. The rice had the noticeable sweetness that comes with being drizzled with mirin, which was a nice balance for the largely soy and ginger-based chicken.

The Sweet Potato Mei-si Roll was a surprise. Similar in taste and texture to a bird’s nest, the crispy bits on the outside were a crunchy, salty bit of fun, while the inside was silky smooth. Utterly delicious.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop the love-in. Bad reviews are more fun to write (and read) than good ones anyway. I can’t wait to go back to Yauatcha though. It’s maybe not an everyday kind of place – the dim sum plates range from about £5-£15 and for three of us with drinks, we were out for under £100 – but for the special occasion or birthday meal, it’s perfect. I can’t wait to go back.

Yauatcha on Urbanspoon

Phoenix Palace – Baker Street

I’ve read quite a few posts on ‘the best dim sum in London’ as of late, mostly from Mr Noodles, who is a far better judge of Cantonese quality than I could ever be. So when I read his review of Phoenix Palace, and it pretty much matched up with my opinions of the Baker Street mainstay, I felt proud!

The first I had heard of Phoenix Palace, however, was from a couple of my oldest and dearest friends in London. Despite their living in nearly an hour away Bow, they try to make it out to the Palace as much as they can. They also told me that they love it so much that if I didn’t like it, I was not allowed to write a review, so I guess you can see by the nature of you reading this that I did indeed enjoy our meal.

On a rainy Sunday afternoon, four of us settled in with dim sum menus and an appetite the size of The Shard – and for all the food we ordered, we needed it. In fact, we ordered so much food, I couldn’t even begin to write about all of it. Instead I will give you the highlights.

Steamed Wasabi Prawn Buns (£3.80) were nose-sniffiingly fun:

The Prawn Cheung Fun (£4.40) was silky and perfectly cooked. I  enjoyed it more than the Minced Chicken (£3.60) filling, which actually had more shiitake mushrooms in it than chicken.

The Mini Onion Pancakes (£2.80) were surprising. While we expected (and in my case, wanted) more an actual pancake, these pastry-based morsels were actually quite nice.

Only disappointment was the Mini Ribs in Black Bean Sauce (£2.80) though this is probably our fault as not being experts in Cantonese cuisine.  The black bean sauce was too brothy, and the ribs were designed more to suck on than to actually eat. It’s not what we were looking for.

The Beef Ball Dumplings (£2.80) were tender and full of spring onions – a very complementary flavour.

For a bit of health, we ordered a side of Pak Choy (£11.80), which was excellent, but a total rip-off at nearly £12.  Seriously – £12 for vegetables. Ridiculous.

And for something a bit more substantial and not at all healthy – the Crispy Beef with Chili (£9.80) which even while delivered lukewarm was excellent. Nice presentation too.

In addition to all of this (and trust me, we got more than one of each dish), we also had Spring Rolls, Minced Pork Dumplings,  Gyoza and some very excellent Char Sui Buns, which all lived up to expectations.

And while I’m by no means a dim sum aficionado, I know good when I eat it, and Phoenix Palace is good. Plus, for four of us eating our weight and having a few beers, we paid about £16 a head with service. An excellent deal.

And if you go, don’t be put off by the tacky decor and the crazy ‘Celebs who have eaten here’ mural – it’s all part of the charm.

Phoenix Palace on Urbanspoon

Chilli Cool – Bloomsbury/Kings Cross

After a lunch and vodka tasting at Bob Bob Ricard, a trip around the Eye, a bottle of wine at Gordon’s Wine Bar and some more drinks around King’s Cross, some random Chinese food sounded really good.  With Chinatown being oh-so-far-away, I took a quick look on the ol’ Urbanspoon iPhone app, and came across Chilli Cool.

Now unbeknownst to me at that very inebriated time, Chilli Cool already had already quite the foodie reputation. In fact, last year there was hardly a London food blog who hadn’t written something gushing on the modest 2-entrance eatery on Leigh Street.  But like I said, I didn’t know that at the time.

Pete, Leif and I made the rookie mistake of walking in the ‘hot pot’ door on the side of the restaurant reserved only for – yep – hot pots.  After realising our error, we shuffled back to the actually ‘restaurant entrance’ side, only to find no empty seats. The host then shuffled us back outside and over to the ‘hot pot’ door one more time.  People were beginning starting to stare.

Finally settled, we perused the menu, picking out a dish or two each to share.

Leif went for the Spicy Tripe and Beef:

and Pete, the Chilli Chicken:

Both of the dishes came out abnormally fast, and soon we tasted why – they were both served cold. And then it all became clear – Chilli Cool.  Get it?! Chilli Cool.

I won’t pretend it wasn’t a shock at the first bite (nothing like a surprise!), but it wasn’t unpleasant.  It was just like having leftover Chinese food the next morning, but you know… when you order it, instead. I’m not sure the boys were as impressed though.

For my dish, I chose the Shredded Pork with Hoison:

I loved this.  It was served warm. The rich hoison was coated on too thickly, and the just-cut spring onions gave the whole dish a very fresh taste.

The table shared a plate of green beans as well:

Lovely, oily, (but just so) with garlic and lemon – these are how greens should always taste.

After we left Chilli Cool, we all felt that we had discovered something very special: A tiny restaurant patronised only by Chinese UCL students in a part of Bloomsbury that’s mostly residential. How cool is that?  And then when I got home to write down my notes and see if anyone else had been… well… I felt about as silly as I probably looked shuffling back and forth from restaurant entrance to hot pot entrance three times.

Chilli Cool on Urbanspoon

Qype: Angela Malik Cookery School – Acton Central

Here are some things I like:

  • Dim sum
  • Cooking
  • Qype

Here are some thing I don’t like:

  • Being late
  • Travelling over an hour to get somewhere
  • Torrential downpours that cause my trousers to be soaking from the knee-down

And as you may have guessed, all of these things to be within the space of about 2 hours last Thursday. I’m still recovering.

Angela Malik

Angela Malik

Here’s how it happened: I was invited to a Qype-sponsored mini dim sum cooking class at the Angela Malik cookery school in Acton. It started at 6pm, and the end of my work day is 5:30pm – if I leave 100% on time.  Very soon, I realised that there was no way that I was going to get from Goodge Street Station to Acton Central Overground Station in a half hour. I would have to travel to East Acton and take a bus. Minimum 45 minutes. But when I got to East Acton, it was pouring rain, the bus that I needed was nowhere to be found and – shocker – there were no cabs anywhere.  I ended up having to walk.

Long story short, I walked in an embarrassingly 45 minutes late, soaked to the bone and STARVING. Anglea has already started the class, but her assistants are quick to get me sorted with an apron, a recipe packet and more importantly, a glass of wine.

We spent the next couple minutes learning about the different tastes and complementary flavours for sweet, spicy, salty, bitter and sour.  Anglea stressed that making a curry shouldn’t set you back £30 in ingredients because if you don’t have one thing (for example, vinegar) you can use something else from the same taste group (like anything citrus).

Before we got to cooking, we watched Angela’s sous chefGeoff prepare some pork with a special Indian pesto that she’s made (and sells, naturally). He put a bit of rapeseed oil on the fatty side, spread a good heaping cup of pesto on the pork, and put it in the over for 45 minutes.  When it came out, we got to try some. It was AMAZING. We got a container of the pesto in our goodie bags, and I’m really excited to try cooking with it

Angela's Indian Pesto and Pork

From there, we got straight into the dim sum cooking, starting with pork buns. This recipe makes about 50 yummy morsels:

  • 2 spring onions finely chopped
  • 1 can water chestnuts finely chopped
  • 1 kg minced pork
  • Handful of coriander stalks
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp shao hsing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • Pinch of caster sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 50, 7.5cm wonton wrappers

To make the stuffing, add all the ingredients into a bowl and mash well with your hand. Place a heaping teaspoon onto each wrapper and fold up.  I found the easiest method was to use the edge of a spoon on the corners until all the edges are folded up. You could also twist the edges up.

Some examples of our lovely work:

Dim sum before their steam bath

Line the steamer with grease proof paper and steam the dumplings for 12-15 minutes.  The pork should just about be turning white when they’re done.

Serve with a dipping sauce of choice and coriander leaf.  We actually dressed them in Angela’s pesto and a drizzle sweet soy reduction sauce as well, which was delicious.  The finished product:


We also made some chicken gyoza through a similar method.  I can send on the recipe if anyone is interested.

Geoff cooking gyoza

What I learned is that dim sum is certainly not as complicated as I originally thought.  I also learned that I really don’t want to go to Ping Pong anymore – even if it is just ‘easier’. The food we all made was infinitely better, and I had a lot more fun with it.

My only issue with the cooking school is that it really is so far away.  It was great, and I highly recommend it, but if I had to go through what I went through to get there, and I was paying (her cooking classes are not cheap!), I’d be a little frustrated. However, if you’re in Acton or anywhere on the Overground, definitely check her out.

She also got an absolutely brilliant review from Toby Young in the Independent when she cooked for his private dinner party.

Pei Wei – Rochester, Michigan

This was my first meal back in the States with my mom.  I was exhausted from the flight and starving, and really wanted some Chinese food. My mom suggested something a little nicer.

Pei Wei is the cheap version of PF Changs, and PF Changs – for my British friends – is a sort of upscale Chinese food chain. It’s good. If you’re ever in a nice mall in the States, it’s a safe bet you’ll find one there.

I started out with just a spring roll.

It came with a sweet chilli sauce that tasted exactly like the one at Hakuba.  The spring roll wasn’t too greasy and had a nice mixture of filling inside. Fabulous little starter for just over $2.

My main was Thai Dynamite Shrimp. Pan-fried shrimp with a sriracha-soy suace, spring onions and brown rice.

The rice was awful – completely undercooked. The sauce was just ok. The shrimp was fine, could have been a bit crispier, but when something is seeped in as much sauce as these prawns were, you have to be forgiving.  Not a winner.

Pei Wei isn’t particularly interesting or even particularly good, but it does the job when you want Chinese food, but don’t want to risk health code violations at your local Chinese take-away.