Wednesday, 14 December 2011

East Street, Rathbone Place

The very idea of 'Pan Asian' makes me sigh wearily and roll my eyes and I know full well that this is the snob in me. The countries are so different in their flavours and techniques I can't understand how a chef can be skilled enough to do all of them fantastically; yet I don't even raise an eyebrow when I see a 'Modern European' restaurant. I suppose perhaps having grown up in the Far East makes me fiercely protective, and no amounts of people telling me they like to have the option of sushi with their Thai green curries will fix that. Not to mention the sheer bloody wrongness of mixing those cuisines with such fervour - it's just not for me. I was almost apoplectic with indignation upon catching sight of Dim Sum Diner's menu.

So you might wonder why I accepted an invite to go to East Street, newly opened on the site of the former Eagle Bar & Diner. I'll be honest. I was seduced by the website. It's all pretty and colourful! And not a California roll of sushi in sight. I had high hopes.

I took a friend I knew would know his Asian and between us we picked dishes that spanned across the continent. Edamame was served freshly steamed and warm while we waited for our first dishes to appear. Bulgogi was thinly sliced grilled beef served with lettuce leaves and kimchi. The beef was grilled nicely to pink and it went well with the spicy kimchi. Wrapped up in a leafy parcel it was pleasant enough.

Tempura prawns were nicely battered crisp, served with the standard tempura dip. Though well priced at £5.75 for the dish, I think you should either pad it out (surely some tempura vegetables can't break the bank?) or use a smaller plate. It seemed sparse.

When our waitress explained the menu to us - and when I say explained, I mean read out the titles - the salads were described as suitable as a main course. Uhm. No. But when shared alongside, it was very nice. The chicken was nicely grilled and the vegetables crunchy, but we both agreed it needed more sourness, a bit more pep. The advertised coriander was barely there.

Special dish of the day was Mee Goreng, from Malaysia. This is a dish of fried yellow noodles with meat, sometimes pickles and egg, often cooked in lard for extra deliciousness. The dish presented to us was nothing of the sort. It was gloopy and lacked any of what we call in Cantonese 'wok hei', breath of the wok. That's the smoky, charcoal smell you get from frying things in a wok at a high heat - that's the kind of smell you encounter all over South East Asia.

My own dish, Khao Soi noodles was billed as chicken and yellow noodles in red curry sauce. A whole two chillis sit next to this menu listing so I was expecting something nose clearing, or at least sweat inducing. Disappointingly, it didn't even induce a sniffle. Again, it was gloopy and rich without enough lime or fresh red onion to cut through that heavy coconut. Deceptively deep, the bowl turned out to be quite small for the £8.95 they were charging though given that I lost interest half way through all the better for the small serving. Why bother with this? What is even the point in saying it's hot on the menu when you won't make it so? This sort of thing really pisses me off; if you're too lame to serve dishes authentically spiced, then don't serve it at all. Open a pie and mash shop or something.

That famous mango with sticky rice dessert seen all over Bangkok was a total disaster. The claggy clump of sticky rice was barely sweet and physically taxing to get through, the coconut cream served either side of it rendered completely useless. The mango was only just ripe, perhaps a touch under given it had still a powdery texture. Miles away from the real thing.

The Malaysian bubor pulot hittam was a black glutinous rice dessert with coconut cream and palm sugar. This was luxurious and tasty, the rice nicely cooked.

All in all, it was as expected. Jack of all trades and master of none. I know people will love this; the bright colours, Cath Kidston-esque decorated stools and the manga cartoons projected onto a huge back wall will be an instant hit, but then again people love that hell hole that is Cha Cha Moon, and for God's sake people still flock to Wagamamas. But me and Pan Asian, we are over. It was a brief flirtation and it just didn't work out.

East Street

3 - 5 Rathbone Place
London W1T 1HJ

Tel: 020 7323 0860

East Street Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I didn't pay as I was invited to review but this would have been £20 / head.

11 comments:

Pavel said...

If this gets your goat DONT whatever you do look at this from the Guardian the other week.

Foodycat said...

Like you, I am not a fan of pan Asian. If it takes decades to become a sushi master, how are you also supposed to master wok techniques, or the spicing of a Thai curry paste? The bulgogi looks nice though.

Lizzie said...

Pavel - Oh. My. Lord.

Foodycat - Exactly! The bulgogi was nice, but given it's proximity to Koba where you can have a proper Korean meal, then why bother...?

Mr Noodles said...

This confirms all of my prejudices about pan-Asian joints. The noodles look v.disappointing and the sticky rice dessert looks like it was cobbled together by a bad Masterchef contestant.

However, I have no doubt that East St (in common with Banana Tree and other chains of that ilk) will go down a storm with punters. And that makes me sad.

Risha said...

I thought this place had the worst food I’d had in a long time. The platter for starters was luke warm and my cousins char kway teow tasted of nothing. There was no smokiness or flavour. My tom yum was inoffensive enough but no where near the ‘two chilli’ spicyness it should have been. Defiantly much better places around!

Chris said...

Was asking on Twitter the other day if there's ever been a restaurant describing itself as 'Pan-Asian' worth bothering with. Someone suggested Nobu but that's really just mainly Japanese. As you correctly say, no one chef or even team of chefs can simultaneously do a good job of Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian and Malay. And yet, we're in a situation where bog-standard crowd-pleasers like Wagamamas and Banana Tree are packed every night, so you can see why people keep opening them.

In short, the general public are morons.

Lizzie said...

Mr Noodles - I know you're a long standing hater of the pan asian scene and quite rightly too.

Risha - ooh dear. That is bad indeed. Looks like you had a lot of the same issues as me.

Chris - Nobu really is very Japanese with a few fusion-y bits so not really pan asian. Morons might be a bit harsh; I know lots of people who do enjoy the bog standard and perhaps they're just not as fanatical as us. Annoying though that people will then say "oh, I don't really like Malaysian food, I had it at *insert pan asian place here*" etc.

Melanie Seasons said...

Exactly what I feared about this place. I walked by earlier today though, and it was packed, and I have no doubt it will continue to be so.

And you're right - with Koba just down the street, why bother?

laura said...

Sorry to leave a comment on an old post - but do you know anywhere in London that does a good khao soi? I've had a hankering for it ever since my holiday over a year ago and i've never found it on any thai restaurant menus that i've been to.

Lizzie Mabbott said...

Laura - no worries. I believe Van Duke are pretty great, though I have no idea where there are at the moment... Maybe tweet them? http://www.thaivanduke.com/

laura said...

i'll do that, thank you! love the blog!