Sunday 20 December 2009

New Cross Restaurant Crawl

Our Restaurant Crawl series, whereby we have a starter in on restaurant, a main in another, and finally a dessert somewhere else was devised one evening, probably in a pub. Dreamt up by Browners, we started off in Peckham, hosted by Food Stories. The next leg - the heady lights of New Cross, where I live.

We kick off with The Ginger Gourmand:

What better way to start a day of eating than with a dim sum breakfast?! The middle of the busy New Cross Road seems a rather odd place to find Hong Kong City so I wasn't sure what to expect (and neither, as it turns out, was Lizzie - a great wild card to kick start the day!). Although the service was friendly and prompt we were seated at the only table which was set with western cutlery rather than chopsticks. More than a little presumptuous on the waiter's part that we wouldn't want to (or couldn't?) eat with chopsticks and bordering on the rude when we had to ask for them a couple of times. A shame really, as the dim sum were pretty good.

First up was a Vietnamese Salad (a nod to the Vietnamese influence in Hong Kong City's menu) - a simple, yet colourful plate of lightly pickled carrot, cucumber, radish, red pepper garnished with coriander, mint and peanuts which counter balanced the richness of the more traditional dim sum quite well. Next was Helen's choice of Fried Dough Stick Cheung Fun. I'd never had this dish before, but Helen seemed fairly excited about so I couldn't wait to give it a whirl. It's unusual (not in a bad way). But it didn't really set my world on fire! It was all about the textures - biting through soft glutinous rice noodles before crunching on the crispy fried dough stick. Har Gau (steamed prawn dumplings) are a must on any visit for dim sum and I was somehow lucky enough to snaffle two of these little beauties with their translucent steamed skins and good textured prawns. Finally the dish which was probably my favourite of the day was the Deep Fried Cuttlefish Cakes. For some reason I expected them to be quite heavy and chewy. How wrong could I be?! These were the lightest little 'fish' cakes I've ever eaten and packed with the earthy flavours of the cuttlefish, which almost melted in your mouth. I would go back to order these alone.

' take on the dim sum:

I arrived at an almost deserted Hong Kong City on New Cross Road having braved hoards of crack heads and mid morning piss heads having forgotten to wear a stab proof vest. I was almost disappointed that I sat down with the gang without even us much as a knife wound. Lizzie did the honours and ordered us an array of dim sum ranging from the expected to the more obscure. All of which were delicious. But then again, I was so pickled that even a moldy Shreddie would have tasted like nectar.

Taro croquettes with minced meat were like miniature quails’ nest. The delicate fried outer coating crunched and crackled like a particularly loud rice crispy. And the middle was filled with a globule of minced meat. I loved the fact they were served in paper cupcake shells. But also got a bit confused because in my hung-over state I wasn’t sure whether what I was about to eat were going to be sweet delicacies or savoury delights.

Grilled pork dumplings were cunningly divided by Lizzie using the tail end of my chopsticks. Their singed brown shells encased a generous stuffing of dense, juicy pork. Given that I was craving sausages, they came pretty close to satisfying my porcine addiction.

I was a bit worried that curried baby octopus might be a bit of a challenge first thing on a blurry Saturday morning. But it turns out that they are the ultimate cure for bad heads. You have to concentrate so hard on picking them up that your brain doesn’t get a chance to scream at you. Lizzie commented that this is the one occasion that she ever gives Chinese curry sauce the thumbs up.

Prawn & chive dumplings were a success. They weren’t the most exciting in the world in comparison to some of the more interesting dishes we had, but they didn’t let themselves down at all.

Hong Kong City on Urbanspoon

Gin & Crumpets: As a misanthropic alcoholic, an old man's boozer is my natural habitat. So it was with joy in my withered heart and liver that I followed the other restaurant crawlers to The White Hart.

It wasn't Hollow Legs' first choice of boozer. That had been The Montague Arms, a brick-a-brack pub that welcomes coach parties and has a cult following among Goldsmith's irony-rich, penny poor students. But, being a students pub, it was shut (no respectable art student is out of bed at midday). Until a few month's ago The White Hart was no ordinary boozer. It was a Gentlemen's Club, where local dandies could come and admire naked ladies with a pint of beer in one hand and a packet of pork scratchings in the other (important to keep their hands busy). Unluckily for the landlord, New Cross is a neighbourhood with high moral standards and he was forced to put the poles away. Consequently, it is the only old man's boozer I've been to that has a small stage in the front bar and a mirrored dance floor out the back. The ladies loos are also pristine.

Otherwise, it is like every other dying old pub. Thick curtains, dust and a few working lights keep it gloomy. Pie and mash is available for £3.75, mass produced lagers are on tap and behind the bar there's a glass cabinet displaying crisps and peanuts. Remembering Dad's wise words ('They can't interfere with the bottles.') I ordered a bottle of Becks. We also had pints which all looked clear and gassy and suggested that someone is looking after the cellar properly. If you're looking for a pint in a dark, empty pub, you won't do better that The White Hart.

Cheese & Biscuits - I have often wondered about Ocakbasi restaurants, considering each has its own bread oven which they seem perfectly willing and able to use, why is the bread always so disappointing? I've been to a handful of pretty authentic-looking Turkish grills and sampled any number of pides and house breads and never been impressed. I know its primary role is a vehicle for shovelling hummus or minced meat into your face but fresh bread baked on the premises has the potential to be a destination in itself, not just a throwaway gimmick. Which is why Meze Mangal is special. Their house bread is thick and fluffy, boasting a delicate brown crust and a splendid soft dough. It's head and shoulders above any other Ocakbasi bread I've tried and is almost worth a visit alone. Fortunately, the other dishes managed to impress just as much. A selection of cold mezze, including hummus, preserved vine leaves and rice, and a shocking pink taramasalata was admittedly nothing more than you would expect but nevertheless very well presented and all perfectly fresh.

A very deft hand was on display at the grill. Chicken wings were moist and nicely charred, a kofte kebab was spicy and juicy and lamb chops were tender. The slightly larger cut which came as part of the mixed grill was perfectly pink in the middle, rather than four smaller examples which came as a separate order, which weren't. But they still went down well.

The place was packed to the rafters on a miserable rainy Saturday afternoon, and you can easily see why. Friendly, cheap and authentic, it was a lovely spot to fill our stomachs before eventually rolling on. It's certainly worth a special journey, which is just as well for them, as it's in the middle of bloody nowhere - handily equidistant between New Cross, Brockley and somewhere called St John which I'm not even sure is a real place. But take it from me, you'll be glad you made the effort to find it.

Meze Mangal on Urbanspoon

Food Stories: Our bellies fit to burst with dim sum, grilled meats and beer, there was only one thing for it: more food and more pub. We staggered towards the twinkly lights of The Royal Albert and were swiftly absorbed into its warm, glowing, festive arms, nestling ourselves in amongst stacks of board games and granny lampshades. The pub, arguably one of the best (and cosiest) in New Cross, seemed like the perfect place to mark the end of our crawl and test the limits of our distended bellies. Unfortunately, The Royal Albert, despite offering a menu brimming with starters and mains, doesn’t do desserts. “B52’s all round then?” someone suggested. I pondered the last time I’d even heard of a B52, let alone drunk one, and came to the conclusion that it was not in this century. It was the closest to ice cream I was going to get though dammit and, credit to the concoction, it slipped down easily; a sweet, creamy fun bomb. I licked my lips and fancied myself ten years younger.


Christie @ Fig&Cherry said...

Wow, talk about a gorge-fest. I'm impressed, and who better to do it with than your other food-obsessed blogger friends. Those cuttlefish cakes sounds fantastic!

Helen said...

I am so loving our restaurant crawls. Bring on the next one I say. The thought of that first pub still makes me chuckle - the way we skirted around the outside scared to go in and then when we left he was our mate.

Unknown said...

What a great idea - that Vietnamese salad looked AMAZING I am getting hungry just thinking about it

Naomi Knill said...

Such a top day's eating... Roll on our next restaurant crawl!

ginandcrumpets said...

This crawl was a complete revelation - especially the dim sum place within walking distance of my house. Can't wait for the next crawl.

S said...

just came to your page to wish you a lovely christmas and new year's eve, lizzie. see you in the blogosphere (or London) in the New Year. x shayma

Browners said...

Super stuff. I love our restaurant crawls. So fun to read about all the perspectives. Who's up for a gastonomic tour of Brixton? Or would you prefer Balham?