Monday 22 October 2007

Really keen to visit Haozhan

Cowie and I were pottering around China Town the other day getting goodies for Anna and Edwin's dinner party when we stumbled across a Chinese restaurant that we actually wanted to go to in China Town... shock horror!

We had walked from Cowie's office on Hanover Square past the fashionable shops of Carnaby Street and down amongst the cool bars and restaurants around Barrafina, the Ivy and L'Atelier before meandering through the sex shops of Soho and popping out on Gerrard Street. It's amazing what diversity London has to offer. Too often we get taxis or take the tube which means we miss out on all the fun going on!

I've always found China Town a bit strange. Mysterious. Dangerous. Maybe it's from watching Jack Nicholson in Chinatown too often. Or it could be because of last week's Silent Witness where the Triads were smuggling ilegal immagrants into the country and dismembering the ones who couldn't pay in the back rooms of Gerrard Street's restaurants! You certainly can't say the area is dull...

All of the restaurants look the same and none of them are at all appealing. None have really caught up with the times and made themselves desirbale. No doubt they are all fronts for all sorts of dodgy businesses. The one that stands out from this questionable crowd is the very stylish exterior of Haozhan. We then read up about it when we got home to find out that it has had some very decent reviews. Jay Rayner from the Observer said:
"But then there's Haozhan, whose chef, Chee Loong Cheong, used to work at Hakkasan, and where the menu doesn't just tour the predictable Cantonese staples but flirts with the occasional Japanese or Thai flavour. It even looks different: instead of going for decor reminiscent of your auntie's in Penge, like all the others on the strip, this one is modern with lots of clean lines, the walls fitted with mirrors and jade-green panels. And, whisper it, the waiters smile.

The kitchen has a particular talent for deep frying, to produce items that are crisp but greaseless. A starter of crispy quail with chilli and salt, a dish familiar to me from Hakkasan's sister restaurant Yautatcha but available here at two-thirds of the price, brought two whole birds in a light, crisp batter sprinkled with aromatics which managed not to overwhelm the gaminess of the birds. Curry soft-shell crab sounded distinctly worrying (which was why we ordered it) but happily wasn't, the delicate creatures gently battered and sprinkled with shards of a fiery spice mix. My companion and I were divided over the spare ribs with a coffee sauce, which is to say he thought them odd in a bad way and I thought them odd in a good way. Yes, there was a bitterness to the sweet glaze on the thick meaty ribs, but also a certain fragrance which reminded me of rosemary. My friend's uncertainty didn't trouble me. It meant I got to finish them.

We agreed about the star dish, the silver cod with a dry XO sauce of minced prawns and chillies. The generous slabs of fish had first been sealed off, but so sensitively that as you cut through the outer skin, the huge flakes of pearly fish fell apart. The XO part of this plateful simply cut through the richness. I would come here for this dish alone."

So inspired by this Cowie and I are going to pay them a visit soon. I'm dying to try their silver cod in XO sauce and their curry soft shell crab.

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