Sunday 25 November 2007

Ly Bar in Balham

After a hard morning playing hockey on an icy pitch what better way to spend the afternoon than to tuck into Heston Blumenthal's latest book and read about how to cook the perfect Peking duck. Half an hour later and I was gagging for a pancake, some crispy skinned duck, a few shards of spring onion and cucumber and lashings of hoi sin sauce.

The lengths Heston went to were outrageous. Blowing air into a well chosen duck with a drinks straw or bellows and a bizarre range of cooking processes all seemed a bittoo much! So Cowie and I popped out to find a decent Chinese restaurant in Balham. Life's too easy sometimes!

We'd walked past Ly Bar quite a few times and had never had any inclination to pay them a visit. From the outside it looks like a newly painted glizty bar with a seedy underbelly. But inside it's great. A touch of contemporary, oriental style. Laquered screens and a very discrete waterfall made us feel like someone was reading our minds and giving us exactly what we wanted!

Cowie reigned me back from ordering a half peking duck, which was a good thing! Instead the two of us shared a quarter of a quacker with a range of pancakes and lettuce leaves. Having got really excited about haivng the perfect duck with pancakes, I guess I had set myself up for a bit of disappointment! Don't get me wrong we devoured our duck and needed several reloads of hoi sin sauce... but I think we were stretching our imagination too far to think the Ly Bar was going to be up to Heston's exacting stadnards. Heston's main technical problem when cooking crispy duck was that creating duck with crispy skin and keep the felsh moist is about as easy as some of Zeno's paradoxes. If you want crispy skin you get dry flesh. And if you want juicy meat the skin is normally flabby. Ly Bar's duck was a bit tasteless and dry, but a good dollop of sauce sorted that out!

Picture from Xiaming on Flikr

Our main courses were really very good. Cowie's whole steamed sea bass with soy sauce, ginger and spring onion was moist and delicious. The only draw back being the fact that it was given a laparotomy at the table by someone who didn't know what they were doing. We felt very sorry for our waitress who continually apologised and explained that she had only ever done one before! Someone needs to train the staff up a bit. Disecting an expensive fish in front of a paying customer has to be done well. It's these kind of touches that make eating at places like Sheeky's so special.

My BBQ stewed pork belly arrived in a beautiful clay pot and tasted delicious. Slightly spicy, gooey and deeply porky. Just what I like. And then it got even better when I discovered some really slippery mushrooms that seemed like pieces of cartilige! Yummy. And very different what you get at your average local Chinese restaurant.

So, the food was good, if unspectacular. A cut above most Chinese restaurants. But the staff need some training and they need to read Heston's book to get a bit closer to serving the perfect duck!

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