Concrete and Chinese food, the perfect combination - although I'll spare you most of the architecture in this post as I'm currently writing a mid-way #brutaltour round up featuring all the grey concrete anyone could possibly desire.
Showing a fine disregard to all the sensible advice my parents gave me when growing up (sometimes one of the only good things about being an adult), our first lunch stop was for ice cream sundaes. And not any ice cream sundaes, these being from Tsujiri, a Kyoto-based chain of matcha tea houses who have recently opened a store on Soho’s Rupert Street.
When the Ewing and I went to Kyoto we tried matcha ice cream made of tofu (pretty much the only positive use for soy beans I have encountered), which not only melted far slower but didn’t fall out the cone, even when held upside down (a fact I tested quite thoroughly and with child-like glee). And while Tsujiri wasn’t as fun, it was just as tasty.
An Instagrammer's dream, with their perfectly coiffured green swirls and colourful additions, both the matcha sundaes we tried were good. My original paired candied chestnuts with sweetened red beans, mochi balls and the crackle of brown rice puffs (Rice Krispies by any other name). The Ewing’s choice bought cake to the party and was finished with a slab of matcha chiffon sponge, chewy rice balls and a layer of cornflakes.
The star of the show, the green tea ice cream, was excellent; milky and smooth with a fresh, grassy bitterness that counteracted the tooth-achingly sugary topping and was served in substantially deceptive portions. Don't expect change from a fiver, but when a Mr Whippy in a stale cone can now easily run you to half that, they start to look fair value.
After a successful stop at the new pretender we revisited Jen Cafe, an old stalwart on Newport Place, for our next snackette. Occupying a corner site, the brightly painted green woodwork and triangular shaped plot makes it hard to miss - or just look for the crowds pressed up at the window, watching the women making the Beijing dumplings they are known for.
There is a small selection of roast meats and rice and soups etc. on the menu (mostly re-heated in the microwave) but it’s best to stick with the short list of dough-based classics – They also do a mean line in fresh juices and Honk Kong comfort classics like spam sandwiches, toast with lashings of condensed milk and hot Coke with lemon; good for a cold, apparently.
Our portion of fried pot stickers were decent, but I think I might prefer the simply boiled version, topped with a slick of chilli oil and some chinese black vinegar, which are also a pound cheaper. They also use the same flour and water dough to make excellent hand cut noodles, served with a spicy pork sauce and chopped cucumber (a Chinese version of bolognaise). To drink, both the fresh Watermelon and classic milk versions of their bubble tea were both as good as any I’ve had.
Don’t expect anything too refined; the dumpling wrappers are solid and stodgy (just how I like it), the ‘glasses’ are made of plastic and it can be cramped and hectic inside - wear sensible shoes if you plan on using the loo.... But for a cheap and filling feed, and surprisingly charming service (well, on our last visit, at least) it remains an integral part of Chinatown.
It was at this this point we realised that, despite careful pre-planning, the #brutaltour had been usurped by a trail of gluttony followed by an hour looking in all the chinese supermarkets on Gerard Street. Nothing new there then. So after an intermission to go and chase some concrete (blog roundup to follow) we returned to Chinatown for a second round of eating and drinking.
Bigbe Chicken was the stop I was most looking forward to - a hole in the wall that has sprung up promising 'Taiwan's best crispy and juicy chicken' that quickly become social media's latest darling; and most of the rest of London's judging by the queues on our visit.
Here, as the name suggests, it’s about 'London's number one' deep fried chicken breast. Popcorn chicken, drumsticks and squid make up the rest of the regular menu, but you can also check out the specials board to the right of the counter for treats like ‘bone’ or crispy wings.
While I'm normally a leg girl, the promise of ‘up to 30cm’ of breast was too hard to resist, which I chose topped with chilli powder, - decent heat but not incendiary - from their rag-tag assortment of flavour shakers on the counter. Cheese and tangy plum, anyone?
Make no mistake, this thing is a behemoth, and particularly tricky to eat when fresh from its double dipping in the fryer. Obviously, we gave it our best shot and - having sampled lots of London's fried chicken offerings through the years - this was certainly up there with the juiciest. It's unlicensed, but I recommend accompanying the hot poultry with a cold can of, non-alcoholic, Taiwanaese Apple Sidra
Happy Lemon was the final refreshment stop; a good shout as the Ewing still calls me the Lemonhead - after my (allegedly) citrus fruit-shaped face. Sticking to type, I chose the frozen lemon and grapefruit slushy which, with its plentiful chunks of fresh fruit, struck the good bittersweet balance between the two.
While the matcha latte with rock salt and cheese sounded more like something Chef would whip up on South Park than a delicious drink, my wife chose this as her beverage of choice from the bewildering array of drinks on offer. Ultimately it wasn’t quite as fearsome as it sounded; the the green tea latte was a pale imitation of the matcha at Tsujiri, but the salty/sweet cream cheese-like topping was strangely addictive.
It’s not often I hail (boom) an incoming thunderstorm, but the distant rumbles of thunder and the close atmosphere as we walked through the streets of Chinatown and back to Marylebone bought back memories of walking around the muggy night markets of Mong Kok, giddy with jet-lag and the novelty of newly discovered cups of iced boba tea, which provided the perfect refreshment in the muggy atmosphere.
But while Hong Kong may have the dazzling skyline of Victoria Harbour, our trip took in one final treat; the Welbeck Street carpark. Home of not just, in my humble opinion, the best place to park your car in the Big Smoke, but also one of its finest burgers. But, with the carpark/restaurant unlisted and a large hotel chain having recently acquired the site for redevelopment, that’s a story that’s waiting to be written.