Tag Archives: Chinese

Sam Wo

You know those restaurants where reservations are booked out months in advance and you’ll be lucky to even get through the phone line to speak to someone? So the wait is pretty much in terms of months before you get to the restaurant and finally get to eat there. Sam Wo isn’t one of those restaurants, but for us the wait to eat there was in terms of years, and we’re not exaggerating.

A first heard about Sam Wo when she was in San Francisco about 3 years ago, and was with a group of angmohs who put a lot of emphasis on how hygienic a restaurant looked, so when they saw what Sam Wo looked like there was no chance they were going to eat there.

When A returned to Singapore she told K about this awesome place in San Francisco’s Chinatown that she never got a chance to try called Sam Wo, so a year later when he was in San Francisco, he was determined to find this restaurant. He looked all over Chinatown, in all the little streets and alleyways, but couldn’t find any restaurant called Sam Wo. There was a restaurant called San He (in Chinese characters), but it looked too dodgy to possibly be the one A was gushing about. Turns out, that restaurant, San He, was the Sam Wo A was talking about. ‘He’ in Cantonese is pronounced ‘wo’. As a result, K also left San Francisco without eating at Sam Wo. This was just over 2 years ago.

Cut to the year 2010. A and K are both in San Francisco again. This time round, there’s nothing that will stop them from their quest to eat at Sam Wo. Their first meal in San Francisco had to be Sam Wo, and nothing else.

Sam Wo is a health inspector’s worst nightmare. It’s housed in a building that looks like it’s falling apart, and nothing in it looks like it’s ever been cleaned. The pot of chili sauce sitting at every table looks like that piece of mouldy cheese sitting in the carpark in that movie ‘Diary of a wimpy kid’, left behind over the years, too disgusting to even pick up and throw away. Well, now we’re exaggerating, but you get the idea. It’s no wonder that A’s angmoh friends flat out refused to eat at Sam Wo when they saw the state of the restaurant.

Service is virtually non-existent in Sam Wo. The lone Chinese lady working the floor hardly ever says a word, and probably has it written in her contract that she does not want to smile or engage her customers in small talk at all. When she comes to your table you just feel her presence and there’ll be this awkward silence. Her face is perpetually sullen and blank as you order, and once you’re done she leaves as quietly as she came. There’s a hilarious little pulley system that’s so primitive, but so ingenious. When the food is ready to be served, the kitchen loads the dishes on the tray, and the server pulls a rope to bring the tray up to the second floor. We’ve seen mechanized versions of this in Chinese restaurants in London, but this manual version was seriously entertaining.

We’ve read reviews online about this marinated pork wrapped in rice flour that is a die die must try dish in Sam Wo. To be honest, when it came it looked slightly disappointing. We have a variation of this dish all the time in dim sum restaurants, and it’s basically char siew wrapped in cheong fun skin. Really good restaurants like Hakkasan (in London) use cheong fun that is translucent to the point that you can see the filling inside very clearly. What was in front of us looked like it was an attempt at that dish. Problem is, the meat looked dry and the cheong fun skin was so thick it looked like something had gone seriously wrong.

We took a bite, and our faces just lit up. This tasted incredible. Yes, the char siew wasn’t moist and juicy, and yes, the cheong fun was thick and not at all delicate, but we’re comparing apples and oranges here. This dish served at Sam Wo is not pretending to be that dim sum dish we’re all so familiar with. It’s a completely different dish altogether, and it was damn good. We don’t usually do repeat orders of a dish at restaurants (unless it’s dim sum), but we had to order another round of this dish. It was so good.

For some strange reason, A decided to order a Singapore Fried Noodle as her main. This is one dish we see all the time in Chinese restaurants around the world, and is something no self-respecting Singaporean will approve of, because there is no such dish in Singapore. We have lots of fried noodle dishes around, but never a dish called Singapore Fried Noodles. What the world seems to think is our national dish is basically fried noodles with curry powder, what a joke. Having said that, the Singapore Fried Noodle in Sam Wo is pretty decent. There’s a nice wok hei, a sign that the noodles have been fried over a very strong flame. (Well either that, or it could be that the noodles have been fried in a wok that’s never been cleaned, so it has years of accumulated burnt bits, but I’m sure that’s not the case…..right?)

K’s main was a beef brisket noodles. This came with practically an entire cow’s worth of beef brisket, and it was quite tender, though texturally it was slightly too mushy, and not very appealing after a while. The soup was disappointingly flat, with hardly any flavour at all, and the noodles were just average.

Was it worth the wait? Well, yes and no. We loved the cheong fun appetizer (easily 7.5/10), but the mains weren’t anything to scream about. We wanted so desperately to like this place, but it seems they don’t do themselves any favours with their appearance and service, and the food is just slightly above average overall.

Service: 4/10
Food: 6/10

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Tasty Hand Pulled Noodle Inc

1 Doyers Street
New York, NY 10013
212 791 1817

Deep in New York City’s Chinatown is this little restaurant called Tasty Hand Pulled Noodle Inc. (The word ‘restaurant’ used very loosely here.) It was featured on the Food Network show ‘Best Thing I Ever Ate’, where one of their network stars, Guy Fieri, named the noodles in Tasty Hand Pulled Noodle Inc as the best thing he ever ate in a bowl.

We ordered some boiled dumplings to start with. These were definitely quantity over quality. There were so many dumplings on the plate that it could have easily been a very full meal for one person. Taste-wise, they were uninspiring – quite bland on the outside, and seasoned with a strange spice on the inside that was definitely an acquired taste.

The noodles soon arrived. We had the Beef Hand Pulled Noodle and the House Special Hand Pulled Noodle, which was a medley of cow parts, with a fried egg on top. The noodles were very clearly hand pulled. They were slightly varied in thickness, and had a nice bite to them. However, they weren’t as outstanding as we hoped they would be. We can’t help but contrast the quality of the noodles at Tasty Hand Pulled Noodle Inc with the udon noodles at Koya in London. While Koya’s udon noodles are head and shoulders above other udon places and are extremely memorable, the hand pulled noodles at Tasty Hand Pulled Noodle Inc are quite forgettable and lack that special x factor.

Also, they were let down by the quite ordinary broth and meat. There was perhaps a bit too much oil and MSG in the broth, and it was also very forgettable. The meat was also just so-so.

Overall, we have to say: sorry Guy Fieri, this isn’t the best noodle dish around. Most eateries in Hong Kong and in London’s Chinatown do a far better job.

Service: 6.5/10
Food: 6/10

Fatty Crab

2170 Broadway
(between 76th and 77th)
New York, NY 10024
212.496.CRAB (2722)
http://www.fattycrab.com/

First meal in New York City!!

A’s sister’s friend, Ch, brought us out to Fatty Crab for dinner the day we landed in NYC. We had helped her bring (quite literally, shit loads of stuff) from London where she was based for the past 2 years to NYC since she was starting out on her 2 year programme at Columbia.

Fatty crab serves South-East Asian-ish food. The restaurant itself looks and feels hardly like what you would expect a South-East Asian restaurant to be like. It seemed more like a happening bar/pub/club than a restaurant, with seriously loud blaring music (it was so loud we had to shout across the table into each others’ ears to be heard, like you would do in a club) and almost entirely non-Asian servers. Yet, people around us were feasting on chilli crab, eating off those stereotypical red and white patterned plastic plates and bowls. It was truly a curious juxtaposition.

We ordered quite a lot of food as usual. Perhaps we were trying to use food as a cure for jetlag (and in case you’re wondering, no, it didn’t help – we KO-ed the moment we got back to out hotel, and woke up ridiculously early the next morning).

We had a serving of Black Pepper Clams, which we didn’t like very much. The black pepper sauce was too buttery and creamy, which was completely the wrong way to do a black pepper dish, if you call yourself a South-East Asian restaurant.

The Chilli Crab was better, with pretty nice flavours, but we felt that it was still a little creamy. (Creamy sauces are quite rare in Asian cooking, but very common in Western cooking.) Also, we balked at the choice of bread. In authentic Singaporean Chilli Crab you’re served alongside your Chilli Crab, a plate of fried buns (mantou) to soak up the wonderful sauce with. At Fatty Crab, we were given some thick slices of white toast.

Our Kangkong Belacan was miles better. This was very close to the version we have at home. It was just a shame that it came in such a small portion! Finally, we had a Whole Fish Bakar. This was excellent. The fish was very well seasoned, and perfectly cooked.

It’s hard to judge a restaurant like this. Being from South-East Asia, we understand the flavours of the region very well. Hence we tend to put a lot of emphasis on the authenticity of the dishes rather than on taste. From an objective standpoint, the dishes were all pretty good, with two standouts – the vegetable dish and the fish. However, having said that, the 2 other dishes weren’t bad, they were just not what we expected them to be. Overall then I guess Fatty Crab does a reasonably good job with the food, but it has a long way to go before it can truly do justice to the flavours of South-East Asia.

And also, it wouldn’t hurt to turn the volume down a bit. If I wanted loud blaring music I would go to a club, not a restaurant.

Service: 7.5/10
Food: 6.5/10

Joy King Lau

3 Leicester Street
London WC2H 7BL
0207 437 1132
http://joykinglau.com/

Joy King Lau is really just another Chinese restaurant tucked in a really obscure corner of Chinatown, hidden (currently) behind a lot of construction. The food is quite typical of Chinatown fare, with the usual crispy duck, tofu dishes, small selection of dim sum (their egg tarts are pretty good) etc, but the one dish we really love at Joy King Lau is their House Special Fried Noodles. This is pretty much the only thing we order when we go there, and it (usually) never fails to disappoint.

The noodles are crispy, and it is topped with a wonderful selection of prawns, squid, and various pig parts – stomach, liver and slices of pork. We love the variety you can get in one single dish, and it’s not expensive too – that dish, with tea and service adds up to about £7, which is very reasonable for what you’re getting.

Service: 7/10
Food: 7/10

Euston Chinese Restaurant

40 Doric Way
London NW1 1LH
0207 387 2518
http://www.eustonchinese.co.uk/

Oh don’t let the website fool you. There is no way Euston Chinese Restaurant is a ‘sophisticated, stylish and comfortable restaurant’, and the only reason why you’d bring someone there for a business lunch or a romantic dinner as the website would suggest you do, is if you never want to see your dining partner ever again. Someone should really sue them for giving such false impression of themselves. The notion that they’re actually expecting advance party bookings is just staggering. Talk about delusions of grandeur! And don’t get me started on those photos on the website!

The truth: Euston Chinese Restaurant is a dodgy looking, dirty little Chinese restaurant in the basement of housing block, the kind of place you’d be hesitant to even call a restaurant, and probably the last place you’d expect to have a website. We were staying at a friend’s place along Doric Way, and since we didn’t feel particularly hungry and were quite lazy to walk anywhere else to eat, we decided to pop in for a quick bite, fully expecting to have a lousy meal. Well, we did indeed get a lousy meal as we expected, but it was only when we got back and looked at their website and realized the discrepancy between what is promised by the website and what is actually delivered that really got us riled up.

Food is cheap at Euston Chinese Restaurant, and there’s a good reason for that – the food isn’t very good. Every order comes with a complimentary appetizer of either Fried Chicken Wings or Spring Rolls, and though the website mentions a minimum spending of £10 per person, it didn’t seem to mind them that we only spent about £5 each. The Fried Chicken Wings were nicely fried, and we really liked the fried garlic which accompanied the wings, but that, and the diet coke were the only good points of the meal.

Our mains were the Fried Noodles in Hokkian Style and the Bee Hoon Goreng. The Bee Hoon Goreng was just so-so, and the Fried Noodles were definitely not done Hokkian Style and smelt funny.

These two dishes were an absolute insult to Malaysian Cuisine, and overall this was the single worst meal we’ve ever had in London. Avoid at all cost.

Service: 5/10
Food: 4.5/10

Baozi Inn

25 Newport Court 
London WC2H 7JS 
0207 287 6877

In most of the restaurants in Chinatown you get the very generic décor. In Baozi Inn however, they’ve made an effort in recreating the feel of communist China, and you kind of feel like you’re transported to a different place.

The feel of the whole restaurant is very, pro-communist party, if you get what I mean. The poster of Chairman Mao on the wall, with the couplets saying ‘The noble leader Chairman Mao, savior of the people’ with a very conspicuous CCTV above the noble leader’s portrait was very Orwellian, to say the least. Even the menus weren’t spared. Each had the words ‘People’s country’ (excuse my bad translation) printed over it, and a picture of a moustached man, perhaps the equivalent of a Stakhanovite, at the bottom.

But the décor wasn’t what we were there for. Baozi Inn doesn’t take any reservations (equality for all citizens, no favoritism allowed…I’m sorry I’ll stop the bad communist jokes) so since we didn’t fancy having to queue to go there, and were in the vicinity at about 5pm, we decided to have an early dinner and try the food there. We weren’t sure whether the food would be good, so we ordered just a few dishes to start with, and told ourselves that we would order more if the food was good.

First up was the steamed meat bun. This was very reminiscent of the ‘da bao’ (big bun) we are used to having in Singapore, so we were very happy with the way this tasted.

The next dish was the noodles with black sauce. This was pretty average. The only tasty element in the whole dish was the sauce, and I guess we were lucky that there was a rather generous amount of sauce all over the noodles. Without the sauce the dish would be virtually inedible.

The final dish we ordered was the dumplings in spicy garlic sauce. This was just baffling. The dish looked appetizing, with a good amount of chilli oil to give (theoretically,) a nice fragrance and flavor to the dumplings. Unfortunately, this dish was completely tasteless. The dumplings by themselves were tasteless, and we couldn’t even taste any seasoning in the filling as well. The sauce was also strangely tasteless, and we were both left scratching our heads in disbelief. This was just impossible! How could something that looks so yummy taste of nothing at all?

Unfortunately, we had enough, so we paid and left. What a shame. 

Service: 6.5/10
Food: 6/10

Chilli Cool

15 Leigh street
WC1H 9EW
0207 383 3135
http://www.chillicool.com/

The first time we went to Chilli Cool was for D’s birthday. We were in a huge group and all of us had the steamboat buffet, with 2 kinds of stock – chicken stock and spicy and numbing stock. The food wasn’t anything gush worthy, and most of us stayed clear away from the spicy and numbing portion of the steamboat as we didn’t enjoy the tingling sensation that biting into one of those pesky seeds would give you. As a result, A didn’t fancy the idea of going back to Chilli Cool to try their ala carte dishes, even though bloggers have been raving about it for quite a while now.

 

D and I finally managed to persuade A to go back to Chilli Cool. It was really quite an exciting day for the both of us, though A was understandably still very apprehensive.

The first that came was the ‘Saliva Chicken’ (Kou Shui Ji) and this was heavenly. It wasn’t as amazing as the version we had in Bar Shu, but it was still incredible. The chicken slices were so full of flavor, and the chilli oil was so fragrant that we could not stop eating this dish. This is precisely the kind of dish that you will remember when you leave the restaurant, and indeed, we think about this dish all the time, and have to consciously stop ourselves from salivating. (and I’m salivating as I type this)

 

The next dish was the ma po tofu, which also came swimming in a pool of chilli oil. This dish is very different to the Cantonese version often found in most Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. The spices used are very different, and I think the type of tofu is also different. The tofu used at Chilli Cool is not as soft as the one used in the Cantonese version of this dish. We can’t decide which we prefer, but perhaps because of the mindblowing-ness of the first dish, we kind of felt that this one disappointed us a little.

 

Our main dish was the shui zhu yu (‘water cooked fish’), which was basically a HUGE bowl of fish slices, once again, swimming in a pool of chilli oil. The fish slices were soft and had a lovely melt in your mouth quality about them and they were wonderfully flavorful. The bowl this dish is served in is so huge that it covered our entire table. The numbing seeds, so characteristic of Sichuan food, are clearly present in every dish at Chilli Cool, but unlike our first experience with the hotpot, we found that the seeds weren’t as offensive in the ala carte dishes. They were used far more subtly, and hence very easily avoided while eating.

 

Finally, we also had some steamed dumplings. After all those incredibly strong dishes, this dish was far more muted. D and I could hardly taste anything in the dumplings, though A insisted that they were very tasty.

Since our first visit, we’ve been to Chilli Cool about 2 more times already. Each time we make sure we order the kou shui ji, and we’ve always ordered 2 portions of it each time we went. It is indeed such a wonderful dish that we’ve already planned another visit sometime next week to have it again. We’ve also tried the kong bao chicken, the spare ribs and the prawns fried with chilli. All of them were fantastic, though we probably wouldn’t recommend ordering all three of them in the same meal since they’re kind of similar. One final thing to add: make sure you order the aloe vera juice, and get a full bottle to share – it’s amazing!!

Service: 7/10
Food: 7.5/10