cheap ray bans uk Fay Maschler reviews Shikumen

Fay Maschler reviews Shikumen

The story of how I met my husband, Reg Gadney, comes with a moral, which is Always Accept Invitations. A Friday evening long, long ago, I had end of the week tiredness, I didn’t then know well the person who had invited me to a dinner party, did know that lots of people were involved so it wouldn’t be too rude to cancel, but I felt I shouldn’t or couldn’t.

There were place cards at the large round table in the Kensington house of Chinese scholar and cook, the late Yan Kit So. I studied them and on the right of where I was to sit it said REG. Well, that’s the last straw, I muttered to myself. Reader, I married him, but then you know that. Afterwards we often saw Yan Kit together I felt that I had slightly whisked Reg away from between her chopsticks and I learned a great deal from eating in her company and also using her seminal Yan Kit So’s Classic Chinese Cookbook.

A piece of advice from our cultured matchmaker was that to get the best from a Chinese restaurant, ring up, say how much you want to spend on food and leave the meal to them. It is a nice notion but there would have to be a strong relationship of knowledge and trust in place for it to work. I wouldn’t envisage making much headway in the West End’s Chinatown in the news recently for being under threat from whopping rent increases imposed by stonyhearted landlords. In Lisle Street, Jimmy Jim at Fung Shing (now closed) would have co operated. Edwin at Mr Kong probably indulges his many regulars but Edwin is soon leaving (sob) and thus the long standing Mr Kong will also close. The gloomy forecast is already the weather in the streets.

Table service: carved at the table, the first serving of the duck usually is pieces of crisp skin to dip in white sugar (Picture: Adrian Lourie)

Some day I might make a firm enough friend at Shikumen in Shepherd’s Bush to put Yan Kit’s advice into action. This spacious, rather stylish restaurant attached to the Dorsett Hotel on Shepherd’s Bush Green but managed by the JRC Group, which also runs JRC Global Buffets opened last year but waited for Chinese New Year 2015 for the launch party.

Of the three meals I tried yes, it’s getting to be like The New York Times at the Standard lunchtime dim sum was in a way the most impressive. Xiao long bao are a test of the skill of a dumpling chef and here they were delicately pleated, surely at least 18 times, lusciously drenched in stock, superb. A friend later emailed a picture with the apposite comment "gossamer textured beauties silk and lace".

Another dim sum not on any account to omit ordering is prawn and bean curd skin cheung fun, where the sheet of bean curd makes a crisp inner layer inside the soft translucent rice flour noodle dough. It serves the opposite function to tissue paper when wrapping. Texturally it is a delight that keeps on giving and the prawns bounce with flavour. We order Tianjin Goubuli bun, another pleated purse but with a filling that would have sat equally happily inside a Cornish pasty.

Scallop shui mai with tobiko (flying fish roe) clumped on top and har gau are two excellent ways of parcelling seafood to be posted with a little stamp of chilli sauce into the mouth. Since you never can tell with dim sum exactly when you will be sated char siew bun and venison puff are lending a hand we also ask for baked egg noodle with ginger and seafood, which turns out to be exquisite, noodles from heaven.

Good jasmine tea is constantly replenished, which is particularly worth knowing were you to order a grander blend such as Yunnan Pu erh or Alishan Oolong.

At the first evening meal we pre order when booking (a good idea) half a Peking duck priced at a very reasonable 26.50. Carved beside the table the first serving is pieces of crisp skin to dip in white sugar, then comes the meat neatly sliced, each piece with a crescent of fat and skin to roll in unusually hot ethereally thin pancakes that word gossamer comes again to mind or sandwich in a pristine waxy bao (bun) with the usual accompaniments. The final gesture is the remaining duck meat shredded and tossed with fried vermicelli noodles, that unbeatable combination of a nest of crisp and sog.

Crisp: first serving of duck with pancakes and flower buns (Picture: Adrian Lourie)

At the second dinner, spurning the obvious lures of duck and lobster, I take over the ordering in order to ensure assemblies such as jellyfish salad with green papaya in Thai kerabu sauce and fried tofu with steamed egg white and minced meat. The first is the joy of when chilli heat meets weird damp crunch the waiter’s obvious doubt that we will like it only adds to the pleasure.

The softness of tofu caressed with egg white then smothered with mince and spring onions is like a naughty whispered prayer.

Less satisfying is wonton soup with spineless stock and another of sweetcorn with snow fungus, which throws a blanket of blandness over the palate. And I think the word "legendary" to describe the bottle sauce spicy rack of lamb is an exaggeration.

Service is not so much good cop bad cop as smiling and willing and sweet and blank. But I intend to find that someone in charge who could conjure up a special meal to a declared budget and also make sure that the unexpected more interesting wines, for example White Rabbit Riesling Balthasar Ress from Germany and Dry Furmint Sauska from Hungary, haven’t "sold out".

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