Back in January, I first visited the divey-but-certain-dishes-are-delicious Gourmet San, and so I was thrilled to learn that Gourmet San has a sister restaurant near Spitalfields Market called My Old Place (now that I work near Spitalfields, I’d like to find a nearby Chinese restaurant that’s good for lunch). So two weeks ago, four friends and I gave My Old Place a try.
On the plus side, the restaurant’s decor is slightly nicer than that of Gourmet San, and the portions are enormous and cheap (i.e., most dishes on the menu cost £7-8, and the one or two “pricey” dishes – like crab – cost only £12).
On the down side, the dishes ranged from mediocre to very good, and the service is chaotic (e.g., even after our main dishes arrived, we waited almost twenty minutes for our server to bring us white rice – her explanation was that the kitchen had run out of white rice, which I’m sure was true – but query WHY a Chinese restaurant ran out of white rice at the beginning of a Friday lunch rush?).
Just like at Gourmet San, the cumin-dusted Xinjiang lamb skewers were loved by everyone at our table. Juicy and fatty “in a good way,” as one friend said. They’re definitely the star of the show at My Old Place.
The ginger-scallion crab was great value for £12 except that we had to crack the shell ourselves with no tools except our hands and chopsticks. Even though the crab meat was sweet and firm, it took a lot of very messy effort to get at it, and the slippery over-corn-starched sauce was an especially challenging obstacle standing between me and the crab meat. I’d be willing to pay a few more pounds if someone at the restaurant would do some pre-cracking for us. Or at least: give us better napkins and more of them.
I liked the fried tofu dish despite the generic brown sauce, but I confess I have a soft spot for the texture of fried tofu. I can see why one friend thought the fried tofu had the texture of “old socks,” but personally I love that slightly juicy, spongy interior. All the better to soak up delicious sauces with.
Twice-fried pork belly was too salty and dry, and I’d also hoped that the pork fat would be soft and silky, but instead it was chewy. I wouldn’t order it again even though a few members of our group enjoyed it and I generally love pork belly.
We rounded out our meal with a fifth dish: some dry-fried French beans, which were fine.
Ordering five dishes for five people was way too much, and we rolled out of there stuffed beyond belief. It was a sh*t load of food for just £10 each, including service.
Would I recommend making a special trip to eat at My Old Place? Not unless all you want to eat are the Xinjiang lamb skewers. Rather, it’s a cheap-and-cheerful lunch spot if you’re already in the area, and if you order carefully, My Old Place can offer a very good meal for very little money. (Like Gourmet San, My Old Place has its flashes of brilliance). But you can also order very poorly (the kung pao chicken at another table looked horrendously bad), so caveat emptor and prepare for some trial and error.
My Old Place, 88 Middlesex Street, E1 7EZ; 0207 247 2200; closest tube station: Liverpool Street