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Posts Tagged ‘Gourmet San’

Xinjiang lamb skewers at My Old Place

Xinjiang lamb skewers at My Old Place

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.

ginger scallion crab

ginger scallion crab

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.

Fried tofu

"House" fried tofu

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

twice-fried pork belly

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
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Chili Fried Crab

Chili Fried Crab

To celebrate the Year of the Ox, my friends Phu and Aaron sent me this glowing Observer review and suggested we try out Gourmet San.

I’ve now been to Gourmet San twice, and while about half the dishes I tried were eh, the other half were very good, and all were very cheap – most mains were £7 and showy ones like the chili fried crab topped out at £11. It’s a bit of a schlepp to reach Gourmet San (it’s so far east on Bethnal Green Road that it’s no longer Trendy Dodgy – like Green & Red – and is more Truly Dodgy), but it’s a fun place to go with friends, and everyone will surely leave with full stomachs and full wallets.

Both times I visited Gourmet San, the chili fried crab (pictured above) and the grilled lamb skewers (£1 per skewer) were outstanding. The former, while somewhat tricky and messy to eat, were lightly battered and fried and then covered in numbing Szechuan peppers, garlic and scallions. The lamb skewers were smoky, juicy and spicy from a chili-and-cumin rub.

grilled lamb skewers at Gourmet San

grilled lamb (Xinjiang) skewers at Gourmet San

Speaking of the grilled lamb skewers, Gourmet San has a rep for being Szechuan, but when you see the lengthy menu, it’s obvious that the resto serves dishes from all over China. The skewers, for example, are a classic example of Xinjiang cuisine, in northwest Chna. But so what if they’re not Szechuan? They’re delish. Don’t even bother with the other skewers (e.g., prawn). They pale in comparison to the lamb.

“Sizzling beef,” recommended by our server, was very good. Soft, tender beef (probably tenderized with a dip in corn starch before some light frying) served with sweet red peppers and onions.

gourmet-san-fish-and-chili

fried fish stir fried with chillies and green peppers

And both the fish and chicken stir fried with chillies were tasty, though the chicken (like the fried crab) was a bit annoying to eat. There were lots of bones to spit out, so if you decide to order it, make sure you’re eating with good friends. Gourmet San is not the place to go if you want to appear a demure and tidy eater.

spicy tofu and seafood

spicy tofu and seafood

Ironically, the classic Szechuan dishes I tried were disappointing. For example, thinking I’d mix it up a bit, I passed up the mapo tofu in favor of a spicy seafood tofu, but basically it was a giant portion of tofu in a slightly-spicy-but-flavorless sauce.

rice vermicelli and minced pork

rice vermicelli and minced pork

The “ants climbing up a tree” (aka rice vermicelli with minced pork) was sadly pedestrian. The dish could’ve used more spice and minced pork. Instead, it was just a large portion of noodles and soy sauce.

spicy dry-fried string beans

spicy dry-fried string beans

And I love dry-fried string beans so much that I tried this dish twice at Gourmet San, despite being disappointed the first time around. Both times, the string beans were limp and lacking in bite. They were just oily overcooked beans. Sad.

The food seems to be hit-or-miss at Gourmet San, but the prices are low enough, and the good dishes are good enough that I’ll keep visiting until I’m able to order only the tasty dishes.

Despite over-ordering both times I visited, my tab was never more than £15 a person, which covered multiple starters, mains and beers.

Gourmet San, 261 Bethnal Green Road, E2 6AH; 020 7729 8388; closest tube station: Liverpool Street (and then it’s a 5-minute bus ride down Bethnal Green Road on the 8 or 388).
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