Tag Archives: Chinese

Noodle Nation or is it oil orbit?

Noodle Nation: 1-3 Bourbon Street, Aylesbury, Bucks

Noodle Nation is a fast-paced Chinese restaurant specialising in rice and noodles. In fact, that’s pretty much all you can have. The restaurant is light and, thankfully, much warmer than the wintry weather outside. Service is friendly and efficient, if a little confused between staff at times as they all try and seat, serve and talk to you.

If you don’t like to cuddle up to other diners then this may not be the place for you. A couple may be squeezed in between two groups of four or the group of four may be squashed, with embarassed smiles, against the single couple by the window. It can be annoying but the staff do their best to seat you comfortably and, as it’s a fast-turnover, you won’t be getting to know your dining neighbours well anyway.

So on to the food. Garlic and chilli chicken with yo min noodles (wheat and egg) was a vast portion. I mean huge. For roughly £7 it’s not bad but for your stomach it might be painful. The noodles were separated from the chicken which lay in thick chunks – not so great for scooping up between chopsticks with your noodles and beansprouts. The food was cooked well but soaked in oil, even the sauce glinting with the stuff as it began to separate upon cooling down. Hunks of garlic gave great flavour but all in one go instead of being spread out through the dish, and the same went for the chilli. A side of satay sauce was strong but a little gloopy.

Despite the name, I was rather disappointed at the variety of food on offer, the noodle-bar section seeming particularly sparse though you can have noodles from the rice-bar section if you wish.

It’s great value here and for a quick meal or causal get-together it’s a lovely choice. However, be prepared to cosy up with both oil and fellow noodle-lovers.

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prawn nasi goreng: for that friday-feeling at the beginning of the week

Prawn Nasi Goreng:

It’s Monday night; it’s been a long day at work and you really can’t be bothered to cook. The train was late, work was, well, work and the gym was so busy you couldn’t get on your favourite treadmill. Your partner was home late, the dog was sick and the kids need help with their English homework.

Feel like a takeaway?

This Indonesian-inspired recipe takes 10 minutes to prepare and less than 15 to cook. Oh, and it’s tasty too!

Ingredients: (for 4)

  • Oil – I use spray oil and 3-4 sprays for each step. You can however, use groundnut or sunflower – about a teaspoon should be enough for each stage.
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 4 shallots
  • 1 red chilli (deseeded and sliced)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 carrot
  • 300g white cabbage (finely sliced or shredded)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce – ketjap manis soy sauce if you enjoy a sweeter taste
  • 1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
  • 300g cooked jasmine or basmati rice (200g dry weight) – jasmine provides a more fragant flavour but wholegrain basmati is more filling and still delicious!
  • 200g peeled prawns
  • 2 big spring onion (or 4 smaller ones)

Get Cooking!:

  1. Heat oil in a wok. Add the beaten eggs and spread over the surface of the pan. Give it 30 seconds or so to set before loosening the edges so you can flip it over – like frying a pancake. Cook for a further 10 seconds and then set aside. Roll it up and slice into ribbons.
  2. Heat oil in a wok. Fry the shallots until golden and just crispy. Remove and set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a wok. Stir-fry the chilli, ginger, coriander and paprika. After 30 seconds add the cabbage and carrot. After 2 minutes add the soy sauce and tomato ketchup.
  4. Add in the cooked rice (if cold), the prawns and the spring onions.
  5. Cook for 2 more minutes or until the rice is hot and the prawns cooked. Add in the shallots to re-heat.
  6. Serve with the egg ribbons spread on top and a swirl of soy sauce if you wish. If you have cooked your rice separately then serve it hot with the stir-fry.

Enjoy!

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A Taste of Indonesida You Can Do Without

A Taste of Life: Rijnstraat, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

It’s a typical interior for a Malaysian/Indonesian takeaway with soft candle lightingand the usual slightly off-putting array of artefacts and ornaments clustered in the more obvious areas of the room. The service was undeniably friendly despite one young waiter in a grey tracksuit who proceeded to serve our drinks in an uneasy silence, prompting us to shoot nervy sidelong glances at one another. Otherwise, I can’t fault the staff.

Our orders were preceeded by chilli crackers – crunchy, dry and sharp, they disappeared quickly. The menu goes through starters, chicken, fish and meat, along with a variety of set menus. There are some side dishes too though the mains come with rice anyway and with prices starting at €15, you might be tempted to share additional vegetable dishes or forego them altogether. The descriptions are all rather bland – mild curry sauce or very spicy sauce is about as helpful as they get while the starters show the Chinese influences of Indonesian cuisine with the likes of various spring rolls and fried dumplings. Some more traditional dishes are available like nasi goreng and coconut milk is a prevalent ingredient, though one may struggle to divide other Asian cusines from Indonesian here – though one could say that about anywhere – it is more of a fusion with Indonesian roots and preferences.

The set menus are value for money going by size but the different elements are a little hit and miss. Satay chicken skewers were tasty but the sauce was too thick while fried potatoes turned out to be what looked like crinkle-cut crisps broken into their separate ridges. On the other end of the scale, fried grated coconut was sweet and crunchy, a fun side dish and curried beef was tender, succulent and spicy. Pickled vegetables had a a great sweet-sour balance but the satay vegetables were overpowered by the once-more sticky sauce. Fried chicken was a little soggy in it’s batter coating and various other vegetable dishes were edible but non-descript. The sugared batter of deep fried banana had the texture and taste of a doughnut, which was great, but the banana inside was overripe and mushy, adding an unpleasant cloying sweetness. The spices and flavours were there but not with the strength or creativity one might expect from the cuisine of the Spice Islands. So a mixed bag but at least you get lots to try – and this was the smallest of the set menus.

Prawn pancakes were 4 neat little fried dumplings, more crispy dark batter than soft, pale pancake but the prawns were juicy and full inside, the batter crunchy, if a little greasy. The sweet chilli sauce was sharp too and a lovely fiery colour. The rather vague chicken in a mild curry sauce was not exactly what I’d call mild but none the worse for it. Chicken thighs were used which added extra flavour and succulency to the dish and the sauce, though a little oily, was of a good consistency. Steamed rice was thick and fluffy in the china bowl – especially enjoyable.

It’s a lovely, friendly restaurant and the fact that I feel bad about down-playing the food shows just how amicable the staff are but the food just isn’t up to the quality that the prices demand. However, if you’re not fussed about the food, which admittedly we weren’t quite when having driven for six hours and were sitting down to eat at 10pm, then I can promise you a really chilled out experience where you feel you are being taken care of.

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oodles of noodles at Wagamama’s

Wagamama’s, High Wycombe

Yes it’s a chain, and yes it calls it’s cuisine pan-Asian but who’s to say that means it’s no good?

I’ve loved Wagamama’s ever since I first set foot in the place and today was no different.

We fancied a quick lunch – no fuss, fairly cheap and filling – which is exactly what we got.

The service was incredibly friendly and efficient and the staff were able to offer opinions on the dishes and explain any concept of them to you, such as the different style of noodles. The atmosphere felt vibrant and relaxed and I love that you can see what is going on the kitchen. Ok, you can’t take it at face-value and I’m sure plenty of the ingredients are pre-prepared but that’s not to say that they are processed or not fresh. Sometimes the room can be too loud as the acoustics aren’t great, so possibly a restaurant made for the quieter periods.

I decided to pick a new dish from the menu: Yasai Pad-Thai while my partner opted for the Amai Udon. My pad-thai came with rice noodles (flat, white and wide for you noodle virgins) and was accompanied with hunks of fried tofu, leeks, beansprouts, chives and spring onions. It was flavoured with chillies, ginger, garlic, peanuts, coriander and a tamarind sauce. On the side was a fresh piece of lime for my own use. The portion was generous without over-doing it; the noodles were tender without losing their bite and the chillies and ginger delivered an excellent kick while the peanuts came through with an undercurrent of their own. I wasn’t so sure about the coriander, though it did work with the lime. Tofu seems to be of the marmite family, though this absorbed the spices wonderfully and had a thick, almost-meaty texture. I did feel the chunks were too big though.

The amai udon was served with the thick, white udon noodles with prawns and fried tofu again. Accompanying them was egg, red onions, leeks, beansprouts and peanuts, all wrapped up in a slightly sweeter tamarind sauce and a squeeze of lime. I was pleasantly surprised at how many prawns were in the dish – I often find restaurants charging more for the tasty fish yet giving you very few. Not here. Both dishes came at a reasonable £8.20. The tofu was just as tasty and the egg was a great addition without being too obvious. Another success.

Having been before, I am always impressed by the popular Yaki Soba, especially as a fan of the thin soba noodles. The flavours of this dish are wonderfully fresh and tantalising, pulling ginger and garlic together. For the rice lovers out there, I would recommend the teriyaki chicken donburyi which is served with kimchee (spicy vegetables with a variety of seasoning) which is a delicious side treat. I was less impressed by chicken tama rice where the white wine sauce drowned the rice and the chicken serving was poor. Side dishes are always popular though I find them incredibly expensive. Edamame with chilli and salt is both healthy and spicy; beef kushiyaki is fat chunks of juicy beef skewered and rubbed in soy sauce and lemongrass or the chilli squid encased in a delicate crispy batter and great when dipped into the chilli and coriander sauce. To finish, the frozen yogurt is my favourite – chocolate spiked with wasabi and chilli; chilled lemongrass or the succulent and fruity passionfruit.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. Get out there and try it!

Wagamama’s has their new Summer Menu out now. Quality may vary from restaurant to restaurant though I have always been impressed.

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Topwok – If all you want for a Chinese is spring onions and cucumber

Even the spring onions were minimal, presumably because cucumber is cheaper. Topwok is a fairly cheaply-priced establishment on Princes Risborough high street and happens to be the only Chinese, surrounded by roughly ten Indian restaurants. Along with a large array of Chinese dishes, to eat in and takeaway, it also serves pizza; something that always make me nervous when it claims to be a Chinese restaurant is how it can devote time to also making pizza. My fears were realised when I tried one and discovered it to somehow manage to resemble cardboard and rubber at the same time – I suppose I was lucky it was hot.

The service we received was friendly and quick – the order was on time and correct and served with enthusiasm. I only wish we could share their feelings about the food.

For starters we shared the quarter crispy duck, accompanied by the pot of cucumber and spring onion which provided a refreshing side. The duck was enjoyable; dry and mostly crisp without too much oil and reasonably priced too. The prawn crackers were acceptable but how hard are they to get right?

Oh, if only we’d stopped there. But, like most people, we had ordered main courses too. I had ordered a chicken chow mein and, unless my food is soup, I prefer it not to be swimming, or even glistening. Unfortunately this was both, and in oil of all things. The food was blandly seasoned and overpowered by salt as well as lacking in the title ingredient: chicken. It was edible, the noodles well-cooked but the prawn chow mein that we had also ordered was summed up with a similar conclusion. The third main dish we tried was supposed to be chicken in a garlic and ginger sauce accompanied by a medley of vegetables. The chicken was unappetisingly pale and extremely bland and soft, absent of ginger or garlic. The vegetables were soggy and overcooked, the whole thing slopping about in a gloopy murky gruel. Needless to say we didn’t finish that one.

Being our only local Chinese I’d like to say that I’d be an enthusiastic supporter, keen to help the local economy and food scene to thrive. The dine-in restaurant may be better but given that it shares the same kitchen, and my criticisms are with the quality of the food only, I won’t be rushing back to find out.

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