Thanks again for all the excellent advice offered here on my recent trip to London. I found so many wonderful suggestions here, I thought I'd come and report back on my eating adventures. Over the course of three days, I tried:
Really excellent Hunan cuisin -- a true gem! LOVED the spicy pan-fried tofu slices with pork (jia chang doufu). Enjoyed very much the fire exploding beef (I may have the English name wrong -- in Chinese, zi ran niu rou) but was disappointed that the cumin flavor wasn't more pronounced as I've had it in China ("zi ran" means cumin in Mandarin). Was decidedly less enthusiastic about the eggplant dish that has won such raves here on CH... it was very oily and lukewarm, with no wok flavor. The waiter tried to discourage us from ordering it, too. I should have listened. We suspect the chef may not have been there during our lunch. Still, a highly enjoyable meal. I look forward to trying many other dishes.
I came armed with a list of dishes found here on CH (this thread was instrumental: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7027...)
The waiter adopted our table and even sent out a few dishes with the compliments of the chef! Highlights were the vegetable bhaji, baked and pan-fried (not deep-fried) and served with two chutneys an herb salad. Also, the fish curry, chicken mirvana, and black dal. Loved the pohe (flattened rice) and pitla (thickened dal), which were extremely unusual. Wonderful use of spice, everything had a persistant heat but was not too spicy. Low points: the breads and plain rice. Overall, a very delicious and unique experience.
We ordered wrong here. Enjoyed the mezze, but the main courses were totally unexpected. Also, the waiters hustled us along, insisting there was a "rush" coming in 45 minutes, but when we left at 2.45pm, no crowds had arrived. Highlights: hummous, falafel, a flat bread stuffed with veal, decadently buttery basmati rice. Low points: the entrees, which bore little resemblance to the descriptions on the menu. For example, the daily special was described as "Baby aubergine stuffed with minced lamb, pine nuts, onions and peppers baked in tomato coriander sauce, served with vermicelli rice." It was actually a pile of seasoned rice with slices of aubergine and braised lamb on top. And then there was the kibba bil laban. The description reads: "Crushed wheat paste stuffed with minced lamb, onions and pine nuts cooked in a yoghurt sauce, served with vermicelli rice." We received an enormous baking dish filled to the brim with a creamy liquid (yogurt sauce) in which bobbed deep-fried spheres of kibbah -- unusual, surprising, but I couldn't quite get over my expectations of the meal vs what we received.
My mom is a fan of this Hunan restaurant in Golder's Green but I thought it paled in comparison to Golden Day. Be sure to ask for the special spicy menu. Highlights: ants on a tree, or bean thread noodles and minced pork in a spicy sauce. Stir-fried napa cabbage. Pork spareribs steamed with rice powder (tender, meaty, spicy). Low points: dried tofu slices w/ pork, corn with pine nuts.
NO 10 SICHUAN RESTAURANT (Earls Court)
Pretty disappointed with this Sichuan restaurant, which bore little resemblance to Sichuan food as I knew it in Chengdu or Beijing. Not a Sichuan peppercorn in sight, alas. But a solid local, homestyle Chinese joint, if you live nearby. Highlights: mapo doufu, which was spicy and very salty, but not really Sichuanese. Cucumbers with chili, garlic and vinegar. Low points: Dan dan mian, which bore zero resemblance to any I'd eaten before -- bland, not spicy, and no Sichuan peppercorn. Cold chicken noodles were also bland and featured the same sesame sauce as the dan dan mian, as well as a hint of Sichuan peppercorn oil that was fragrant but not at all numbing. Ants on a tree appeared brown (not red), used a starchy potato-based noodle instead of cellophane bean thread noodles, and was more like a homestyle interpretation of the dish than an actual replication. I probably wouldn't seek out this restaurant again, but if I lived around the corner it could be a good standby for a cheap and cheerful night out.
Thanks again for the great tips! I can't wait to go back to London to eat (maybe next time I can convince my dad to go to East Ham...?)