London-based Chowhounds convened for the first Chowmeet of 2015 this evening at Crystal China, a smallish restaurant near Tower Bridge which specializes in Manchu-influenced North-eastern Chinese cuisine ("東北菜"/"Dōngběi cài"), a regional cuisine characterised by its reliance on preserved foods and heavy, greasy fare due to the region's long, harsh winters.
Of course, Crystal China also has a standard English language menu which offers the ubiquitous British-Chinese fare like crispy duck with pancakes, lemon chicken, sweet-sour pork and noodle stir-fries.
Our 12-member dinner party, on the other hand, chose to place our trust in our veteran Hound, Limster, to order for all of us. Under his expert hands, the amazing train of chilli-and-vinegar-spiked "Dōngběi cài" dishes which arrived continuously at our table throughout the evening must have emerged from Crystal China's unseen "other" kitchen from a parallel dimension. Compared to the other tables, we might as well have been dining on another planet. Our dinner spread:
- Vinegary young bamboo shoots
- Confetti-like julienned dry tofu
- Beef shank bathed in spicy-vinegary "Ma-la" oil.
- Cold, pickled spinach studded with toasted groundnuts.
- Crunchy strips of cold soy-vinegar-pickled pig's ears
- Chicken gizzards in chilli oil, topped with shredded carrots
- Cubes of silken tofu and century eggs, dressed in dried chilli and Sichuan peppercorn-spiked "Ma-la" sauce.
- Sliced, rolled pork with soy-vinegar dressing.
- Poached aubergines tossed in sesame paste dressing.
- Sichuanese long beans stir-fried with chilli-garlic and brown bean sauce.
- Steamed whole mullet, slit in the belly and splayed open in a red chilli oil-vinegar sauce.
- Springy noodle-like strips of vinegar-cured jellyfish
- Batter-fried eggplants and potatoes, wok-tossed in a soy-vinegar-pepper sauce.
- Glossy cubes of meltingly soft soy-braised pork belly
- Stir-fried leeks with wafer-thin sun-dried slices of pork belly
- Yunnan-inspired cumin-scented lamb, with leeks and green peppers
- Pan-fried tofu slathered with sesame paste, topped with toasted sesame seeds, sliced red chillis and chopped scallions
- Sun-dried beef strips wok-tossed with little spikes of dried chillis
- Stir-fried eggplants and potatoes in chilli, chives and black bean sauce.
It's always a delight to meet up with other CHs. Thanks to Limster for always inspiring us to try new things. To our fellow Hounds who turned up last night - it was a distinct pleasure to catch up with many of you again; and to those whom we met for the first time - we look forward to seeing you again soon, both in person and also on our UK & other boards. To those who didn't manage to make it last night (you know who you are): you were missed. Hope to catch up with you all again very soon!
Happy New Year, y'all, and Happy Chowing in 2015!
78-80 Tower Bridge Road
London SE1 4TP
Tel: +44 20 7231 8866