Thursday, 9 July 2009
Yi-Ban, Royal Albert Dock, London Regatta Centre (2nd review)
Off the beaten track, some might say.
Once you’ve navigated your way to East London, and noted the lack of people in the area around Royal Albert Dock, there is still some way to go, past that glass building, under the bridge, and then you turn into the little gate sign-posted Yi-Ban and suddenly there’s about 10 people gathered in the car park.
You know you’re there when there are 10 people gathered in the car park.
You gotta give it to them, at least it’s not tacky.
The day we were there, there was some kind of boat race going on.
There was a huge queue in front of us, and I was about to go off to Tesco’s for a pre-lunch nibble, but the waitress stepped in to save the day, and showed us to our table. Admittedly, Tesco’s (or any other shop) was no where to be seen, but hey, if you’re hungry, you have to do something about it.
As with most things these days, there are forms to fill in. Dishes are numbered on the form, as well as on the menu (in the same order), and there is the option of ordering 1 portion to 5 portions of a dish. There is an example at the top which shows you how to fill a box in completely, lest you only fill half of it (in hunger) and don’t get your food.
With pen in hand, hunger in tummy, and with an almost exam-like determination, we set off to hand in that form in the quickest time possible.
Pei tan sau yuk chook (lean pork and century egg congee) £3.80
Eaten as a breakfast favourite in Hong Kong (this is based on my extensive knowledge of Hong Kong based almost entirely on the Chinese TVB dramas), this rice-based porridge is also eaten for lunch, dinner, supper, etc. Whenever you want to eat porridge, really.
This dish in specific could have been seasoned better, because even after drizzling half the bottle of soy sauce on it, it still tasted quite unspectacular. The few bits of century egg in it must have been added in after the porridge was cooked as it certainly didn’t add to the taste. The most entertaining thing about this dish was the fact that the ‘yau char kuay’ (Chinese crullers) became chewy (like how I like it) after being dipped for a bit in the porridge.
Char siew sou (BBQ pork in puff pastry) approximately £3
Like magpies to shiny objects, our chopsticks went towards these little puffs. I’ve featured these pastries previously, but never showed what they look like inside.
King prawn cheong fun (rice noodle) £3.50
The king prawns in this dish were quite big, but not as fresh as they could have been. When I bit into the first bite of soft, translucent noodle, I expected the prawns to almost burst in my mouth with springy freshness. Did they burst? Nope. They just kinda went chewy and slightly mushy, so no bursting, no freshness. It didn’t ruin the dish as such, but it could have been better, that’s what I’m saying.
Pork mince with salted fish on rice £3.80 (at a guess)
We usually order the pork ribs in black bean on rice version, so we wanted to try something new. The salted fish on the description sounded really appealing, and when we ticked that box, we imagined a steaming bowl of rice covered with generous portions of pork and salty, chewy salted fish.
Did it meet those over-the-top expectations? Kind of, except for the salted fish which was a bit of a let-down. Not because it wasn’t quite a big piece of fish, because it was, but because it just … wasn’t salty.
Deep fried prawn dumplings £3
Really liked this dish. When it arrived, all hot and crispy on the table, I picked it up and bit greedily into it. As all good deep fried prawn dumplings should be, this one has bits of filling drizzling out from the dumpling when I bit into it, and steam coming out to show how fresh and hot it was. Crispy on the outside, and lovely and full of filling on the inside, marvelous.
Whelk in curry sauce £3
The whelk order in my dim sum usually satisfies the chewy-cravings. These whelks were certainly chewy, no doubt about that. Taste-wise, not as good. The curry sauce wasn’t really as tasty as the others we’d had before.
Now about the chewiness. Chewy is as chewy gets. There is a limit to how chewy something can be (even to my standards). Rubber tyres, for example, can be chewy to unlimitless extent. Whelks, on the other hand, should probably not be as chewy as rubber tyres. These kinda were.
Deep fried prawn rolls in seaweed £2.80
Lovely dish, this one. Each piece was hot and fresh. The prawns felt as though they’d just been fresh out of the tank, and the marinade was almost spot-on. The seaweed was not soggy, fried to perfection and retained the crispiness really well.
Har gau (prawn dumplings) £3
Another dish commonly used as a benchmark by us to know how good a restaurant really is. If the chef can’t make the pastry skin for this, I’d almost expect to hear microwave ‘pings’ coming out of the kitchen.
Luckily, the chef here certainly has mastered this skill, making the smoothest, most translucent, slightly chewy (fabulous) and even tasty prawn dumpling skin. That is the bit I enjoy most about prawn dumplings; the skin. I’d gladly give the fillings to someone else, as long as I get to have the chewy lovely skin. This one was really enjoyable.
Cha leong (Chinese crullers in cheong fun) £3.80
Similar to the king prawn dish above, but with a different filling. Result, this dish combines both soft and chewy textures with a crispy one. Drizzle some of the soy-sauce like sauce on the dish, making it slightly sweet and salty, this makes one of those lovely yet not overly complicated dishes.
Would I recommend this place? I would. Despite some of the dishes being not as good as they could have been, this place makes up for it by having some of the nicest waiting staff we’ve ever met in a restaurant. The restaurant has a lovely open layout, with fantastic views of the docks, and the food arrives quickly thus making hungry diners happy. What’s a few pieces of not-so-fresh prawns when you have all that?
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