Poons Restaurants in London used to be where we went for consistently good home style Cantonese food. In 2005, the China City group took over the chain and kept this branch and the one in Russel square. Thankfully they have maintained both the menu and the high standard of cooking.
London Chinatown used to have a massive choice of medium priced Chinese restaurants serving good Cantonese food. In recent years, the numbers have dwindled, new trendier places with sometimes worse and more expensive food have been introduced. A recent trend is the opening of Szechuan and Shanghainese restaurants and none of these cuisines are done that well. Most of the cooking is done by non native chefs and only approximate good regional Chinese cooking.
I heard from a restauranter that quite of a few of the decent remaining places are going to be shutting down or have their menus drastically transformed due to a 30% increase in business rates by the council in 2009 and a vastly decreasing influx of diners. The restaurants that are supposed to be struggling are Fung Shing (one of the best chefs in Chinatown) and the Empress of China.
On a recent night out with some friends, we went to China City for some home cooking. The place was very quiet and the waitresses seems to have been replaced by some mainland Chinese workers like most other restaurants in London Chinatown. Unfortunately, I can’t order Cantonese dishes in Mandarin very well and although the waitress did speak Cantonese, albeit with a strong Mandarin accent, she misheard my order 5 times and brought us a wrong dish. This was duly rectified by the manager who replaced the dish without hesitation.
Poons was famous for it’s wax meat rice cooked in clay pot ( Lap Mei Fan) which is normally a winter dish. However, my friend from out of town wanted to order it for sentimental reasons. We started with a mix waxed meat rice which consisted of waxed duck, liver sausage and chinese sausage, cooked in fragantly flavoured rice in the clay pot. They serve this with a cooked soy sauce which you then add to your own portion in the bowl. Chinese wax meats is a type of preserved food that has been salted and cured, but not with wax as the name suggest.
As we were doing a home style meal, the other dishes to share were Bitter Gourd and Turbot in black bean sauce, stir fried baby pak choi, peipa tofu, steamed mince pork with salted fish. We were also offered the complimentary house soup which is usually a soup with either the roast duck carcass, ribs or miscellaneous cuts of meat, some dates, vegetables to sweeten it. Most Cantonese meals are incomplete without one of these soups served either with the meal or at the end of a meal and is also one of the anti ageing secrets to Chinese cuisine.
Every Chinese meal is meant to a balanced, hence we will have a bit of meat, fish and vegetables. We almost never have just one dish each as this would be so boring and also not nutritionally balanced. All the dishes were done very well and the portions are quite substantial and definitely needs to be shared and would be a bit too much for an individual portion. Average costs -£15 per head.