The deliciously different taste of Taiwan at Xu

Xu in London’s Chinatown

I’ve been rather absent from the blogosphere in recent days – there’s been a lot going on! I’ve been travelling to new lands and enjoying new food so there’s plenty of interesting stuff to come. Starting off with a Taiwanese experience – right here in London. Love that you can travel the world without leaving our great capital.

Xu (pronounced Shu) is wonderfully welcoming with warm wooden panelling, wooden ceiling fans, a marble bar and booths with plush leather seats to sink into. It oozes style and luxury, the perfect setting to absorb some Taiwanese culture and cuisine.

The menu is absorbing. I love ordering dishes when you really don’t know what to expect – despite detailed answers to any queries from the waiter. First up a selection of bak kwa, served intriguingly like an offering of After Eight Mints. Bak Kwa is the Taiwanese name for jerky and today there were three types – 40-day aged beef, spicy pork and lamb jerky – served with a selection of shallot and sichuan relish and pickles.

As a person of Southern-African descent, I love biltong and jerky’s of the same family. These little meaty morsels were beautifully flavoursome and the Asian accompaniments definitely added that little bit extra. Full marks for inventiveness.

The jerky in its box with tasty accompaniments

Xu: jerky

Close up on the meaty treats

From the Mian Shi section we went for the Beef pancake. A shredded short rib and bone marrow combo is served in the bone with pickles, spring  onion, potato crumb and of course pancakes on the side. Sort of like a beef version of crispy duck pancakes with more exotic extras! Delicious.

Xu: beef pancake

The beef comes shredded and stuffed into a marrowbone

And then it’s time to assemble your pancake. Love the whole ceremony of this and the result was scrumptious.

Xu: beef pancake

Creating the perfect pancake

It seemed appropriate to try a dish from the Classics section so we went for the Shou Pa Chicken. Described as marinated chicken with drippings, ginger and spring onion, white pepper and chicken skin dip, this is on of the most chicken-y chicken dishes I’ve had in a very long time. The intensity of flavour was fabulous. Real comfort food with a tasty brothy sauce.

Xu: Shou Pa Chicken

A bowl of chicken packed with flavour

Xu: menu

The stylish mix of dark wood and crisp linen

Xu is the sort of place I can see myself whiling away many hours in. The bar area looked very inviting, and I feel there are more dishes that need to be tried. And those cocktails…

Today’s price point

We paid £32.50 for our three dishes which was ample for lunch.

Wine starts from £28 a bottle (both white and red).

There’s a great range of exotic cocktails from £9.

Xu is at 30 Rupert Street, Soho, Chinatown, London W1

A fabulous new opening: The Restaurant at Leicester House

London’s restaurantland never ceases to amaze me. There’s always somewhere new to try and the standard of food seems to get higher and higher. In my explorations of Covent Garden I often roam into Chinatown and feel transported to another land. The aromas, sights and sounds envelop you and your mouth starts watering. It’s a classic part of London that I always love taking guests to – usually for large portions of crispy duck with pancakes and all the trimmings. We’ve polished off our share of ducks in those bustling restaurants!

Today I’m right on the edge of Chinatown eating in a fabulous new discovery, really new, it had only been open two weeks when we visited. The Restaurant at Leicester Place serves Vietnamese-French food tapas-style. It’s a beautifully stylish and cosy space packed with Georgian charm (love the wooden panelling) and history. Karl Marx and Johann Strauss stayed here – and you can too, as it’s also a boutique hotel.

I love tapas-style eating and I love Vietnamese food, something I’ve been discovering more about in recent times. So let’s say I was excited, especially having perused the menu on line – I can’t help myself.

Our waitress was lovely, friendly and helpful with recommendations and explaining the format. We ordered dishes from the Crustacean and Small Things and To Serve with sections. There’s also a section called Bigger Dishes. Portions were pretty generous and this spread was plenty for two of us. Oh, first up a delectable bowl of prawn crackers to nibble on while you wait and ponder the menu.

prawn crackers

Moreish prawn crackers, the perfect way to start

We were clearly in a fishy mood today, with three seafood dishes – all great choices, an amazing combo of flavours and textures and the freshest of ingredients. The grilled tiger prawns were served with crushed peanuts and nuoc cham. Substantial, succulent prawns with beautifully zesty accompaniments. The crunch of the peanuts finished the dish off perfectly.

prawns

Generous-sized prawns wrapped in the flavours of the East

I demolish green papaya salad by the bowlful when I’m in Thailand. I love it’s zesty crunchiness and the touch of chilli – it tastes amazing and always feels like you’re eating health on a plate. This Vietnamese version – green papaya, daikon and cashew slaw was just as lovely.

papaya

Gotta love a delicious green papaya salad

Tender, sweet scallops were served with seashore vegetables, mirin, herbs and bone broth. Melt-in-the-mouth with the perfect balance of the flavours of the sea.

scallops

Indulgent scallops came with a little jug of tasty broth

This amazing squid dish was a revelation. The softest of squid blackened on the grill with an amazing lime and chilli dressing and crunchy veg. Oh the flavours.

squid

The most perfect squid dish for a summery day

Our second side dish was the wonderfully simple steamed ong choi with garlic and crispy fried shallots.

choi

Delicious vegetables to go with our seafood

Our waitress recommended we try the coconut rice which was served in a piece of bamboo. Love it.

rice

A lovely way to serve rice

A thoroughly satisfying lunch in lovely surroundings. Oh, the coffee is really good, too. And you can take an amble and check out the sights of Chinatown afterwards. Here’s a shot of the enticing interior.

Interior

Leicester Place is at 1 Leicester Street, WC2.

Square Meal