P.F. Chang’s Asian Table in bustling Covent Garden

So today we’re heading in to the Leicester Square bit of Covent Garden to try some delicious Pan-Asian dishes. They’re from the wok at P.F. Chang’s Asian Table – inspired by co-founder Philip Chiang’s dining table – these establishments are extremely famous in America. There are over 300 restaurants globally and this is the very first one to hit London Town. Good news.

It’s a lovely haven to step into after the hectic mass of people exploring London’s streets outside! Gotta love that London vibe! The restaurant has a great buzz, too, with its loft-style decor, open kitchen and friendly waiters. There’s a good selection of starters, soup and noodles, sushi and salad, mains and vegetables and sides to choose from.

The Original Dynamite Shrimp sounded simply too good to resist. Crispy tempura shrimp coated in spicy Sriracha aioli. Sriracha is a hot chilli sauce made from a paste of chilli peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. It’s named after the coastal city of Sri Racha in eastern Thailand. Here it’s mixed with mayo for a delightfully spicy aioli that perfectly coats the crunch of the tempura and the juiciness of the prawns. A large portion that is soon demolished – this is a starter I need frequently in my dining life.

P.F. Changs: shrimp tempura

The vibrant Sriracha aioli makes the perfect coating for tempura prawns

Feeling on a bit of a seafood roll – well spring roll to be accurate – we opted for the handmade lobster and shrimp spring rolls. Hand rolled and filled with the sweetest lobster claw and knuckle meat, poached shrimp, lemon and chives. A perfect combination of sweet shellfish in a kind of half spring roll batter which made them look and taste beautiful. The rolls were served with a Thai curry aioli which was delicious but possibly a little overpowering for the delicacy of the flavours. The rolls tasted seriously good on their own with no need to dip.

PF Changs: Lobster and shrimp spring roll

The sweetness of open lobster and shrimp spring rolls

PF Changs: lobster and prawn spring roll

So good I had to show you a close-up

There’s a good range of meaty mains and we went for the Asian take on pepper steak. Flank steak was marinated in black pepper and garlic and served with onions and bell peppers. A rich and silky sauce, tender meat and vegetables with crunch made for a satisfying plate of food.

P.F. Changs: Pepper beef

Tender pepper beef with crunchy veg

We love Singapore noodles and have tried them in many restaurants. Today’s offering certainly wasn’t made to a traditional recipe but was still a delicious offering. Don’t they look fabulous?

P.F.Changs: Singapore noodles

The bright beauty of Singapore noodles

To complete our balanced set we went for the an old favourite – can’t beat a bit of Kung Pao chicken. Thinly sliced chicken breast was wok-fried with Sichuan chilli sauce, toasted peanuts and red chilli pods. A familiar and comforting dish that was so well executed.

P.F. Changs: Kung Pao chicken

Gotta love a tasty Kung Pao chicken

And then there’s desert – not something I often indulge in. For some reason my eye was caught by the offer of a deconstructed lemon meringue. And thank goodness it was, this could be one of the loveliest deserts I’ve ever had. The lemon ice-cream was stupendous and then there was the shortbread, lemon curd, burnt meringue and meringue shards bringing a fabulous range of textures. But best of all were the little lemony white chocolate truffles that popped in your mouth with a burst of citrus. Yummy lemon desert that’s one of my favourite dishes of the year so far – never thought I’d ever say that about pudding!

P.F. Changs: lemon meringue

Desert doesn’t get tastier…and it looks pretty amazing too

I love an open kitchen and this was a particularly busy one with plenty of hands making light work of the constant stream of orders. By its nature Asian food is pretty quick to prepare and dishes do come up pretty smartly. I’d advise ordering your starters and eating them before you order your mains – unless you want to be in and out in a flash. The staff are perfectly accommodating about how you order and didn’t blink an eye at any of our requests.

P.F. Changs: open kitchen

The perfectly organised open kitchen runs like clockwork

P.F. Chang’s prides itself on its pastry lab which produces an amazing array of cakes, tarts and puddings. Obviously I didn’t taste them all but did love the look of the lab tempting you down the stairs.

P.F.Chang's: pastry parlour

Come into my pastry parlour…

It’s also big on cocktails (and mocktails). Now that would be a good way to celebrate the end of a working day – an exotic cocktail and some of those spicy Original Dynamite Shrimp. I’ll show you the way!

Today’s price point

The total price for the dishes above was £61.70. Portion sizes are generous and this was more than enough for two hearty meals.

Wine starts from £23 a bottle.

P.F. Chang’s Asian Table is at 10 Great Newport Street, London WC2H 7JA, a one-minute walk from Leicester Square tube station.

Giant portions in the social whirl that is Hakkasan

This week our friends Christa and Candy are over from Cape Town (all nicely alliterative) so we treated ourselves to dinner at Hakkasan. The first one of this now global restaurant brand was in Hanway Place behind the back of Tottenham Court Road Station and it opened in 2001. I remember going to try this new style of contemporary Cantonese Chinese food with great excitement.

With its darkened staircase, intricate wooden screens and modern decor (not to mention the toilets which soon became a London legend) Hakkasan was certainly like no other Chinese restaurant I’d ever been to. Now there are multiple branches of the Hakkasan brand in India, the Middle East, USA and China and there’s a second one in London’s Mayfair which opened in 2010 and was awarded a Michelin Star in 2011 which it’s held on to since. This is where we’re heading for tonight.

It’s always an experience going out in Mayfair-land with its seas of designer outfits and handbags, sports cars galore and beautiful people out on the town. And a lot of them are in Hakkasan

You inhale that unique Hakkasan vibe which becomes mixed with a sense of excitement as you pore over the menu. I think it’s fair to say that we got all a bit over-excited and ordered what turned out to be a serious amount of food – sadly way more than we could consume. Lesson learned – the portion sizes are extremely generous – you don’t need to order nearly as much as you think.

My starter was the best soft shelled crab I’ve ever eaten. Piping hot, light and crispy with the beautiful sweet and tender crab meat completing a fabulous combo of flavours and textures. I’d go back just for this.

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One of my favourite delicacies cooked to perfection

And how’s this for a substantial helping of glossy dim sum – yes, this is one portion!? Fillings of prawn, crab, scallop and duck made for a tasty collection.

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Deliciously plump and juicy dim sum

Salt and pepper squid was crispy on the outside and softly sweet inside.

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A Hakkasan classic of salt and pepper squid

It’s fair to say those starters pretty much sated our appetites! They were seriously substantial and I’d advise sharing one between two (or more). And that’s before even seeing what we had in store for our mains.

The steak cooked in Merlot came in a crispy noodle net. It was wonderfully tender with great depth of flavour in its glossy sauce.

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Beef stir fry at its best

And then there was this tower of spicy prawns served with cashew nuts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many large prawns in a portion.

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A dish with prawns aplenty

The Sansei chicken clay pot came in a traditionally tasty sauce of sweet basil, chilli and spring onion.

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Chicken with sweet basil flavours and crispy veg

Our final choice was a plate of crispy duck, all pared down and laid out perfectly for easy consumption. Certainly a rich dish, but you’ve gotta love that crunch.

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Rich, satisfying and delightfully crispy

Okay that was a serious lot of food. Hakkasan makes for an expensive night out but we realised we could probably have ordered half and still left fully satisfied (and obviously with a smaller bill to pay). And something else to bear in mind is that Hakkasan is a slickly-oiled machine that operates full speed ahead. You’re given your two-hour dining slot and at times it feels like the staff are on bonuses to see how much under two hours they can get you out in.

All that food arriving so rapidly can make the experience a little intimidating – you feel a bit like you’re dining on fast forward. But it’s still a wonderful experience with truly delicious food. I just wish it had lasted a bit longer.

Hakkasan is at 17 Bruton Street, Mayfair, just off Berkley Square.

Square Meal

The Cook with Biltong Club: Asian-style biltong salad

So today I’m happy to be creating another delicious dish using one of my favourite ingredients: biltong. The Chichester Biltong Company have come out with a new biltong flavour – teriyaki – which I thought would go perfectly in a crisp salad with flavours of the East. And it did. This recipe is quick to prepare and tastes absolutely amazing…your guests will be licking the bowl clean – we did!

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My Asian biltong salad creation

Serves 2

Half a small iceberg lettuce, finely chopped

Half a small cucumber, sliced into batons

4 spring onions, shredded

1 large handful of fresh Thai basil

1 large handful of fresh mint

100g rice noodles, cooked and cooled

35g teriyaki biltong

1 large handful of peanuts

For the dressing

4cm fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

Juice of two limes

2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

2 tsps fish sauce

1 tsp brown sugar

2 small dried chillis, crumbled

Lay all the chopped ingredients out on a platter, starting with a layer of lettuce and finishing with the noodles.

A platter of beautifully fresh greenness

A platter of beautifully fresh greenness

Delicate noodles form the next layer

Delicate noodles form the next layer

Then lay the sliced biltong on top and scatter the peanuts over.

Make the dressing and pour over. Toss the salad and serve.

The tossed salad and its zesty dressing

The tossed salad and its zesty dressing

To order from a wide range of deliciously flavoured biltong including habanero, garlic, barbecue, periperi and of course classic steak, visit Chichester Biltong Company.

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Recipe: Quick and easy crispy Chinese beef

This dish is one of my favourite Chinese treats that I’ve never considered cooking before as I thought it would be far too complicated and time consuming. How wrong I was! It’s the perfect quick, easy dinner that tastes deliciously authentic. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Crispy, tender and tasty...and on the table in 20 mins!

Crispy, tender and tasty…and on the table in 20 mins!

Serves 2

2 beaten eggs

1 tbsp cornflour

150g steak sliced into thin strips, I used sirloin

Vegetable oil, to fry

1 carrot, shredded

2 spring onions, shredded

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 red chilli, finely shredded

1 tsp sugar

2 tbsps sweet chilli sauce

2 tbsps soy sauce

Mix the eggs and cornflour together well in a large bowl. Add the beef strips and coat them thoroughly with the mixture.

In a pan heat enough vegetable oil to deep fry. Add the coated beef strips one at a time, leave for about 10 seconds, then stir to make sure they don’t stick and fry for around 5 mins until the strips are crispy. Don’t overcrowd the pan, I did it in three batches. Once each batch is cooked, remove from the oil and set on a plate covered with kitchen towel to drain the fat.

Discard most of the oil, keeping enough to stir-fry the vegetables. Add the carrot, spring onion, garlic and chilli and fry until cooked.

Add the sugar, sweet chilli sauce and soya sauce and mix together well.

Put the beef back in the pan and coat thoroughly with the sauce. Cook for a few minutes until everything is piping hot.

Serve immediately in a bowl with plain rice.

The crispy beef drains while I cook the sauce

The crispy beef drains while I cook the sauce

The beef is added to the spicy, sticky sauce

The beef is added to the spicy, sticky sauce

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