As you may have read earlier, I'm moving to San Francisco in the coming months. As much as I've loved so much of the food I ate in the UK, and even found plenty of great analogues to American foods that I missed, there was one (okay, two counting Mexican) food genre that just never hit the spot for me here like it did back home...Chinese food.
Of course, American Chinese food is nothing like real Chinese food, but it is super delicious, especially if you're raised on it. I've had plenty of Chinese takeaways here in London and they always just fell a bit short on the flavor side of things. Like, it was serviceable chicken-with-sauce but it wasn't the flavor-blasted chicken with extreme sauce that you get in American Chinese buffets. Also, there is a soul shattering lack of Crab Rangoons.
For all I know here in London it's closer to authentic (I'm certain it's closer to 'authentic' than Indiana!) but it's just a bit 'meh', usually. Kung pao tasting rather like sweet & sour, you know what I mean? Samey samey.
Okay, long lead up to tell you that I've had the best Chinese food ever in London now, so I'm feeling even more bummed out about leaving! D'oh!
Chinese Laundry opened up in Islington sometime last year, and I was quite keen to give it a try as I love the theme: Northern Chinese food, as prepared by/for a family, in the 1980s. Specific...I love it. We made it over for brunch and I thought it was awesome that the theming continues all throughout the restaurant. I spotted some super-cool drinking glasses, including a Mondrian print one that I must've pointed out to my husband no less than a half dozen times. The chairs, all the dishes, it was all very on theme and a bit kitschy - not the familiar kitsch of the West - but still identifiable as of a time and of a type. We split everything we ordered and felt very satisfied.
Started off with what I assumed was a drink, but later figured out is kind of a soup - Peanut & Rice Milk. Top tip - use a spoon. It was very nice, more savory than the Peanut Milk at Bao, which is fair enough as they're from two different parts of the world and of course, definitions of 'peanut milk' will vary! Either way, it had the savory nuttiness of a satay sauce, with none of the accompanying spice, and a bit of rice grain sweetness. It was very thick, and a really pleasant start.
Next we had the Bacon & Egg Bing, which is a fried 'pancake' of sorts, in the same way that Korean pajeon is a pancake. The flavors were very different though. Pajeon is almost always kind of oily tasting, but the bing at Chinese laundry was fresh & much 'lighter' in feel. Seemed like there was a lot of basil involved, with a soft-cooked egg & thick and plentiful salty bacon. Lovely meld of textures and flavors of sweetness, herbs, and spice.
The Pork Belly Baozi was next, and it's like a massive bao, slightly bigger than a man's fist. The pork belly was sweet & slightly hot and just the perfect texture of pork belly - with a bit of softness & a bit of chew. There was nothing to dislike about this one, it's an easy pleaser! The green bean version also sounds interesting.
We also ordered the Milky Little Buns which come as one steamed bread, and one fried version of that steamed bread. Two different sauces also accompany, one quite hot & vinegary thin sauce and one thick, condensed milk based sweet almost frosting-like sauce. You could mix and match the two buns with the two sauces, my favorite pairing was the steamed bun with the sweet sauce. Soft, kinda chewy, and so milky sweet. It was an awesome extra, I really loved being able to go from sauce to sauce.
We finished off the food with the Dumpling Stir Fry which was a ton of tasty dumplings fried up with peanuts, bacon & garlic. I think they were pork dumplings, they also had a bit of a basil taste to them. There was a kind of creamy, peppery sauce on top - it's hard to describe this one really, but it was probably my second favorite course after the bing! Highly recommended.
We also enjoyed a couple different teas, I definitely remember one had the word monkey in the title...regardless, they were both very nice. There was a salted lemonade as well that was rather intriguing, I'll order it next time!
I'll have to fit in another visit to Chinese Laundry before I go, although I'm sure San Francisco has it's fair share of awesome Chinese food, this place seemed really special & unique.