The Olde China Hand
Alas, no tapas this weekend either. The yearning was engendered by popping into Salt Yard for a glass of sherry prior to going round the corner for dinner at Pied à Terre. That turned out to be the best meal I’ve eaten; the two opening courses – tuna carpaccio with avocado puree and tomato ketchup and marinated scallop with cauliflower and wasabi – were particularly stunning. After the tenth and final course you could have happily lead me to the euthanasia booth.
That aperitif reminded me of Salt Yard’s signature dish – courgette flowers stuffed with goats’ cheese and drizzled with honey – and my urgent need to get reaquainted. They’ve also got an especially good looking selection of fish and seafood dishes at the moment. Unfortunately, we got distracted by playing with our new hoover – rock and roll – which meant by the time we sauntered in the bar was jammed and there was no room at the inn. Luckily we had a back up plan.
The Olde China Hand is a pub on that no man’s stretch of Rosebery Avenue between Exmouth Market and Sadler’s Well. I was going passed it on the bus the other day when I did a double take at the sign out the front: “Dim Sum and Real Ale”. That’s not something you see every day and is a possibility too good to pass up. As we approached I started to have second thoughts though. This was a pretty empty, slightly drab, out of the way pub – did I really want to eat their dim sum? After all, sticking a Thai kitchen in a pub sounds like a stroke of genius but how often does that turn out well? Stepping in there was also that pub/restaurant schism awkward – do we seat ourselves? should we order drinks at the bar? – but once that was navigated my worries disappeared.
The fact it has Erdinger and Sierra Nevada on tap justifies a visit in their own right. They also had Moretti and Flensburger, a couple of interesting guest bitters which I didn’t try and a vast selection of bottled beer. Heaven. Bizarrely they didn’t have a drinks menu though, so once ushered to our table we had to squint at the bar and gesture vaguelly along the lines of “oh, what about that one next then?”
The dim sum was even better. First of all, they come in fours rather than threes which is brilliant. Secondly, their design was far more imaginative and their execution far more skillful than I could have imagined. We ordered four fours plus a side pad thai from the sundries section at the bottom of the menu in case we needed a bit of bulk. Steamed mushroom dim sum that had then been fried and wasabi prawn were the two stars but scallop and pea and that old favourite prawn won ton were not far behind. All the prawn dishes were whole prawns, lovingly cocooned, rather than the blitzed paste you often get and the delicacy and balance of the parcels was wonderful.
Tapas was forgotten. We were very, very happy. We got greedy. Round two brought the only duff dish of the night: curried asparagus dim sum where any trace of the vegetable had been obliterated by the process of currying it. This is probably karma for ordering it out of season and helping destroy Peru. Much more successful was a dish I’ve completely forgotten the name of which was sort of like a char sui bun but the char sui had been replace by a mixture of pork, chicken and shrimp and the bun had been replaced with sticky rice. The presence of meat meant I had to eat both of them. Shame. Finally, we had an unneccessary but quickly devoured round of custard tarts. Thank God the bus stop was just outside.
Now the bad news. The dim sum is so good that the chef has been poached to Hakkasan. Great for him, less good for The Olde China Hand. A flyer on our table entitled The Demise Of Dim Sum made it clear that it would be impossible for them to find another dim sum chef of his quality so, whilst the kitchen will continue, it will be serving an entirely different type of cuisine (I believe it was previously Mexican).
£30 a head for stuffing our faces and drinking everything go. Get down there before it is too late.