Sunday, 18 April 2010

Day Trip to London Chinatown

I have been wanting to visit London’s Chinatown for several months but somehow it is just one of those things I never got around to arranging. Then this week I was contacted by an old uni friend who lives in London. She is doing a teacher training course and was on school holls for Easter and suggested we meet up. After a quick discussion we decided to go and explore the delights of London’s Chinatown – hurrah!

Hidden away down a side street in the heart of Leicester Square, you suddenly turn a corner and find yourself standing underneath a big gate archway at the top of a street lined by small Chinese shops and restaurants, all presenting a very Chinese outlook. We wandered down the street gazing at restaurant windows full of whole roasted ducks, buffets of dim sum and ornately typed menus. It wasn’t quite time for lunch so we did a bit of shopping in the two Chinese supermarkets situated opposite each other in the middle of the street. They look deceptively small from the outside but they were both crammed full of exciting and unusual vegetables, spices, jars of sauces, Chinese cookies and sweets that ranged over three floors. I couldn’t resist picking up a few intriguing items including some strips of dried candied sweet potato that look like extra long strips of dried apricot and a jar of a dark sticky looking substance that was labelled as Sweet Coconut Spread.

The dried sweet potato strips were chewy in the same way as dried mango but their flavour was distinctively that of sweet potato but with a touch of sweetness. It was such an unexpected flavour sensation but I really liked it.

Once home, I couldn’t wait to try the sweet coconut spread. It looked dark and very sticky with the aroma of coconut milk. It had the consistency of Dulce de leche caramel and as the ingredients list comprised of only coconut milk and sugar, I’m not surprised it was so similar. The flavour was wonderful. Very sweet but with a deeper flavour than standard caramel, it was more like toffee enhanced with the subtle flavour of coconut. I think it would be delicious drizzled over ice cream, yogurt or as a filling for two sandwich cookies.

By far the most exciting part of visiting Chinatown, and one of my main reasons of wanting to go there, was to visit a Chinese bakery. There are actually three Chinese bakeries hidden around Chinatown but the one that we hunted out, and seemed to have the best reviews online, was Kowloon. As we approached it the golden letters seemed to shine out to me, beckoning me to come and indulge in all its delicacies. I suggested we take a peak inside and maybe try a pastry – trying to act as though I didn’t want to go and try one of everything! I haven’t tasted a Chinese pastry since leaving Sheffield nearly a year ago and was longing to eat them again.

We took a few moments to take in the shop window before actually going in. They do savoury pork buns too, which I know some people drool over – but these are of no interest to me! It’s their coconut, red bean, sesame, peanut, sweet melon, custard, pandan and lotus buns and pastries that appealed to me! I then spent about 3 minutes agonising and drooling over all the buns and pastries before making my choices. Oh it was hard, but in the end I was very restrained…really I was…I limited myself to FIVE! I did share them all with my family too.

I got a sesame peanut pastry roll, a red bean bun (round one), a pandan roll (green roll) and two coconut custard buns (long ones) one for me and one for my mum as I have had these before and know how utterly delicious they are. Don’t they all look so delicious and exciting different to normal pastries?

Once home I couldn’t wait to taste them all. First up was the pandan roll. This was the one I was most intrigued by. I have heard talk about pandan rolls on blogs, but never seen nor tasted one for myself. I wasn’t even sure what pandan was, but according to Wikipedia pandan cake is made with “juice of Pandanus amaryllifolius leaves. The cakes are light green in tone due to the chlorophyll in the leaf juice” The roll itself was incredibly light, soft and springy in texture, quite different to sponge. It had a thin spreading of buttercream and together tasted faintly of coconut and a pleasant sweet flavour I hadn’t encountered before. Overall very tasty.

Next was the red bean bun. I have had red bean in other things before and love the sweet earthy flavour and the thick smooth texture of it. This bun didn’t disappoint and was very generously filled with the paste. I love the texture and flavour of the bread bun too, it’s similar to a brioche, yet more substantial, very buttery, soft and light.

The sesame peanut bun looked delicious but was actually very disappointing. Once cut into, the middle was quite bland and a little dry. All the nuts and sesame seeds seemed to have disappeared and it tasted like a big wedge of baked puff pastry, flaky but dull and boring.

Finally there was the coconut custard bun (often called cocktail buns too). I was so hoping this bun was as good as I remembered it and I’m delighted to say it was. Mmm, one bite of this bun and you’ll be in heaven. The dough is sweet and soft and the filling was generous, sweet, coconutty and creamy. With hints of vanilla and lots of coconut yet without being gritty, it was just divine. If you ever get the opportunity you simply must try one!

After we had lunch we travelled further afield and did a bit of retail therapy, shopping in a new shopping centre that had some really nice but very expensive shops. Some of which were so posh that we didn’t even dare to enter the doors. One of the things that shocked me the most was the discovery of a well known cupcake company having a stall right in the heart of the centre. This on its own is not shocking, in fact it’s quite exciting. The shocking part wasn’t even the prices – we were in London afer all, no the truly shocking thing was this monstrosity!

It’s (meant to be) a giant cupcake but it looks as though its been decorated by someone who was either colour blind or in a very dark room and then dropped on the floor, partially melted but decided to be sold anyway. It’s awful! I can’t believe they were trying to sell it!

So a very enjoyable and food filled day out – just the kind I like. Chinatown was actually smaller than I expected, but they certainly managed to fit a lot into the street and I’d go back to get another coconut custard bun any day!


Chele said...

What a great way to spend a day! I remember my first visit to Lonodn, my brother took me to dinner in Chinatown - I'd never experienced anything like it before - or since!

symphonious sweets said...

I love trying asian pastries. Those coconut buns sound wonderful. What a great adventure!

Kavey said...

Sounds like a great day!

The Caked Crusader said...

I love Chinatown- the bakeries are great. When it's festival time and you get lots of lovely moon cakes it's a very exciting taste sensation.

I too have a jar of that coconut spread but haven't used it yet!

Monica H said...

I can't say that I've ever had chinese pastries because i usually fill myself up on dimsum that there's no room for anything else!

That coconut bun looks delish though.

Colorbling, in a dark room, melted and dropped on a floor- ha ha! It sure looks like it :-)

Georgina said...

Coconut jam is wonderful spread on toast.Used to have this as a child. And great to hear you enjoyed the Chinese bakeries, love the coconut buns. I work in central London so when I do swing by Chinatown it's nice to get a treat for the way home. P.S. on the subject of coconut, I'm going to try the Pina Colada cake recipe tomorrow :-)