Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Red Sun

Red Sun, Marylebone

If you have ever wandered around the back streets off Marble Arch towards Marylebone, you have probably encountered Red Sun - a Shanghainese restaurant on New Quebec Street. It has a bright red shop front, decorated with Chinese lanterns and a massive folding fan, it is hard to miss.

My first visit to Red Sun was three years ago. When it comes to organising a dinner with my Cantonese friends, normally there are two choices - a Chinese restaurant or karaoke (or both). Don’t get me wrong, we love other cuisines too! But we also love having meals together around a big table, so that everyone is facing each other... after all, who doesn't like fighting for food on a ‘Lazy Susan’? :)

We went for the Shanghainese ‘tasting menu’ (which must be pre-booked). The menu is only revealed the day before as it depends on what is available from the market. The meal started with cold appetizers and steamed dumplings, followed by an array of main courses of seafood, chicken, pork and vegetables, and finally a dessert - all for a fixed price of £15 a head. The amount of food we had was immense, to the extent that even if they had taken two or three dishes off the menu, we would still have found that there was too much food.

Recently I had the opportunity to eat at Red Sun again, after a friend of mine said she wanted to try Shanghainese food, and I thought it was about time to try their special menu again. Here is what we had...

Cold appetizers
Drunken chicken

Smoked fish

Stuffed lotus root with sticky rice in Osmanthus syrup

Duck gizzards

Cucumber, carrot and black fungus salad

Pickled vegetables with tofu

Boiled pork dumplings

Steamed Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings)

Main courses
Sweet and sour pork ribs

Baked sea brass in tomato sauce

Stir fried prawns

Steamed scallops

Sichuan style deep fried chicken with chillies

Stir fried dry bean curd, Chinese celery and pork

Braised pork belly

Vegetables in clay pot

Stir fried cabbage, pork and sticky rice cake

Fermented sticky rice balls with mixed fruits in Osmanthus syrup

All of the above dishes were supposed to serve eight people. Again, there was too much food. We could not finish it all, so each of us had a doggy bag to take home at the end of the meal.

The best part of the meal was the cold starters. The drunken chicken was delicate with a mellow taste of Xiao Xin wine coming through. The gizzards were cooked just right, crisp and crunchy, on par with the ones I have had in China. The lotus dish was an interesting one, each of the ‘tubes’ was stuffed with sticky rice, forming a beautiful cross section when sliced up. The syrup was quite sweet, so if you prefer to have savoury and sweet dishes separately, it may not be your cup of tea.

Although the Xiao Long Bao were not as neat as the ones in Ding Tai Fung (a Taiwanese XLB specialist, more info here by MrNoodles), they were freshly made and juicy. There was still room for improvement regarding the thickness of the skin, but I could just about see the little meat ball swimming in the soup inside. It was a pretty good effort compared to the XLB offered on the regular dim sum menus in China Town. I would be happy to come back to Red Sun just for these.

Relatively speaking the main courses were not as spectacular as the previous ones. The highlights were the braised pork belly, vegetables in clay pot and the stir fried bean curd. However some of the mains were relatively bland and ‘predictable’. My heart sunk when I saw the Sichuan style chicken. I have no idea why they served a Sichuan dish in their signature-tailor-made-Shanghainese-menu. You know the feeling when you see a dish, and you know right away that it is going to be bad? The chicken was overly tenderised, and deep frying had further destroyed the texture. The scallops were fresh and steamed in their shells, unfortunately they were overcooked so a bit chewy for my taste. The sweet and sour pork was rather bony, I could only get a little meat from each piece, although the sticky sauce was lusciously flavoured with black vinegar.

As a customer, £15 per head was really a bargain. But I would also be happy to pay £25 or even £30 per head, if all the main ingredients had been fresh. Why use frozen prawns, while the sea bass and scallops were fresh? And why use tinned fruit in the dessert? Compared to a few years ago, people are generally much more aware of the quality of ingredients and the skills involved when eating out in a restaurant. Especially in London, all the restaurants that serve good food are always fully booked, or have a long queue of hungry customers waiting outside. I can understand there are corners to be cut for the super good value deal that Red Sun advertises, but three years down the line, maybe it is time for them to reassess their strategy?

In the meantime, I will go back for more gizzards and XLB.

An a la carte menu is also available

Red Sun on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Grilled Pork Neck With Pomelo Salad

Pork neck is one of my favourite cuts of meat. It is fatty, but not as heavy duty as pork belly. The marbled fat and tendon run along the muscles of the meat, giving it a unique bouncy yet melt-in-the mouth texture, a perfect candidate for barbecuing or slow cooking.

This is a very simple recipe - marinate the pork the night before, and straight onto a griddle pan the next day, then into the oven to finish. I also make a refreshing pomelo and pepper salad to go with it. You can find both pork neck and pomelo in most of the Chinese supermarkets.

Grilled pork neck, pomelo and pepper salad

Serves 2

For the pork

Around 400g Pork neck
1 Red chili, cut into small pieces
1 Clove of garlic, cut into small pieces
Thumb sized ginger root, cut into small pieces
1 tsp Ground coriander seed
2 tbsp Soy sauce
1 tsp Sesame oil
1 tbsp Mirin (sweetened Japanese cooking wine)
Pinches of ground black pepper

1tbsp Vegetable oil
A quarter of a lime, juice only

The night before, marinate the pork with all the ingredients. I like a strong gingery flavour, so I am using a whole thumb sized root, but feel free to use half if you find it too strong for your tastes. Rub the dry ingredients in gently, making sure it is fully covered. Leave it overnight, or for at least two hours.

Preheat oven to fan 180C. Use a kitchen towel to coat a griddle pan with oil, and heat it over a high heat. Wait until the pan is smoking hot before putting the pork on it. Do not attempt to move or turn it at this point.

Leave the pork in the pan for around 1.5 minutes, and check that griddle lines have formed. It should become un-stuck from the pan when ready. Rotate 90 degrees, and then leave it to cook for another 1.5 minutes, or until perpendicular griddle marks have formed on the same side. Turn the meat over, and repeat the process for the other side.

When both sides of the pork have been grilled, finish the pork in the oven for around 5 minutes. Leave the pork to rest for a few minutes before serving. Meanwhile, heat up the leftover marinade and the juice from cooking the pork to form a thin sauce.

Cut the pork into thick slices, add a splash of the sauce, and then squeeze some lime juice on top to finish.

For the salad

A medium red bell pepper, deseed and slice thinly
A medium yellow bell pepper, deseed and slice thinly
A small courgette, deseed and slice thinly
Half of a medium sized pomelo, flesh only
3tbsp Rice vinegar (I am using a Japanese one by Mitsukan)
2tbsp Caster sugar
1tbsp Sesame oil

Add a few handfuls of salt into the courgette slices, in order to draw the water out. Leave to drain for around 15 to 20 minutes, then squeeze as much water out as possible. Pat them with kitchen towels to remove excess liquid.

Combine the vinegar, sugar and sesame oil together. Taste the pomelo, add more sugar to the mixture if it is a bit sour. Add the marinade to the courgette and peppers in a bowl, mix well so that all ingredients are covered. Leave them in the fridge for around an hour.

Gently toss in the pomelo to finish. Enjoy!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Stir Fried Chicken, Brussels Sprouts and Coconut

This dish is a great way to use leftovers. It was one day in early January, and just like everybody else, I still had some sprouts hidden somewhere deep inside the fridge. I also had some chicken that I scraped out from the carcass of the roast chicken we had eaten the night before. I always think a sprout is like a mini cabbage, but with a stronger flavour. I like stir fried cabbage with chicken, so why not try using Brussels sprouts instead?

Eating a whole sprout normally requires another powerful flavour to take the edge off, such as bacon or cheese sauce. But it is easier to combine with a mild ingredient such as chicken or fish, if you shred it into small slices. In this recipe, I am also using lemongrass, coconut and lime to give it a Thai twist.

Stir Fried Chicken, Brussels Sprouts and Coconut

Serves 2

Around 10 Brussels sprouts, shredded
2 Chicken thighs or equivalent amount of leftover chicken, cut into small chunks
2 tbsp Dessicated coconut
1 stick of lemongrass, cut in half
1 Red chili, cut into small pieces
1 Clove of garlic, cut into small pieces
3 tbsp Vegetable oil (+ 2 tbsp Vegetable oil to cook raw chicken)
1 tbsp Soy sauce
1 tsp Sesame oil
Half of a lime, juice only
Handful of coriander, chopped
Salt and ground black pepper

Skip this step if you are using leftover chicken. Heat 2 tbsp of vegetable oil in a wok with high heat, cook the chicken until slightly brown. Season with salt and pepper. No need to cook through at this stage as they will be cooked with the sprouts again. Set aside when done.

In the same wok, heat 3 tbsp of vegetable oil over a medium heat. Add the lemongrass, chili and garlic, and then the sprouts as soon as you can smell the fragrance from the herbs, it takes around 30 seconds (do not burn the garlic). Stir fry the sprouts until slightly softened, season with salt and pepper, and add a splash of water to help the cooking. The sprouts should remain moist, but without liquid at the bottom of the wok. 

Turn up the heat, return the chicken to the wok, followed by the soy sauce and sesame oil. Stir fry for 2 to 3 minutes until the chicken is cooked. Add the coconut and then cook for further 2 minute in medium heat, taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Remove from heat. Add the lime juice and coriander. Take out the lemongrass before dishing up. 

Serve with boiled rice.