The first cluster of my reviews are visits to tables from my eating story...
My love of food from the far and exotic East goes back to days when I hadn't reached double figures in age. My first Indian curry was in the Green Gate Restaurant on Bank Street, just as the swinging sixties blossomed; Beatles, Stones, pakora, biryanis and free love. My earliest memory of a Chinese meal was a little later, around 1967, eleven years old and off to town on a bus by myself. This was long before Jim was fixing it for anyone and I was considered to be mature enough to make the trip. There was a small Chinese restaurant at the bottom of Hope street, under the arches, which had a 3 course set menu at a price less than the cost of a take away fish supper, about 3 bob. I cannot recall the name of the place but I loved the cornflour based chicken soup, chop suey and lychees but most of all I relished escaping the maddening crowd that was my family and eating all by myself, I felt very grown up.
Fast forward a few decades, The Beatles are gone, The Stones are still here – I’m going to see them in Lucca later this year, the pakora and biryanis still feature as antagonists in my battle for a washboard belly and as for free love, I discovered that akin to a free lunch, neither exist, there is always a price to pay. My experience of Chinese cuisine has been extensive, from really high end – high fashion eateries to formica table-topped cafes. Some of them have been fabulous whilst others had me retching over the porcelain within hours of eating. I remember as a teenager being amused by the name of a Chinese restaurant on Hanover Street in Edinburgh, Sik Tek Fok and when pished and said quickly it was enough for my immature brain to find hilarious.
Chinatown Restaurant on New City Road, Glasgow is definitely one of my hallowed haunts. I have been a regular since the first switch on of their massive chandelier in 1992. Michael, for he is the main man, is a charming, hospitable and very polite host, qualities passed on, in abundance, to his son Edward. I met Michael years before when he ran the Diamond Restaurant on Renfrew Street followed by the Cool Jade in Carmunock then the Jasmin up near the Old Mearnskirk Hospital before woking it up beside Glasgow’s little Chinatown shopping arcade.
Now I take my mad family with me and my daughters are always up for a ‘Team Chinatown’, they don't need to be asked twice. It’s Father’s Day and that's reason enough. Bigger guest lists mean more dishes……
Ordering is always a laugh, our waitress predictably shaking her head in disbelief with every addition. I ask her, “do you think that’s enough?” She howls with laughter before spurting “fuck yeah.” As we number thirteen all my favourites are included: hot chilli peppers stuffed with mashed prawns, delicious and a particularly effective booby trap for those “I don’t like spicy food” twats with their throat blistering, sphincter-tingling intense heat. Salt & pepper ribs, chopped into small bite size juicy pieces. Crispy shredded beef, thin strips of meat with a light batter coating twice fried and served in a sweet sticky sauce. King prawns in a pastry wrapper, deep fried until crisp then served with salad cream. Skewers of chicken with spicy satay sauce. Peking Duck, not to be confused with the drier aromatic duck, is unforgettable; crisp wafer thin skin sandwiching layers of soft succulent jelly like fat and tender flesh loaded into a pancake with spring onions, cucumber, Hoi Sin sauce (and for me the addition of hot chilli oil) then devoured in a frenzy. I look on smugly as the flora feeders amongst us load up their pancakes with herbage in an attempt to fit in..nae chance pal.
We have three kinds of roast; belly pork, char sui and duck, this dish a family favourite. Steamed lobsters with the intense aroma of ginger are put down in front of me, I forget they are piping hot cauterising my fingers on their shells, but so worth it. Singapore noodles, full of shrimp, ham and Szechwan pepper dance around my tastebuds. Steamed chicken with shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts are scrumptious to taste and the crunchy bite of the water chestnuts contrasted perfectly with the soft chicken fillet. There are bowls with salt and chilli chicken, chicken fried rice, char sui buns, baskets with delicious dim sum dumplings (har kau and sui mai), steam rising from them like an Apache’s smoke signal. I have ordered two portions of every plate. So that’s the starters, kidding……I'm stuffed, I can’t eat another, single thing, not even a grain of fried rice. Well, except for some toffee bananas and toffee apples with lychees and ice cream. I haven't mentioned yet that I am trying to shift between 2lb and 4lb of excess fat weekly whilst researching on your behalf here. Selfish bastards.
This food never disappoints, the service never falters and the welcome never dulls but………. Chinatown Restaurant is closing its doors this August, their lease has come to an end and the landlord wants such a huge increase in rent it would no longer be a viable business. This is grim news for Glasgow and me…….. I’m praying for a miracle, or at least an invite to the night they empty the ornamental fish tank and serve up those Carp in soy, ginger, garlic and spring onions. Chinatown, please don't leave us.