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My Old Place Review

Neil McQuillian finds some new favourites

Written by . Published on September 29th 2011.


My Old Place Review

This restaurant’s name can lead to misunderstandings. Be careful asking someone here on a first date, for instance – you might come off a bit forward and weird. “Um, okaaay, what's wrong with your new place? No, scrap that, why are you asking me to your place at all? Shouldn't we at least have dinner or something first?” My Old Place could, in fact, be a very fun first date. The high-ceilinged room, its industrial feel softened by a few Chinese fans and lanterns (and a replica of the football World Cup), is not romantic, but the menu – and food, as it turns out – is stimulating and rich in talking points.

As with all our dishes, the absence of a gloopy sauce allowed the flavours of the ingredients to come through strongly. We also noted that there were no bottles of soy or chilli sauce and other condiments on the tables – the food doesn’t need them.

I was dining with an old school friend and so for ‘talking points’ read ‘sources of amusement’. If you've got an ounce of childishness in you then you’ll be a little tickled by the sheer number of propositions such as: spicy oil with pig’s ear (£7.50); cucumber with jellyfish (£7.50); jellyfish head with black vinegar; dry-fried frog leg (£10); spicy pig’s intestines and fish head (£12); quick-fried sea hares with sauce (£9); braised sliced sea whelks and pork tripe slices with mashed garlic (£9.50); chicken wings with coke (£8).

The starters menu lures you into a false sense of familiarity. This relatively short list (just ten items) doesn’t throw up any surprises – satay chicken (£5.50), barbecue spare ribs and sesame prawn toast (both £6.50), crispy duck with pancakes (£16-32). We didn’t order any of these but, judging by the relatively high prices and the quality of what we did eat, I’d wager they’re better than other examples of these takeaway standards.

 

006Starters

From the two sides of ‘cold dishes’ we ordered ‘spinach and peanut in black vinegar’ (£7.50) and ‘wood ear mushroom with wasabi sauce dip’ (£5.50). My vegetarian companion double-checked that these were meat-free. The waiter confirmed that they were, but he did so with a hint of amusement, unnerving my companion a little.

 

 

003Wood ear mushrooms with wasabi dip

The mushrooms came first and, for our sniggers, My Old Place got its own back. Having forgotten about the ‘wasabi’ bit of the description, we dunked these floaty, seaweed-like morsels straight into the dipping sauce and popped them in our gobs. In a restaurant like this, you shouldn’t see a bowl of black dipping sauce and assume it to be soy. The hit from the wasabi was incredible, like a bull racing up and down our nostrils. The closest I’ve experienced to this was a salt beef beigel bought drunkenly from one of the 24-hour places on Brick Lane. As I recall, they use a kind of wooden stick to slather the English mustard on with, and that night they were particularly generous. Once we’d got the hang of dipping the mushrooms into the bowl like a dainty toe in a cold swimming pool all was well. It was a clean, refreshing, hunger-inducing dish that went very well with our Tsingtao beers. The spinach dish was perky, too. A little tangy from the vinegar, and with crunch from the peanuts, the veg’s own flavour rang loud and clear. These two dishes were not ‘starters’ but worked nicely as precursors to the more substantial plates to come.

 

 

008Lamb with cumin

I’d asked for a meat dish recommendation. Evidently knowing a wuss when she sees one, the waitress suggested fried lamb with cumin (£8). It didn’t look like much, and the meat was not of the highest quality, but the flavours were again excellent. I had not experienced cumin in the context of Chinese food before and that in itself was kind of fun. The deep, smoky spice and slightly crisped lamb got along as well as they usually do, with chunks of onion cutting through the richness. The combination reminded me a little of the Turkish dish of fried lamb’s liver with large chunks of near-raw onion and chilli flakes.

 

My companion’s sautéed hotbed chives and bean sprouts with dried tofu (£7.50) was another success. As with all our dishes, the absence of a gloopy sauce allowed the flavours of the ingredients to come through strongly. We also noted that there were no bottles of soy or chilli sauce and other condiments on the tables – the food doesn’t need them. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the warning ‘genetically modified free food are not guaranteed in the restaurant’ sits at the bottom of one page.

 

017Aubergine with chilli sauce

We were already inundated with dishes and when what looked like a plateful of crabs was brought to the table next to ours we puffed out our lips at each other in a ‘what on earth was that?’ kind of way. But then the very same dish was brought to us. They were not crabs, in fact, but aubergine with chilli sauce (£8). My veggie companion took the first bite and immediately spat it out – the menu hadn’t mentioned the generous quantity of pork mince stuffing (or batter coating). We thought of the waiter’s earlier enigmatic smile. Again, they were very good. In spite of the coming together of chilli sauce, batter and stuffing, there was not a hint of sogginess.

 

A quick mention of the other parts of the menu. There’s a handmade section where you’ll find such things as baozi, mahua, shaomai, milk cake, pumpkin pie and Chinese hamburger. There’s also a BBQ section featuring various morsels like quail (£2.50), rabbit front leg (£3), rabbit back leg (£5), rabbit kidney (£3), lamb (£1), prawns (£1.50-2), chicken wing (£1.20), herring (£3), oyster (£2) and sweetcorn (£2) – we saw lots of these individual skewers being brought out to tables. Choosing your dessert won’t be difficult as there’s only one on the menu – deep-fried sweet potato (£7). Drinks range from iced teas through plum and aloe vera juices and soya milk. As for wine, you can choose between, simply, red or white (£14.50). There’s also Tsing Tao or Tiger beer (both £3.30).

There’s so much I want to try here (working up to the really ‘challenging’ dishes), not just after reading the menu, but also from watching things come out to other tables. ‘My Old Place’ is apt – I reckon I’ll be back here enough to start feeling at home.

My Old Place
88-90 Middlesex Street

London, E1 7EZ


Rating:            
15/20

Breakdown:  8/10 food
                            4/5 service
                            3/5 atmosphere

 


Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1 – 5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6 – 9 get a DVD, 10 – 11 if you must, 12 – 13 if you’re passing, 14 – 15 worth a trip, 16 –17 very good, 17 – 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: We get carried away.


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