A remarkable feast, thanks to Uncle Red Bear

Chinatown, London, July 6, 2005 My brother David, who lives in Virginia, called me the other day to say that he was unexpectedly coming to London for a few days for an academic conference. Could I come up and meet him for lunch? Of course I could. But where? Chinatown of course, no question about that. Who else to consult about where and what to eat but my good friend Deh-ta Hsiung.
"Something special, Deh-ta, I don't see my brother very often. But one thing: he doesn't like chicken feet."
Of course it had to be the Jade Garden on Wardour Street - we considered Y Ming as well for a repeat of the famous 'duck three ways'. But in the end, Jade Garden it was. 'They are the only ones in London who do braised duck,' said Deh-ta. 'Leave the menu to me, I'll order for you.' The table was booked in the name of Uncle Red Bear.
There were three of us (my brother was with his new partner), so Deh-ta, who was not able to join us, ordered 17 dishes. 'It ought to be enough,' he said, 'but of course you can always order more.'
It was great to see my brother, and we were ravenous in anticipation of a special feast. I have to say I was a little concerned when the first dish came out - chicken feet! Or as Deh-ta called them, 'chicken claws Thai style' - that is boneless (and so almost unrecognizable but not quite), cold, chewy, and in a delicious sweet and hot sauce. 'What this?' my brother asked suspiciously. I knew it was chicken feet, but answered quickly, 'jelly fish'. That was even worse it turned out - he's not really that finicky, but the thought of jelly fish was even more off putting to him than chicken feet. So I came clean: 'It's chicken feet.' 'Oh,' he said, and tried one. 'Pretty good!'
We were now straight in to the deep end. The next dish that came out was a platter of braised duck tongues in a richly savoury and spicy sauce. The tiny tongues were delicious, deeply flavoured but surprisingly bony. 'Mmmnn,' my brother asked, 'what is this?' 'Pork spareribs,' I said. 'Bloody small pigs,' he muttered, helping himself to a few more. 'Delicious!'
The feast continued. Some crispy fried squid with a sweet dipping sauce. A platter of crunchy, stir-fried chinese greens in oyster sauce. The exquisite braised duck, served on a bed of peanuts, truly sensational. Some paper wrapped prawns. Some crispy fried beancurd skins. A wonderful plate of lightly pan fried noodles with seafood. A big hot pot of rice swimming in broth and chinese mushrooms and chicken.
Then a stack of bamboo steamed dishes: beef tripe and chilies; another plate of chicken feet, these braised in a hot and spicy sauce (also delicious - my brother ate them too!); some chewy whelks in a Malaysian satay type sauce; some crab and pork dumplings; a platter of steamed spareribs in black bean sauce; some snow white, chewy, steamed prawn 'Cheung Fun'.
It was quite incredible and a real and exciting treat for the three of us. Whenever I go to chinese restaurants, I most always have the feeling that those who know what's what (and especially the chinese themselves) are enjoying foods infinitely more interesting and delicious than I have myself ordered (it's all those 'specials' in chinese characters pasted infuriatingly around the walls).
Well not this time! It was a real privilege to sample these dishes, and the balance of tastes and especially textures was just incredible: chewy, crispy, hot, cold, savoury, spicy and sweet. And even if I'm unlikely to rush back to Jade Garden immediately to order braised duck tongues in spicy sauce, I'm certainly glad that we had the chance to try them. (Well, why not? The Romans feasted on lark tongues, didn't they?)
Halfway through the meal, Deh-ta managed to drop in and join us briefly just for a drink - he'd already had lunch ('not very good,' he muttered, helping himself to a duck tongue). As a member of the British Film Academy, he was in Leicester Square for a special showing of 'War of the Worlds' - I have to say it doesn't sound terribly promising: Deh-ta appararently nodded off through about half of movie - so I guess the film can't be as terrifying as that famous radio broadcast...

Thank you again, my friend, Uncle Red Bear!

Jade Garden
Wardour Street
London W1
tel: 020 7437 5065

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