Last week I finally visited the wonderful .CN! As a food blogger I am ashamed that it has taken me this long. From the moment it opened I have been excited about this one and eagerly reading other reviews but every time I was meant to visit something got in the way and it just never happened. When owner Nathan recently asked Mr.V and I along, this time we made sure we were available.
Having travelled extensively around Asia, I am a huge lover of Asian cuisine but when I eat it in the UK I am often left disappointed. I crave some authentic Asian cuisine and .CN promised to deliver just that. I have never been to China but Mr V has spent a few months out there and years later still raves about the food he experienced making me very jealous.
We pushed open the doors of .CN and were immediately welcomed by a friendly waitress. It was raining outside and the windows were steamed up so we had no idea what we were entering into from the outside but it was warm and relaxed, simple yet stylish. With a colour scheme of red and white, it said ‘China’ without being tacky. Logos adorned partitions and patterned art work hung neatly on the walls.
It was very busy and when we arrived, we were the only non Chinese diners. I always take this to be very encouraging but it may have been daunting for some. It really shouldn’t be though as the staff couldn’t have been more welcoming. The waitress saw us looking at some hot pots that were being enjoyed by some Chinese students behind us and came over to explain what they were.
The menu was extensive. It was fantastic to be in a Chinese restaurant and to see so many dishes that I had never tried and most that I had never even heard of! Chinese restaurants in the UK can be very samey and are not always very authentic. Some even have a separate menu for Chinese visitors so .CN was very exciting. The menu did not shy away from its roots by trying to conform to Western tastes and included offal, tripe, pigs trotters and ducks tongues along with cuts of meat that we are used to eating.
We were told that the dishes were from all over China but were predominantly from Northern China and Sichuan which is where Mr V spent much of his time. It was great to be dining with someone who had been to the regions and could confirm their authenticity.
It was very hard to choose what we wanted and as we waded through the menu, we had already decided what we were going to eat on our next visit as well as this one. On this occasion, we settled on a combination of dishes that allowed as to try the biggest range possible.
We started with a dish of Pigs Cheek and cucumber which we ordered as a starter. This was a very simple dish consisting of the most tender succulent pork and refreshing cucumber served with a chilli, lemongrass and coriander dressing. It was a cold dish and worked well as a warm up to the dishes to follow. This was my favourite of the night. Simple yet delicious.
Next it was the main event. A huge bowl of Sichuan Pork arrived with a plate of Salt and Pepper Duck tongues, two varieties of steamed buns and steamed rice. We were interested to try the Sichuan pork to test its authenticity. Mr V had eaten Sichuan peppers in China and Sichuan pork is something that is often on the menu in Chinese restaurants in the UK so I wanted to see how it differed.
It was nothing I like the dishes I have tried here. This dish had an oily base and was filled with tender pork, various vegetables, dried chillies and Sichuan peppers. We were asked how hot we wanted it and we asked for it as it would come. It was just the right amount of spice for me although I still had the feeling it had been dumbed down for our feeble Western pallets. The Sichuan peppers gave off a bizarre tingling sensation which numbs your mouth if you have enough. I loved it and will never look at the Sichuan Pork dish in my local Chinese take away the same again.
Having tried something I have supposedly tried on many occasions, we moved onto something that I had never tried before and that Mr V enjoyed in China; the duck tongues. There were several duck tongue options on the menu but it was suggested to us that we try the salt and pepper option as the salt meant that they came with a slightly crunchy coating which sounded very nice. Some people might be put off by such a dish but they were beautiful. They encompassed everything I love about duck in a tiny mouthful. The crispy skin gave way to a soft fatty meat the fell easily off the tiny bone inside. These were best eaten hot so I’d advise you to tuck in quickly.
Last were the steamed buns. I do love a steamed bun and I have a favourite place to go for them in China Town in London so I was pleased that these rivalled them. It is much easier to travel to City Road for my fix!
After our meal we chatted to Nathan, a young Englishman who owns .CN along with his Chinese business partner. It did seem strange that the most authentic Asian restaurant that I have ever been to was run by an Englishman but Nathan knows his stuff and is passionate about what he does and he certainly does it very well. For someone so young, I was seriously impressed by Nathan’s business sense and what he has achieved. It makes a restaurant visit all the more special when the owner takes the time to talk to diners and when their passion shows.
While .CN is clearly popular among the Chinese students in the area, it’s a real shame that I didn’t see more Western diners. For those of you that might be put off by offal and trotters, the menu is much wider than that and I urge you to give it a try. For more adventurous eaters, I hope you will be as excited as me to find somewhere that does not conform to Western tastes that will give you an authentic Chinese experience and offers ‘nose to tail’ eating.
In terms of price, .CN is very reasonable as are the portion sizes. They do a take away too which means that my local take away is going to get a few less visits from me in the future.
My Last Mouthful was: Pig Cheek and Cucumber
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