Your Last Mouthful

Cardiff based food blog

Tag Archives: chinese

.CN- An Authentic Chinese Experience

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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For more reviews, competitions and events, please see my website- www.yourlastmouthful.com

The Crispy Duck- An upmarket Asian affair

Last week, Mr V and I finally got to go to The Crispy Duck. With quite a strong social media presence, The Crispy Duck have managed to create a fair bit of interest and I have heard lots of good things. We accidentally coincided our visit with Chinese New Year which I think that worked out to be very positive as the restaurant was busy and there was a good atmosphere.

We were greeted by a friendly man who we later found out was the owner and shown to our seats. He told us that he would put us at the back as there was a large party due in so it might be noisy. We were shown to a table past the bar and near the back in view of the toilets. Usually, this would not be ideal but actually, the back of the restaurant was very nice and if I had chosen where to sit, I probably would have picked our seats.

The wall on my left was decorated with a huge red stripe on a white back drop and there were pictures on the walls and red Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling. It was very homely with coat hooks and standing plants and the furniture was very smart with wooden tables and comfy white seats. Having the toilets in view also wasn’t a problem as they had been done beautifully. Instead of a door with a toilet sign, there was a foyer with scented candles and flowers so you couldn’t actually see the door to the toilet. It will sound like an odd thing to say but it looked strangely inviting and more like the entrance to a spa than a toilet.

The Crispy Duck is a pan Asian restaurant serving mostly Malaysian, Chinese and Japanese food and this was reflected in the decor. It all went very nicely together with red as the main colour, Japanese style table wear and the Chinese lanterns. It felt more upmarket than your average Asian restaurant. Even the menus were beautifully done in a wooden cover and there was a good choice of wine which was displayed on racks above the bar as well as the usual beers.

The owner who seated us, was very accommodating and took our drinks orders and talked us through the menu. I found it a little confusing as it was listed according to region and style of dish as opposed to starters and mains but he was very helpful in explaining it all for us.

To start we ordered Soft Shell Crab Karaage which I was very excited about and Chicken and Gyoza (Pan fried Japanese dumplings with Ponzu sauce). Both were an excellent price at just £5 for the Chicken and Gyoza and £7.80 for a whole crab. They arrived very well presented and were both delicious! The soft shell crab was especially good. Rolled in flour and lightly fried, this Japanese dish was meaty and crunchy and something I would definitely order again (the photo does not do it justice).

The Chicken and Gyoza was lovely and soft and packed full of filling. It was juicy but the sauce stayed contained rather than running out and making a mess. It was nice to have something a bit different and I really enjoyed both dishes.

When it came to the mains, the choice was a lot less unusual than the starters. There were lots of favourites on the menu but not many things we hadn’t tried before. After some deliberation we chose Lemon Chicken and Honey Beer Beef with a serving of steamed rice between us. I had been told by friends that have been to The Crispy Duck that dishes were brought out as they were cooked but ours all came out together which was nice. Waitresses were efficient but timid and always on hand if you needed anything.

The dishes were again nicely presented. The lemon chicken wasn’t what I expected it to be. I thought it was going to be a stir fry but it was more like a  cutlet. It was very nice all the same and came with a delightful lemon sauce. It was thick and sweet like lemon curd. The Honey Beer Beef was also very nice and again very sweet.

While the mains were very good, for me , the starters stood out more so if I went again, I think I would have a series of these starters or small dishes instead as they were really unusual and appealing. I wish I’d had the chance to try more!

We were just about to ask for the dessert menu when the owner came over to tell us that he was going to give us a complimentary dessert. We thought we’d been rumbled and he knew we were reviewing but all diners were offered the same. We were all treated to banana fritters with vanilla ice cream. It was a nice gesture and the sort of thing that really makes a dining experience for me.

Overall, we were very impressed! The food was nice, service was good and it’s a lovely place to dine. With such reasonable prices a meal at The Crispy Duck wouldn’t cost much more than eating take away style food in a very average Chinese restaurant. The fact that it is pan Asian also makes it stand out as there is more choice on the menu. This worried me at first as I thought it might be a case of trying too much and specialising in nothing but it wasn’t. With a Japanese and a Malaysian chef, the dishes were very authentic.

My Last Mouthful was: The Soft Shell Crab Karaage

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Phoenix Restaurant- Very average

Last week, Ben and I went to the Phoenix Chinese Restaurant on Crwys Road for a meal. We had a Groupon voucher each entitling us to £20 worth of food for £8 and it seemed like a really good deal, especially as the picture on the voucher was of some baskets of Dim Sum.

Next time, I will do my research. While there was nothing wrong with where we ended up, it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Judging by the picture, I was expecting something along the lines of Ba Orient with baskets of Dim Sum and I was hoping for something a bit different. In reality, we were standing in an average chinese restaurant which I had in fact bought a take away from before, I just didn’t recognise the name.

We were seated in the ample sized restaurant and were the only people there apart from one other table of three chatting about whether they had ever been unfaithful to their partners. We could hear everything they were saying and it wasn’t that we were listening intently or that they were particularly loud, it was just so quiet in there.

We were given menus by the polite but timid host and gave our order. The food wasn’t what I was expecting as I have said. It was pretty much your average chinese menu but it also had Thai and Malaysian dishes although again, these were nothing out of the ordinary. We also noticed that they were quite pricey for such ordinary dishes at on average £8 for a main dish which didn’t include rice.

To start, we ordered Mongolian ribs and chicken and prawn parcels as these were the most unusual things on the menu. The Mongolian ribs were actually very tasty. The sauce was lovely and the ribs were meaty and well cooked. The parcels were ok too.

For our main, we chose Szechuan duck and a Thai pork dish in coconut milk and basil. Both were very edible but nothing extraordinary. I would compare them to something I would expect from a take away and for the price, I hoped for more. The rice with shredded chicken was £5 and it was basically steamed rice with a few pieces of chicken in it which was quite disappointing.

The restaurant itself was very basic which is fine but it looked cheap with paper table cloths and paper napkins arranged in glasses. It could have done with a lick of paint too. The pink walls had stains on them from messy diners and a dirty line the length of one wall which looked like it had been made by some furniture that has since been moved.

This isn’t a bad place by any means but it had the feel of somewhere you would go for a cheap meal. For the price (if we had paid full price) you can get more for your money.

My Last Mouthful was: Mongolian Ribs

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