Tuesday, 26 January 2010
Chinese Burns Night at Min Jiang, Kensington
It was the haggis dim sum that was the hook, at least for me. There's nothing like a bizarre or ill-conceived food fusion to make a hilarious evening and a post that writes itself - in fact for many weeks after I learned of the hideous 'Brazilian/Sushi' mashup that is Sushinho I was desperate to go and see if it really was as bad as everyone said, even if it meant paying through the nose for it. It's strange, I know, this compulsion for visiting car-crash restaurants, but it certainly does make life interesting.
A more prosaic reason to visit Min Jiang, though, was because I'd heard their duck was very good, and it was the whole roast duck and the haggis dim sum that formed the main part of their special Burns Night menu (£55 a head). Scottish/Chinese fusion, with matching whiskies. I could hardly wait.
The first 'course' was an Ardmore Whisky Sour, and was superb - it's amazing how many places treat a sour like any other fruit-based cocktail and serve it far too sweet. This was mouth-puckeringly refreshing and with a heady scent of peat bogs from the whisky. Served alongside, quite welcome but probably rather unnecessary, was a glass of house champagne. I bravely faced down the two drinks and wondered where the night would lead.
And finally, the main event. Haggis dim sum came in the form of a crispy wonton, a cute little haggis and prawn dumpling in its own individual steamer, a cucumber roll (sort of a mini spring roll) and a delicate pastry puff. And do you know what? They were all excellent. Haggis, as it turns out, makes a fantastic dim sum ingredient, being both richly flavoured and with a marvellous consistency, and all of the different bite size elements worked very well. My own favourite was the wonton, whose crispy casing was the best foil to the loose texture of the haggis filling. It's also important to note that none of the dim sum attempted to mask the bold haggis flavour, either by skimping on filling or adding extra more 'authentic' Chinese spices. I really enjoyed this course, and it wasn't just because it was served with a large measure of Highland Park 12yo.
Half-drunk glasses of cocktails, whisky and champagne now stacking up alarmingly, it was time to tackle the duck. Carved skilfully by the table, it certainly looked the part - a lovely deep colour and a nice even roast. Slices of moist duck meat were lined up neatly on the serving plate, thin slivers of crispy skin were presented separately to dip in sugar, and our waitress showed us with stunning dexterousness how to assemble, dress and fold a pancake using only chopsticks. What a shame, then, that the duck itself failed to live up to the hype. It was very well timed, being moist and pink and with a good crispy skin, but I'm afraid there was no particularly strong duck flavour - the pancake filling overwhelmed the bland meat, and the slivers of duck skin just tasted of cold grease. I liked the idea of putting raw mashed garlic into the pancakes as well as the pickled veg, but I had big hopes for the famous Min Jiang duck and it was all rather disappointing. Even yet another large glass of whisky (a rich Macallan 10) didn't lighten my mood.
A course of salmon in black bean sauce was also pretty dull. It was - again - technically very well done, the salmon being moist and warm and just slightly raw in the middle, but the black bean sauce was far too familiar from a thousand other high street Chinese restaurants, and it was all surprisingly unambitious for a restaurant which was happy to serve haggis dim sum. Only the accompanying baby pak choi really stood out - crispy and delicious in the way that only Chinese restaurants ever seem to be able to cook vegetables. This course was served with a glass of Pinot Gris, the first bottle of which was corked but replaced with charm and efficiency. And before you ask, no of course I couldn't tell - I would have happily chugged the whole thing down, but in my defence I was about a half bottle of whisky down by that point.
Dessert was a whisky chocolate tart, served with a whisky granite. Through the whisky-induced haze I can just about remember the chocolate tart being fairly unexceptional but the granite being peaty and delicious with a pleasant fresh texture. I'd had a whisky cocktail, a glass of champagne, a glass of Pinot Gris and THREE large measures of Scotch by this point, so you'll excuse me if I'm a bit short on detail.
In the end, although the meal tailed off towards the end and some elements were less than stellar, the main draw of the evening (the haggis dim sum) lived up to expectations and then some, and along with the liberal amounts of alcohol served as part of the £55/head set menu, it all added up to a pretty enjoyable evening. Service was superb too, and what's more they didn't even add it automatically to the bill - we were left to do the calculations ourselves. My lasting impression of Min Jiang, therefore, will be one of enormous generosity, and that's not because everything else, including the journey home, is lost in the alcoholic fog. The secret to an enjoyable evening then, is some competently cooked food, pleasant service, and more whisky than you could possibly ever want. Who knew?