Review: Seventeen, Notting Hill
A version of this post was originally published in May 2012
Coming back to live in the UK in the early-Noughties, one the few culture shocks I experienced came in the unlikely surroundings of a Chinese restaurant. Forgetting the fact that at least half the pub football team contracted food poisoning and we had the forfeit the next match, what actually shocked me most about this insalubrious Oriental eatery at the end of Durham City’s North Road was the lack of General Tso’s chicken, crab rangoon, and beef and broccoli. My studies at university would later encourage me to think of these discrepancies in a post-colonial light, but to be honest no amount of Said, Ashcroft and Bhabha quite explains why American Chinese restaurants stuff crab and cream cheese into wonton wrappers and British Chinese restaurants don’t.
It was, without a doubt, excellent, but for me the highlight of the evening came next: the thinly sliced chili beef shank. The meat gave a soft, almost erotic mouth feel, and was tantalisingly moist, while the chilli sauce packed another solid punch without causing too many tears and sweat beads. That it came cold and still impressed to this degree was the real star turn. It seemed a bit bizarre at first, but Feast of the World pointed out that the serving of fiery dishes cold makes sense as the different heat sensations balance and complement each other. Whatever the physics, I just know I loved it. I was also a big fan of the other cold dish, the chilli chicken. It worked in a similar way, with succulent meat bathed liberally in various layers of chilli and then left to cool. After these two examples, I gave myself a sharp slap the wrist for ever thinking that serving cold food as a main course at dinner is a bit of a faux pas.
Accompaniments were competent without being revolutionary. Greens beans were slightly crisp without having had all the freshness fried out of them, and the crumbling of pork gave it a nice layer of extra saltiness. Chinese broccoli with garlic didn’t contain any massive surprises but it was fresh and well cooked, while rice was, well, rice. I tend to think that you shouldn’t ever really take much notice of it and if you do it’s probably for the wrong reasons.
Only the twice-fried pork belly failed to totally impress. Belly is a fatty cut of pig, and in this dish it had been sliced so finely that it ended up resembling a bacon rasher. This was comforting in a bizarre kind of way, but not necessarily pleasant and certainly not the kind of refinement you would expect at a high-end restaurant capable of producing truly stunning dishes.
Puddings left the realm of pure Szechuan authenticity and embraced a broader pan-Asian spectrum. While nothing produced the collective gasp that marked the arrival of the visually stunning fish dish, chewy Japanese mocha was deemed a winner, while the mango jelly won’t disappoint many.