DRAGON CASTLE: SURPRISINGLY GOOD SOUTH OF THE RIVER
After last night’s disasters, I was determined to have a decent supper tonight. Or, at least, to give myself a fighting chance.
HP had mentioned Dragon Castle on the Walworth Rd just past The Elephant & Castle. It had been reviewed by the estimable blousy Scot, Marina in Metro and by someone who is not Guy Dimmond ( always a good thing ) in Time Out. Both had ranked it amongst the best Cantonese places they had ever tried in London.
A good chum was all on his lonesome tonight so asked if I had any interesting dining plans and quickly agreed to join me for supper when he heard where I was going.
We arranged to meet at The Anchor & Hope for a quick pre-dinner drink. I can’t help it. I am pre-disposed to just not like this place. I know how good the food is supposed to be and I can see how popular it is. However, the risible no booking policy just gets on my gonads and, after a couple of pints, I was very happy to head out of there.
A short cab ride had us outside Dragon Castle. It is huge. A cavernous room that can easily sit 150 people. It was pretty much packed when we arrived and a quick glance showed that, only two months after opening, it is a popular place with the local Chinese community, local Walworthian’s and is already becoming a destination for the review reading crowd ( hence our good selves )
First presented with the standard menu, we mentioned that we had read about the “ other” menu and were quickly handed an expanded version that had all the good stuff on it.
While we pondered, a plate of fiery chilli peanuts were plopped in front of us. Normally pretty perfunctory, these gave testament to the fact that there is someone here who gives a damn. We devoured two plates full before they finally dragged an order out of us.
There are some seriously interesting things to choose from on the menu alongside the more standard dishes and we began with two seafood choices and one meat choice
Sliced Pork Hock with chillied soy
Palourdes Clams with Sichuan pepper and chilli (£5.50 )– I found them a little salty, but that was overcome by the sheer meatiness of the clams and the fiery sauce which had enough chilli to give that typical Sichuan numbing of the tongue.
Razor Clam with Golden crushed garlic ( £5.50 each ) – a lot to pay and I found it a little tough. Still, nice to see it on the menu. Now they need to learn how to cook them.
I was thrilled to see the number of hot pots on the menu including one with frog’s legs. But, my chum was not to be turned away from the first one that caught his eye and we ordered
Hot Pot of braised eel and pork belly with Garlic – A stunner. Slices of braised eel which gave up the flesh from the bone with the slightest suck. A dense meaty sauce and good chunks of soft fatty pork belly. As good a hot pot as I have ever tried.
By this time, we were both looking at each other and saying “ how the hell did a place this good get to be here?” Some investigation with the manager shed little light as it appears that the owner has never run a restaurant before…. Who knows? But something good is happening South of the River and I never thought I would ever find myself saying that.
Our next three dishes arrived,
Double Cooked Lamb Shank with Chilli – you had me at double cooked. A beautifully gelatinous hunk of lamb ripped from the bone ( slightly too dramatically ) by the waiter when it looked like it would melt off with the slightest breeze. My favourite course of the night.
King Prawns with dry scallops and deep fried garlic shoots – The most standard dish of the night but still prepared with more dexterity than I would have expected.
Ho Fun noodles with Chinese chive and beansprouts – again a very standard dish, but not lumpen and heavy as is so often the case.
Suffice to say that my chum, who is a man whose eating capacity can change the balance of a country’s trade deficit, was beaten and it was left to me to clear up. I live to serve.
The bill came with some slightly dried up fruit slices and some bad chocolate ( which, surprise, surprise, my friend suddenly found room for ) It was £77 for two including three beers and some Pu Ehr tea. Service was also included but, of course, the indecipherable bill did not show that and we had to ask. This always leaves a bad taste in my mouth and I cannot see why Chinese restaurants should be allowed to get away with this nonsense when no one else is.
Still, a small point, if one that has to change soon. This was a hugely decent meal. A far cry from the MSG laden stodge that forms the basis of most Chinatown menus and enough to get me coming at least this far South of the River on a fairly regular basis.
The serve Dim Sum on Sunday from 11.30am. After the horrors of Harbour city. I suspect it is well worth a try. In any case, there are all those other hot pots to try