Whilst still in its dusty decorating and drilling stages, walking past this rather quaint-looking restaurant I had thought, judging by the name, that it literally was a ‘Chinese laundry’. I’ll be honest though, I didn’t really understand why a laundry business would choose being Chinese as a major selling point or what that implied . . . Fortunately, it turned out to be an 80s-style Chinese restaurant with the full package of dim lighting, tiled floors, retro mirrors, antique wallpaper and an abundance of friendly staff creating an intimate and nostalgic atmosphere.
Starting with the drinks, there was a good range with a cocktail menu filled with interesting names such as ‘Drunken Concubine’ and ‘Silk Road Nowhere’, with equally interesting ingredients including Mei Kuei Baiju and infused Lapsang tea. I chose a green tea, as I have always felt that a Chinese dinner is best matched with tea because it cuts through the slight greasiness of the food and stops the meal from being too heavy (although this could, of course, be because I fall into the category of someone whose eyes are greedier than their stomachs). I am only an amateur when it comes to tea knowledge, but I did visit a tea farm in China once and learnt a little about the tea leaves. The green tea served at Chinese Laundry had a bitter edge with a slightly sweet lingering aftertaste, which I think is an indication of good tea. The small teapot was also made of Yixing clay, which is a traditional material for brewing tea that aids the release of flavours from the tea leaves.
Being Cantonese myself, and having a wonderful mother that always believed children should be given three proper home-cooked meals every day, I have grown up to be rather picky when it comes to Chinese food, and tend to favour not eating the cuisine when I dine out. However, the moment the first dish came out, all my senses perked up and I found myself quivering a little with excitement.
I chose the Pork belly with preserved vegetables – a dish my mother regularly cooks – the Century eggs and soft tofu, Sweet basil fried chicken and the Pumpkin, broccoli and green peas coated with salted duck egg yolk. Although all delicious sounding dishes, they were slightly strategic choices as I felt they were dishes that would best showcase the restaurant’s grasp of authentic techniques and ingredients.
The pork belly might not be the most difficult dish to make, but it’s nevertheless a tricky recipe to master as it’s a common home comfort food for most Chinese individuals. From years of listening to my mother complain about her own mui choy kau yok (the Cantonese name) and with many of my own failed attempts at the dish, I have narrowed down the key success factors to choosing the right cut of pork belly and the careful selection and washing of the preserved vegetables. The pork belly should be packed with flavour and virtually melt in your mouth, and the preserved vegetables should be cleaned thoroughly but not end up being over-diluted in the washing process. The perfect rendition of this dish should make you crave rice, like curry does.