>China Bar

>It was Chinese New Year and an acquaintance’s thirtieth birthday: what better opportunity to try another cheap and cheerful Chinatown eatery. China Bar came recommended by a few people. There are three branches, two in the city and one in Box Hill. We met up with the others at the Russell Street branch, right beside the entertainment stage where Chinese dancers, gymnasts, singers and performers entertained the hundreds of Melburnians who had braved the forty-degree heat to celebrate New Year in style.

China Bar is pretty small. It probably holds about fifty diners when full. Full roasted chickens and ducks are displayed proudly in the window, and above the counter a selection of dishes are displayed in full photographic glory.

We sat down the back with six others at the formica table, and helped ourselves to extra glasses for our BYO wine. Hunger, and the sheer beewilderment of the number of dishes on offer, made choosing an impossibility. Others picked my first choices – Mongolian beef, belly pork, choice of two roasts – and I was reluctant to order the same dish twice for the table. For the first time in my life, I sent the waitress away with no order from me after everybody else had chosen. Finally, somebody suggested that I limit my choice to the Specialities section, and I finally opted for satay beef.

We shared rice, noodles and stir-fried vegetables along with our own personally-chosen dishes. Everything was enormous and delicious.

We thought nothing could have detracted from our evening, until one creepy-crawly was detected on the wall near our table. In the course of the evening four baby cockroaches were seen emerging from the air-conditioning vent on the opposite wall, and making their way over to our table. They were dispatched with the aid of roll-up newspapers, but not before one almost made it into my hair, and one onto the table itself.

Now, a week later, the memory of the delicious food is fading as quickly as the memory of the cockroaches is growing. Despite the amazing food, I’m not sure if I will eat there again.

>3 Monkeys

>3 Monkeys
Herne Hill

Suzanne and I got a last-minute cheap deal to eat at this relatively new south London Indian restaurant, so we were looking forward to a posh Indian dinner on the cheap when we visited Three Monkeys.

This is one of a breed of modern Indian restaurants which are rapidly replacing every Mughal-arched, flock-wallpapered old place in the city (much to my relief). The place is split-level with a modern bar downstairs. Upstairs everything is light and bright, with some beautiful Indian art on the walls.

Being mid-week we were one of about four tables occupied so it did feel a bit quiet, added to which we were very chilly for the whole evening. The waitress was pleasant enough but on occasion a little slow to respond – no problem for us as we were gossiping madly but another time this would have wound me up.

As for the food, there are lots on the menu which were new to me. One of their specialities is Handi cuisine from the central plateau of India, slow cooked in an earthen pot. We stuck to fairly standard dishes, our man courses being one chicken and one lamb. Our first impression was that the quantity of meat in each dish was woefully small. This was partly made up by the quality of the meat and the delicate taste of the sauce. Added to which, the side dishes and rice we were served were beautiful.

Having said all that, we could not manage a dessert, settling for a coffee and a masala tea instead. However when the bill came it was almost £50 for two, and that was only included two glasses of wine. All in all, we felt that it was not good value for money – and this was on a special deal! I would not be tempted back here if I had to pay full price, and I could think of many more places service equally good food for less elsewhere in London.

All in all, a pleasant enough experience but not really worth the trip or the money.

>cafe spice namaste

>A birthday treat was to visit Cafe Spice Namaste, on Prescott Street near Aldgate in London.
Co-owned by celebrity chef Cyrus Todiwala, it it the flagship of his small but burgeoning restaurant empire. The cuisine is Indian but majors in Parsee food.

It was quiet for an early Friday evening, and sitting at a window I got a little chilly. The music was bad saxophone muzak, but there the bad news ended.

The menu was not your average lengthy Indian list, but well-chosen dishes using gourmet local ingredients such as organic ham from Berkshire, and Loch Fyne shellfish.

We tried the “real” Parsee lamb dhansak and the tandoori mixed grill, both of which looked and tasted wonderful despite Orlando’s complaint that a piece of pineapple was masquerading as a piece of meat on his!

The dessert menu was refreshingly full of Western delights as well as Indian ones, including a range of speciality ice-creams. The coffee was excellent.

By the time we were half-way through our meal, the place was quite lively and a large Diwali group had arrived to eat in the adjoining room. Although he did not speak to us, i say Cyrus himself come out of the kitchen and speak to a number of tables during the evening. The waiters were unobtrusive and professional.

All told, a lovely evening and I look forward to trying his restaurant “The Parsee” in Highgate soon.