It is surprisingly hard to find a decent Cantonese eatery in Nottingham. Due to a recent influx of students to the city’s two universities from mainland China (namely, the Mandarin-speaking parts), and given the University of Nottingham’s close ties to its overseas campus in Ningbo near Shanghai, the traditional Hong Kong cuisine that used to dominate our Chinese restaurant menus (albeit in a very gloopy, corn starch-laden Westerner-friendly form) is starting to be replaced by newer Mainland Chinese regional varieties in the city. While I honestly believe this to be a positive trend and while many of our high-street Chinese takeaways remain intact despite this change in our eating habits, the traditional and authentic Hong Kong café-style eateries are dying out, as many snub the old-school cuisine that arrived here in the 1950s for more exotic varieties increasingly gaining attention in culinary magazines and on TV. Whereas Hong Kong and Cantonese cuisines are milder and largely rice-based, Northern Chinese cuisines (Sichuan, Peking, Shanghai etc.) tend to be spicier and more wheat-based, with noodles being the main staple. I’m personally a bigger fan of the old-school Cantonese way of cooking and find the cuisine to generally be more robust and mouth-watering than its Northern counterpart cuisines —a higher MSG content might be a contributing factor, but hey, is that necessarily a bad thing?
I’d had a hankering for a plate of authentic Cantonese food for the last week or so and was finally able to satisfy my craving when I inadvertently stumbled across “Noodle King” in Nottingham’s cobbled-street Lace Market quarter. The place was small, unassuming and basic but had a characteristically vast Cantonese menu on offer in addition to a few Northern Chinese specialities. On realising the staff and owner were Cantonese, I immediately knew that what I had to order was a plate of something quintessential to that region; roast duck on a bed of white rice seemed to fit the bill just perfectly and low and behold, it even exceeded my expectations. Tender, glistening with little fat globules and loosely encased in that delectably crispy, sweet molasses-lacquered skin, this was every cured meat lover’s dream. In fact, this is exactly the sort of thing one might go for at a dai pai dong (a typical Hong Kong outdoor food vendor) and one mouthful of this food will make you feel as if you’ve been to the South China metropolis.
My prediction is that Cantonese food will enjoy a resurgence in the near future as soon as people realise how incredible the REAL stuff is. Until that time, you can enjoy flirting with the now bewildering range of regional Chinese cuisines available in this country – as well as indulging guiltily from time-to-time, in that electric-pink coloured sweet and sour pork you might get at places like Tung Fong or Fortune Boy.
Noodle King, 15 Goose Gate, Nottingham