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Golden Day

Location: 118-120 Shaftesbury Ave, south side, by Chinatown. London.

This used to be the restaurant named Chinese Experience; rebranded and somewhat reworked inside to relatively plain, functional decor, it is now one of London's very few Hunanese restaurants. The menu is a picture book, poorly translated, but clearly depicted. We had a Hunan Chinese speaker in our group to bridge confusion, and the waitress double-checked our orders against the items in the picture menu to make sure.

There are two main ways to have lots of small portions in a meal: splash out on a small plates menu, or be a large group, ordering lots of different dishes to share. Golden Day doesn't have the option of the first method, but thanks to being a group of ten, we could all nibble widely, using our chopsticks to move food from the serving plates to our bowls.

The first dishes to arrive were the pickled ones we'd ordered: a mild one with thinly-sliced assorted vegetables; thick slices, more strongly doused in vinegar and chili, vibrant and crisp; and a lightly vinegared bowl of thin, floppy, dark mushrooms. A Hunan potato noodle dish was translucently golden and pleasant; the eating of it a mild challenge as stretchy noodles flopped and bounced. Asparagus was cut with small, angular slices, and dry-fried with gentler spices. Pickled green beans were very finely chopped and fried. Lumps of chili-laden taro were like wonderfully soft, delicate dumplings. Mashed aubergine ("like Chinese guacamole", said doop, I think it was) was soft, a little stringy, and a touch smoky. My favorite dish of the evening was the vegetable special, a gently-cooked dish of torn cabbage, served with a creamy (in texture) broth of sauce.

With the meats came the stronger spicings. Fire-explored beef was a whole-hearted embrace of cumin, overlaying the chili-spice. A pair of redolent smoked pork dishes were spiked with chunks of red chili. Grandma chicken was the one dish that was more work to eaten, with bone-laden chunks slowing down consumption of the nicely-flavored meat. I cautiously tried a sliver of pig's blood, gelled into tofu-like silkiness with only a touch of the heavy iron of blood. At the end, the fish special came, roundels of tender flesh arrayed like scales under chopped spices, and framed by head and tail. The richness of the dish's garlic was refreshing, just because it was the first dish in which garlic dominated the flavor set.

If this assortment is at all typical of Hunanese food, then it is a rich cuisine, meaty, and dominated by an assortment of strong, decisive spices, whether cumin, garlic, or chili. It is not excessively spicy (although we were uncertain if they had been at all toned down for us because we were (mostly) not Chinese). Overall, it was a feast of regular visual interest, spice variety, and flavorfulness,

Service was friendly, not always wholly bi-lingual, but since we had a Hunan Chinese speaker with us, this was never a problem. One odd service moment: part of our party ordered wine from the wine list; the waitress had to come back to tell us that actually, they only had one wine in that day, the house wine. It was, for a while, a challenge to catch the attention of staff when, later in the meal, we needed refills of drinks, including chrysanthemum and green tea in tea pots, and rice, but they were prompt and helpful once we had secured their attention.

I'm now more interested than I was before in consciously being able to contrast regional Chinese food as represented in London (or elsewhere) restaurants. My particular thanks to nou in arranging for the dinner in the first place!


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 16th, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC)
OK, so what are the odds of two LJ friends who don't appear to know each other posting about the same meal?
Jun. 16th, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC)
I didn't know at least half the people at this dinner. If it's a public post, could you point me toward it?
Jun. 17th, 2010 03:30 pm (UTC)
I've put a list of who everyone is on nanila's Dreamwidth post.
Jun. 17th, 2010 08:01 am (UTC)
It is entirely the fault of Dreamwidth — I met nanila on there via livredor's giant friending meme. It's not as random as it may seem, because I was specifically seeking out people with a connection to London.
Jun. 17th, 2010 09:25 am (UTC)
In some ways that makes it even weirder as livredor grew up on what used to be my old school's playing fields.
Jun. 17th, 2010 07:55 am (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it, and thank you for coming along!

I'm not sure Golden Day is exactly rebranded from Chinese Experience — unless you have reason to think otherwise, I'd have thought it was simply that one restaurant closed and another one later opened up in the same premises, a fairly common thing.

My Hunan friend didn't make it in the end — the chap (Limster) who was speaking Mandarin to the staff was someone different. I think it was also he, rather than doop, who said the mashed aubergine was like Chinese guacamole (but I could be wrong).

They did have more than one white wine — it's just that the only one other than the house wine was the most expensive one, which we thought was a bit much for a school night. The wine list was not extensive in the first place.

The "thin, floppy, dark mushrooms" were wood ear fungus (木耳/mù ěr), brought by mistake in place of the pig ears that I'd intended to order.

I still need to sort out my photos (they'll need work, because people were rushing me and jogging the table) but I'll let you know when they're up on Flickr, and provide a list of the Chinese dish names too if you're interested.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )