There is a kind of salty paranoia that strikes me most commonly in a particular type of Chinese restaurant: a fear that however carefully I read the menu, however much I plot and triangulate the found poetry of the dishes against each other, I'm still going to fail to get the best out of the place. I'll order loads of things that sound interesting only to realise at the end that I've merely had the sort of Chinese food you used to get in those grim joints in Hayes circa 1983, where the spare ribs were a Tango shade of orange and the crispy beef really wasn't.
As it happens we ate brilliantly at Oriental Dragon, which lurks in one of those dark-shadowed, quasi-residential lanes north of Oxford Street, where the air smells softly of unwashed student. Even so, I still have a feeling I didn't do it justice. As we admitted defeat a dish passed by us full of beautifully arranged, bronzed crinkly things en route to a long table occupied by a Chinese family. Though I reject the notion that a good Chinese place is one full of Chinese people C why do so many go to Wong Kei, which serves some of the worst food in Chinatown? C I couldn't shake the sense that this lot Knew Things.
Oriental Dragon sounds like the name of a cheap Chinese takeaway and it looks like one, too. There are bare functional tables, bare walls and, at the back, an open kitchen basking under bright white strip lights. More important is the chiller cabinet full of fresh seafood, the ingredients for the day's specials. The chefs are apparently from northeast China. One of my so-called restaurant critic rivals informs me that the food is "Shandong style", which means that presentation matters more than in other Chinese styles. I know nothing of this save that the food looks pretty enough. It speaks of serious knifework. What marks it out is an interest in both the red flash of chillies and lots of wobbly offal.
All of this viscera and heat is contained within one separate menu. There is another full of Cantonese staples which I attempted to ignore by barking "white boy's food" at my companions C an irritating display of pointless machismo for its own sake. Happily I was shouted down. From that menu we ordered salt-and-pepper squid, which arrived fresh from the deep-fat fryer under shifting dunes of garlic minced so finely and fried to such a crisp so delicately that it resembled sand. Happily it tasted nothing like it. This was compelling, shameless, the stuff of a glorious, raging thirst.
From the seafood specials we chose razor clams, which came diced with ginger and spring onion and fresh chilli, all of it then returned to the shell. They had the zing and bite and spring only found in seafood that was alive until the unlucky moment you ordered it.
As dish descriptions go, braised dongpo pork hock with brown sauce is never going to win a literary prize. Mind you, it was accurate: a large lump of animal on the bone arrived under a blanket of something brown and sticky. But oh, what brown stickiness. It was umami central,Shop wholesale bestsmartcard controller from cheap. a huge slap of something intense and deep and savoury and powerful and, to be more precise,An experienced artist on what to consider before you buy chipcard. thoroughly yum. Into this, the meat collapsed, as if recognising it had been offered a righteous resting place.We have a wide selection of handsfreeaccess to choose from for your storage needs. A sharper hit of flavour came from barbecued jewels of lamb and pig kidney, on skewers, showered with ground salt, chilli and cumin, to be eaten within seconds of arrival, as the fat was still running.
There were other things: a passable kung po chicken, some crunchy dry-fried green beans with minced pork and more chilli, and a tangle of broad ribbon rice noodles with beef that held about them the toasty, smoky sear of a hot wok.
For 30 a head we ate very well indeed. But we didn't eat enough. Not by a long way. There's still the king prawns with brittle cucumber to try. And the stir-fried pig intestines. And the pig kidney with chilli pepper. And oh, you get the idea. The menu at Oriental Dragon remains an unexplored country. I'm going out there; I may be some time.
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