Friday, 1 February 2013

Eat & Drink Artillery Passage review - Chinese restaurant of a bygone era

Eat and Drink Artillery Passage review
Eat & Drink - tucked at the end of Artillery Passage

Address: 11 Artillery Passage
London E1 7LJ
Phone: 020 7377 0557
Nearest Tube station: Liverpool Street,
Aldgate, Aldgate East

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £15
Service charge: 12.5%
Taste: ***
Service: ***
Ambience: **
There's this misconception about Chinese restaurants. People have the impression that Chinese restaurants, especially those that have been around for eons, should look like the one depicted in Rush Hour or Big Bang Theory - red wall papers, huge red lanterns and staff decked in traditional red Chinese gowns with gold trimmings. That has been almost the acceptable mark of authenticity.

While Phoenix Palace and Pearl Liang come close, it's almost impossible to many such Chinese restaurants in London.

Eat & Drink at Artillery Passage surely isn't one such restaurants. For one, its name doesn't exactly conjure up the mystics of the Far East. In fact, my local Chinese takeaway has a more convincing name than that. It hints at being nothing more than a hole in the wall that exists to feed the office hordes at Bishopgate much like the likes of Pret A Manger and E.A.T.

Eat and Drink Artillery Passage review menu
Eat & Drink's menu, like the typical Cantonese restaurant, is rather extensive

But Eat & Drink is much more than that. Ironically, its name suggests that it comes from a bygone era when fine Chinese cuisine hasn't really caught on with Londoners and whatever offerings were usually replicas of those found in the alleys in colonial Hong Kong.

The reception area, which presumably where you'd wait for takeaways is also where the bar is with a defunct slot machine lies on its side. The only notable decor is the handful of tired looking koi and a dragon painted on one wall. If you look harder, you'd be able to spot a uniform of a Royal artillery Captain housed in a dusty display case in a corner.

It was pretty quiet during lunchtime when I was there on a weekday. There were a couple of tables occupied by singles who were more interested in their iPad and newspapers than their egg fried rice.

The staff who were already polite became noticeably friendlier when I placed my orders in Mandarin. I was told by those who have been there that they get really pally if you actually speak Cantonese. Then again, that's typically the case for most Cantonese restaurants.

I often wonder how is it that Chinese restaurants can come such a long menu (pages upon pages of meat, seafood, vegetables, soups, noodles and rice dishes) while others struggle with a one page menu and often with some items unavailable. It couldn't be that Eat & Drink's kitchen is many times larger than others, can it? As I scanned through the menu, I could already pick up some that I would go for in my subsequent visits.

Eat and Drink Artillery Passage review sweet and sour pork
Sweet and sour pork - always the crowd pleaser

Sweet and sour pork (£6.50), a boring but safe dish is one of my favourites. Eat and Drink's was oddly satisfying with just the right amount of fats in the ketchup coated deep fried pork chunks. There was none of those artificially sweeteners and the gravy consistency was about right. More tellingly, the pork chunks were not crowded out by the vegetable accompaniments.

Eat and Drink Artillery Passage review fried king prawns with butter and garlic
Fried king prawns - some burnt bits

Fried king prawns (£9.90) arrived sizzling hot. That resulted in the garlic and butter coating being burnt, which meant some undesired bitter bits. It could have been worse, I suppose. At least the prawns were relatively fresh and more than enough to go around.

You are spoilt for choice when it comes to lunch around Spitalfields Market on a weekday. That's probably why I've not dine at Eat and Drink sooner. With HKK (by Hakkasan) opened at Worship Street (10 min walk away), some, like me will find solace in a more relaxing, fuss free and no frills Chinese restaurant that is easier on the pocket.

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