Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Old Tree Daiwan Bee (Chinatown) - no frills Taiwanese street food


Address: 26 Rupert Street,
London W1D 6DH
Phone: N/A
Nearest Tube station:
Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £10pp (light nibbles)
Service charge: 10%
Taste: ***
Service: **
Ambience: *
I remember a time when we do not spend the entire weekend rushing from one kids' activity to another. A time when her nap times were still predictable and when she could easily placated with a simple cuddle. That was when we actually travelled across London to Golders Green simply because someone mentioned that there was a decent Chinese restaurant Hu Nan Xiang Cai Guan or the unlikely translation of Local Friends Chinese restaurant.

Thankfully, the kid slept through the meal (those were the good times) and we managed to squeeze in some dessert at Old Tree Bakery, which was much further down the road. We didn't get a chance to sample their street fare though we were rather impressed with its selection of confectionery.

Fast forward a couple of years and it so happened that I was out and about on a Monday evening at Chinatown looking to grab a quick bite. I consulted my half a million Twitter followers (half of whom are social escorts businesses with a good proportion of the remaining having avatars that look like social escorts - how they found me remains a mystery). Sorry, I have digressed.

@JunkfoodJo replied almost immediately - found out from her that C&R has finally completed its renovation. It looks very much like a cleaned up version of Rasa Sayang in case you are wondering. @yangstax recommended Old Tree Daiwan Bee, which has set up shop just opposite C&R. "Pork over rice and oyster omelette are safe picks" his second tweet read. Brilliant - eating alone is bad enough, having to agonise over the menu is worse.

Unlike Old Tree Bakery at Golders Green, the branch just off Chinatown's peripheral at Rupert Street does not have the luxury of space. Furniture consists of a few long wooden tables and flimsy chairs. If not for the display case filled with beautifully decorated cakes, which looked almost out of place, Old Tree would be mistaken for yet another hole-in-the-wall eatery.

Looks can be deceiving as they say. If you could just look beyond its plain concrete walls and uncomfortable setting, you can perhaps see where Old Tree's allure lies. A quick scan through its menu showed up popular Taiwanese street food - amongst them the likes of stewed ducks' tongues, pigs' ears, intestines, trotters and deep fried chicken cutlet. Almost straight out from Taipei's Shi Lin Market.


I have always found the Taiwanese oyster omelette a curiosity as the ones served in the hawker centres back home are comparatively drier and less starchy. Old Tree's oyster omelette (£6.80) had a thick starchy gravy with a hint of sweetness over the top. What set it apart from the one that I had at Shi Lin was layer of spinach that formed the base of this starchy omelette, which is an odd combination to say the least. The oysters' oceanic taste was also lost under the starchy gravy's weight. It's a bit like marmite - either you like it or hate it.

The stewed belly pork rice (£4.50) fared a tad better. Two slices of pork belly with diced pork fats and mushroom laid over a small serving of steamed rice. It sure tasted better than it looked and what did the trick was the spiced thin gravy (think star anise, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, soy sauce etc.), no doubt ladled from the same pot where the pork belly was stewed and softened over a period of time.

Two HongKongers sat down beside me took a look at what I had ordered and went for the same without even looking at the menu. The aroma from the stew was just irresistible.

No decent Taiwanese eatery can go without having bubble tea (the current craze in Chinatown right now) on its menu. Old Tree Daiwan Bee serves an assortment of bubble tea (£3.60) , as well as red bean, green bean and taro milk tea. While Old Tree isn't exactly for those who would like an introduction to Taiwanese cuisine (Leong's Legend Continues would be a safer bet). However, if you are looking for a quick reasonably priced Taiwanese snack, Old Tree is definitely a good place to start.

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