Noodle King Restaurant in Nottingham, UK, is an alternative to the large buffet restaurants that seem to dominate the city centre.
On a Friday night at 7 pm in November, the restaurant was filled with Asian customers, with western patrons the visible exception. In the back room, one table was occupied by young adults with their parents, and the other tables seemed to be university-age students. I was close enough to appreciate Mandarin as the dominant dialect, and think that I recognized some southern (e.g. Cantonese) accents in the conversations.
The menu would be interesting to the Sinophile. My educated guess is that it reflects the evolution of the clientele (and chefs) over time. The front sections of the menu is rather standard to southern Chinese barbeque and noodle houses (e.g. rice dishes and big plate of rice). Continuing through the menu, there are Northern China and Sichuan dishes. In the UK, as in other western geographies, the Toisanese emigrants in the 1950s and 1960s would have been followed by Hong Kong emigrants in the 1970s and 1980s, and then mainland Chinese subsequently.
The waiter that seated me seemed to be fluent in English and Mandarin. The older waitress that served me seemed less comfortable in English, and responded to pointing at the menu. I requested the big plate beef brisket rice with green onions and ginger, and tried to ask for extra vegetables (i.e. choy). Normally, in a barbeque and noodle resto, the waitstaff understand that some customers want more green on their plates, and will add some choy on top at a small additional price. I wasn’t sure if the waitress understood this or not. She didn’t. When the big rice plate appeared, there were no vegetables included. This likely reflects the preferences of the local customers (i.e. Brits) who aren’t big on vegetables and prefer just meat and rice. I immediate asked her for an order of gai lan, to which she asked the appropriate question of sauce. I asked for oyster sauce. I started eating the rice and beef brisket, and the gai lan arrived a few minutes later, before I had even finished half of the plate.
On quality, having only dined on two dishes, I would rate the food as good. Since I live in one of the larger Chinese diasporic communities in the world, however, I’m accustomed to great quality all of the time! The beef might have had a richer sauce. The gai lon was perfectly cooked (i.e. green and still crunchy), but was drowned in oyster sauce. Looking at the food being served at the other tables, my observation is that there were more northern-style dishes being served than southern-style dishes.
The service in the restaurant was brisk. I wasn’t hurried, and other customers were happily enjoying their meals with active conversation. The decor was better than my usual Chinese barbeque and noodle dives.
When I’m back in Nottingham, will I come back to Noodle King? Probably. It’s been two weeks since I left home. Not having authentic choy and rice is unsettling, so I feel better today that I have in a few days. While I have some dissonance at the relative pricing for modest Chinese dishes — beef brisket and rice for 7GBP and gai lon with oyster sauce (that would easily serve three people) at 8.90GBP — that’s an expectations game in comparison to places that are geographically far from Nottingham. The total price is relatively reasonable relative to local restaurant prices, and would be even more reasonable if I had come with dining companions (i.e. I could have ordered the beef brisket casserole with patato (sic) for 8GBP).
On the walk back to the hotel, I peered into the windows of some of the buffet restaurants. On that Friday night, they were doing great business, and people would lined up outside for the meal. I could see, on the buffet table, a lot of deep fried dishes (e.g. sweet and sour pork balls), and the ratio of green vegetables seemed relatively low (e.g. I did see some green beans). To put my body chemistry back into alignment, I probably made the right choice to bypass the buffets and spend a little more for better ingredients and made-to-order cooking with Noodle King.