Tofu: white, bland and just as offensive as other four-letter words. Like chewing on a sponge marinated in bath water.
Or so I thought until recently, and it’s the Chinese I have to thank for that. I’ve had something of a tofu epiphany of late and having seen what they can do with it in the restaurants Hunan (spice it up and add minced pork) and at HK Diner (use as a mould for seafood) I can say that I am a convert.
Admittedly, both give the two fingered-salute to its vegetarian proponents but if you’re not that way inclined, I beg you, try…
The management at HK Diner will be bewildered – they say there isn’t the demand – but just ask and they’ll oblige. It’s almost French, honestly, a delicate shell of tofu filled with a flavourful mix of seafood.
While you’re at it you could do worse than ask them to recommend you a menu. On our recent visit, they filled us with delicious plump scallops (good value for £2.50 each), baked crab with garlic (again, fantastically fresh) and then a beautiful dish of lightly cooked mange tout and prawn cake, and baked rice with tender steak.
You need to go off menu (well, the English menu at least) to find these treasures and it’s well worth it. So often in Chinatown you see people wandering from window to window looking for the cheapest set menu they can find and end up with the usual suspects – sweet and sour pork, chicken and cashewnuts. But I reckon ban the set menus and make people try what the Chinese folk go there to eat.
HK Diner is a good place to start. The staff are friendly – they don’t actually look like they want to turf you out the minute that last bit of noodle is slurped off your chopstick – and there’s actually some banter going on between them which makes for a lively atmosphere.
There are a few criticisms: it’s deservedly popular and you can’t book so you may have to wait for a table – and if you’re seated near the door prepare to have fellow patrons drooling over your shoulder as they queue to get in.
Prices range from £5 for noodle dishes to £24 for fresh lobster. There are cheap set menus too, but if you pick one, you’ve not been paying attention, have you?
Oh, and do try the curious “bubble tea” while you’re there.