399 Edgware Road, London, NW9 0FH www.bangbangoriental.com
Forget set menus and crispy duck, there’s something spicy being cooked up at North London’s new Asian food hall.
Though it can come across as condescending, obnoxious even, that wrinkled nose and dubious’ you sure?’ indicates you have ordered something normally only eaten by the Cantonese-speaking regulars and completely ignored by other diners.
It could have funny textures, odd flavours, or mind blowing heat, but it will be authentic, something new, and a darn sight more interesting than the Set Meal A of lemon chicken, chop suey and prawn crackers.
So it goes at Golden Dragon, the cacophonous restaurant at the heart of Bang Bang Oriental Food Hall, Royal China Group’s bid to turn the North West tip of the Edgware Road into Little Shanghai.
The dining room itself is huge, a plush-coated square box big enough to (and presumably intended to) host wedding parties several hundred people strong.
The floor to ceiling glass front may help entice passers by in, but for diners it affords only a stunning view of the neon lights of the KFC opposite, and the wait staff circle the tables in the centre of the room endlessly, in a dizzy waltz that leaves me alternately craning my neck to see if someone is approaching, and wishing we’d asked for a seat at the edge of the room, where at least we could eat in a little peace.
At dinner there’s two menus full of Cantonese and Peking dishes to choose from – standard a la carte and the Golden Dragon specials. At lunchtime there’s dim sum.
There’s too much choice, so we order some pan fried Peking dumplings whilst we puzzle over the options, since there’s little point sticking around anywhere that can’t get these right, and they make a promising start, dense with pork but light and juicy, fresh tasting even though they’re swaddled in in chewy fried and steamed dough.
The main menu is full of all the classics. Crispy aromatic duck is about as authentically Cantonese as Chicken Tikka Masala is traditionally Indian, but we see nearly every table ordering it, a shame as they have the real thing here – Peking duck, juicy and fatty, with a beautifully lacquered skin, served with all the familiar trimmings and ten times the flavour of the deep fried version. Our waitress checks twice if we’ve ordered the correct dish – Ã¢â‚¬Å“Peking duck? The real one? Not crispy?Ã¢â‚¬Â
The specials menu is where the true heart of the Golden Dragon is, full of the exotic, esoteric, and just downright confusingly named:’Cold Sweat Prawns’ anyone?
Sadly they were sold out so we can’t enlighten you further. We try Crispy Garlic & Chilli Tofu & Peppers Stuffed with Prawn Paste, which is crunchy and spicy and juicy and salty, all in all the polar opposite of what you think of with the word’tofu’.
Hot pots are something of a speciality, each table set with a central hotplate to keep the broth at the optimum lava-like temperature and there’s a childish sense of fun to be had from controlling the cooking of your own dish at the table.
The Spicy Chicken Pot is indeed spicy, searingly so, packed with not just regular chillies but huge scotch bonnets which increase in heat the longer they sit in the sauce so speedy eating is required.
But it’s not just fire, there’s so much flavour in there too, loads of onion and star anise, shoaxing wine and probably a hundred other things, it’s something you’d expect on the menu of a Szechuan place rather than the more mellow flavours of a Cantonese and it’s additively good.
The waitress is giggling hysterically at this point, and several other servers come over to ask if we need it less spicy, or to ask if we are’really’ enjoying it. Oh yes, we say, very definitely.
Our final dish – which is enough to serve six people as a main by itself – comes with chef’s personal recommendation. The House Special Spicy Crab. A huge brown crab sits swimming in a platter of sweet satay sauce full of ginger, garlic and chilli and what looks like a whole extra crab’s worth of white meat.
Sticky, fluffy steamed buns surround it for mopping up the sauce, and we are presented with nut crackers, claw picks and an endlessly stream of napkins as we roll up our sleeves and get very, very messy picking every bit of meat from the shells and slurping up the sauce.
It’s not a dish for a first date, or to share with business colleagues. It’s the kind of lick-your-fingers-and-get-stuck-in dish you can only share with loved ones, and it’s unlike anything you’d find on 95% of the Oriental restaurants anywhere else in the UK.
It may be located in one of the least attractive parts of North London, but for food like this, I’d recommend Golden Dragon over a trip to Chinatown any day.