Monthly Archives: March 2009

Dim sum at Shanghai, Kingsland Road, Dalston

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You’d be hard pressed to find too many Chinese restaurants housed inside former East End pie and mash shops. In fact, I think there’s only one. For this fact alone, Shanghai on Kingsland Road is worth a visit. And that’s before you get to the dumplings.

The long front room, its long marble bar, turquoise tiling and bevelled art deco mirrors, is now heritage listed. It was once owned by the Cooke family, who still operate a pie and mash shop in nearby Broadway Market, until they were made an offer they couldn’t refuse. These days, red-roasted ducks and pigeons and great chunks of pork have replaced vats of jellied eels in the window display, and you can order a whole suckling pig or let rip in the karaoke room.

Now, instead of meat pies, mash and bright green liquor, you sit at the polished wooden benches and order baskets of prawn dumplings, steamed barbecue pork buns and cheung fung (rolled up sheets of soft rice paper, stuffed with prawns or barbecued pork), as well as Chinese teas from their special tea menu (I know next to nothing about tea, but a Chinese friend told me the list was very good). And chilli salt squid.

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Service can be torturously slow, especially late in the day, and the cavernous restaurant out the back is a little dingy. I’ve only been there for dinner once and it was nothing special. But I don’t know of many other place serving dim sum in East London, so if you’re craving a dumpling or five, some egg tarts or fried turnip cake on a Sunday afternoon (and it’s Happy Hour(s) from 3-5pm, this is the place to go.

Shanghai, 41 Kingsland High Street, Dalston, E8 2JS, tel: 020 7254 2878

http://www.shanghaidalston.co.uk

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Time for a bit of Aussie sunshine

For homesick Aussies out there, or anyone just wanting a dose of sunshine as winter trudges its way out the door, don’t miss the annual Australian Film Festival at the Barbican. This year they’ve put on a programme with a few oldies such as My Brilliant Career and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, along with the new releases – now is the chance to preview films that won’t be on general release in the UK until much later. It’s also a good chance to stock up on Cherry Ripes and Burger Rings, and take in the charged atmosphere in the foyer as people bump into neighbours, exes and old flatmates, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. 

Tropfest is also on – a short film festival that is screened around Australia for free – and it’s free at the Barbican too, although you need to book quickly. I’m also looking forward to Rhian Skirving’s documentary Rock n Roll Nerd about her friend Tim Minchin, a comedian and musician who has performed widely in the UK; he’s back over here in September and October 2009. Essential viewing for any aspiring stand-ups out there. 

Book tickets and find out more at http://www.barbican.org.uk/australianfilm/whats-on

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Green-fingered Kingsland Road

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Does this qualify as a ‘site specific response’? (spoken in art critic tones). Spotted on the way back from Vietnamese noodles in ‘Little Hanoi’, also known as the southern end of Kingsland Road.

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Stories about Hackney

p10001901It’s World Book Day today, so a fine time to mention  A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo. Set in Hackney, it is about a love affair between a newly arrived Chinese woman and a depressive  Hackney sculptor. Hopefully you can see the cover from this little photo. 
It begins with the sentence Sorry of my English, and describes the first few days of landing in London – the baked beans at the B&B, the ‘blood red carpet with suspicions dirty spots’ and the narrator’s total lack of comprehension of English social mores: ‘I don’t believe we same age,’ she tells someone. ‘You look much older than me’.
As the story continues her language improves and the writing changes, becoming less stilted but never losing its poetry and attention to the telling detail in an image or phrase. It’s original and brilliant but also a really good story, one of those curl-up-in-bed-and-disappear-for-a-few hours novels.

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Spring things to do in East London

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The streets are alive with bird songs and the gentle hum of vacuum cleaners. Joggers are battling their way around the parks, hoping to shed that winter padding, and crocuses are starting to appear in the parks. Soon the constant, menacing hiss of central heating will fall silent, and windows will be flung open (windows apart from ours, that is, which are open even on the darkest days – not because I like to live an icebox, but because the other member of my household believes closed windows are extremely unhygienic).

So what are the best ways to celebrate spring in East London?

 Well, the festival season has started, with East from 5-10 March. Iain Sinclair will be talking about his book Hackney, that Rose Red Empire, at the Southbank, plus there are more than 300 arts, music, food and fashion events.

If you’ve got kids in tow, Hackney City Farm would make a good spring stop. Their Frizzante café does good breakfasts and snacks, the kids can go feral with no raised eyebrows and there is even an aggressive turkey to keep everyone on their toes. 

Columbia Road Flower Market has plenty of tulips at this time of year, and lots of strange little shops to look at – I quite like the cupcake shop myself. From there you can continue down to Brick Lane – stop off at the Beigel Bake for a salt beef bagel and on to Spitalfields, then wander towards Whitechapel to Tayyabs. The best tandoori lamb chops (or lamp shops as my German friend Caroline calls them) in London. Get there early to beat the queues. If the weather turns, there is always Dennis Severs’ spooky house to retreat to – although retreat is perhaps not the word. 

Walk along the Grand Union Canal from Victoria Park to Limehouse Basin, where you can have a pint and maybe something to eat at The Grapes, a tiny pub built in 1720 where Dickens used to drink. There’s a little deck out the back where you can sit right on the Thames, and a fish restaurant upstairs.  

The London Word Festival runs from 7-25 March – it’s an alternative writing and music showcase… I quite like the sound of the Ox Tales on 24 March (tbc), which will be held at the Slaughtered Lamb pub in Clerkenwell, not far from the famous Smithfield meat market. It will feature readings of meat-inspired prose and poetry, plus an ox tongue dissection to wrap things up. Not one for vegetarians, obviously.

 

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