Little Lamb, 72 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 6NA
Meal for two with beers: £50
Falling in love as drunken student layabouts meant that Mr Fork and I never went on any proper dates. It wasn't until we moved in together and embarked upon the grown up task of making time for each other that we actually started dating; and, despite having been married for more than a year now, it's something we still love to do. I can only assume we are making up for lost time, as if a million good dates will permanently enhance our relationship, leaving behind its cider and balti-fuelled origins.
Typically, now that we are married, we have established certain routines. Date night invariably begins with cocktails and ends with whisky. However, between the boozings, there is always food; and for date night, we usually opt for something fun. When I stumbled across Little Lamb, a Chinese hotpot restaurant that had met with approval from two food bloggers whose judgement I respect, it seemed like the perfect place for our four hundred and sixteenth date. Having enjoyed the obligatory cocktail in a fabulously hip French bar, we made our way down into the basement to spend an evening waging chopstick wars over the choicest morsels left floating in the stock.
Our previous experience of hotpot (other than Lancashire) had left me slightly disappointed, being confined to those places where there is no choice. I was, therefore, quite excited by the prospect of being able to choose two types of stock and ten things to plunge into them; although this is always a point of contention with Mr F, who hates having to make decisions about what we eat. Fortunately for him, I chose for us: lots of meat; some prawns and crab; a few token vegetables; and, against his wishes, a portion of fishballs. Despite me reassuring him that Fuzhou fishballs actually contain meat, a fact that would normally placate him; Mr F resigned himself to his fate as my culinary guinea pig for the evening.
He need not have worried. For whilst all our (ahem - my) choices turned out to be good ones, the absolute stars of the evening were the fishballs. A solid but almost spongy fishy exterior absorbed some of the fragrant stock, whilst protecting a juicy pork core. It was a revelation in Asian minced fish-products, which are something I have never really learned to love. Thin slices of pork and beef, quickly poached and then eaten fast enough to risk hot stock-related wounding, were also marvellous. Even the token vegetables were great, particularly the winter melon and wood ear mushrooms which provided the perfect contrast of textures to our boiled meat feast. Having spent a happy couple of hours playing with our food, we dumped fat belts of noodles into the broth and let them take on the flavour of the things we had already eaten. If there was a low point, it was only my inability to eat crab with anything remotely resembling the delicacy of our fellow diners: my crustacean skills belong in the sort of restaurant that routinely offers bibs to its clients along with a set of dissection tools, one of which is a hammer.
The evening was a roaring success and Little Lamb will probably receive a repeat visit, a rare accolade for a date night venue. Perhaps some might think Little Lamb a little too adventurous for a real date, where the end of the evening is not a foregone conclusion down a well-worn and whisky-sodden path. However, I would disagree - that it stands out amongst four hundred and fifteen rivals is the perfect reason to choose it for a first.