Sunday, 24 February 2013

China Town Noodle Bar

China Town Noodle Bar
2 Bath Passage
B5 4SZ

Meal for two with beers: £20

This cheap as chips cafe has been a favourite haunt for Birmingham's many students for more than a decade. Ten years ago, I was one of them. But it's more than just a cut-price feeding station for those rich in time but poor in money. With a voluminous menu spanning several regions of China, as well as a handful of other Asian cuisines (not recommended), there's a reason it also attracts well-heeled shoppers and Chinese customers of all ages. And with most dishes coming in well shy of a tenner, it has long been one of my favourite places for lunch. Yet somehow life has come between me and my first neighbourhood-restaurant-love. Last weekend, after an absence of nearly five years, I returned to rekindle my affair with their Big Plate Rice.

It's all gone a bit posh, I thought as we were waved into an empty table. In the good old days you ordered from a fearsome woman at the counter, and woe betide you if you dragged your heels or turned straight to the sweet and sour pork. The counter has gone in favour of table service, but the woman is still there. Our hearts swelled when she recognised us after all this time. We ordered old favourites: duck with ginger and spring onion, pork belly in spicy sauce. They came on mounds of rice that in the past would satisfy us through a week of beans on toast. The duck was juicy and golden amidst its subtle, oniony sauce; the pork still slightly fatty, and full of earth and fire. I will not wait another five years to go again. And if you're sensible, neither will you.

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