Dim Sum @ Aki Teri, Cambridge

One of my favourite Cambridge restaurants has just got better! I am a huge fan of Teri Aki and Aki Teri, and I do miss the days when I used to live about 2 minutes away. They’re not cheap but they are reasonable, and the noodles and sushi are consistently good.

Aki Teri is the most recent of the two, a mirror image of Teri Aki and, like most younger siblings, has struggled to find its identity for a while. They tried to do a slightly different menu and had a karaoke room for a while, but I think they ended up short-staffed and closed it down for a few months. It then did a stint as a cocktail bar but really, who want cocktails when you can have noodles and sushi next door?

Recently, it changed its menu considerably, and now does Chinese food instead. I’ve only had a brief look at the menu but I’m keen to return to try the hotpots. On weekends, between 12-4, you can get a dim sum buffet for £12. And it’s good.

We were advised against wasting when we sat down – apparently, they will charge you for any leftovers but presumably that’s only if you take the piss. In any case, it makes you think about what you grab from the buffet a bit more.

I loved the cold noodles with Szechuan sauce, salty and spicy although I couldn’t tell you what was in there. Had a few portions of them. I also had a silly number of gyozas, both in spicy soup (which was a bit bland on the flavour front, just spicy) and pot-sticker style ones. I particularly like the latter, with the contrast in textures between the crispy bottom and the soft, chewy top being quite addictive.

I braved it and tried chicken feet but wasn’t too keen. I found them a bit slimy but the taste wasn’t bad.

Sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves was good, although I was slightly disappointed that the filling was chicken and mushrooms rather than chinese sausage.

There were a lot of steamed pork and prawn dumplings, pork buns, and some rather lovely glazed sticky buns with some kind of chicken filling. Rice rolls were good but I would have preferred them pan-fried. And custard buns were a good way to end the meal. We were also offered a little pot of either black sesame or green tea ice cream. Good times. Basically, go.

Teri-Aki & Aki-Teri
6-8 Quayside 
Cambridge
CB5 8AB

Peking Restaurant, Cambridge

About a year ago, when I started reading loads of London food blogs, I made a list of restaurants I wanted to visit. Due to greediness, it’s been growing steadily. Due to laziness, lack of free time and lack of money, I haven’t crossed many of them off. Every now and then, I discover interesting Cambridge restaurants to add to that list. The Peking had been there for a while, and I finally forced myself to visit a few days ago, as I had a voucher for it that was expiring.

This is the kind of place you want to go with quite a few people as the menu is big and sharing is recommended. My friends managed to put up with me going on and on about how “We need to order the pot stickers. And loads of aubergine.” on the way. Not only that but, as we sat down, they asked me to choose all the dishes. I’ve got awesome friends.

The prawn fried dumplings were pretty good, crispy at the bottom and the filling was savoury and went well with the spring onion and ginger soy sauce that came with it. The dough was maybe a bit on the thick side, but it had been way too long since I had any decent dumplings; I was happy.

We then shared 5 main courses, including the much craved aubergines in hot bean sauce, double cooked pork (pictured below), tripe fried with chillies, squid with ginger and szechuan shredded beef. I thought the tripe was a bit flavourless and particularly loved the fatty pork and the very smoky szechuan beef.

All in all, great food and worth going if you live in Cambridge. But I couldn’t help but compare it to my experience with Chilli Cool, where we got more and possibly better food for almost half the price. Cambridge needs good, independent restaurants and I don’t mind paying a bit extra to avoid going to yet another chain, but if other places can do it for cheaper, why not the Peking?

High point: The beef, the pork and the aubergines were all excellent.

Low point: The bill, predictably.

The money: Without our £25 off voucher, £20 for a good (but not ridiculous) amount of food and a small beer each.

Go with: lots of people and share.

Chinese Pork with Aubergines and Crackling

It turns out I love Chinese food. And although there is a place and a time for the sickly, bright red, sweet and sour sauce at the all-you-can-eat buffet (say, Sunday lunch somewhere in Zone 7), it doesn’t come close to making your own sweet and sour at home.

This is not quite it I suppose. Maybe somewhere in between a sweet and sour and the fish fragrant aubergine I had at Chilli Cool a few weeks back. I’ve been wanted to make something similar since then. And just in case that wasn’t exciting enough, I thought I’d use the skin to make some crackling. I don’t like waste, you see.

Please don’t get angry at me for the generic name I’ve given this dish. I didn’t follow a specific recipe and didn’t want to call it something that it isn’t. If you have any better suggestions I’d love to hear them!

The crackling was amazing, properly puffed up and with soft bits every here and there. It was in fact so good that we ended up eating it all before I could take a picture of it. I’ll be making this again.

Chinese Pork with Aubergines and Crackling

For the sauce
a small pork joint
3 tbsp chinese rice vinegar
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp red wine

Chop the pork in inch thick cubes and add all the ingredients in a bowl. Let it marinate for half an hour (or longer if possible – you can do it overnight in the fridge). Reserving the marinade, fry the pieces of pork over high heat until browned. If they are releasing too much liquid you can add that to the marinade. You don’t want them to simmer. When browned and with crisped edges, take out of the pan and set aside.

2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped finely
3 garlic cloves, grated
3 dried birds-eye chillies, chopped
2 aubergines, sliced in fingers*
2 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
extra soy sauce or rice vinegar, to taste

* I threw in some courgettes and peppers because I had them in my fridge, but the aubergines were by far my favourite – no surprises there!

In the same pot used to brown the meat, add the oil and soften the onions. Add the garlic and chilli, fry for a couple of minutes and then add the aubergines (or any other vegetable you’re using). When they’ve browned a bit, add the meat pieces, the reserved marinade, the ketchup and sugar and enough water to cover everything. Let it simmer until the sauce thickens and the pork is tender. Taste and add more soy sauce or vinegar if you want it saltier/more sour. If the sauce is too thin you can use some cornflour to thicken it.

For the crackling

the skin of the pork, in one piece
vinegar (use some of the chinese rice vinegar from before)
salt

Score the skin and place it on a rack over the sink. Poor boiling water over it, pat dry and rub with the salt and vinegar. Roast in a preheated oven at 200 Celsius for about an hour. When it’s looking crispy, pop it under a hot grill to puff up. Make sure you keep an eye on it as it can go from puffy to burnt in seconds!

Serve the pork with some plain rice and a bit of crackling on the side.

Chilli Cool, Bloomsbury

Saying that Chilli Cool has been reviewed by many before is certainly an understatement. I was already well informed about what to order from this and this and this post. And I knew I would love it.

This is the kind of place you want to go with sharers. There are so many lovely dishes and you really don’t want to be stuck eating just one of them while staring at other people’s food!

The starters were cold, which was maybe a little surprising, but the Szechuan Chicken was very tender.

Even better was the Pork Belly in Garlic Sauce which was so thinly sliced and silky that it actually took me a while to figure out what I was eating. And somehow I mean this as a compliment!

The beans were brilliant, crunchy, charred, salty, with porky bits to add flavour. As an added bonus, you felt you were almost being healthy eating them.

I can’t actually find a picture of a dish I loved, the shredded pork. Maybe because I was too busy stuffing my face with it. But above is my real favourite, as expected, the Sea Spicy Aubergine. This was so awesome that I am still dreaming about it, a few weeks later. It was silky, sweet, spicy and resulted in a certain male companion sheepishly admitting it was his favourite dish. He seemed relieved when we told him there was pork in there too and tried to pretend he knew all along, but that’s high praise coming from him thinking it was a vegetarian dish!

High point: The aubergines.

Low point: Not many. When I ate a chilli?

The money: £12 with tea and tip, and we ate until we ached. Bargain.

Go with: Friends who like to share. Bonus points for liking tripe.

The Big Buddha, Cambridge

– You see, this man-lion strategy problem hasn’t got a fixed point.
– Huh?
– For example, let’s say we all want to go to the Big Buddha tonight. But you and Alex will only go if Raph and I come along. While Raph and I will only go if you and Alex don’t come.
– Well, that’s a bit harsh.
– Same with the lion and the man.
– Right.
– Do you want to go to the Big Buddha tonight?
– Yes please. 

The Big Buddha is a Thai restaurant on the first floor of a building which also accommodates the Ugly Duckling, serving Chinese food, on the ground floor. From the outside there was no other obvious entrance apart from the one leading into the Chinese restaurant. We walked into the (empty) ground floor and found out that the two actually operate together, and we could have either of the menus or mix and match. Uh-oh.

I suppose there is nothing really wrong with a restaurant serving both Chinese and Thai food, but it seemed like a marriage of convenience.

Although the initial plan was for Thai, I got a craving for dumplings and then decided to stick with Chinese for my main too. I shared a starter of them with Alex, who insisted in having them fried rather than steamed.

Fried is okay, but I just love the sticky, silky dough you get from a steamed dumpling. Turns out, they were steamed and then pan-fried. The perfect compromise. The porky filling and the accompanying sauce were lovely too.

The Szechuan pork I had for my main was crispy and meaty and spicy. It looked great and tasted lovely. I’m not a big fan of cashews but Phil polished them off for me and we all had a little (or big!) taste of the chillies. They were quite flavoursome and not as painful as our waiter had suggested when he begged me not to eat them!

I actually preferred the Double Cooked Pork that Alex had. The meat was soft, with a nice amount of fat on it and the sauce was sticky and spicy.

 

Finally, I sampled a Thai curry that Phil and Raf were sharing which had a great kick to it! I think I would have found it a bit too much actually if I was eating the whole thing but the little taster I had was perfect: strong flavours and creamy texture.

 
This meal actually left me looking forward to my Chinese and Thai months of cooking and really managed to save the first impressions that weren’t too positive. At £20 pounds for half a (large) starter, a main and a beer, it’s not exactly cheap but not too bad either.
7/10

Ping’s Seafood, New York

This draft has been sitting in my posts list for a while now, well, since I came back from New York at the beginning of December. I had completely forgotten about it until today, I read this post by Cheese and Biscuits and got a huge craving for dim sum. There is one restaurant in Cambridge that does dim sum, Charlie Chan, and if anyone has visited it and can recommend it, I would love to know! For now, here you go:

This is going to be an entirely positive post, so hopefully I won’t be offending any more people! Well, unless they are particularly interested in the well-being of crustaceans.

I don’t really think I can write a blog post about New York, since so many people have been there so much more often than me and hence my experience of three days will probably be obvious and naive. Summary: New York is BIG. America is pretty big in general, but no other place I’ve ever been to has so many big things together in such little space. I think I spent my first two days looking up and being amazed at how tall the buildings were. I certainly overused “wow”.

I didn’t really think New York was particularly cheap when it comes to food, but maybe that’s because I was comparing it to Cambridge rather than London. The only meal that I really felt was a bargain was this one, where we stuffed our faces in dim sum and then paid $12 each, tip included.

China town is an experience, with all the crazy shops and the alive or dead animal displays that you come across. Certainly not a vegetarian’s dream. This place was recommended to us by a friend, which filled me with some confidence but I was still terrified when we walked in and were attacked by a trolley of food with someone shouting “Pork!” “Prawn!” over us. Yep, that was my first time in a dim sum restaurant.

I can’t remember every single thing we ordered but some of them were so nice that got re-ordered, like the pan-fried pork dumplings (top left).

This deep fried prawn inside half a green chilli pepper was really tasty, if somewhat hot. Actually, too hot for me. After the first bite, I decided (while crying) that it is wiser to remove the chilli. It was still a little bit hot without it, which was nice.

I was a big fan of the sticky rice wrapped in the lotus leaves. It had a sweet sausage filling and it was delicious. Others declared it “too sticky”. I happily finished it off.

And when I ordered the coconut jelly for dessert, everyone looked terrified. I persuaded them to try it and, after some reluctancy, the whole thing was gone in seconds. Thinking about it, maybe I should have kept it for myself.

In conclusion, brilliant. It’s just crazy that you can get so much nice food for so little money. How do they do it? Actually, I probably don’t want to know. But I need to find a dim sum restaurant close to me.

8/10