Shabu Shabu, Cambridge

Shabu Shabu is one of the many recent incarnations of the mirror image of Teri Aki, situated by the river just off Magdalene bridge in Cambridge. Teri Aki is one of my favourite restaurants in Cambridge – it helps that I lived about 200 metres from it for 3 years so I’m rather emotionally attached to it. Their stir-fried udon have cured many a hangover, and their dumpling soup is perfect for a cold wintery day. There’s not much they do wrong, and that’s why the restaurant is always packed. Shabu Shabu though (or Aki Teri as it used to be called) is a complete mystery to me. Having been an almost identical copy of Teri Aki initially, with a slight Korean twist, it moved on to being a cocktail bar, then started serving hot pots and dim sum and is now mostly Thai. We thought we’d be adventurous and give it a try.

We were hangover and starving so we ordered a few starters to share and a main each. The starters were slightly hit-and-miss. The pork skewers with some satay-style sauce were juicy and with a good bit of char on the outside. The sauce was great too. Deep fried chicken wings were also nice; good crispy skin, reasonably tasty sauce.

The squid rings though were mediocre at best, looking like what you’d expect to find in the freezer section of a supermarket. And then there were these deep fried strips of beef which were dry and strangely tasteless – though the latter could have been the effect of the rather spicy sauce that accompanied them.

My pad thai was OK – the noodles had a nice bit of bite on them and the prawns were large and mostly juicy. But the sauce was too sweet and it soon became a bit sickly. No lime to cut through the richness either.

A beef massaman was probably the best of the mains, rich and warming. I only had a small taste but I suspect that if I had to eat the whole thing I might have struggled with the richness. The third main was a completely uninspiring chicken and vegetable stir fry. I reckon they could do with some stir frying lessons from their older and more experienced sibling next door.

All in all, meh. I’ll wait for the inevitable next version of the restaurant before I return.

Thai Chicken Soup

I think winter finally caught up with me a few weeks ago. After months of cycling to and back from work at minus temperatures, my body decided it had enough of the cold. As it was a really bad time to get ill, I did the only obvious thing: I boiled some chicken.

Now, I’m happy to admit that I love plain chicken broth, with some rice thrown in and a good squeeze of lemon. It’s what I always ate as a kid when I was ill and it is the first thing I turn to when I start feeling a bit fragile. But apparently*, it’s rubbish. Boring. Greasy. Tasteless.

And therefore, I’ve discovered this spicier, more sophisticated and grown-up version of it. It tastes good and it might even be better for you because of all the green things in it.

Thai Chicken Soup

Ingredients (serves 4)

500gr chicken (if using legs/thighs, remove the skin)
2 litres hot water

2 aubergines, cut in chunks
2 red chillies, chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small piece of ginger, minced (about 1cm squared)
1-2 tsp thai green paste

juice and zest of one large lime
2 tbsp thai fish sauce
400ml coconut milk
a large handful of kale

300gr rice noodles
chopped fresh coriander (to serve)
lime wedges (to serve)

First, quickly brown the chicken pieces in a pan and then add the hot water and let it cook for about 1-2 hours to make the stock. Alternatively, you can use leftover chicken meat and ready-made stock. But where’s the fun in that.

In some olive/vegetable oil, brown the aubergines and add the chopped chillies, garlic, ginger and thai paste. Fry for a couple of minutes over medium heat. Shred the chicken and add it to the pan together with the stock, the juice and zest of lime and the fish sauce and cook for 20 minutes, or until the aubergines are tender.

Add the coconut milk, simmer for 5-10 minutes and then add the kale and simmer until cooked. Check for seasoning and add more fish sauce if necessary.

Prepare the rice noodles according to the instructions. To serve, put some noodles in a deep bowl, ladle in some of the broth making sure everyone gets a nice amount of chicken and vegetables (I fight for those aubergine pieces!) and top it with chopped coriander. Serve with lime wedges.

*”apparently” = “according to the boyfriend”.