Food is much more accessible and democratic over on the right side of the Pacific. There is so much diversity, that at times, I find it ironic that the gourmet awakening (of sorts) is taking place in London, where food blogs are as plentiful as fishes, as opposed to the rest of Asia. That might just be an indication of how advanced the broadband networks are in London however or perhaps we crave the good life because we feel the dearth. Oh how I miss Asia.
There are food courts in the shopping centres, and then there are the stand alone market spaces erected specifically for a plethora of hawkers to sell in the same space. Whatever the permutations might be, the general rule of thumb across stalls would invariably be dirt cheap pricing (I’d imagine to stay competitive with their neighbours), often one plate meals, and one would buy food, drink and dessert from separate stalls. It is like a curating form of eating, and it’s an experience which I miss sorely.
Food courts were a way of life for me, memorable since we would visit every Sunday morning. Everybody whose anybody would bump into everybody, people had their preferred stalls, and it was always a precarious game to arrive early to jostle for tables. My family loved a particular char kuey tiaw hawker, others were into lao su fen soup (silver needle noodles[1. Read about Silver Needle Noodles]. A plate of Kuala Belait’s finest char kuey tiaw would set you back no more than $1.50 (about 75p), anymore would be daylight robbery. What else do you do after morning mass right?
Setting foot on to large warehouse space on the 2nd floor of Pacific Plaza brought back pleasant childhood memories. It’s not as cramped as most Asian food courts (being brand spanking new), features alot less food stalls (whose number should increase with time) and it lacks the history and buzz of a living breathing food machine. It’s still in infancy afterall, but its a good start. Seemingly rising from the ashes of the now defunct, but much loved, Oriental City[2. Oriental City], I suppose many view this complex as its spiritual successor. Some of Oriental City’s original tenants have even set up new operations at PP.
It opened it’s doors toward the tail end of 2009, since then, I’ve returned on a few separate occasions to try the different cuisines on offer, the missus in particular loves PP, a place to grab a quick bite. Half the hall remains unoccupied (as of July 2010) however, and I’m a little disappointed that it has stayed relatively obscure throughout its short tenure. PP deserves more human traffic. There are merely eight stalls open for business, most with obvious names indicating their representative cuisines : Spicy Thai (for Thai), NP Star Snack Bar (Malaysian), China House (Chinese), Hot Korean (Korean), Shan (Japanese), Nambu (Japanese); Seleramu (Malaysian) and Darjeeling Momo (Tibetan). Also, there is a pretty capable Japanese bakery on the ground floor, Tetote Factory, which sells rather good ‘Asian influenced Western’ bread and cakes. Prices amongst the stalls are competitive, averaging £7 for a one plate meal, less for smaller dishes. I’ve compiled this report from three visits.
The menu is overly long, and is visually laid out across the entire front of the shop. It also appears to be the largest of the stalls in PP, taking up what looks like four individuals units. They offer a mix of Cantonese and Sichuan dishes, and dim sum.
‘Special’ Shuimai Dumpling.
It’s nothing more than a prawn and pork shuimai really, fleshy, the bursting flavour of prawns, I didn’t expect it to rival some of the city favs but this was pretty good.
Minced pork on rice with egg (?)
This was from one of my earlier visits (which was way back in May) and I can’t seem to remember what it was called. And I didn’t take notes. I do however have this impression that it was a little like a steamed sausage mince…
One from the Sichuan section, nutty, spicy, oily and interestingly enough, the chicken (Bai Zhan) was surprisingly good, managing to be juicy, silky with that lively taste of spring chicken. No Uncle Lims[3. Uncle Lim’s Chicken Rice…best in London?] however, but not bad.
Soya Chicken rice.
And it’s the same story with the chicken rice, the chicken was soft (soft being a major criteria at least for me), not bad but not quite the best around. I won’t pontificate about the merits of what is a pretty standard one plate meal.
Spicy Cod with egg fried rice.
The portions were huge! For £6.80 it was a steal, the batter was fried to a bubbly crunch, softened by a runny spicy sauce. Peppery, but also a tad too much salt however, my mouth was beginning to dry out a little, and I wonder if the chef had been a little liberal with the MSG. I appreciated that the rice was only shallow-fried, it maintained the creamy starchiness of steamed rice, as opposed to individual rice grains. Though, if you were a purist, it shouldn’t be bland and sticky, it should be fried overnight rice, grainy, oily, rah, rah, rah.
Kimchi pancake with seafood.
Tremendously generous servings, at £3.50, yet another steal. Dough-ey, and a little bitterness perhaps from the kimchi. It had a home-made feel about it which I enjoyed.
The better half really rates this stall, she was a regular at its former output in Finchley Road.
Jungle Curry with Duck
And I am inclined to agree. Bamboo shoots, aubergines with a citrus punch and a mildly peppery kick helped to make the flossy duck an appetising treat.
Tom Yam Soup.
A tomato based soup, bamboo shoots mushrooms, spring onions, red peppers and coconut milk. Sweet, sour and mildly spicy.
Tom Ka Gai
Or a spicy chicken soup, distinctive due to it’s creamy white appearance. It smelled great too, wonderful aromas of coriander and coconut milk; appetising stuff.
The quality of food across the stalls is good enough, but that’s besides the point when the bottomline is so slim. At the moment, Pacific Plaza is still a barren platform and a far cry from what Oriental City once was, but I’m hoping that with time, perhaps someday PP will become a destination for families and friends to go for cheap and diverse Asian food. I suppose, that has to start with the local communities around Wembley, to embrace it before the rest of London does, and hopefully establish a constant flow of people to encourage even more independent operations to occupy the empty stalls, and thus create more options for the prospective diner. I think it can only happen if people are looking for the next Oriental City, and I suspect many of you share my affection regarding lively food courts. I do hope it does not continue to remain relatively empty, and that popularity picks up as word of mouth spreads.
Wembley is more accessible than Colindale I imagine, and if you happened to be in the area (England play Hungary on 11th August, and the Charity Shield is a few days before), I recommend hopping across the road to PP to fill up your tanks either before or after the game, it won’t break your wallet, and is ultimately better than the rip-me-off grub served inside the stadium.
The Gist of It
From around the Pacific, £12pp
Engineers Way HA9 0EG
Tel: +44 (0) 207 409 7747
Tube: Wembley Park
All text and photography on this blogpost is copyright and belongs to Kang Leong, LondonEater.com. If you repost this without my permission, bad things will happen. So please don’t do it.