Outside might be the seaside, but it’s the US in here. Battle a hangover or curb your carb craving Friday to Sunday with the Great American Breakfast: eggs, square sausage, bacon, fries, beans, a waffle and maple syrup. “Lighter” options include pancakes with cream and blueberries or maple syrup and bacon. Plus unlimited joe refills, naturally.
“Real pho in Scotland!” as one diner applauded. Enough said, but the fresh summer rolls and tom lon salad should not be ignored on a lunchtime visit. Bahn mi baguettes are also good if you’re on the clock (barbecue pork is a winner). There’s even the elusive chao rice porridge. The pho is fragrant and comforting, and the bun Hue wouldn’t taste out of place in the city it’s named for.
Murger HanHan, Mayfair, London
Picture a Chinese burger and the mind conjures hoisin sauce-drenched patties crammed into steamed buns, garnished with nappa cabbage. Not so, says Murger HanHan. As with so many other staples (gunpowder, paper, brandy…), the Chinese lay claim to inventing the sandwich, citing slow-cooked meat between discs of flat bread dating back to the Qin Dynasty in 221BC. Having rubbished the achievements of Fletcher Davis and John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich, Murger HanHan goes on to boast the most authentic Chinese street food in London. With dishes from Xi’an City in Shaanxi Province, home of the famed Terracotta Warriors, the menu is certainly a far cry from the Cantonese and Szechuan staples of nearby China Town.
I once met the immortal bodyguard of Qin Shi Huang, in situ, and was awed by the serried ranks of individually crafted, life-sized soldiers, staring back across two millennia. Then I went to a roadside eatery and celebrated history with sesame noodles, hand stretched in a manner those buried soldiers would have recognised.
On my first bite in the heart of Piccadilly, I was transported back to those dusty days in Xi’an.
Murger HanHan has nailed it. The 2,000-year-old burger might pull in the punters (if they can find space amid benches bursting with homesick Chinese diners), but it’s the soups, noodles and, yes, uncongealed tofu, that take the taste buds to Shaanxi. The menu is simple, humble even, but each dish can be pimped with different types of meat, noodles and degrees of chilli. Steamed rice noodles with pickled cucumbers and sesame sauce were redolent of those roadside kettles, the uneven strands testament to handmade methods. Claypot with beef meatballs was intriguingly spiced and moreish, layered fat glass noodles resting above sea vegetables and that traditional finishing touch, a quail’s egg. Tofu is depressingly easy to ruin, but when it comes silky smooth and soothing, dappled with pickles, soybeans and chilli oil, you’ll hear no complaints from me.
With no bar licence as yet, we explored the softer options – green tea, Ice Peak soda, shipped from Xi’an, and cloudy, fermented rice wine, which I last had decanted from a petrol can into a teapot by a Wudang master in a mountain village. And it doesn’t come more authentic than that.