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Poon’s Makes A Comeback, Clerkenwell

March 20, 2018

Restaurants & Bars | by Baldwin Ho

The doyenne of Chinese culinary excellence has made a welcome return to the London restaurant scene in the form of a trendy pop-up in centrally located Clerkenwell.

Poon’s throughout the decades since 1973 have been widely regarded as one of the top Chinese restaurants in London; at the height of their success, the empire stretched to 5 restaurants with a Michelin star awarded to their Covent Garden branch and branches in the city and Geneva. The restaurant group was sold off in the early 2000’s by owner Bill Poon. Fast forward to 2018, daughter Amy Poon has decided to bring the glory of Poon’s back to the city. hence the opening of the pop-up in Clerkenwell with a view for opening a permanent site later this year.

The first thing you might notice is this so-called ‘pop-up’ looks far too decorated to seem like a temporary fixture with iconic, historic prints of bygone eras and a beautiful emerald green colour scheme. As Amy jokingly said to me “We built an actual restaurant by mistake”.

The dishes have been picked with care and attention bringing back some classic, signature recipes which are virtual heirlooms for Amy. The thousand-year-old “Pi Dan” egg is quite the marmite dish with the rich yolk often cited as the Roquefort of Chinese foods. I very much enjoyed the intense taste, although my guest wasn’t a fan of the rubbery outer layer. Being a vegetarian, he actually preferred one of the simpler dishes: crushed radishes with chilli oil.

The hot appetisers were all about their traditional dumplings. Pan-fried diced vegetable guo tie had a pleasing gentle bitterness from the Chinese chives that helped to cut out the greasiness of the fried exterior. The real winner, however, was the wontons tossed in red chilli oil; the wrapping was delicately thin and the chilli gave the dish a vibrant kick.

The order in which you consume your dishes is quite important here. The tofu hotpot was a feast of vegetarian highlights including Chinese mushrooms, sweetcorn and plenty of glass noodles which soaked up the sauce. My guest ordered an accompanying portion of vegetarian dan dan noodles which had even more potent flavours, hence eating the tofu dish subsequently would make that dish seem blander. The sesame paste, five spice powder, and Sichuan peppercorn powder made the noodles addictively tasty and the fact they don’t use peanut sauce was particularly handy for my nut-allergic guest.

I saved the real highlight of the evening for last as it does take 30 minutes to cook: claypot rice with Poon’s signature salumi and wind-dried bacon. The unlikely part you need to fight for with your guest is the slightly charred, invitingly crispy rice at the bottom of the pot, which had an unmistakable clay pot aroma. The wind-dried meat was savoury and not overly tough as I’ve often encountered at other restaurants.

There’s been many an occasion in the last few years, I’ve wished musical icons of bygone eras not to make a comeback, but this is one return I am welcoming back with open arms and hopefully, they will be opening a permanent site soon.

For more information on Poon’s, see here.

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