The Peking

April 5, 2016

I enjoyed a recent to the Peking on Charles Street in Leicester. Chinese restaurants today can sometimes seem a little intimidating to those who grew up on simplified Cantonese food introduced by the Hong Kong diaspora, but the Peking is a friendly place with menus that can keep everyone happy.

Here’s my review for the Leicester Mercury:

The Peking has been in Charles Street for as long as I can remember. One of those big Chinese restaurants that evolved to serve a mainly English clientele who had only the vaguest notion of what Chinese food was about, but knew they liked the novel flavours.

It was ruled over by a matriarchal figure known to all as Maureen, a big character who ran a lively restaurant that was often full of big boisterous groups.

Times change, and the presence of a significant Chinese student community has changed the scene significantly, but the Peking carries on. Last year Maureen retired and the place was bought by an old friend of the restaurant Adi. Wisely, while there’s been refurbishment, not much has changed and the experienced chefs and other key personnel remain.

When we rocked up as two middle-aged white men, we were given the main à la carte menu which is still familiar to those who’ve eaten there over the last thirty years or so. We realised later there was a more challenging menu with duck’s tongues and deep fried pig’s intestines. We weren’t too bothered – there’s no shortage of places to try the wilder shores of this cuisine and anyway we were keen to see whether Peking retained its old school appeal.

First off there was a very warm welcome, from Adi himself and his staff team, including a marvellous old gent with a winning smile who I can only assume loves the work so much he can’t bear to retire. He greeted everyone in the restaurant like a long lost friend and looked after us splendidly.

We were seated next to a huge fish tank – we could probably have had a swim in it ourselves – as we checked out the main menu. There’s a small dim sum selection on there as appetisers and we picked pork and prawn dumplings and Peking spare ribs. Both were marvellous. The ribs were meaty, soft and moist, crucially having good degree of fat left on them. I’d had some pretty dreary, dry old ribs a week back in a Highcross chain (oh all right it was Wagamama), but these had me licking my lips and wiping up the sweet and spicy sauce. The dumplings too were well-made, well-balanced, well-spiced.

Main courses followed including pork with XO sauce and sizzling Mongolian lamb. Both dishes were also winners in our book. The pork again was tender, the saucing restrained but tasty, the chilli definitely there but not overwhelming and the vegetables – onions, celery, mangetout – were crunchy and fresh.

The Mongolian nature of the lamb is really about the barbecue-style cooking. Coming on a hot platter there’s a nice bit theatre of table as the sauce is poured on for a big sizzle, shortly followed by a splash of wine. There’s gratifying steam and sound as the cooking and caramelisation process finishes and it really works. The lamb pieces were tinged with black and the crunchy, sticky bits down at the bottom of the platter were, as often is the case, completely delicious. The spicing and saucing is actually more South-East Asian, with lemongrass, coconut and Malayasian curry spices – great flavours all.

The yeung chow fried rice – another familiar dish with prawns, char sui pork and spring onions – and some simple fried noodles completed things well.

I’m sure there are people who think some of these kind of dishes somehow inauthentic, but that would miss the point. This was food cooked with care and precision and the flavours were great. Why should we care if it’s not the same as remembered by someone who once had chicken feet on a business trip to Guandong?

It was quite a nostalgic experience but you can’t help but think that there will continue to be a place for the Peking when it produces food like this. All part of a healthy food scene.

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