Birmingham Chinatown Roast Meat Battle II

An update of the previously seminal (not so now) BCRMB on my Foodist Blog. A new point on the Brumfoodmap, Malaysian delight, who aside from tasty roast meats do some decent Malaysian food too.

Here are the results:

New Sum Ye 新意美食

Duck 3.5 (out of 5) Pork 4 Char siu 3 Other 4.5
Total 15 (out of 20)
£10.20 (£8.20, £1 duck leg supplement, £1 tea) ouch!

China Town Noodle Bar 中華美食

Duck 3 Pork 2 Char siu 3 Other 2
Total 10
£9 (£7.50, 50p dls, £1 tea)

Ken Ho 双喜

Duck 4.5 Pork 4.5 Char siu 4 Other 3.5
Total 16.5
£10.30 (£9.50, 80p tea)

Ken ho - glistening
Ken Ho – glistening

Peach Garden 桃園

Duck 4 Pork 4 Char siu 4.5 Other 4
Total 16.5
£8.10 (£7.20, 90p dls)

Meat sweats
Peach Garden – hot under the collar


Malaysian Delight 馬來風味
8 Ladywell Walk, Birmingham, West Midlands B5 4ST
Tel: 0121 622 3909

The name of the restaurant might lead you to think it’s not a Cantonese roast meat place at all. But with Chinese chefs this cafe has always served up some decent roasts alongside Malaysian classics like Assam laksa and nasi lemak. If further proof is required then the hanging roast meat display is the most prominent in the whole of Chinatown, facing the main road for all to see. Not usually as much meat on display as Peach Garden or New Sum Ye so you need to get there early for the best cuts. The plate I had was fine indeed. The roast duck is flavourful and juicy with the meat slipping off the bone easily. I’d have liked more as only a drumstick was presented. The roast belly pork was a little tough and the crackling although thin could have been crispier, good flavour meat and well seasoned. Char siu was a great cut of meat, a good ratio of collar collagen for a nice bouncy texture. The flavour was a little sweet for my liking but there was a good char flavour too. Rice was slightly too cold and firm served with a measly amount of pak choi. Typically for a Malaysian cafe the chilli oil had plenty of shrimp flavour and had good heat. Overall portion size was a little on the small side.

Duck 4.5 Pork 3.5 Char siu 4 Other 3
Total 15
£9 (£7.50, £1 dls, 50p tea)

Delightful duck
Delightful duck


Joint winners! Peach Garden and Ken Ho have the best roast meats in Chinatown. As a single plate of food Ken Ho probably edges it but pricewise Peach Garden is unbeatable. For £7.20 you have a triple roast and a cup of tea and know that you absolutely cannot eat a better meal for the money in Brum.

Manchester Seafood

When Chinese people eat seafood we don’t mess around. There’s no pan-fried fillet of John Dory with seaweed butter foam perched on a bed of samphire. Forget. That. Give me two lobsters from that tank over there, chop them up whilst they’re still twitching, flash fry them in a screaming hot wok with a mountain of crispy garlic. Whilst you’re at it, steam us a whole turbot, braise an eel, poach prawns, prepare half a dozen crabs and let’s have it all in 15 minutes. Ok? No problem.

The inauspiciously named Manchester Seafood Retail and Restaurant is just that, a seafood shop with a restaurant at the back. I say inauspicious only in the sense that us Brummies are a little

wary of our bolshy Northern counterparts. What have they got that we don’t, apart from two world-class football teams and our national broadcaster? They’re about as land-locked as us so to come down here with your live seafood tanks and Chinese seafood chefs who know what they’re doing, well that’s just marvellous! And whisper it, it is marvellous. For the first time in this country I felt a little like I was in one of the seafood towns of Hong Kong. The seafood is tinged mostly Cantonese with splashes of colour from Sichuan in their meat dishes, but they’re less successful. Stick to the fish the clue is in the title.

It’s best to come mob handed to Chinese restaurants like this. These are big dishes that are meant to be shared family style eaten with rice. Many times I’ve read reviews by old hacks that read like this: “I ordered the salt and pepper squid as a starter for myself and the steamed sea bass for main.” Don’t do this please. Go with like minded food lovers, order 1.5 to 2 dishes per diner, depending on how greedy. Order rice and get stuck in together. Eat Chinese if you want appreciate real Chinese food.

Manchester Seafood
Wrottesley St, Birmingham B5 4RT

18th Feb 2015 An update! We ordered this eel dish last night and we’re blown away by it. The best dish of the year so far. A fresh eel cut and skinned in such a way that it curled into the bowl like a chrysanthemum flower. Each piece still attached to the last by a merest strip of  succulent flesh. This amazing piece of cooking skill also proves that a whole eel is served to you and the kitchen isn’t cheating. It’s been known that unscrupulous chefs will take a chunk out of the middle! The taste and texture of the dish is the best I’ve had anywhere, so clean and fresh. The eels in Asia can be very muddy tasting, there was none of that here. Cantonese cooking at it’s very best.

Ken Ho

叉燒酥 – Char Siu Sou

People who really know good food know that to yum cha or eat dim sum at a good Cantonese restaurant is a sure thing. It’s the equivalent of putting Stevie Wonder on the playlist at a house party (Superstition not My Cheri Amour), people will start grooving. Ring around, anyone up for dim sum? Yes! People are moving. There’s no better breakfast/brunch/lunch to be had anywhere in the world.

Ken Ho 双喜 (“soeng hei” lit. “double happiness”) is next door to The Hippodrome theatre and is currently my favourite place to yum cha in Birmingham. The selection of dim sum is smaller than the Chung Yings but what they do is all excellent. All killer and no filler, like the Har Gau 蝦餃. Bursting with juicy prawn. Roast meats are excellent, on par with the specialist roast meat shops in Chinatown. The flowing sand buns 流沙包 are a recent thing in global dim sum. They have a salty sweet runny duck egg custard centre and have to be eaten with care. So much better than the boring old custard buns 奶黄包 we had growing up. Pork chitterlings are prepared in such a way to make it look and eat like crispy suckling pig crackling. But best of all, is the off menu item pictured above. I’m loathed to tell you about it but I’m assuming anyone actually reads these blogs and acts on them. Then also assuming there’s enough of you to eat them all before I get there when the place opens at midday. BBQ pork puffs, char siu sou, are as good as Yauatcha’s famed venison puffs. I would go for these alone.

The only gripe is the tea charge, a minor gripe, and maybe the chicken feet in black bean sauce 豉汁鳳爪 could be better too. But I’m the only one who really appreciates that dish anyway.

Ken Ho
41-43 Hurst Street, Birmingham B5 4BJ
Tel: 0121 622 1323

Chilli Bean Paste – Taste Test

Reorganising my jar and bottle cupboard in the kitchen, you know the one with all the different vinegars (3 types of balsamic, white/red/rice wine, cider, strawberry), I found that I’d accumulated 5 different brands of chilli bean pastes. I don’t really know how this has come about but it’s a handy opportunity to do a taste test on them!


Chilli bean paste is a Chinese store cupboard essential. A mixture of chilli and bean (broad bean or soy bean) that’s been fermented together to give a deep complex umami flavour. It’s used in stir-fries, braises, hot-pots or anytime you want that addictive chilli hit. Particularly in Sichuan cookery where the chilli bean paste produced in Pixian county, Chengdu is considered the best. I’m not a Sichuanese expert so can’t comment on authenticity but I’m comparing them to chilli bean pastes from other parts of China so each of them is assessed on taste alone.

1. Lee Kum Kee – Chilli Bean Sauce 李錦記辣豆瓣醬
Salted chilli pepper, water, fermented soy bean paste, fermented broad bean paste, white sugar, garlic, modified cornstarch, chilli pepper powder, soy bean oil, acid


This is the one most people who cook Chinese food at home will have. LKK are a Hong Kong brand so is the most established in Chinese supermarkets here in the UK and in Western shops. Unusually it’s the hottest of the lot with a sweet garlicky flavour that doesn’t linger long. It doesn’t really have that fermented lactic flavour so it’s not really suitable for Sichuan dishes. The pale colour gives the game away a bit. I can’t imagine big vats of this having been fermented in the open for years at a time. A bit one dimensional, however it is good in stir fried prawns.

2. Juan City Brand 鹃城牌红油豆瓣
Chilli, broad bean, salt, wheat flour, vegetable oil, spices, food additives (potassium sorbate)


This plastic jar has a handy carry handle but unhandily if you don’t read any Chinese then it might be difficult to spot that it’s a Pixian style chilli bean paste. Ok there’s a clue in the company name in small print Sichuan Pixiandouban Co Ltd otherwise the jar I have has no other indication in English, not even ingredients. Which I’m sure is pretty illegal in this country. The importers need to sort this out. However I’m glad they’ve smuggled it in because the taste of this red oil 红油 version is fantastic. Rich red colour, well balanced flavour, mild to medium chilli, not too salty, perfect for twice cooked pork, the oily richness is lip-smacking.

3. Chuan Lao Hui – Hong Yau Dou Ban 川老滙郫县红油豆瓣
Chilli, broad bean, salt, wheat flour, sugar, pickled ginger, pickled garlic, vegetable oil, flavour enhancer


Comes in the same plastic jar with carry handle as the Juan City Brand. I wonder who is copying who? At least this jar has some English stuck on it from the importers Day In. This is also a red oil version of Pixian style chilli bean paste with extras. It has the same deep lip-smacking flavour but, probably due to the pickled ginger and garlic, is really too salty to use in the same quantities as the Juan City Brand. But the less you use the less umami impact you get in your food. I struggled cooking with this until I started using it as a base for hot-pot flavouring lots of chicken stock.

4. Fu Chi – Chilli Bean Sauce 富記辣豆瓣醬
Chilli, soy bean, barley flake, salt, sugar, sesame oil, acidity regulator


Taiwanese brand, the only one not to have any broad beans in but not lacking in deep rich flavour. The mildest of the lot, least salty, sweet round flavour so great to use in larger quantities. My favourite for fish-fragrant aubergines.

5. Sichuan Dan Dan Seasoning Co Ltd – Pi-Xian Fermented Broadbean 丹丹郫县豆瓣
Chilli, broad bean, salt, wheat flour


The purest Pixian chilli bean paste here and it comes in the most darling wicker basket! First saw this on Fuchsia Dunlop’s blog but could never find it anywhere so when I spotted it recently on I snapped it up. There are two plastic sachets of the chunky paste in the basket that you have to decant elsewhere. This is not a red oil version like the other two Pixian pastes, it’s quite dry, slightly saltier than Juan City Brand. Even used sparingly it gives a great hit of flavour. I definitely wouldn’t waste this in a hot-pot! Great in braises.


BBQ Village 串串香

What do you think of when you think of Chinese food? Sweet and sour chicken, beef in oyster sauce, fried rice, sesame prawn toast or maybe dim sum? You won’t find any of that in BBQ Village, or actually you will if they give you the English menu. But why would you go to this Sichuan-Beijing hybrid Chinese restaurant and order the usual westernised derivative Cantonese dishes. I’ve been a little reticent to put this on the Brumfoodmap because of the recent bad news about it’s hygiene rating. But in a way it makes the restaurant authentic because by the standards of food safety in China, if it doesn’t kill you then it’s considered safe over there… and I haven’t died yet. So in the interests of finding the tastiest food in Brum, BBQ Village is up there with the best.

If you’re not familiar with this kind of Chinese food then you may be surprised by the flavour of some of the dishes. The name of the restaurant in Chinese 串串香 means tasty or fragrant skewers (see how the simplified character for skewer 串 looks like skewer of meat, it’s a simple language really!) Order these to whet your appetite and prepare your tastebuds for the full on assault of spicy flavours about to follow. Skewered morsels of lamb, beef and chicken are encrusted with chilli and cumin, for the more adventurous try the chicken hearts and gizzards or the tripe skewers. Don’t miss out on the bread skewers either, toast but not the usual prawn toast. Move on to a cold starter of mouth-watering Chicken 口水雞, the unmistakable tingle of Sichuan pepper dances on your tongue balancing the moreish hot, sweet and vinegary dressing. If you like that then try the fearsome Beef in Chilli Oil 水煮牛肉, my favourite dish, a cauldron of sliced beef that you should pick out of the chilli oil-slick. Do not spoon the oil over your rice! Dry fried chicken with chillies 辣子雞丁 ups the ante on the Sichuan Pepper vs Chilli stakes. By now the Sichuan pepper should have sufficiently numbed your tongue so that you are immune to the chilli heat, perfect then to appreciate the wonderful textures of the classic Mapo Tofu 麻婆豆腐. The silken cubes of bean-curd slipping down your now distended gullet. To balance your meal, the dry fried green beans 四季豆 and garlicky aubergines 燒茄子 are wonderful accompaniments and actually great standalone main dishes in their own right. If you like your food spicier then ask for it so because they will adjust it down to what they perceive as Western tastes.

BBQ Village do not only do prepared dishes but also hotpot where you cook your own food at your table. In fact you’ll see a lot of the Chinese clientele hovering over steaming pots of stock poaching raw strips of meat. I’ve never ordered it myself because I believe hotpot is better done at home and besides I can’t get past all those amazing skewers and Sichuan dishes.

BBQ Village
Tel: 0121 643 5723
55 Station St, Birmingham B5 4DY

Chung Ying and Wing Wah


A Cantonese foodie can only live for so long without blogging about Dim Sum. Since my last post about Chung Ying Garden I’ve done some extensive research on your behalf.

Wing Wah next to the Chinese hypermarket Wing Yip in Nechells has probably the best Cheung Fun 腸粉 in the whole city and generally the standard of the Dim Sum there is very good indeed. However I don’t know if I’ve been unlucky because everytime I’ve been I’ve had the noisiest migraine inducing experience. It’s just too popular with the buffet crowd who descend en masse at most lunchtimes. All-you-can-eat-Chinese-food seems to pull in some big noisy families which makes the vibe somewhere between that of a theme park and feeding time at the zoo. A shame for those eating from the Dim Sum menu and looking for a more relaxed meal. But try it out yourself, there’s plenty of free parking at least!

No I think I’ve found the best overall Dim Sum experience a lot closer to Chung Ying Garden, at the original Chung Ying. The ex-chef of my old favourite the Golden Pond has moved there and it shows. Every dish I’ve tried has been excellent. Har Gau 蝦餃 (pictured) is the litmus test for me. Like good nigiri sushi it looks simple but it’s in these apparently simple things that you can really judge the skill and discipline of the kitchen. These I can’t fault. Though I still think the steamed chicken feet in black bean sauce 豉汁鳳爪 not as good as they were at GP! Never completely happy am I?

Chung Ying
16 – 18 Wrottesley Street, Birmingham B5 4RT
Tel: 0121 622 5669

Wing Wah
278 Thimble Mill Ln, Nechells, Birmingham B7 5HD
Tel: 0121 327 7879

I had high hopes that China Court would surprise me after so many years. But recently eating over 50 items there in one sitting with 12 other Chinese diners, I realised those hopes were completely unfounded. None of us thought it was any good. There was one dish I actually thought was decent, but the rest was poor to middling. The taro puffs 芋頭角 were actively offensive, appearing to have been reheated several times over a considerable length of time. One to avoid!

Shanghai Blues (ex Golden Pond) is decidedly average and for some reason don’t do crispy fried squid 魷魚鬚 which is a must amongst my circle of friends. Though some of the Sichuan options can make it a little more diverse, the basic quality of the Dim Sum isn’t really up to level of the Chung Yings.

Cantonese Lobster Noodle 龍蝦麵


Lobster Noodle is one of the classic Cantonese celebration dishes and there’s much to celebrate this week in smokeandumamiland! The deep red colour of lobster is considered lucky and they also symbolise wealth. Though the latter maybe because a decent Cantonese restaurant will charge you about £40. That’s why I like cooking it at home. I can buy a 1.5lb lobster from the market for about £12 and feel slightly wealthier through some pseudo-thriftiness. The choice of noodles is up to you; crispy or soft, short or long, narrow or wide. They are usually egg noodles though, I don’t think I’ve ever come across rice noodles used in this dish. At home it’s easier to cook soft noodles, long Yee Mein are good and symbolise longevity (I told you this was a classic celebration dish!). But I find that a lot of Chinese egg noodles are dyed yellow and aren’t all that great to eat. Instead I like to use Italian egg pasta, the De Cecco brand Taglierini all’uovo is particularly suited to this dish.

Ingredients – Serves 2

Lobster – 1.5lb
Taglierini – 250g
Shang Tang – 500ml*
Ginger – 7 thin slices
Garlic – 4 cloves halved lengthwise
Spring Onion – 5 medium stalks cut into 5cm batons, keep the green and white parts separate
Shaosing Wine – 50ml
Soy Sauce
Cornflour (cornstarch)
Oil for deep frying
Oyster Sauce (optional)

*Shang Tang is superior stock used in fine Cantonese dishes. I make a cheat’s version with pressure-cooked chicken wings, pork and Iberico ham bones. Chinese chicken stock will do.

Dispatching and chopping your Lobster the Cantonese way.
Insert a long thin chopstick or blunt skewer up it’s anal vent all the way up through the body. When the skewer is removed the lobster will release some unwanted by-product that Cantonese cooks believe causes off-flavours. Rinse your lobster under a cold running tap after you’ve done this and place on a sturdy chopping board. Locate the weak point at the top of the shell near the front and chop the head off across the body at a slight angle following the natural seam of the shell (see photo). Cantonese cooks do it this way as we like to present the head whole*. Remove the claws, separate the knuckles and crack the shells slightly. Now you can split the lobster in half lengthwise. Discard the instestinal tract but reserve any tomally or roe in a separate bowl. Chop each half of tail into three chunks. You are now left with two body halves with the legs attached. In total you will have 15 pieces of lobster; 1 head, 2 body, 6 tail, 2 claw & 4 knuckle.

*this is how you know a proper Cantonese cook has prepared this dish. Most cooks will have just split the whole lobster in half.

That’s the difficult part done, the rest is simple:
1. Sprinkle the cut sides of lobster with a little cornflour then deep fry in hot oil till the shell has just turned red. Do this in batches, the claws will take longer. Drain and set aside.
2. Clean out your wok, add a little fresh oil and gently fry the garlic, ginger and onion whites to release the flavour. Add the lobster, crank the heat up, sizzle the wine around the side of the wok then add the stock and the reserved lobster innards. Stir-fry everything together for a couple of minutes and season to taste with soy sauce. Add the green onion near the end of cooking. If you’ve used a light stock you may wish to add a little oyster sauce. There should be plenty of sauce, thicken it with some slaked cornflour.
3. During step 2 you can cook your noodles, drain and plate them up ready for the lobster.
4. Pick out the lobster pieces and arrange them on top of the noodles. Pour over the sauce so that everything is coated.
5. Eat and celebrate.

Hainan Chicken Rice 海南雞飯


The response was immediate: “Chicken Rice!”, when I asked her indoors what she wanted to eat for Valentine’s Day. Simple poached chicken and chicken flavoured rice. Yet as every good cook knows it’s the care in preparing these simple dishes that really sets them apart from other cooks.

So what sets my Chicken Rice apart? Well, only using the best chicken I can find is a good start and years of refinement also helps. If you make chicken rice with a hormone-fed-2-for-£5-special from T*sco then you’re going to get an insipidly bad result. When poaching a chicken it’s important to start with a good one because you’re not adding any roasting Maillard flavours or marinating it with herbs or spices. I’m a fan of the French Label Rouge chicken, they taste fantastic and have a firm toothsome texture. The French know how to breed chicken for flavour above all else. I would love to make Chicken Rice with a Poulet de Bresse one day – the ultimate French chicken. The other thing about the Label Rouge chicken is that they have a big plug of fat in the cavity. Trust the French to know that this is an essential ingredient, it’s a shame I’ve never found this is any chicken processed in the UK. You see, if you’ve ever tried cooking Chicken Rice at home and was disappointed with the rice, the reason is your stock was weak. It’s only one lightly poached chicken after all, unlike in a specialist shop where they are poaching dozens of chicken and producing deeply flavoured stocks. So it’s the chicken fat that helps the home cook to really bring back the flavour of chicken to the rice. The chicken itself should be moist, the meat just cooked through, the thigh bones still rosy pink. In Hong Kong, they poach their chickens so that the leg bones are still bloody inside. So when they chop the legs you can see the bloody bone-marrow spraying over the pearly white flesh.

Here’s my recipe for Chicken Rice, which a Malaysian friend once proclaimed “Luxury Chicken Rice” because of the way I’ve pimped it!

Serves 3-4

For the Chicken
1 Chicken – medium sized about 1.5kg
Ginger – peeled thumb sized lightly bashed
Spring Onion – 3 stalks

In a pan that is just larger than the chicken, boil enough water to submerge it. Add the ginger, spring onion and salt. Taste the water for saltiness as this will eventually be used to cook the rice. Lower the chicken gently into the boiling water, dipping it several times breast side down so the skin tightens and won’t split during cooking. Lay the chicken breast side up in the pan and bring the water back up to a simmer. Simmer gently for 10 mins covered, turn the heat off and let it finish cooking in the residual heat of the stockpot for another 50 mins. To stop the cooking plunge the bird into iced water for 10 mins, hang the bird upside down for at least an hour, preferably more, at room temperature for the flavour to fully develop.

For the rice
40g Chicken Fat
150g Shallot, finely sliced
1 Garlic Clove Large, finely minced
450g Jasmine Rice, rinsed
4 Dried Scallops (conpoy) soaked till soft
2 Pandan Leaves, shredded and tied into a knot
1/2 Sheet Kombu

Whilst the bird is hanging, render the chicken fat and slowly fry the shallots for 15 mins till they are brown, add the garlic and cook briefly before adding the washed rice. Toast the rice in the aromatics before adding the chicken stock and the water used to soak the scallops. Shred the scallops into the rice, add the pandan and kombu and cook the rice in your usual way (I transfer the whole lot to a rice cooker).

Once the rice is cooked serve the chicken neatly chopped up in the Chinese way and devour with the non-optional ginger-scallion oil and the optional sweet chilli sauce as accompaniments.

Ginger-Scallion Oil
70g Ginger, finely grated
35g Spring Onion (Scallions), equal amount of white and green parts finely chopped
15g Coriander, mostly stalks finely minced
1 tsp Salt
75ml Groundnut or Vegetable Oil
Soy Sauce

Combine the ginger, spring onion, coriander and salt in a heat proof bowl. Heat the oil in a small pan till it is smoking. Make little wells with a chopstick in your ginger mixture and pour the smoking oil all over it. It will sizzle, lots, the little wells will ensure the hot oil reaches all the nooks. The mixture should be a runny oily paste consistency. If it isn’t sizzle some more oil into it. Finish with a merest dash of soy sauce to round the flavour off.

Sweet Chilli Sauce
8 Large Red Chillis – medium hot
3 Cloves garlic
30g Sugar
Fish Sauce
Squeeze of Lime

Blitz the chillis and garlic with enough water to make a loose mixture. Pour it into a small pan, add the sugar and simmer gently for 20 mins. Add more water if getting too thick, add more sugar to taste. Take off the heat and add fish sauce and lime to taste. Let it cool, this tastes better the next day.

Birmingham Chinatown Roast Meat Battle!

Soul Food is the cooking of the poor American South, the food of slaves, with its roots in Africa and its branches now covering many US regional cuisines. Collard greens, cornbread, gumbo, jambalaya you get the picture. Now when I say Cantonese roast meat is Soul Food I don’t mean it in that respect. What I mean is the other definition; simple food that represents the very heart of your food culture. Food that above all others you keep turning back to because it’s food that you know will satisfy your soul.  三 燒 飯 Triple Roast Rice – a plate of sweet slightly charred char-siu, crispy tender pork belly, a succulent roasted duck leg sitting atop perfectly steamed Jasmine rice. A few greens, a drizzle of sweet gravy, some spiky chilli oil to dip your meat into and a cup of tea – that is the food of my soul. Huh, get down!

Most Cantonese people would never roast their own meat as a) they don’t have ovens and b) it will never be as good as they can buy it. Now I do have an oven and I’ve practised enough that actually yes my roast meat is as nice as they make in Chinatown. But I can only roast one duck at a time so if I want a Triple Roast Rice then I do what every Cantonese person does and visit the specialist roast meat shop to get my fix. For years, I’ve been going to Peach Garden in the little alley behind China Court restaurant. They know me, I know them, their duck is always good, their pork can be temperamental. The place itself is a little cramped and grubby but authentic in that Hong Kong back street way. But I thought it was time to test my loyalty, I was going to be in Chinatown for three lunches in a row. I will ask for a Triple Roast Rice at The Village Café, Peach Garden and New Sum Ye and see who wins my mini Birmingham Chinatown Roast Meat Battle!

The Village Café, 6 Ladywell walk

First up is The Village Café on the main road next to Malaysian Delight.  Years ago these two units used to be one shop, the only roast meat joint in the whole city, run by the rudest, angriest old Chinese lady you would ever likely to meet. So there’s an attachment to this location, a link to a time before the Arcadian centre opposite was built, when Chinatown consisted of just the Chung Ying restaurant and here. In all three cafés I asked for the triple roast rice with a duck leg and was I pleasantly surprised that they didn’t charge extra for the leg here. You see if you don’t specifically ask for a leg or a breast then you may get a very bony portion of duck. As the legs are the most popular cut, most places will charge extra if you ask for it.  In all three places the duck leg is very good, succulent, tender, slipping off the bone easily. The fat fully rendered, the skin thin and melting. The Char Siu (bbq roast pork) is also good here, the balance of sweet and savoury just right with a proper charred glaze covering the moist meat and unusually a little of the glaze was smeared on the meat after chopping. Siu Yuk (crispy belly pork) was sadly very tired and tough, the crackling not at all crispy. The rice I found to be a little claggy and the Chinese leaf hiding under the meat was but a token gesture.  Not enough of the sweet gravy had been poured over the meat..

Char Siu – 4 (out of 5), Siu Yuk – 2.5, Duck – 4.5, Other – 3,

Overall 14 (out of 20)    Cost £6.50 (free tea)

Peach Garden, Unit 3 Wrottesley Street

In the grubby little alley behind the China Court building there is a hairdresser and three cafés. It would be the dankest smelliest alley in the whole city if it wasn’t for the perfume of roasting duck and pork that lingers in the air. Peach Garden hang their wares in the window, like in Amsterdam you can see the flesh before you buy it, glistening carcasses of roasted duck and sides of belly pork dripping their juicy goodness onto trays of offal. It is somewhat of an institution as it’s the only place I know where you can order a whole roasted suckling pig for celebrations. In that respect it’s held dear by the Chinese community in Birmingham. I sit near the front and order my usual triple roast and ask for a duck leg which is an extra £1. They chop up the meat neatly and efficiently, lay it on the rice with a generous amount of Chinese leaf. Then shock, horror, they microwave the whole plate. I wonder why they have done this at lunch when the meat should have been freshly roasted, have they always done this? The duck leg survives this treatment the best, it’s still juicy but the crackling on the belly pork is not crispy at all now. I’ve always found the char siu to be poor here and this portion lived up to expectation. Scrappy pieces of over-dyed meat with not much flavour. Nice sauce and the rice was good. They’ve had another bad pork day though.

Char Siu – 2, Siu Yuk – 2.5, Duck – 4, Other – 4,

Overall 12.5    Cost £7.30 (free tea)

New Sum Ye, B105 Arcadian Centre

The New Sum Ye has had another refurbishment, the signage juts out now in parabolic tribute. The interior has been jiggled, there’s a lot more room and the counter position makes more sense. Like Peach Garden, the burnished duck breasts press against the glass luring you inside. I don’t come here often, maybe once every couple of years, I’ve been pretty faithful to Peach Garden. But everytime I walk past I’ve been tempted, the meat looks delectable. It always looks busy which is a good thing as holding meat at these temperatures dries them out. I order the holy trinity, again the duck leg adds £1 to the price of the dish. This is the most generous portion of the three, each meat has been chopped with great skill and care. They’ve been laid at a jaunty angle across the biggest mound of perfectly cooked rice. Draped across the meat are two small heads of pak choy and everything is well dressed with the sweet savoury gravy. The char siu is wonderfully tender with a great sweetly charred exterior, it’s meaty too, they’ve roasted larger strips of pork neck. The duck leg is in top condition and slips down easily. But above all else it’s the Siu Yuk that is the revelation. It’s perfect, the crackling is so thin and crispy, the meat solid but moist. The chilli oil here is different from the other two places. It has a deeper flavour from the dried shrimp. I wolf this dish down.

Char Siu – 4, Siu Yuk – 5, Duck – 4.5, Other – 4.5,

Overall 18    Cost  £7.30 (tea is £1)


So it’s pretty obvious which one wins my BCRMB – New Sum Ye. I’ve been back half a dozen times, the excellent quality is consistent, the place is clean and spacious. The Peach Garden could tempt me back with their special Pi-Pa roast duck if I’m in the mood but after thinking for so many years that it was the best, I have now seen the light – New Sum Ye has saved my soul.

New Sum Ye on Urbanspoon

Peach Garden on Urbanspoon