We may have a brand new kitchen, but the combination of busy times at work and bone idleness have led to us eating out even more than usual in the last few days. First up was a trip to the Royal China in Canary Wharf, totally on a whim one Friday night on the way home from the office. I've tried a fair few Chinese restaurants in London in recent years, and this is up there with the best, even if they do have slightly mercenary tendencies. Little gems in have included the most aggressive topping up of wine and water glasses on the planet (we once ran up about 12 quid on water as a result), a mysterious extra bottle of wine appearing on the bill and one or two other items of sharp practice (aka "creative billing"), so you need to be on your toes (I wasn't, to my cost, with the extra wine...). But the food is consistently good, and at 6.30 on a sunny Friday evening their outside tables overlooking the river are often too good resist. Being of an adventurous disposition, we went for a couple of items from the chef's specials, which can be found on the inside cover of the menu. This is normal ordering tactics - we're bound to end up there with more conservatives eaters in the near future, so there'll be plenty of opportunities to try the duck and black bean sauce, or whatever. It's not for the faint hearted, though, and on this occasion was only moderately successful... one excellent dish of dover sole pieces in lime and ginger was offset by a much more gloopy belly pork with winter melon (an idiotic choice for a summer's evening, I accept, but we were influenced by the known quality of one of their standard belly pork dishes (with preserved vegetables), which is outstanding). We got through it, more out of stubbornness than enjoyment (15 quid for a plate of pork stew has that effect), then coughed up their 13% service charge, didn't cough up for their offer to add service to service charge (how to piss off your customer rule 1), and headed home. This probably sounds like a pretty grim experience, but on average, the plusses outweigh the minuses (otherwise we wouldn't keep going back). One final word on Royal China is that, in my view, it does the best dim sum in London. They don't take bookings, so if you don't want to wait for an hour or more you usually need to turn up by noon, and if you can find a Chinese-speaking friend to make up a trio all the better. Having someone who can converse clearly with the staff yielded all sorts of delights among the things we'd never ordered as a result of limited, or confusing, menu descriptions, and it also means you don't find yourself trying to cut up the third hot soup dumpling with chopsticks to share between two of you. Well worth a go.
Where do you go in Canary Wharf if you want to grab a quick supper at 5.3o and then head back into the office for a couple of hours to catch up with all the things you can't do in normal hours because some bloke in Bangalore spends his whole day bombarding you with stupid questions? This was the dilemma faced by Nicola and I on Monday, and what a dilemma it is. Jubillee Place offers Nando's (average chicken in a pointlessly hot sauce), the overrated Tiffinbites and the ever-deteriorating Wagamama, and few other equally uninspiring offerings. The bars are generally too loud; the food too awful. Carluccio's is packed with people from the office. We'd done Itsu a few days earlier, and anyway wanted something more substantial. Chilles looked appalling, Burger King is worse, and so we ended up in Pizza Express. First time for about a year, and it's not getting any better. It's still functional and served the purpose on this occasion, but you still get the feeling that someone's counted the number of olives on the top your pizza, and they're at least an inch smaller than they were a few back. A few days later we had better home-delivered pizza with some friends in Bristol, which says it all really. One plus is that they were serving a really nice Sicilian lemonade, but I expect it'll be several months before I try it again.