I’ve ummed and ahhed a lot about writing this post.
For the most part, me putting fingers to keyboard is just straightforward. I’m not saying I don’t get writers’ block sometimes and stare at a blank screen in a *slight (*massive) panic. It happens, and you either put it to one side for another day, or you get on with it and just write. It can be edited later, you always have the delete button, right?
But because this piece is an entry into a competition, it’s given everything an added level of stress. Nervousness. And well, the category has given me pause too. ‘Rising Star’ in the Golden Chopsticks Awards. I’ve been scribbling for nearly eight years and am pretty… Steady. Can I be a rising star exactly? Or just an Old Plodder, Staple Stalwart, or some other variation the thesaurus might give me? I’m not sure.
But eventually, however, I just have to do it. So let’s press the fuck it button and, do just that.
If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know I rather enjoy a visit to Tampopo. I’ve visited the site on Albert Square more times than I could mention (handily it’s around the corner from my gym). I’ve, sampled the delights of the Piccadilly venue (the wings, oh the wings), and as with this visit, headed to the Corn Exchange a fair few times too.
Their offering is Pan-Asian. Stuff we know well (Singapore style vermicelli, katsu curry and chicken satay), alongside stuff we don’t (jackfruit rendang, pad krapow, Balinese pork belly). There’s spicy, and not so spicy. Adventurous and familiar (because you order it in the take away on a Friday night). It’s the kind of place you can take your friends who like something authentic, as well as those who venture nothing more spicy than an omelette in the local curry house. And it’s not just for the meat eaters – their long relationship with Jackie Kearney means that there’s plenty on the menu to keep anyone eating plant based more than happy.
Seated with a glass of wine, we began with nibbles (it also cannot be said that you ever go home from Tampopo hungry). Crunchy Thai crackers and sweet chilli sauce, along with crisp edamame beans in sea salt and sesame chilli oil. There’s something slightly addictive about both. Blink and you’re quietly shovelling the last of the crackers into your mouth or you’re rummaging around in empty bean pods for any left.
Then came a selection of platters – the best way to enjoy a nibbly bit. My mum always said little pickers have bigger knickers, and well, she wasn’t wrong.
There’s a meaty version, a vegan version and an omnivorous version, meaning nobody has to miss out on treats like coconut prawns, mushroom lettuce wraps or sticky pork ribs (unless they want to). Alongside these, out came bowls of tempura, both prawn and vegetable and prawn, and a crunchy salad made with smacked cucumber, chilli, sesame and soy. All this before the mains and salads.
I refer you back to my comment about not leaving hungry.
When it comes to salads, the flavours really do come out to play. All can be served as they are, or you can add tofu, chicken and steak to turn them into a meal all on their own. The Japanese salad features Chinese leaf, mizuna, shredded cucumber and carrot with black radish and pickled ginger. I can just imagine it topped with cubes of tofu, drizzled in ginger and soy. And I am a sucker for pickled ginger.
The Vietnamese salad features Chinese leaf, carrot, red onion and mizuna, with a fresh mint, coriander and lime dressing. Hmmm. Maybe a little rump steak with this, cooked pink.
Whereas the Thai salad is cherry tomatoes, fine beans, mint, cucumber, red onion, mizuna, black radish – I’m thinking fat pink prawns – tossed in a chilli and lime dressing.
For our shared mains (I’m greedy, but not that greedy), we sampled the Thai red curry with duck – cooked sous vide so it’s soft and tender, and the King Pad Thai – think the classic noodle dish wrapped in an omelette, and some of their soups.
The laksa is a classic. Spicy coconut broth, distinctively yellow in colour, with a slight sourness that keeps your spoon diving in for more, served with noodles and tofu. And then comes a twist on a classic. We all know katsu curry – in this case it was a katsu udon soup. I adore katsu, and noodles are the ultimate comfort food for me, so I know what I’m having next time I’m feeling a little under the weather.
Finally, yes finally, to dessert. Though by this time we were all but undoing belt buckles and top buttons, there was still a the dessert yet to come.
The mango sorbet offered something sweet, and tart and fresh. Something light to melt it’s way into your tummy, in the in-between spaces. Whilst for those still with room, there was the roti – flaky pancake, with a little condensed milk and cinnamon, served with a soft cinnamon ice cream.
Overall? I’d happily do it all over again, with a bunch of friends, where we laugh, joke, dip across the table to sample all the dishes, and talk away the day. Pretty much like this visit was, though with a different purpose.
And in the end, that wasn’t so painful to write, was it? Now we leave it to the judges, and either way, I’ll keep plodding. As I do.
As previously mentioned, I was invited to dine at Tampopo by the Golden Chopsticks Awards. The GCAs is there to recognise the best in Asian cuisine across the UK. They have invited a number of bloggers to review their favourite restaurants to be in with a chance of winning the Rising Star award.
Wish me luck.