Xiangbala Hot Pot – An Unmissable Foodie Experience

This is a restaurant review, one which you’d be foolish to ignore!

Having just moved back to Edinburgh from Glasgow recently we have been exploring the local area for coffee, shopping and eating options. We’re living in the West End of the city now and have been doing most of our shopping at Lidl on Dalry Road (which I have to say I’m pretty impressed with). The only problem with this arrangement is that after doing a shop – whilst hungry (an activity fraught with danger!) – we’re forced to walk home past the Xiangbala Hot Pot. After a number of these episodes I decided that enough was enough; we were going in.

The first thing you notice, after the amazing aroma which seems to transport Dalry road directly to tea-time Beijing, is the almost exclusively Chinese clientèle – students looking for the authentic taste of home perhaps? The bright orange façade is unassuming in its garishness and the interior, a mix of neon painted walls, abstract paintings and christmas decorations, is deliciously kitsch to boot. Don’t let this put you off though because This restaurant offers what is regarded to be one of the most authentic Chinese dining experiences around. The idea is: eat as much as you like for 2 hours for £15 per person and cook your own food.

If you’re looking for gloopy sweet’n’sour or greasy spring rolls this isn’t the joint for you. If, however, you want some tasty, fun and healthy Chinese grub then you’re on the right track. Xiangbala Hot Pot only does one dish but the possibilities are endless. We sit down (booking required on Fri and Sat evenings) and are given an extensive wipe clean menu and a highlighter:

Xiangbala Hot Pot Menu

Xiangbala Hot Pot Menu

From here, as you can see above, we chose starters, a few broth bases and a whole array of raw ingredients.

We started with cold braised soy sauce beef, tea leaf eggs (eggs boiled in salty tea; not much to write home about) and chilli chicken’s feet. The chicken’s feet are an acquired taste and I actually fairly enjoyed their gelatinous rubbery texture paired with the background heat of the chilli but they aren’t for everyone and I’d steer clear if you’re squeamish.

Starters

Starters

We went for a clear broth – plenty of garlic, ginger and spring onion as well as dried red Chinese dates – and a hot and spicy broth with chilli oil and a load of dried red chilli. These were brought to the table in a big split pan and placed on a hotplate in the middle of the table where it boiled and bubbled between us throughout the meal (topped up with stock by the friendly waiters as necessary):

Xiangbala Hot Pot

Xiangbala Hot Pot

This is where the fun begins!

The hotpot is like a big Chinese fondue and because it’s a boiling stock (as opposed to cheese, oil or chocolate) it’s actually very healthy! Our raw ingredients arrived on one massive platter and a number of smaller plates:

Raw ingredients platter

Raw ingredients platter

The majority of the platter was made up of various types of seafood including fresh crab claws and legs, razor clams, king prawns and fish balls:

Seafood

Seafood

Platter

Platter

There were also a number of vegetable offerings here including cauliflower, pak choi, Chinese leaf, dried fungus and wild mushrooms. We had also ordered pork and beef and these came wafer thin and also raw:

Meat

Meat

At this point we were taken over to the sauce table by our waiter. In my excitement at being allowed to mix my own sauce up using a range of ingredients (including: peanut paste, soy, sweet chilli, fresh coriander, spring onion, rice vinegar, chilli oil, sesame oil, oyster sauce, hoi sin and slightly worryingly MSG) I forgot to take a photo of the table. I did, however, manage to get a snap of my sauce before I mixed it:

Sauce

Sauce

As you can see, I went heavy on the peanuts, peanut paste and chilli oil to make a sort of satay style dipping sauce. I went back and made a few more over the course of the evening and they all had different qualities.

We spent the next hour or so experimenting with cooking times, dropping ingredients into the broth and forgetting they were there, getting it just right, getting it wrong, laughing and enjoying the experience.

Cooking

Cooking

The food is only as good as you are at cooking it and for some this is not the idea of a fun night out. If you’re a foodie (and let’s face it, you’re reading a food blog…) it almost certainly will be.

We finished up with some sweet dim sum dumplings. Steamed balls of dough filled with a sort of sweet date paste and shaped into a cute hedgehog. This came with a slice of refreshing watermelon.

Dim Sum

Dim Sum

Overall:

The food here is good and fresh and the fun of cooking it yourself would lend itself well to a group night out. Perhaps not a first date kind of a place…

The decor isn’t exactly chic but it adds to the fun atmosphere and many of my favourite restaurants (e.g. Kampong Ah Lee Malaysian Delight) have fairly suspect interiors. The deal – the one and only option – is good value if you’re hungry, essentially encompassing three courses for £15. The house wine’s not bad and there is the option to BYOB (however, with a rather hefty £5 corkage).

I highly recommend trying Xiangbala out at least once and I bet, like me, you’ll be hooked on hot pot!

Guest Post: Duck breast in a red wine and marmalade sauce, spicy puy lentils and potatoes dauphinoise.

Having been rather busy of late, getting myself sorted for the impending postgrad onslaught, I haven’t had time to put together a post (although I have a nice recipe waiting to be written up for you fine folk when I get a sec). I have however had a reader’s contribution from an old uni friend Felix.

Take it away Felix, this recipe looks great!

  • Guest post: Felix Slavin
Felix's Duck

Felix’s Duck

I was served this, as a main course, at the Newton Hotel in Nairn. I couldn’t believe the flavours that were coming out. I recommend everyone tries this dish. It’s amazing. The sauce and the red cabbage are two additions I made to the dish, but I think complement the other components very well.

  • Duck breast in a red wine and marmalade sauce, spicy puy lentils and potatoes dauphinoise

4 x Duck breast (trim excess fat)

For the spicy lentils:

–          1 red onion (finely diced)

–          1 – 2 red chillies (seeds removed, finely diced)

–          ginger (finely diced)

–          2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)

–          1 sweet red pepper (finely diced)

–          1 ½ tsp ground coriander

–          1 tsp ground cumin

–          1 tsp curry powder

–          soy sauce (for deglazing)

–          2 tbsp tomato ketchup

–          1 – 2 tbsp brown sauce

–          1 – 2 tbsp honey

–          400g puy lentils (brown lentils)

–          Large bunch of fresh coriander

For the potatoes dauphinoise:

–          Knob of butter for greasing

–          2lb 40z waxy potatoes such as Desiree

–          ¼ pint whole milk

–          ¼ pint double cream

–          1 garlic clove

–          2 sprigs thyme

–          Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

–          Handful of freshly grated parmesan

For the red cabbage:

–          1 red cabbage

–          1 onion (finely sliced)

–          1 bramley apple (grated)

–          4 tbsp red wine vinegar

–          2 tbsp muscavado sugar

–          ½ tsp ground allspice

–          ½ tsp grated nutmeg

–          2 tbsp orange marmalade (alternatively use red currant jelly)

For the jus:

–          250ml red wine

–          Pinch of salt

–          1 star anise

–          1 – 1 ½ tbsp marmalade

–          Splash of balsamic vinegar

–          Juices from the duck breast when resting

Method:

For the potatoes:

Heat oven to 160c. Line an 8 inch square brownie tin with greaseproof paper and then butter the paper. Peel and slice the potatoes to the width of a pound coin. Pat dry. Pour the milk and cream into a pan, add the garlic and thyme. Heat to boiling point, cool a little and strain into a jug. Sprinkle with nutmeg and keep warm. Layer half the potatoes in the tin overlapping the slices. Pour over half the liquid and finish layering the slices, then add the rest of the liquid and scatter over the cheese. Bake for 1 – 11/4 hours until the potatoes are tender and the top is golden. Leave to stand for 5 minutes before serving.

For the Red cabbage:

Melt 25g of butter in a large pan and add the onions. Cook for 5 mins. Then add the spices, cabbage, red wine vinegar, sugar, and 100ml of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hr. Season to taste and then add the marmalade or jelly for glazing.

For the Duck breast:

Preheat the oven to 180degrees. Trim any excess fat from the breasts and score the skin to help the cooking process. Once prepared place the duck breasts and the excess skin in a cold frying pan, set to a high heat and season the duck breasts with salt and pepper. No oil is required. Allow the skin to crisp up until golden brown for about 3 – 5 minutes. Turn the breasts over and then place into the oven for 8 – 12 minutes depending on how good your oven is. When cooked leave to rest for as long as possible (roughly 10 – 15 mins). Keep aside the duck fat from the pan for making roast potatoes on another occasion and keep the resting juices from the duck for the sauce. Slice the breasts into strips.

For the red wine and marmalade sauce:

Add 250ml red wine, the star anise and a pinch of salt to a sauce pan. Bring to the boil and allow for it to reduce. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar, the juices from the duck and then the marmalade. Reduce further and look for it to coat the back of the spoon.

Hi folks, Ruari again, I hope you all try out, and enjoy, Felix’s recipe. Let me/him know what you think and how it turns out by commenting below. I’d also like to get more guest recipes for future posts so if you have something you’d like to share then email it to me at ruari.sutherland@gmail.com with a good photo or two and I’ll stick it up some time.

Roman Steak and Rocket (Bistecca di Manzo con Rucola)

In a bid to reassert some order over this blog I have decided to make a small post today to get back into the Monday/Friday pattern. This might be a simple dish but it’s a cracker and one which you can throw together in minutes after work.

During our summer holiday we stopped over in Rome for a few nights. being of thrifty mind (and light of pocket) we were keen to find foodie delights which, whilst stretching our waistlines, didn’t stretch our budgets. Looking through the Rough Guide book we came across Da Augusto in Trastevere which was described as an “old-timer […] serving Roman basics outside on the cobbles”. Equally importantly, “a hearty meal” would only set us back around 14 Euros with wine. We made a bee-line for the restaurant and were not disappointed. Set on a small piazza the tables are jammed into rows together outside and every seat was full with expectant diners at least 45 minutes before dinner service began or the restaurant doors were even open! The queue was constant with more discerning and hungry punters than tables.

Whilst service was patchy (ours was great but a lovely young German couple beside us didn’t get their starters until we were half-way through our mains after ordering at the same time…), The food was brilliant. Roman basics they may have been, but each dish was well flavoured, seasoned and presented sticking to the Italian dictum of simplicity and quality.

The highlight of the meal for me was the bistecca di manzo con rucola, or beef steak and rocket. The steak, so tender and juicy, is beautifully offset by the crunchy peppery rocket (or as used in the recipe below giant cress). By luck, last week I picked up a few copies of The River Cafe cook books and a recipe for the dish jumped out at me. The simple flavours marry so well together that it really needs nothing else but if, like me, you’re the hungry type, you can stick some nice boiled new potatoes on the side.

Bistecca di Manzo con Rucola

Bistecca di Manzo con Rucola

It really couldn’t be simpler:

  • Bistecca di Manzo con Rucola (serves 2)
  1. Two nice sized steaks out (roughly 250g each)
  2. Two handfuls of rocket (or some good giant cress – not the micro watercress though)
  3. Five tsp extra virgin olive oil
  4. Juice of a whole lemon
  5. One tbsp of red wine vinegar

First, flatten your steak between two sheets of clingfilm with a mallet or rolling pin. I used some good quality frying steak here but you can use a couple of sirloins if you’re feeling flush. Get them as thin as possible and then slice into thin strips.

In a jar mix the oil, lemon juice and vinegar and set aside.

Heat a griddle or heavy-based frying pan until smoking and then fry the steak in batches until browned.

dress the rocket or cress and place the steak on top.

Simple!

I hope you get a chance to make this dish and that you enjoy it as much as I did. There’s real pleasure in the concise ingredients list and the few minutes taken to knock it up belie its classy flavours. This is fast food Jim, but not as we know it.

It would be a travesty if I wrote a whole post on a Roman theme without saying: ‘when in Rome’ (eat bistecca di manzo con rucola)!

Until next time…