Above: Chef Cherry of FedbyTang supperclub. A long lost sister?
I confess, I felt a touch sceptical when Chef Cherry of FedbyTang supperclub first told me that she wanted to serve Cantonese cuisine at her supperclub. Wasn't London's Chinese restaurant scene already awash with Cantonese-style cooking? Why would someone trek south to East Dulwich to eat more of the same?
Still, my approach to these doubts is to just recognise that we're all so new to this foodie entrepreneur game. And so my response tends to be, "Let's just try it. See what works, tweak what doesn't."
What stuck with me a lot more in that same conversation with Cherry was the bit about our friends and families. About a creeping sense of loneliness as one more and then one more of our loved ones moved back to Asia. About how that loneliness was kept at bay each time we made a new friend in this big city, usually met through foodie Twitterverse, as she and I did. The seeming hyper-friendly banter on Twitter is a touch shrill sometimes. So I was disarmed, utterly charmed, really, when Cherry reached out with her vulnerability.
"You've said what I've been thinking for a while," I confessed back, "But I've had less courage to admit it."
Mawkish girly talk, I hear you thinking. What does any of that have to do with the FOOD?!
And so I soon found myself at FedbyTang's sneak preview dinner. I wonder now if she really needed to do one, really. Cherry's charm evidently reaches far -- her first two suppers sold out even before she managed to actually host her first one!
To begin, we had a summery pork rib and papaya soup. My eyebrows jumped when Cherry first told me about this dish. Growing up in Singapore, papaya was always a breakfast fruit for me, eaten on its own, or if in Thailand, with a squeeze of lime (divine, try it). But never in a soup! As it turns out, the sweetness of the papaya enhanced the sweetness of the pork bone in the broth, and the result was quite delightful.
Assortment of nibbles: (From top left, clockwise) char siu (roast pork) in shortcrust pastry, oozy slowcooked egg seasoned with dashi, and masterfully deboned and stuffed chicken wings. Exquisite. I really wasn't expecting these at a homecooked dinner. Dimsum strikes me as incredibly faffy to make. These homemade efforts wouldn't be out of place in a professional dimsum parlour. Hell, Ping Pong chefs could stand to spend a few weeks interning with Cherry, frankly. Anyone else agree?!
When asked for feedback about the nibbles, I said "I could eat a bucket of those stuffed chicken wings. Which is not at all a comment about your portion sizing."
Luscious and generously sized prawns, sitr fried with a slightly sweetened soya sauce gravy. Very similar to how my Mum makes them at home when we have special guests over for dinner! (Even my visiting sister in law Sarah recogised the flavour profile of the dish). By the way, it's rude -- or at least, a real pity -- if you don't suck the savoury sea-salt-sweetness from the prawn heads. As noisily as you can.
The name of this dish -- kou shui ji -- which translates as "saliva chicken" never fails to amuse me. The dish is named as such not because of what the poached chicken is seasoned with, but rather the salivation that its Chinese wine and Sichuan peppercorns dressing will stimulate in your mouth. Cherry's version was much milder than what I'd usually find in a Sichuan restaurant. But then again, this was closer to the more subtle Cantonese style. Still, I wonder if I could persuade her to turn up the heat over time...
Another dish that reminded me of home. Cherry's triple cooked pork belly with mui choi (preserved sweet and salty mustard greens). Her Cantonese version is a drier dish compared to my swimming-in-gravy Hakka version. The neatly lined up pork belly slabs also make for a more professional presentation, though it does mean that the gravy doesn't get to work its way as far into the meat. Either way, the dish tends to be a sure win with English guests, as was proved again at our table this evening.
Pan fried seabass with Chinese chives. Frying fish is a delicate art, and these were done perfectly. My main reaction to this dish was that I couldn't believe guests would be getting big prawns AND seabass in the same meal for a mere £25!
Desserts: A Hong Kong favourite - Sweetened and chilled red beans with coconut ice-cream. Cherry specially bought these retro ice-cream soda glasses for this dessert!
And a light and fluffy homemade swissroll with a summery raspberry cream.
And to end, some fragrant warming Chinese tea to calm our swelling bellies while we waited for our carriages home.
I'm glad to say that despite the many Cantonese-staffed restaurants in London, FedbyTang's cooking will indeed show you a side of Hongkong - Cantonese cuisine that you're not likely to find in any of them. These are the more hearty, honest, subtle dishes that Cantonese people actually eat at home. Rather than the garish greasy neon sweet-and-sour takeaway gloop served in buffet slop troughs in Chinatown.
On a much more personal level, eating at FedbyTang was like eating at a long lost sister's home. It felt like a family reunion dinner, with the discovery that this sister had remembered many of our family recipes, but had put her own stamp on them. Familiar and comforting, yet with delightful new details to discover.
So I personally will be back at FedbyTang sometime soon. Sometimes it will be to quell a craving for Chinese food. And more times, I suspect, it will be to quell a craving for family.
Disclosure: I'm the founder of Edible Experiences, which runs marketing and ticketing for FedbyTang supperclub. I attended FedbyTang's sneak preview dinner as a guest.
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