We wanted to fit in some dim sum on Sunday, because really what’s an urban Sunday without dim sum? When I lived in New York, I ate dim sum all the time in a proper old fashioned palatial banqueting space with mean ladies pushing carts around. The anticipation of what might come next was part of the pleasure, backed up with the knowledge that you could always go up to the various stations for emergency potstickers, greens, or snails if hunger overtook you. The disadvantage was that they didn’t bother offering the more Chinese dishes to western diners. You could probably flag the ladies down and insist on chicken feet if you were determined enough, but my experience was that nothing too alarming was shown to me. Things were a little different in London, where the Crocodiles took me to Golden Dragon, a favourite haunt of theirs for many years. In London, they don’t do carts, so you get to order exactly what you want. Mr Lemur wanted chiu chow dumplings – the big ones with pork, chives and peanuts inside – and as you can see from the image up top, they were big, succulent parcels. But the gap in my dim sum arsenal was revealed when the Crocodiles asked how we felt about tripe. We looked embarrassed. The thing is, the only tripe I’ve ever had was European-style tripe and I hated it. Viscerally, it repulsed me. There was an incident in Spain when the Lemurs ate in a fantastic little back-street working-man’s restaurant, the kind where you know you’re going to eat well in Spain or Italy. The dish of the day was described as carne al madrileño. What is it, we asked the waiter. Well it’s meat served in the Madrid style. Er, yes, we got that from the name, but what meat? And what is the Madrid style? Oh, meat from a cow, made the way we make it here in Madrid. We could see we were going around in ever decreasing circles so we decided just to order it. It’s sure to be delicious, right? Wrong. It was a big steaming plate of gelatinous, mucousy tripe. I never send dishes back just because I don’t like them but we had to send those back because even to be polite, we couldn’t eat them. So when the Crocodiles said the T-word, we blanched a bit. But we’re game, so we said bring it on.
Two different plates of tripe came to the table, both already looking a million times better than the European stuff. For a start, it wasn’t gloopy. After a moment’s hesitation, I dug into the first plate, which was strips of honeycomb tripe braised in a reddish sauce. Guess what? It was completely delicious. The rich braising liquid had a depth of flavour and a bright, black peppery finish. The tripe itself was mild with a texture that, like well-cooked squid, was exactly the right side of chewy. Emboldened, I tried the second tripe dish.
This was strips of leaf tripe in a little casserole dish, submerged in a fine broth. The sections of the leaf tripe are a little more unwieldy in size, but they were amazingly soft from being cooked in the broth. The broth itself was a wonder: deeply flavoured but very light, like a really good chicken stock. Neither version had any untoward barnyard quality, something Chinese cuisine is particularly good at removing. We debated which tripe we preferred, with Mr Lemur going for the tripe in broth and me going for the red cooked honeycomb version. But we weren’t just debating which was more palatable: both dishes were completely delicious and we kept going back for more succulent chunks. The Crocodiles had been looking disappointed in our lack of proper Chinese dim sum taste. I think we may have redeemed ourselves a little with our offal-enthusiasm.
As for Golden Dragon, I saw that it had some lukewarm reviews online and I wonder if that’s a function of people eating only the more unadventurous dishes. The dumplings were nice and the cheung fun and steamed pork buns were fine, but where the place really sang was in the slightly less standard fare. The congee was absolutely delicious and I had to stop myself from eating huge amounts and filling myself up. Likewise, the fish balls with chicken skin were a lovely combination. Sure, it’s not the fanciest or the most fashion-forward dim sum place in the city, but it will always retain a place in my heart for showing me the way of Chinese tripe.
Golden Dragon, 28-29 Gerrard Street, London W1D 6JW