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A gem in Gants Hill


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I made an instant decision yesterday evening. A business meeting in London finished late, and I had an evening meeting in Gants Hill, so I decided not to go home but to drive straight to Gants Hill and find a restaurant for dinner.

The Gants Hill roundabout is a nightmare. It lies at the junction of the A12 Eastern Avenue and four other roads. The traffic is appalling at all times, and they do their best to separate motorists from pedestrians by means of metal railings going 50 yards in every direction so that it's impossible to cross the road anywhere near the roundabout. Then there is a subway system which reminds me of Chislehurst caves, a vast spidery network of underground walkways with deliberately misleading signs suggesting which way you should walk and which exit stairs you should take to reach your objective.

The Gants Hill roundabout is positively peppered with restaurants. I counted one Italian, three Indian, two Thai, one Mandarin Chinese, one Vietnamese Chinese, one Kebab House, a "Steak and Fish" restaurant, a huge Pizza Express, a couple of Chinese takeaways and two other indeterminate establishments all within sight of the roundabout. Oh boy, those taxi drivers must be really big eaters out :laugh:

I used my well honed eGullet acquired gourmet skills to good effect in selecting the restaurant of my choice. Apart from the greasy looking Kebab House and Pizza Express, it was the only one open at five minutes to six :raz: I know that because visually I rated it the least attractive of the lot, so I actually spent fifteen minutes trying all the others before I walked into Woo, 1-3 Woodford Avenue, Gants Hill 020 8550 8088, the Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant.

The frontage of the restaurant, which is kind of wrapped round the corner of the block, must be 80 feet, it looks tired and old-fashioned, and has a big banner hanging outside proclaiming their "All you can eat for £6" menu. I opened the door, ignoring the "Closed" sign and walked into this very large restaurant of, I guess, maybe 30 well-spaced tables. The interior matched the exterior -- slightly tired, unimaginative, ghastly pink and mauve colours. Honestly, I nearly turned round and walked straight out to Pizza Express, but I am so glad I didn't.

The female staff looked absolutely stunning. Young, attractive, dressed in long Vietnamese sari-like clothes, they more than compensated for the decor. They all smiled beautifully and spoke English very badly, if at all. There is something very appealing about asking a gorgeous waitress what beers they have, getting a sweet smile followed by a lilting "You like wine list?", then having to repeat your request very slowly and carefully a couple of times. The final reward is to witness the joy of comprehension with "Ah, you want Tiger?" and the full face beam. I just melted.

The menu is unusual in that it is very limited for a Chinese restaurant. Maybe I've got too used to the typical 10-page 200 dish Chinese menu with every possible combination of main ingredient with every possible sub-ingredient and every possible method of cooking. This one contained maybe a total of 40 or 50 main dishes. (I ignored the very tacky looking "all you can eat" menu)

I had Chicken Bang Bang as a starter. This consists of cold roast chicken breast cut into thin strips, with strips of cucumber, in a creamy and spicy peanut based sauce. The dish was perfect. The chicken was moist and tender, and on its own very delicately spiced. The sauce was light and creamy, good peanut flavour, with just a hint of chilli pepper nicely hidden in the background. Believe it or not, even the cucumber was excellent - fresh and crunchy, and a perfect foil to the rest of the dish.

My main was Spicy BBQ Duck. Yes, really :raz: To be frank, I don't know why I chose something with a name like that; call it eGullet instinct if you like, or put it down to being distracted at watching my waitress struggling to write down my order for Bang Bang Chicken on her notepad :wub: Whatever it was, I did indeed order Spicy BBQ Duck at a Vietnamese restaurant, and it was nothing less than magnificent. The meat was tender, moist, beautifully spiced, flavourful. It came lightly coated in a red ever-so-slightly-sticky sauce, which I guess was their version of "BBQ", but this sauce was delicate and light and nothing like any "BBQ sauce" I have ever tasted. It never came close to overpowering the duck, it was the perfect complement. On the menu, Spicy BBQ Duck was accompanied by a little red chilli symbol, indicating that the dish was "hot", but this was like the Bang Bang Chicken starter. The chilli could just be fleetingly glimpsed at the background of each mouthful, never the first taste and never the dominant flavout of the meat. I remember Tony Finch in another thread talking about the skill of subtle spicing, and what I ate here was the most perfect example of that art.

I had plain steamed rice, always a good test of an oriental restaurant, and again it was perfect. Slightly sticky, just enough to bind the grains together, but not cloying. The lightest of flavours without the bitterness you get when too much starch is left on the surface. I also had a plate of noodles with beansprouts, and again these were excellently cooked. Vermicelli thin noodles rather than spaghetti fat, not greasy (a common fault in Chinese restaurants) and that slightly "charred" flavout that I like.

The only complaint I had was that the dishes weren't piping hot when served, and they didn't provide a hotplate so they were getting noticeably cool by the time I finished eating. And the coffe wasn't great, although it was acceptable, and in any case I should have asked for tea :smile:

The bill was £20 including two beers. I am going back to this place again ... and again.

Edited by macrosan (log)
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There is something very appealing about asking a gorgeous waitress what beers they have, getting a sweet smile followed by a lilting "You like wine list?", then having to repeat your request very slowly and carefully a couple of times. The final reward is to witness the joy of comprehension with "Ah, you want Tiger?" and the full face beam. I just melted.

Macrosan, you must, must go to Vietnam. But make sure you take Mrs Macrosan with you, or we may not be able to get you to come back. :laugh:

But I should probably warn you that the chillies, while never used less than skillfully, are more inclined to blow your head off there. :wink:

And the coffe wasn't great, although it was acceptable, and in any case I should have asked for tea

And that's another reason why you should head straight for the source. The coffee in Vietnam is nothing short of amazing. I pine for it. :wub:

Edit: Yes, what Winot said. Where the fuck IS Gants Hill?

Edited by Miss J (log)
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When the Jews left the East End they either went North-to Finchley, Hendon, Golders Green- or East-to Ilford and Gants Hill which are on the main A12 route running out towards Essex. Us Northerners used to call it Gnat's Hell.

Gants Hill is on the tube-Central Line. It was also famous for a huge old fashioned Odeon cinema which has now either been demolished or converted into something else.

A lot of cab drivers live in Gants Hill.

I went out with a girl from Gants Hill once-Sarah Finklebaum.

There's not a lot to say about Gants Hill.

Edited by Tonyfinch (log)
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When the Jews left the East End they either went North-to Finchley, Hendon, Golders Green- or East-to Ilford and Gants Hill which are on the main A12  route running out towards Essex.

And some went south, yes? I believe there was a synagogue in Brixton.

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Yes well they went all around and about but the two main groups went to North and East London to take advantage of new suburban developments in those areas and the fact that transport links into the centre were generally better than from the South London.

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Talk about a blast from the past! Ilford County High School for Girls, Gants Hill. That was half a century ago and I don't know if it's still there. I spent seven years at that school and have a vague memory of circling the roundabout on my bicycle. A Vietnamese restaurant? Incredible.

Ruth Friedman

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Talk about a blast from the past! Ilford County High School for Girls, Gants Hill. That was half a century ago and I don't know if it's still there. I spent seven years at that school and have a vague memory of circling the roundabout on my bicycle. A Vietnamese restaurant? Incredible.

You didn't know Sarah Finklebaum by any chance? :wink:

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I am afraid I don't know her although I spent seven years going round Gants Hill roundabout on the way to school (not needless to say ICHS (Girls)).

As I recall Gants Hill was (is) one of those places you have to go through to get anywhere else in the area but you never actually want to go anywhere there. I did see the Spy Who Loved Me and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom at the Gants Hill Odeon though.

And thinking about it my Mum and Dad took me for a birthday meal in a chinese restaurant at Gants Hill, can't remeber which one though.

Paul

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I'm having flashbacks too. I lived just off that monster roundabout for a year or two after I first left home. There was certainly a lot of junk food available. Central Line to the West End and back every night. This was my "Standing in the door of the Pink Flamingo, crying in the rain..." period.

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I'm having flashbacks too.  I lived just off that monster roundabout for a year or two after I first left home.  There was certainly a lot of junk food available.  Central Line to the West End and back every night.  This was my "Standing in the door of the Pink Flamingo, crying in the rain..." period.

Were you in a cocktail skirt, or a suit?

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A Vietnamese restaurant? Incredible.

Reminds me of Jackie Mason:

"I hate Chinamen those sons of bitches. Anti-Semites they are. All of them.

You know why?

All over the world night after night thousands of Jewish people are eating in Chinese restaurants. Thousands of them. Every night. All over the world.

But tell me this

Did you ever see a single Chinaman eating in a Jewish restaurant?

Well did you?

Did you ever see a single Chinaman wandering around saying "I 'm chalishing for a piece of Gefilte Fish?

Did you?

Anti semitic sons of bitches" :raz:

Edited by Tonyfinch (log)
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There is the old chestnut about the Kosher resturant with the chinese waiter who speaks perfect Yiddish - including the repartee for which such waiters in Jewish establishments are famous.

Shlomo says to the owner "Moshe, where did you get such a marvel? A chinese immigrant who speaks such good Yiddish?"

"hush - he thinks I'm teaching him English!"

Repartee examples include:

"Waiter bring me Chicken soup with Kneidlach, and a kind word or a stranger"

"Here is the soup"

"And the kind word?"

"Don't eat the Kneidlach"

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I just had to reply to this post! I lived in Gants Hill for 25 years with my parents - and yes I'm jewish but I don't know Sarah Finkelbaum - I also hope she's not an egullet member or she'd be terribly embarrassed by this!!

Ruth - what year did you leave School? Maybe we know eachother/ Youre not Ruth Lawrence by some incredible coincidence are you/

I went to Beal High School and graduated in 1986.

And I remember Sharons the kosher restuarant on teh way to Valentines Park. Nice cutlery, crisp white linen and great salt beef - a real "grown up" treat when yuo're a child. Apparantly it closed down due to unhygenic kitchens!!

Gants Hill is not such a bad place and makes me feel really nostalgic...

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When the Jews left the East End they either went North-to Finchley, Hendon, Golders Green- or East-to Ilford and Gants Hill which are on the main A12 route running out towards Essex. Us Northerners used to call it Gnat's Hell.

Gants Hill is on the tube-Central Line. It was also famous for a huge old fashioned Odeon cinema which has now either been demolished or converted into something else.

A lot of cab drivers live in Gants Hill.

I went out with a girl from Gants Hill once-Sarah Finklebaum.

There's not a lot to say about Gants Hill.

ah, ha, Gants Hill must be in Queens. And you must be referring to the Number 7 subway line out to Flushing, not the Central line.

Sorry, maybe my joking doesnt make sense to non-New Yorkers, but your description sounds so much like the Queens that I knew in my teenage days (or at least my impression of Queens in those days, a place I only visited at the behest of the Sarah Finklebaums of the world). Particularly the last line.

Of course, now Queens is known as the true melting pot of the U.S., but it wasnt always so.

Thomas Secor

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Egullet - Successful online concept

Friends Reunited - Succuessful online concept

"Egullet Reunited"...? I think we're onto something here people...

Last one to register a foodies/old friends themed domain name is a rotten egg!

Cheers

Thom

It's all true... I admit to being the MD of Holden Media, organisers of the Northern Restaurant and Bar exhibition, the Northern Hospitality Awards and other Northern based events too numerous to mention.

I don't post here as frequently as I once did, but to hear me regularly rambling on about bollocks - much of it food and restaurant-related - in a bite-size fashion then add me on twitter as "thomhetheringto".

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