It is traditional for Chinese families to gather round for a meal on the eve of Chinese New Year. For 2013 it was the first time in a long while since I was able to do this with my sister and her family (minus one) so weeks in advance when my sister found out that she would be in London, I booked a table at Mandarin Kitchen in Queensway for our Chinese New Year Eve dinner.
Why the Mandarin Kitchen? We consider it the best place to eat lobster noodles Chinese style! And the early booking? Well the Mandarin Kitchen tends to get booked up especially by visiting Singaporeans to London over Chinese New Year.
For the dinner sitting, there is always a mass of people waiting their turn, and even when we arrived for our booking time, we still had to wait a long time before out table was available and ready. I am not sure how many sittings the restaurant was taking that night for Chinese New Year Eve, the queues for tables were exceptional that night. It seemed like there were constant groups of people waiting for a table to become available.
As Hokkiens, our tradition for a family meal is steam boat or hot pot, but as this was not readily found, Singapore Hokkien style in London unless you make it yourself, we saw on the specials menu that they were serving Yu Sheng. This is an auspicious dish comprising of mainly of vegetables (radish salad) and raw fish (nowadays raw salmon) made to be a traditional dish eaten during the Chinese New Year period by the countries of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. As Chinese normally eat around a round table, once the dish is served at the centre of the table, all present would stand and using their chopsticks, help toss the salad saying auspicious wishes out loud as the salad is tossed.
As you can see from the images above which I found online, quite a communal beginning to the meal. When the dish arrived, we were all stunned – instead of a salad with some raw fish, we had raw fish with a bit of salad! Salmon Sashimi!
Raw fish in this dish symbolises abundance and excess for the year – we definitely have been “blessed” with a lot of that with this dish!
We also ordered for our meal some winter melon soup (special for Chinese New Year), Chinese roast duck, Chinese green vegetables, Tofu and of course the dish we had all been waiting for, Chinese lobster noodles. I think what most people experience in London when going to a Chinese restaurant is either being served a dish that they order solely for themselves, or they may share a few dishes together with their friends. Rarely though do you get the service of being served each dish once it has been presented to and placed in the middle of the table. This is how the Chinese Lobster noodles, cooked with spring onions and ginger, is served at the Mandarin Kitchen. The dish was presented to the table, then one of the waiters or waitresses divided and served the dish out among the guests at the table.
What makes a good lobster noodle? Besides the recipe? The freshness of the lobster! With the combination of noodles, which auspiciously represents your longevity, the longer the noodle the longer your longevity. How can this dish not satisfy your taste buds and your auspicious buds? I could see around our table who is an experience lobster noodle eater – less need to use special utensils to crack open the lobster! Or you could also see how “tidy” a lobster noodle eater is – from your neatly piles lobster shells and clean fingers… to your lobster everywhere but on your plate eater, and not just the fingers were use, but the whole hand to “man-handle” the lobster. Whichever eater you may be, it is always nice that the waiting staff would come round to exchange your plate full of shells with a clean plate so you can further tuck into your dinner.
As we enjoyed our meal, a quick glance to the entrance of the restaurant confirmed the continual queue that was forming for a table at the restaurant. This time though there was a queue leading outside the restaurant as well. With so many people and almost certainly that each table would order this famous lobster noodle dish, I would really like to know how many lobsters Mandarin Kitchen orders in on a daily basis!