140 Fulham Road London SW10 9PY
Tel: 020 7370 7070
There certainly has been a flourish of trendy restaurants serving up fusion food nowadays. Ever since Wagamama, it seems like any enterprising individual with enough capital and a little know-how can set up a swish restaurant in a good location, serve up toddle and call it fusion. I’m not bitter.
I’m not opposed to Wagamama. I think it is a brilliant concept. An open plan concept serving up fresh tasty food at reasonable prices. It’s only when competing restaurants open up and serve up dishes that they only have an inkling of what it should really taste like and charge a small horse for…then I have a problem. Let me indulge you on the word ‘Tampopo’. I can only imagine that the restaurant’s name originates from the great Japanese movie ‘Tampopo’. ‘Tampopo’ in english means ‘dandelion’. It was made in 1996 and labelled as the "first Japanese noodle western." It’s a mouth-watering, hilarious mixture of sex, food and relationships. In fact it’s a celebration of all things related to food. At the centre of the plot is a cowboy trucker who decides to help a woman called Tampopo in her quest to be the greatest noodle chef in the land. The ultimate challenge is to make the most perfect bowl of ramen noodles. In fact the movie opens with a master teaching you how to eat a bowl of noodles, all the way to the last drop. Nothing is too low for this couple, including on spying on competing restaurants learning the tricks of the trade and rumouging through their garbage bins. As in cooking, it is the little details that matter that can turn a watery, tasteless soup into a gourmet triumph. Watch the movie if you haven’t seen it. It will change the way in which you delve in and devour a bowl of noodles.
Anyway, back to this restaurant. We always passed it on Fulham Rd and thought it looked very swish and inviting. It’s always packed with a lot of people other than orientals (ie. Whities) – that should have been enough to get our alarm bells aringing. We had too wait about 10 minutes for a table, which was alright as the staff were courteous and apologetic. The surroundings are very chic and trendy. An open plan kitchen somehow doesn’t impinge on the soft lighting, cosy corners and sharp modern interior.
They handed us a menu to deliberate whilst we waited for a table to come up. Just as well. The choices were mind-boggling. Tampopo presented us with a range of culinary options spanning the whole south-east asian region. Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia were all well represented. After much chopping and changing we decided on the gyoza for starters, Pad Thai noodles, Vietnamese Pho Bo noodles and Vietnamese stir-fried beef rice noodles with basil.
The gyoza was a gargantuan disappointment to say the least. On a large plate, five gyozas sat meekly with very little to say to one another. They looked limp. They looked lonely. They looked up at us as if to apologise for their existence. They came with a small plate of soya sauce and a half-hearted attempted to cover up their nakedness with 3 strands of spring onions. Both of my dining partners thought that they were too peppery. I thought they they were too salty (although I did dip it in a lot of sauce). On second time round I tried it without the soya sauce dip and thought it was very bland. Next.
I had the Vietnamese stir-fry beef noodles with basil. It was actually quite tasty and sweet. The snowpeas, tomatoes and cucumber were fresh and crunchy. Good but nothing to hark on about (or to return back for).
My partner had the Vietnamese soup beef noodles (Pho Bo). I think the kitchen had forgotten to boil the beef bones to make the stock and had just added water instead. This dish is a load of rubbish and the chef should take careful notes from Chris in Café East down in Surrey Quays on how it should be done. It’s an insult to the country of Vietnam to even have it on the menu. Or alternatively, if they are too lazy to make a good basic soup stock, they should buy the Pho Bo paste that you can get in all good oriental markets and chuck it in. Anything would have been tastier than that watery nightmare. I wouldn’t even serve it at my own dinner table. I would rather serve KFC and pass it off as my own. What an insult to the ethos of ‘Tampopo’.
My friend’s Pad Thai looked unexciting and anaemic. Lo and behold, it tasted how it looked. It was too sweet and lacked strength of character. What most Thai restaurants do is to put the sugar, peanuts and chilli on the side, so you can mix it yourself to cater for individual tastes.
Sigh. Needless to say we weren’t compelled to order desserts. I don’t even think we were full. The prices in my mind were a bit on the pricey side for what they served up (averaging around £7.50 for each noodle dish or soup bowel). The Other Hag said helpfully that they need to charge a little more to pay for the rent. Whatever.
Save your money and fill your tums with the offerings of little authentic ethnic restaurants scattered around little alleyways in London. They might have plastic chairs and tables, grubby menus and dingy toilets – but at least you can be assured of great home-cooked food prepared with soul.
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