What I Ate: The best Chinese food outside of China, a tiny slice of Singapore and some surprising pairings with gin

It’s been over two years since I last blogged. So long in fact, the template I’m using has morphed beyond recognition and it’s taken me a good five minutes to get started.

Though, of course, that’s not as long as I’ve lapsed.

In the last two years, I’ve been busy working, busy eating but taking a step back from blogging. It wasn’t really a conscious decision, just a time constraints thing. But also, for a while, I was focusing on Instagram.

But now, I am making a conscious effort to get back into blogging – hence the title of this blog. I want to start a monthly series documenting some of the things that I’ve been eating and some of the experiences I’ve had – but without the formality of a review or the pressures of “writing a blog”.

So excuse the brain dump, any typos or bad grammar – here’s what I ate in April 2019…

To Dusseldorf and beyond…

My last trip was to Germany over the Easter Bank Holiday Weekend. It was a rare family holiday – there wasn’t a requirement to write about any of it, or to document it for Instagram. Instead, it was just about enjoying family time – something else that I’m consciously trying to do more of.

We flew into Dusseldorf, and explored nearby Cologne and Bonn. We ate a lot of meat (pork knuckle seemed to be the order of the day) and drank a lot of beer (because nine times out of ten, it actually worked out to be cheaper).

But between all the protein heavy German food and cheap ice cream, we managed to squeeze in a couple of meals at a little place called Hutong Bistro – it was so good, we went back twice in a weekend.

I’m always wary of eating in Chinese restaurant because of the sheer number of disappointing experiences, but this place had an authenticity that I couldn’t have anticipated.

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Best Chinese food outside of China

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We ordered just a handful of dishes but two stood out for me – the fish fragrant aubergine and mapo tofu. The classic flavour playing the base note for fish fragrant aubergine is “lychee” and the version here got the balance between the sweet and sour spot on. Every bite begged for another to follow it.

But it was the mapo tofu that truly impressed.

As a Sichuan native, I’ve tried so many terrible variations of the dish at restaurants in and out of China. Most think that just because they’ve thrown in a couple of Sichuan peppercorns, the dish is complete – and some don’t even bother with that.

The true mapo tofu has several important features, from the tender tofu pieces (piping hot but unbroken from the cooking process) to the stir-fried mince meat (for flavour and texture). What most people don’t realise, however, is that it’s the milled Sichuan pepper sprinkled over the top, a final garnish, that finishes it. The intangible aroma and the distinctive numbing sensation all come from this final florish.

And yes, the mapo tofu at Hutong Bistro had it – a sign that the chef was well trained and that they cared.

A Singapore fling…

My trip before that was to Singapore, a lightning fast stopover for the launch of Jewel at Singapore Changi Airport. I stayed on for a couple of days to explore the city a little, though if I’m honest, I barely scratched the surface when it came to the food offering.

It turned out to be a bit of a last minute trip so I didn’t have time to book somewhere fancy. But I did do a great walking tour of Kampong Glam with Wok n’ Stroll, ducked into Chinatown for a couple of bites before joining the longest queues at a hawker market near the hotel I was staying in.

It’s an abbreviated recap because I’m conscious that there’s an article to come, so I leave you with a photo of that famous Singapore Sling.

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When in Sin City…

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Ginning in London…

And the last part? It takes me back to the beginning of the month when I joined Franklin & Sons for a dinner at Hicce in Coal Drops Yard. We had food from Pip Lacey matched with cocktails created by Rich Woods, all to show off the new tonics from Franklin & Sons.

Actually, Franklin & Sons have sent me quite a few cocktail kits in the past – I was very impressed with the way they tried to create variations of G&Ts and elevate the flavours of different drinks every time but never wrote about it. But this dinner I liked a lot.

Cocktail and food pairings can go terribly wrong because sweet or sour notes can be overpowering. Rich’s four drinks – Aperitivo Cocktail, Tropical Soda, Jasmine & Pink Grapefruit Elegante, and Americano Americano – had just the right balance. And sometimes, with the help of a little bitterness or savouriness, helped to bring the food to life.

Anyway, onwards to next month. And if I can get my act together, you’ll read snippets of my weekends in France and Pembrokeshire and other culinary adventures in London.