Stop what you're doing right now. Put down that pancake roll, and unhand that dim sum. I've got big news, Earth shattering news. Are you ready ?...........Cardiff has a new Chinese. While you take a moment to let what I’ve just told you sink in, let me explain it has the title of .cn and it can be found on City Rd. What's that you say? "So fucking what?”
OK I’ll admit it's hard to find your way around some parts of the city through the MSG smog, but .cn is different. Not just because they've gone for something other than the usual 'Golden pandas anus' for a restaurant name, but it also sets itself apart as somewhere a little bit leftfield with the dishes it serves.
This is authentic northern Chinese cuisine. How do I know this? Well firstly it says so on the front of the building, but secondly, a quick glance at the menu shows that they go the whole hog when it comes to meat eating. Nasty bits included. Now I know sod all about authentic Chinese cuisine other than they're not as squeamish when it comes to food as us westerners, so any "facts" provided in this review, most likely come from Google or Wikipedia, even if I do try and make out that I know what I'm talking about.
When I entered the place it immediately felt Chinese from the music, to the staff, to the clientele, and when I sat down with the menu I was immediately transported back to my holiday in Beijing. I felt like showing off my impressively extensive knowledge of the Chinese language with words like hello, thank you, this and that, but realised I didn't even know what dialect those four words came from, and would've just looked a tit anyway. Instead I decided to order from the menu like a rich western tourist in a country like china, where literally skipfulls of food can be bought for less than the cost of a Greggs sausage roll. Somewhere in the back of my brain I knew I wasn't really in Beijing and that I was ordering far more food than my wallet usually allows for a lunch in Cardiff, but my belly took over. I'm sure I made for a pretty scary sight as I eagerly pointed out various dishes to the waiter. My smiling face contorted like Jack Nicholson's in The shining.
The menu here is as extensive as you'll find at any Chinese restaurant, but presented differently. You wont see egg foo young in twenty variations, to be followed by chow mein in the same twenty variations, and so on through fried rice and sweet and sour. Here every dish is an individual in its own right. The menu is offal heavy to say the least, and makes delightful reading to offal lovers like myself.
Pork lungs in chilli sauce and shredded beef tripe, sit in the same section on the menu as steamed chicken and shredded potato with fried chilli, so the less adventurous of you can still order happily. I though, was here to try something new and a plateful of duck tongues were the first dish to land on my table. Followed almost immediately by the pig tripe in chilli sauce and a steaming bowl of trotters. These were to be joined a little later by a plate of fantastic salt and chilli squid. The waiter asked if I wanted a bowl of rice, I didn't, but was so in awe at the feast in front of me that I just nodded yes, and began tucking in.
There was no cutlery on the table, just chopsticks. I could have shown of my prowess with them, deftly picking up my food with immaculate precision, or perhaps pick a fly out the air Mr Miyagi style, but again I’d have just looked a tit. I've come to despise those people who persist in looking foolish holding chopsticks when the far greater invention of the knife and fork go unused. On more than one occasion in the Far East, I’ve been forced to crap into a hole in the floor. That custom thankfully hasn't been embraced in far eastern restaurants in Britain for precisely the same reason that we have a far better invention of the flushing toilet, but the chopstick thing persists with Brits keen to show how well travelled they are. Anyway, on my visit neither cutlery nor chopsticks were called for, as what I had ordered was the very definition of finger food.
The duck tongues require you to slide the soft meat away from the small shovel shaped bone they sit on, and this is best done with fingers and teeth. Sucking each small morsel of meat off the bone and discarding the remnants. Soft tender chunks of meat with a hot chilli kick, eaten more like a snack than a proper dish. The tripe was served cold with the same chilli sauce and spicing as the tongues and had a slight resistance to the bite, though nowhere near as rubbery as my attempts at cooking stomach. Had I not known what it was I was eating, I would've assumed it to be cold, thinly sliced pork belly. The star of the show though were the trotters.
You might find this hard to believe, but when I was in Beijing I did quite a lot of eating, and ate very well at that. Breakfasts of silky scrambled eggs piled high with shaved black truffle, all day champagne buffets, Daniel Bouluds signature foie gras stuffed burger all featured amongst many other heavenly delights. One day however, We stumbled upon a Szechwan place where we ordered the only dish that we would have to go back for that same trip. The only dish I can still taste when I think about it. A plate of trotters coated in a thick red sauce heavy with that lip numbing Szechwan heat. We devoured the gelatinous, sticky meat with fury. We went through so many tissues wiping the sauce from our hands and face that the restaurant offered us plastic gloves with which to handle the beasts. We left the table a scene of blood red splatters and piled high with bones, as if Tarrantino had guest directed a Crimewatch reconstruction.
The trotters at .cn are more in tune with a western palate, coming coated in a brown gravy rather than that super-hot Szechwan red stuff, but are equally as melting and moreish. I mentioned this to the ever so pleasant and polite waiter, and was told to just ask for that red sauce the next time I visited and he'd get the kitchen to cook my trotters in that instead. I wanted to hug him for telling me that.
The finale to my lunch was the salt and chilli squid, and it couldn't fail to please. A mixture of sliced squid and whole baby squid, battered and deep fried. Heavy on the salt but done to such a perfect level that it never reached the point where you find it too much to bear. A strangely pleasurable salty experience that showed the kitchen knew what they were doing, and that you're in safe hands when it comes to their cooking. The baby squid could be eaten in one large mouthful and made for a very satisfying animalistic experience. It reminded me of Old boy, and I loved every bit of it.
With only half the food finished I sat back bloated, asked for a doggy bag and ordered the bill. The meal should have cost me a fortune, but with each dish averaging the £6 or £7 mark the total came in at only £30. A closer look at the menu shows that only six dishes cost more than a tenner, and with such an extensive menu, that has so many dishes perfect for sharing I have to say that the restaurant is an absolute bargain.
It's a very rare event when I go for a meal and fail to find fault, and this will be the first review on my blog that features no complaints. I need to state for the record that I’ve only visited once and try to make a point of visiting a place at least twice before I write about it, as all restaurants have good days and bad. What sets .cn apart from other places in the city and affords it a one-visit review, is that it serves something Cardiff needs and that's diversity. I've spoken in the past about Cardiffs need for more high end / fine dining places, but equally important to the city are more specialist places that offer something different. I'm yet to eat at Tribe Tribe, but the overwhelmingly positive reviews show that the people of Cardiff are open to new regional cuisines, and .cn offers exactly that. It's newly opened and so needs all the help it can get, and in writing this blog post I hope to get at least a few more customers through their doors. I'm not being completely altruistic here because that's not my style. I want the place to succeed because I liked my lunch so much that I’d now hate to lose the place. I mean, where else in Cardiff can I get my offal fix?