Poon's: The Return Of A Restaurant Dynasty

Poon's pop-up at The Alchemist ★★★★★

By Lydia Manch Last edited 8 months ago

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Poon's: The Return Of A Restaurant Dynasty Poon's pop-up at The Alchemist 5

A Chinese Culinary Revolution, claims the Poon's website. That's some pretty big talk.

But if anybody's qualified to talk big on the subject of London's Chinese food scene, it's probably the Poon family. Mention the name to your parents and see if they go misty-eyed. If they lived or worked in London during the Seventies, there's a good chance they dined, drank or partied at Poons — a flock of London restaurants opened by the eponymous Bill and Cecilia. Stars like Jagger and Sinatra descended on the Poon's eateries, and a Michelin star followed suit for their Covent Garden restaurant.

The new incarnation of Poon's is a three month pop-up, sticking out like a beacon on its concrete square with a glow of warm orange lanterns and a waft of umami-rich smells. This rebirth is courtesy of Amy Poon, daughter of the founders, and the menu's a blend of the throwback and the innovative. Dishes call on popular menu items from previous Poon's restaurants, including Chinese wind-dried meats made to a recipe from her grandparents' restaurant in Macau.

The best dish of the evening is a hotly-contested title. Wontons, porky and rich in red chilli oil, and a spicy aubergine salad from the starter menu are both edged out by the wind-dried bacon. A traditional method of curing meat — think of it as the Chinese parallel to charcuterie, we're told — it crops up in a soft, crumbly mince in the Bacon Son Choy Boo, to spoon into lettuce leaves. We meet it again in the Poon's Claypot Rice, in bigger chunks, baked into the rice dish along with other cured meats. Both times it's a showstopper, tasting like distilled essence of bacon — though for all the claypot's ceremony and warmth, we're more into the layers of crunch and softness you get when it's cradled inside the lettuce.

Despite the impression all this meat talk might give, vegetarians can eat fantastically well here. Aside from that wind-dried bacon — which, to be honest, packs so much meat flavour into both appearances that we're not enormously interested in any of the other meat dishes after that — many of the most exciting dishes on the menu are meat-free. The aubergine salad is cold, slippery and so intensely flavoured it's easy enough for two to share. The Dan Dan noodles we order as a side carb are an event in their own right, thin strands clumping together stickily, and earthy with shredded mushrooms.

We don't know what's coming next for this small, splendid (and BYO — did we mention it's BYO? It's BYO) pop-up. But between the lantern-glow, the friendly, loud buzz and the steady flow of knock-out after knock-out dish at decent value, there are plenty of reasons to hope Poon's moves on to bigger and more permanent things.

Poon's pop-up at The Alchemist is running until 17 May, 2018. Poon's, 131 - 133 Central Street, EC1V 8AP.

Last Updated 17 April 2018

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