The Culinary Tube Map series is a fun and light-hearted look at what’s good to eat (and often drink) around London’s tube stations, based on a one-day amble around the area. It is not a comprehensive guide to every restaurant/bar/café, nor is it a detailed demographic description. It’s just good clean fun albeit with very sticky fingers.
The less-than 100-metre stretch of road between Bayswater and Queensway tube stations is a mixture of tourist tat shops flogging phone box fridge magnets, and places which serve the established Arab, Greek and Brazilian communities. There's also a collection of late night cafes, Lebanese grocers and a lot of Chinese restaurants. Whiteley’s shopping centre looms large at the north end of Queensway, once home to the fabulous Le Café Anglais, now sadly closed. Famous for its art deco interior and dish of parmesan custard with anchovy toast, the site was sold by chef/owner Rowley Leigh in 2014. Many buildings in the area have reportedly been bought by a family from Brunei, and re-development awaits. Le Café Anglais was just great, glamorous fun, and we could spend too long ambling down memory lane, sinking into those leather seats, waiting for the whisper-touch of a martini on white linen.
About as far from that memory as possible, then, is Noodle Oodle, a terribly named Chinese restaurant not far from Whiteley’s. Such a bad name will not matter, we think, if the food is up to scratch, and there’s potential, since they have a hand pulled noodle section on the menu. There are other good London restaurants with terrible names, after all: Sexy Fish, Bad Egg, On the Bab… So, we skip across the threshold, full of optimism, ready to flicker shirts with chilli oil and let belt-wide noodles slap against chin and tablecloth.
This is a mistake. The first thing to notice about Noodle Oodle is the music, which is Chinese pop of the bounciest variety — happy hardcore performed by Smurfs. It is, we imagine, like being trapped inside a video game. Hurriedly, an (admittedly random) order is placed, for a plate of prawn toast (don’t ask), a portion of Marmite chicken wings (chef’s special), and two hand pulled noodle dishes: dan dan noodles, and noodles with vegetables, chicken and fresh wantons. Now, they may well be making those noodles by hand, but what they’re doing to them afterwards is a violent act of disservice to several regional cuisines. The dan dan noodles are particularly offensive. A classic Sichuan dish, these should come bathed in a fiery chilli sauce, topped with minced meat, Sichuan pepper, preserved vegetables, spring onions — all manner of tasty bits and pieces. It should be a firecracker of a dish, a drop kick to the chops, but this is insipid and discombobulating, since water would have more flavour if you waved a stock cube in front of it. Staring into the bowl conjures thoughts of jetsam bobbing around a skanky pier. We eat little, pay up and scarper.
We decide to walk off the beer we’ve necked (crisis management) and head down towards Bayswater, into Kalinka, a Russian food shop where it is possible to buy a bottle of whisky in a Kalashnikov-shaped bottle for £180. This is proudly displayed behind the counter, next to a potential bonus purchase of a bottle shaped like a glass hand grenade, presumably for those times when one needs to be a little more discreet. We do know someone who has previously purchased one of these sets, a process which involved a frantic exchange of words between numerous staff members, using walkie talkies. This is amusing of course, but the shop is full of other imported treasures: an interesting range of cured meats, cakes, biscuits, pickles, jams, smoked fish and cheese. We’ve managed to track down a hard to find Georgian cheese here too in the past, used for making khachapuri, an addictive cheese-stuffed flatbread found in different forms all over the country. This time, we leave with several unidentifiable dairy products, a Russian version of a Magnum (the ice cream, not the gun), and the safe knowledge that the staff here will probably never, ever speak to us or smile, no matter how many times we visit.
Refreshments are needed and so it’s a pit stop at Little Persia, which is, you’ve probably guessed, an Iranian restaurant and café. Drinks in hand we sit amongst the shisha puffs and sup, but the place has none of the atmosphere of similar cafes on nearby Edgware Road. The people watching, it has to be said, is excellent, and we enjoy ear wigging a street conversation which sounds less than legal, a motley crew of businessmen exchanging coded words. Groups of wealthy ladies drink coffee, slinging expensive handbags onto the dirty floor with hands bearing diamonds the size of glass eyes. They bark conversation like they hate each other.
Watching them has given us a craving for a pierogi, and so we search for Samovar, a Russian café hidden behind the main façade of shops. There’s a strange area, set back from the street, like a sort of prefabricated rabbit warren. It is home to lots of South American food shops, and the usual collection of places that need so little space they can squeeze in anywhere: phone un-lockers being the primary example. When we arrive however, the door is locked and the lights off, the tables set with cloths and plastic flowers, but no sign of life inside. A man in the Russian film shop next door shakes his head sadly and says simply, “shut.” “Forever?” we ask, and he shrugs his shoulders, “long time now.”
Russian dumplings are out, then, but Cantonese style roast duck is very much in, as we plough towards the window at Gold Mine, seduced by the lacquered Ronseal-tint ducks in the window. There are many restaurants on Queensway serving these, with Four Seasons being their main competitor. There are stories on the internet which claim the old Four Seasons chef left his job there to cook at Gold Mine, which is why it’s now better. We’re not sure, but we do know that the duck is fabulous, tender meat on bones that beg to be nibbled clean, wobbly layers of fat precious beneath crisp, burnished skin. Sweet soy juices are poured on top, and the lot sits on top of a small pile of Chinese cabbage, which soaks everything up.
We’re full now, but there’s time for another discovery in the form of the charming Athenian Grocery, near to Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral. It’s populated by three men, chatting in Greek, who welcome us in and engage in a lively chat about the dangers of Tsipouro. There’s spanakopita in the chiller, along with Greek cheese, a wide selection of vegetables, biscuits, cakes, Greek wines. We pick up a bottle of Boutoir Naoussa Reserva '08 which is medium coloured with herbal red fruits, brisk tannins and great acidity, a little rustic but no less charming for it. There are several Greek restaurants in the area too, one of which has employed a man to wear national dress, hand out leaflets and point people in the right direction. We feel sorry for him but that’s no reason to choose a restaurant, and after two lunches and several beers it’s all we can do to hop on the central line and try not to fall fast asleep.
Noodle Oodle, 106 Queensway, W2 3RR
Kalinka, 35 Queensway, W2 4QJ
Athenian Grocery, 16a Moscow Rd, Bayswater, W2 4BT
Little Persia, 38 Queensway, W2 3RS
Gold Mine, 102 Queensway, W2 3RR