For years there was a Chinese takeaway at the bottom of my street. It was called Wei Hai Wei and, despite being just a simple little place with a few pink clothed tables in front of the takeout bar, it enjoyed an excellent reputation and people would travel from far and wide to grab a bite there. I too was a frequent visitor over the 30 or so years I’ve lived in the area but it must have been going for very much longer because I once met an elderly couple from North London who fondly remembered their courting days there back in the 60s. The Chinese waiters, little old men by the time I was a regular, were notoriously abrupt. Whenever, in my single days, I went there with a male friend or with a date, they would treat me like a princess but my companion would have to run the gauntlet. They would eye him up suspiciously and literally gracelessly throw the dishes down in front of him. In fact, to our mutual hilarity, they once or twice even barked “I don’t you. Who are you? What you want?” in heavy Chinese accents. However, interestingly, when I took the Lovely Husband who was then just a Lovely Gentleman Friend to Wei Hai Wei for the first time, they were utterly charming and clearly approved of him. It goes without saying that with such an accolade, I simply had to accept his marriage proposal!
Eventually, some 10 years ago or so, the Food Standards Agency shut down this much loved little restaurant. I have no idea what was going on in their kitchen, whether it was rat infested or they were serving up dog food, but whatever they were doing, food hygiene notwithstanding, they were doing it right. Their food was always delicious, tasty and succulent, and cheap as noodles.
Wei Hai Wei has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the restaurant I am reviewing for you today, let’s be very clear on that, except, that it set a standard for our taste buds in the South East Asian department. I’ve eaten Pan Asian food at Mr. Chow’s in Knightsbridge, sitting beside Shirley Bassey no less, at China Tang’s in the Dorchester with Kate Moss tucking in heartily just a few tables away, at Ken Lo’s Memories of China, at trendy E&O in Notting Hill and many glamorous and not so glamorous restaurants in Soho, Singapore and Hong Kong, but, aside from Sexy Fish in Berkeley Square, which is altogether in a league of it’s own, I have never enjoyed that type of food as much as I did in plain old little Wei Hai Wei. The newly opened Uli on Ladbroke Road in Notting Hill was up against some serious competition!
Uli is a reincarnation of a restaurant by the same name which opened on All Saints Road in 1997 but closed three years ago. This time, here on the corner of Ladbroke Road and Kensington Park Road, the owner Michael Lim has teamed up with Graham Rebak of Beach Blanket Babylon to once again create an inviting neighbourhood brasserie, serving up Chinese, Thai, Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine.
Uli opened in early August and has already become a firm favourite with locals. When we arrive, luckily having booked a table in advance, the place is bursting at the seams. Every table on the terrace is taken. The clientele is something to behold! Aside from two middle aged ladies and ourselves, every single person there is under 40 and beautiful. On the table beside us sit three graces, one more stunning than the other with perfect features, casually pinned up sun streaked tresses and long tanned limbs. They’re dressed in that way that only the seriously gorgeous can get away with, trainers, little shorts and worn loose t shirts flopping off their slender brown shoulders, just as though they’d popped in straight from their yoga class. The young men wear pristine white shirts or pastel linen with their shorts and jeans and have that freshly showered look. It’s worth coming here just to people watch!
The restaurant itself is very pretty too, all in white with well accented aqua and oatmeal touches. On a hot summer’s day nothing could be fresher looking. How this will translate into winter cosyness remains to be seen.
We order Peppercorn Salted Calamari and Soft Shell Crab with Chilli Padi to start with and a small portion of Crispy Aromatic Duck , another of Grilled Fish Kampong with Galangal accompanied by Jasmine Rice as mains with a Lotus Root Salad as well as Mixed Chinese Vegetables on the side. It all arrives in no particular order but who’s complaining? It looks good and we’re hungry. The calamari and the soft shell crab are delicately battered but a little reticent in the taste department. A squirt of lemon would liven things up, or some dipping sauce, perhaps. However, this is brought when we ask for it. The crispy duck is ok, though the pancakes are cold and a little on the hard side and the duck meat somewhat dry. Maybe it has been sitting on the side for too long? The fish is bland but its piquant sauce gives it the oomph it needs and the dish as a whole is tasty. Sadly, the lotus root salad is too salty to contemplate further. It stays almost uneaten in its bowl.
What can I say? This restaurant gets top marks on all the review sites, the discerning locals are quite obviously enamoured with it, the location is great, the ambience fabulous, the clientele exquisite, the wine perfectly chilled and the service friendly; it’s all very lovely indeed. The food, well, I’ve eaten better and I’ve eaten worse and, to be fair, it may just have been a bit of an off day. (Or, heaven forbid, could the food hygiene have been just a little too above board for me?) Overall, we had a thoroughly enjoyable time there, sitting on the terrace on a mellow summer’s evening in among Notting Hill’s beautiful people, watching the world go by.
Our bill came to £87.19 including service charge and VAT and £23 bottle of Chenin Blanc.
Manuel Canovas floral dress, silver Accessorize flip flops
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