The Bright Courtyard, London W1
What’s the most romantic cuisine you can think of?
It used to be French cuisine. All those rich dishes and so-called aphrodisiacs like oysters. Or maybe Italian? Ever since the cute couple in The Lady and The Trump slurped on a spaghetti strand there has been an allure about Italian food.
For me, the most mysterious and romantic cuisine is Chinese. Every time I visit a Chinese restaurant I struck by a wonderful feeling of exoticism and mystery. Usually there is different music playing and a man speaking in a strange accent. Or there used to be. Nowadays the second generation of Chinese people speak English better than most people born here.
The Bright Courtyard might not have the traditional red and gold design of High Street Chinese. It’s a very modern, a mostly white dining room, with black wooden structures separating the room into different areas.
Its situated across the road from Royal China Club, an admittedly more famous Chinese restaurant. I figured they already have more than enough support and they don’t need my custom.
The occasion was Miho’s birthday so I needed somewhere sufficiently impressive. The Bright Courtyard did the job. Thanks to Harden’s Restaurant Guide (the only one I would trust) I’ve only just become aware of it. It’s been reviewed favourably by Giles Coren and Jay Rayner.
We ordered mainly from the Dim Sum menu. What could be sexier than tiered bamboo steamers containing miniature delicacies, all brought to your table on a silver trolley? They were all mostly excellent. We ordered several a large rice bowl for 2. It came in a large, smooth stone bowl like a Korean Dolsot. Vegetables were diced finely with pieces of chicken and egg. It was more than enough and we ended up it taking most of it home.
Beancurd rolls with prawns tasted like sweet pancakes. They were pleasant but not too memorable. Far better were the Venison puffs. Each one topped with black sesame seeds, showing the care that goes into the presentation on every level. Even better were the Short rib puffs. If the steamed dumplings were delicate, healthy, these were gloriously rich and unctuous. The golden pastry, a million miles away from leaded shortcrust, flaked apart in the mouth. I was full but ate two more anyway.
We also ate scallop and pork dumplings, shimmeringly translucent and soft-textured.
We had a mango pudding, a creamy bowl of chilled milky mango. As it was a birthday the restaurant the restaurant served us a delicious fruit plate, and even sang happy birthday.
Now I think of it, a restaurant can serve the best cooking in the world but it means nothing if the service is bad. After years of famously bad service in Chinese restaurants, the restaurant shows that you can manage to provide great food and great service. Which, after all, is something people remember as much as the food.