Tom tracks down mouthwateringly authentic regional Chinese cuisine in… Reading.
It would be easy to walk past KungFu Kitchen with barely a second glance. Sitting in an unremarkable row of shops near Reading University, between a Greggs and a student estate agent, it still resembles the café it once was. There’s a blackboard flogging lattes and cappuccinos, and an epic menu mixing full English breakfast with chips, chicken nuggets and egg fried rice.
But look closer, and you’ll find this is no run-of-the-mill regional takeaway. Hell no. Not so much lemon chicken as stir-fried lamb’s tripe with coriander and Dongpo-style pig shoulder. ‘This is proper Chinese, darling,’ says Joanna, the co-owner, along with her English husband Steven. She’s charmingly loquacious, a native of Shandong in China, as is her chef.
I can’t take credit for finding it. Rave Twitter reviews from Clay’s Hyderabadi (another Reading classic, yet to reopen) pointed me in the right direction, which led me to blogger @ediblereading’s glowing report. Which shows that among the sulphurous effluence of social media, there are still golden nuggets to be found.
Anyway, back to KungFu, and a magnificent starter of cold Sichuan beef. The homemade oil is gloriously fragrant and numbing, the very essence of ma la, with a slow-building burn, and a long, languorous finish. Thinly sliced meat blends soft chew with a wonderfully gelatinous crunch.
Chicken gizzards, cut into small pieces and stir fried in a salty, richly complex sauce studded with Chinese chives, coriander stalks and bullet chillies, have a similar cartilaginous crunch. The heat is strident, but never overwhelming, the whole dish a triumphant symphony of texture and big, bold flavour. There’s barbecue lamb, a dish from the north, soft and gently fatty, awash in fresh roasted cumin and more of those pert chives. The sauce, knowingly spiced with a hint of sweetness, clings tenaciously to each nugget of flesh.
We savour chewy homemade dan dan noodles, and attack a vast pile of local crayfish, drenched in a seething lake of crimson ire, until the table before us is covered with brutal crustacean carnage. Hand-chopped potatoes, the starch scrupulously washed away, come doused in sharp vinegar, a welcome respite from the heat.
This is a 30 (authentically thin and useless)-napkin lunch. We leave, lips numb and tongues aglow, our shirts splattered with oil, our bellies filled with joy.
About £20 a head. KungFu Kitchen, 80 Christchurch Road, Reading, kungfureading.co.uk.
DRINKS: Olly’s Cava conundrum
Memories of dodgy cheap Cava haunt me like angry olives marinated in regret. And yet, I’ve had nights out sipping top bottles that have made my toes feel like turbines on the dancefloor. Around a tenner for a bottle here in the UK delivers decent Spanish Cava blended from local grapes with all the hallmarks of the best fizz – refreshment and richness balanced with that lifting thrill that the finest bubbles deliver.
WINE OF THE WEEK: NO 1 CASTILLO PERELADA CAVA BRUT 2018 (11.5%), £7.99 (on offer), Waitrose. Superb character and apple-bright buzz. Liquid disco.
VINTAGE CAVA 2017 (11.5%), £6.49, Aldi. Vibrant and textural, this is delicious with a few green olives.
CAVA ROSADO (11.5%), £6.95, Co-Op. Probably the best-value pink fizz in Britain, a summery dream of sparkling cherries.
THE BEST VINTAGE CAVA BRUT 2018 (12%), £7.50 on offer, Morrisons. Zesty and accomplished, this tastes more expensive than it is. Genius.
KYLIE MINOGUE ORGANIC RESERVA CAVA (11.5%), £12, Sainsbury’s. Nuanced, moreish and rich, this is Kylie’s greatest hit – I love it.