Local Friends - Chinese (Hunan) in Golders Green - London - Really Good Report
I went with my aunt and uncle to Local Friends in Golders Green tonight. We had a great meal.
We were initially given a large menu with lots of items - some clearly Hunan, other things less obviously Hunan. I was able to pick out a few items that were Hunan though, but fortunately I asked one of the servers for recommendations, because when he heard I wanted Hunan food, we were brought a different menu entirely. This menu was in Chinese and English, and also had pictures for every dish - very nicely done, and very similar to many menus I saw in China. There were several dishes on both menus, but this Hunan menu also had a lot more (including sections of cold appetizers, special soups, pig ears, frog, etc) So, be sure to ask for the separate Hunan menu!
Cold cucumber w/ vinegar - This was probably my least favorite - but luckily it was just a small plate. Chopped cucumbers, pickled chilies, vinegar. It was clear it had just been assembled, so the cucumbers hadn't really absorbed any of the sauce. So it was fine, but nothing special.
Pork with Dried Cucumber - Not sure if this translation was super accurate, but this dish was excellent. Lots of fresh chilies, which made it spicy, and thin pieces of pork, cucumber (which is pickled I think? and yellow in appearance). Recommended.
Smoked pork with tofu - I wished the tofu had been the smokier variety, but this dish was very good as well. Some pieces of the smoked pork were smokier tasting than others, but this dish was also prepared pretty well. Also had plenty of fresh chili, as well as sweet pepper. Recommended
Cabbage - This was quite good - my only complaint was that it could have had a bit more wok char, but the flavor was really spot on - perfect level of sweetness, light sauce with some dried chilies thrown in. On the menu, this dish is translated as "Turkish Cabbage" in English. I don't know why. Highly Recommended.
Eggplant with French Beans - This was the star of the table. Limster had ordered this, which was motivation for us, and it was really really good. Eggplant and string beans were both cooked expertly - the beans were shriveled yet succulent, eggplant was perfect level of softness, sauce wasn't goopy or overpowering, but still present and mildly spicy. Very highly recommended.
There were a few choices for tea - we had flower (chrysanthemum) tea, which was very nice.
With white rice, one beer, and a small complimentary plates of carved orange for dessert, total bill for the above was £45. All three of us ate a lot, and there was a substantial amount leftover (which we took home). So serving size and prices are both very reasonable.
Service was very friendly, and everyone seemed quite pleased that we wanted to try Hunan dishes.
The restaurant has been under the current ownership for about a year now, but there seems to be almost nothing written in English about their Hunan food on the internet (aside from limster's comments here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/644175). Most reviews of the restaurant are people complaining about how the dim sum has gone down in quality with the new ownership. :) My aunt said that it was the best Chinese food she'd had in London in years!
The upstairs has a few private rooms, which can be booked for parties of 5 or more...I think I heard one room singing some karaoke, though I didn't confirm this. Very convenient location, practically across the street from Golders Green tube station.
I will definitely be back, and other chowhounds need to get here soon! There is a very big Hunan menu that needs exploring!!!
Also, I have now had three great Chinese meals in London - Cantonese, Sichuan and now Hunan! So I am happy to say my fears about lack of good Chinese in the UK were unnecessary - there is great Chinese food here after all.
re: Dave MP
Well, I made it to Local Friends last night and had a really lovely meal. As initially stated, there is a general Cantonese menu given, but as soon as we said we wanted Hunan food, they got the other menu straight away. The staff were incredibly friendly, engaged and informative throughout our meal. I was very impressed.
We ended up choosing some of the dishes mentioned in this thread. The aubergine with green beans and Turkish cabbage but were both great. The aubergine was silky, sweet, with the green beans adding a welcome crunch. The cabbage was seriously tasty - I'm not sure how they got it to taste that good. In addition, we had the stir fried pork with chillis, the cold chicken and the dried pork with preserved radish. For me, the star was the dried pork. I had tried this dish in Yueyang and have been desperate to eat it again ever since. This was great - the ham was not too salty, but had a wonderful sweetness, and I loved the texture of the preserved vegetables. The other pork dish was also great, and I couldn't complan about that at all. The chicken was disappointing, as it didn't taste of very much, but that was the only duff note of the meal.
We had a nice chat with the waitress at the end who told us about the history of the place and where the chefs are from. I will definitely be back - I enjoyed myself a lot.
I did ask that question, but the response was quite long and went a bit off-piste, so I'm still as much in the dark as I was before!
I do know though that they have four chefs at four workstations. I think she said two from Hunan, to prep that side of the menu, one Cantonese chef to do that, and then one dim sum chef too!
Visited a few days ago, this place is local to where I live.
Can echo the comments of other posters - a positive first impression (stir fried pork with chillis, aubergine/green beans and fried rice w/ preserved vegetables), enjoyed each of the dishes (and subsequently leftovers at home) and found the owner and waitresses charming + friendly and very happy to talk customers through the Hunan menu. I seem to remember Limster commenting on the lack of fieriness in the dishes and I found the same. Looking forward to trying more dishes off the menu including dumplings, hot/spicy fish, hot/spicy swimmer crab, stir fry beef with chilli, mutton, dried pork w/ radish.
I visited with some friends last night. Agree with the comments about aubergine/beans, very well cooked. We asked for the blue crab, but were steered away from this by the waitress ("no meat in the crab, all shell!") to a new dish not yet translated into English, grilled king prawns on skewers. The prawns were marinated beautifully and had a soft shell you could happily eat.
Unfortunately I didn't note all the items on the menu, but we had a beef dish which was nice but not all that special. A star dish for me was a cold chicken entree with a little spicy sauce (from memory it had a full-page picture very early on in the menu, if you want to find it). This was very, very tasty. I also felt some numbing action, so I'm assuming there was a little szechuan pepper in the sauce.
Another friend ordered sweet corn and pine nuts. This was nicely done, but, eh, it really was just sweetcorn mixed with pine nuts. :)
Anyway, was very good overall and look forward to exploring the menu more.