Review: Hot Stuff, Vauxhall, London England

Just before we reached England, I read a lengthy article by the Financial Times about how the grand tradition of the British curry house is being threatened from all sides by a range of factors including: 1) the value of the British pound making the import of ingredients from India less affordable; 2) the decreasing profit margins as prices stay stagnant according to public expectations; 3) the growth of cook-at-home or reheat-at-home Indian meals from the supermarket; 4) the increasing willingness of the British consumer to try cuisines other than Indian – Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, South American are all becoming popular.

It’s the type of situation that faced Chinese takeaways in Australia in the mid-2000s after the launch of TV shows like Masterchef – suddenly everyone was cooking their own stir fries at home rather than ordering from the local takeaway. As I’ve mentioned before, that’s why my parents ended up closing our takeaway shop ten years ago after working in the trade for well over fifteen years.


It takes a special restaurant to be able to weather this kind of bleak environment and still command a loyal following. Hot Stuff, the local Indian restaurant in Vauxhall, London, is exactly that kind of place. Located just ten minutes away from the Bed and Breakfast that we stayed at while in London, it’s the type of restaurant where locals are greeted by name when they enter and have a good chat with the owner about what’s been happening in their lives. It’s still a family-run restaurant, and I smiled when I saw their little girl bringing dishes out to customers – it reminded me of what I used to do to help in our takeaway shop.

Now I don’t know about you, but I often find it difficult to tell madras from tikka, tandoori from korma, or masala from vindaloo. If you find yourself in the same position, don’t stress over trying to order from the menu at Hot Stuff. You just need to tell the waiter what you like, and the kitchen can customise a banquet menu just for you. So if you prefer chicken over lamb, or can’t eat spicy foods, or are allergic to shellfish – just let them know, and they’ll sort you out with the right dishes to suit your tastes.


We happily left the choices up to our waiter (no restrictions – we eat everything and anything!). Our first dish was the Jeera Chicken – bone-in chicken drumsticks slow-cooked in a mild curry sauce with a healthy serve of cumin seeds. This dish simply defines the word tender and is a real crowd-pleaser.


Next up was the Lamb Kebab – dramatically served on a sizzling plate that sends plumes of smoke and the irresistable aroma of fried caramelised onions wafting over your table. The lamb was very fresh and nicely spiced, but I thought the highlight was actually the incredibly sweet fried onions which were the perfect accompaniment to the lamb.


Appetisers done and dusted, these are the main dishes that we were served – Sliced Cabbage, Masala Fish and Karahi Chicken with a serve of Pilaf Rice and a Coriander/Garlic/Chilli Naan. Some great variety here, and a great way to sample a few different dishes. My personal highlight was the fish curry – incredibly soft pieces of fish cooked in a spicy red curry sauce that was just heavenly served on a bed of spiced pilaf rice.


I also enjoyed the sliced cabbage – a surprise for me as I normally opt for an eggplant dish when ordering off the vegetarian menu at Indian restaurants. If cabbage is stewed in delicious aromatic spices like this though, it’s something I’ll have to get used to ordering more often!


Unbelievably, the whole meal only cost us £35, which included the cost of two soft drinks and pappadums and dips to start. There was more than enough food for two of us, and we actually probably should have taken some of it home as leftovers rather than stuffing our mouths like the pigs we are. While it is a bit more expensive than your usual Australian takeaway Indian restaurant, I honestly think the quality of the food makes it more like a visit to Aki’s in Woolloomoolloo back home in Sydney, where a banquet for two can cost you almost double what we paid at Hot Stuff.


One of the most popular features of Hot Stuff which we didn’t take advantage of is the fact that they don’t charge for corkage. It’s rare to find, and indeed in this review of Hot Stuff in The Guardian, the writer took advantage of this generosity: “I quickly calculated that I could pop into the local Sainsbury’s and pick up a bottle of something for less than the sort of money I would usually pay in most other restaurants, and drink very well indeed. And so, to go with my chilli chicken and my lamb with butternut squash, I bought a chunk of Bordeaux which, on most lists, would weigh in at the best part of £70 but had cost me £20.” Most other diners in the restaurant seemed to do the same and brought in bottles of champagne, wine, beer – whatever took their fancy.

Sadly, our B’n’B host told us that upcoming local property developments have meant that all the shops and restaurants in that area have been given notice to vacate within the next 18 months, so that the area can be developed into the usual soulless corporate supermarkets and luxury apartment blocks. Small family-run businesses like Hot Stuff will soon have to find another location to serve delicious, homemade Indian fare. Get into Hot Stuff before it’s gone!

Hot Stuff is located at 19 Wilcox Road in Vauxhall, London, England.

Review: New Fortune Cookie, Queensway, London England

While K and I had enjoyed a low-key Chinese New Year celebratory lunch in Zagreb at Asia T House, there was one key element missing – authenticity. The food was cooked well but when all the other diners in the restaurant are Croatian, you end up missing the most endearing part of a great authentic Chinese restaurant – all the tables talking over each other in loud Cantonese or Mandarin, a constant chatter that’s particularly soothing to my ears.

On our first quick stop in London (20 hours between Zagreb and Dublin!), we had just enough time to do a quick tour of Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace before heading back to our hotel for some shut-eye. On our way back, we stumbled across New Fortune Cookie in Queensway, a street hosting more than a handful of Chinese restaurants. It only took one glance to see that New Fortune Cookie was the most authentic of them all though, with tables filled with local Cantonese people all talking over each other, the noise of the restaurant hitting the street every time the door opened.


Once we heard that noise, there was no question of where we were going to go for dinner – New Fortune Cookie was going to give us the noisy Chinese New Years meal that we’re accustomed to in Australia with our families! We knew we chose the right place as I heard the head waiter greeting a few families by name and wishing them a Happy New Year – regular business from local Cantonese families is definitely the sign of a good Cantonese restaurant!

K was very impressed with me as I asked for a table, ordered tea, and ordered our meal all in Cantonese. To be honest, I was a bit impressed with myself as well – I know my recognition of Chinese characters is still very rusty, so knowing that I can still decipher menu items (clearly the most important use of the language) is a relief!


I started us off with a Wonton Soup, four plump pork and prawn wontons in a soup with a surprisingly depth of flavour – this wasn’t a simple MSG soup, this was a genuine soup from home-made stock. A nice and simple soup using quality ingredients to really help you build up an appetite.


Our appetiser was the Sesame Prawn Toast – a nostalgic treat for both K and I that we had just been reminiscing about a few days before. I remember my parents making prawn toast when I was a child – they owned a takeaway shop, and it was definite a favourite of many of our regular customers! It’s a dish that I’ll have to try to make when I get home – and I’ll definitely use an extremely thick layer of prawn paste like these ones from New Fortune Cookie which were very generous!


You can’t have a Chinese meal without rice in some form – so I ordered the Yang Zhou Fried Rice with prawn and BBQ pork. In hindsight I really should have ordered the chicken and saltfish fried rice, as this yang zhou fried rice lacked oomph. There was hardly any flavour to it, and it tasted as plain as steamed rice. A pity, as it could have been a great dish if they’d added enough flavouring to the mix.


The Half Roast Duck was an absolute delight though. I chose the deboned option (the waitress will ask you what you prefer), which made it all the more easier to enjoy each piece of the duck with its crispy skin, layer of fat and tender meat soaked in a sweet soy sauce. It’s easy to cook duck badly and dry it out – this however, was perfect. A half-serving was the perfect amount as well – a quarter-serving would have left us craving more, but the half-serving was just the right amount to satiate our cravings.


I had to order some vegetables and the Stir-Fried Mixed Vegetables was the easiest thing for me to read on the Chinese menu…ergo, that’s what I ended up ordering! I was afraid that it was going to a boring mix of vegetables that wouldn’t normally be seen dead in a Cantonese restaurant, but it included a fantastic range of vegetables that we hadn’t tasted for a while. Bean shoots, baby bok choy, water chestnuts, mushrooms, baby corn…it was all here, and all deliciously healthy.


New Fortune Cookie is the type of Cantonese restaurant that finishes off every meal with a few slices of fresh orange to cleanse your palate, and a fortune cookie as a sweet treat. Interestingly, did you know that fortune cookies don’t actually exist in China? They’re an American invention, and many claim that it actually has its roots in Japanese temple traditions.


Whatever the origins of the fortune cookie, it can still be fun to break open the cookie and read your fortune…so imagine my disappointment when my cookie had no fortune inside at all! I was tempted to ask the waitress for another, but refrained.

New Fortune Cookie offers the type of old-school Cantonese dining experience that’s slowly being phased out by overpriced hipster fusion Asian eateries – do your best to support establishments like this while they’re still around! There’s nothing like dining in a large restaurant surrounded by people talking and laughing over each other as they eat delicious, hearty food on special occasions like Chinese New Year. I’m glad that we found this restaurant while we were in London – it was a little bit of home for us to enjoy on our travels.

All up, our meal ended up costing us around 33 pounds, or around $66 AUD. This is obviously far beyond what we would normally pay in Australia for a meal in a Cantonese restaurant like this (usually around $40), so Aussie Cantonese heading to London need to keep price differences in mind! Part of it has to do with the abysmal exchange rate, but there’s an element of location-charging here as well, as the restaurant is located in quite a nice part of London!

New Fortune Cookie is located at 1 Queensway, London.