Thirty Thousand Streets

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Silver Lake

I've always really enjoyed Chinese food. Always seen it as something of a treat, ever since I was a child. But until relatively recently, went on something of a hiatus from eating it regularly. Why? It's can actually be quite hard to find decent Chinese food.

The reason as I see it is that many people in this country simply don't have very high expectations with regard to what we eat (though this trend does seem to be changing) and nowhere is this more evident than in your average high street takeaway, most of which – in fairness – exist to cater for a consensus of what is deemed acceptable. For this reason. there is probably little incentive for a business to strive for excellence, and standards remain consistently low.

This isn't just Chinese food of course. When trying a curry from Camberwell's 'Thai Fusion' (in its second but last incarnation) I got into a conversation with the manageress, who remarked with a shrug that the same menu was 'very popular' at her other restaurant in Surrey. For me, the food was remarkable only in its blandness. Thai food has been in vogue in Britain for a while now of course, but I still find it somewhat odd that there is a supposed national index of taste that exists independent of quality. Odd and slightly insulting, but then I suppose no-one can overestimate the taste of the Great British public.

High street Chinese usually tastes hugely insipid to me – typically appearing as some soggy veg and meat interred in a starchy gravy. It's usually massively over seasoned with salt, and this combined with the monosodium glutamate it's often steeped in can give you a food hangover that feels more like waking from a general anaesthetic. Chinese food doesn't usually benefit from hanging around too long (though leftover Chinese from the fridge is divine) which it often has done for reasons of expediency.

The exception which proves this rule for me is the Silver Lake on Camberwell Curch street, which I think is one of the most consistently excellent takeaways I've ever had the luck to live near. I've eaten there pretty much every week for the last year and a half, and have only felt slightly disappointed on one occasion (and everyone's allowed an off day, right?). I think it would be safe to say, it re-ignited my delight in oriental food, and reaffirmed my faith in Chinese cooking.

Because it is cooking as opposed to pouring ingredients in a pan or work, then heating and reheating. Somehow, the chef Sue and her small cadre of assistants manage, in spite of doing a brisk trade, to cook with a love and attention to detail that is all the more remarkable for its consistency.
What I find most satisfactory is that (as with most good cooking) the food is cooked with exactly the right amount of finesse to let the quality of the ingredients sing through.. and that's what you feel you're getting: Quality. And although a meal from the Silver Lake usually looks more than appetising, as a takeaway, they don't have the option of resorting to presentation to bolster their reputation, as a restaurant might. Nonetheless, I would easily rank their food on par with some of the better Chinese restaurants I've eaten at.
They're pan asian, which is I suppose a base-covering tactic to broaden their appeal, but although most of what they do is very decent, it's the Chinese I always go for.
I must confess, I know very little about authentic 'native' Chinese cooking, but here they represent a topography of flavours that seems worthy of such a large country, with a flavour suited for every taste and season. They do an amazing duck based dish, with plum sauce and soft fluffy chunks of potato that is just the thing on a cold autumn evening; fantastic piquante Szechuan prawns that are almost tempura-like, and their crispy shredded chilli chicken is my idea of what 'fast' food should be like: a tasty uncomplicated joy.
So why am I singing this hymn now? Because I'm getting withdrawal symptoms. They've shut for their annual holiday and like Dusty Springfield, I just don't know what to do with myself. I think they reopen today, thank god, but for the past couple of weeks I've been wandering round Camberwell, bleating piteously in my quest for decent salt and pepper ribs (Lamoon are pretty good, mind).
So if you live in the area, or not, and you haven't tried them – give them a go. Kenneth Branagh was a fan and so should you be. They're friendly and considering what they do, alarmingly good value for money.


Zeno Cosini said...

Strip naked and press your face to the window, eyes deliquescing with tears, mouth a rictus of hunger, until they reopen.

Kevin Anthony Kautzman said...

My wife Elaine and I have frequented Silver Lake for the past year and really love their food. Sue's a great cook, and they're very friendly - highly recommended.

The Eyechild said...


Yes it really is consistently excellent.. I tried out the one at the top of Walworth Road (Dragon Gate?) and though It's probably got a wider menu, I'd rank the food at Silver Lake as on a par in terms of Quality (and Dragon Gate got a really good write up in The Observer don't cha know).