As we enter the Chinese New Year, S&C food critic, Emily Priest, discovers a tasty eatery close to home – and concludes she ought to have stayed in, though not for the reasons you may think.
Twins Chinese restaurant is located at the far end of Albert Road, which is a five-minute walk from my house. I pass it almost every day and peer inside. It looks impressive but I’ve never seen it busy. Normally this should be a warning sign, but one night, I went in anyway.
It was a Friday and, surprisingly, I was the only customer, my solitude emphasised by empty chairs and tables. Despite this, or maybe because of it, the staff greeted me warmly and sat me down with a menu and some complementary prawn crackers.
The menu had several pages of rice, noodles, duck, pork, chicken and fish options. Tempted by so many of them, I found it agony to choose. Each time the waitress came over I had to say, ‘I still haven’t decided.’
My order was (drum roll please), duck pancakes, pork dumplings and tempura prawns with sweet chilli sauce. If I’d had the budget and belly space I’d have also gone for the jellyfish, whole boiled crab and all-you-can-eat hot pot. Intriguing as they were, the tripe and ox tongue were best left to the strong-stomached experimentalists, I thought.
The items varied in price between roughly £3 and £6 – typical for a Chinese meal, which is both good and bad. Good because it wasn’t overpriced but bad because, if you’re like me and you like to sample widely, the bill racks up fast. This is why Chinese is not usually my first choice for eating out. The large menu seduces you with all its scrumptious treats and, the next thing you know, your dinner is costing £20+. Is that Twins’ problem? No, I think it’s mine or, more exactly, my lack of self-control.
I digress. My order appeared shortly after, along with a selection of sauces including hoisin and soy. The chunky prawns were arranged in a ring with a pot of bright red-orange sauce in the middle. The dumplings and pancakes arrived in metal steamers alongside a plate full of shredded cucumber and spring onion. With a fork and spoon a waiter swiftly and elegantly reduced the tender duck to manageable strips. When he was done he grinned and walked away, leaving a massive heap of game I knew I wouldn’t finish.
I started with the dumplings, as they are my favourite. Twins excelled here. The outside was soft and chewy, the pork within fragrant and bursting with flavour. The prawns were OK, if not up to the same standard. While the meat was thick and cooked perfectly, the batter was slightly under-done; soggy and greasy in parts. In the end, I found myself picking off the batter and dunking the naked prawn into the sweet chilli sauce.
The pancakes were the best. There was plenty of the filling and the duck was so supple it almost dissolved in my mouth. This should have been enough for me but, as I said, I have no self-control.
Unfortunately, my waitress never came.
I waited for twenty minutes, expecting either a dessert menu, which I eventually assumed did not exist, or the bill. In the end, I had to signal to the staff by wiggling my hand in the air and mouthing like a fish. I paid up, pocketed the free sweets and, on my way out, grabbed a takeaway menu.
Although Twins wasn’t the most incredible place to eat out, this didn’t warrant the shortage of patrons. The atmosphere was pleasant, the food was tasty and I had fun, even if the service was slow. I can imagine it being a great place for big parties where you all chip in and help yourself – that’s if your friends are the sharing type.
I may go back to Twins but I’d sooner order a takeaway from them. Maybe that’s why it was so quiet inside; punters preferred to eat at home than eat there.
Photography by Emily Priest.