Confidentials’ publisher reckons you needs to visit this glorious restaurant immediately

Gordo fell back in love with Chinese food a couple of years ago on a trip to Bangkok and Hong Kong with his mate, Nurez Kamani. The pair of them were bowled over for three days in Hong Kong, where the trip ended on a high with dinner by Madam Ho, granddaughter of Mao’s personal chef who did the legendary long march with him before taking control of China. You can’t book in. If she hears about interesting people, she invites them; even President Clinton couldn’t wangle an invite.

Quality Chinese cooking is returning to the North West

On the way back Gordo stayed over in Bangkok again, this time at The Peninsular Hotel. This gaff would be 007’s choice. He was invited to eat in the Chinese restaurant. 

“If Mr. Gordo wouldn’t mind, but as it’s the fourth Sunday of the month, you will have to share with the monks from the temple; it’s our turn (to feed them). But, Mr Gordo, you will be interested to know that Chef Chan, who is in charge of the Chinese kitchens across the Peninsular group world-wide is cooking tonight.”

2019 11 04 Welcome To Taijin Lu Ban
'Welcome to Taijin'

So that night brought a lesson in proper Chinese cuisine, which convinced Gordo that it was time Europe woke up to it. Curdled pigs’ toenails in thousand-year-old pancreas juice it was not. Chef Chan placed a dish of sweet and sour chicken on the table in front of Gordo and went back to the kitchen. 

“I’m made from the ground up,” said the dish of food, “I’ve never even seen a bottle, my friend. Chef Chan has taken half an hour of mise en place to get me ready. Seven ingredients are used; the chickens have been looked after by an Amah for a year, and there was a discussion as to which fruit include to tango with the sweetness. Lychees were chosen this time. The care in cooking me has resulted in genuinely crisp coating of chunky-cut breast meat at the point where another ten seconds would have resulted in dryness. I’m a dish at its peak.”

Gordo’s eyes were out on stalks looking at this dish, taking in the fragrance; the slight smarting of the eyes with the vinegar, the promise of the sweetness of the fruit, the crunchy pieces of chicken. Maybe fermented plums as well? Gordo felt that he was being played with.

2019 11 04 Lu Ban Chefs Table
Chef's table at Lu Ban where dining guests can get a bird's eye view of chef Dave Critchley (left) and his team working in the kitchen
2020 03 03 Lu Ban Liverpool Pdr
Private dining room where guests can enjoy small plates with a selection of matching wines

Back in the UK shortly afterwards, Gordo heard about the restaurant A Wong in London. Andy Wong, with an anthropology degree, took over his parents quite-nice Chinese restaurant near Victoria Station, having returned from a trip to China to understand the regions and their cooking style. 

After re-opening A Wong back in 2013 or so, the restaurant today is considered in the top five in Europe, picking up a Michelin star along the way. Go, dear reader, and broaden your life’s experience.

2019 11 04 Lu Ban Bar
Lu Ban's impressive bar area
2020 03 03 Lu Ban Liverpool Place Setting
Lu Ban's place settings come from China and colours have been carefully chosen for their significance in Chinese culture

Quality Chinese cooking is returning to the North West. In Manchester, if you haven’t been, go and try The Rice Bowl; 50 or so years after opening, granddaughter Jenny has the place more rammed than ever. And not just with Chinese diners, you can’t get a table because Gweilo (ed - a common Cantonese slang term for Westerners) keep returning to get their taste buds worked over with bang-on-the-nail contemporary, regional-specific cooking. Jars of sauces will never be found in her kitchen. 

Now, Gordo has heard about a very exciting new Chinese restaurant in Liverpool - Lu Ban. And it turns out a Gweilo, which roughly means ‘foreign devil’ in Chinese, is in charge of a Chinese kitchen. Lu Ban is apparently sponsored by individuals, companies and local government in the Tianjin region.

2020 03 03 Lu Ban Liverpool Dave Critchley
Lu Ban's executive head chef Dave Critchley
2020 03 03 Chefs Lan Lu Ban Liverpool
Chef's lab where guests can try some of the dishes at the development stage before they even appear on the menu

The fact that they somehow found executive head chef Dave Critchley as well, who helped design the menu at Manchester’s Australasia (much copied since) showed that these people are serious. The brief goes way beyond a restaurant; Critchley has flown over to Tianjin to cook with Master Whoo, as well as teaching European culinary methodology to the chefs there. Chef Critchley is also busy working with cookery colleges across the North West to help inspire the next generation of chefs.

The Chinese know and respect Liverpool well. Since the war with the Qing dynasty ended in the mid eighteenth century and the colony in Hong Kong was established, nearly all trade happened through the port of Liverpool.

2020 03 03 Lu Ban Liverpool Kung Pao Chicken
Kung Pao chicken - a knockout

Chef Critchley is delivering Master Whoo’s version of Kung Pao chicken. Having zinged it up a little he tells Gordo about the use of different types of chillies delivering heat as well as that near-molasses deep brown sweetness sometimes found in complex high-end Mexican cooking. The dish was a knockout and, if we are to give 10/10 to the best Kung Pao dish ever eaten by Gordo, Chef Critchley was the one who delivered it.

This is not an official review (you’ll find that here), but if the kitchen team carry on like they did during this recent impromptu tasting, the score would be moved up to 17\20. 

If you truly want to understand the new wave of contemporary Chinese cooking, Lu Ban should be on your list. It’s a really great all-round experience.

Lu Ban Restaurant, Cains Brewery Village, Stanhope Street, Liverpool, L8 5XJ

In this instance Gordo was invited by the team at Lu Ban, so many thanks to Dave Critchley, Tom Miney, Charlotte Hawksworth, Kayleigh Cox and not forgetting Gordo’s drinking pal, Lauren Pryce, the best front of house in the kingdom. Gweilo one and all!

2019 12 16 Lu Ban Exterior

Read more - Lu Ban - New Tianjin inspired dining experience is finally open

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