It was always going to happen. We’ve been extremely lucky thus far in this Kingsland endeavour – with the notable exception of Kay Kays – but I knew our good food fortune couldn’t last forever. There was always going to be at least one (and probably more) bad meal along the way. There was always going to be one dish so repulsive as to be truly inedible – something so vile that it makes you question what the point of eating for pleasure is and decide that everyone would be better off just eating those strange and tasteless bars of space food you used to get brought by your parents when you went to the Science Museum.
And tonight, we’re faced with such a dish. It’s the Braised Mekong Catfish in a Claypot from Loong Kee. It was a truly ugly looking pile of food; hunks of unappetising fish congealing under a greasy-looking greying sauce. If possible, it managed to taste worse than it looked; the fish reeking of nothing but mud and the sauce doing little to mask it. And the bones! God I didn’t think it was possible for a living creature to contain so much cartilage and still have space for the organs and whatnot that are needed to sustain life.
To make matters worse, the fact we’d ordered it was mostly my fault. For some reason, I had decided that Loong Kee was famous for its claypot dishes. So we ordered two – the catfish and another chicken one. It was only when faced with the horror of the catfish that I realised I was wrong and the place with the good claypot dishes was in fact next door.
The warning signs that we weren’t in for a good meal were apparent from the moment the first starters arrived. The Fresh Summer Rolls with Prawns were OK – not a patch on the ones from Song Que down the road –if rather tasteless and lacking the explosion of freshness that makes the best really sing. The Crispy Seaweed was bland as well, and when you can honestly say that you’ve had better from the disgusting Chinese takeaway places that little the upper end of Oxford Street, you know you’re not in the presence of food that is ever going to set the world on fire. Crispy Squid didn’t offend (but then how hard can it be to deep fry some squid and sprinkle with chilli and salt?). The only starter that was anything like above mediocre was the Grilled Quails that Iestyn ordered while under pressure from the pushy waiter to make a quick decision about what he wanted to eat. Happily it turned out to be rather good – the bits of bird simply grilled to crispy deliciousness and then left alone. The bits of bird arrived with a dry combo of salt, pepper and chilli which we liberally sprinkled across the meat before wolfing them down; a lone moment of pleasure in a sea of blandness.
Then came the main courses. The less said about the Cat Fish the better. The rest of our choices were not much of an improvement; our second claypot – this time filled with a mixture of dried-out chicken and a slightly spiced oil – was at least edible if unexciting. The “Sweet and Sour BBQ Pork Vietnamese Style” could have been more accurately called “Neither Sweet Nor Sour boiled Pork Crappy Chinese Take Away Style”. It was pieces of unidentified grey meat, with that strangely pink edging that shit restaurants employ to signify BBQ taste when something has been about as far from a barbeque as it possible to be while still being cooked.
Jack and Melissa went off piste, but fared little better, ordering steaming bowls of Udon and Vermicelli with the same BBQ pork. It was all just as dry and tasteless as our pork. But with more slimy/crispy noodles thrown into the mix.
I suppose the best that can be said about Loong Kee is that it’s now set the bar so low that we don’t really have to worry when people ask what the worst place on Kingsland Road is – we know the answer already.