Qinghai Tibet Noodles (青藏牛肉麵 Noodles) restaurant review – have a knife(cut) day

NOTE: This restaurant has now moved two doors down and *HORROR* no longer serves knife-cut noodles. The lo mein is still fantastic though.

Recently, I feel like I’ve hit my rice ceiling – and you thought it was impossible for a Chinese to ever tire of the stuff! As a result, I’ve found myself on a bit of a noodles drive and (you’d never guess it given the name!) Quinghai Tibet Noodles (青藏牛肉麵 Noodles) is one of my favourites.

It’s a tiny little cha chan teng, tucked away down a side-street which is eternally wet from dripping air-cons. Inside, however, it’s clean, modern and relatively comfortable with that staple of any good local eaterie – a tv for everyone (including staff) to gawp at, regardless of what rubbish is on. In fact, you could say there are two forms of entertainment since the kitchen is also on-show (if you can see through the steam!).

Unsurprisingly, the signature dish of 青藏牛肉麵 Noodles is their beef soup noodle (note the little ox horns and tail in their logo), famous in Tibet and Northern parts of China. [The Chinese name of the shop, phonetically along the lines of ‘tsing djor ngau yuk’, is that famous region of China plus the word for beef.] The white noodles are knife-cut (also called hand-pulled), meaning they’re all irregular sizes and thicknesses and it’s fun to watch the chefs hack away at them in the kitchen. Prior to eating here, I’d never tried these before and I have to declare, I’m in love. Chewy, slippery shavings of noodle, swimming in a clear strong beefy stock – absolutely delicious.

The beef itself is cut into thin lean slices – a pleasant change from the fatty slivers intended for hot-potting or the MSG-laden hunks that you usually get in local restaurants. On a few occasions, it has been a little tough (I believe it’s cut from the brisket) but it never falls short on flavour. Well, for me anyway. My boyfriend finds both the beef and the soup bland but given that I was once given the nickname ‘Red Beef Girl’ by hotel staff, I absolutely lap up the iron-rich flavour of the dish. It’s brilliantly un-greasy and feels clean and fresh, yet mature and wintry. Given the rustic presentation (check out that huge wooden ladle!) and defiantly handcrafted preparation, it’s the furthest you can get from a pack of instant noodles down your local Park N Shop. The regular portion clocks in at $29 (X-Large, $42) and I have never once managed to finish it. It’s a grown-up dish for grown-up people. The boss barely needs to ask me what I want anymore!

[Incidentally, my boyfriend once had the non-soup non-knife-cut noodles – fool! – in the homemade spicy garlic sauce ($38) and said they were absolutely brilliant. He didn’t even touch the beef that came with it.]

There are also lots of little appetisers and side-dishes that are great for sharing. I’m actually quite obsessed with their crispy chicken (it comes with veggie rice for $36), which I rate higher than KFC. Partly, that’s because KFC here isn’t very good but partly, that’s because these are so SO yummy. It’s all lean, tender, flavoursome chicken and the crispy coating is just addictive. It’s exactly the right texture – not so much of it that it overpowers the chicken but a scrumptious crunch that augments the flavour. I have been known to eat a whole plate on my own, much to the dismay of whoever ordered the rice in the first place!

This bean curd pickle thing always seems to turn up with our meal (it comes with the set but you can get a starter sampler of three mini-dishes of your own choosing at $36) and I surprised myself by being quite into this as well. I can’t be certain what’s in the dressing but it’s a quirky blend of spicy-salty-sour, with the earthy nuttiness of the sesame seeds coming through too. I really like the play of textures between the soft, smooth, milky bean curd and the crunch of the pickled cucumber, although I’ve yet to master the art of eating it (that darn bean curd is a slippy beast!).

In my time, I’ve also tried their chicken dumplings (very good), various other pickles (pretty similar to the stuff with the bean curd) and a really horrible spicy chicken drumstick thing that they tried to fob me off with once when they said I couldn’t have the crispy chicken. Seriously, there was so much curry powder on it that I started sneezing as soon as it was put down on the table! However, it’s really popular so I guess it’s an acquired taste.

The two things that I was going to mention as downsides – lack of an English menu and lack of a smile from the manager – have recently been rectified. The former now exists, whilst, in the time-honoured tradition of all seemingly surly cha cha teng waiters, we’ve gradually broken down the manager by our sheer number of visits and he’s become much friendlier (he was always efficient and courteous, even when he wasn’t smiling much). Turns out he can also speak English really well, which I wish he’d told me earlier so I didn’t just sit there like a mute on our first few trips.

This is simply one of my favourite local restaurants (it’s only about 3 minutes from where I live). Reasonably-priced food, in reasonably-personable surroundings, offering something I can’t get from everywhere else at an extremely high quality. Definitely worth running the gauntlet of the dripping air-cons for. Oodles o’ Noodles? Yes please!

(And yes, that last line was a Neighbours joke).

青藏牛肉麵 Noodles, G/F 27A Kam Ping Street, North Point, Hong Kong, 2151 0506, closed every Tuesday

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