I was lucky to have a get-together with UK-based Singaporean foodies at the New Mayflower restaurant in Chinatown last Sunday. Most of them were actually my fellow Makanmatas (Singapore-speak for “food police”) for Makansutra, Singapore’s definitive street food guide, before they re-settled in the UK in recent years. One lady in our dinner party actually said that she had her wedding dinner reception at the “old” Mayflower back in the early 1970s, when it was at another location along Shaftesbury Avenue!
Anyway, dinner with a visitors from Singapore is always an excuse for them to get-together in a noisy Chinatown restaurant for a raucous reunion of sorts. Actually, New Mayflower has been a family favourite of mine since the 1980s - although my association with the restaurant did not extend that far back as the other lady’s. But I do have fond memories of numerous family meals we had in there - and some with dear aunties or uncles who are no longer around.
New Mayflower’s hors d’oeuvres, which they serve as we’re perusing the menu, would have raised eyebrows even in Singapore: boiled squid, braised duck-wings and wedges of soy-braised hard-boiled egg.
What we had:
Double-boiled pork & winter-melon soup with herbs. Very good - tasted exactly like the home-brewed broths we make at home. Sheer comfort food for most Cantonese folks. Though most Singaporeans are largely Hokkien (Fujianese) or Teochew (Chaozhou), we are familiar enough with Cantonese home-cooking to really enjoy this.
Braised intestines with chilli-peppers. Not my cup of tea, but specially requested by a couple of my fellow diners - and since all dishes are to be shared communally, Chinese-style, I had a taste of this: very well-cooked - the pig’s intestines were boiled, deep-fried, then stir-fried with salt, pepper, dried chillis beansprouts, basil and chives. I won’t be ordering this again if I come myself, but a perfectly turned-out dish for pig intestine-lovers.
Chinese spinach with 3 types of eggs. One of my favourite vegetable dishes anywhere - braised Chinese spinach with fresh hen’s egg, salted duck’s egg and century egg. A Cantonese classic and done pretty well here.
Braised beef brisket with radish. Warm, earthy dish which, though much-enjoyed by my fellow diners that evening, was really below-par. The Chinese herb content has been dialled down tremendously, compared to the wonderful renditions one can get from virtually anywhere in Hong Kong. Avoid.
New Mayflower’s lobster noodles - this is the piece de resistance for the evening. I’ve lost count of the number of times when someone in my family would say, “Let’s go to Mayflower for lobster noodles”. Even as recent as the early-90s, Mayflower had the best-tasting lobster noodles (braised lobster with scallions, ginger and Shaoxing wine, served atop eggy ‘sang mein’ noodles) in the world. Even in HK or Singapore, we dreamt about coming to London to have this dish. Then, somewhere along the way, someone got better than Mayflower’s chefs at turning out this dish. By the late-90s, diners in the know would make a beeline to Mandarin Kitchen in Bayswater for their lobster noodles.
The talented team from Mandarin Kitchen (including head chef, Paul Ngo) then parted ways with their management in 2007 and opened Pearl Liang - again, with lobster noodles as one of their speciality dishes.
Today, I’d rank both Pearl Liang and Mandarin Kitchen’s renditions of lobster noodles above the one we just had at the New Mayflower. I suspect Royal Kitchen may also be able to do a better one as well these days.
New Mayflower is still one of the better restaurants in Chinatown, offering the rustic “Shuntak”-style Cantonese cuisine which had been synonymous with London Chinatown’s Chinese culinary landscape for the past 4-5 decades, but which is slowly being supplanted by Northern Chinese cuisine restaurants these days, as Mainland Chinese from the poorer Northern and North-eastern provinces of China take over Chinatown from the traditional old Hong Kong/Cantonese clique.
New Mayflower also needs to upgrade its rather dinghy restrooms, though.
68-70 Shaftesbury Avenue
London W1D 6LY
Tel: +44 20 7734 9207
Opening hours: 12 noon-12am Mon-Thu,
12 noon-1am Fri-Sat, 12 noon-11pm on Sun.