Elephant and Castle is always “about to be regenerated”. It’s been like that since records began.
I distinctly remember, when I was a Latin scholar, reading a section in an ancient Roman scroll on the rise of Londinium, which stated that the roundabout and surrounding out-dated Grecian style housing just south of Borough would soon be gentrified, to include upmarket unisex baths.* As a History undergraduate, I was taught by the pre-eminent professor of Medieval town planning that the Great Fire in 1666 diverted funds previously set for improving Elephant, towards rebuilding the Square Mile instead.** Indeed, for all of my living memory, people have periodically informed me that the area is about to be improved.***
Yet it remains grim.
Of course the Strata Tower (also known as the Razor, Isengard or London’s Ugliest Building) arrived in the last eighteen months. But this is as much of a blight on the surroundings as any of the condemned and boarded up council flats in its close vicinity, and presumably dissuades rather than persuades developers from investing.
Maybe I’m being a bit cynical and, with the Shard finished, it really will become the next sparkly place. But I have a feeling that for the foreseeable future, I’ll still hear that it’s “about to be regenerated” every time I’m in the area.
This is a shame because I actually have a few reasons to stop by relatively often; one being a sort of annual pilgrimage to Dragon Castle, which was one of the first good Cantonese restaurants I ever visited in London and remains one of my favourites.
It has all the classic features: the massive temple-like immovable front door to send your friends towards; a quite terrible water feature in the lobby; a large stag’s head above the bar counter; and, currently (but possibly all year round?), a plethora of gloriously tacky Christmas decorations. I love it and wouldn’t have it any other way.
My preferred approach is to go with a group of five or six, to get everyone to choose two dishes, agree on a few appetisers as well, then passive aggressively change the choices that I don’t want, so as to ensure the order represents only my desires.
I like to make sure we’ve got at least two hot clay pots, one of which should be spicy, a whole steamed sea bass, and something weird that I’ve never had before and probably won’t again (principally to annoy my friend whose requests for spring rolls, prawn toast, duck pancakes, sweet and sour pork and beef and black bean sauce always fall on my large and slightly wonky but stubborn ears).
The ‘difficult’ dish last week was a Thousand Year egg, jellyfish and cucumber salad.
Now, translucent black eggs with sulphurous semi-liquid green yolks are difficult to sell to white middle class English boys and girls from the provinces at the best of times. But I wasn’t helped in my pursuit by my usually infallible former resident of Hong Kong pal, who described his quarter as “challenging” before anyone else had committed. His failing, I think, was eating the egg solo, rather than with the accompanying marinated cold jellyfish strips and cucumber – which I thought delicious. I also quite liked the eggs.
The rest of the meal was a textbook Ang Moh splurge, with the whole steamed sea bass, ginger, spring onion and soy stock a highlight as always. I keep saying that one day I’ll come and just have the sea bass and a bowl of steamed rice, rather than stuffing myself with other items too. That would be a simple, clean and delicious experience. To date I’ve just not had the self-discipline.
Sticky pot pork dumplings were a little agricultural, but enjoyable nonetheless, and a couple of portions of chilli and black pepper squid went down a treat. Mapo Doufu was a little bland and a touch too shiny for my liking, and would have preferred more of a kick to the spicy chicken clay pot. But a portion of Morning Glory was a joyous green bowl of salty innuendo, and clay pot beef was rich and succulent and rekindled my faith in the hot pot part of my ordering strategy. There were a couple of other dishes too, along with plenty of rice, but I became so full that some memory space was reallocated as a second stomach.
It was a Friday night and we’d secured a last minute booking in a half empty room that, during all of my other visits over the years, has been packed and turning tables throughout. Rolling out in a fugg of contentment it wasn’t clear to me why the restaurant wasn’t (like me) full to bursting. I’m pretty sure the quality was as enjoyable as always and our credit cards had barely been dented.
Maybe the lack of a crowd was just a one off. Perhaps it’s a November thing. But you should go in any event, before the area gets gentrified**** and we find that Dragon Castle has been bought out by Ping Pong or Giraffe.
*This isn’t true.
**Neither’s this bit.
***Though this bit is.
****And this won’t happen for ages, if at all. But go anyway. I hear the Dim Sum at lunchtime is good.
Dragon Castle in 3 words
Classic Cantonese food.
£31 per head on the nose with service, a few beers each and far too much food.
dragoncastle.eu – 100 Walworth Road, SE17 1JL – 020 7277 3388