I spent autumn on tour in the cast of a show called Knightmare Live. It’s a live version of a cult TV show from the ’80s and ’90s. I had an amazing time playing a sexy crone, a mighty dragon and a patronising elf: all the traditional female roles.
Doing the shows was a joy, the travelling wasn’t. Always on tight personal dinner budgets. I would rather lick inside a stranger’s shoe than ever again face another Wetherspoon’s ‘Fish Friday.’ One Thursday in Peterborough, my ‘Curry Club’ curry arrived with the rice still in a blue plastic bag, like toxic waste. Enough. It was time we treated ourselves to a meal that Mike Leigh wouldn’t want to make a film about.
Our last tour date, away, was to lovely Winchester. The theatre gave us a 25% off card for Dim T. Is it a rapper? No. It’s a chain of dim sum restaurants. This is their first branch outside of London and judging from how busy it was, it won’t be their last.
I’m never not in the mood for Asian dumplings. All of us were so excited about having a dinner which didn’t taste of waiting for death. The staff were lovely, if a little bemused by us. One lady had to walk away giggling when, dithering over the menu, Gary said to Matthew: “Your hair smells so lovely.” She’d obviously never endured the company of actors before.
We all had a dumpling of some sort to start, for about £4 each. I had a basket of three steamed scallop and king prawn dim sum. They were beautiful. Big chunks of light, juicy shellfish with crunchy water-chestnut and tiny rings of spring onion. All encased in clear, salty glutinous wonton wrapper. I could have eaten 10 of them. More than 10 of them.
The pork buns
Others had fried chicken gyoza, like gooey, crispy-based baby pasties. They looked great. Starter champion though, was Gary’s Roasted Pork Bun. It was two big white dough balls. A savoury candy-floss casing around smoked, pulled pork. How can you beat that mixture of excitement and comfort?
Just as our conversation turned to how humans evolved the teeth we have now, romantic candles arrived. Apparently, once we’d invented forks, we stopped rending meat with our teeth. This did wonders for our smiles. Richard III died pre-forks. That’s why his fascinating skull showed a jaw with teeth all set into each other rather than having an overbite like we do now. The poor candle bringer, she had never endured the company of archeologists, turned actors, before.
Low-lit and furnished in warm dark wood, the place was now bustling. Timely, our mains arrived. A couple of our party went for Phad Thai. They were all pleased with their essential noodle stir fry. None of them crowed but that serves them right for not taking risks.
I had Curried Udon Noodles with vegetables and tofu in a red curry sauce. It was £7.95. It was delicious but flawed, but aren’t we all? The carrots, peppers and beansprouts were fine. The green beans were fit: big, wonky and juicy with an impressive chomp to them. The tofu wasn’t great. It was over-cooked: mahogany and tough.
Tofu is something hard to justify as a fan of eating. In some guises, I love it. I don’t want to eat meat every single day, I want the human race to exist for as long as possible. When tofu’s cooked in that big, brown-edged, spongey way so it soaks up all the sauce it’s in, it’s gorgeous – depending on the sauce.
Luckily for me, the sauce that night was lush. Hot, bold, red Thai flavours: red chilli, lemongrass, lime, cumin and pepper at the fore. But because the tofu had been frazzled beyond help, the sauce sat nicely next to it but didn’t soak sexily into it.
Matthew had humdrum sounding Spicy Thai Chicken, but said was one of the nicest things he’s ever eaten. I tried it and it was top, there was a lot more going on than in mine. Giant shitake mushroom and chicken in a rich, tangy sauce on rice. It packed a magic after-punch of fennel that sung through all those other flavours and kept them in your mouth, ringing around. Gorgeous.
None of us had room for pudding, but we troughed down our ridiculous fortune cookies. Mine said ‘Good thing is coming to you’ which is excellent news. I like the Fine Young Cannibals.
The spicy thai chicken
My fortune awaits.
We left a grateful tip, which I don’t think they expect in a chain restaurant. They’d never met a group of food-fans fresh out of a Wetherspoons mouth-coma before.
Address: 8-9 Jewry Street, Winchester, Hampshire, SO23 8RZ
Tel: 01962 843 000
Opening Hours: Tues- Sat 12pm-11pm (last orders)
Sun & Mon 12pm – 10.30pm (last orders)
Accessibility: Yes. All on one floor and a properly equipped disabled toilet on that floor.
Family friendly: Absolutely.