Poon’s, the pop-up Chinese restaurant in Clerkenwell, is a fitting tribute to Bill Poon’s Covent Garden restaurant, frequented by the likes of Mick Jagger in the 70s. Vicky Smith makes the trip to Clerkenwell and falls for their legendary wind dried meats…
Before I say anything about Poon’s, there are three words you need to take note of: ‘wind dried meats’.
Honestly. Because, unless you’re veggie or vegan, to visit this charming pop-up Chinese restaurant in Clerkenwell and not try them is to do a disservice to 45 years of culinary history.
Ok, perhaps that’s a bit dramatic. But it would certainly be a disservice to yourself, because the Poon’s claypot rice with signature salami, wind-dried bacon and rounds of wondrous liver sausage heady with the scent of five-spice is pretty bloody great, and it’s a dish that’s been served by the family to diners in their restaurants since Poon’s first incarnation in Chinatown in 1973, and then in the flashier Covent Garden predecessor that followed in ’76.
It’s the latter site that helped the family achieve iconic status in the restaurant industry, with a Michelin star awarded and the likes of Mick Jagger and Barbara Streisand swinging by. Fast-forward a few decades, and Amy Poon, daughter of original founder Bill, has resurrected the family business as a temporary operation (for now).
It’s an unassuming space on a quiet little square that lies equidistant from Old Street and Angel, and the decor is just gorgeous – paper lanterns, pale turquoise walls, colourful artwork, traditional crockery and flasks adorned with pink and red roses turn an unexceptional space into an incredibly pretty one.
While myself and my dining companion couldn’t quite muster the glamour of rock star royalty on the damp April Thursday evening we visited, we gave it our best shot, popping the cork on a bottle shortly after sitting down (it’s BYO, so you can be as extravagant as you like with your choices while keeping the cost down) and diving straight into the menu to see which dishes we could try that a rakish, peak-seventies Jagger may once have ordered (you never know, right…?).
Other dishes our chopsticks clashed over included Dan Dan noodles, which came almost head-to-head with the clay pot of wind-dried meats in our affections
Which brings me neatly back to those wind-dried meats, which are listed in the ‘Bill Poon 1973’ section of the menu, and come on top of rice baked in a clay pot, the grains in the middle sticking together pleasingly; the edges toasted and crispy against the sides of the pot. You douse the lot in a salty sauce, dive straight in and let the good times commence.
Other dishes our chopsticks clashed over (most plates are designed to share) included Dan Dan noodles, which came almost head-to-head with the clay pot in our affections, the thin noodles swimming in a sesame-rich, chilli-flecked broth that could warm even the coldest rain-soaked bones.
The plump steamed wontons were pretty special too, slick with bright red chilli oil and bursting with garlicky minced pork, while the ‘thousand year old “pi-dan” eggs’ were almost otherworldly in appearance, the whites having taken on a greyish hue, the marigold yolks translucent and jewel-like, with a creamy texture and taste we found surprisingly addictive.
Poon’s won’t be at this site indefinitely, so do get along while it’s there, and then you can bore your friends with statements grandly announcing that you’re actually only interested in eating meat if it’s been prepared to an old Chinese family recipe and dried in the wind. They won’t thank you for it necessarily, but I will, so long as I can still get a table.
Poon’s, 131-133 Central Street, Clerkenwell EC1V 8AP; poonslondon.com