Roasta Preston, 43 Plungington Road, Preston PR1 7EP (01772 827 958). Most dishes are £8-£12, sharing dishes £12-£30. Unlicensed
The late and great foreign correspondent Nicholas Tomalin once said that to succeed in journalism one needed “rat cunning, a plausible manner and a bit of literary ability”. Restaurant reviewers need a few other qualities: a rapacious appetite, broad tastes, and functioning teeth. These have been a bit difficult lately. Recently, on a trip to see my dentist to discuss a forehead crown that keeps peeling off, he told me that he had started reading my reviews with concern. “I was certain that something you ordered was going to take that tooth out,” he said.
I thought of my dentist when our first course landed at the little Chinese cafe Roasta Preston. It was a platter full of duck wings, duck necks and duck gizzards for £13. The obscure corners and extremities of duck, too often the parts left behind, are offered here in a variety of styles: braised, spiced fried or, our pick, lightly breaded and fried with minced garlic, salt and pepper. . If anything should dislodge a crown, it had to be this one. This plate was a festival strewn with streamers of manual nibbling and tugging of teeth, crispy skin and meat pulled in ribbons from the bone, interspersed with a few dense nuggets of bronzed gizzard, chopsticks from the plate. It was deliciously compulsive. It was captivating. And luckily, Mr. Sharma, it wasn’t a dental challenge.
A few weeks ago I raved about Kushi-Ya in Nottingham which was not a hidden gem, just somewhere I had never heard of before which is not the same thing. However, I consider Roasta a find, not least because of how I found it. With a spare lunch in Preston, I went looking for possibilities. This upscale place with tasting menus that I didn’t have the energy to sit down to was by no means open on Tuesday lunchtimes. I pulled up a Google map of the city and put the word “restaurant” in the search bar, then literally clicked all the red knives and forks on that map that weren’t attached to a Nando’s or Turtle Bay.
I found Roasta outside the town center around the corner from a parade of residential shops just past the campus of Central Lancashire University, which undoubtedly provides much of its custom. Normally, I treat online user reviews with caution as if they are potentially infected with anthrax until proven otherwise. But there was a warm unanimity to these, with repeated claims that the food here was reminiscent of the best places in Hong Kong, written by people who seemed to know their stuff. It’s logic. Roasta was opened five years ago by Fai Tsang and her husband, Wai, who are indeed from Hong Kong. She runs the tiny 20-seat dining room and he cooks.
At the heart of the menu, Cantonese meats to share: a whole roast duck at £30, a whole chicken marinated in soy at £25. We have the duo meat platter, for £15. The duck, offered with or without bone, is a very solid example, its shimmering and lacquered skin crunching under the teeth. The roasted pork belly is simply magnificent. Almost all of the grease has been removed and the salty crackle has become a golden, salty honeycomb that first crackles and then seems to melt. We are given plum sauce and soy dishes to dip, and do it with something close to reverence. Meanwhile, a creamy white Chinese leaf, fried in a dark vinegar sauce with caramel tones under the acidity, becomes a perfect dance partner.
Most of the menu is made up of ingredients offered in a variety of ways for around £10 each way. You can have boneless chicken thigh or pork in, for example, black bean sauce or with pickled cabbage, in satay sauce or fried and coated in salted egg, etc. Dry refried green beans with ground pork are offered with garlic, candied olives or, as we have them, with black beans. It’s a hilarious turbo charge for a dish already boosted with flavor. Finally, we have fresh prawns, sliced from the back and rolled up on themselves like big commas, in a thick broth with cracked black pepper and glasses of Shaoxing wine.
Sure, you can have rice, or their own hand-pulled noodles in broth, or a variety of Guilin-style rice noodles, but I’m always worried that a carb ballast will get in the way of the things I really care about. . I tell them that I will have rice at the end if I am still hungry. I don’t order rice. Roasta is not licensed, but the food gives me enough effect. I pass on the bubble tea option; I just don’t understand the appeal of those wonky tapioca balls. Instead, I drink jasmine tea poured from a constantly refilled teapot into an enamel cup the size of a thimble.
Roasta falls a lot into the column marked cafe rather than restaurant; perhaps, to cut the definitions, in this noble column marked “caff”. It’s a kind of place where you stand with your elbows on the table, where you can sit alone over a bowl of something steaming and delicious that makes the world a better place, and the all at a very good price. But the menu deserves to be fully explored. It takes you way beyond comfort food and into a whole host of intriguing ginnels of traditional Cantonese, to use an appropriate Lancashire word. Leave the plastic at home; they only accept cash. We ordered too much for two and are settling a bill of £56.
My virtual journey across the map of Preston, one exciting click at a time, also took me that evening to the inviting Bar Pintxos near Fishergate in the city centre. Popped in just before the kitchen closed for a good-value bottle of albariño and a few plates of very nice tapas: oilier prawns, but this time pil pil, in a thick lemon sauce. garlic, padrón peppers, crunchy calamari with a saffron and chorizo aioli, offered in cider or sherry according to your taste. At the end, a slice of baked Basque cheesecake. There are a lot of them right now. Too often it can be heavy and clog the mouth. It was light and creamy and perfectly finishable. With that, a glass of Pedro Ximénez sherry, smelling nostalgically of Christmas. It was a great end to a great day. Oh and praise be, the tooth held. I think it’s safe for now.
Nigerian-born chef Adejoké ‘Joké’ Bakare has closed his famous West African restaurant Chishuru in Brixton, south London, before reopening elsewhere in the capital next year. The 34-seat restaurant, which started as a supper club, has simply outgrown its current space, Bakare said. Although she needed more space, she promised that Chishuru would stay true to her laid-back roots. “Yes, the new restaurant will be nice and shiny, but not too shiny,” she told the restaurant industry website. Great hospitality.
The acclaimed film Boiling point, set in a restaurant during a rough shift and apparently filmed in one shot, spawned a six-part television series for BBC One. The show will pick up six months after the events of the film and will focus on Carly, the sous chef, played by Vinette Robinson, as she becomes chef of her own restaurant. Stephen Graham, who played wired chef Andy in the original, will reprise his character. Filming is expected to begin early next year.
Farewell to Grand Chief Joyce Molyneux, who passed away at the age of 91. Early in her career, she worked with George Perry-Smith at Hole in the Wall in Bath before making a name for herself at the Carved Angel in Dartmouth, where she ran the kitchen from 1974, eventually winning a Michelin star. Chef Bruce Poole of Chez Bruce described her as “a true titan of British cooks”. In 2017, Molyneux received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the OFM Awards.