“13 weeks,” said Nathan, our waiter, in answer to my question of how long had .cn been open. I liked Nathan and not just because apart from MrsA, the niece and myself he was the only other Westerner there. I liked Nathan because he was extremely helpful and seemed to enjoy answering all our questions about the dishes. I liked Nathan because he took the time to ensure that we knew what we were ordering and that we were enjoying what we were eating.
I don’t know how Nathan had landed the gig of being the Western face of .cn but he seems pretty knowledgeable about the dishes and their background, so either he’s a serious Googler or they’ve got a damn good training programme going on. Nathan and I have only known each other for about an hour, so I decide not to press on trying to find out. Besides, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be coming back to this place, again and again, so there’s going to be plenty of opportunities to ask in the future.
“13 weeks, but we haven’t really marketed to Westerners yet,” says Nathan. “We’ve been full of Chinese students since we opened, so we haven’t needed to; but the students will be going home for the summer soon and so we need to start widening our market.” I almost want to try and convince him not to. I’d much rather keep this to myself. I rather not risk them diluting the menu by trying to cater for the tastes of most Westerners.
So what was it that was making me so protective of a place that I’d never been to before and was barely familiar with? The food of course! .cn specialises in Northern Chinese cuisine. That cuisine is the food of the working man, hearty food in hearty portions. Typically that means there’s little waste and the whole of the animal gets utilised. Ears, stomach, intestines; it’s all cooked and eaten. In the current British food renaissance they call it “Nose to Tail” eating. For some of us of a certain age “nose to tail” is what we grew up on and what we've been missing.
So let’s talk about the food (we have to talk about it because in my haste to tuck into what was put in front of me I totally forgot to take any pictures).
Here’s what we had. Sliced belly pork in chilli sauce; we had ordered pigs ears but they’d run out so we opted for the pork belly. This was served cold. There are a number of cold dishes on the menu and these can be taken as starters but we elected to have everything as it comes. I wasn’t too sure about this when we ordered it, as I couldn’t quite get my head round cold belly pork. Fat might mean flavour but cold fat is never normally a pretty sight. I shouldn’t have worried though as these wafer thin slices of pork, benefiting from the heat of the chilli oil, just worked.
On the seafood selection we chose Squid with Chives and Stewed Fish with Sour Chinese Cabbage. The squid was perfectly cooked, not rubbery at all thank god and nicely complemented by the chives. The Stewed Fish was served as a broth in a large tureen; it was packed with fish and packed with flavour with enough red chillies to catch the unwary by surprise.
Throw in some Pak Choi with Black Mushrooms, boiled rice and a steamed twisted bun (great for mopping up the juice) and you have an awesome meal.
Of course we couldn’t just stop at awesome; we added some home made steamed dumplings filled with pork and then threw some Steamed Trotters into the mix. If you’ve had trotters in a Modern European restaurant recently you’ll have been impressed how they slow cooked them, de-boned them and then reformed them into something still resembling a trotter. This, however, is workingman’s cuisine. Here they just cook them slowly until they turn into the most gooey, unctuous, delicious entities and then they cover them in the most delightful sticky sauce imaginable. I just can’t tell you how good they were!
As I said earlier the portions are hearty and so despite the fact that three of us were tucking in there was still plenty left for us to take away for lunch the next day.
In summary, MrsA and I absolutely loved .cn and we’ll be going back again and again I'm sure. You should too; just don’t you dare suggest they change a single thing.
228 City Road
Cardiff CF24 3JH
Tel: 029 2048 6688