Bright Courtyard. Nicey Nicey, Spicy Pricey.
I’d been having an after-hours manicure in the office, as you do and C was in the market for food. This is C-nails not C-husband. C-nails is that manicurist overlap in the Venn diagram between myself and E, who sometimes appears on these pages and who works in the same building as Bright Courtyard. Some time ago, E booked it for us. Wearing my Cynthia Selfish hat, I’d told her that I’d heard it wasn’t that great and on the back of that she cancelled and we ended up at my old stand-by, Pheonix Palace. Her other half had recommended Bright Courtyard, but I was sceptical. It looked cold and empty, not to mention expensive and I hadn’t heard anyone say it was worth a try. So it was that I had made up my mind about Bright Courtyard, without actually walking through the door.
But last week, having done the OpenTable scroll of sadness and enduring endless can-I-put-you-on-holds from Iberica Marylebone (no, actually, you can’t- I’ve been on hold for three minutes now), this came up and I thought I’d throw caution to the wind. I can do that sometimes. Don’t tell anyone.
It’s on the corner of the building known as 55 Baker Street, a behemoth of a building, housing various financial services groups, not to mention a very well-known firm of estate agents, where E spends much of her life.
What I did not know (and why would I) is that it is part of The Shanghai Life Fashion Group. According to the website, the group is made up of three high quality brands in Shanghai, Life Fashion restaurants, New Tian Di and an hotel called the ‘Just Joined Inn’. Really. It’s a brand, then, offering modern Cantonese and traditional Shanghai cuisine. You can feel the money. You can also spend a lot of it, without trying too hard.
The restaurant is made less hangar-like by clever partitioning and dim lighting. Very airy, modern and sparsely furnished, the tables are well-spaced and there is, I am pleased to note, little possibility of making conversation with your neighbours. The table we were given couldn’t quite accommodate the food we’d ordered, but this wasn’t because we had gone to town – well, not entirely – it was because the food was served on huge, oddly-shaped plates, a boat here, an oval there, some of them containing unnecessary plate decoration. I do not need a large conical basket, on its side, draped across the plate. If you are going to serve food on outsized plates, please give me an outsized table. Thank you.
Because she is kind and knows that it will make me happy, C lets me order. Not too spicy, she says. Oh. I try to avoid the chillies, but it is not easy. In fact ordering per se is not easy, because the menu is presented on what is the digital-age version of the glossy picture menu. It’s an iPad. I am certain those glossy pics induced me to over-order. Like that is something I wouldn’t otherwise do.
The waiter stands patiently whilst I scroll through and panic-buy. My choices were fairly conventional. Aromatic duck (not memorable: nothing is, after Hutong) but perfectly serviceable. and Soft Shell Crab with Chilli and Garlic. And Szechuan Chilli Chicken. And Lamb with Spring Onions. And Salt and Pepper Asparagus. Because the only carbs would be the pancakes with the duck, we feel that crispy noodles are needed.
The salt and pepper asparagus were fresh and crisp and the soft-shell crab delicious and well-spiced with crisp chilli onion bits to drop from my chopsticks all over the table, in the time-honoured way. The Chicken was also good but the Szechuan peppercorns overpowered the dish a little. The lamb was tasty and tender; possibly the best dish of the lot.
I do like a plateful of crispy noodle, with stuff on top. Sometimes I will order prawn stuff, sometimes meat stuff. This time, because we’d OD’d on protein, we thought we’d give a nod to the 7-a-day and have stir-fried vegetables. Unfortunately, the noodles were drowned in a gelatinous sauce. The vegetables were good and generous (a wood-ear mushroom of loveliness stands out) but any crispness in the noodles had vanished by the time the dish got to the table, drowned under the sea of gloop. I’d have sent it back, but it came towards the end and we couldn’t actually eat any more.
It wasn’t perfect, but I find that I want to return to try it again. There were dim sum which look interesting and we only scratched the surface of that huge menu. I liked the very friendly, helpful service and their patience and good humour, whilst I was deliberating. I liked the fact that the food comes quickly because I eat quickly and I am, apparently very impatient. I also like the fact they have decent wine by the glass.
You could cross the road and go to Royal China and find many of the dishes on this menu, for about two-thirds of the price, but the cooking here has more finesse and the restaurant is far more comfortable. If someone offers to take to you, don’t make my mistake.