Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Laksa Mondays

By: Mr Robot

Back in the early years of this millennium, you could find me in Bath's Green Park Tavern pretty much any day of the week because it was
a) close to home,
b) even closer to the office, and
c) a proper pub complete with open fire and sticky-toffee carpet.

Sadly those days are long gone and the GPT has since been reinvented several times - most recently as a moderately swish (ie. clean) Smokehouse.

 It's a shameful admission that until recently I'd never actually had a Laksa. Not even made one of the sundry Nigel Slaters that are kicking around the house. But in menu or cookbook, whenever I think of it - and I do, often - there's always sometime a bit more exciting, so I do or have that instead.

Not least because I sort of thought I sort of knew that Laksa's a kind of coconutty, noodly soup, so what's there to get excited about? Which is monumentally stupid because Ohn No Khao Swe is also a coconutty noodly soup, and almost the best thing in the world. So I'm a buffoon.

Anyhoo, when word reached the Robot mailbox that Masterchef winner and pride of Bath, Ping Coombs ,was doing a Laksa pop-up at the GPT Smokehouse, we had to go.

Did I mention the lovely tables?
We spent a long time looking at them
The set-up was a good one, I think: fixed Laksa for the main course but with a few options around as starters/sides and puddings.

As already noted, Laksa in itself doesn't really make me gasp but I was interested to find out about the sides, (streetfoody stuff I hoped - win) and anyway if you're going to do the thing, this seemed like an excellent place to start.

How right I was.

It's not in my nature to be mean (honestly, no matter what you may hear) but I have to say the service was somewhat creaky. Talking to the staff afterwards, they freely admitted they'd been taken by surprise at the popularity of the event. Which is kind of daft on one level (Ping!), but also disarmingly sweet.

So seating was kind of chaotic ("just find a place - it'll be ok") but luckily we'd run into some of the nice people from the Pig Guide so we had strength in numbers.

I'm sure that, had it been just two Robots, there'd have been a lot of anxious whirring and some burnt diodes in the social-acceptibility networks. As it was, we were ok with chums.

The wait, it is true, was a tad lengthy, and some people got a bit grumpy. Personally I'm more forgiving of a pop-up; in this situation it's not the "professional" environment I'd expect from a regular night in a full-time establishment. In some ways it feels almost closer to a dinner party, even if I am paying to attend. Certainly I have a great deal more sympathy for (and identify with) the poor bugger in the kitchen. I don't know, maybe that's patronising, but I hope it's kind.

In any case, the ready supply of Exmoor ale and good company meant timing wasn't really an issue. Had it been just the two of us, there may well have been phone fiddling, thumb twiddling and eventually bickering and bitterness, but that's just us.

When the food showed up, it was a real joy.

Great sadness that the pork-scratchingy thing had sold out was balanced by the truly brilliant porky-rolly thing that was so intensely flavoured yet comfortingly tender it was little short of addictive.

Porky-Rolly Joy. As stolen by Evil Wife

I honestly can't convey how good this was. I know that's my failing and I should try harder, but it's late. When I make it myself, I'll wax more lyrical. Promise.

Mrs R had been hesitant about the prawn and chive fritters, until she tasted them. The texture was akin to onion bhaji (was it gram flour? I've no idea, but it was soft and nutty inside, which you can already imagine alongside sweetness of prawn lumps and oniony freshness so I need say no more).

Needless to say I had no such doubts, and hope to be rewarded for my faith in due course.

Oh ye of fritter faith...

The laksa itself as the main course really stood up, for me. Yes it was rich and fragrant, which I'd expected. I hadn't anticipated the strength of fish sauce*, or how well it would harmonise with everything else.

As we've recounted at length, fish sauce and all its ilk has been something of a learning curve. A couple of years ago, I'd have been actively put off by the very thing I'm praising now, because truly the fish sauciness made the dish for me.

That's the way (a-ha, a-ha) I laks....sorry

(*I can't say for sure it was actually fish sauce - it might have been mashed dried shrimps or something else I can't bear to think about. It was that surprisingly strong element, though, that both stood out in itself and enhanced everything else).

Delicious tender pork, prawny prawn, soft egg and softer noodles were all lovely, but oh that soupy sauce.

It's fair to say Mrs Robot wasn't quite as enchanted as I, but it's also fair to say she's both weird and wrong.

We didn't make it to pudding, which is a shame because there was some coconutty (possibly noodly) thing that really appealed to me.

But last orders was looming and by the time we noticed we were pretty much the last people standing - however unsteadily.

What was a real delight, though, was that Ping made the effort to come out and talk to every table, and gave everyone a good amount of time to boot.

We caught the end of that as we came in, when she was seeing to the earlier sitting whilst trying to set up for us lot.  At the end of the evening she was clearly knackered but still charming, and cheerfully willing to spend plenty of time with her punters.

There's an argument that, since she's trading on her TV success, we should expect nothing less - but I've seen enough great and not-so-great (frankly rubbish) behaviour to really appreciate the time and attention she gave us.

She even gave me the recipe for the amazing porky-rolly thing.

But I'm damned if I'm telling you.

All images (c) P P Gettins

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