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The Noodle House is in London’s Shaftesbury Avenue, just east of Cambridge Circus, where the giant landmark theatre is currently home to The Commitments. The traffic-choked street may make pedestrians cough and choke, but you’d think it would be a perfect place for a restaurant: the eastern end is not quite in the middle of things, but certainly a very short walk from many of the West End’s theatres, cinemas and entertainment venues. Sadly, it’s not worked out this way for many restaurants which have chosen a certain spot at number 117, since it’s changed hands more times than we can remember. We don’t visit this area of town very often, but when we do, it always seems to be something different – indeed, The Noodle House has only been there since mid April.
The restaurant is a South East Asian restaurant which is a branch of the same franchise chain found throughout the UAE, serving all the standard fare you expect, including noodle and rice dishes and soups including tom yum.
When we got there, our reservation was quickly found and we were told that our friend was already waiting for us at their best table by the window. This was news to us, since we weren’t aware we were having a blind date; after a moment of staring blankly at one another, the waiters realised someone else had been sat in the seat reserved for us, and we sat in the darkened restaurant behind a pillar while we awaited our actual dining partner.
If we’d been able to see over a wide partition between us and the next table, we’d have been able to see the busy kitchen staff at work, while behind us were stairs that went to a downstairs area that was currently hosting a gay party of some sort. We know this because there was lots of eye candy going past our table to go outside for a cigarette.
We started with cocktails, and although we were served quickly, we weren’t impressed with the mud-coloured liquid placed in front of us in a cocktail glass. We also weren’t sure they’d remembered to put any alcohol in. It certainly didn’t taste like it was going to get us drunk any time soon.
Although the extensive menu seems to be divided into starters and main courses, everything is served as it comes out of the kitchen, a nod to the street food style that they’re trying to emulate. We started with crispy calamari, which came with a wonderfully spicy chilli sauce to add a proper zing to the start of our meal, along with an Asian salad. We’d hardly had time to start on what we considered the starters, before our main courses came out: Javanese Nasi Goreng (£8.70) – fried rice with prawns, chilli, topped with a fried egg and served with two chicken satay skewers; and Malaysian Beef Rendang (£10.90) – slow-cooked beef in a coconut, peanut, lemongrass and ginger curry sauce, garnished with spring onions and fried banana shallots.
Unfortunately, both dishes disappointed. The nasi goreng was slippery and greasy, and the chicken skewers dry and chewy. The rice was piled high, so we got plenty for our money, but it was all just a bit boring, with little flavour – we left half of it. The beef rendang also lacked the rich, deep flavours we had been expecting; it was okay, but certainly didn’t delight.
Our shared dessert included a selection of sorbets, cheesecake and a teeny banana wrap. We’re not normally fans of anything cooked with banana, so we were surprised when this was the best part of the dish. A little sweet, but one of the most flavoursome things we’d eaten that evening.
It seemed to us that this restaurant exists to serve people going to the cinemas and theatres nearby; all the food was standard, crowd pleasing fare, with little attention to subtle flavouring. Half way through the meal, someone pointed out the three dishes of condiments hidden at the edge in anonymous looking pots with lids. We wished these little pots of flavour had been more apparent earlier. Apparently, there’s also a USB plug so that you can charge your phone while you’re eating, though we never found it.
The Noodle House is worth popping into if you’re in the area and need something cheap, quick and hot; but with such a wide range of other, much better, eateries within easy walking distance, we’d recommend somewhere else if you want tasty. We can’t imagine this restaurant will last much longer than many of the others which it replaced.
The Noodle House is at 117 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8AD. Tel: 020 3725 5777
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