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Tea & Noodles: The Noodle House & Whittington’s Tea Emporium

June 4, 2014

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The lovely people at Roche Communications, a leading PR company specialising in working with bars, restaurants, hotels and pubs, invited me to an event at The Noodle House in Shaftesbury Avenue. It was something that immediately appealed: the matching of noodles and tea. I could invite a guest to come with me so my son, Jonathan, came too.

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The restaurant, I was told, ‘combines the steam, buzz and satisfying fare of street food stalls with the tranquillity of teahouses’. I have to say I was a little sceptical about the combination of street stall buzz and teahouse tranquillity. How would that work? Well, I can tell you –  it did!

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The Noodle House is such a brilliant place: it really does have a wonderful, relaxing feel to it yet the food – cooked to order, fast and fresh just as on street stalls – buzzes with vibrant taste. A veritable treat for your tastebuds!

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The evening was the first of a series of tea and SE Asian food matching events coming over the next few months, run with Whittington Tea Emporium who specialise in fine, luxury and speciality teas. Kyle Whittington began a tea blog in 2011 but then his interest and knowledge of teas led him to start up Whittington Teas in December 2012. His aim is to encourage people to explore the world of fine tea – and also prepare it well so they get the best from it. This was a central part of the tea tasting evening: we learnt that loose tea is vastly superior to the bag kind and there is an optimum temperature and time for brewing different  varieties. Kyle gave us a background to each tea with an explanation of where it comes from and how it’s grown.

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He then took us through a guided tasting – both before we ate the food and with it, to see how they match, and how each affects the taste of the other. In future events, each evening will focus on a particular tea and last night’s was green tea. Kyle and The Noodle House want to encourage a new tea culture through these evenings, highlighting how it’s great to sample and share different dishes and how tea so wonderfully matches the SE Asian cuisine. At The Noodle House tea is a central part of the menu with a wonderful selection of bespoke teas to drink with your meal and which are also infused into cocktails and ice creams. During the introduction we were served a wonderful alcohol-free cocktail: plum, pear and jasmine green tea.

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We tasted 5 different teas matched with 5 different dishes. We began with The Noodle House’s Own Brand which combines green tea with kaffir lime leaves. This was matched with Si Racha Prawns – tempura style prawns served with The Noodle House’s signature spicy mayo. In each case we began with an introduction from Kyle and some photos and explanations of background then we looked at and smelled the tea leaves.

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Little cups of tea then came with the dish.

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First of all we smelled the brewed tea, then tasted. We shared thoughts – what we smelled and then what we tasted and Kyle gave us his own take on the tea. He said that green tea goes well with fish and seafood because it has a slightly vegetable taste. He’d already highlighted the difference between Chinese and Japanese green teas: the Chinese dry the tea leaves with dry heat, which provides a slightly roasted, brighter palate; the Japanese use wet heat – steam – that gives a strong vegetable taste. Green tea is less processed and thus needs to be brewed at a lower temperature than black tea. This first tea Kyle suggested should be brewed at 60-80 C. It was a lovely fresh tea and the prawns were fantastic, the special mayo nicely spicy without overpowering the fish.

The 2nd tea was Citron Green Tea: a China green tea with the delicate flavours of lemon and lime. A film showed the leaves being dried in a wok, turned to de-enzyme them and prevent deterioration and then pressed into the side of the wok to roll them. This should be brewed at 70C but also works well served cold. Kyle said there were two ways of serving tea cold: make it with hot water and then cool or make with cold water (using less leaves) and put straight into the fridge overnight. This tea came with Wasabi Prawns and mango salsa – again, a tempura style prawn. It was really good. The prawns were excellent quality and perfectly cooked; the heat of the wasabi wonderfully balanced by the sweet mango.

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Our 3rd tea came from Japan: Gyokuro. This is an exceptionally rare, hand-picked tea that comes from a beautiful garden close to the Hiki river in the Wakayama district of Japan. It has an intense aromatic taste and fresh grassy nose. Delicate and sophisticated, it needs to be brewed carefully at just 60C for only 2 minutes. It was matched with steamed white fish with a sesame, soy and coriander dressing.

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The 4th tea was Jade Tips (Mao Jian). Kyle described it as a fantastic everyday green tea – easy to drink and bright and fresh. This came with a gorgeous noodle dish: Vegetable Char Kway Teow – flat rice noodles with shitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, leeks, broccoli, spring onions, garlic and chives. (This was Jonathan’s favourite – the perfectly cooked noodles and balance of flavours.) We noted how tea refreshes the palate with a dish like this but follows through and builds on the flavour rather than detracting from it, as some drinks, even water, would do.

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Our 5th and final tea was Jasmine Pearls: a hand rolled, aromatic green tea that comes from an estate 1500 feet above the sea in China’s Fukian province. An exceptional tea that is skilfully rolled into pearls and has first been scented with thousands of freshly picked jasmine flowers. It was a gorgeous, smooth and delicate tea that I liked so much I bought a packet at the end of the evening. It was matched with Javanese Nasi Goreng: wok fried rice with prawns, chilli, spring onions, sambal belechan and served with chicken satay and prawn crackers.

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Our tea experience hadn’t quite ended for next a cocktail was served (there was a choice of non-alcoholic if you preferred but I went for the alcohol version!). Spice Island Ice Tea combined gin, spiced tea gin, lemon, Abbot’s Bitters and ginger ale. It was delicious. I’m not a great cocktail fan, but this was so refreshing with a gorgeous hit of flavours.

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And then came pudding … a great highlight in what had already been a brilliant meal: Citrus Ginger Gelato. The Noodle House manager explained that they’d got an Italian gelato company to experiment and come up with ice creams using tea as an infusion. This one was – in Jonathan’s word: ‘outstanding’. Smooth and creamy, a hint of warming ginger and then a slowly unfolding flavour of the tea that was stunningly good.

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We’d had a wonderful evening: I learnt so much about tea and tea matching, and the food was fabulous. This is definitely somewhere I’ll go again, and as a motorbike rider, Jonathan thought there was a big benefit from eating food where tea was the best accompaniment! The restaurant has a great atmosphere: it’s beautifully done with a nice feel and I could imagine a long evening there with friends sharing great plates of food. Kyle’s talk on teas was brilliant and I came home with a couple of packs (the Citron Green and Jasmine Pearls) vowing to use loose leaf tea more and brew it well.

To find out more about The Noodle House visit: www.tnhlondon.com and for Whittington Tea Emporium: www.wtea-emporium.co.uk.

For details of future tea-noodle matching evenings visit: www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/whittingtons-tea-emporium

I went to the event as a guest of The Noodle House via Roche Communications. The views are entirely my own – I really did love it!

the noodle house on Urbanspoon

11 Comments
  1. Dorothy Walker permalink

    This sounds fascinating – I tried going onto both websites to find out about attending a tea-noodle matching event but could find no reference to these…

  2. What an interesting evening. I did a tea tasting while staying at Brenner’s Park in Baden Baden but it was not done with food.

  3. Can’t say that I have ever heard of a tea pairing dinner before… But if the food is right, sure!

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