Comedian and food-fiend Jessica Fostekew puts her mouth where others fear to tread. A celebration of eating: from posh nosh to kebab shops to stuff that’s been on the floor. This week Jess learns not to judge a book by its cover (restaurant by its window).
Mr Noodles sounds like a new Roger Hargreaves character with long, wiggly, carb-arms. Actually, it’s a deceptively excellent Brighton eating-hole.
It looks so rough, you have to pass a scumability test just to go in. It had a dirty little doorway that smelled of damp, and a big, browning window with electrical wires poking out of its awning. I’m writing this with hair I haven’t washed for so long that when I take out the hair-band it aches, so it’s no wonder I was drawn to the place.
Other horror signals included it being right by the train station. As a rule, that usually means it’s going to have bad everything, apart from murderers. And, as if it wasn’t uninviting enough, it had faded pictures of sweaty food on the outdoor menu. Less ‘glossy food photography’, more ‘animal rights activists’ placard’.
But I went in. Some call me brave. I call me skint. And brave.
To put it in context: I had just done a preview of a new show. I was full of adrenalin, water and nothing else. Post-nerve relief hit me and for the first time that day I was starving. I was in no state to get a fuss on; I needed somewhere within the boundaries of my budget and impatience. Hello, Mr Noodles.
It was, top to bottom… wonderful. It was half-full of nattering people. They were all tucking into what looked like glorious portions of delicious things. When I saw the prices, I just got happier.
I had a Tsing Tao lager, which is always the mutt’s. Cold, crisp and perfect, it didn’t touch the sides. Tsing Tao just means ‘beer’ in Chinese. I’m always in awe when a brand becomes the word for a thing in its own right (which, by the by, is the case with the word ‘hoovering’).
To start, I had salt and chilli ribs – which were less than £3. LESS THAN £3. Shut the front door. They were scrumptious, with no grease or grizzly bits. In fact, they were so tasty I didn’t even mind that the restaurant was playing Heart FM. If you give me a starter this dreamily yum, I’ll happily devour it even under the constant threat of Robin Thicke.
The crockery was randomly trendy, sturdy and colourful. Not so much as my main: seafood ramen. It was so good. Soft, floury noodles, perfectly done. A gorgeous broth: not too salty and full of flavour. And it was packed with stuff: mega-prawns and giant-squid with crunchy pak choi and sweet peas. There were even some great big sexy Chinese mushrooms, mmm. And, to top it all off, giant cubes of tofu that had sponged up all the other seaside flavours.
There were also, of course, the obligatory crab sticks. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve always been a secret perv for them. I can’t justify it, I just like them. They’re like edible MDF, soaked in fish water with added gritty bits. And I like UB40. And Mulan. I’m a monster.
The staff was one, really nice, lady. She kept checking: “Is everything was alright?” I feared, perhaps, she’d noticed me taking pictures of the ribs next to the muck-stained window. Later, I realised she was probably worried about my face. I hadn’t looked in the mirror since leaving my gig. I had sweated and smeared eye-liner up and down my cheeks. The shame. Who the hell was I to judge their grubby window?
The gloriously small bill appeared. It sat beside a complimentary wrapped sweet, ominously named Prune Drop, which sounds less like a palette-cleanser, more like a euphemism.
Yet the food had been such amazing value, they could have rested a snotty tissue next to that bill and I would have tried it out of gratitude.
So, the Prune Drop. Where do I start? Just weird. I like prunes but I’m pretty sure whatever this was had never had anything to do with a prune. It tasted, all at once, of soap, toffee and liquorice. I kept thinking: “Do I hate this? I don’t think so. Oh. Yes I do. Hang on, no! It’s fine again. No thank you, again. Oh, it’s fine.”
I mean, it was emotional. It had a curious aftertaste of chemicals. But I swallowed it and I’m glad I tried it; it was adventurous and memorable.
In summary: Exquisite food, lovely service and dirt cheap (literally): £12.50. And I’m writing this long enough after the hoovering to promise I didn’t get ill.
Jessica Fostekew is a writer, comedian, actor, law degree-waster, sister, daughter and beard-fan with an unabashed food infatuation.