Be quick if you fancy a taste of Taiwan
Mr Ji has the potential for a bright future - but pop-up restaurant in Camden Town is due to close on December 10
01 December, 2017 — By Tom Moggach
Mr Ji is designed for quick meals and takeaways
THE food of Taiwan is a mystery to most. Until now, bubble tea has been the main export to London. But a pop-up restaurant in Camden aims to broaden our horizons, with dishes such as special fried chicken or sweet potato chips sprinkled with plum powder.
For the next few weeks only, Mr Ji is trading on a site adjacent to Hook, a fish restaurant on Parkway in Camden.
Mr Ji, whose bespectacled face appears on the menus, does not really exist. He was invented in homage to an elderly stranger who the chef met while walking up Elephant Mountain, which overlooks the city of Taipei.
This kind soul guided him towards the best street food in the city, which then inspired this succinct, high-concept menu.
The restaurant is designed for quick meals and takeaways. It’s a small, simple space with a deep blue awning and rudimentary tables made from chipboard.
The fried chicken here is quite unlike the greasy wings-and-dips sold on every high street. For a start, it looks bizarre. The signature dish (“The Big Ji”, £7.50) is a whole butterflied free-range chicken breast – as wide as both of your hands, served snack-style in a paper bag. It’s cooked in a special coating of coarse sweet potato starch, which lends it a fantastic crunch and light, dry texture.
The dips, too, are a curveball – powders rather than messy sauces. Choose from spice mixes such as cayenne, ketchup, barbecue or (my favourite) curry, all made in-house.
I enjoyed the chicken, and found myself worryingly addicted to another item on the menu – bitesize chunks of chicken thigh (£4 a bag), fried in the same moreish coating. Gobbling them like popcorn, I should confess that I secretly craved a dollop of something wet to balance out the texture – ketchup, perhaps, or some spicy sriracha.
If you don’t eat meat, there’s not a wild amount of choice at Mr Ji. (It’s worth noting, however, that the sweet potato starch is gluten free).
Their Asian-style coleslaw is spiked with ginger and chilli; a salad of black kale with cashews is dressed in a citrus and soy blend that personally I found too overpowering
Better was their hot and sour soup (£3 / 4.50), an invigorating broth filled with (more) chicken, bean sprouts, slices of spring onion and mustard greens – ideal medicine if you’re warding off a cold.
Drinks include refreshing cold teas such as matcha with lime and ginger, or jasmine with blood orange and hibiscus.
I was too stuffed for pudding, but regulars were raving about the sweet potato and ginger doughnuts.
If you’re intrigued by these flavours of Taiwan, act fast – this pop-up is due to close on December 10.
But Mr Ji has the potential to become a fashionable restaurant concept with a bright future.
Don’t be surprised if you see a branch popping up in Soho – right by one of the dozen or so bubble tea cafés already enjoying a brisk trade.
63-65 Parkway, NW1