I recommended the Noodle Bowl in a review a few weeks ago, but felt that the Dubai restaurant warranted more attention than a few fleeting lines. This belief was reinforced when, having read the review, a Malaysian friend called me and agreed that while the traditional Chinese food served there is good, it's actually the dishes from the separate Malaysian menu (hidden away at the back) that are worth getting excited about.
So to Satwa we went. The Noodle Bowl is hard to miss. It's a colourful little place, jostling for space among the shops on Al Diyafah Street. When we visited, it was reassuringly busy, with a happy buzz which was helped along nicely by our friendly waitress. It's not the swishest of places to eat dinner, but as I've said before, I'd much prefer to eat great food in a so-so location than be left disappointed by a lacklustre meal in a wonderful setting.
The menu is extensive and after spending a good few minutes leafing through it we decided to order from both the Cantonese and Malaysian sections. Dim sum soon arrived, and the chicken and prawn dumplings were lovely and fresh. The glistening dumpling pastry was translucent and had been stretched taut over a mound of meaty, very flavourful filling (pieces of coriander, carrot, spring onions and chilli were all in there).
A basket of mixed steamed bao wasn't quite as successful. The white buns were dry, the dough tasted a little tired and we found the fillings (particularly the red bean paste and the egg custard) overly sweet.
Fried turnip cakes with XO sauce, on the other hand, were really delicious. The little mouthfuls of turnip were golden and light, just crisp on the outside, with a soft, smooth centre. Bean sprouts and pieces of egg provided a nice textural contrast and a salty, spicy XO sauce gave it all an interesting edge, without being overpowering.
For our main courses we chose two dishes from the Malaysian selection (kang kong and mee goreng) and Szechuan chicken from the main menu. The chicken dish was good: the pieces of shredded meat were tender, the sauce was sweet and spicy with a hint of black bean about it and the vegetables were abundant. But it paled in comparison with the two Malaysian-style offerings.
Kang Kung is a leafy, long- stemmed green vegetable that is related to the sweet potato. It has a mild, bittersweet flavour and tastes a little like a cross between bok choy and spinach. At the Noodle Bowl it was served wonderfully simply. The vibrantly coloured vegetable had been steamed so that the leaves were just starting to wilt. It had then been doused in a light sauce and flecked with plenty of finely chopped garlic. Fresh, unfussy and very enjoyable.
Mee goreng was just as good. A dish that consists primarily of noodles might not initially seem very exciting, but done well, as it was here, it has layer upon layer of intriguing flavours. The fried noodles were slippery with sesame oil, pieces of tofu were soft and rings of squid were pleasantly chewy. The greens were crunchy, the meat was moist and flecks of fried garlic and shallots were golden and sweet. There were lots of different tastes and textures going on here, but it all worked together.
Considering the quality of the food, the pricing is very reasonable and the restaurant is well worth visiting. Just don't forget about what's on offer at the back of the menu.
A meal for two at the Noodle Bowl, Satwa, Dubai, costs Dh150 not including service. For reservations call 04 345 3381. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito.