A few weeks ago, a taxi strike in the Johannesburg CBD, put paid to plans for a leisurely lunch at one of Commissioner Street’s legendary Chinese restaurants. With my companion Mr G, determined to have an Asian food adventure, but not the violence that tends to mark taxi protests, we decided to look Northern. Rivonia, in particular the strip along Rivonia Boulevard has over the years been home to a Little China Town of its own. Granted it doesn’t have the history of the Chinese traders who settled along Commissioner Street or the vibrancy and excitement of Cyrildene, but it does offer some authentic food experiences. We settled on Chinese Northern Foods Restaurant, the place was pretty quiet and we were quickly seated. A word of caution, this is NO FUSS dining and is best enjoyed when all preconceptions are checked at the entrance.
The décor is the usual, Chinese paraphernalia on the walls, cheap furniture, serviettes in a kitsch tissue box. The food fun really starts when you receive the menu, parts of which are so poorly translated, I couldn’t work out what exactly would arrive if ordered. Asking the ever smiling and friendly owner for assistance, isn’t really not an option, her English is short of basic. I do wish I got her name, though, she was delightful. But take heart, there's at least 2 pages of translations that are more or less accurate.
An Asian salad started off proceedings, thinly sliced fresh veggies with some glass noodles, it was really very good.
Dumplings are a usual favourite of mine and so we opted to try a portion of the pork and leek dumplings. Wow, it was a gigantic portion, which could have fed me for days. The dumplings were soft and well-cooked. The taste was delicious - the pork and leek came through really strongly, I didn’t even bother with the dipping sauce that was provided.
We also wanted something spicy. The deep fried pork with chilli and spring onion seemed like an appropriate choice and we weren’t disappointed. The owner wasn’t able to explain the cut of meat used in this dish but once things are deep fried, do we really need to know more? I gobbled the pork done with some plain rice. The pork was crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. The chilli provided a nice little kick against the freshness of the spring onions. A great dish, using simple ingredients, one that I will happily have again.
We wanted to try as many dishes as two people could successfully try without feeling stuffed and so added a steamed fish dish to our order. Jip, an entire fish showed up! It looked prettier than it tasted, we thought it was rather bland, although the fish had a really great taste. I tried to find out what type of fish served but lets just say it was lost in translation.
My lunch companion Mr G, is on a drive to make 2017, the year he taste the more unusual. So he ordered the pig ears or cheeks, I have blocked it out to be honest! He wasn’t thrilled with the taste, but at least he can tick that weird dish off this bucket list. The standout dishes during our lunch were the pork and leek dumplings and the deep fried pork, chilli and spring onions. I can also recommend the baked brinjal/eggplant with chilli and garlic, which I have had on a previous visit. Wow, it’s the BOMB. The peppered calamari is also worth the calories.
Well there isn’t much in the way of service, once the owner was occupied with other patrons, we tried unsuccessfully to get an employee who was clearing a nearby table to assist us. She heard us call for her, she saw us wearing our arms, and she just flat out ignored us. The level of skill required to simply ignore patrons in such a small space, is remarkable.
We had just finished up our meals and was about to settle the bill, when a cockroach started its ascent up our table leg. We just sat there pointing at it and when the restaurant’s owner saw the pest, there was no feigning surprise or horror instead she excitedly exclaimed, “it wants your food." And with her smile still in place, the roach was quickly and efficiently dispatched.
If you can keep an open mind and get past the occasional cockroach trying to grab your lunch, or the slow service, then this isn’t a bad place for a new food adventure. Its value for money, the portions are large and the food is authentic and tasty!