Friday, October 17, 2008

Vacation! Pilgrim House

Pilgrim House
Canute Road
Southampton, Hampshire

Although I haven't been able to find out exactly why this nondescript 19th century building is named Pilgrim House, I suspect it was meant to honor the Mayflower and Speedwell pilgrims, who in 1620 sailed to America from Southampton. History books usually cite Plymouth as the point from which the pilgrims set sail, and although it isn't entirely incorrect, it isn't exactly right either. The two ships left Southampton for the New World, but the Speedwell developed a leak and the two ships stopped off at Plymouth for repairs. After a second attempt to set sail, the Speedwell was abandoned and the Mayflower alone made the voyage.

Southampton has a deep nautical history, thanks to a natural occuring phenomena known as a "double tide," which gives the port a longer high tide period and makes the movement of large seafaring vessels easier. Pilgrim House is located at Dock 4 just across the street from the former South Western House - originally a grand luxury hotel for first class passengers of the White Star Line (of which the Titanic is probably the most famous) and now refurbed into posh flats. Whatever the Pilgrim House building used to be is irrelevant - it is now a classy Chinese Restaurant with a twist.

The foyer sports a crystal chandelier and leather settees. Very Posh.

One of the restaurant's dining rooms

The twist being that the restaurant is an all-you-can-eat affair, but instead of large buffet tables of reheated food, the staff at Pilgrim House prepare each item to order. From a list of 75 items, diners can choose whatever they fancy and it is made to order and brought to the table on white china. Of those 75 items, 10 of them are strictly vegetarian and another five can be made vegetarian upon request. It is a clever, cost-saving idea to prepare the food to order because everything comes out piping hot and fresh, and the chance of waste is greatly reduced.

Amazingly, the restaurant charges a mere £6.90 ($13) per person for lunch. While that may seem high by Chinese restaurant standards in the States, it is an astonishing bargain in the U.K. We set to work ordering a plethora of gastronomical goodies:


Vegetarian hot & sour soup, crispy seaweed, and chicken satay with peanut sauce

Main entrees

Garlic French string beans for me, Mongolian beef with chicken fried rice for Steve, and another large helping of crispy seaweed, of which we could eat until we burst it was so good.

vegetarian mixed veggies in white sauce

The food and atmosphere at Pilgrim House are unparalleled, and we have our mate Dave to thank for introducing us to its delights. How he managed to find out about the restaurant is a mystery because they do no advertising and the building itself looks more like a shipping office than a restaurant. Since our introduction several years ago, we make a point to visit Pilgrim House every time we are in England. YUM.

Here is a simple recipe for crispy seaweed, courtesy of BBC Food:
12oz bok choi
30fl oz groundnut oil
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar

1. Separate the stalks from the stem of the bok choi and then cut the green leaves from the white stalks.
2. Wash the leaves in several changes of cold water, then drain them thoroughly and dry in a salad spinner.
3. Roll the leaves up tightly, a few at a time, and finely shred them into strips 5mm wide.
4. Spread them out on a baking sheet and put them in an oven preheated to 250F for 15 minutes to dry slightly.
5. They should not be completely dry or they will burn when fried. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. This can be done the day before.
6. Heat a wok over a high heat, then add the oil. When the oil is hot and slightly smoking deep-fry the greens in three or four batches. After about 30-40 seconds, when they turn crisp and green, remove them immediately from the wok and drain well on kitchen paper.
7. Leave to cool.
8. Toss the crispy greens with the salt and sugar.


Feoshia said...

That's a great idea. And the food looks really good.

liz said...

oh my god this place looks amazing!

k said...

everything is so pretty. wow.