Growing up in North America, we’re pretty familiar with Americanised Chinese food along the lines of ketchup-laden sweet-and-sour pork, beef and broccoli and General Tso’s chicken, but we had no idea what’s popular across the pond in the United Kingdom. When we heard about 1908bc, we were eager to get a glimpse of British-Chinese cuisine.
Named after the year the first Chinese restaurant opened in London, the “bc” in 1908’s name stands for British-Chinese. The menu is based on crowd-pleasers at Chinese takeaways and restaurants across the UK. The founder, Suzanna Ho, grew up in the kitchens of her mother’s many Chinese restaurants and takeaways in Bristol, and she decided to open 1908bc in Hong Kong after returning with her mother to settle her here for retirement. Suzanna noticed a niche for British-Chinese cuisine when realising that many expatriates crave the familiar, comforting flavours they grew up with, so she decided to open her own restaurant after selling off many of the family’s shops back in the UK.
The dishes at 1908bc are not like those found at your average “cheap as chips” shop but, instead, focus on using quality ingredients, with limitations on flavour enhancers the likes of MSG. During our tasting, we learned that crispy aromatic shredded duck and fried chicken balls are some of the most popular dishes at British-Chinese restaurants, and we found a new way of appreciating French fries with a hefty serving of curry sauce.
We began our meal with a duo of comforting soups: hot and sour soup ($60) and daily-changing nourishing Chinese soup ($80). We liked the non-traditional addition of garden peas to the hot and sour soup, which provide pops of sweet freshness, but we would have preferred the spice level to be dialled up a few notches. The double-boiled soup is pricey for such a small bowl, and it would have benefitted from more seasoning. The pork within was delicious though, sourced from a local farm in Hong Kong.
The butterfly prawn toast ($120) is a definite guilty pleasure, especially when dipped into the accompanying sweet chilli sauce. The toast is deep-fried with a layer of pillowy shrimp mince on top, then topped with an additional whole prawn. We could have eaten another whole basket of these indulgently crunchy triangles!
Similar to Peking duck, the crispy aromatic shredded duck ($150) is served alongside paper-thin pancakes, hoisin sauce and freshly minced scallion and cucumber, but that’s as far as the similarities go. If you have the idea of Peking duck in mind, you might be disappointed, because crispy aromatic duck is not as juicy or full-on flavourful. The duck is first brined, then fried, then shredded, so it doesn't have the crisp, fatty skin and succulent meat ratio of Peking duck. But it is a faster way of getting your duck fix; the process of making this type of duck is much less labour and time intensive. This dish is the most iconic of all British-Chinese cuisine.
The pork belly bao ($120 for 3) is the Chinese answer to the American hamburger, and dare we say that it’s every bit as delicious, if not even tastier. 1908bc’s version uses melt-in-the-mouth tender pork belly that has been slow-cooked for hours, sandwiched with scallion and kimchi in a fluffy, steamed bun. The combination of spicy pickled cabbage works so well with the pork, which is dressed in a sweet, tangy sauce.
French fries at a Chinese restaurant? Now, that’s wild. Chips and curry ($90) is a hallmark dish at British takeaways, and we can see why, with piping-hot potatoes straight from the fryer dipped in a fragrant and creamy curry sauce. Sinfully addictive, this indulgence hits all the right notes.
The kung SUPER-POW prawns ($280) are glazed in a sweet and tangy sauce that has a slight spicy kick. The jumbo prawns are juicy, with the perfect bouncy texture.
It isn’t British fare without fish and chips ($180), and 1908bc’s version features a jumbo golden fillet of fresh wrasse alongside mushy peas. The crispy, freshly fried fish and fries also come with a side of creamy tartare sauce for dipping. The massive wrasse fillet flakes into fat cloves and is reminiscent of cod but is slightly leaner.
Part of the set lunch menu ($228/person), which includes an appetiser, soup, main and drink, the baked pork chop rice features juicy local pork smothered in a tomato-based gravy packed with onion, peas, pineapple and fresh tomato. This dish is substantial in size, so bring a healthy lunchtime appetite!
When we heard about the fried chicken balls ($90), we imagined chicken nuggets instead of actual crunchy fried spheres of chicken. This popular deep-fried British-Chinese dish is a heavy one, accompanied by a syrupy-sweet sauce. We thought that the balls had a bit too much batter and would have preferred dark meat to the drier white meat used, but apparently this is how they like it in the UK!
For someone who hasn’t visited the UK long enough to experience localised Chinese food, this was an eye-opening experience. We loved chatting with the very warm and welcoming owner, Suzanna, and learning about the history behind some of the most popular British-Chinese dishes. We will definitely be back to indulge in 1908bc’s comforting and satisfying plates – that is, after we do about 100 burpees first to make room for the calorie splurge to folloow!
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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