Restaurant Review: We try the British-style Chinese food at Edinburgh's Hau Han
This new restaurant serves retro favourites like sweet and sour and lemon chicken
During lockdown, the drawers in the filing cabinet of my memory keep sliding open.
Among the detritus of cranial paperwork are flashbacks to old meals and restaurants.
When I ordered from this new-ish Chinese restaurant, Hau Han, I remembered the place my family used to visit, decades ago, also on Haymarket Terrace.
(We never sat in. For that, we’d go to Rendezvous on Queensferry Street).
It was our local takeaway, back when that genre only consisted of fish and chips, ice-cream, Chinese and two types of pizza.
As a teenager, I’d look up its number in the Yellow Pages, call it on the butter-coloured rotary dial phone, then trundle along and wait in the venue’s heavily carpeted corridor for my bag of sweet and sour chicken and prawn crackers.
I never deviated, but I wasn’t the most sophisticated 15-year-old. I had strawberry Pop Tarts for breakfast every morning.
Although I’m over those iced abominations, I still retain a guilty pleasure for “British-style Chinese food”, which is what’s served at this place, with its cartoon-y tiger logo.
It’s owned by Sonia and Derek Li, who come from fish and chip and Chinese restaurant backgrounds respectively. They’ve named their place after the Cantonese word for peckish.
For those who aren’t keen on MSG, they don’t use it here. They also steer clear of artificial colours and flavours, so the lemon chicken won’t be the same shade as a radioactive Lollipop Lady. Order directly from the restaurant, or use Just Eat, Deliveroo or Uber Eats. There will be sitting in, when it’s allowed.
Since it’s now the Year of the Ox, we ate like ruminants with four stomachs.
The herng so gnap (£7.50) or ¼ duck, was shredded and came with neatly sliced threads of cucumber and spring onion, with a pot of treacly hoisin on the side, all to be wrapped in six transparent and coaster-sized pancakes. I could’ve eaten the other ¾ of that duck, and another 40 pancakes.
We also tried their prawn toasts (£4), which were thicker than the usual squashed triangles. They had crunchy edges, were pleasingly hot and oily, while remaining puffy and light inside, like memory foam mattresses, with a layer of sesame scales and fruit-ily sweet chilli sauce on the side.
They made me feel nostalgic for my late dad’s fried bread, served as part of his signature (and only) dish - aka a manly Seventies breakfast.
We had to try the main course of go lo, or sweet and sour (£6.50) with crispy chicken. It was definitely more nuanced than the meat-in-jam-style dish that I remember from my teens. You could detect the individual orange, lemon, ginger and garlic ingredients, rather than a flat gluey sweetness and, instead of a texture like knots in rope, the chicken pieces were soft and swaddled in a light batter. There were peppers, carrot ribbons and onions, which also appeared in the geu yeim (£7.30), or salted chilli king prawns, which consisted of a half dozen gently battered chunky crustaceans and a sauce that was sprinkled with a confetti of chilli flakes.
The vitamin deficient teenage me would’ve balked at having to eat a vegetable that wasn’t a chip or a bacon Frazzle.
However, probably not their side dish of “kung pow” cauliflower, with each soft floret coated in a transparent negligee of sweet and spicy sauce.
We had two other side dishes - a huge portion of slightly under-cooked salted chilli chips (£3.90) which had been doused with more chilli flakes, and egg-fried rice (£2.50) - a decent helping of omelette threaded carb.
According to Sonia, their pudding of fried man tau (£3.20) is the most traditional dish to be served here. They’re a sort of take on churros, consisting of doughnutty lumps (without the hole) rolled in sugar and cinnamon. There were more Proustian goings on when I tried these, mainly thanks to their accompaniment of condensed milk. My filing cabinets opened, and there were flashbacks to Lenny Henry eating sandwiches on Tiswas, and me, as a child, pouring this palate-coating liquid onto tinned mandarins.
Oh my. I’m getting stocked up.
Anyway, while there’s not much to look forward to, nostalgia can be a bit depressing. However, not so if you can rekindle those memories with a few positive tweaks.
Thank you to Hau Han for letting me relive my teenage dreams, but without the Pop Tarts.
88 Haymarket Terrace
(0131 281 9331, www.hauhan.co.uk)
The Verdict: Dinner for two, £38.90
Other Places to Try Nearby
POMO Pizzeria, 250 Morrison Street, Edinburgh (0131 281 9744, www.pomopizzeria.co.uk)
This one-year-old pizza and pasta restaurant is currently offering takeaway. We like the sound of the pomo and porchetta pizza, with porcini mushroom and roast pork. Read our review here.
Pho Viet, 15 Dalry Road, Edinburgh (0131 337 7522, www.vietnamhouserestaurant.co.uk)
For Vietnamese pho, spring rolls and curry, try a Deliveroo take-way from this 18-month-old restaurant. It’s the sister to Vietnam House on Grove Street and we reviewed it back when it opened.
Plant Bae, 16 Haymarket Terrace, Edinburgh (www.heyplantbae.co.uk)
Get your greens at this new vegetarian, healthy eating and vegan restaurant, which we reviewed last year. It’s temporarily closed, but they’re offering takeaway of dairy, gluten and refined sugar free cakes from their other cafe, Grams, at 68 Hamilton Place in Stockbridge.