Golden Pond, Arcadian Centre, Pershore Street, Birmingham. T: 0121 622 3688
They were undeniably ducks’ feet, two of them, possibly a left and a right.
They were kicking back their heels in a steaming dim sum basket and they looked big and very ducky.
There had been no artful deconstruction of the butchered limbs, no cheffy attempts to dress them up to look like anything other than what they were.
For that, I admire the Chinese style of presentation. What you get is what you see.
And what I could see here were two feet from a formerly amphibious creature.
The menu at Golden Pond, in the Arcadian Centre, referred to the dish as duck feet dumplings. How, I wondered, could the kitchen fit a quacker’s feet into a dumpling?
Dumplings are small, or smallish, and duck’s feet are not particularly dainty. So how does a chef dress them up in a dumpling romper suit?
The answer to this cooking conundrum is, of course, straight-forward: the feet aren’t really made into dumplings.
There is a trace of something dumpling-ish around the back of the leg but the presented dish screams feet, not dumpling.
There aren’t many times I have been floored. Like anyone who enjoys their food, I’ve munched my way through several carcasses’ worth of cheeks, ears and offal.
Crunchy shellfish things go down in a quick gobble. It’s worth pointing out that I can’t see the point in macho-gastronomy and wouldn’t feel I was wimping out if I turned down roasted dog, cat casserole or whale, which I recently spotted on a menu in Norway.
I have eaten, and enjoyed, chicken’s feet, so I reasoned that chewing ducks’ feet wouldn’t represent taking such a big step.
So I was shocked by my own reaction, as much as the flippers themselves, when I gazed on the pieds du canard.
In fact, I felt I had let myself down. Bear Grylls or Ray Mears wouldn’t behave like this, dilly dallying around, playing with their paper napkin and pretending to read the label on the soy sauce. They’d bally well get stuck in and have a good suck.
And so I did, I hoofed a great lump of duck foot into my mouth.
I often put my foot in my mouth but rarely have I put someone else’s there. And do you know what? It was bloody hot, steaming hot.
Ordinarily, I would have spat it out and said something like: “S**t, that’s bloody hot!”
But I didn’t because I couldn’t.
Fellow diners, the majority of them Chinese, might think I was being rude. And then I’d have to say: “It’s not the feet. The feet are fine. It’s the heat of the feet.”
And that would sound like I was making an excuse for something I wasn’t making an excuse about.
Oh, the pitfall of not ordering chow mein and lemon chicken.
The ducks’ feet are one of almost 80 dishes on Golden Pond’s dim sum popular menu.
There is also an à la carte menu and some kind of buffet, which involves food being brought to the table rather than queueing up at a service station-style canteen.
The dinky portions of dim sum, the feet excepted, are ideal for lunch when you fancy a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It’s tapas, before there was tapas.
It is only a matter of time before a corporate food chain on Broad Street launches “on trend” Chinese “tapas” – chicken claws on Basque fried bread. Don’t you love fusion cooking?
Ordering couldn’t be easier, although we almost didn’t get that far.
We were asked to wait off the dining room in a lobby, looking at a half-empty restaurant, for 10 minutes.
I almost bolted – it’s not like there aren’t a million Chinese restaurants in this part of the city – but I am glad we didn’t.
The waitress’s welcome to the table was workmanlike, consisting of banging two sets of chop sticks on the eating surface and curtly asking: “Drinks?”
Chinese tea and a Coke, please. “Large or small?” Large, please. Exit waitress.
This coldness proved to be short-lived.
As a relative dunce when it comes to dim sum, advice is helpful and the waitresses obliged in a spirit of good fun, even the one who initially scared the living daylights out of me.
The informal ordering system is great for the indecisive, flustered diner.
You get a sheet listing the dishes and tick those you fancy. Steamed dim sum delights predominate, followed by fried dim sum and a smaller number of specials including glutinous rice in lotus leaf, cured meat and chicken rice pot and sharks fin soup dumpling. The most expensive single dish costs a fiver.
The virtually translucent prawn and vegetable dumplings (three for £3.10) were among our favourites – plump, sweet parcels.
The pork and prawn dumplings were golden and glutinous (four for £2.80).
Be prepared to chew and slurp with the spare ribs in barbecue sauce.
The meat is fatty and anaemic (it’s been steamed) and compulsively moreish, spiced up with a chilli and vineger-tasting sauce.
I’m less of a fan of the fried dim sum but liked the crispy Vietnam-style spring rolls, with a sharp, clear dipping sauce.