When Oriental City closed, I cried.
You probably think I'm exaggerating, don't you? But on the day the food court sold it's last bowl of laksa we drove all the way home from a holiday in Scotland… and I insisted we go straight to OC so I could say farewell.
I ate. And then I cried.
Working from home part of the week meant we got into the habit of going at least a couple of times a month, often more. I'd order a fresh fruit smoothie or milkshake with grass jelly or pearls (large tapioca balls, also known as bubbles) before handing over cash for a couple of items from one or other of the dim sum stalls. After those, if I had space, I'd either get some crispy roast duck and belly pork or maybe some sea spiced aubergine. Occasionally I'd mix it up a little and have a tempura prawn or two followed by udon noodles in pork broth or a curry laksa.
Pete was generally less adventurous, pleased to sit down with his favourite nasi goreng or some delicious noodles.
The place was always buzzing; seats at the free-for-all tables were highly sought after and cleaners did a continuous circuit clearing empty dishes and trays so that the next hungry patrons could sit and eat.
Oriental City's food court - image courtesy of Meemalee's Kitchen
Once lunch was done, we would push a trolley around the enormous supermarket. It sold a huge array of food and drink from several different Asian countries: Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Korean… We'd buy everything from instant miso to fresh meat and seafood to dried noodles to frozen dim sum to Asian beer to white rabbit sweets to fresh mangoes to curry pastes to Pocca (cold, sweet coffee in a can that I'm still addicted to). And so much more…
Sometimes we'd browse the fabulous Japanese crockery store or mooch around in the other shops and stalls, often being tempted by strange gifts for strange friends.
It closed in June 2008 and I still miss it. Heck, I even miss "DVD Man", pimping his wares in the car park, always a huge smile for me even though I never bought anything from him…
I've been reading reports about Pacific Plaza, which opened in Wembley late last year. Initial reports haven't been encouraging but I decided it was time to pay a visit for myself.
Located in an unpromising commercial plot (so far, so good, Oriental City was in quite a lugubrious location) it was very quiet. As we entered the doors, a couple were coming out, muttering about disappointment.
Upstairs, we found the tiny food court.
Only 7 stalls were open for business; if (or when) the remainder are leased, it'll still be a fraction of the size of OC's.
None of the spotless tables were occupied. It was unnervingly quiet.
Still, we were there to check it out and slowly made our way around, checking out each stall and avoiding the slightly pleading expressions of the staff.
Menus looked familiar, though prices seemed a touch higher, on average. Not distressingly so though, and I ordered some yam croquettes followed by roast duck and crispy belly pork. Pete opted for a nasi goreng.
The croquettes were good; light, crunchy exterior, slight chew to the case and moist, well-flavoured meat inside. The duck was disappointing, mostly in terms of crispness of skin and volume of meat to bone. The crispy belly pork was pretty good.
Pete's nasi goreng was pronounced decent though not quite as good as the one he had at OC.
One other customer arrived during our visit, quietly ordering, silently eating and silently disappearing.
In summary, it was OK but didn't light any fires!
Still, I'm hopeful that if (and that's a big if) it gets busier, the increased busyness will give more life to the offerings – a better turnaround can only help ensure freshness and a better atmosphere!
The highlight of our visit was definitely Tetote Factory, a Japanese bakery that (wise) twitter friends insisted I visit when I mentioned I was heading to Pacific Plaza.
One of only two occupied shops on the ground floor of Pacific Plaza, this tiny space houses a traditional bakery run by a Japanese couple who trained in Japan. Most of the floor space is taken up by the open kitchen where you can watch the staff at work, making the many breads, pastries and cakes on offer. Some are in a French/ European style, others very much Japanese.
You can also buy tea, coffee and fruit juice but note that the bakery has no seating. You can take your coffee and snacks upstairs into the food court if you'd like to sit and linger.
The wall proclaims the popularity of the azuki bean, curry and melon buns (known as pans), though I didn't notice it until I'd already purchased melon and azuki bean pans! I ate these when I got home and, whilst the sugar-topped melon bun didn't thrill me, the azuki bean pan was just delicious – full of sweet, gooey red bean paste in a soft and moist bread wrapping. I loved it!
I will definitely try the beef curry option next time!
Tetote Factory is open from 10 am to 7 pm, six days a week (closed on Tuesdays).
When I popped into Doki, I wasn't aware that it was the same shop I'd loved at Oriental City. Utsuwa-no-yakata is now Doki and selling the same range of Japanese pottery.
What I did notice is that prices seemed higher than they were in the Oriental City outpost and I left without being tempted; a rare occurence at Utsawa.
If you live locally, or can get there quickly and easily, I'd certainly suggest you drop by Pacific Plaza for a reasonably priced lunch and a chance to stock up at Tetote Factory.
Let me know what you think!
Address: Pacific Plaza, Unit 16, The Junction, Wembley Retail Park, Engineers Way, Wembley, London, HA9 0EG