Fiery Chinese cuisine where you least expect it
You can find amazing things in an industrial park.
If you find yourself in an industrial/business park, it’s often for a hard-to-find auto part, new kitchen fixtures or even something (formerly) illicit. Little do you expect to have your taste buds rattled with a terrific lunch. Yet here I was at Noodle’s Invitation, ready to challenge my spice tolerance.
At first I was at the wrong end of Colonnade Road not realizing there was both a north and south end and once I’d arrived I still wasn’t certain that this would be anything more than a takeaway.
Inside the space is small and modest with most who came through the door, simply picking up their orders. If you choose to stay they have seating for about 12.
You have 18 noodle options and they come either with or without broth. Plenty of Sichuan peppercorn and chili is used in the cooking but you are given spice level choices. I found the medium to be just right giving me a slight perspiration while keeping taste buds intact.
Pork with yellow peas soup. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
Broths are made from beef and chicken and while pork is a common topping, I’m informed they have a larger Muslim customer base so those toppings can be left aside.
I’ve had more than my fair share of Asian noodle soups but the addition of yellow peas was a new surprise. I said as much and was told that yellow peas are in fact quite traditional. The broth was hearty with beef flavour with endless layers of seasoning, minced pork and vegetables. The peas had been cooked from a dry state so that the long cooking time caused the peas to release their sweet and nutty starch almost fully, mingling so nicely with the spicy soup.
There was also an added level of something comforting as I enjoyed the peas together with the noodles. A little like the effect you get when combining rice and beans in Caribbean cooking.
Green beans and pork belly noodles. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
The menu proudly proclaimed that green beans grown in the owner's garden were a feature, so it was hard to resist the next noodle dish.
The pork belly tasted as if it had been cured in a five-spice mixture after which it had been grilled. It really was a perfect top note to a meal rich in textures of freshly chopped cilantro, toasted peanuts and scallions. The wider green beans (commonly grown throughout Europe) were tender and unctuous in the sweet and savoury sauce and in short order you found yourself slurping them.
As a takeaway I opted for the Yibing Flamed Noodle or Flaming Noodles of Yibin as I've seen on other menus. This is another dry noodle recipe popular in Sichuan province. It was loaded with a variety of spicy peppers and while good, I felt that the cook missed adding salt or soy. It had a dusty spicy character but that was about all. Gone was any trace of umami.
One final observation and it had to do with the noodles themselves: they were just a little too flabby for my palate. While they do have one house-made noodle dish, the noodles widely used here were of the commercial variety and were very soft offering no spring when biting into them.
I do enjoy this style of home cooking and being able to adjust the spice level is a useful bonus. It allows even the more timid diner to enjoy a cuisine that may be both new and less intimidating than it appears.
If you like this style of Chinese cuisine, Noodles Invitation is worth the trek.