Quietly opened by a pair of friends from Macao, Tiger Mama combines the clean smartness of a southern noodle shop with the home-style demeanour of its less artfully assembled northern counterpart. The glass façade and tight, black cloth marquee have the upmarket look of a boutique, while the soft warm wood of the interior and hanging glass light fixtures announce what looks more like a bistro than a qingtang, ‘clear broth and fishcake’, joint.
The strong aromas issuing from the din of boiling kettles in the kitchen is the first hint of what’s in store, as the stylish manager ushers us to a table. Noodles come wet, in a house-made broth, or dry, dressed with a housemade thick oyster sauce. We opt for one of each, splurging on the dried shrimp roe noodles (48RMB) – a speciality of the house – and the signature noodles in soup (28RMB), which come fully loaded with fishcake, curry chicken, squid rings and beef brisket.
The shrimp roe noodles are strong, with a bold seafood flavour that may be too much for some. We add a few dashes of vinegar and some of the sweet chilli paste and devour the fishy treat. The broth noodles are a hearty mixture of subtle flavours and soft textures, from the tender chicken and beef to the spongy fishcake and chewy squid; the variety is impressive for one small bowl. We round out the meal with some of the handmade fish dumplings and sautéed lettuce. Both are deliciously fresh, light and mildly flavoured, a rarity in the land of oil, sugar and salt. Tiger Mama is just that – a break from the oppressive heaviness of northern cuisine, a welcome boon to the area and a must-try for anyone looking for cheap, flavourful and light.