The first thing to say about the Big Bowl Noodle is that it isn’t new. The second thing to say is that it is absolutely delicious.
The family-run Chinese restaurant has been a staple feature on Philip Lane for 17 years. But don’t be fooled by the familiar sign – a recent refurbishment has given it a whole new feel.
“We felt it was important to evolve as Tottenham evolved,” says Steve Tran, who manages the front of house.
Opened by his parents Lein and Phillip, Big Bowl Noodle has been serving up delicious Cantonese fare, like homemade won ton soup and dumplings, since 1999. Everything here is locally sourced, from the fresh produce right down to the noodles.
A large colourful hand-painted mural on the wall is the latest addition as part of the refurbishment. Harking back to Chinese tradition, it features the gods of health, prosperity, and wealth – except here, they are all holding noodle bowls in amongst neon lights and a Hong Kong street scene.
“We want people to feel comfortable here – to relax and chill,” Steve says. “We’ve always done that through customer service, but decided we needed the environment to match.”
But it’s not just the décor (new bench seating and low lightning) that has changed: the menu itself has been refreshed. So in addition to the starters and small dishes you’d expect at a Chinese restaurant, customers have the option to customise their noodle bowls.
At Big Bowl Noodle you can create your own soup or stir fry, choosing from your own base, filling and sauce.
So one day you might fancy rice with prawns in a satay sauce, and another you might be after vermicelli with roast pork in black bean sauce. Or you can opt for a classic like Peking Duck or Lemon Chicken. These dishes all cost between £5.50 and £8.
“A traditional Chinese take away menu has a lot of options – but over the years we’ve noticed that customers have such different tastes. So I wanted to simplify it, while giving people more choice,” says Steve.
Consistency is another important aspect of the food they serve at Big Bowl Noodle. Every plate is served with presentation in mind. It is clear the chefs are proud of every dish they send out from the kitchen.
“When customers are happy, we’re happy. When people tell my mom the food is good, it makes her proud – she’s cooked it herself after all,” Steve says laughing.
That sense of pride extends beyond just his parents, to Steve’s brother Tony who works in the kitchen as well.
“My brother is passionate about cooking. He’s happiest in the kitchen, whereas I’ve always been useless in there,” Steve says. “So when I bring the meal out to the customers that he’s prepared, I couldn’t be more proud.”
Big Bowl Noodle has had many compliments since the revamp. In fact, Steve says that in the 16 years prior, they only four reviews online – but since reopening in January, they have had over 40. That customer feedback is about more than just improving the business – it is also what makes working in a restaurant feel less like a job, and more like a home.
Just three years ago, Steve says his parents were thinking of selling the restaurant because it was too much work for them. He convinced them to stay, and took over the reigns. He was particularly inspired after visiting China with his wife and children.
“In Hong Kong, the noodle bars that line the street are always packed. There are so many, and they all serve such delicious, simple dishes. I wanted to capture that feeling,” says Steve.
As for the changes to Philip Lane – and Tottenham more generally – the Tran family welcomes the new shops and restaurants. Rather than seeing it as competition, Steve thinks it just adds to the appeal of the area.
As for the future of Big Bowl Noodle, Steve sees the fortunes of the family business as being intricately linked with the fortunes of Tottenham.
“After the riots, I just thought ‘it has to get better now’ – and thankfully I was right,” says Steve. “People are finally starting to hear positive things about Tottenham, and there really is a great community vibe here.”
“And Tottenham isn’t just going to sit still – it’s just going to keep getting better,” he adds.
Words by Nicole Val.
Photos by André Ainsworth.