Monday, 23 May 2011

Red Star

If you're looking for cheap, easy and quick eats, noodles are where it's at. Owing to the numerous chains that have sprung up in recent years, the communal tables of the noodle bar are now a familiar part of the UK landscape. On Cowley Road, independent Red Star offers diners a taste of Asia on a very tight budget: a winning formula in an area packed with students.

With soup noodles and rice and noodle dishes starting at just £5 and more elaborate options such as bento boxes weighing in at around £8, Red Star is in no danger of breaking anyone's budget. Its comprehensive menu features classics from all over Asia such as chow mein, thai curries and yaki soba, with some less-common options appearing among the chalked-up specials. On a previous visit, the 'healthy choice' of spicy ma po tofu with steamed rice (£5) from this selection went down a treat. On my latest visit, though, it was all about the noodles.

Taking our place on the wooden bench, A and I noticed a young chap huffing and puffing over a bowl of presumably rather spicy soup. As we waited for our dishes to arrive, we watched him turn redder and redder in the face until he smacked his empty bowl down on the table in the manner of someone who's just won a long and embittered battle. Clutching his stomach, he announced his success to the waitress: he had just completed the 'chilli challenge' of eating said soup in thirty minutes. Given that he then repaired to the bathroom for almost thirty minutes, I don't think that's a gauntlet I'll be accepting anytime soon.

Around ten minutes after ordering, our safer choices of yasai yaki soba (£5) and beef ho fun (£5.50) arrived. Portions are generous, and I was particularly impressed with the high egg and vegetable content of my  noodles (beansprouts, courgette, onion, green & red peppers and sweetcorn) for the modest price. There was a definite soy taste, and a hint of ginger which could have been slightly more pronounced to add a little depth to the flavour. A declared his ho fun 'pleasantly greasy', and I had to concur: the stir-fried noodles are a little on the oily side, but not in a bad way. 'Light' isn't the word I'd use, but you definitely don't feel the need to atone for any dietary sins after eating.

Red Star's a definite winner in the price-quality ratio: a varied menu of tasty dishes and quick, efficient service make it worth a try if you're looking for a budget bite in the Cowley Road area. Oh, and chopstick-challenged types like myself will be happy to hear that forks are provided on request.

Verdict: 6

Red Star is at 187 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1UT.

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