Monday, 20 January 2014

Quick Review: Bar Shan

My latest foray into a substantial portion of London's Sichuanese restaurants might easily paint me as an all out Chinaphile (see Sichuan Folk,  Bar Shu and my footnote to My Old Place). Yet when a friend recently confessed that they didn't like Chinese food I chimed in 'neither do I' automatically. This got me thinking, in the context of London / the West and what 'Chinese food' more often than not means, I really don't. Sweet, sticky, oily, battered 'feast food' is fine for a celebration but rarely what I feel like for a casual meal out... Sesame prawn toasts and crispy seaweed just don't whet my appetite that much.

I suppose what I'm saying is that my enjoyment of Chinese food is very regionally focused, and in my experience, the restaurants in London that decide to have a regional twist tend to offer more authentic and fresh fare (it's hard to keep your food fresh if there are a thousand things on the menu). These specialist restaurants cater to a more discerning crowd who have bothered at least to do a little bit of Googling as opposed to the increasingly outmoded idea of an ignorant westerner with set ideals of what Chinese food should be.

That said, there are still numerous regional cuisines that I am pretty ignorant of, and that my month in China couldn't possibly cover. I am however continuing my research in London, the fruits of which will are appearing in this blog.


At Bar Shan I recently discovered the culinary delights of the Hunan province (South East of Sichuan), which I would strongly recommend to anyone who doesn't mind a lot of spice. Sister restaurant to the Sichuanese Bar Shu and just across the road from it, you can discover the differences between the two cuisines by visiting both.

As Wikipediaj has kindly informed me, the principle difference is that Hunan food is "dry hot (干辣) or purely hot" whereas as Sichuan cuisine is known for its distinctive "mala (hot and numbing)." The Hunan cuisine I sampled did seem to have a fresher taste and was absolutely delicious, though not quite as addictively cathartic as the numbing heat of Sichuan peppercorns.

Unfortunately the menu isn't available online at the moment so I can't write down the actual names of the dishes I had but I can describe them so here goes... 

We started with a street food noodle dish that was extremely simple but good. 

Then we had 2 meat dishes - a cumin spiced rib dish that had a crisp layer of spice coating it and a beef and rice noodle soupy dish that was very hot. Both were packed with flavour and cooked perfectly so that the meat was tender.

We also had dried fried green beans with pork mince which were crunchy and garlicky. This was accompanied by steamed rice and Tsing Tao beer. 

I left feeling full, very satisfied and looking forward to many more visits to come.