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Spicy & Fatty Stuff - Ba Shan [Restaurant Review]

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Reviewed by The Wild Boar

Update: After my excellent experience at Wedgewood, Edinburgh last November, I'm well chuffed that the Hardens guide has rated Wedgewood as the best up and coming restaurant outside London for 2010.

Sister restaurant to Bar Shu (literally just across the corner), Ba Shan is amongst a small but prominent group of restaurants popularising Sze Chuan cuisine in London. On a cold winter’s day, some spicy food seemed like a perfect tonic (but no mapo tofu or kung po chicken please…).

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We were seated on the ground floor near the main entrance; the seating area I was in was quite small but unfortunately I didn’t explore the restaurant so I don’t know exactly how big it is. I quite like the décor within, with the little lanterns and wall carvings, certainly different from the old-school Chinatown restaurants. I wish other places had menus similar to Ba Shan’s – huge with plenty of pictures.

We started with jiamo (braised pork belly sandwich). The meat itself was quite tender, with just the right amount of fat to make it joyful to eat. It would have been quite salty on its own, but with the bread for temperance, it was perfectly seasoned. Overall, it was not bad, but the meat filling was a bit too little for my liking, it could (should?) have been more generous.

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We decided to have two mains to share with some white rice and the first to arrive was Chairman Mao’s braised red pork. We were a bit shell-shocked at how quickly the food arrived, literally within 5 minutes of ordering (the last time food arrived so quickly was in my first trip abroad alone, walked into a random restaurant in Venice, ordered risotto, 2 minutes after that we heard a “ding” ala microwave and food was placed on the table).

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Anyway the pork was very tender, juicy and looked really amazing in the little pot with the succulent looking skin aligned in neat little cubes. Taste-wise, it matched the presentation and it was slightly spicy to the tongue at first but still easily manageable. Absolutely brilliant to eat with the rice.

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We just had to have one of the “dry-wok” dishes and I chose the one with twice-cooked pork (the PigPig wanted duck tongues but I overruled her). The little wok had a little candle lighting it up from below, but it seriously didn’t need anymore heat, as the wok was already filled with dried chillies and Sze Chuan peppers. We found it quite spicy at first but quickly acclimatised to it and we were soon wolfing down the delicious thinly sliced belly pork. In fact, I was eating it too fast and accidentally inhaled some pepper which caused an extended coughing fit, much to the PigPig’s embarrassment.

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Altogether, the bill came up to £17 each. We had one starter, two mains and white rice for two as well as a pot of chrysanthemum tea (which was quite nice actually, seems like a while since I last had a pot of nice Chinese tea). Luckily we disregarded our waiter’s attempts to make us order more food as we were quite full with the amount we were served.

Obviously this review has a huge caveat in that we only sampled 3 dishes (including white rice and a pot of tea) but I’m quite keen on coming back to try the other dishes, especially the huge fish I saw two girls sharing.

Now the most distinctive aspect of Sze Chuan cooking is the spiciness, that’s pretty much all I know about the cuisine – its hot stuff. Admittedly, the dry work dish was pretty spicy, but after a while we got used to it so it wasn’t too bad and I’ve certainly had spicier dishes. Still its worth noting that it was still pretty hot and the other Chinese couple next to us were certainly having difficulties; the guy asked for (and got) some hand towels to mop down his sweat.

Best bit: The HUGE menu - seeing the near life sized pictures of the dishes was a novelty.
Worst bit: The HUGE menu - it was rather unwieldy and the novelty soon wore off.

Ba Shan
24 Romilly Street
Soho, W1D 5AH
Tel: +44(020) 7287 3266

Ba Shan on Urbanspoon

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