Sunday, 5 April 2009

Ba Shan

I’ve never had any doubts about Ba Shan. Expensive it may be and the welcome to diners without a reservation is possibly the most condescending in the capital; but yet they still serve very good food. I was always happy and totally contented with their original menu; comprising mainly of Sichuanese fayre and extraordinarily delicious but offshoot dim sum creations. However Ba Shan recently decided to head further east and made Hunanese its mainstay instead. The main differences between the cuisine of Sichuan and Hunan are- the former is numbing hot and the latter’s fragrant hot.

I came back here this evening with a friend, and as you would without a reservation. It was quarter to six and true to form they made us wait, for up to fifteen minutes. During that time I was able to inspect the rather swish loos and agonisingly discovered the dining area in the basement was quiet as a morgue. Still beggars can’t be choosers, imagine if it were Hakkasan instead; one would be forced upon to order a Dale Boy Trotter cocktail costing more than a tenner. We were finally shown to our table and reminded thrice that we had to be out by 20.30, I told the young Benedict Wong look-alike garçon (except that he didn’t speak much Engrish) that I’ve been here before and I know the rules.

This is one restaurant that appeases and kowtows to the young and very nouveau riche PRCs or Mainland Chinese. By the time we sat down the said lot have arrived in their droves and made their point (Vuitton, Prada, Primark, Armani, etc).

Together with a rather fine pot of chrysanthemum tea we ordered the following-

Spicy chicken slivers-
a dish that was deceivingly spicy and I’m not at all surprised as the literal translation suggested ‘red oil chicken fragments’. It was very good.

Sweet and sour pork-
much to my disgusted dissension my dining companion insisted on this as he was brought up thus…and just as well lemon chicken, fried wontons or special fried rice ceased to appear on the menu! Not as vivid as expected and certainly none of that radioactive glow about it. The battered pieces of pork were sticky, tangy and scrumptiously sweet. This too was a very good dish.

Beanthread noodles with slivered cabbage-
essentially a one-dish meal. Gently spicy and totally moreish. Cellophane noodles made from mung beans usually take longer to digest than their wheat or rice counterparts, so don’t scoff too quickly, as your appetite will be suppressed in no time or at worst, heartburn woes!

Fried beancurd puffs in a rich soup-

An utterly delectable big bowl of soup that’s intended to shared between three to four people. Apart from my addictions to baccy and grape juice I’m also insanely partial to tao pok or fried tofu bubbles. It’s the texture thing of these little puffballs that turns me into a shameless pig every time. The richness and full-on flavour came from the abundance of wafer thin slices of salted belly pork (it could’ve cured though).

Lovely food but shame about the rather tired nagging and reminders in regards to repossessing your table back in 90mins!



Lizzie dear, came back here for dinner tonight and I'm sorry to say that it was more than rather good.

Steamed lotus-leaf buns with tender stewed pork

Xi'an spicy potato slivers

Egg and Chinese chives gawd knows what something or the other

Chicken and Chinese mushroom dumplings served with spicy, garlicky sauce

Noodle with slow-cooked beef, Chinese red dates and goji berries

Ma Po Tau Foo or crater pocked face old bag tofu


Ba Shan is very good indeed, pricey but worth it.
I hate the 'template' greeting of 'You have to leave in one and a half hours!' Patronising toss!

I neigh and therefore I am. From the horse’s mouth; the literal translation for Ba Shan’s actual Chinese name of dinghin (Cantonese) to English is vessel corridor and metaphorically symbolised into a 'eating/drinking place of power or highest correctness'. The practice of the collision of names is all too common for Chinese restaurants in places where Mandarin is not the first language. The literal name might possess a high degree of abstruseness in its original language but when translated into another language it will inevitably sound daft; for instance a compromised Swallow House will sound a zillion times better than the original of ‘divine spit of swallow bird taint one’s abode with joy’*. I came here because of Dos Hermanos.
I always had the impression that the fire at Bar Shu earlier this year begot Ba Shan. Not so, I’ve been reliably told; the timing of the two events couldn’t be more coincidental. Bar Shu is currently undergoing a major post-fire refurb and the owners have even more aspiring plans for it than its previous incarnation. The two restaurants face diagonally to each other, good for the Guv I would say, what with keeping an eye or two on things. A certain Ms Dunlop provides the celeb wand waving to the new place. Ba Shan is different to its celebrated older sibling, instead of serving high-end/à la Carte Sichuan dishes it’s in effect a boutique (take note peeps, you read it here first!) eatery offering boutique dishes to diners with boutique budgets. The dishes in question are upmarket dim sum size or little dishes inspired from all over Mainland China except the South (the Cantonese have monopolise Chinese cuisine for all too long!). This place is most certainly taking on the likes of Yauatcha and Royal China Club.
Ambience, much like Bar Shu and the overrated plebeian sibling of Baozi Inn, is darkish and incandescently lit.The inside is very chinoiserie, with a bit of this and that borrowed from Christian Liagre’s input at Hakkasan. Dining is cramp and elbow-to-elbow dining a guarantee for two reasons; firstly when the restaurant starts to fill up and secondly the tables for two are woefully small (1.39 square feet or 0.129032 m² or a prop from a doll’s house- don’t knock the bowl of soup over!). My companion insisted that I should also mention the claustrophobic loos. The service here was particularly helpful and charming (was it only because the operation is still new?). One thing of note that’s worth a mention; every time a customer walks into the restaurant, a warning of an hour and forty-five minutes turnaround on the tables is announced. For a Sunday and during these difficult times, this place is confidently busy.
The lovely waitress, the type who would move heaven and earth to ensure one gets the gist from the menu, recommended five ‘small eats’ (xiao chi) and I picked two noodle dishes. The ‘small eats’ were picked purely on the basis that she would order those for herself.
The ‘I’ve had that before’ so named Sweet and sour spare ribs is not what it seems. It’s less fluorescent orange in appearance and certainly less strident and fruity in taste than the Cantonese equivalent. The marinade suggested to me a spicy sweet, dark soy sauce mix. The texture of the meat was more giving than melting, most definitely not chewybacca. I could’ve sworn a numbing effect took place…Sichuan pepper detected! Rather good otherwise.
Five-spiced beef salad with coriander and garlic. A beautifully marinated dish, highly fragrant and spirited in taste. Like all Sichuan dishes, there’s a delayed reaction to the mouth courtesy of both the chilli and pepper. You’ve been warned, don’t’ scoff too quickly. In fact the young lady who was serving reminded that the dishes ought to be eaten slowly so that the complexity of the flavours can be better appreciated.
Good-luck egg roll with chicken and laver seaweed. Give this dish a chance to settle down to room temperature, as it has obviously been prepared beforehand and refrigerated (like terrines, there’s nothing wrong with this). Firm to bite and great eating. The seaweed flavour was vital to this dish, the only problem I have with this dish was the perceived value. It all went in a matter of seconds.
Jiamo (Flatbread sandwiches from Shanxi province) with tender stewed pork. Anything that looks vaguely novel can also be decent eating, well at least psychologically anyway. Once again this recommendation was spot on, and believe me these sandwiches are not for sharing. Utterly moreish.
Prawn and water chestnut dumplings with spicy and garlicky sauce. Disappointment of the evening, I’m sorry you can’t beat the Cantonese with their Shui Kau (prawn dumplings). These dumplings tasted bland and stodgy, if it wasn’t for the accompanying spunky sauce, I would’ve played a Leonard Cohen song to ease the disappointment.
Guotie (pot stickers from Xi’an province) of chicken and Chinese (they call it shiitake ) mushrooms. Fried stuff hardly ever disappoints. Light, airy and ethereal eating. The filling was seasoned perfectly and don't forget to have the guoties dipped in rice vinegar, this lifts the dumpling to a whole new perspective. Excellent.
Can’t come without ordering the Ford Mondeo of Sichuanese cuisine. Dan dan noodles- only good noodles and good sauce are required for this dish. The noodles looked and tasted hand made, I was right, Ba Shan do indeed make their own noodles on the premises. A gold star for that effort alone.
The meaty sauce was piquant and delicious, thankfully not mind blowingly hot either. Accomplished.
My final highlight of the evening, Shanxi noodles with pork, beancurd and hot-and-fragrant sizzling oil. That last adjective made me think of spitting fat and larva overflow.
It was sour, spicy and umami laden. The distribution of the various ingredients like the meat, beancurd and noodles was judged perfectly. No complaints. Brilliant finale to the meal.

So what did I think of tonight’s episode, well I ate like a horse. This was due to my companion’s disposition of spontaneous dieting at the sight of any grease present in the food (chilli oil!). I’m not complaining, all the more for me. This place is expensive and the portions are small, but the quality of the cooking is without doubt one of high quality and all this to be experienced in a plush surrounding; hence the word ‘boutique’ used to describe Ba Shan. For what it’s worth Ba Shan is indeed a destination place and it shouldn’t disappoint except dent the wallet. If Yauatcha can achieve a star, so can Ba Shan. Recommended.

* I made that sparrow thing up.

NB There’s no R in Ba Shan but there is so in Bar Shu, the mind boggles!

You notice that dastardly vague receipt, yes 12.5% service charge is already included. Beware!
24 Romilly Street

London W1D 5AH



Food.By Mark. said...

I passed by last week and took some dreadful photos of the menu and decor outside on my blackberry... I was intrigued and after reading this, I am definitely checking Ba Shan out later this month.

Kate said...

Great photos! I wish I'd tried the ribs when we went on Thursday. The manageress told us the only ingredient is sugar - they're just cooked for a really long time. Interesting to see that some of the dumplings you had are different colours to the same ones we had!

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

This is sitting at the top of my eating list! Now am very much looking forward to it...

bellaphon said...

Likewise I would be intrigued with your findings.

A pleasure to have your comments. The next time I go there, I'm going for the garish coloured stuff that you had.

And waiting for your critique in anticipation.

Hollow Legs said...

Hmmppff. I must've had a VERY off day.

Unknown said...

the mapo tofu looks so delish!

this is really one of the simplest dishes to make anywhere in the world so long as you can get hold of tofu and sauce package.

Here I bought a sauce pack so as to skip all the seasonings! and i will try this friday after work.

bellaphon said...

Sophie- Thanks for your comments. Just don't od yourself on the salt and MSG with those prepacked sauces. I do care, really I do.

Blogger said...

New Diet Taps into Revolutionary Plan to Help Dieters LOSE 15 Pounds in Just 21 Days!