Thursday, 4 August 2011

Shu Castle

Verily, I say unto you, for he that eateth no Sichuan food, be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea- for thou knoweth sod all about the grub of olde Cathay.

Ten years ago we would all accept that the Chinese food served in Britain is nothing more than regressive Cantonese. But now that the PRCs have arrived in droves, London town is blessed with a growing abundance of Chinese restaurants not specialising in Cantonese cuisine. The latter’s reputation in London is dangerously close to being displaced by discerning food lovers and bloggers as the one and only ‘Chinese’ when dining out. But then again these young observers are more acquainted and obsessed with the likes of Dim Sum and Roast Duck, they’ve somewhat forgotten or perhaps ignored that Chefs Leung and Tang in Chinatown are whizzes at exemplary dishes like Fish Maw Soup, Steamed Lobster with Egg White, Eel with Black Bean Sauce or Crispy Duck with Mashed Yam. Compared to all the other regional cuisines of China the Cantonese still rule the waves when it comes to full blown banqueting and bespoke dishes. That said, it’s also true for one who doesn’t experience Sichuan food is also clueless about Chinese food. The embracing of Sichuan food in London is mostly due to its macho stance of spicy and pungent flavours (courtesy of the vital base ingredients that are chillies and Sichuan peppers). It’s a tired fact that most folks misinterpret Cantonese food as greasy but the Sichuanese make that all quite tame since they like serving foods in hot (both temperature and spicy) boiling oceans of Mazola. Despite what I’ve just uttered, Sichuanese cooking is still absolutely brilliant and it’s definitely here to stay…just don’t eat the chillies neat (think of them as purely decorative) and glug the excess oil!

I was first dragged here by her and I’ve been back four times.

Its location is a bleeding good excuse as a worthwhile pit stop from a Monopoly route expedition. Mao caps were also noted on Old Kent Road, no wonder Shu Castle pitched their tent here.

The smallish restaurant is tarted up with shop fittings imported from ‘back home’, rather lavish I might add, and not because of its location on Old Kent Road but more so the grim 1* hotel it’s attached to. The service unusually for a Chinese restaurant is warm and convivial, perhaps being a mate of Kake made a difference! The diners were as expected, predominantly of ‘my kind’ with the exception of the odd Baltic tourist or Benny from Crossroads tackling the origami process re pancakes and Crispy Aromatic Duck.

Thankfully we don’t have to suffer from apartheidical menus at Shu Castle, no more separate menus for the Hans and non-Hans! Instead the highly illustrative and vaguely descriptive (minor typos withstanding) menu is pure godsend! Just don’t take the photos for granted as 15 prawns might actually mean 10 in reality and the chilli ticks (to depict the levels of hotness) are nonsensical…a zero chilli tick could end up deceivingly hot as well!

What we ordered first time around.
NB Kake can read Chinese but I struggle like hell!

Lotus Leaf Harrow-
I agree the last word is dumbfounding but these were essentially steamed Jiaozi dumplings but made with glutinous rice flour instead of the usual wheat.

The sticky and chewy ‘leaves’ (filled rather generously with well-seasoned pork mince and spring onions) were splendidly morerish.


unusually these dumplings were filled without the hot burning soup within so they are perfect for those meek individuals who are prone to matters regarding trauma of the mouth…such disappointing news for injury lawyers. Like the harrows, the steamed buns were very good.

Sautéed Pickled Beans with Minced Pork-
tangy and hot tasting; the beans added a welcome crunch to this flavourful dish.

Marinated Black Fungus (savours better than it sounds, the Chinese adore the texture thing and in this case it was moist crunchy) and the acid test dish of Mapo Tofu (authentically it should blow your socks off with help of the most natural and organic local anaesthetic that’s Sichuan pepper.) The latter was admirably and faithfully concocted at Shu Castle. Quite possibly the best Mapo Tofu I’ve had in London.

The soups-
They were brilliant but I suspect they were all made from same base stock of ‘pig-head-bone-soup’ with different ingredients added to distinguish the five choices available from Meat Ball Soup with Bean Sprout to "Kingdom" Oxtail Soup.

Fish Head & Tofu in Casserole-
an immense soup dish that also included Spam (luncheon meat), pork stomach (not to be confused with belly pork), meatball, fish cheeks, and Chinese mushrooms. For £3.90 I call that seven-treasures-in-bowl bargain!

White Gourd and Sliced Pork Soup-
a most neutral recommendation and utterly well balanced for those too stricken by the thought of offal and other strange intrusions on their plate.

Griddle Pig Feet with Chilli-

the God of Pig’s Trotter would probably pipe up in horror with ‘mon aimé, mon pied de porc, quel dommage!’ Erm, yes Pierre, the Chinese don’t bother with the dressing and disguising procedures, they’re more at home with the take-no-prisoners approach like ‘oh those trotter nails haven’t been clipped properly , nice touch’! It was the most melt-in-mouth and unctuously porky dish I've eaten to date and goes without saying it was also sadistically hot. When ordering this dish, don’t rush them give the kitchen plenty of time to create what I experienced or better still order a day in advance.

Bear's Paw Tofu-
bear's paw refers to the tofu pieces shaped like bear paws and the dish is supposedly hinting at what the real thing might taste like (think mock turtle soup). Quite simply it was just tofu braised with pork, black fungus, chillies and spring onion. It was too bland and hardly stimulating therefore I now know what bear tastes like…so no thank you.

Fire Exploded Kidney Flowers-
a most poetic name that comes down to earth as plain sautéed pig's kidney. This one of my fave dishes from the Sichuan region, if you crave earthy tasting morsels with a bit of ammonia whiff, this dish says ‘well, hello, eat me’. Delightful.

Fried Shrimps with Salted Egg Yolk-
Chinese foods in general exist with its concept of yin yang to maintain and enhance the quality of our well-being. But not this dish, it somewhat eggs on your cholesterol levels and high blood pressure readings instead. Why ffs?Because all naughty foods taste heavenly!

Sautéed Chicken with Spicy Sauce-
diced chicken on the bone, frog legs are sometimes represented in this dish but let’s be honest chicken tastes a lot more fulfilling than the watery- bland tasting amphibians. An unforgettable dish that's equally great for snacking.

Boiled Fish with Pickled Cabbage and Chilli-
I've left the best 'til last; this big-portioned dish makes an old fart like me weep shamelessly with joy. Although it doesn’t quite command the same penchant as the illustrious Sliced Fish in Hot Chilli Oil at least you can eat everything and leave the bowl dry and empty. The slices of sea bass fillets were wonderfully poached in an intoxicating stock that tasted heart-warming and for want of a better word, addictive.

Shu Castle is one impressive joint and Fuchsia Dunlop ought to take heed. Highly recommended, thank you Kake.

194 Old Kent Road,


tehbus said...

I pass this place every day on my daily journey to work. Looks like a gem and will have to visit. Thanks to you (and Kake) for the heads up!

Anonymous said...

Oh my god--I just passed that on my way home and had NO idea it would be good (after all it's on Old Kent Road!)

It's a 10 minute walk from my house! Swoon. Debt of Gratitude!


London Chow said...

Love Sichuan food as well! The heat is perfect when the weather gets chilly (and that's almost 10 months a year in London!). The problem is that I tend to gorge on rice with Sichuan as well. Can't help it really.

The fish head & tofu looks like a brilliant deal! I've never tried Sichuan soup and didn't even know they do it. Will put it on the to-do list. Thanks for the post!

Sharmila said...

I pass this place so much and I always wonder if it is any good or not! Now I will definitely be taking a trip.

Hello by the way! *waves*

bellaphon said...

tehbus- more thanks to you actually, your blogroll alone is responsible for the additional 1K hits my blog accumulates monthly!

bea- thank you for stopping. Food that makes one perspire profusely can only be good.

London Chow- yo, thank you. Dunno about Singapore but Sichuan food have failed across the Causeway; the boiling 'oils' are deemed too excessive and thus suspiciously unhealthy!

Sharmila- hey rice and pickles, thanks for your comments and am frantically waving back atcha. No doubt we'll bump into each other again via Kake-calls.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I am so behind on the internet! I didn't realise 'til now that you had your review up, so I may have been making NO SENSE AT ALL to people in emails :)

On our last visit I was seriously tempted to ask for a portion of those xiao long bao to take home and have for breakfast...

Mr Noodles said...

Another one for the list! Shame i missed this one but let me know if you are next up for it...

Dad said...

*belly laughs*

Only just seen your 'berraphronbrog' under your heading pic'.


(Note to self - must pay more attention!)

Anonymous said...

Did this restaurant used to be a pub called The Castle? - I have an old beer jug inscribed The Castle, Old Kent Road, dated 1903 which was given as a Christmas gift by the then owners - a Mr & Mrs Westley.
Would love to know please.

Would be grateful for a reply.

chinese food kent said...

Love Sichuan food as well!

USA hoverboard 299 said...

I love to eat Xiaolongbao. How about you?