Friday, 2 December 2011

SanXia RenJia

SanXia RenJia is the only restaurant in London serving authentic Hunan, Hubei and Sichuan food…or so its website alleges. But as an insurance it also caters for the uninformed masses with such tired classics like crispy duck and pancakes, beef chow mein, sweet and sour pork plus the usual irrelevant dishes consisting of Singapore fried noodles, cheeseburger curry allsorts, chicken satay and wait for it, Thai fishcakes! The name SanXia RenJia is indeed a mouthful and certainly a perfect one for a tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, but the translation (although longwinded) is easier to grasp with- Home of the People of the Three Gorges.

It would be useful to remind you readers of the differences between the three Chinese regional cuisnes-

Sichuan- numbing spicy.
Hunan- fragrant spicy.
Hubei- the Nick Clegg mate of Hunan’s Dave.

SanXia RenJia’s location is a perfect pull for the PRC students attending UCL, University of Westminster or the various TEFL centres dotted in and around the West End. The layout and ambience of the dining room possessed very little salvation and grace…the woeful Tsingtao sponsored lanterns take the biscuit! The helpful and pleasant service was thankfully devoid of any grimacing or gloating that’s generally expected of most Chinese restaurants.

Reverse chronology commenceth- personally I cannot think of anything more socially engaging (and delicious) than a steamboat or Chinese fondue meal. A hotpot meal at SanXia RenJia well set one back 20 quid per person. The baffling thing about the offer here is there are absolutely no limitations or restrictions as to how many of the boxes you wish to tick. A win-win situation I hear you holler. But going 'tick' crazy caused by gluttony is a no-no and utterly pointless, for there’s only so much one can eat in one sitting. It would be wiser to limit five to six ingredients initially per person and besides the waitresses are hardly harebrained, as they’ll never overload your table with everything that you’ve hoped for…they’re watching you all the time! So keep calm, eat to your heart’s content and if the grub runs out they’ll top it up accordingly. Lastly if you happen to callously opt for the bleeding Singapore Noodles or Special Fried Rice as well and by which time your over-indulged tummy decided to call it a day, I’m sure that your waitress will happily let you take it away instead (lunch sorted for the next day).

Some lost in translation moments-

Sliced pork is simply luncheon meat or Spam

Bibble should be bible (yes two types of tripe are offered at SanXia RenJia)
Ribbon is this

The soup-stock options are spicy, clear, vegetarian (dubious methinks) or witches’ brew herbal.
Various dipping sauces range from sesame paste to raw egg yolks.

Certain rules apply when chucking in the ingredients. I suggest that the Spam, any strange offal and Chinese cabbage go in first, you don’t have to eat them but they do enhance the flavour and provide depth to the broth. Next the black fungus (cloud ears), tofu, dry beancurd and springy seaweed. Followed by some fish balls and meatballs, and as soon as they float, proceed with some prawns, squid, fish, various vegetable leaves and beef slices. Please don’t overcook any of the latter, scoop them out immediately when ready and enjoy. Repeat the procedure until the simmering soup is flavoured beyond the realm of utter umaminess.

About 90 minutes later (this is one rare Chinese meal that cannot be rushed) the soup is now ready for the finale, noodles of your choice are finally added to complete the meal.

A good steamboat dinner depends on the freshness and quality of the raw ingredients served but unfortunately SanXia RenJia fell short and the overall experience was in no way as good as here or here.

A few months’ back I came here for the first time. My dining companions and I were reasonably pleased with our a la carte meal.

What we ordered (with pics from the menu and what actually turned up in reality)-

Fish Head and Tofu Soup

Do not be put off by the main ingredient of fish head, as it is the most flavoursome part of any fish and the Chinese are renowned with curbing fishiness by adding ginger and rice wine. The milky cloudiness of the finished article is not due to any addition of milk or cream but a result of regular cooking oil and water mixing at a particular temperature. The main stock was quite clearly concocted using heads of salmon (two a penny at your fishmongers) but augmented by chunks of sea bass to make it look and taste more authentic. I loved it.

Braised Winter Melon.
It was ok but the kitchen was too heavy-handed with the MSG.

Double Cooked Pork Hotpot

This is a dish I’ve cooked successfully with relative ease at home but I must concede that the version at SanXia RenJia was outstanding and considerably better. It’s also a kind of dish that makes no difference to the kind of pork used (be it expensive Gloucestershire Old Spot or intensively farmed Danish porkers). This is due to the overwhelming flavours that come from the reddish Pixian bean-paste and hot chilli peppers…any importance to do with the pig’s provenance is soon obliterated. So whatever pork is used the meat will always end up tender and melt-in-mouth.

Hot and spicy prawns

The picture on the menu showing around 30 prawns was tempting enough for anyone to place an immediate order. But we were presented with nine king prawns instead. The Trade Descriptions Act was clearly violated here. That said, the prawns were well cooked and as prawns will always be prawns, they tasted excellent.

Beer Stewed Duck in Hot Pot

This was the highlight of the meal. The origins of this rustic dish stem from the Miao (or Hmong) people living in the Hubei and Hunan provinces. The inclusion of the beer simply tenderises the morsels of duck to great effect. A word of warning if I may; since a copious amount of dried chilli peppers was used as well as the fresh ones the Beer Stewed Duck is not for everyone as it was exceedingly spicy! This wonderful dish is pure winter fodder.

With over 60 dishes to choose from the Three Gorges’ menu, I think it’s good enough reason to come back for more. For my next visit I would need to gather some like-minded diners and feast on nothing but offal. With the exception of the steamboat SanXia RenJia comes recommended.

29 Goodge Street

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really liked the tiger salad here. Perhaps an all-offal meal with a salad dessert?