Thursday, 11 March 2010

Silk Road, Camberwell

Say what you like about Twitter; there's no denying it brings people together. Last year, one summer's (remember that season?) evening I was on the tube, on the way to a friend's house. A girl sat next to me and whispered "Hollow Legs, right? I'm Jess". I looked at her with wide-eyed alarm and edged away until I recognised her as someone I'd had online conversations with. We had a little giggle. A few months later, she mentioned she was moving house - my friends were looking for a new housemate - I put the two in touch and now they live together.

Anyway, as a 'welcome to South East London' for Jess, a few of us locals got together to visit Silk Road, a North Western Chinese restaurant in Camberwell. More of a cafe than a restaurant, we were seated on hard cold benches, an Arctic draft billowing through the place every time the door opened. Jumpers stayed on as we perused the menu.

A variety of boiled dumplings were on offer. Beef and onion dumplings were reminiscient of the pie variety, while pork dumplings were liberally laced with spring onion. Juices burst forth from the soft wrappers which had just the right amount of chew.

Cold dishes were made up of sliced ox tripe and shredded kelp, both in a garlicky, chilli dressing. Textures over flavours dominated here; the kelp was ever-so-slimy, the tripe bouncy.

Cumin-dusted lamb skewers were devoured at speed. Each nugget of meat is surrounded by a chunk of flabby in places, sometimes crispy, flavoursome lamb fat which as we all know has a tendency to be utterly foul when cold.

I am nothing if not predictable, and I demanded we order the 'homestyle aubergine'. I didn't come up against any resistance. Unsurprisingly this was perhaps my favourite dish of the night. Chunks of aubergine which I imagine were steamed and then peeled soaked up the flavour of the slightly sweetened mild sheen of a sauce, with added crunch from green pepper.

Billed as 'middle plate chicken' on the menu, we originally wanted to go for the big plate but were wisely warned off it by a second-timer. An enormous boat of a bowl emerged from the kitchen with the heady scent of star anise wafting after it. Lumps of chicken fell off the bone into the spiced broth. When we had fished out all the chunks of potato and chicken we could find, a plate of hand made 'belt noodles' were plonked in the bowl. Slippery, chewy, hugely satisfying and deliciously messy, I was rather surprised to find my clothes weren't splattered.

The final dish, though good, was my least favourite. Shreds of pork, carrot and more of that kelp bathed in a slightly gloopy sauce. It tasted like a very rustic version of sweet and sour, thankfully without any scary Day-Glo orange. Perhaps I was reaching full capacity at this point, though that's not to say it didn't get finished.

The meal, washed down with around 4 Tsing Taos each and complete with service, came to a mere £13 each. I felt like we were robbing them. I will be back.

Silk Road

49 Camberwell Church Street
London SE5 8TR

Tel: 020 7703 4832

Silk Road on Urbanspoon

23 comments:

Mr Noodles said...

Can you really have had 4 beers each and pay just £13 each including service? By my reckoning the food would actually be free and you would in fact be robbing them!

ginandcrumpets said...

Brilliant evening and it's great to go there with a new group of people because otherwise I get stuck ordering the same thing (middle plate chicken, home style aubergine and garlic pak choi since you ask). Would never have occurred to me to order cold sliced tripe but I really liked it – all bouncy and chewy and garlicky – and although the pork dish was probably a dish too far, I liked the vinegary flavour and the crunch. Delicious stuff.

Lizzie said...

Mr Noodles - Perhaps it was just me that had that many, though that can't be true... Unbelievably cheap.

G&C - We are terribly lucky to have it as a local. I LOVED those noodles.

Sharmila said...

I love this place, and love the fact it is pretty much local. The noodles they put in the big plate chicken are just so so tasty - I love that chew they have. Sounds a bit boring, but their homestyle cabbage is also really great, and usually has a good bit of wok char type flavour.

Tom Leighton said...

Rather dangerously, I live two minutes away from Silk Road. The owner is lovely and the food...

Not only delicious but every time I am sure they have missed something off the bill.

Neil Davey said...

Eek. Looks like I have to venture sarf then... Great post. Now craving Chinese at 9:30am - that's a record, even by my standards.

mansiondulwich said...

that certainly looks and sounds like a far better experience than the one we had at Empress of Sichuan. Its nice and close by so will certainly give that a go...

Anonymous said...

Head to Leicester square casino any night of the week, and see if you see any familiar faces from Silk Road.... Me thinks I know the reason they don't need the money from the restaurant.

I fear however, that the secret of this little gem of a restaurant may be escaping.

Su-Lin said...

This place looks amazing. But it's soooooo far away for me. :(

Paul said...

I live near here and have been many times. Great review. Agree on the aubergine and the big belt noodles. Tried the tripe kebabs once and they were very interesting.

But once you've tried the few Xinjiang dishes the appeal wears off a bit. Some of the Chinese mains can be hit and miss, but the veg options are usually sound. It's great value though, and a welcome addition to the Camberwell food scene.

Greedy Diva said...

God, that looks good. Love places like this. How could you do this to me before lunch time?

shayma said...

Lizzie, that is SO cool about Twitter, I'd be a bit alarmed at first too. The tripe sounds really good, all bouncy! Lizzie, love your succinct and racy style of writing, lots of restaurant reviews go on and on and on and on....yours are always great. x shayma

Jessica Rose said...

I could eat that all again right now. Thanks for the welcome meal kids. *warm glow*

p.s. fellow commenters, I'm @lovelychaos, follow if you dare take the risk of either being approached by me on the tube / me moving in with your mates.

An American in London said...

I remember reading Jay Rayner's write-up of Silk Road and thinking I should give it a try, and your post has reinforced that plan. 13 quid is impressively low!

Love the story of meeting Jess on the tube, by the way.

meemalee said...

This is why I love South London.

Great post Lizzie!

The Narrator said...

Oh God, that looks like one of those meals where my eyes and belly protrude after dish two and for the rest of the meal I’m longing to be more empty, or less full.

Lizzie said...

Sharmila - I am going to attempt to make those noodles at home soon. Seriously addictive.

Tom L - I was astonished - I'd heard it was cheap, but that cheap?

Neil - Thanks! Make sure your jabs are up to date...

Mansiondulwich - Definitely do, though it is quite different from Sichuan food.

Anon - Common stereotype there... It wasn't packed out when we went so perhaps the secret is still safe.

Su-Lin - Now you know how I feel with all your West London Japanese gems! :)

GD - I'm terribly sorry.

Shayma - isn't it brilliant? Thanks!

Jess - welcome to the saaaf :)

AAIL - Thanks! definitely give it a go. I recommend going with a few people, the dishes were huge.

Meemalee - South East is the best, innit? Thanks!

The Narrator - Cheers Ad ;) I was proper stuffed after, though no where near like Mien Tay...

The London Foodie said...

Heard really good things about this place, can't believe how affordable it is either, they can't be making much of a profit if 4 beers + food = £13!

Luiz @ The London Foodie

Paunchos said...

That is seriously cheap. But then again if Anonymous is right, they may as well give it all away anyway. Gothenburg is proving to be almost devoid of this sort of food and I am now craving something spicy along with enough dumplings to drown in.

Helen said...

brilliant evening - I can't wait to go back! That pork and kelp dish was my least favourite too. Can't remember anything about it to be honest.

Grumbling Gourmet said...

It is a real find... and seems to be consistent. I live local and have been 3 times since Christmas. The only problem, if you can call it that, is that the menu is a little small...

GG

Pavel said...

That dumpling looks awesome, definitely add this to the list!

Eliza J said...

What do you think of Dragon Castle on Walworth? That's my current number 1 (dim sum every Sunday, the food is obscene!). I'm definitely trying Silk Road out now though!

Eliza @ The Breakfast Collective