Saturday 12 February 2011

Ba Shan, Revisited

If there was a testament to visiting somewhere more than once, Ba Shan would be it. After my original visit in April 2009, I was less than impressed, both by the service and the quality of food on offer. Fast forward almost two years, and I found myself visiting again for a Chinese new year dinner with family and friends. This was mainly due to recommendations after having visited the Hunanese Golden Day, where food was good but service patchy. While the menu used to be Northern Chinese street food, a recent overhaul with their resident consultant (and rather a hero of mine), Fuschia Dunlop, made the basis more strongly focused on Hunanese specialities.

We kicked off with three starters. The Hunanese pickles were crunchy, sour batons of cucumber and daikon. They had the curious quality to be both cold yet fiery from the heat. Spare ribs were fine; tender meat, but not hugely interesting when compared to the pickles and the slivered chicken salad (below). The shredded chicken was combined with chilli oil and julienned crunchy vegetables. While on the salty side, it was addictively spicy.

For our mains, we spotted another table with an enormous plate and after enquiring as to what it was, the steamed catfish with salted chillis were duly ordered (opening photo). Two fillets were cooked to tenderness, topped with the chopped salted inferno of chillis. They cut like butter, and came with a portion of noodles to dump in the deeply savoury, almost dashi-like sauce. It was my favourite dish of the night.

A typically home-style Hunanese dish is Peng's beancurd. The beancurd is fried on the outside, soft within and is cooked with fermented black beans, chilli bean paste and pork. Liberally sprinkled with thick rings of chopped fresh chillis, the green were bearable while the red were so spicy they could have been incandescent.

Dried yard beans with Chinese bacon was a serious saltfest. The chewy texture of the dried beans and the slivers of bacon were great, but you really needed to eat this with a lot of rice.

Another typical dish of the region was the least spice-laden. Chairman Mao's red braised pork was a dish of tender, glossy cubes of pork belly, coated in a soy anise sauce. It put the fires out.

My suggestion of hand torn cabbage was veto'd, apparently too boring and instead dry fried green beans, staple of all Sichuan restaurants was ordered and were a fine example. Making up the vegetable contingent, bitter melon with black beans also came with pork. Not everyone's cup of tea due to it's bitterness, we loved it. Again, pork intestines were so intensely porky that it could have put you off, but not us.

With two bottles of wine, tea, 3 starters, 7 mains, rice and service, the bill came to around £36 a head; more expensive than Golden Day opposite, but a much more pleasurable experience. Service was sweet; a mistaken dish of pickled green beans and minced pork was delivered to us and upon the mistake being pointed out, was gifted to us anyway. Leftovers were boxed up happily. I'll be back.

Ba Shan

24 Romilly Street,

London, W1D 5AH

Tel: 020 7287 3266

Ba Shan on Urbanspoon


An American in London said...

Sounds like a successful revamp, and I love Hunan cuisine so will have to check it out. The Peng's tofu sounds especially appealing.

I tried out Golden Day two weeks ago, by the way, and I made the mistake of showing up for Sunday lunch. All our dishes showed up incredibly quickly and tasted re-heated. A total bummer. Based on your and Mr. Noodles's recs, I'll have to try them again, though. We had a whole fish with chilies there that was silky and delish, so that was a promising sign.

Helen said...

Arrrggghheeeeeeaaaaiiiiiiaaa. Yeah, bit sad I missed it; looks ACE.

Mr Noodles said...

Glad to hear that Ba Shan is a good option for Hunanese food! I’ve not been yet but it is on my list. BTW, I saw General Tso’s chicken on the menu, when I walked past there before Xmas.

bar stools said...

Everything looks delicious!

Ute@HungryinLondon said...

I like Ba Shan, went there once after they included Hunan on their menu. I am so bad on Chinese cuisines though that I never really know what is Hunan and what is Sichuan. Next time I go I take a print out of your post. I have to try the steamed catfish!

Chris Pople said...

It was definitely a great meal - really impressive - but what's unusual is just how long the place had been open, and for most of this time by all accounts not very good, before it finally got its act together. Well done them, for sticking it out.

The Grubworm said...

That sounds lovely. I really like the combination of cooling/cold vegetables and chilli heat - it does funny things to your taste receptors. I remember experiencing something similar at Chilli Cool with their pig ears. Unexpected, and all the better for it.

I also really like the sound of the bean curd and fish, both look and sound spectacular.

The Grubworm said...

So I went and we tried the catfish and peng's beancurd - they were ace - your write up was spot on. Along with the beancurd and fish, I think the dried radish and Chinese bacon was a real highlight. This was the post that kicked off our visit, so thanks!