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Baozi Inn, Chinatown, London

Baozi Inn

Baozi Inn

I’ve developed a slight obssession with Sichuan province in China: it’s culture, and especially it’s food. My research, in print and online, has shown it to be full of colour and flavour. I’ve met people from there and Westerners that have lived there, one claims that she has never been anywhere where people smile so much. Isn’t that a lovely recommendation? I had hoped to go there on holiday last year, particularly to Chengdu, but I couldn’t squeeze it in, so, that trip is on hold for the moment, but hopefully not for too long.

Baozi Inn

Baozi Inn

Until I get there, I’ve been keeping busy reading and trying the offerings from Fuschia Dunlop, the famed English chef who studied Sichuanese cookery at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu, China. She has many lovely books, one worth trying is Sichuan Cookery. I’ve also been indulging in the recent sudden crop of authentic Sichuan restaurants which have set up in London, most to my shame, I have yet to blog. Angeles in Kilburn and the Sichuan in Acton, have been around for years, but are now accompanied by Red & Hot, Bar Shu, Snazz Sichuan and Chilli Cool, wonderful additions. Chilli Cool and Snazz Sichuan are my personal favourites and are the ones that I recommend when asked. Bar Shu is the most high end of all of them, located off Shaftesbury Ave with the most expensive menu and the most formal service. It’s very good but I prefer something a little more low key and I’ve found that the others offer food of an equivalent standard in a more intimate, less formal setting, Chilli Cool in particular, I salute you.

Bar Shu have clearly recognised the oppurtunities at the lower end of the market, some Sichuan favourites are street food after all (Dan Dan Noodles is one), and so they opened Baozi Inn in Chinatown in 2008. Baozi Inn has had some good reviews and came recommended to me by fellow blogger, Lizzie of Hollow Legs. There’s frequently a wait, and I have little patience, so after a few aborted attempts, I finally ate there last week with some visiting friends and a fellow Londoner who used to live in Chengdu.

Green Beans at Baozi Inn

Green Beans at Baozi Inn

It’s a warm and intimate place, very cosy at this time of year. All wood and the occasional lantern, bare minimalism offering broad wooden stools and tables, it’s not about comfort here, but speed and efficiency. I was pleasantly surprised by the menu. The style is similar to Bar Shu and pictorial, but don’t hold that against them! It features traditional street dishes from Beijing and Chengdu like dan dan noodles, fragrant and hot pork noodles, peace and happiness noodles and Chengdu crescent dumplings with chilli oil or in savoury broth.

Cucumber salad & baoza

Service was brusque and friendly, and after a 10 minute wait we had a table. Surprisingly, there’s no wine on the menu, just beer. We chose some noodle dishes, some crescent dumplings in broth and with oil , some baozi and a couple of sides of cucumber and green beans.

Sichuanese Spicy Beef Noodles

Sichuanese Spicy Beef Noodles

The food arrived promptly, with the sides of cucumber and green bean dressed salads. These were fantastic, lightly and spicily dressed, we didn’t have enough. Shortly after the mains arrived: Sichuanese fragrant-and-hot pork noodles, Sichuanese spicy beef noodles, Chengdu dan dan noodles, Chengdu crescent dumplings in chilli oil, Chengdue crescent dumplings in savoury broth and some baozi. Large portions, we struggled to consume all, as in our hunger, we had ordered more than one each. Overall the food felt light, spicy and fragrant, fresh and very healthy, we were very happy with our choices. The baozi were light and fresh and the dumplings robust and wholesome in a delicious spicy chicken broth. Should I get a cold anytime soon, I know where I am going for my chicken soup!

Baoza

Baoza

I loved it. It’s a quick, cheap eat and great value for money, and all agreed, including my friend that had lived in Chengdu. She thought that it was very authentic and some of the best Chinese food that she’s had in London since she lived in Chengdu (she hasn’t been to alot of the other Sichuan restaurants in London, but I plan to take her). Rushed out as we were in, we weren’t offended, that’s what it’s about after all. I’ll be going back to try their baozi with millet porridge for lunch.

Chengdu crescent dumplings in a savoury broth

Chengdu crescent dumplings in a savoury broth

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Haozhan

I am a little late with this one, I am possibly the last food blogger to write about Haozhan. I’ve wanted to go since it opened, but never did and I think this is because it is in Chinatown. This made me nervous, as, generally the best Chinese food in London is found outside of Chinatown. I like going there for their grocery shops, and, go frequently for sichuan pepper, spring roll wrappers and random treats. I enjoy the bakeries and their dairy free semi-savoury delights. But, with few exceptions, the restaurants are not great. However, I continued to read good things and I decided I should really try it.

Hoazhan comes with solid credentials – Jimmy Kong of New Fook Lam Moon opened it with Chee Loong Cheong, formerly of Hakkasan, in the kitchen. Hakkasan is one of Alan Yau’s famed establishments and one of London’s few michelin starred Chinese restaurants. It offers sophisticated Chinese fusion food, but, is in the upper echelons of my current budgetary restrictions, so it was good to get an opportunity to taste the offerings of a chef that had worked there.

I have been twice now, the first time for a friends birthday on a Saturday night, nervously as I had recommended we try it, but had no experience of dining there to reassure me. On arrival, we were ushered upstairs to a round table, and within a short while, we were ordering. It was very busy, full to capacity. The appearance is quite trendy and very different to most of the other restaurants on Gerrard St. The green and black is attributed to Feng Shui, the whole effect was very modern, clean and efficient.

Service, on the other hand, was very much what I have come to know in chinatown – abrupt and swift – but, unlike alot of its neighbours, it had a charm, and by the end of the night we were all laughing at the misunderstandings surrounding getting a birthday candle put in a dessert for the birthday boy. Reviewing the menu, it appeared to be fusion, blending influences from regional asian cuisines with Chinese cooking, there’s marmite prawns and cheesy lobster on the menu, the lobster is a step too far for me I think, but maybe one day I’ll try the prawns.

We ordered a selection of starters – standout were the chilli squid which was crisp, light and beautifully spiced and so full of flavour, the veggie mixed starter was good, if average and the coffee ribs were rich and flavoursome.

Mains went from fabulous to bizarre. I had a gorgeous homemade tofu dish and would have written this post if only to tell you about it – Haozhan tofu – four fried homemade tofu cubes, like a savoury custard with spinach skimming the surface, all topped with a scallop and some fish roe. A friend had curry prawns which were very spicy and came served in a huge round of bread. Bizarre and super spicy. I’ve already mentioned the lobster and the prawns!

For dessert I had the red bean pancake, which was just ok, nothing spectacular. The deep fried ice cream was fine but not amazing.

Impressed as I was with the savoury food, I wanted to bring another foodie friend there. I, the creature of habit and desperate for more squid and tofu, ordered the same meal. He ordered the chilli deep fried soft shell crab and the crispy shredded beef. My meal was spectacular as before but his was disappointing: the crabs were slightly burned and the beef was borderline – very sweet and average.

It was a shame, as the previous night was generally, a very positive experience. I’ll definitely go again, if only for the tofu.

2 courses with one glass of wine, 2 beers and tea was £60.

Haozhan
8 Gerrard Street
W1D 5PJ
0207 434 3838

http://www.haozhan.co.uk/

Correction (20th June 2008) – I had the chilli squid starter, not the chilli tofu. I am clearly just a little focussed on that tofu main course!

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Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year! The Chinese New Year festivities start today – the year of the rat – the first year of the 12 year chinese zodiac, an apparant year of plenty, opportunities and good prospects.

I love Chinese New Year in London, Chinatown is just buzzing and there’s always a big celebration organised by the Mayor of London, this year on this coming Sunday. It’s an excuse to explore another culture and join in on the fun. After work I wandered down to Chinatown to grab some chinese pastries from Kowloon Patisserie and some ingredients to make some chinese food over the coming days. Lots were staples that I’ve run out of, and others random things I picked up after they grabbed my interest! Makes for a creative few days.

There were some dragons lions wandering around, no – dancing and jumping to drums, and popping into local businesses, bringing good luck with them and receiving red envelopes, containing cash I believe, for their efforts. There was lots of drums and excitement and police ensuring that their journey was smooth.

The 15 day celebrations are days of feasting, beginning on the first day of the lunar month (today) and ending on the 15th. Many buddhists abstain from meat on the first day as it is believed to ensure longevity. Often noodles are consumed for the same reason, but never cut, as uncut noodles are believed to represent longevity and long life.

I’ve been craving noodles recently, it’s been ages since I’ve made them and they’re perfect for light meals like lunches. So, before I left today, I did a little searching online for a chinese noodle dish that might ensure a quick tasty bite after my chinatown adventure and meet the chinese new year requirements. The dish that caught my eye, I found published in a number of places, but the recipe appears to have originated at eatingwell.com – Long Life Noodles with Green Tea.

This really appealed, I have never had noodles with tea in them before for a start and it looks really light and healthy, a perfect counter to the Chinese pastries I was intent on consuming. Green tea tastes great and it’s healthy, so it looked like I might be on to a winner. The origin of the dish, or this type of dish, is said to be the Yangtze River valley where there are many tea farms and where it’s popular to serve noodles with ingredients like green tea and tofu in summer as they are perceived to be cooling. A little bit of a climate mismatch here really, in February in London, I am not looking to cool down, but I am looking for a new light noodle recipe so I thought that I would give it a go.

I made a few changes to the recipe as I had normal tofu, not baked, although I am sure that smoked would work well here too if I had found it. I couldn’t find a yellow pepper either so doubled the amount of red. My research said that egg noodles are not traditional for this day, but again, it’s what I had so I made do. It’s a really nice recipe, really light, healthy and delicious, the green tea is very subtle and the dressing flavoursome but not overwhelming. Nice hot or cold, I had it hot this evening and will be having it cold for lunch tomorrow! I will be making it again.

This recipe will serve 4.

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