Baozi Inn, Chinatown, London
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.