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|Address:||24 Romilly Street, London W1D 5AH|
|Tel:||020 7287 3266|
|Price: £38.00||Wine: £22.90||Champagne: £46.90|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Sun 12N-11pm|
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I’ve had my face taken clean off by Szechuan peppercorns before. I enjoy it; it’s an addictive sensation without the fear and dread of despicably hot chilli. So while Bar Shu purveys an outrageously spicy assortment of Szechuan’s finest, neighbouring Ba Shan is just that little bit more mellow and diverse. Think of it as a good way to dip your toe into a deeply unusual cuisine, without said toe growing numb in the searing heat.
So while I didn’t detect anywhere near as much fire in our dishes here, that’s not to say they didn’t pack a punch. The flavours were bold, shouty and at times downright peculiar, which made for a pretty thrilling meal. Plus, the menu with pics helped us dodge bullets like unsolicited offal and anything unidentifiable/tubular. Phew.
Pounded aubergine was like a Hunanese take on Baba Ganoush; obscenely rich and garlicky, but ruddy gorgeous. A salad of smashed cucumbers was no less powerful, seasoned with minced pork and riddled with intangible nuances. Chairman Mao’s red-braised pork was unctuous and fragrant with anise; my other half loved devouring the layer of creamy fat, but it was no fuss for me to strip it off (even with chopsticks). Gong Bao chicken made it onto our must-try list: chewy nuggets of floured chicken in a sea of dried chilli that was so much more than the sum of its parts.
I must have been feeling very la-di-da when I ordered the Chinese wine, despite the waiter’s protestations. It arrived as a brutal shot with echoes of tequila or cachaca; miles away from the delicate sake-esque drink I’d expected (in my ignorance). A Tsing Tao beer was the more fitting option, as unfortunately the curious assortment of bean-based drinks wasn’t available that late on a Saturday night.
While Ba Shan was no way near as pricey as Bar Shu, it was by no means cheap. Don’t expect piddly, tapas portions though; each plate was family-sized so you benefit from a group booking. As a cautionary tale, we went as a greedy couple and ended up lugging our leftovers home. This cursed package reeked of weird sesame concoctions, offending everybody on the train home. We were also charged for the takeaway boxes which royally peed me off; by this logic, it’s cheaper to leave waste than finish the food you’ve already paid for. Also, the food looks unappetizing when you haul it out of the fridge the next day and find the odd firm, porky bite lodged in congealed fat. (Spiced oil is integral to many of the dishes, so you need to resign yourself to a calorific blowout).
In short, there’s nothing subtle about this food and how it’s prepared, and the results are an acquired taste with an other-worldly. feel But we found the dinner to be weird and wonderful in equal measure and, despite leafing through Fuchsia Dunlop’s beautiful cookbooks, I doubt I could match it at home.
You won’t necessarily leave the restaurant feeling like a celebrated customer. We were virtually barked at when we arrived without a reservation, and exchanges with waiters were generally abrupt. But I’d venture that this is less about ‘bad’ service; more that the customer proposition leans towards unflinching efficiency rather than sweetness or warmth. So simply come on mass, bring your adventurous streak and tuck in.