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|Address:||28 Frith Street, London W1D 5LF|
|Tel:||020 7287 88 22|
|Price: £49.00||Wine: £21.90||Champagne: £49.00|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Sun 12N-11pm|
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It’s hard to capture just how addictive Sichuan food can be. There comes a point when your lips are a-glow with peppery heat, and your mouth feels like it’s darting across your face; resembling the subject of a cubist portrait when Picasso was at his most barmy. Once the tingle subsides and you’re confident your chops haven’t burned clean through, all that’s left is a tremendous sense of wellbeing and the question: what the devil was that, and can I have some more?
This is why I find myself returning to Bar Shu again and again. People pooh-pooh service as abrupt, surly and ruthless and – having been four times now – I can confirm all these things. But I’m comfortable in the knowledge that everyone is treated with equal disdain; that the cool reception is not solely reserved for me; and that there's no restaurant quite like it in London.
Bar Shu's a place where the nose-to-tail hardcore can fill their boots as there's all manner of glandular delight on the menu. At the last visit, we spied a plate writhing with eels and searingly-hot oil being marched to a table, followed by trails of jellyfish (complete with unnerving wibble). I'm relieved to say that not every dish is a bushtucker trial though. I’ve always been impressed by the veritable extravaganza of dolled-up veg on offer, so we gave some a whirl last week.
Take ‘phoenix tail’ greens in the so-called ‘strange-tasting’ sauce that's normally reserved for bang bang chicken. Or the melting loveliness of fish-fragrant aubergine laced with spiced caramel and sesame oil. We ate green beans with skins wrinkled by a fierce dry heat, seasoned with tangy ground pork. Smacked cucumbers – a staple across South East Asia – tempered their cool, chilled flesh and fresh herbs with uppity bites of chilli. And DanDan noodles were a simple dish done exceedingly well, sitting just the right side of al dente.
Our token meat-based dish – Dong Bao chicken – was delicious, and a safe option with echoes of a darned good Cantonese-style sweet and sour. But for me it was all about the authentic Sichuan bean curd dish: bless that pock-marked old woman from whom this tofu gets its name. Captivating in its moreish weirdness, we polished off the whole sizeable dish between two.
But lordy, it'll cost you. On the plus-side, there’s no need to fork out for wine because it’s not a cuisine that benefits from it. We drank green tea, and a procession of cooling cocktails made from soothing aloe and salted plum.
I tend to scarcely notice the surroundings in Bar Shu. I'm too sucked in by the heady and slightly psychedelic culinary experience, way too busy playing with my food. But there are wood carvings, lively chatter, and a laid-back dress code (plus it's usually quite cool; a blessing, given the chilli heat). I look forward to nipping across the road to the sister restaurant Ba Shan, which is even more relaxed and (mercifully) cheaper. I wonder what delights await there?