Master Wei, tucked down a pedestrianised side street near Russell Square, is the second London restaurant from chef Guirong Wei, who also co-owns Xi’an Impression near the Arsenal stadium in Holloway. Though the word ‘restaurant’ might raise expectations for what feels more like a Chinese café, with its exposed brick, sights of Xi-an city on the walls (including the famous terracotta warriors), simple black chairs and unclothed tables bristling with pots of chopsticks.
But food that arrives in very pretty crockery indicates that the focus here is what’s on the plate. Our advice would be to fill up on starters and ‘Xian street food’; our hand-pulled noodle main courses – minced pork with vegetables, and Qishan-style pork in sour and spicy sauce – were nice enough, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Which is definitely not the case with cold plates of spicy sliced beef, boneless chicken in ginger sauce and spicy smacked cucumber salad – each the sort of synapse-snapping assemblies that could clear a head-cold faster than any decongestant. Order a bowl of vinegar-sharp potato-sliver salad, or the bland comfort of warm steamed pork and vegetable dumplings, to cool the palate.
More crowd-pleasing dishes such as spring rolls, salt and pepper spare ribs and sweet and sour chicken seem designed to lure dubious Westerners through the door, though our salt and pepper squid was as good as any. If you’re unfamiliar with the regional cooking that is the kitchen’s speciality, do ask the very friendly staff for guidance.
With nearly everything costing under £10, these are the sort of filling cheap eats which explain why most of our fellow diners were students from SOAS and off-duty doctors from Great Ormond Street, though Master Wei is also brilliantly located for a pre- or post-cinema bite at the Curzon Bloomsbury. And unlike Xi’an Impression, Master Wei is licensed, so you can wash your food down with an unoaked Burgundy Chardonnay or Galician Albarino for less than £20.