I’ve now been to Gourmet San twice, and while about half the dishes I tried were eh, the other half were very good, and all were very cheap – most mains were £7 and showy ones like the chili fried crab topped out at £11. It’s a bit of a schlepp to reach Gourmet San (it’s so far east on Bethnal Green Road that it’s no longer Trendy Dodgy – like Green & Red – and is more Truly Dodgy), but it’s a fun place to go with friends, and everyone will surely leave with full stomachs and full wallets.
Both times I visited Gourmet San, the chili fried crab (pictured above) and the grilled lamb skewers (£1 per skewer) were outstanding. The former, while somewhat tricky and messy to eat, were lightly battered and fried and then covered in numbing Szechuan peppers, garlic and scallions. The lamb skewers were smoky, juicy and spicy from a chili-and-cumin rub.
Speaking of the grilled lamb skewers, Gourmet San has a rep for being Szechuan, but when you see the lengthy menu, it’s obvious that the resto serves dishes from all over China. The skewers, for example, are a classic example of Xinjiang cuisine, in northwest Chna. But so what if they’re not Szechuan? They’re delish. Don’t even bother with the other skewers (e.g., prawn). They pale in comparison to the lamb.
“Sizzling beef,” recommended by our server, was very good. Soft, tender beef (probably tenderized with a dip in corn starch before some light frying) served with sweet red peppers and onions.
And both the fish and chicken stir fried with chillies were tasty, though the chicken (like the fried crab) was a bit annoying to eat. There were lots of bones to spit out, so if you decide to order it, make sure you’re eating with good friends. Gourmet San is not the place to go if you want to appear a demure and tidy eater.
Ironically, the classic Szechuan dishes I tried were disappointing. For example, thinking I’d mix it up a bit, I passed up the mapo tofu in favor of a spicy seafood tofu, but basically it was a giant portion of tofu in a slightly-spicy-but-flavorless sauce.
The “ants climbing up a tree” (aka rice vermicelli with minced pork) was sadly pedestrian. The dish could’ve used more spice and minced pork. Instead, it was just a large portion of noodles and soy sauce.
And I love dry-fried string beans so much that I tried this dish twice at Gourmet San, despite being disappointed the first time around. Both times, the string beans were limp and lacking in bite. They were just oily overcooked beans. Sad.
The food seems to be hit-or-miss at Gourmet San, but the prices are low enough, and the good dishes are good enough that I’ll keep visiting until I’m able to order only the tasty dishes.
Despite over-ordering both times I visited, my tab was never more than £15 a person, which covered multiple starters, mains and beers.
Gourmet San, 261 Bethnal Green Road, E2 6AH; 020 7729 8388; closest tube station: Liverpool Street (and then it’s a 5-minute bus ride down Bethnal Green Road on the 8 or 388).