Posts Tagged ‘Ba Shan’

Ba Shan restaurant interior

Like many readers of food blogs, I’m ruled by my stomach.  Like many Americans, I miss the American-Chinese classic known as “the General.”  Put the two characteristics together, and it makes sense why, when Mr. Noodles announced the appearance of General Tso’s chicken at Ba Shan (the former Szechuan restaurant now revamped as a Hunan place), I high-tailed it to Ba Shan immediately.  It hardly mattered that the last time I was at Ba Shan, it was just another inconsistent Szechuan restaurant.

pickled spicy cucumbers (£4.90)

The hard part was deciding what else to order besides the General.  This being a Hunan place, we figured it’d be wise to try the pickled goodies, and Ba Shan’s spicy cucumbers were highly addictive.  Crisp, refreshing, and with a chili kick alleviated by soy sauce and sesame oil.  We felt virtuous eating vegetables prior to the arrival of the General.

General Tsos chicken (£7.90)

Like most highly-anticipated things in life, Ba Shan’s General didn’t quite meet expectations.  For starters, the chicken pieces are too small, and the sauce wasn’t intensely sweet and salty enough.  This being a Hunan-inspired dish, I was expecting more chili spice.  And there really shouldn’t be any stir-fried vegetables in there (at most, you usually see big chunks of broccoli on the side).

Click here to see how the General is supposed to look and taste.

Still, even if the dish wasn’t quite General Tso’s chicken, it was tasty.  I mean, battered-and-fried chicken pieces dumped in a lightly-sweetened soy-based sauce.  Hard not to like it.

Pengs fried tofu (6.90)

And for the tofu lovers out there, Ba Shan’s version of Peng’s fried tofu was excellent.  Large, meaty slices of tofu slathered in chilis and sauce.  Perfect over plain white rice.

Overall, Ba Shan has improved a lot by becoming a Hunan restaurant, so I’ll be back to try some of the other dishes.

Alas, the search for the General continues . . . .

Ba Shan, 24 Romilly Street, W1D 5AH; 0207 287 3266; closest Tube stations:  Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus.
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dan dan noodles at Chilli Cool (£4.80)

A few weeks ago, I ate at Sichuan-heavy Ba Shan, where, except for the kung pao chicken, everything I ordered was mediocre and relatively pricey. And then I read this positive review of Chilli Cool Sichuan Restaurant by blogger, Mr. Noodles, who is a regular there, and I knew I’d have to try it out before the year was over.

Cue Londonelicious and Gourmet Chick, who proposed that we eat someplace cheap and cheerful after our last blowout get-together at Kai Mayfair.  Chilli Cool fit the bill, so we met there yesterday evening.

gong pao chicken at Chilli Cool (£7.50)

I have a weakness for peanuts, which translates into a weakness for gong pao chicken.   Londonelicious remarked that the dish was a bit on the sugary side, which is true, but I didn’t mind too much.  There was enough vinegar flavor to keep the sugar in check.  I loved that the peanuts were salty and crunchy, but I was disappointed that there were no Sichuan peppercorns in our dish.  The red chillis on the plate, while attractive, didn’t add any noticeable heat.

Speaking of non-spicy:  Chilli Cool’s dan dan noodles (photo at top) were a million times better than the lukewarm spaghetti noodles served to me under the guise of dan dan mien at Ba Shan.  I loved that the noodles had the soft bite of fresh wheat noodles, and the pork had the saltiness of preserved veg mixed in, but where was the heat?  I don’t think there were any Sichuan peppercorns or chili oil in there.  I’m no spice masochist, but I like kick.  That’s why I wanted to eat Sichuan!

sliced beef Sichuan style (£8.80)

The winner of the night was a dish recommended as “must order” by Mr. Noodles, listed as “sliced beef Szechuan style” on the menu.  It’s a classic Sichuan preparation of protein swimming in chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns.  The beef was remarkably tender.  My one complaint:  seriously not spicy.

mapo tofu (£6.80)

Mapo tofu and dry-fried beans rounded up our order of all the Sichuan classics.  They were fine, but without much spiciness, they were even less interesting than our gong pao chicken and dan dan noodles.

The room looks and feels like a greenhouse, with a high glass-paneled ceiling and a matching high temperature.  Good thing cool Tsingtao beers were readily available.  Our servers were efficient and good about bringing drinks and tap water (as well as packing up our leftovers).  Obviously the company at dinner was unbeatable, and the prices were good.  With three beers each, our tab came to £21 each.

Given Chilli Cool’s low prices and proximity to King’s Cross (and by extension, to my ‘hood, Angel Islington), I’ll be back.  But next time, I’ll bring along my own chili peppers.

Chilli Cool Sichuan Cuisine, 15 Leigh Street, London WC1H 9EW; 0207 383 3135; closest Tube station: King’s Cross St. Pancras
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Ba Shan

Ba Shan Restaurant

Despite positive reviews of Ba Shan in TimeOut and by knowledgeable blogger World Foodie Guide, I was reluctant to visit because of a horrible and expensive meal I had at Ba Shan’s older sibling, Bar Shu.

Cue Jon, who occasionally gets to pick where we eat dinner. Last week, he was in the mood for the Chinese street snacks that Ba Shan is known for serving, so off we went.

kung pao chicken

kung pao chicken

Let’s start with the Good:  Of the five dishes we ordered, the only one I found delicious was the kung pao chicken. In case that previous sentence sounds overly negative, let me clarify that this kung pao chicken was so tasty that I’d go back to Ba Shan just to order it again. Actually, to be more specific: I’d go back to Ba Shan just for the peanuts in it. They were huge, crunchy and beautifully roasted.

pork flatbread sandwiches

pork flatbread sandwiches (jia mo)

Moving on to the Bad:  The pork jia mo (unleavened flatbread sandwiches) were bland and dry, even with the marinated pork filling. Just barely a step up from matzoh, really. [If you’ve ever had matzoh, you know that’s no compliment.]

pork and chive guotie

pork and chive guo tie

Pork and chive guo tie (aka pot stickers that are lightly boiled and then pan fried), usually a crowd pleaser, arrived at our table with the dumplings glued to a flat dough sheet. Thinking it looked better with the dough sheet down, we flipped over the guo tie to take the above photo.  And then we dug in and found that the pork and chive filling was dry.  Good thing there was soy sauce nearby, but guo tie that are saved by soy sauce are like cupcakes whose only saving grace is the frosting:  No Good At All.

dumplings in a chili soy sauce

won ton dumplings in a chili soy sauce

Recalling that most reviewers of Ba Shan were happy with the restaurant’s dumpling dishes, we also tried these won tons in a chili soy sauce.  Unfortunately, the sauce wasn’t spicy at all, which meant it was just a plate of won tons in soy sauce. Not very exciting, especially for £5 or £6.

dan dan noodles

dan dan noodles

And wrapping up with the Ugly:  Because the one dish I enjoyed at Baozi Inn (also a sibling restaurant) were the dan dan noodles, and because Ba Shan’s menu is heavy on Szechuan dishes, Jon and I tried the dan dan noodles at Ba Shan, too. Sadly, these turned out to be the low point of the evening, by far. It was just spaghetti with soy sauce pooled at the bottom of a bowl. No heat from any chilis; no meatiness from the dried-out minced pork topping; and definitely no complexity from any other ingredient, preserved or otherwise.

Most dishes at Ba Shan fell into either a £5-6 bucket or an £8-10 one (the portions, being “snacks” are generally small).  Our bill arrived in Chinese and un-itemized, totaling about £50 for five dishes and three beers. Although our server was efficient, she looked pretty unhappy to be there.  Overall, £50 for two people was too much money for a generally eh meal. I wouldn’t go back.  (Well, except to try that kung pao chicken again).

Ba Shan, 24 Romilly Street, W1D 5AH; 0207 287 3266; closest Tube station: Leicester Square
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