Sunday, 1 July 2012

Bar Shu: Szechuanese in the heart of Soho

After an outlandish trip to John Lewis, which resulted in me emptying my pockets for a (rather handsome) SMEG fridge, the Fashionista and I were on the lookout for a cheap but cheerful dinner around Oxford Street. Preferably somehere at least one of us hadn't been to before.  Having tried to get a table at Pitt Cue Co (still no success!), 10 Greek Street, Polpetto (now moved!) and Barafina, we were struggling.  Our options dwindling, the Fashionista suggested we head to Bar Shu, a Szechuanese restaurant which is more Soho than Chinatown.  A place she had been to before with a friend from Singapore.

The menu is long, page after page of pictures showing various animal parts, generally cooked in a mountain of chilli.  Having suffered before from the heat at places like Gourmet San, we were determined to see if there was more to this region's cooking than the mouth-numbing effect of Szechuan pepper. 

We started with a couple of appetisers: thin sliced pork in a spicy, garlicky sauce and what was described as "numbing and hot dried beef".  These both worked better as sides (the mains followed shortly behind) rather than starters.  The pork belly was wrapped around thinly chopped carrot and spring onion, the sauce deep and rich.  The beef was intense, a slow burning heat that only caught up with you a few minutes later.  Too strong to have on its own, but good to share!

Pork wrapped around shredded carrot

Dry and spicy beef
On to the mains, the twice cooked pork was less impressive.  Slices of salty pork belly with leeks, I was not a fan.  Much better, however, was the minced chicken with preserved mustard greens.  Served on lettuce leaves, it tasted very similar to a Thai larb.  Refreshing and invigorating, I loved it.  I am not sure how "authentic" it was, lettuce is not something I normally associate with Szechuan.  However, what it lacked in authenticity, it more than made up for with flavour.  Delicious.

Minced chicken with preserved mustard greens

Twice-cooked pork with leeks
In our attempt to discover another side to Szechuan, we strayed a little from the essence of what Bar Shu is really all about - dishes which hit you round the face with gobsmacking heat from red chilis and that leave you tingling from the numbing effect of Szechuanese pepercorns - the culinary equivalent of being tag-teamed by the Klitschko brothers.  And so, we left feeling a little underwhelmed.  Go, but stick to what the Szechuanese do best, heat!
Bar Shu on Urbanspoon

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