Cheap Chinese regional mega bites reviewed in rhyming couplets and haiku
I’ve written before how about the under-representation of China’s numerous regional cuisines in London’s restaurants. If you needed a singular, illustrative example of the effects of that disappointing trend then it would be noodles. Veal Smasher and Happy Buddha have had to put up with my rants about the generally poor state of Chinese noodles in Britain many times, with much of the country knowing little else beyond the awful dried, straight-to-wok ‘chow mein’ style wheat noodles. Some of London’s Chinese restaurants fare better than most, with a wider but still limited selection of rice, egg/lye and wheat flour noodles with plant starch noodles harder to find.
Xi’an Impression is one of the very few restaurants in the capital specialising in food from the north western city of Xi’an and the wider Shaanxi province, including some truly splendid noodles you’d struggle to find elsewhere. Situated literally opposite the Arsenal Emirates stadium, it’s a brightly lit BYOB (bring your own booze joint), but also cramped. Xi’an Impression has been reviewed authoritatively elsewhere, both in other blogs and in the national papers, so I’ve decided to embark on a whimsical experiment.
Much like my review of Tayyabs in haiku, I’m reviewing Xi’an Impression in a very rough mix of rhyming couplets and haiku. My GCSE literature teacher would be appalled, but life is too short to take everything with profound seriousness and this unconventional review indulges my (very bad) inner sixth-form poet. Plus it will annoy pedants, comment trolls, poetry haters and other halfwits lacking in imagination – always a plus. Let’s begin:
Chunky chilled cucumber; Refreshing rinds
But garlic sauce with little force
Ear-shaped fungus, supple and taut
Chilli coriander sour sauce, slurping it all – almost caught
Beef-filled bun, lots of fun
Spicy mince, flat griddled neutral baps
Moist and fine, like your mother’s flaps
Pork bun, looks the same
But moreish garlic sauce isn’t tame
Veal Smasher thought it was a bao
Despite his mistake, it still made him say wow
Fried dumpling skins open at both ends
Meaty pork and umami seaweed – Happy Buddha say amen!
Pork and veg dumplings, ordered on a whim
Skins, so supple and thin
Meh filling is a sin
Vinegar is there for dipping in
Biang biang noodles so thick and wide
Taut and spicy, down they slide
Also bok choy
Templeton Peck says ‘oh boy!’
More thick noodles, just as fine
Chunks of chicken, bone and skin
Gamey funk, what a way to dine
Moreish sauce, for the win
Lovely broth, beefy stock
Doughy and fluffy cubes of bread
Like gnocchi, do not mock
Add chilli and garlic for a lovely spread
Yikouxiang, half hour wait
Slippy disc noodles, simple as a saint
Sauce, mildly spicy and tart
It won’t make you faint, unless you’re an old fart
Anglicised salt and pepper squid
Vicious Alabaster ordered, behind my back
Chewy and bland, not worth your quids
Made me wretch, ugh like gack!
Xi’an Impression isn’t the glossiest or the most comfortable restaurant and while it is cheap, this is largely due to the inexpensive ingredients and cheap cuts of meat used. Still, the kitchen can clearly do a lot with a little, knocking out some sublimely crafted dishes full of flavour and character. The noodles and bread broth, in particular, are worthy of high praise and clearly products of skilled practice. It’s superlative Chinese food you’ve probably not encountered elsewhere in London. Bring good friends and even better drink and have a rollicking good time.
What to order: Yikouxiang; Black fungus; Open-ended dumplings; Beef and pork ‘burgers’; Biang biang noodles; Bread in beef broth
What to skip: Anything from the anglicised classics ‘Other’ section of the menu
Name: Xi’an Impression
Address: 117 Benwell Road, London N7 7BW
Phone: 0203 441 0191
Opening Hours: seven days a week 11:30 – 22.00.
Reservations: highly recommended (there are only around 20 covers or so)
Average cost for one person excluding soft drinks and tip: £20 approx.