Category: Le Budget (£)
Ba Shan, the Sichuan / Hunanese restaurant in Soho, is one of my top 10 places to eat in London. So I was very excited to hear about the opening of Baiwei, which belongs to the same group that also runs Ba Shan, Bar Shu and Baozi Inn. Fuchsia Dunlop, the well-regarded food writer and expert on Sichuan cuisine, is consultant to all four restaurants.
Even though Baiwei has since its opening a few weeks ago received favourable reviews by The Guardian and Time Out, it was no problems to get a last-minute booking on a Friday evening. It is not exactly a cosy place, the wooden chairs are uncomfortable, there is no place to put your bag or coat and the tables are far too small for all the food you are bound to receive. But then again, you are not there to hang out, but to eat. And the food undoubtedly is worth some discomfort.
The menu is scary. It’s long, it’s all over the place and it has a lot of pictures, some of which are not exactly appetising (is it just me, or does tripe just look disgusting?). Before you go ahead and order whatever tickles your fancy, let me warn you that dishes, just because they are cheap, are not necessarily small…
There is one dish I always order in Sichuan restaurants, which is Dry fried green beans with pork (6) and it didn’t disappoint at Baiwei. It was a generous portion and I loved the crisp green beans with the salty and spicy ground pork. Gong Bao chicken is probably the most famous Sichuan dish and at Baiwei the chicken was substituted with the most beautiful silky and soft tofu I have ever tasted (8.9). It was not mind-blowing but it was very good indeed. The whole peanuts with their skin still on provided a pleasant contrast in texture and taste with the tofu and the abundant chilis. If you want to taste something lip-tingling, go for the Cold Chicken Jiaoma (6): it’s really fun to eat – you take a bite, enjoy the refreshing taste of ginger and spring onion, and then it starts, a numbing feeling on your tongue and your lips, trigged by the liberal use of Sichuan peppercorns. The least successful were the Dan Dan Noodles (4.5), another Sichuan street food favourite, which were rather tame in comparison. I particularly didn’t like the consistency of the noodles.
I was mentioning discomfort before… if you have a weak stomach (as I appear to have developed) then Baiwei in the evening means acute gastritis the next day (Sichuan peppercorns, chillies, garlic and my sensitive stomach mucosa are not the best friends anymore as it seems) and for this reason I won’t make Baiwei a regular outing. Armed with Ranitidine and Pantoprazole I will however brave it again.
- Food: 7/10
- Ambiance: 6/10
- Value for Money: 8/10
- Service: 7/10
- Chances of Returning: 70%
- Verdict: While it won’t knock Ba Shan from its pedestal, Baiwei nevertheless serves deliciously mouth-tingling, and dead-cheap Sichuan cuisine. Definitely worth a visit!