Supper tonight with Hermano Primero and a poor unfortunate from South of the river.
Bar Shu is arguably the hottest restaurant in town and has been getting rave reviews from a range of critics praising its genuine Sichuan offerings and even calling it the most exciting thing to happen in London dining for years. We’ll be the judge of that, thank you very much.
So, after a couple of pints at the entirely nasty Coach & Horses in SOHO, we three toddled alongto Bar Shu ( in the site of the long gone and not much missed L’epicure. You remember, the one with its flaming torches outside ) a little early for our 8.15pm table to find the place packed to the gunwhales. Ah, the joys of the rancid attention of newspaper hacks.
We understood that only a limited number of the house speciality hotpots were available each night, so we had pre ordered and, after a few moments confusion, we were shown to our large table on the upper level. Given the ample girth of my two companions, the table for six was just about enough.
The basic hotpot costs £22 with the added ingredients ( marked off on a triplicate carbon menu ) costing extra. They seemed to range from about £2 to £20 which can make for a very expensive soup as we found out.
But, first, a few appetisers. What can one say? The very definition of spectacular.
Numbing Hot & dried beef with chilli was powerful and chewy with a real kick. Marinated until dense and then sprinkled with Sichuan pepper
“Husband and Wife offal Slices” was, well offally and again with a chilli fire in the oil which was so good we drank it down like soup
Dried fried green beans with fried garlic shoots ( I think) was perhaps my dish of the night. Crunchy beans with crispy salty garlic.
Pigs Tripe. I cannot actually recall what it was served with. I was just to involved with the whole tripe thing.
Truly revelatory tastes.
Then, as an inbetween course, a whole crab in hot chillies and garlic. One of the three called it the best seafood dish he had ever eaten. I am not sure I would go that far, but there was a huge amount to love about the dish. The garlic was practically raw, which I loved. The others not so much. But, the crab itself was sensational. The brown meat in particular was fought over to the last little morsel. Creamy like a seafood custard. The chilles with the pepper showing a last burst of fire at the end of the taste buds
The chilli in particular does not have that fierce heat but rather numbs the tongue into a sense of security before creeping up behind you and slapping you. A totally different experience. For me, at least ( not being slapped that happens quite regularly )
Then, the main dish arrived. A double bowled copper soup dish over a burner. In one, a chicken broth ( which we were urged to drink )and in the other a chilli broth ( which we were warned not to drink ) With it we had ordered Lamb slices, woods ear mushrooms, noodles, pigs intestines, beef balls, deep fried pork and large raw prawns all of which looked just the part on the table and all of which provided plenty of amusement as we attempted to cook them in the broths without losing them. As entertainment, A +. As food, I was less convinced. All more enjoyable in the doing than the eating.
This view was re-enforced by the bill. With five beers, some tea and the above, the meal came to a whopping £168 of which at least £75 went on the hot pot. A lot to pay for cooking yourself, I reckon. I think, next time I come, which I certainly will, I would not bother with this again and attack some of the other dishes on the menu which include braised pork knuckles and tiny cuttlefish amongst a bed of chillies.
While certain elements dragged this restaurant kicking and screaming to a new level from many of its SOHO neighbours, some elements remain the same. The service was mysterious and the bill nigh on unfathomable if, after a large amount of inspection, correct. But, these are small points when you can try something so definingly different from anything else on offer, not just in Chinatown, but in the whole of London.
The crab and the green beans alone were probably worth the entry money on their own and I am pretty sure I will be back at Bar Shu soon. But, I will leave the hot pot for someone with more money and dexterity to enjoy