As I’ve been under the weather recently and haven’t really been out of the house properly in over a month, I was quite excited when my partner suggested going to Bar Shu yesterday. A friend took us there during the summer and it’s now one of our firm favourites.
Bar Shu is based on Frith Street, a stones throw away from Chinatown but it feels like it’s worlds apart. The exterior, though mainly grey, is quite imposing but not garish. Due to a fire in 2007 it has fairly new décor and is exceptionally clean. One annoying thing for me is that I am terrible at directions and there’s a restaurant called Ba Shan on the opposite corner and I get disoriented but that’s just me.
The first time I visited Bar Shu I was more than nervous when I perused the menu. An authentic Szechuan restaurant with dishes consisting of duck tongues, tripe or pig’s intestines and dishes called “pock-marked old woman’s beancurd” and “man and wife offal slices” would make most people a little apprehensive. And not to mention the number of chillies in the pictures and next to the descriptions, my stomach and tongue were screaming no but I’m glad I ignored them.
Despite the initial intimidation we found plenty on the menu that didn’t scare us – though I’ll tell you now, their one chilli rating is not the same as most people’s one chilli rating and the rest is history.
We kicked things off with the Thin Sliced Pork Rolls, which are filled with shredded carrots and bathed in a thin garlicky sauce. It has quite a spicy aftertaste that is quite unexpected considering the subtle flavours of the pork and vegetables but it does work well. Last night they were a little heavy handed with the soy sauce and I personally would have liked a little bit of lime or sharpness it give it a bit of freshness. Overall the dish is tasty and you can quite easily keep reaching for them during the meal.
The Bang Bang Chicken sounded more intriguing that appealing but we decided to try it anyway. It’s described as “[chicken] in a ‘strange-flavour’ sauce” so it left a lot to the imagination. When it arrived I was a little disappointed. The chicken was cold cut slices that didn’t feel entirely fresh and the sauce tasty yeasty and a bit like marmite. My boyfriend said that it tasted like bon bon chicken sauce, which I kind of agree with as you can definitely pick up the Szechuan pepper and some kind of nutty taste. It wasn’t bad it just wasn’t as exciting as the description made it sound and I was hoping for something a bit more unusual.
Oddly, the vegetables are one of my favourite dishes. We ordered Stir Fried Water Spinach with Chilli and Fermented Beancurd and it is delicious. Compared to other one chilli rated dishes on the menu, this isn’t at all spicy. It’s a little greasy but that’s my only complaint. Whenever I order it it’s always fresh, crisp and full of flavour.
The last item is by far my favourite: Red-Braised Pork Belly. I am a big fan of pork. When it’s cooked right and it’s tender and flavoured just right, it’s to die for and Bar Shu has the best pork belly I’ve ever tasted. This is the dish that brings me back every time and for £10.90 you get a lot of pork for your money. It says that it’s served in a sweet sauce but it’s not over powering and the pork really is the star of the show. If you do visit and you do eat pork, make sure to order this… you will be addicted!
So a couple of points that I have to cover:
It’s not cheap. It’s not overly expensive but for the four dishes, two orders of plain rice and two soft drinks we paid £54 not including tip. A great dish on the menu is the Stir Fried Chicken in a Stone Pot but comes with a £16.90 price tag and you can spend more depending on what type of food you like to eat.
Last night’s service was not the best I’ve ever had. When I’ve gone before it’s either been during evening service or a weekday lunch. Last night, we went at around 4.30pm and it was ridiculously quiet. The female staff members were almost rude and the male waiter kept on trying to talk to my boyfriend in Mandarin despite him saying: “I am Chinese but I don’t really speak Mandarin.” Usually they’re ridiculously friendly and even offer umbrellas when it’s raining but last night I felt a little let down.
Overall I still love the place. It’s clean, has good quality, authentic food and that pork belly… oh my god that pork belly. If you want some decent Chinese food or you want something a bit different I highly recommend it.