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Baiwei London – a hundred (muted) flavours in Chinatown

Where?

At Baiwei, 2 Little Newport Street, in Chinatown, London. Baiwei opened a few months ago and was previously named – with dubious taste- “The Great Leap Forward”.  Somebody finally thought it was not especially a good idea to name a  Chinese restaurant after a controversial political program and renamed it Baiwei (literally “100 flavors”) –although the menus, cards and paintings on the wall still spell “Great Leap Forward” and the décor is a bare bones mix of utilitarian and nostalgic Maoist propaganda. Weird.

baiwei london chinatown decor

When?

After learning, from Marina O’Loughlin review in the Guardian, that Fuchsia Dunlop had been a consultant for the restaurant. Fuchsia is one of my food heroes (even more so after my trip to China) and her books A grain of Rice and Sichuan Cookery are responsible for many a delicious Chinese dinner whipped up in no time in my flat- almost as easy as ordering takeaway or eating out, and certainly better and healtier. Fuchsia Dunslop also consulted Bar Shu and Ba Shan, steady foodies’favourites in Chinatown, and so I wanted to give it a try. Also, from previous reviews, the prices looked so cheap that it would not hurt my wallet not even in this somewhat skint phase of my life.

We went to Baiwei with no reservation on a Friday night at 8PM, and it looked like the sprawling place was half empty.

What?

The menu is nowhere as long as in other Chinese restaurants, but still spans over several pages.  The Maoist theme seem to be reflected on the menu, which includes Northern China dishes (Beijing, Shaanxi etc.), staples from Sichuan and Hunanese specialties (Chairman Mao was from Hunan – which for what I know is on a par with Sichuan for its love of hot and spicy).

baiwei london dishes

We went for some fairly safe choices – dan dan noodles, steamed egg with pork mince, catfish with pancakes and tofu knots with beef and rice as a side  The menu at Baiwei also features “non-Westernised” items like offal and century egg but I was craving comforting, non-adventurous food.

And it was just what I got. The overall tone seemed to be a very tamed, non-spicy version of the food at my favourite Chinese place at the moment (Sichuan Folk in Hanbury Street, in case you were wondering). Other bloggers and reviewers like The Skinny Bib mentioned that. Although I would not necessarily expect heat to be a main feature of non-Sichuan cuisine, not I’d like the MSG-laden saltiness of many Chinatown haunts, I still expect a bit more of a kick. Our dishes at Bai Wei were good and tasty, but with no “wow” factor .

The standout dish was the catfish – two giant fillets coated in a thick, flavourful sauce where the aroma of star anise and the unmistakable Sichuan pepper tingle really hit the spot. The pancakes are an interesting alternative to rice as a side.

The dan dan mien was good, with a balanced flavour and not too much gloopy oil, but I found the noodles a bit soft and plain. my favourite remains the oily, fiery version at Chilli Cool in Bloomsbury.

The egg custard was completely unremarkable to me, with a “barely there” flavour and texture but my fellow diner who is of Chinese descent assured me that  that’s how it supposed to be- so take his word for it.

Tofu knots are an interesting variation on tofu and had a very pleasant slippery bite- the beef was moist and fatty but the sauce somehow nondescript.

The good side of it is that you will sleep a very sound sleep after eating at Baiwei, unlike other Chinese places where you feel bloated and thirsty because of the MSG – and for some, the spice overload. For Chinatown, it is very decent food.

How much?

With a beer and matcha tea (sadly, in teabags, but with free refills), all this came up to less than £40. So, Baiwei London is dirty cheap. The service is unusually smiley and friendly and very quick.

baiwei london review

Why?  Yay or nay

Overall, I think I will give Baiwei London another chance and order different things from the menu – probably something less obvious than beef and dan dan mien – before deciding to stick to Bar Shu or to our beloved local Sichuan Folk.  Maybe it’s growing pains at Baiwei as they still try to adapt the level of spiciness to the “audience”. For the price, it is definitely an experiment worth repeating. My hero Fuchsia Dunlop cannot be wrong ;)

Baiwai on Urbanspoon

Summary
Reviewer
Serena Mariani
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Baiwei Restaurant, London
Author Rating
3
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