Barshu (April 2013)

Londoners often face a challenge when it comes to finding good Chinese restaurants: on the one hand, there is the MSG-heavy Cantonese food that predominates much of Chinatown, and on the other, there is the likes of Hakkasan and its ilk, as much fashion destination as food experience, with only the briefest of nods to China as opposed to ‘pan-Asia.’ At least at Bar Shu, tucked at the edge of Soho, where Frith Street meets Romilly Street, the experience is somewhat more authentic. The style of food here is Sezchuan, namely from the eponymous region of southern China, where there is a strong emphasis on chilli and pepper. The menu is wonderfully varied and makes no bones about what is on offer. A “mouth-numbing” beef appetiser (their words, printed in the menu), leaves little to the imagination, while for the mains, adventurous diners can choose from dishes including tripe (edible offal), chicken gizzards (the animal’s digestive organs) and pig’s intestines. Actually, I went for the latter as my main, prepared in a dry wok with extensive chillies and other spices. It tasted notably porcine and indeed elegantly spiced (I was not reaching for my drink every other second, despite a ‘two-chilli’ rating on the menu). All our dishes were a success and Bar Shu also excelled with its vegetable sides, of which we enjoyed the fungus ear mushroom (again, not as bad as it sounds) and the lotus root. Two things, however, let Bar Shu down. First, the service, while not actually bad, was distinctly lacking in warmth, despite (or maybe because) the restaurant was only half full. Second, the food while good, does not come cheap. If not Hakkasan, then one can probably get better value than the c£90 the two of us spent on our outing, comprising just two beers each, two starters, two mains and two sides (along with rice and service; but still…)