Xu: Xuting out the lights (September 2017)

Located a stone’s throw away from Chinatown and next door to the ever-popular Palomar, the ambitions of Xu (pronounced ‘shu’) are evident. Given that the team behind this venture also pioneered Gymkhana, Bao and Hoppers, expectations were high, but a recent lunchtime visit undoubtedly impressed. While perhaps somewhat lacking in atmosphere, the level of the food here was superlative. The name and the décor (with more than a nod to 1920s Shanghai chic) are evidently suggestive of Chinese food, yet this very much a modern take on the traditional, with a few quirks thrown in too (mah-jong boards/ playing rooms available too, not that we partook). As is the fashion these days, we were encouraged to share, with four starters, one main and some sides deemed appropriate for two people. The dishes are priced reasonably (~£5 for small dishes, £15-20 for mains), but the prices belie the quality on offer. Our quartet with which we began comprised ‘numbing’ beef, tomato and smoked eel, sweetbreads and prawns – none of this obviously Chinese, or certainly close to what one might find just one block away, on Gerrard Street. Nonetheless, all were excellent: the beef didn’t quite numb, but was intensely flavoured; the eel and tomato paired well together in a slightly sweet soy dressing; the sweetbreads enhanced by the clever addition of fermented greens; and the prawns marinated in an intriguingly rich sauce that one just wanted to carry on eating. Service was brisk and efficient and presentation first-class throughout. For the main, we opted for a piece of Iberico pork belly cooked over pickled cucumbers, again a modern take on the traditional. We opted for an onion rice with which to pair this, and for something so seemingly simple, Xu showed its skills by turning this into a sensation. The restaurant has a great wine list, chosen appropriately to pair with the dishes on offer, and our Ehmoser GV from Austria was a great match, reasonably priced too. Two small quibbles would be the slightly sterile atmosphere despite the intimacy of the place (which I would imagine improves in the evenings) and the fact that even if Xu is a Chinese restaurant, the fact that it does not serve coffee seemed quite inexplicable. However, undoubtedly worth a return visit.