Friday, February 3, 2012

Ba Shan, 29th January

Similarly to the rest of the world, Stephen and I wanted to get back in shape after our Christmas indulgence. We also wanted to go to Ba Shan. We made a deal with ourselves – if we were good for two weeks, we would reward ourselves with dinner out.

Two weeks passed and I didn’t lose any weight, and Stephen didn’t even bother to measure whether he did or not. But I had been going to the gym regularly, and that had to count for something. To further our own argument, we decided to walk from our house into town, a good two hours’ journey on foot.

We wanted to go to Ba Shan because we have been to both of its sister restaurants – the Baozi Inn, and Bar Shu (which is situated diagonally opposite Ba Shan). The Baozi Inn has become Stephen’s favourite go-to place for a cheap bite ever since he first sampled their dan dan noodles. Both places specialise in Sichuan food, which is a cuisine that favours lots of chillies, on everything, though you temper this by starting with a cold appetizer. They’re also quite partial to dishes involving offal.

Ba Shan is a little pricier than the Baozi, but not as expensive as Bar Shu. It is also influenced by the Hunanese region as opposed to just Sichuan. After two hours of walking we were pretty excited to be eating and could have fallen into the trap of our eyes being bigger than our bellies. The menu labels some starters and then lists the rest under whether they’re pork, beef, veggie etc and when the price of a pork dish is the same price as one of the starters, it’s a bit of a guess as to whether it’s of main dish size or starter size. But having experienced the portion sizes of similar places, we erred on the side of caution and only ordered three dishes between us.

Those three dishes were – Chairman Mao’s braised pork belly, lamb stir fried with hot chillies and sliced pig’s ears with hot chillies. At Stephen’s behest we had decided to be a bit more ‘adventurous’ and not stick to the safe things we always choose. I was fine with this – I thought they might turn out to be similar to other odd-sounding things I’d eaten lately (boar jowl and lamb’s neck to name a couple) that really turn out to just be normal-looking cuts of meat (though the lamb neck did freak me out a bit when I’d eaten all the meat off it and could discern the vertebrae). And of course some steamed rice to make us look a little less like total carnivores.

First to arrive was the lamb and rice. Absolutely delicious, we gobbled down half of the dish before realising quite how hot it was. There was quite a lot of ginger in the dish, as well as a Christmas colour scheme of chillies – fat chunks of red and green chillies confetti all over the meet, with a few of those dried red chillies that actually aren’t too pleasant to eat dotted among them. 

Utterly delicious lamb
Then came the pigs’ ears slices and as soon as it was set down we realised we had made a mistake. They looked slimy.  And then, when you ate them, they tasted slimy. Worse, in the middle of each bit was a thin strip of what must have been cartilage. No amount of spices and herbs could disguise that texture which reminds you that you are eating something which you would normally discard. We were very dismayed. Stephen became chivalrous – he said he would eat a spoonful to make it look like we’d had some, and then fished out some of the meatier strips that were more like real pork (although still strangely soft) to give to me. Eating those gristley pigs ears just proved to me what I have thought all along – such foods as these may have had their place in a time when food was scarce (and you can apply this to snails, insects, tripe) but in the modern day there is no need to include it on menus. 

It looks better than it tasted
Thankfully we had saved some of the lamb, and the pork belly was still to come. Now, the highlight for me was the lamb, but the pork belly was indeed very delicious. It came as eight large cubes of almost crimson-coloured meat, sitting on some pak choi (or bok choy, not sure – are they even different things?) and with sauce collecting at the bottom. The Chinese/Sichuanese/Hunanese know how to braise meat. My theory is that this is because they don’t have knives and therefore need it soft enough to cut with a chopstick. Which this was. This dish wasn’t hot at all – it isn’t meant to be – but we had lots of chillies left over from the uneaten ears so I added a few to mine. And then we polished off the lamb, almost erasing all that unpleasant ear business and leaving the meal on a high note.

Like a lot of chinese places, the most applicable compliment you could pay to the service was that it was 'efficient'. We didn't have a reservation and were told when we arrived at six that we'd have to be out by half seven. As we hadn't planned on making an evening of it, this was no problem at all to us, and we were actually in and out within an hour. The atmosphere isn't too bad and the background music is a little out of the ordinary for a Chinese restaurant - contemporary pop music, and none too bad either.

One last thing – Stephen had a lychee drink as his beverage and it was lovely!

And on that note, remember:

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Square Meal

Find the menu & restaurant information on Zomato

1 comment:

  1. We finally went to Baozi yesterday, it was soooo good. I liked my ribs in soup noodles, amazing. Owen didn't really like the dandan though, he thought it was too spicy. I did think there wasn't enough peanut taste to it.


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