There's something about slurping a big bowl of spicy noodles during winter. Preferably, with enough chilli to blow your socks off. It's one of the first things I crave when feeling seedy or jaded - ranking right after a saline drip and Swedish scalp massage (preferably both at the same time).
Baozi Inn is my favourite noodle joint around the West End. Middle child of siblings Bar Shan (reviewed earlier here) and Bar Shu, Baozi shows none of the signs of middle child syndrome. It's nestled in among the streets of China Town where it sets a sterling example to some of it's lesser culinary neighbours with terrific Beijing and Chengdu style street food.
I love its kitschy interior - from the Chinese revolutionary posters staring down from the walls, to the little red lanterns giving off a mild glow to the dimly lit room. Dark wooden stools and tables add to the den like qualities, if not creating a sumptuously comfortable place to linger. However, this is fast food in the best sense.
We blew off the winter blues this week with the cucumber and chilli salad. This highly charged chilli hit contains huge chunks of dried chilli and is a terrific, fresh 'n fiery palate cleanser.
After we had picked our nostrils up from the floor, we moved onto the Beijing Noodles with fermented bean and pork. With fresh chillis, Chinese greens and slippery noodles, these were flavourful and mild on the spice (pictured top).
I raised a 'brow at the arrival of my Pork Spicy Noodles, as I thought I had ordered a soup - although the menu clearly specified them in the dry noodle section. Focus, GD, focus. My socks remained firmly in place despite the reference to spice, but the mild nature was a welcome recovery as we continued to swelter and bathe our gums in available fluids after the cucumber-chilli intro. The dish comes segmented with the pork at the bottom of the bowl, to be mixed enthusiastically with the garlic and finely sliced and diced vegetables to create a deep, brown homely feast.
There's not a huge variety on the menu - dry noodles, soupy noodles, buns, dumplings and the odd side salad. But what it does, it does simply, and well. Had I been to Chengdu, I would be able to vouch one way or another on its authenticity, but I can only shrug my shoulders and declare, "Who the hell cares? It's good." It's certainly different to the usual Cantonese cuisine. There's lots of chilli, garlic, peanuts and spice. The noodles are said to be freshly made each day, and the wontons are also light and delectable - perfect for dunking in a side of chilli oil. The baozi buns are a hit with TPG, and are a slightly heavier version of the traditional steamed pork bun we all know and love. The only downer - there's no dessert on the menu.
With Tsao beer and a pot of green tea, our bill came to an easily digestible £20 for 2.
Fast food need not come wrapped in a confectionery burger bun - this is nourishing, good for the soul stuff that will clear your sinuses without emptying your wallet. Although, I'm still contemplating that Swedish head massage...
Baozi Inn, Chinatown, 25 Newport Court, London