Some of London’s best restaurants are the unknown spots, those unassuming eateries, tucked away on local high streets. Tired of browsing Timeout, Hot Dinners and the Guardian’s columns, I welcomed my friend’s suggestion of what she described as the best Sichuanese in town. Although their website is dated and even features photographs of their dishes, don’t judge a restaurant by its website. Xi’an Impression is one of the very few restaurants in the capital specialising in food from the northwestern city of Xi’an and the wider Shaanxi province, including some truly splendid hand pulled noodles you’d struggle to find elsewhere.
Located directly opposite Emirates Stadium, this place serves the authentic Chinese eats that you’ve long suspected may exist in London, but could never pin down. Totally unassuming and in an unlikely location, it sits in a sparse, brightly lit and rather cramped little room, but made welcoming and comfortable by the waiting staff’s big smiles. It’s also BYOB, which reminded me of Kentish Town’s similarly rather hidden local Italian (on which, see my review here).
Food from Xi’an, with its fiery chillis and top-notch veggies, has always been one of my favourite regional specialities. Chef Guirong trained in the cuisine of Shan Xi (the province Xi’an is part of) and has worked as a chef at Soho Hunanese restaurant Ba Shan (which I’m yet to try but is on My List). This explains the rich combinations of spices and soft, fresh noodles hand rolled to perfection.
The menu choice is fantastic; there is literally something on offer to tickle whatever you fancy: dumplings, buns, vegetables, and of course noodles. Many key streetfood dishes are served, including liang pi (“cold skin”): slippery, almost crunchy noodles made by separating the gluten from basic dough and steaming what’s left into a pancake before cutting into strips. I’m going to have to try this signature dish of theirs on my return.
To share this evening, my companion and I ordered “Refreshing black fungus” (£5.80) and “Smacked cucumber with garlic sauce”. Their descriptors do not do these veggies justice. First, the mushrooms: tangy, light and certainly refreshing, the generous scattering of chilli complemented the soya sauce of these speciality mushroom.
Although ordering cucumber at a restaurant is slightly basic, these, or rather their sauce, did not disappoint. Chunkily cut and presented in a little bowl with their garlic sauce, I couldn’t resist spooning this irresistible sauce, which had a brilliant garlic kick, over my noodles…
For mains, my companion and I both went for their signature biangbiang noodles in special chilli sauce (£8.80). Hand-pulled, their texture was a total joy: the pappardelle-like ribbons were wonderfully seasoned with smashings of garlic and chilli, and served with lightly steamed pak choi. These noodles were probably the best I’ve tried outside of China.
Xi’an Impression isn’t the glossiest or the most comfortable restaurant but the kitchen can clearly do a lot with a little, knocking out some sublimely crafted dishes full of flavour and character. The noodles are worthy of high praise and clearly products of skilled practice. It’s superlative Chinese food you’ve probably not encountered elsewhere in London. Bring good friends and even better drink and have a rollicking good time. Their food is an education. It really is worth a trip.
Xi’an Impression, 117 Benwell Road, London, N7 7BW