Late last year, the focus of Ba Shan, a small eats restaurant in Soho, switched to Hunan cuisine, as announced here on Fuchsia Dunlop’s blog. I hadn’t tried it in its previous incarnation but when I suddenly read blog posts on the change and how it was certainly for the better, I arranged to catch up with a friend there a couple weeks ago. I made a booking and was told that we’d only have 1.5 hours to eat; gosh, a little pushy but they did get us in and out in exactly that amount of time.

While I’m not the most familiar with the cuisine of this region of China, I did recognise that red braised pork is one of the most well known Hunan dishes and we ordered it with fried tofu puffs. What arrived was a highly flavourful and lip-tingling dish of pork belly cubes with the tofu puffs also braised in the same “red” liquid. The tofu puffs were gorgeous, having soaked up the spicy sauce but the pork could have had more cooking time though to make them more tender. Still, it was awfully good on rice.

Red Braised Pork with Fried Tofu Puffs

I’d heard about the catfish fillets with salted red chillies from Lizzie’s post and what sealed the deal, so to speak, was seeing it on a neighbouring table (it comes in a massive platter). Our waiter said that we absolutely must have the noodles alongside (an extra £2.50) and we were so glad we did. The slippery noodles were slurped up with the delicious broth and despite the alarming redness of the salted chillies, they were quite mild and were very moreish with the fish. Another version is also available with pickled green chillies instead of the salted red ones.

Catfish Fillets with Salted Red Chillies

Feeling a need for a vegetable, we ordered the silk gourd with century egg, which came in a thick stock. I hadn’t had a silk gourd in a while and it was lovely to eat this juicy vegetable in this soothing, chilli-free preparation.

Silk Gourd with Century Egg

With one order of rice and only tap water to drink, the bill, with service, came to £37. Yes, a little more expensive than your usual Chinese restaurant here in London but everything was very good. What I didn’t like about the bill was that it wasn’t itemised, just a grand total on the top sheet, with a few prices for the dishes scattered about on the order sheets stapled underneath; it took a bit of faffing with our mobiles to calculate that service was already included. Not cool and I’m glad we figured that out. Bookings are essential, even for a weekday, unless you like to wait for up to an hour.

Ba Shan
24 Romilly Street
London W1D 5AH

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