Originally named Great Leap Forward after Chairman Mao’s communist initiative (er, awkward), Baiwei is a little Sichuan restaurant smack dab in the middle of Chinatown on Little Newport Street. We made it in just before their very early Saturday night closing time of 10:30pm. I was really surprised to find that the ambience recalled the visiting room of a prison. Harsh fluorescent lighting, extremely small tables and uncomfortable chairs – I almost expected someone to scream “No touching”. Then I ordered tea and was disappointed when I was given a mug with a floating green tea bag in it. The dan dan noodles with beef were exactly what we were craving – the rich sesame oil flavour and chewy noodles hit the spot but there was a real lack of spice. They were pretty average as far as dan dan noodles go, but noodles are a bit like pizza – even if they’re sub-par they can still be pretty more-ish. It came in a tiny bowl so is really only meant for one – or two if you’re not that hungry.
Spicy green beans are one of my favourite Chinese vegetable dishes and these were a great example of how to do them right. Stir-fried with pork mince, chilli and oil – I could have finished off the entire plate on my own, the flavours were perfect.
You can usually never go wrong with Chinese dumplings. If you buy a big bag of frozen ones in Chinatown and make them at home – even those are good enough to binge on with some vinegar and soy sauce. Well, these were just plain hideous. We couldn’t place what spice they used in the meat (I think it was beef, ugh). And all of the moisture had been sucked out of them. Seriously guys, WTF. We each had one dumpling and made the same face. Baiwei means “100 flavours”. This was not a good one.
Smashed cucumbers sounds a bit boring but this was delicious. Generously flavoured with vinegar, oil, garlic and coriander. Super refreshing in contrast to the more spicy flavours in Sichuan cooking. I’m really puzzled by the atmosphere in Baiwei, there were only three tables downstairs and it was sparsely decorated and felt pretty soul-less. There is an upstairs which we didn’t get a chance to look at – I’m hoping it’s night and day to the downstairs. The pricing was also a bit odd. The mug of tea at £3.50 was almost as expensive as the noodles at £4.90. I’m not sure I’d go back – maybe they just wanted to go home as we had arrived just before closing time and they decided to serve us pre-historic dumplings excavated from the Ming Dynasty era. It’s a hazy mystery.
8 Little Newport Street
London WC2H 7JJ