Xi’an Impression – Review (Holloway Road) There is hope in Holloway

Xi’an Impression which is run by the guys from Sichuan Folk opened in July 2015 directly opposite the Emirates Stadium in a very unassuming, sparsely decorated room which seats about 20 diners, serving street food from the City of Xi’an in China. (Well known for being the home of the Terracotta Army). Chef Wei Guirong who is born in Xi’an in Shan Xi provence and is trained from an early age in the cuisine of Shan Xi. She is also a former chef at the popular Soho eatery Bar Shu which sells classic Sichuan dishes so she knows a thing or two about cooking (I’m yet to attend). I was already an advocate of Xi’an Impression as it acts as an education lesson demonstrating that there is a world outside of the high street Chinese fare we’re all so familiar with topped with cashew nuts, drenched in neon coloured sauces, wrapped in pancakes and generally consumed by tourists in Chinatown. The food here is different, intense in flavour, spice, fragrancy, it’s artisanal, it’s tongue tingling, it’s cold, it’s hot and fresh.

The menu is easy to follow especially with pictures for each description – it’s perfect for the novice. At the back you have the ubiquitous sweet and sour pork as well as the salt and pepper ribs/squid – do yourself a favour and order something different!

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Hand pulled noodles with pork mince and veg (£7.80). It was a delicious comforting treat to eat as those noodles soaked up the rich savoury sauce – I could taste some fermented beans in it too in that carb fuelled mass. The julienned cucumber added that freshness and the bean sprouts gave the textural element.

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Xi’an beef burger with special sauce (£3.80). I was a little confused with this one as although the beef was spiced well with prevalent cumin the bread was dry, almost Jacobs cracker like and the meat lacked moisture too. Perhaps it was an off day.

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Xi’an biangbiang noodles with special chilli sauce (£7.80). Aptly named ‘biangbiang’ from the noise the dough makes when making contact with the surface it bounces off when hand pulled. With that roasted chilli and Sichuan pepper it just oozed flavour coating those thick ribbons of noodles. It was one of the best things I ate of the day.

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Yikouxiang in traditional spicy sauce (£6.20). Layers and layers of  al-dente cold dumpling skins coated in chilli-oil and soy nestling on a bed of cucumber, and why not? I really enjoyed this carb mountain.

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Fried chicken and mushroom dumplings (£5.80). Xi’an style open ended pot-stickers were very satisfying to eat with the thick wrapper and well seasoned filling.

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Xinjiang stir fried chicken with bones serve for one (hand-pulled noodles) (£9.80). It’s those long ribbons of hand-pulled noodles again which were delicious coated in all that sauce, which was the best vehicle to carry all that flavour. The chicken was too over-seasoned though and a tad over-whelmed with 5 spice.

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Beef slices in chef’s special sauce (£6.8). The first thing that came to mind was Xi’an corned beef! I believe it’s beef shin slow braised until tender – dip it the chilli soy for all it’s splendour.

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Boneless chicken in ginger sauce (£6.20). A fellow diner referred to this as the redeeming dish since the other dishes weren’t to their taste – I disagree and found this one a little insipid compared to the others. I’m a big fan of chicken skin when fried, roasted or grilled not boiled which this one was. I’ll put this one in the to-be-missed pile next time.

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The verdict:

When did I go? Feb 2016
The damage: Expect to pay £15-£20 per head for a load of food!
The good: Don’t expect anything gourmet at this price point but hand-pulled noodles are the order of the day here, they are a sponge for flavour and flavour they have a plenty. The dumpling wrappers and dumplings themselves are quite interesting too. So if you want to be a fan and in the area wanting to try something off-piste with outstanding value head up here during a non-match day. Oh and it’s BYO too.
The bad: The Xi’an beef burger was a challenge to eat – I’ll would avoid, although the chef may have been on an off day. The toilet is up some narrow stairs adjacent to the one of the restaurant walls, beware of the shabby door that’s cobbled together with recycled wood and it comes with a dodgy lock! There’s not a lot to really complain about though at this price point.
Rating: 3/5
Xi’an Impression, 117 Benwell Street, N7 7BW
Tel: 0203 441 0191
xianimpression@gmail.com

 

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