Bar Shu has been on my list for years now, mainly because Chef Savla has been waxing lyrical about the Sichuan food he has enjoyed in China. The first time around, I tried the walk-in option on a cold, windy and rainy Friday evening, so of course there were no available tables until at least 10pm. A few years and a reservation later (a traditional move, but I needed guarantees this time to avoid a “hangry” husband), we finally found ourselves sitting down in Soho.
The initial greeting was welcoming, but that’s where the friendliness ended and the cool efficiency began. Our waitress handed us the menus and left us to discover that most of the dishes were no longer being served; I didn’t mind too much since they included the more adventurous choices like offal, tripe, lung and tongue. The accompanying photos, which I usually find tacky, were actually quite helpful here.
Since the mains going past looked generous, we shared a beef starter, but I could have easily polished this off single-handedly. Smokiness was the dominant flavour, then came the warmth from the chilli, which was subtle yet fiery.
Our mains were Gong Boa prawns and Fragrant Chicken with Chillies and a side of green beans (service may be no frills, but the waiters got the memo about upselling, suggesting the must-have veg dish). The former was the stronger dish: prawns were juicy and plentiful, cashew nuts added crunch, punchy peppercorns came through in bursts and the sauce was delicate, sweet and spicy.
As for the chicken, the portion looked impressive, with the meat mixed into a mound of red chillies, but it was pretty bland and dry in comparison. Luckily the garlicky, salty green beans made up for this in spades. Time for dessert, only we were stuffed and had to admit defeat…until we grabbed a Gu on the way home.
I was impressed with the well-balanced flavours, in particular how the chillies complimented the other spices instead of overpowering them, and would go back to try different dishes (the whole sea bass looked so tempting). According to Chef Savla, the food is reasonably authentic and the service true to form.
Budget: £40 pp (2 beers, 1 tea, 1 starter, 2 mains, 1 side, 12.5% service).