Thursday, 22 October 2009

Silk Road Restaurant and Breakfast

Last Sunday, the Mancreature and I decided to emerge from our lair and visit one of our favourite eating places - Silk Road Restaurant. While it's only about 15 minutes down the road in Camberwell Green, the distance can seem a lot longer on days when the sun sets at about 4pm and it's so cold that I want to shower with all my clothes on.

But I'm glad I persuaded the Mancreature to trek down the hill with me (threatening to punch him in the tender bits may have helped). Unlike most 'Chinese' restaurants around, Silk Road serves food from Xinjiang - that large area on the Northwestern side of China that largely consists of deserts and mountains. Most people may have heard about Xinjiang because of the riots in Urumqi a few months back, but there's much more to the region than ethnic unrest. Think awesome hats, large, sprawling markets, and crazy spicy food that makes your heart race like you've been running for the bus (that's about as much exercise as I get). And cold weather + spicy food = happy me!

The restaurant itself has had a bit of a makeover since we first starting going there. The walls are now lavender, and the lighting seems to have improved, even if the garish woven wallhangings and blaring techno-pop are still going strong (although, the last time we went, they were playing an awesome selection of 70's and 80's punk - I think it must have been the boss' day off).

Although the menu is only about 4 pages long, the Mancreature and I took about 10 minutes before we decided on our orders - not because there's nothing interesting in it, but because we wanted to order pretty much everything, and it's impossible to ingest so much with only 2 stomaches. So we settled on only 4 dishes. We had a plate of spicy kelp as a starter - long, noodly strands of slightly chilled, slimy, green seaweed doused in loads of spicy chilli and garlic sauce. It's probably my favourite thing on their menu, and I think I could eat a whole plate of it myself, even though the crazy hot sauce makes my brain sweat.

And then we went slightly crazy and ordered two plates of dumplings, and a plate of noodles. It doesn't sound like much, but there are 10 dumplings in each serving. 20 little nuggets of dough stuffed with stuff!

This little nuggets of joy were the egg, leek and shrimp dumplings, which - while not very shrimpy - are bursting with bright green vegetal matter and little gobbins of egg. The dumpling dough is probably a little firmer and thicker than the ones you get in other Chinese restaurants, but it serves a purpose by holding all the juices inside the dumpling. Dip them into the hot chilli oil and black vinegar provided on the side, and you could find yourself gobbling up a whole plate in mere minutes.

These are the beef and onion dumplings - pretty much like the other ones, but brown and with beef, instead of green. While I like these too, I think I much prefer the veggies ones as they're much easier to chow down. I find that the density of the skin, coupled with the meat, tends to make this a much 'heavier' dumpling, and I find myself struggling after two or three of them. I don't want to struggle, I want to mindlessly shove food down my maw!

And then there's this - a large (GIANT, bigger than my freaking head!) plate of handpulled noodles, served with generous slices of lamb, assorted vegetable stuff, and of course, doused in loads of spicy sauce. I've had plenty of 'authentic' versions of this dish, mostly cooked by stoic Uighur men in all-night bus stations circling the Taklamakan, and this one from the Silk Road beats many of those hands downs. Afterall, 'authentic' doesn't necessarily equate to 'tasty' (a full English from the local greasy spoon may be authentic, but is it always tasty?). For one, this version is a lot less 'drenched in pools of grease', which means you're not wading through spicy oil to get to the flavour. And the strips of lamb aren't covered in inches of cumin, they're just good, fresh strips of lamb.

The handpulled noodles, too, are cooked so the texture is just-right - you don't spend ages chewing on them, and they pick up lots of flavour from the slightly tomatoey sauce. Shit, I've written a lot of words for only four dishes, when all I really wanted to say was - Silk Road Restaurant, tasty!

I think I mentioned that it's been pretty chilly over here lately, and our heating's been broken, so all I've wanted to do every morning after waking up, is to eat warm stuff. But I hate porridge (it looks like spew and it reminds me of primary school), and I'm too lazy to cook up bacon and eggs every morning. Instead, I've been cutting up apples (and peaches, when I can find some) and cooking them for about 10 mins, in a saucepan with cinnamon and sugar, before pouring them over vanilla yoghurt and throwing a handful of flaked almonds on top. So tasty, and so easy, and it's done by the time my coffee is ready.

Silk Road Restaurant
49 Camberwell Church Street

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