Lost for words… but not flavour
In the shadow of the Emirates Stadium, thrilling cooking is served up at Xi’an Impression
02 March, 2017 — By Tom Moggach
Great value food does all the talking at Xi’an Impression
IT’S rare that I’m stuck for words, but a meal at Xi’an Impression left me struggling with my vocabulary.
Take the “refreshing black fungus”, the first starter we attacked with our chopsticks.
Even the menu makes no attempt to describe it in any detail. Instead it relies on a symbol of two red chillies to describe its zippy, warming heat.
The intriguing texture of the ingredients is just one highlight of the thrilling cooking served up at this small restaurant, situated in the looming shadow of Emirates Stadium in Benwell Road.
The fungus was a revelation: springy and gelatinous, dressed with sprigs of coriander, sliced red chilli and an invigorating dressing I could not begin to decipher.
“Smacked cucumber” (you bash it first with a rolling pin) was almost as curious: a pile of marinated, diagonal-cut cucumber chunks.
On paper, it sounds bracing – but the flavours, with hints of garlic and chilli, were subtle and mysterious.
Xi’an Impression has been trading for nearly two years and has slowly built up a formidable reputation.
“We are busy every day anyway,” notes Chao, one of the friendly staff.
This style of cooking is from the area around Xi’an (pronounced Shee-an), a city in north-west China.
This area, blessed with sun and rich soils, is renowned for its high quality raw ingredients and authentic, old-fashioned cuisine.
“People are stubborn – they keep their traditions,” explains Chao, who contrasts this food with areas in the south absorbing more modern, Western influences.
The restaurant is small, simple and unstyled, with tight seats for around 20.
Service is swift and impeccable. The food does all the talking.
Many customers were clearly regulars, fluently ordering from a menu laced with remarkable and unusual dishes.
The hand-pulled noodles are a speciality, either thick or thin. Choose them with minced pork and vegetables; stir-fried chicken with bones; in fragrant soups; or in a “special chilli sauce with chunky beef”.
We kept it simple with a veggie option: an oily, slippery coil of thick al-dente noodles with pak choi and an addictive, savoury sauce.
The “burgers” are another must-order. There are two options – pork or beef – boasting utterly different flavours, according to our waiter.
We went for the pork. “It’s not a texture I’ve ever had before,” said my friend, biting through the toasted flat bun into the slow-cooked meat.
The menu does offer more standard dishes, such as sweet and sour pork, salt and pepper squid and sweet corn soup.
Match days for Arsenal see a surge of interest in these everyday dishes, as the crowds pile past on their way to a game.
Prices are cheap. We ate like kings for £20 per head with service and a pot of tea.
Xi’an Impression accepts cash only. You can bring your own booze for a small corkage charge. Delivery is available via Deliveroo.
117 Benwell Rd, N7
020 3441 0191