New Year’s Eve: either playing the Revel challenge after watching the Hootenanny slowly dirge out the waning year, or paying over the odds to spend the evening in a dressed-up pub, being gradually elbowed in the face by drunk hipsters dancing to the musical stylings of Nelly. While my evening involved eventually ending up at the latter, the beginning was much more promising on account of two factors:
- The driver of the 35 from Clapham Park to Shoreditch playing James Blunt’s seminal MOR masterpiece ‘You’re Beautiful’ over the speaker system. Ironic hipster singalong ensued – lol lol lol lol etc.
- Pork and black fungus at Silk Road, Camberwell
As a sometime Camberwell-dweller, I discovered Silk Road about a year ago as a sore thumb in a birthday group full of arty types – I think I may have been the only person not sporting either a topknot or mismatched socks made by Latvian peasants. Anyway, it was the beginning of a small obsession.
Silk Road is a gem; Xinjiang food that provides a much-needed twist on heading for the usual Cantonese uptown and an absolute bargain, with a full-to-sweating meal and a couple of beers unlikely to push you over £15 per head. The menu mixes generous portions of dumplings, noodle plates, meat dishes and more-interesting-than-average veg and also serves as a good place to introduce the chili-shy to Sichuan, with plenty less-than-searing options on the menu.
A party of three, we made a beeline for the medium plate chicken, a variant of the – wait for it – big plate chicken. Medium is so large that you might wonder how many could bathe in the big plate – a steaming bowl of spicy fragrant broth, with chunks of delicious chicken thigh and potatoes swimming in it, alongside the obligatory chili. Once you’ve cleared the bowl of most of the lumps, the highlight arrives – a plate of delicious belt noodles unceremoniously dumped into the remaining broth. The noodles at Silk Road are a rare treat – chewy and gutsy and so long that they become logistically problematic. Worth visiting just for these.
Noodle-wise, the novelty value of the luxury noodle dish had us plucking it off a delicious-looking list. The description left us stumped, but all became clear when the plate arrived (I won’t give away the surprise – hint: not that exciting), smothered in a tangy tomato and lamb-based sauce – very tasty and a welcome change to your go-to noodle dishes based on soy-sauce.
Lamb skewers can be ordered in batches of five, which were being put together in the back room behind us under a dingy lamp. Delicious, if slightly little, pieces of meat with some less appealing pieces of fat threaded on for good measure. Beef and onion dumplings completed the tidbits of what we had to eat; a generous portion of perfectly fine morsels once dipped in soy sauce and vinegar.
And then came the pork with black fungus. With good timing, arriving as we were nearly stuffed towards the end of the feast. A mound of pork slivers and fungus with veg and onions thrown in for good measure, the intensely garlickly and gingery hit is for serious fans of both flavours. It’s an interesting and hugely more-ish dish, completely worth the several packs of chewing gum you’d have to munch through afterwards in order to have polite conversation again.
One note – service is friendly but occasionally pretty relaxed. Great if you want to linger (something you don’t usually get in many of London’s great Chinese restaurants), but not for you if you’re in a hurry. All in all, a South London favourite and a must for any Chinese food fans. Particularly the skint ones.
Meal for two with drinks: around £30
Silk Road Chinese, 49 Camberwell Church Street SE5 8TR
020 7703 4832