Dry fried beef strips @ Crystal China, Tower Bridge Road/Southwark, London
干煸牛肉丝 on the Chinese only menu on the tables. Superb tingly numbing sensations from ample sichuan peppercorn balanced with sweetness, aromatic strips of ginger, sesame seeds, and some nuanced smoke and heat from dried chilli.
It's a great rendition at this place -- the brilliant intensity of the numbing flavour, the near jerky-like consistency of the thin evenly cut beef strips. In a restaurant that's totally under the radar compared to all the high profile places nearby.
On the whole it's a great kitchen -- it's a dongbei chef iirc -- impeccable texture control in the 地三鲜/stir fried potato, aubergines and bell peppers etc...
The regular menu with the bulk of their dishes is in English and Chinese; the Dongbei and Sichuan dishes are towards the back. There's a handful of dishes on a Chinese only list in a plastic holder on each table - the dry fried beef strips is on that menu, which is why I provided the Chinese characters. There's also a hotpot menu that I think is Chinese only; haven't tried that yet. Worth asking the helpful staff to translate the small list on the table or make recommendations.
I never understand the logic of having a Chinese (or whatever) language only menu (aside from the obvious last-minute couldn't be bothered to find a translator justification).
There is a Korean restaurant I used to frequent in Canada which didn't have an English menu whatsoever, and after a few visits the waitress kindly brought over a page of English, though it was the menu transliterated rather than translated. Helpful for an illiterate Korean, but otherwise, hardly helpful.
Thanks for this tip. I ate here while I was in town and thought this dish was really good. Nicely spicy but well balanced with sweet and salty flavours. The fresh coriander gave it a nice fresh quality too.
Also had the cumin lamb. This was tasty but not enough to go out of your way for.
Here's the Chinese menu if any one can translate.
Glad you enjoyed it - one of my favourite dishes in London at the moment - rare to find something that balances all these flavours, with point and counterpoint from each bite.
Translation in order:
- Red cooked/braised belt fish
- Dry fried beef strips
- Fragrant spicy "beauty" trotters - don't know precisely what this is, will have to order it one of these days
- Numbing spicy chicken wings
- Tasty gold and jade - I suspect it's sweet corn with some other veg
- sweet potato vermicelli stir fry
- "Fire burst" aka spicy cabbage
- Grilled or smoked cuttle fish heads
Wow - just got back from a visit to this place. Not far from work so popped in for dinner.
The Dry fried beef was probably the most intense Ma-La experience i've ever had. Even more so than the fish hot pot dish at Number 10. The fried squid with BBQ sauce was beautiful with slices of celery and and a spicy, cumin flavour. Salted Egg Yolk prawns were a steal (from the 1/2 price seafood menu) a good dozen fried prawns lightly coated in salted egg and crispily fried. We were going to order the lobster w/ ginger and spring onion, but the waitress suggested against it as the lobster was frozen and portions small. good call. The intensity of the Szechuan pepper in the dry fried beef however made everything else taste extremely salty to me. incredible how this tricks your tastebuds. Be good to get advice on what would best counter act this.
This was an outstanding meal - no messing around. A mix of western folks (mainly eating the standard fayre), and loads of chinese mostly tucking into the dry hotpot, which we have to try next time.
Prices not expensive but not particularly cheap. £50 for 2 with 4 beers and service.
Went for the first time yesterday.
Didn't get to try the Dry fried beef strips. After a bit of testing and probing about whether or not there was a "specials" menu in addition to the menu I'd been given, they produced a "Hot Pot" menu. We then went through a further iteration after which a "Chef's Specials" menu was produced. On the plus side this had an English translation...but no dry fried beef. Crispy beef with chilli instead. Didn't know whether this was because:
a) the specials had changed; or
b) there was yet another layer of "hidden" menus that were only available to initiated illuminati who knew the right passwords to use when ordering.
So I settled for the crispy fried (which is a bit candy-store but I'm a sucker for it anyway) and also ordered the sliced salted duck.
Both dishes were very good and, to be fair, other than the bewildering and frustrating attempts to crack the secret code necessary to get to the specials, so was the service. I would definitely put Crystal China up with my other faves (Chilli Cool, Yipin, Gourmet San...) so it's good to have another option of this quality in a different part of London.
It was also nice to see that, along with the traditional and tiresome "secret specials" gig, another great Chinse restaurant tradition was in evidence: very bad karaoke.
I have travelled the world over and heard all manner of terrible karaoke. In this I consider myself something of an authority, since I personally sing like karaoke night at a tracheotomy clinic. But, whoever was in the back room at Crystal China made me sound like Enrico Caruso. To be clear, the restaurant were clearly alive to the threat and had therefore thoroughly sound-proofed the function room at the back. This meant that, even sitting as I was at the table nearest, I couldn't hear it most of the time. But occasionally someone would leave to go to the loo, or a waitress would go in, the door would open and...my God, but there was some diabolical sing-torture going on in there. I can still hear the cries, the suffering, in my dreams.
If anything it knocked my previous worse karaoke experience off top spot (at Sichuan Restaurant on the Greenwich peninsula where assembled wedding guests were inflicting musical atrocities on a hitherto happy couple...). In any case it confirmed my view that nowhere can hold a candle to chinese restaurants when it comes to the race for global domination in the world of bad karaoke. Unless anyone wishes to propose alternative contenders...?
I just ate here for the first time, so thanks for the recommendation, everybody. I'm pleased to report that there is no longer any obstacle with the menus: there are now four pages of regional specials in English at the back of the standard menu, plus a table card of specials also in English. The four pages are Sichuan, cold dishes (which looked Sichuan to me), Northern (presumably Dongbei), and "Far East Villager" (no idea).
Dry fried beef strips: yes, outstanding, although I didn't find the numbing flavour especially strong so maybe the kitchen decided to reduce it.
Potato, aubergine and bell pepper: tasty.
Pork stew with sour cabbage and sweet potato noodles: this was in a thick broth and not very moreish. Probably good for the flu.
Lamb with cumin: this was from the Northern menu, so I wasn't sure whether to expect the familiar Sichuan dish or something different. In any event, I like my cumin lamb cumin-heavy and as dry as possible, but this was neither. Powerful gamey lamb flavour, though.
All in all, I would go back, especially to try some of the Sichuan menu. (Footnote: only other time I've had Dongbei cooking is at Fu Run in Flushing. To be honest I can't remember my meal there well enough to compare the two, but they were both good.)