There's simply no decent Chinese restaurant in Angel Islington. The Chinese takeaways don't count and so is Young's Restaurant, which I have always suspected to be a front for money laundering. I was surfing online for new restaurant openings when I stumbled upon YiPin China, purported to be a Hunanese restaurant, newly opened along Liverpool Road occupying the shop vacated by Di Monforte.
Having acted earlier on a pal's recommendation, we went all the way to Golders Green to check out Hunan Xiang Cai Guan. That was my first experience with Hunanese cuisine. While the food was decent, I would think twice about trekking halfway across London just for a meal there. YiPin China, on the other hand, is a stone's throw from my place so there's absolutely no excuse for checking it out.
Newly opened less than a month ago, YiPin China seems to be in a hurry to start its business. Minimal effort is spent in the restaurant's decor - some paintings from Di Monforte are still on its walls, a glass cabinet beside a dining table is used to store the odd file, even the background Italian opera music remains unchanged.
That said, if there's ever a Michelin star awarded for beautifully laid out menus, YiPin China would probably be short listed for that. No expense was spared for its menu - large close up photos of the dishes filled its pages, terrific for those who prefer to know exactly dishes like "twice cooked pork" and "bears' paw beancurd" look like.
Faced with the myriad of choices, we were lost and asked the staff to recommend some Hunanese specialties. "Well, Sichuan and Hunan cuisines are basically from the same family," she qualified and proceeded to go through some of the more popular items with us. While I'm not sure whether that's accurate, I must add that other than Hunanese dishes, YiPin China's menu also features some of the more common Sichuan and Cantonese names too. Yes, they do have sweet and sour pork if you are wondering.
First up, man-and-wife offal slices (£6.90), lest you think it's another scene out of Nightmare on Elm Street, it's another instance of direct translation. The cold dish comprised of slices of beef, beef offal and beef tongue, which would probably categorised under Waitrose's "forgotten cuts" section. Once you get that past that queasy feeling, the gritty texture of this peppery dish complements the other spicier numbers pretty well. Not exactly aesthetically pleasing, this isn't for the fainthearted.
Bear's paw bean curd in spicy sauce (£7.20) has always been my all time favourite. It's difficult to go wrong a with beancurd (homemade in this case), pork slices and fungus light stir fry. The bean paste based gravy was a tad salty for my liking.
Stewed beef brisket (£9) is a tricky affair - it can get a bit tough if not done well. Unfortunately, YiPin China's tilted towards that category. Heavily marinated, the five spices came through strongly. You can down a serving of white rice just with this dish.
Dan dan mian (£3.80) was a bit of a let down to be honest. We actually thought that the noodles were sourced from the supermarkets though the staff assured us otherwise. The thick egg noodles with a hint of springiness was tossed in perhaps a spoonful of minced pork and chilli oil. The noodles dish tasted disparate; the gravy, if you could call it that, seemed like an afterthought.
Dessert was pumpkin cakes (£5.80) and they turned out as delectable as the picture on the menu suggested. Unlike the common ones filled with pumpkin paste, those at YiPin China come with a large cavity with a thin layer of paste at its base. Served pipping hot, those pumpkin cakes are probably the best that I have ever tried.
Even though it has opened for less than a month, YiPin China was filled that weekend afternoon, many of whom were passerby curious about the newest restaurant in the neighbourhood. I'm as glad as any to have a decent Chinese restaurant nearby. My only issue with YiPin China is that instead of offering an itemised bill, the final figure is scribbled on a scrap of paper - not exactly the most convenient for verification (read about Ute's experience at Petrus).
That said, like most Chinese restaurants, YiPin China opens seven days a week from 11.30am till 10.30pm. It also offers a one dish lunch menu (mostly a meat dish and rice for just £5.50), perfect if you're looking for a quick meal. I'm already looking forward to my next visit, and the pumpkin cakes.
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