Monday, 25 November 2019

Master Wei, Bloomsbury

Another day, another unlikely back alley in Bloomsbury, another cracking little noodle place. For this one I have not only - again - a review in the Guardian to thank for pointing me in its direction, but also certain Twitter users who saw my delight in other local noodle shops and thought I'd like to add another to the list. And I very much did like.

Master Wei is by the same people as Xi'an Impression, a similarly no-nonsense little operation up next to the Emirates stadium and which has its own intensely loyal fan base. Like there, the food at Master Wei is notionally from Xi'an in central China, so big bowls of hand-pulled "biang biang" (pronounced, I discovered, pretty much as it's spelled) noodles, various other ways with hot-and-numbing spices, and interesting bits and pieces of street food such as their take on a "beef burger", a soft bao bun with a spiced beef mince patty.

So far though, across two trips, I've stuck mainly to the noodles, although that didn't stop me trying a small plate of cold shredded chicken with spicy sauce. It's not the most visually arresting plate of food you're ever likely to see in your life, but boy does it pack a punch of flavour - sweet and sour and soft, with an oily, chillified sauce that was so moreish I ended up scooping out the dregs with a spoon.

But the star of any meal at Master Wei's will be the hand-pulled "biang biang" noodles. Almost impossible to eat without making a complete tit of yourself (I may be projecting here), the noodles themselves are thick and healthy looking things, charmingly irregularly shaped and with an immensely pleasing, firm bite. Draped in chilli oil and woven in with a few bits of bok choi, they would have been more than worth the effort even without generous chunks of beef, which managed to be soft and full of flavour without being stringy or dry. Quite the achievement.

There was a different style of noodles to go with the minced pork and veg in this dish - thinner, rounder "hand-pulled" noodles which had all the same vitality and bounce but were a damn sight easier to roll onto the chopsticks to eat. The pork was coated in a dark, sticky, treacle-y sauce, perhaps more towards the kind of thing you'd expect from a Cantonese rather than Xi'an restaurant but I'm sure I'm no expert - it was still lovely.

Finally, Xinjiang style chicken noodles, the pieces of poultry "butchered" in that technically they were no longer part of a chicken but without much in the way of jointing or aesthetical considerations. I didn't mind, though, as the flesh was nice and tender, the noodles (biang biang again) were still hearty and comforting and the broth, this time a more soupy affair with chunks of potato and chilli floating about, was complex and rewarding right to the last drop.

I've never had to wait for a table at Master Wei, but I think I've been lucky (and I don't mind eating early if there's nice noodles to be had). Staff (efficiently, if a bit stoney-faced) can re-jig tables to suit the walk-in parties but I have seen groups sat shivering in the cold outside, especially towards 1pm. But why wouldn't you expect to wait a bit, or be a bit flexible with your lunchtimes, for food this good? Certainly the Chinese students of nearby UCL and LSE, who I'm guessing we have to thank for the demand that keeps Master Wei in business, know they've got a good thing going here and pack the place out every day, without fail. And though the bill isn't bargain-basement, it seems very reasonable. You do, after all, get plenty of biang biang for the buck.


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