You’ll be bowled over by Master Wei
08 August, 2019 — By Tom Moggach
The menu is full of intrigue at ‘thrilling and addictive’ Master Wei
IN the shadow of Emirates Stadium, cult restaurant Xi’an Impression was an instant smash hit when it opened back in 2015. It’s still going strong.
The style of cooking is a rarity in Britain – bold and authentic regional Chinese cuisine, quite unlike the generic fare on every high street. Since then, the founders have launched several new outposts. The latest is Master Wei in Bloomsbury – a solo project from chef Wei Guirong.
As a female Chinese chef, she’s a rarity both in China and London. Guirong trained in her home province of Shaanxi in north-western China, one of only four women among the thousand or so students.
Xi’an (pronounced Shee-an) is the capital of the province and has a rich culinary history. The city was a starting point for the Silk Road, that ancient conduit of fragrant spices and whispered recipes.
The street food is famous throughout China, with specialities such as hand-pulled biang biang noodles, cold wheat starch langpi noodles and their riff on burgers, such as the spicy cumin beef burger served at Master Wei.
The restaurant is tucked away in Cosmo Place – a peaceful little side street off Russell Square.
Décor is no-frills, the bar framed by a large map of Shaanxi and illuminated by backlit photos of famous sights such as the Terracotta Army and Giant Wild Goose Pagoda.
The menu is full of intrigue: a five-spice peanut salad; boneless chicken in a ginger sauce; pot-sticker dumplings; a beanthread noodle and seaweed soup.
Start with the spicy wood ear mushrooms with coriander (£6.80). The texture of the rehydrated fungi is remarkable: slippery, firm and springy, bathed in a complex light dressing with base notes of vinegar, a gentle saltiness and topped with coriander and slices of red chilli.
For a main course, a bowl of the signature biang biang noodles (£11.80) arrives with choy sum (a leafy vegetable), scrambled egg, tomato and nuggets of slow-cooked pork, glistening with a streak of hot chilli oil.
The waiter deftly prepares the dish at the table, using a fork and spoon to sever the thick noodles then mix the ingredients unctuously together.
Several days later, the dazzling flavours of Master Wei are still ricocheting around my memory.
For the adventurous eater, this chef’s flavours are both thrilling and worryingly addictive.
If you visit during the day, check out the delightful pottery shop next door. Cosmo China is a crammed with the painted ceramics from a collective of 20 artists, who fire their work in the on-site kiln.
One of the owners is a daughter of Peter Firmin, the artist and puppet maker who helped to create characters such as Bagpuss, The Clangers, Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine.
I left Master Wei clutching a bag of leftover noodles – and my new noodle bowl, lovingly hand painted.
13 Cosmo Pl, WC1N
020 7209 6888