Baiwei is a new restaurant on Little Newport Street and Dunlop consulted on the menu. Originally, it was controversially named 'Big Leap Forward' (by its Chinese owner, Dunlop claimed) but they've now decided upon Baiwei - Chinese for 'a hundred flavours'. When we visited for lunch I was surprised by the interior - I had expected something sleeker like Dunlop's other consultations, Ba Shan and Bar Shu. Instead, the room was spartan save for some Maoist propaganda decorations. Our table on the ground floor faced the dumbwaiter, but the star table appears to be the one in this photo, looking out onto the street. Other diners were directed upstairs, though I didn't think to poke my head in to have a look around.
The menu is lengthy, divided into cold dishes and hot. Pictures accompany descriptions to give a better idea of presentation and portion size. Once we'd ordered, the dishes came quickly; we kicked off with cold sliver salad. Surprisingly wide chewy noodles were mixed in with slivered vegetables and pork in a vinegary, sesame-spiked dressing. Incredibly garlicky, incredibly moreish, though I do wish it was a touch spicier.
We couldn't resist the cold aubergine dish, mainly because it was served with preserved egg (century egg). This came mixed well into the dish, the grey/brown translucent egg whites appearing every other mouthful. Eaten with some hot rice, this dish was really great.
Lamb with roasted rice (made by steaming the meat and ground rice together in a bowl) didn't look entirely appealing on the plate being the big brown cluster of meat it was. Looks aside, it packed some serious flavour and the meat was chop-stick tender, though again while we could see the chilli flecks, it was lacking in any spiciness.
Dan dan noodles with beef was the only dish that had any chilli-heat to speak of, with a slight tingle of Sichuan peppercorns on the tongue. The noodles were appropriately chewy. Once mixed together, the spicy sesame dressing made this a rich and delicious bowl of noodles definitely made for sharing.
The beef and coriander wontons 'in a rich beef broth' was the only dish that disappointed and I wouldn't order it again. Though the beef and coriander filling was nice enough, the broth was a bit unpleasant, a bit too reminiscent of dishwater for my liking.
Baiwei had some really interesting dishes on the menu that I'd love to go back to try - indeed, the table next to us ordered a big dish served with flat-bread-like pancakes that looked pretty special. I'm slightly confused by the tameness of the dishes; at least two of the things we ordered had a big red chilli next the to menu listing, but it all seemed very mild to us. One can only hope it's not the oft-typical dumbing down of dishes for the Westerners.
Their pricing seems a little off too - potstickers were listed on the menu at £6.90, while the dan dan noodles at their considerable size were £4.90. Similarly our lamb dish was at £6.90, though the gong bao tofu £8.90 - same with the 'pressed tofu and vegetable stir-fry' - it seems odd to me that vegetarian / vegetable dishes are more expensive. As it was, we paid £20 a head with (very good and polite) service for 5 dishes, 1 shared rice and a soft drink each. Pretty good value for the standard of food we had, though definitely at the higher end of what one would usually pay in Chinatown.