I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: as much as I love South East London with all my heart, there are two areas that really test the limits of my affection and they are Elephant and the Old Kent Road. There’s just not much going for them, aesthetically or gastronomically speaking. When I worked in the city my bus would chug down the OKR every single day and I studied every inch of its bleak length looking for anything that might be remotely worth the effort of checking out. For some reason I had dismissed Shu Castle straight away; I mean, a Chinese place on the Old Kent Road, no-one’s exactly going to rush to try it, are they?
Turns out Shu Castle serves Sichuan food, which is very good indeed. Refreshingly, they don’t seem to have a massive, dull Cantonese menu too (just a very little one as a set menu), as many places do, presumably in an attempt to please everyone. Mainly they just do their thing and they do it very well. We had two cold dishes to start:
Century eggs with green chilli pepper. My first century egg – unbelievable, I know. They arrived, pungent and alarming in colour; the yolks tinged green and the whites, orange/purple. Their preservation for several weeks or months renders them scary in appearance and odour but I was pleased to find, relatively subtle in flavour; just like an egg, but richer, creamier. Addictive. This dish was hot, because there was a massive great pile of chopped green chillies on top. Duh.
Cold chicken arrived sliced in chilli oil, scattered with sesame seeds; slippery and tender. Cold poached chicken fat should be horrible but somehow is pleasingly silken; the Chinese love those jellified textures and so do I.
Pickled beans with pork mince. Pickles and pork, in the same dish? It was always going to get ordered. Little bullets of preserved beans, slightly musty, slightly bitter seemed to enhance the sweetness of the pork; it’s the kind of dish I’m going to spend silly amounts of time thinking about over the next few weeks.
We kept it simple with the meaty main: beef in chilli oil. This is what I want when I go for a Sichuan meal, bits of stuff bobbing about in a bloody great vat of spicy oil. “It’s hot” said the waitress “we know, that’s why we came here” said my mate. Tender slippery strips of meat plus bamboo shoots and Chinese leaves were fished from the scarlet depths. I particularly enjoyed the freshness of the coriander on top; something you don’t often see in Sichuan restaurants. I would have a liked a little more numbing from Sichuan peppercorns, but still, a great dish.
There were also boiled porky dumplings with chilli oil, soft and exactly as expected; a simple dumpling fix. There was a broth of gourd and again, pork, which was delicate, tasting subtly of simmered pork fat (in a good way, promise). Strangely moreish.
A reason to visit the Old Kent Road; who’d have thunk it?! The restaurant is tucked into the side of a hotel; the toilets are um…well, it’s not The Ritz is it, it’s a restaurant on the Old Kent Road. The carpet speaks of more than a few major spillages (chilli oil is a right bugger to get out, trust me, I speak from experience); the food however, is very good indeed. I’d like to feel a few more Sichuan peppercorns anaesthetising my mouth but apart from that, no grumbles. The portions are huge and we spent £76 between 3 with 3 beers each. South East London, with Wuli Wuli and Shu Castle, you really are spoiling us.
194 Old Kent Road
Tel: 020 7703 9797