Two visits to Islington within a week; another part of my South London street cred ebbing away every time my tentative steps took me aboard the sweaty Northern line, during rush hour. Teeth were gritted, knuckles turned white and the urge to punch other people was just about suppressed. Thankfully Yipin was worth the trauma. The number of Chinese restaurants serving decent, varied, regional food is ever growing. The menu at Yipin is divided into Hunan, Sichuan and Cantonese sections and it’s huge; I mean in terms of physical measurements, not number of dishes. Everything has an accompanying photograph of the kind that fall in the right place between splattered laminated takeaway menu and glossy PR shot; the kind that are genuinely helpful and importantly, make you want to actually eat the food.
First was ‘spiced fungus’, which was jelly fungus, slipping about in a mixture of sesame oil, red and green chilli and plenty of Chinkiang (black) vinegar, something I’ve not noticed so much when I’ve eaten the dish at other restaurants (Snazz Sichuan for example). It’s a cold dish, and the fungus has a seaweed-like texture, borderline crunchy, ‘like something that should be worn’ said my mate, ‘pieces of macintosh’ said another. Those were compliments, believe it or not. Easily my favourite dish of the evening.
Sichuan mixed pickles were not particularly pickled, but pleasantly soothing every so often when the sweats started kicking in. Hand torn cabbage was markedly different to the version at Silk Road, one of my favourite restaurant dishes of all time; notable variations included slivers of pork belly (never a bad thing), lots of fresh chilli rather than dried and considerably less sugar. A very successful dish but one with a lot to live up to.
Best of the meaty dishes was pork belly with preserved vegetable; neatly arranged slices of soft belly with cm thick stripes of fat. I love the way the Chinese celebrate the softness of a piece of simmered pork like this; bubbly crackling is obviously great, but it’s not the only way to celebrate the fatty underbelly. The sauce was funky with preserved vegetable, very much like the Tianjin preserved vegetable I became hopelessly addicted to at one stage; a unique, intense, cabbagey flavour. A second meaty main, deep fried beef with cumin didn’t seem at all deep fried but was incredibly tender. Despite a heady whack of cumin, it still managed to underwhelm. Again, I’ve been spoilt by the similarly flavoured lamb skewers with cumin at Silk Road and I wish I’d tried the Yipin version.
Dan dan noodles were a little underpowered compared to the Fuschia Dunlop recipe, which I regularly make at home (mine is the second photo). The meat is always presented on top and then the whole lot stirred together at the table. More preserved vegetable and a little numbing Sichuan pepper would have improved things. Still, nice enough, if more appropriate as a lunch dish.
Rice with salted chillies was disappointing, tasting pretty much just like standard egg fried rice, and tofu with salted duck egg had the odds stacked against it, coming as it did at the end of the meal. The slippery texture of the very soft tofu so beloved by the Chinese would have been welcome 20 minutes earlier but was challenging at that stage of the game, particularly in an eggy, gelatinous sauce.
Despite minor grumbles I very much enjoyed Yipin. The room is typically utilitarian, initially lacking in atmosphere but improving as it filled up with customers, the windows getting progressively steamier. We paid £21 each with a few beers, which is cheap by most restaurant standards of course, but more expensive than other similar restaurants, where I’ve struggled to spend more than £15. This is Islington however, not Camberwell (Silk Road) or King’s Cross (Chilli Cool). I’d like to have tried Yipin’s fish fragrant aubergine as a benchmark and also anything with preserved egg, plus the pickled green beans with minced pork which I adored at Shu Castle on the Old Kent Road.
Overall a little more flavour intensity would be appreciated but I think they’ve done a lovely job of making the food more accessible in general, the photos on the menu for example and the sensitive translations which see dishes like the well known ‘saliva chicken’ translated as the more appetising ‘mouth watering chicken’. I’ve been spoiled by my proximity to places in the South East, but if I ever find myself in the area? I’d definitely go back.
70-72 Liverpool Road
Tel: 020 7354 3388
Thanks to Donald for the photos.