33 Cranbourn St
Westminster, London WC2H 7AD
Sliced Beef La-Mian: £6
Having one of those pre-interview "assessment days" meant that I got to spend some time in London this week. I bombed out of any possibility of getting an actual interview when I failed to read some key instructions, and so to cheer myself up I went to Noodle Bar, an unprepossessing (so unprepossessing that I walked up and down that section of the street to see if there was another better-looking place), fast-food, Chinese place on the fringes of London's Chinatown.
Now, I am not, generally, a fan of eating sit-down food in Chinatowns (snacks are a different kettle of fish, however). I think that in large cities, better Chinese food can be found on streets without elaborate arches and too many tourists. Noodle Bar, however, came recommended from the Chowhound discussion site, and I couldn't risk being in a city with lanzhou noodles and not filling myself up on them. So off to Noodle Bar I went, hopes high and spirits low.
The first hurdle was explaining what I wanted, and that I definitely didn't want any of the over-fried, greasy stuff in the metal container in the window. I tried, "Hi, do you have lanzhou noodles?" This was met with a blank stare and, "Noodles, yes, we have noodles" as the waitress gestured to the metal container. "No, lanzhou noodles, where you make them" was my really helpful reply. I realised I had no idea how to communicate what I wanted. "They're in soup...with meat?" was my final burst of articulateness. The waitress nodded, "Yes, soup noodles, la-mian noodles." I had no idea what la-mian was, but I couldn't get any further in trying to explain lanzhou noodles without any Chinese language skills.
What the waitress brought was exactly what I wanted. A fragrant broth of beef stock, coriander and some other spices, chewy noodles in a small mountain soaking up the broth, with slices of beef and green veg scattered across the top. The usual soy-and-vinegar combo and chillies in oil were in plentiful supply, and the restaurant itself was cheerful and busy, split evenly between white people eating the greasy window stuff and Chinese people eating steaming piles of noodles. The man sitting next to me was digging into about three different bowls, and looked really happy to be doing so. I did the same. I finished the bowl in about eight minutes, slurping away at the last drops of broth that I could force onto my spoon.
My only other experience of lanzhou noodles has been at the Nan Zhou Hand-Drawn Noodle House where I ate at least six times this summer. London's Noodle Bar can't beat it on price (Nan Zhou does a huge bowl for under $5 whereas Noodle Bar's is £6), but I think it has a slight edge in the broth stakes. At Nan Zhou, you can order your noodles "shaved" (thick and flat) or "pulled" (thin like spaghetti), and due to my poor attempts at communication I don't know whether this is possible at Noodle Bar. Certainly in terms of originality and price for central London, Noodle Bar cannot be beaten.