Silk Road (London, UK)

One of the fabulous things about London is that it has has a lot of ethnic foods available that aren’t easy available in the US (on the negative side of things, there are also ethnic foods that still haven’t really arrived there: most Latin American food isn’t really available aside from Mexican, which is still somewhat a developing scene). One of these is Xinjiang cuisine. Xinjiang is a really good example of how China isn’t a monotlithic country; as one of the northwest provinces, much of the population is historically more Turkic than Chinese, much of the population is Muslim Uyghurs, and the resulting culinary tradition is a blend of Turkic and Chinese traditions. Lamb soup and kebabs are standard fare, and there’s even a variation of naan. And, in the London district of Camberwell, there’s actually a well-regarded source for Uyghur cuisine: Silk Road.

Located on Camberwell Church Street just a few blocks east of Camberwell Green, Silk Road’s interior is pretty functional: it’s all long wooden tables designed for community seating. But the operation works well for them; arriving, we were seated promptly with our menus, and within minutes of ordering out food items started arriving at the table as they were finished by the kitchen. First up, a combination of dumplings, both an order of steamed lamb dumplings, and an order of fried beef dumplings. The lamb dumplings were particularly nice: a nice, generous interior of heavily spiced lamb mixed up with more than a little onion, these were little pockets of flavor.

The beef dumplings weren’t quite as flavorful, but were otherwise similar, and had been rather nicely fried up giving them a bit of a crunch as well; so each bit had a bit of crunch, some good chewiness from the wrapper, and a nice, juicy interior. I’d definitely get these again, although I may try to mix up the options and try the fried dumplings with the lamb and onion filling.

Next up was a rather plain-sounding dish of spinach with chillis (I’ll never get used to the British spelling of that…), but it was a surprisingly tasty dish: spinach fried just to the point of being soft while still being green, with a surprisingly spicy chilli sauce that had more than a little bit of bite.

Then the skewers started to arrive. On the face of it, these were simple chicken skewers, but like a good Turkish kebab, the secret lies in two features: a really good marinade on the chicken (with more than a little cumin, chilli powder, and soy), and cooking them over a fairly intense charcoal grill for a good crisp. And I’ll have to say, these were really enjoyable; on a return visit I’d probably order more of them.

The other Uyghur dish we enjoyed was a lamb noodle soup: a rich bowl of lamb, cabbage, and vegetables, served up with a light lamb broth over a bowl of very nicely done hand-pulled noodled (called “belt noodles” on the menu, which, in retrospect, is a particularly good descriptive term for them). Again, the star here was the spicing; the lamb had a nice soy and chilli flavor to it that combined well with the cabbage.

The last dish wasn’t from Xinjiang at all, but a sichuan dish: spicy double-cooked cabbage with pork belly. Despite being a dish from the wider umbrella of Chinese food, this was a particularly-well executed dish: crispy pork belly, and a really rich and flavorful (and spicy, intensely spicy) cabbage.

That said, the biggest thing I got from our visit was a desire to come back, since at least two menu items looked absolutely divine when ordered by nearby tables: Chicken with Green Chilli, and the Special Big Plate Chicken (the latter having almost an aura of spiciness; my eyes watered a bit as the plate passed by our table). I’d love to have a return visit on our next trip.

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