It’s one of those in-the-know places you may have walked past on Eversholt Street without a second glance. We’ve done just that many times – until deciding to swing by at peak lunchtime rush the other day.
Fortunately the rather narrow dining room opens out into a more spacious conservatory-style extension, with surprisingly suburban views out on to the gardens behind.
Almost completely full, the energy amongst the mostly young diners is such that it emits the kind of holiday buzz you long from a hot local restaurant with an enviable write-up.
Just one table is free, so we grab it, and open an ornate circular springbound menu. Succinct but not entirely un-baffling, it lists noodles, soups and dumplings, salads, skewers and boiling clay pots. As first-time customers, we’re unsure what or even how much to order, and the busy waitress is pressing us for our choices.But first, some backstory. What exactly is its signature dish, the murger, all about? In short, it’s ancient Chinese streetfood, “the world’s oldest sandwich or hamburger”, the blurb tells us. The bun is an authentic “muo”, made from a wheat flour batter and baked in a clay oven, before being filled with slow-cooked pork.
Originally from northwest China, the method dates back to the Qin Dynasty or, say some, as long ago as the Zhou Dynasty (an unimaginable 1045 BC to 256 BC). And the Shaanxi province, where murgers originate, is known for its emphasis on all things savoury, sour and spicy.
With this in mind, we choose a murger made using ‘lean pork only’ (£6), and expect great things. The sandwich is undeniably tasty and simple in equal measures: the sweet muo light and slightly crisp, the filling melt-in-the-mouth. But that’s it: no other sauces, spices or juxtaposition of flavours in evidence. It’s a one-note wonder, in fact. But somehow all the better for it.
We understand more about context when the other dishes arrive. Chicken gyoza are soft, spring onion-fuelled morsels with a black-and-gold crust, served on a beautifully rustic plate. Insta-gold, no less.Our top plate, however? A jumble of earthy green spinach noodles, with sticky clumps of tasty minced ginger and garlic, a sizzling wallop of chilli, and the textural contrast of cabbage, carrots, pak choi, spinach and cubed potatoes, which have absorbed every element of flavour. A wave of umami, it also yields a note of rice-wine sharpness.
The only bowl we can’t quite finish is the Clay Pot, perhaps down to our own inexperience. A glistening slick of vivid red oil sits on a nest of white noodles, bejewelled with dark hammy chunks of meat, tofu, eggs, nuts and green veg. It packs an overwhelming punch of cloves and floral notes, but in the end is just too mouth-searingly fiery for our palates. Thank goodness for the cold Tsingtao beer.
As we leave, the monitor is pumping out karaoke versions of Euro and Asian chart hits, the tables still packed with a twentysomething crowd chatting enthusiastically and snapping their lunches with smartphones.