You could easily walk past Great Chongqing without giving it much of a glance. It looks like many other Chinese restaurants with its laminated picture menus stuck to the window and its functional furniture.
“Great Chongqing just may be one of Bristol’s best-kept secrets at the moment,” wrote Mark Taylor in the Bristol Post earlier this year. (And how we could do with his equivalent in Welsh media, someone writing with knowledge and insight, finding and championing independents.)
He loved it. It’s not some glossy, glamorous Instatrap; but it does have what I’m after- big, rugged flavours. Something like you’d find at Cardiff’s Old Sichuan, where the liberal use of peppercorns in dishes can leave your mouth tingling as if you had been licking battery terminals. Again.
As I settle in two prospective customers pop in to ask if the place is participating in Eat Out To Help Out. When told no, they leave. We’ll file that under ‘their loss’, because this is food which makes an impression on you.
It’s scientifically impossible to resist a good dumpling, especially when they are steamed then fried. Served a deep, crisp gold shade, in filling and feel they are light and delicate. What comes next is anything but.
Cumin lamb, a wonderful thing when done well, is from their teppanyaki section and arrives smoking and sizzling, the chilli oil bubbling furiously on the cast iron. It’s a fittingly fatty cut, a plate of delicate textures and robust flavours, the buttery-soft slices of meat tumbled with fat chunks of garlic and red chilli in that pungent amber oil.
Feeling adventurous, I fancy the ducks’ tongues but they’re no longer on the menu. They haven’t proved popular enough, sadly. Ribs it is, then.
When they arrive I find it best to just bow my head and breathe it in, that fierce waft of garlic and onion- and of course, plenty more of those red chillies. It’s time to get stuck in and worry at them with your teeth, these ribs cleaved into short lengths and roasted before being finished in hot oil so they arrive crisp and piping hot.
For my soup I choose a ‘medium’ spice level- their scale runs from 0 to 5, so I figure I’m playing it safe with a 3. It starts innocently enough, but after a few more spoonfuls I have broken out in a sweat and the box of tissues on the table makes sense. They’re for your face, not your hands. And your nose, which may well be streaming now in the middle of your flushed face.
(Form a queue, ladies. No pushing and shoving, now.)
That was a 3, so I can only presume the true scale runs from ‘affectionately nuzzled by playful kittens’ up to ‘makes your face melt right off just like those Indiana Jones Nazis’. It’s lovely though, with crisp-skinned slices of duck breast in a broth bulked up with slim rice noodles, some bite still left in them. It’s a bowl that keeps on giving: throw in peanuts and beansprouts, cabbage and coriander leaves, a patiently-built, meaty, stock of proper heft and a swirl of rust-coloured chilli oil, all speckled with sesame seeds: you get a lot of flavour, a lot of variety and a lot of impact for a ludicrously low £8.50.
I love finds like this, places kindly recommended by locals who have done the legwork to ferret out the good stuff. It’s about as far removed from a slick social media-friendly operation as you can imagine. That’s refreshing in itself. I’m grateful to my friend Chris for pointing me in this direction: I see now why he won’t stop talking about the place.
Great Chongqing. Easy to miss, hard to forget, but somewhere you’d be glad you found.
52 Park Row
11am-9pm daily (but check current hours).
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.