A letting agency with Mandarin signage, Long Fang bakery, CKJ’s busy shelves: there’s a theme developing on this stretch of Woodville Road. The newly-opened Jianghu is seconds from Zi’s Cafe and just round the corner from So Good, with which it has much in common.
The former Irie Shack (the bathroom doors are still labelled ‘gyals and bwoys’) now serves something rather less mainstream than jerk chicken and burgers. This menu centres on influences from Sichuan, so expect bold flavours and plenty of offal.
Jianghu is a tricky term to pin down for the novice, but owner Rose explains it as a mystical backdrop for legend and martial arts. There’s plenty here for the adventurous- ducks’ tongues, pig intestines and omasum (a cow’s third stomach, ruminant biology fans) line up with chicken gizzards, lamb tripe and ox lung. If that’s genuinely your thing- or even if you’re the kind of culinary trainspotter who’ll order it for bragging rights- you won’t be disappointed. ‘These are almost always ordered by men’, our server tells me. I invite you to draw your own conclusions.
Elsewhere, there’s much to recommend. A lengthy barbecue menu is crammed with good things and the charcoal grill is busy. Scallops- queenies served on the shell, their tiny roe intact- hum and honk with garlic, their flesh sweet and tender; dainty skewers of pork, lamb and beef are vibrant with cumin and smoke.
A complimentary skewer of squid- tiny tentacles, heartily seasoned and still with a little bite to them: this is cooking with a light, knowing touch.
Sour plum tea, over ice, is just the thing: I make a note to make sure my fridge is stocked for summer. Beef noodle soup is dense with thin noodles in a light broth, the bowl would make for a surprisingly light meal in itself.
Our server, owner Rose, beams when we ask about the Hofun- it’s her favourite, and what she had for lunch just before we walked in. It’s another substantial dish, another which could easily be a good meal on its own, a tumble of wide rice noodles, beansprouts, onion and beef flank which combines for some irresistible comfort eating.
As the business establishes itself, Rose tells me, they will offer a set lunch; there are plans for a hot pot menu, too.
Things are good here. They get even better.
Here comes one of life’s great pleasures: a mound of salt and pepper prawns, shells hot and crisp and flecked with fresh green and dried red chillies. Heads are torn off, fingers are sucked. It’s a reminder that simple and fast can trump pretty much anything when you’re in the mood. Order this: prove me wrong.
Twice cooked pork- belly simmered, cooled, thinly sliced then fried, is another one of those plates which tells you you’re in the right place. Those distinctive texture of cloud ear mushrooms, the heft of thick green chillies, the salty punch of black beans: it is a lovely thing, and although it packs some heat, what comes next is uncompromising.
Fistfuls of green and red chillies alone would lend stir-fried chicken enough heat: the liberal addition of Sichuan peppercorns makes this a potent mixture. If you’re not a fan of vigorous spicing this might leave your scalp sweating and your shirt clinging like that needy ex: but if you love that telltale electric citrus tingle on your lips, this is exciting stuff. Order with care: your Friday night Just Eat from Jolly Wok this is not.
There’s so much to recommend here at Jianghu. It has only been open a week, but is already popular with Chinese students who fill the other tabkes during both visits. Many more will return to Cardiff soon, no doubt building on word of mouth, and business will boom as it should. But this is food that deserves to be enjoyed far beyond its core audience, I think. Once again, I’m not so much nudging as shoving you towards yet another restaurant doing interesting things, but with next to nothing in the way of social media.
Yes, another one. Sorry about that. I’ll review a Sunday roast soon, perhaps.
Cash only at present: 106-110 Woodville Road, Cardiff CF24 4EE
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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.