A simple aesthetic, queues out the door and food to (almost) die for. Welcome to Gourmet San.
The first thing that strikes you about Gourmet San is the queue. There’s always a queue here. Then you’ll spy the massive, garish red and gold sign, complete with Chinese calligraphy. Eventually, you can peer inside to see an interior that's full of people - although they’ve made some effort with the tablecloths, they have rather shoehorned people in. The decor is dull and – that dreaded word – neutral, although it’s enlivened by red Chinese lanterns, which is a nice touch. It’s all spoiled somewhat by a big screen TV but you’ll barely notice that once the food arrives.
Hectic, busy, hectic. That’s all there is to say about Gourmet San. A mass of people fill the relatively small space, and the staff, although friendly enough, are mainly concerned with turning tables, and turning them fast. It’s the Tayyabs of the Chinese world.
Jellyfish with black vinegar, whelks and sliced pig's ear in chilli oil, duck's tongue with chilli oil... no wonder people flock here. It’s authentic Szechuan, it’s unusual, and it’s good. It’s not the cheapest Chinese food in London, granted, but it’s probably one of the more authentic. And you don’t have to be quite so adventurous to eat here. For example, one of the stand-out starters is the (huge) chilli-fried crab (£11). The slightly greasy but absolutely delicious crab is quite salty – but pleasantly so – and works well with giant chillis and garlic. You’ll quickly start to wonder how you’ll ever finish it, but it tastes so good that it really shouldn’t be an issue.
If you then can’t face the dry-fried pork intestines then try the incredibly simple but perfectly cooked steamed sea bass (£14). Served with just a few greens, the fish is packed with flavour, is meaty, and flakes away from the bone at the touch of a fork. You’ll find it easy to pick apart, even if you are just using chopsticks. Enjoy the incredibly well seasoned – and unusual – seaweed and egg soup for just £4 to finish off. Light, well spiced and with generous chunks of egg and pieces of soft seaweed, it’s incredibly good for the price.
The drink selection is rather lacklustre with a couple of cheap bottles of wine for under £15 and a few spirits. The best bet is the beer, with those old favourites Cobra, Tsing Tao and Tiger all making an appearance at just £2.50 a bottle.
The Last Word
Be as adventurous as you dare at Gourmet San – just be prepared to queue for the privilege.