The first time you go to Xi’an you’ll notice that it’s smack bang opposite Arsenal’s football stadium. Ignore it. Football fan or not, this little Chinese restaurant is easily the most compelling thing around Highbury and Holloway. It’s a white-walled, 12-or-so table affair. It doesn’t take bookings and doesn’t pretend to care how your day was. Whether you appreciate this in a restaurant or not is irrelevant, because Xi’an has got the thing that matters most: conversation-cancelling food.
Things like silence, addiction, and obsession are often seen as negative characteristics, but after a bowl of Xi’an’s signature liangpi cold noodles you’ll understand that this is a terrible misrepresentation. There are few better things than having your thoughts dominated by an £8 bowl of chewy noodles, and neurotically organising when you’ll be back drinking the bottom-of-the-bowl chilli oil just one, more, time. Best of all is that the Xi’anese menu is full of dishes like this. The cold noodles are in a constant Beyoncé and Solange-like battle for your attention with their biang biang sibling. A bowl of these wide and chewy belt-like noodles is ideal to share between two, alongside a beef bun with special sauce. Which, by the way, is something you’ll find yourself popping in for when you’re ‘in the area’ (i.e. London).
There’s one problem with Xi’an Impression: you can’t always have everything. Alone you’ll have some serious decisions to make. Boneless ginger chicken say, or pot-sticker dumplings? Even between two you’ll weigh up whether the cold and biang biang noodles, a bun, and some dumplings is viable (hint: it is), and for around £20 a head you’ll be going home with leftovers from that order. Though between four you’ll park all of that away easily. But, it is worth knowing that you probably don’t want to come here in a group bigger than four without calling ahead. It is not a big space. And, as with everywhere that’s BYOB, there’s the temptation to pitch up when you’re in a group, despite the small charge for corkage.
The ordering dilemma is just one of the reasons Xi’an Impression is a restaurant to share around. More important is that it doesn’t matter if you’ve been in London for 10 minutes or 10 years, Xi’an is an essential restaurant for your friends, family, and most importantly, yourself. Because whether you’ve never heard of Xi’an Impression, never been, or not had a bowl of their noodles in a while, this is a restaurant to be shared over and over again.
There aren’t many things we want (and have had) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in one day. But these room temperature noodles are one of them. They’ve always got just the right amount of bite, and the chilli oil - a tangy t-shirt ruining pool of excellence - is something you won’t regret slurping on its own.
A perfect pile of moist sliced chicken in a ginger and chilli laden sauce. This is an excellent way to get things going, and is perfect to share between two.
These are some chewy mothers. They’re nicknamed belt noodles because of their shape, but we just call them buff noodles. Because they’re really, really good. They’re a perfect one person bowl of food.
The special thing about special sauces is that you’ll never know what’s in them. But this one has definitely got a tasty amount of cumin, coriander, and chilli oil going on. Also, at £5, this is the pre/mid/post-match burger you should be getting if you’re going to watch the Arsenal.
Eight glorious pearly white and soft steamed dumplings. You’ll want to have these guys on your table whoever you’re with. A crowd pleaser.
These crispy pan-fried dumplings come filled with chicken and mushroom or pork and seaweed. They’re pretty good, though we prefer the steamed ones.