FoodIssue 9

That’s Shuangadelic, Baby

Shuang Shuang 64 Shaftesbury Avenue W1D 6LU

SO far this year, resolutions have been bouncing off the walls like Sean Connery’s wives. Everyone has vowed to guzzle a few more shots of wheatgrass, to shake their way to a Kimmy K ass with classes at Twerkshop, and generally to do whatever it takes to stay alive just that tiny smidge longer whilst having a little less fun. As I drink my fair share of the blogosphere Kool Aid and absorb both dietary advice and carbs unquestioningly, my New Year’s resolution subscribes to the newest (ancient) health myth: the longer the noodle, the longer the life. It seems that my particular 2016 fountain of youth will be spewing noodles.

Because of their length, some have thought noodles to bring longevity to those who eat them, and I’ve chosen to believe it. This year, I vow that each and every noodle with the misfortune to pass before me will promptly pass through me. Forget the red monkey; I hereby rename 2016 the Year of the Noodle.

Fah Sundravorakul, the restaurateur responsible for Shuang Shuang, has made my January 1st fever dreams come true. Hovering at the very edge of Chinatown on Shaftesbury Avenue, the restaurant is like the lovechild of YO! Sushi and the no-nonsense noodle bars dotted throughout the neighbourhood (Zhengzhong Lanzhou Lamian Noodle Bar on Cranbourne Street, for instance, makes a mean brisket hand-pulled noodle). Diners are invited to take charge of their own destiny, or at least their own Chinese hot pots, and build their soup from scratch, choosing everything from the broth to the dipping sauce. DIYers rejoice.
The interior is airy and clinical, and ingredients march down the conveyor belt snaking through the centre of the restaurant, awaiting their inevitable demise in a pot of boiling broth. At the communal table you are in prime position: hear the couple across from you lament the plight of vegan menu-navigation; photobomb the bloggers snapping away with their DSLRs; sit up and smell the noodles.

Don the plastic bib provided, which proudly sports a happy piglet, and ready yourself for your own porcine transformation. If you know what you’re doing or you don’t mind a surprise, fishing unmarked dishes off the conveyor belt will serve you well. However, if you’re as poor at making decisions as I am, as the long list of schools I attended will attest, then perhaps ordering the good old-fashioned way is prudent.

Each diner is kitted out with a personal hot pot, heated from below and complete with an adjustable temperature gauge. Wrestle with your chopsticks or opt for your caged colander ladle to drop the ingredients in at your leisure and then later to usher them swiftly into your mouth, straight from the pot. The fresh noodles, many of which are sourced from neighbouring shops, should be cooked until just ‘al dente’ (transliteration from the Mandarin Hanzi characters for “quite dainty”).

As the add-ins to be submerged in your bubbling cauldron tend to dribble in about as hurriedly as the guests to my piano recitals, it’s best to rattle off a few of the snacks to your waiter. The scallop and prawn fritters with mala oil, while slightly muddled in their spice profile, are tenderer than my ego after being ghosted by my last two husbands. At once. The pig’s ears with XinJiang spice are so crunchy and salty that they’d put even the best pub pork scratchings to shame. After a preliminary gentle crunch, they yield to that unctuous fattiness that few other meats can give you.

When you are ready to tackle your hot pot, it is imperative that you are conscientious when choosing your broth. While the mala is described as “salty, fiery and numbing,” we sent our poor waitress running back to the kitchen for extra chili sauce more than once. The lamb tonic is under-salted but pleasantly medicinal. The black bird, made from the rare breed black chicken, is rich with umami, and it’s sure to become the universal favorite.

Choosing your ingredients is deeply personal, and the menu high-kicks the air and waves its pom-poms in its declaration that “there’s no right or wrong way to create a hot pot feast.” That said you will, however, achieve a more harmonious melting pot if you avoid mixing seafood and meat – excepting the house pork & prawn ball, which should not be missed.

The sea bass is fresh and light and absorbs the flavour of the broth well. The bow beancurd is bouncy and subtly nutty, and it can be paired as happily with luncheon meat and beef tripe as it can with the fish balls with squid. Samphire and chrysanthemum leaves add color and textural interest to your hot pot, and the flat noodles have enough give to stand up to even the most zealous boiler.

Shuang Shuang is definitely a novelty – because isn’t part of the reason you went out to eat avoiding cooking? Though the food might not blow you out of the water – or rather the broth – the experience is not to be missed.

 

Every day 12:00pm–11:00pm
£15–20 / person