My favourite restaurant in the whole wide world was a curious beast. It wasn't beautiful - the tables uneven, the wallpaper flaking. The service was shambolic - dishes were sometimes forgotten or mixed up, one time a guy appeared with a soapy washing-up bowl and chucked everything in, including our tip. We were almost always the only customers in the place, the other occupants being friends or family intent on playing poker.
But the food was glorious, proper Vietnamese grub including the usual suspects like pho and bun bo hue and goi cuon but also slightly more unusual dishes like bánh bèo and bun oc and fried "fat ends" (crunchy intestines - like posh pork scratchings). The juices, in most joints a Tetrapakked afterthought, were all blended to order from fresh fruit (the apple juice being particularly good), and the whole thing was almost embarrassingly cheap.
Best of all was that, though the service wasn't professional, it was marvellously charming. Whenever we walked in, for a split-second they'd look incredibly shocked, as if wondering who we were and why we'd appeared and then they'd smile and rush to look after us.
Our favourite waitress was an Oriental Stacey Slater, the adorable resident children would come and grin at us, and one time the manager gave us a bottle of wine just because it was her birthday. We always felt like we'd intruded into their home and yet they welcomed us as friends nonetheless.
This little oasis was called Hong Van and then changed its name (but not owners) to Canh Buom. The other day though, I noticed it had changed names again - and this time I was fairly certain it had changed hands too, as this time its name was written in Chinese.
We'd never bothered booking before, so a bunch of us decided to wander in, but we were turned away with apologies - for once it was actually full. I studied the menu taped in the window anyway, saw to my delight that it now seemed to be a Sichuan Chinese restaurant and vowed to return.
So a few weeks later, we turned up once more at this new Sichuan restaurant whose name we could not read. The insides had been treated to a nice lick of red paint and was much brighter than before, though I was sad to see the TV screen broadcasting Vina soap operas had been removed.
A smiling waiter came up to us, doled out menus and informed us that they didn't have an alcohol licence yet but we could go get our own booze with free corkage - two of our party were out the door like a shot.
We flicked through the menu and I was fair jumping up and down at seeing such gems as "Blood Curd, Pig Bowel, Ox Tripe, Ham & Veg boiled with Dried Chilli and Chinese Spice", "Shredded Beef Stomach with Preserved Chilli" and "Stewed Pigs Trotters in Soy Sauce".
Offy beers purchased, along with a strangely-named bottle opener, we began to order willy-nilly, with the waiter taking rapid scribbled notes and making encouraging faces when we chose a corker and frowning a little dubiously when we picked something a bit off-piste.
From the cold dishes, we went for "Beancurd and Preserved Duck Egg" and "Tendon Family Style", for mains, we picked "Shredded Port (sic) with Chilli and Coriander", "Beef Slices with Hot Chill" and "Sliced Sea Bass stewed with Preserved Veg", and to whet our whistle, a bowl of "Pig Blood Curd and Beancurd Soup".
Cold dishes first. The Beancurd and Duck Egg aka Pi Dan Tofu was wonderfully light and wobbly, with a delicate soy-based sauce and crunchy fresh spring onion garnish.
The whole dish slipped down remarkably easily.
Tendon Family Style was a tad chewy but well-seasoned and, despite jaw ache, I happily chomped my way through quite a bit of it.
The sesame seeds scattered on top also added a nicely nutty dimension.
The Pig Blood and Beancurd Soup was a thing of beauty with generous chunks of blood pudding and tofu bobbing in a salty, savoury broth.
I would gladly come back just for this, and maybe a wee bowl of rice.
Both the pork and beef dishes were excellent - huge portions of deftly stir-fried meat and veg.
Absolutely scads of chillies too, which were spurned by the more cautious of my companions (they weren't that hot).
Last but not least was the seabass stew.
This was so epic, it deserved its own Hellenic chorus to sing it onto the table.
This was so epic, Ulysses could have endlessly sailed across its waves.
Basically, this seductively sour and delicious dish came in a cauldron-sized vat.
So huge was it in fact, that I asked them to doggy bag the leftovers for us and they charmingly obliged.
And then, stuffed to the gills, we asked for the bill. Of course we couldn't fathom it out, but it seemed scandalously low for what we ordered (there was also fluffy char siu bau and meaty little dumplings with vinegar dipping sauce).
Before we left, I asked if they had a takeaway menu and i was relieved to see they'd printed an English name.
There you have it, Le Wei Xiang is the new Chinese gem in Lewisham. We'll be back for more.
Le Wei Xiang Restaurant
80 Lee High Road
020 8218 3535
Full menu here and here
Edited to add: I've been advised that this is probably a Hunanese restaurant than a Szechuan restaurant as Xiāng (湘) is an abbreviation of Hunan.
Edited again to add: Okay, wrong Xiang - see comments below ... and the advert apparently says "authentic northern-style and Sichuan dishes" (thanks @Kake, @PaulLomax, @supercharz)
Edited AGAIN to add: Bottom of the menu says "Coming soon - Korean BBQ and self-service hotpot"!
AND FINALLY: My dad has just asked me if the name is meant to be a pun - Le Wei Xiang -> Lewisham ...
Thanks for uncovering this place.
BTW I can't click through to some of the photos... Flickr says they're private.
@Lizzie - I still need to go to Silk Road!
@Sharmila - No probs - Lewisham is where it's at.
@Joshua - We're really lovely ;)
@Kake - Sorry Kake - have changed permissions. Have also linked to menu now!
I checked with a Chinese colleague and the name Le Wei Xiang (乐味香) means something like 'Happy nice taste' or 'Happy spicy taste'.
He also said the front of the menu reads "authentic northern style and sichuan dishes".
Definitely going to have to give it a try.
My Chinese colleague also recommended http://www.oldplace.co.uk/ - have you tried it?
@PaulLomax - No, but I booked their sister restaurant Gourmet San the other day and when we turned up they made us wait so long (despite booking) we left :(
That seabass looks so good.
@Mr Noodles - Was proper hardcore! On reflection, I think the seabass was my favourite.
@Suzler - Bloodcurd tastes like an iron-rich, slighty savoury tofu. Kind of. Not mealy like black pudding.
I love the sound of Pig Blood Curd and Beancurd Soup, and the pic of it is great - I like that it looks like a pot full of floating edible dice.
All in all it sounds like a fantastic dinner at a fantastic price. Great write up as always,
@The Grubworm - They do look like dice don't they - ha! Come south, come south ...
@Debra Doherty - Lee High Road is brilliant - I love the Curry Centre and the two Chinese supermarkets!
We ordered the Sea Bass Stew, pork belly and noodles, tofu and blood curd soup and beef stomach with chili.
The dishes are HUGE. The service - interesting. The waiter was lovely and offered to help us order but we couldn't actually understand a word he was saying!
After we sat down 6/8 chinese people came in to eat which is usually a good sign.
The Sea Bass stew was exactly as you described, I ordered the belly because it was supposed to come with Vermicelli but the noodles had wheat in (I'm intolerant and I can always tell) so I left that, the stomach with chili was really tasty and not as chewy as I thought. Hubby loved the blood curd soup.
I guess we went a bit mad and should have ordered something more 'normal'! We promised ourselves we'd get a takeaway from there next time and order less dishes and be less offal heavy! We wouldn't choose to eat in the restaurant again as hubby didn't like the smell of paint and I didn't like the super loud Chinese MTV on the TV!
Glad you like most of it - sorry about the noodles - vermicelli is often misused as a term :(
I can't believe it still smells like paint!
Oh and they must have reinstalled the telly :p
Takeaway is probably a good idea - wish we lived closer!
Trekked there to find it was shut.
The wording on the flyer and in the window says open from 12:00 seven days a week.
They also failed to put a sign up saying closed. Maybe they no longer open Sundays?
I thought posting on an old thread would be lost in the history of the internet! Little to I expect someone to jump to a phone and call them - impressed!
I guess I will just have to try again of an evening. It does seem a bit odd of a way to run a business though.
The food places around it look like quick 'bites to eat' sort of places at knock down prices for a big plate of the usual Cantonese cuisine.
Not that there anything wrong with that (I like my plate of ho fun as the rest of them!), but looking at the outside of this place I just can't seem to imagine how they will attract the evening premium price crowd they will need to stay in business.
Anyway I do hope they do well - nice to have something different in the area.
Maybe if someone is able to communicate with them they should suggest a delivery service - would be a flyer I'd happily take through my letterbox!