Sìchuān Rén Fàndiàn | 四川仁饭店

? Su Jia Tang Nan Lu 苏家糖南路

Shabbiness:  3 laowais

Food: 2 laowais

Mood: Desolate

Concept: Sichuanese á la barracks

The level of expected shabbiness rises as we enter through the foyer, the blood in our veins pumping in excitement as we walk by a table with undone dishes, a clothesline with newly washed garments, a lonely fish swimming in a tank and some left-over deepfried youtiao from breakfast by the entrance. As we are greeted by one of the men playing cards with the rest of the staff, we are overblown by the restaurant’s interior. With clean tables (and some actually with real chairs!)and an attempt for decoration, we are disappointed. The promising entrance has had us fooled, the restaurant isn’t nearly as shabby as the entrance, although it comes with an unusually large amount of flies.

The fake green leaves covering the wall, the window curtains/shower curtains in all different colours covering the windows and the baijiu commercial on the walls makes us wonder what one is supposed to feel when exposed to this environment. Except for this, the restaurant looks sterile but quite tidy. This is clearly a place for eating, and nothing else. We can tell you what it makes us feel: Like we have been transported back to the 70’s and far up north to a mine workers canteen in northern Sweden. What is lacking is a soft-porn poster to take the place of the menu, plastered on the wall with some sexist comment written over it.

The service is sufficient and at our surprise, attentive. As the only guests, we quickly get served a pot of lukewarm tea. And this is where the problem lies. A giant bowl of rice lands at our table. It is once again cold and we all reminisce our last encounter with the chilly rice. The first dish, pork with cucumber, carrots and egg is also lukewarm. The second, baby pak choi with mushrooms and the third, Suan la tang (hot and sour soup) are ok. This could be due to the kitchen not being in the same “building”. While the former dishes are lacking a bit in flavor the latter soup makes up for it by providing a deep and intense flavor experience. The sourness is really sour and the hotness is hot. And the portion is LARGE. L. XL. Call it what you want but it is impossible to finish. The soup is the big winner. The pork in the first dish is quite tasteless and contains a large amount of fat – not laowai-friendly. The pak choi is crisp while the choice of mushroom, some kind of Shiitake, is boring.

Conclusions: Go here for the soup, skip the mushrooms and take your time to marvel at the hideous entrance. And don’t forget to bring mosquito repellent.

 

Chéngdū Dàn Dàn Miàn | 成都担担面

16 Cang Yuan Xiang 仓园巷Chéngdū Dàn Dàn Miàn

Shabbiness: 2 laowais

Food: 3 laowais

Mood: Cozy familial

Theme: Outdoor seating

The first of several small restaurants tucked away on an alley next to Green Lake Park, the staff here immediately and enthusiastically greets us in what little english they know, in stark contrast to the less-than-warm welcoming we got  at the Hēilóngjiāng  jiaozi place. We’re further treated to a somewhat lavish picture menu, and outdoor seating in the evening sun; though on metallic benches in that particulary shabby shade we’ll hereafter dub “eyesore blue”.

While the restaurant isn’t the cleanest on earth, windows provide full insight into the kitchen, so we can be assured there is nothing hideous going on inside. There is also evidence for at least some vague effort to spice up the place; a random painting hangs on the wall, and there’s a swiss looking clock that’s so marvelously random it’s awesome. Somehow, the apparent happiness of the staff also detracts from the feeling of shabbiness; in a really shabby place, we reason, the staff should be ugly, grumpy, indolent and boring, here they are the exact opposite. While the outdoor seating has to be considered the main bonus feature, the neon sign is another nice touch that we assume to be the staff’s pride and  joy. There’s also a screaming baby that’s occasionally carried into the kitchen to drool everywhere, a recurring theme from Hēilóngjiāng Jiǎozi Diàn. While it there added to the angst-inducing atmosphere, it mainly makes things even more familial and cozy here.

We’re recommended a dish, and order two more. They’re all savory and nicely spicey, though we’re a bit divided as to if there’s too much chili or not, and whether the mushrooms are overcooked. The meat-to-vegetables-ratio is surprisingly good, and the meat is mostly fillet, no fat and bones. We get the rice borderline cold however, which is deemed a major error, and in itself almost enough to lower the rating. Another issues is the fact that two of the dishes are clearly better than the third; even though shredded pork and green beans are supposed to be really good, we find ourselves having much of it left when the other food is long gone, so something must have been wrong with it (too little seasoning, maybe?). The food is enjoyable, but not exactly culinary delights, and the issue with the rice can’t be overlooked.

All in all, Chéngdū Dàn Dàn Miàn gets a disappointingly low grade on shabbiness; it’s more kitsch than genuine horror, and a place with outdoor seating on a terrace just can’t be considered that bad. (They even have matching plastic tableware with a red and black color scheme that almost makes it look like ceramics). The food rating is average; we’d go here again, but more because of the nice location and staff than any particular culinary pleasure.

Look how happy they are!