The Southern Fish (CLOSED)

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Hunan
Yangmeizhu Xiejie

This venue has closed.

Once you leave the main drag, the winding alleys southwest of Qianmen fall quiet. Elderly residents move about with a measured ease; their hushed cobbled streets are inexplicably shielded from the din of country folk on their pilgrimage to Tiananmen’s marvels. We’ve made a pilgrimage of our own – a Hunanese restaurant has opened among the galleries and boutiques of Dashilar, and it’s high time we tried it.

With dark wood-paned windows and a narrow doorway, there is almost nothing about the outward appearance of The Southern Fish to suggest the thoughtfulness of its design. Embarrassingly, we walked straight past it on our first visit. Impressions begin to change as we enter the galley-style lower dining room. The tasteful, modern lighting, the angular motif, the soft textured walls embedded with bits of rice husk – someone has clearly spent a lot of time crafting a simple yet elegant aesthetic that perfectly suits the neighbourhood. It came as no surprise to learn that one of the owners is also a designer and, in our estimation, a pretty good one.

We walk the length of the narrow dining room and get the last two-top in the crowded nine-table room. Lively conversation mingles with the aroma of chillies, wok-fried meat and fresh fish. The cuisine is Hunanese, so we expect the heat of fresh chillies, strong bright flavours but otherwise simple homestyle dishes.

After a quick spy around the dining room to single out the most popular dishes, we order a wide arsenal and ready ourselves. The service is warm, if a bit disinterested in recommending what to eat. English is limited and the menu, although subtitled in pinyin, omits translations of the dishes – a Chinese speaker would help, but is not a deal breaker in our books.

Our cold dishes arrive promptly, albeit without introduction. The pickled options (10RMB) rotate daily. Today it’s a soft fermented tofu with chilli and tomato paste and a bowl of pickled radish, sliced into thin strips and braided into a neat wreath. The tofu is smooth and rich, like a soft cheese, and the spice warms as the creamy bean curd coats the mouth with a strong fermented tang. The radish is less exciting, but works to offset the heat of the tofu.

Next, a mortar of mashed green chilli and preserved egg (24RMB) appears, and promptly melts our faces off. The heat from the innocent-looking green mixture is immense, starting slow and building to volcanic. Yet the smoky char and vinegary preserved egg manage to hold their own. Thick slices of stewed tofu (6RMB) and cauliflower fried with garlic and scallion (29RMB) arrive to save us from ourselves. The tofu has a good bite, while the cauliflower is infused with nutty brown garlic and spring onion.

Then comes a steaming bowl of cured bacon (47RMB), wok-fried with more scallions, garlic, celery shoots and, of course, fresh chillies. The cured morsels of bacon are rich, with a woody sweetness that opposes the bright heat of the red chillies.

Next, the main event arrives: hot and sour fish head (57RMB). We attack the milk-white flesh and devour every last bit of shimmering head jelly, slurping up spicy sour broth all the while. No matter where you fall on the fish spectrum – this fish head is good. The meat yields at the slightest prod of the chopstick, yet the gelatin within remains intact, revealing a practised hand in the kitchen. As we wipe the sweat from our brows and ask for the bill, lingering flavours converge in one final wave of sensory overload that carries us out the door.

The food is hot, the vibe is hip and the place, frankly, does Hunan right. The Southern Fish is a fiery gem that might take you out of the way, but is well worth the journey.

Venue name: The Southern Fish (CLOSED)
Opening hours: 11am-2.30pm, 5-10.30pm Tue-Sun
English address: 166 Yangmeizhu Xiejie, Dashilar, Xicheng district
Chinese address: 西城区杨梅竹斜街166号

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