Oodles of noodles and a new word invented at a decent Xi’an joint near Piccadilly Circus – 7.5/10
I had never heard the word “murger” before and, to be perfectly honest, it did not sound like something I wanted to put in my mouth. After a little research, I discovered that it is the same as a rou jia mo (literally, “meat sandwich”), which is widely eaten across China and which I absolutely love. Murger HanHan simply combined “mo” and “burger” and, hey presto, a friendly Western version of a Chinese classic!
The original rou jia mo can apparently be traced back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), when the Han people had the brilliant idea of taking a round, palm-sized piece of flatbread, cutting it in half and stuffing it with heavily-seasoned, stewed pork. Little did they know that their idea would be extrapolated across the world over the next 2,000 years and become one of the world’s most popular ways of consuming bread and meat simultaneously. Nowadays, you can find rou jia mo at pretty much every street food stall in Xi’an’s Muslim quarter, where they substitute either lamb or beef for the pork and add their own twist by dousing the meat in cumin and myriad other spices.
There are already a couple of decent noodle places near Piccadilly Circus: Shoryu (Regent Street) and Kanada-Ya (Panton Street) both offer cheap Japanese ramen with a quick turnaround. Murger HanHan is on a quieter side street off Piccadilly, just along from the Royal Academy. Across the road at Benihana, the teppanyaki chefs are going bananas with their knives. The decor is a lot more refined than most cheap Chinese places, with exposed brickwork, dark wooden tables and leather banquettes down one wall. A casually reclining panda rests my chopsticks on his noodle-filled belly.
We order the pork murgers to start, which arrive brimming with meat but are surprisingly plain. The dense, floury bread is not soft enough to fully absorb the fatty pork juices, which drip through our fingers into our bowls. A “lean” version is available for those on you on a diet… but the spicy beef murger looks the most appealing, with a punch of cumin and stewed peppers.
Delicate skewers of tofu skin – made by skimming the film off the top of boiling pans of soy milk – come smothered in a rich sesame sauce, which is so good we keep the plate to dip into with the rest of our starters. Another side of chicken gyozas are grilled to crispy perfection, though I am not sure why they are referred to using the Japanese term rather than the Chinese word jiaozi. This seems to be common across London – maybe just so that people have a better idea of what to expect!
The biang biang noodles are the main reason to come to Murger HanHan. If you’re close enough to the kitchen, you can watch the chefs at work. Starting with small sausages of dough, they gradually roll them out into fat ribbons, then slap and stretch them against the steel counter, making the famous “biang biang” sound that gives the noodles their name. A final rip from top to tail doubles the length of the ribbons and they are ready to be devoured.
We order the braised pork option with tomato and egg sauce, pak choy, spring onion and garlic. The extra-long noodles are beautifully soft with a slight bite, although it is a truly Sisyphean task to avoid splashing your shirt with chilli oil.
A “small” spicy braised chicken version is gigantic. We dismantle the huge pieces of chicken on the bone and pick out fiery chunks of potato, peppers and slightly caramelised onions. You would surely need a team of people to attempt the “large”.
Finally, one of the best dishes: more noodles with thick slices of beef marinated in a smoky, drier spice mix that numbs our lips. Cauliflower is a robust accompaniment – one of my favourite vegetables, especially when it is heavily spiced.
This extraordinary amount of noodles and other sides (including a couple of Tsingtao beers) only cost us £24 per head – a very reasonable price considering the location. Overall it’s a great addition to London’s burgeoning Xi’an food scene and a bit more accessible than Kaki (Caledonian Road) or Xi’an Impression (Holloway). Just remember to drop your shirt off at the dry cleaners the next day!
Murger HanHan also has an older brother just behind Euston station, which serves some more adventurous Shaanxi dishes, including chicken’s feet and pig’s ears.
Overall – 7.5/10
A Moveable Feast