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Jon Dean celebrates the Chinese New Year Hunanese style

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Restaurant info

Yipin China, 70-72 Liverpool Road,

N1 0QD. Tel: 0207 354 3388

Web: www.yipinchina.co.uk

Main meals from: £6.80

Wine from: £13.90

Disabled access: No

Children welcome: Yes

»Hunanese food, increasingly popular in mainstream China, is virtually unknown in the UK.

Beloved of Chairman Mao, it comes from the centre of the country and is typified by strong aroma and spicy flavour.

In London, it’s generally overshadowed by Cantonese food, but all that could be about to change with the opening of Yipin China – a new restaurant in Liverpool Road, Islington.

Yipin claim to have one of the top two Hunan chefs in the country – Mingyaun Geng.

They also say they use no MSG, common in much Chinese cooking, as Geng is skilful enough to draw the flavours out naturally.

We went on a brisk winter evening and glanced through the beautifully illustrated menu as we tried to massage some life back into our fingers.

We noticed quite a few dishes which were probably not aimed at the Western palette – ducks feet, offal and cold snails being obvious examples.

Chairman Mao’s red-braised pork and pork-marked old woman’s bean curd raised a smile.

Most of the classic Cantonese dishes were also on offer like beef in black bean, spare ribs and roasted duck.

But we were here for the Hunanese experience, so off we sailed on a voyage into the unknown.

We ordered a selection of meals which seemed to arrive in the order they were ready.

First up was a duck dry wok – a signature dish at Yipin and it’s easy to see why. It came in a metal pot on a wooden pedestal with a flame underneath and as the contents started bubbling away from the heat, the aroma of the food and the faint scent of wood provided a heady sensory overload.

The dish itself left me speechless. The sauce was thin in consistency, but thick in flavour, with chunks of garlic and fresh chilli.

The duck pieces were bony, akin to Caribbean curried goat, but the tender meat separated with a touch of the chopstick.

It’s worth mentioning that the dry wok is very hot, and not for the faint-hearted, but if you can stand a bit of spice this is one of the best Chinese platters I have ever had.

Less impressive were the prawns with cashew. The crustaceans were plump and juicy but the sauce was a thick, syrupy affair – a bit sickly.

The beef in cumin was next – a sizzling plate of slightly Indian tasting meat which was nice and mellow after the previous serving. Alongside came some tasty garlic and butter spinach.

Finally, a cold plate of sliced beef, which was delicious and acted as quite a refreshing palette cleanser.

The meat seemed to be cured rather than cooked and the marinade was full of fresh coriander and chillies, bursting with a lovely sharp flavour and tongue-numbing spice.

It has long been noted that the area around Angel Tube lacks a good Chinese in its myriad restaurants. Well that paucity is most definitely over.

Yipin offers something different for adventurous eaters, while serving most of the usual dishes to keep everyone happy, with everything cooked to a very high standard.

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