Much has been written about Silk Road in Camberwell, recently, with reviews from firstly Jay Rayner in the Guardian and more recently a 3/5 star write-up in Time Out London. It's been on my radar for over a year now, after reading about the restaurant on the Chowhound boards, but the trip to Camberwell always put me off, rather embarrassingly. A meet-up for a 'dining club' I am involved in organising proved the perfect reason to make the simple trip to Camberwell Church St, SE5 and try out Xinjiang cuisine for the first time. With nine other diners present, there was a good opportunity to try out a range of dishes. Apologies for being rather vague with the descriptions of the items and missing out on images of a few dishes, there was so much on the table and it was hard to keep up!
Lamb shish. Tiny pieces of lamb, interspersed with cubes of lamb fat, doused with liberal helpings of cumin and chilli, barbecued until smoky and tender. At 80p a skewer (minimum order of five skewers; we got ten, one each) these are a bargain. The lamb is beautifully cooked, unforgivingly spicy and the chunks of fat baste the other pieces, whilst proving delicious to chew on by themselves. Eat them whilst they're hot though, or you'll be faced with cold lumps of flesh that are rather unpleasant.
Not pictured: Tripe shish. Similarly spiced and flavoured, but with a more beefy flavour, and a slightly more chewy consistency. The barbecuing is a success though, as the tripe is in bouncy and springy territory, avoiding the chewiness (not unlike overcooked calamari) that some find a turn-off.
Steamed dumplings. An absolutely unrivalled bargain, at £2.50 for 10. Ten! 25p each! These are freshly made, and come with a range of fillings. We ordered one of each, so 40 dumplings in total. The variants were: shrimp and egg; lamb and onion; beef; pork. I'll be honest and say that I can't remember the exact components of each one, but the lamb and onion was perhaps my favourite, though the pork dumpling was packed with sweet flavour. The skins of the dumplings were appropriately thick, with a slight chew to them and an acceptably bland flavour, especially when matched with the flavours packed within. No need for the chilli and vinegar provided.
Cold beef and chilli. I'm not sure who ordered this dish, if it was recommended by the charming and helpful waitress, but it was delicious. Thin strips of cold-cut beef (perhaps roasted) topped with chilli and vinegar. Very similar to beef jerky, but with a much better flavour and consistency.
Kelp. Not much to say here, except order it. Swimming in chilli oil, firey kelp salad which makes a perfect accompaniment to the other dishes.
Not pictured: Home style cabbage. A few of us chose this as our favourite dish of the night. Recommended by the waitress as apparently "people like it" (said with a shrug), we thought we might as well give it a try. I didn't realise cabbage could taste this good (well, unless it's used for Malfouf).
Shredded potato with chilli. At least, I believe it is known as shredded potato with chilli. Maybe they included the word 'pickled' in there, as it was doused liberally with vinegar and chopped green and red chillies. Slightly underdone potatoes, a somewhat forgettable albeit good tasting dish. Would probably forego ordering this again, although it was worth a try.
Pak choi. Cooked with garlic and chilli. Pretty nice.
Lamb noodles. Once again, I'm unsure of the correct name of this dish, but it was a great success. Handmade noodles, bit of pepper, chillies, onions (raw and cooked) and small bits of lamb in a spicy broth. The hand rolled noodles were pleasingly al dente, whilst the crunch and zing of the raw onions added to the complexion of this spicy dish.
Not pictured: Chicken in Chilli. Literally pieces of chicken breast, chopped and fried in chillies then topped with even more chillies. Pleasantly spicy, with a good flavour and juiciness to the chunks of chicken breast.
Big Plate Chicken. What I came here to try, after hearing so much about it. Tempted to order the medium plate (one size down), I enquired with the waitress about the size of this dish. She predicted it would comfortably feed all ten of us at the table. With an eyebrow raised, I accepted with wariness. That was until a bowl big enough to bathe a one year old in was brought out, filled with spicy broth, potatoes (slightly underdone, once more), pickled Sichuan chillies, chunks of chicken on the bone and peppers. With a bit of the broth spilled on one of my fellow diners for good measure, I looked on at the bowl in awe, wondering how on earth to tackle the beast. The pieces of chicken were beautiful, though slightly awkward to eat off the bone; pan fried first and then simmered with the rest of the broth, the chunks of chicken were tender and packed with flavour. The only disappointing note of the dish was the potatoes, which could have been perhaps cut slightly smaller, so as to cook at the same time as the other components.
When we had finished off the chicken, potatoes and peppers, the waitress brought out a plate of handmade belt noodles and dunked them in the remaining broth. Slightly bland on their own, the noodles picked up the flavour of the spicy soup which lingered and proved a good finishing note to the meal.
Tsingtao beer. £2 for a 330ml bottle - unbelievably reasonable. Others had the house wine (£12 for a bottle), tea (unlimited refills) and tap water, provided on the house, of course. We decided to skip dessert, though I'm unsure if they even have a dessert section on their menu. I didn't get that far.
The meal came to £111 for the ten of us; leaving a £25 tip, the total came to £136, or £13.60 per person. Ridiculous. Through the course of the night, a lot of customers who had not booked were being turned away. Positive write ups by the countries leading food critics and listings magazine will do that to a restaurant. The secret (if there is such a thing) about this place has come out, and I urge you to give it a go. A number of buses run by very close - the 12, 36, 68 and 171. Any bus that goes down Walworth Road will take you there, in fact. Get off at Camberwell Green and walk down Camberwell Church St until you get to number 49, Silk Road. Denmark Hill rail station is about ten minutes away, and you can now use your Oyster card on it, there really is no excuse. Oh, and it is cash only, but there's a Lloyds TSB about two minutes away.
49 Camberwell Church St,
Tel: 020 7703 4832