Every great find is an arduous journey. As life has it, it is not always easy to find excellence in the heart of the city. A little venturing is a must on the part of the food enthusiast. Thankfully, I love discovering new things and places different from the usual humdrum so often promoted by Trip Advisor and their cohorts. The best places I have eaten in during all my travels have always been far out from everything showcased via the typical channels. Madrid is no different. The outer fringes of the beloved metro map are a haven for foodies and everything is always so well priced in comparison to the centre relatives. In these places, restaurants that provide ambiance coupled with excellent food are my favourite. As usual, every great find is worth a share and what I am about to tell you is no exception.
It all started when my friend was craving some Chinese food. You know, the real stuff, not the arroz con tres delicias kind. (I am still waiting on someone to tell me what the 3 deliciouses are.) Randomly, I found myself in the Francos Rodriguez area of Madrid (the reason for which is a subject for another story.) On a very quiet residential street I came across a Chinese restaurant going by the name Baiwei but also named Casa Sabores for the native folk to understand. The restaurant had only just opened a little under 3 months back and is proudly owned by Qiang Shi from Fujian in the South of China. I walked in to check it out and see whether a visit to the place would be due. The menu struck me as interesting immediately. There was no mention of tres delicias anywhere. This of course signalled a winner. I spoke to Qiang Shi who kindly explained to me that the concept of Baiwei was to offer authentic cuisine from the Hunan and Szechuan provinces of China. In a nutshell, he said that at Baiwei it was all about mixing spice with flavour. This description resonated with me because my last visit to a Szechuan cuisine restaurant left me with burned taste buds from the Szechuan pepper that had been used. Taught me not to order spicy and stay in my lane
Long story short, I finally got the chance to visit Baiwei last week on Thursday and boy oh boy, am I glad I did. I had booked a table for four as we all know that the best meals are those shared with friends. The restaurant’s ambiance gave enough to allow you to enjoy your meal in a moderately decorated space. Having asked Qiang Shi for his recommendations, we started off with some black ear mushrooms with Szechuan pepper. Of course, the name black ear left little to be desired but he guaranteed us that this was a house speciality and in fact, a favourite of many dinners. To the surprise of the whole table, the mushrooms were so flavourful that they were irresistible. True, the Szechuan spice packed a punch, but it proved impossible to stop eating them. The fiery taste left on your tongue was but a small bleep of an otherwise moreish dish. Based on these alone, I would have gladly paid and walked out and began recommending the restaurant to you. But, life seldom happens in such manner. Hence, we followed these with some crunchy meatballs made with rice and some spring rolls which had mango. These were all accompanied with some sweet chilli sauce and soy sauce as per usual. The starter menu is indeed varied. For the more adventurous among us, you could definitely lose yourself in some duck tongues or some pig “hands.” For us, that would have to be left for another visit.
I just could not believe the genius of Qian Shi. I had to put to him the question of how he had managed to develop such complex flavours in seemingly basic ingredients. “I have always loved cooking,” he explained. “As a child, my father had many friends who were head chefs and I spent much time as a kid with them,” he continued. From this, he developed his cooking techniques and this was coupled with experience working in different restaurant kitchens until he finally realised his own dreams. In my books, that is a childhood and life well spent.
We pressed forward with our meal and this time we went for some traditional steamed dumplings. These were so tasty that there was a mini fight at the table. Given the fact that I was with 3 girls, my fight for more dumplings was semi-futile. At some point, the struggle between gentleman and eating machine had to give. Thankfully, the next dish was just round the corner; prawns in a garlic and ginger sauce served sizzling hot in a foil-lined skillet. The fresh prawns cooked to perfection with the zingy ginger flavours abated the hurt feelings from dumplings-gate. The acquired technique to peel shelled prawns provided ample opportunity to appreciate the dish in concentrated quietness. Before any of us realised, the dish was finished and all we could do was lap up the remaining sauce wishing for more. We could only be thankful that the dish had been served with a rather snazzy silver ladle on the side. Word of advice, order some rice on the side to go with the sauce. Between the two bottles of wine and still mesmerized by tasty food, rice just seemed so quotidian.
The last thing we had on the menu provided so much hilarity which topped of a great evening with friends. There was some misunderstanding between us and the amicable Chinese waitresses. The Spanish and English of both sides was not sufficient enough to explain this most authentic of Szechuan dishes. The options were a Szechuan style pan or pot. One is fried and the other has soup. Not too difficult to understand of course. But after a few minutes of pan/pot exchanges, we settled for what we thought was a pot with soup. When it came it was a pan. The waitress kindly explained that it was a pan/pot in English and Spanish. Confused I hear you say? Well, so were we. Nonetheless, the fresh mix of crunchy lotus root and cauliflower, onions and soft gnocci style Chinese pasta was just the icing on the cake. The list of ingredient for the pot/pan to choose from is endless, mixing vegetables, meat and fish. They kindly give you the option to choose the degree of spiciness between 1 and 4. We chose 1 which gave us a just right fiery sensation.
All in all, I cannot recommend Baiwei enough and I am thoroughly looking forward to repeat visits. I for my part am sure that you will enjoy it as well! Find the restaurant menu here.
C/Almirante Francisco Moreno, 5
28040 – Madrid
Telephone: 915 99 61 06