This venue is now closed.
Baochao Hutong won’t let itself go unnoticed. With boutique hotel The Orchid, the sassy Modernista bar
and the popular Mr Shi’s Dumplings
, the alley is quite the overnight getaway. Now restaurateur Feng Jianwen has moved into the space that used to be Hanigejiu, fixed up the place and replaced the homely Yunnanese menu with a decipherable one filled with tried and true favourites from his first two Southern Barbarian restaurants in Shanghai.
Feng is originally from the city of Mengzi in Yunnan province, a stone’s throw from Vietnam, and home of the famed ‘cross the bridge noodles’. After finishing his training as an artist in Kunming, Feng traded his painter’s palette for pleasing other people’s palates with the storied tastes of his home at Southern Barbarian.
Our dinner starts with the spicy mint salad (凉拌薄荷, 22RMB), a heap of zesty mint sprigs packing soy sauce and heat, then charcoal grilled aubergine with crushed tomato and chilli (凉拌火烧茄子, 25RMB), offering less warmth but a great contrast while firing up the taste buds.
We find ourselves on a journey of hearty texture and meaty savoury flavour with the smashed broad beans with Yunnan ham (云腿豆泥, 40RMB); Feng proudly notes his recipe was featured in Fuchsia Dunlop’s latest cookbook, Every Grain of Rice. These three dishes exemplify the richly varied characteristics that distinguish Yunnanese cooking.
Citrusy and fiery is the next flavour chord found in the sour spicy beef mince, which is sautéed with celery and basil (酸辣牛肉,45RMB). This is potentially perfect to serve with lettuce cups, but we enjoyed topping it with slices of crispy potato shred pancakes (干煸洋芋丝, 28RMB). At this point, the thirst quenching basil drop (55RMB) arrived, cleansing our palates with cooling lime and herbaceous holy basil. Less sweet yet equally refreshing is the chilli caprioska (55RMB) – be warned, this cocktail is not for those shy of chillies.
One of our favourites here is the mixed wild mushrooms wrapped in a banana leaf (蕉叶包烧野生菌, 78RMB), where the charred flavour of the banana leaf imparts smokey sweet notes into the fibrous enoki mushrooms, meaty matsutakes, and fragrant niuganjun(porcinis). This is a must order as it contains one of the main joys of Yunnan cuisine – mushrooms!
A meal at Southern Barbarian is not complete without ordering the signature salt and pepper fried Yunnan goat cheese (椒盐乳饼, 30RMB), soft slices of goat’s cheese, pan fried golden and so irresistible that it’s a challenge to share.
Fitting for the season, a whole steamed pumpkin (the size of a pomelo) stuffed with truffle studded minced pork (松露小瓜炖肉; 108RMB) is pungent with heavy pork flavour – a slightly ripe cheese smell and taste – you’ll either love it or hate it. If it doesn’t suit your palate then why not have another cocktail to clean it off? Go for the lemongrass mojito (55RMB)? More complex and impressive than the pumpkin, and full of enticing flavours, is the flash fried smoked pork with ginger and chilli (爆炒烟熏肉, 68RMB). Slices of the pork, smoked by Feng himself, absorb the notes imparted by ginger, red peppers, Sichuan peppercorns and leeks.
The flavour journey through Yunnan continues with a deceptively simple stir fry of lotus root, snap peas, carrots and woodear fungus made amazing with the citrusy lemongrass like flavour of litsea oil, aka ‘mountain pepper’.
Southern Barbarian also has grilled meats and veggies. The hunky pork ribs (48RMB for four) are meaty and best doused with the spicy coriander dip, and the chicken wings (38RMB for six), however straightforward and simply grilled, won’t disappoint. But the barbecued oyster mushrooms (22RMB) are a bit bland (save the chilli powdering) and the same can be said about the barbecued beancurd (28RMB), which is eight squares of tofu, with a toasted surface that caves into a soft interior, but leaves us pining for the exciting flavours found in the rest of the menu.
Feng and the Southern Barbarian staff are warm hosts and the space accommodates groups of any size. Don’t forget to mention your desired spice level if you’re chilli challenged; we requested a few dishes toned down in spice and not one dish was lacking. Tuesdays are cocktail night with two for one drinks all night long, and there is a happy hour every day from 4 7pm. There are imported beer specials too; Feng is quite the beer connoisseur and boasts that Yunnanese cuisine pairs naturally well with beer.
While the barbecue is fit for barbarians, the rest of the menu is gratifying mix of home style and exotic flair, making Southern Barbarian worth frequenting when carousing along the streets of Gulou.