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August 2, 2009

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Noodle joint stamps its style in the zone

A little more than 12 months ago the newly rendered shell of a solid, squat gray building emerged to dominate the section of Fumin Road bounded by its corners with Changle and Xinle roads in the old French Concession area.

There were generously wide aprons left between its walls and the kerbside and in time its shop fronts have filled with various food outlets.

Coffee and tea shops, noodle joint, Mexican, Italian and Chinese restaurants and, lately, an upstairs nightclub accessed by a wooden external staircase have settled in.

On balmy summer nights, the concrete aprons now dotted with dining tables and tall benches host a variety of local and foreign customers soaking up the atmosphere with meals delivered from some of the outlets by wait staff.

The 'hood has become more lively as the restaurants attract an ambient crowd, drawn as much by the night air thickly soaked with laughter, music and lively discussion as the casual dining, edible food and comely prices.

The noodle joint, named Noodle Bull, is a deep, cavernous space with tall ceilings, polished concrete floors and rendered walls through its long hall.

Spartan it's not but stark and simple is its character. Lighting hangs from the high ceiling and throws half way down the walls. Funky Euro, Chinese strings and classicals honoring a handpicked genre of upbeat-sophisticated lunge and purr from a strong bass sound system.

Separate tables for four line one wall with ample space between, and a long, continuous low bench in the center leads to a raised form through to the back. The kitchen is behind the other wall and food appears from small serving hatches.

The bare wooden tables are minimally set with only an ashtray, toothpick holder and a rolled faux parchment menu in a cylinder. Ditto the seats with half-cut backs, on both stools and chairs, whose support stops just above the base of the spine.

Almost like an art space but without the tricked up pressure to go goo-gah about the exhibits, it could be categorized as chic industrial.

The simple menu is based on a Taiwanese noodle shop genre and offers noodles, tapas and soups.

The selections are pleasingly limited as are the prices and the prevailing crockery is various sized Spin ceramic bowls.

Among the noodles are the signature Bull Noodle (25 yuan), Roasted Beef Noodle (28 yuan) and vegetarian Sesame Paste Noodle (20 yuan).

The tapas include Thin Sliced Pork (15 yuan), Korean Pickles (8 yuan), Braised Sliced Seaweed (5 yuan) and Marinated Egg (5 yuan). Three soups are Bull Soup (12 yuan), Sour and Spicy Soup (8 yuan) and Tomato and Egg (5 yuan).

Bull Soup (12 yuan) is a small serving, a basic beef broth with full meat flavor and including Choy leaves and pieces of carrot. Sour and Spicy Soup (8 yuan) is better "filling" value, a thick soup with beef traces, tofu, and slices of mushroom and parsley.

Curry Beef Noodle (20 yuan) - optioned with thick hand-sliced noodles - has generous, tender chunks of beef enhanced by a tasty curry mix and shredded Chinese greens in a beef consomme base.

The interpolation of curry with consomme seemed odd but neither overpowered the other and did their own thing resulting in a solid soup and a bonus bitey back palate which washed well with a cold Qingdao Beer (15 yuan).

Braised Pork Noodle (18 yuan) is a drier meal with minced pork, marinated egg, bean sprouts and garlic chives. The flavors are mild and a fussy eater would say it is bland, perhaps reflecting the lack of an appropriately flavored consomme.

The Bull Noodle and Roasted Beef Noodle have been tried on separate occasions and both are outstanding meals for the quality of succulent beef chunks in more than worthy sauces.

Service is very efficient, friendly and unobtrusive and the atmosphere casual.

Read a novel or tap on a notebook, come with friends or alone, Noodle Bull is communally accommodating for those with a date as well as the dateless. It is a relaxed environment which, with its amalgam of sound, space and simple food at the right price is a winner in this fast emerging lively zone.


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