May 6 2015

Ma La


Ma La is a modern Sichuan restaurant in Victoria. Sichuan (province in southwestern China) is known for its spicy food and use of chillies and Sichuan pepper that numbs your mouth. Ma La is a relatively unknown restaurant and if my friend Philip had not told me about it, I would not have come across it in the near future. At the moment the best known Sichuan restaurants in London are Bar Shu and Ba Shan in Soho, which is a shame as I actually think Ma La is a lot better. As an example of how little known this restaurant is – even the restaurant website urbanspoon did not have any details of it, and they have details of every single restaurant in London. Having said that Ma La has its fan base and we came here for dinner on a Wednesday evening and it was quite full.

Ma La is located on a small side street near Westminster Cathedral (not to be confused with Westminster Abbey). The décor is quite upmarket with beautiful wooden tables and a minimalistic approach with red Chinese elements. 

My friend Philip had given me a list of dishes to order, which I am super grateful about, as I usually order the same things in a Chinese restaurant and here I ordered dishes I have never ordered before, and was so pleasantly surprised with the food. The waiters were really nice and chatty and told me they were very impressed with the dishes I was ordering as they were “more Chinese than Western”. One of the waiters got particularly excited when I ordered the “Aromatic Ribeye Beef with Cumin”, whilst another told me he did not like this dish at all and much rather preferred the “Ma-Po Tofu” we ordered, so I liked the openness of the staff here.

My favourite dishes were the “Aromatic Ribeye Beef with Cumin” and “Classic Sichuan Dan Dan Mian”, although I also very much liked the “Sliced Fish with Pickled Wild Chilli” we ordered. The Ribeye beef was served with mixed peppers in a rich, spicy cumin infused sauce, and it was a delicious, very tender, good cut beef, with this wonderful slight taste of cumin. It was not overpowering, it was very pleasant, but I guess you have to like cumin to like this, and it did have those devil Sichuan peppercorns that made my mouth go numb, which is an experience. The Classic Sichuan Dan Dan Mian noodles were a surprise to me, as they looked like plain noodles but the seasoning and the sauce were incredible, they completely blew your expectations, as from first look they did not look like much but actually were superbly tasty. They apparently are a famous Sichuan street snack and where wheat noodles topped with finely chopped pork, a mixture of sweet and sour laced with heat from Sichuan pepper and pickled vegetables.

Every time when I visit Bar Shu and Ba Shan I always order the huge pot of fish in oil and Sichuan pepper, and I have to say the “Sliced Fish with Pickled Wild Chilli” (or sliced sea bass fillet with Kai Lan served over a fresh Sichuan pepper and chilli broth) at Ma La was miles better. My fiancé does not like the oily fish pot at all, and he really liked the Ma La Sliced Fish, as it did not have the oil, but had the flavor. It was the most expensive dish we ordered at £19.50, but there was a lot of fish, the fish was nice (sea bass never disappoints), and it was a very pretty dish with the white fish and the colourful chillies standing out on the plate. The dish though that my fiancé was most surprised about was the Ma-Po Tofu or the much loved Sichuan dish dating back to the Qing Dynasty, named after the pock marked old Mrs Chen. It had minced pork in a spicy chilli bean paste with ginger, garlic and braised sillken tofu. Philip says Ma La makes the best Ma-Po Tofu in London. My fiancé did not think he will like tofu, but he loved the combination of this dish. I also have to say with plain rice this was delicious.

The other dishes we ordered were the “Imperial ‘Gongbao’ King Prawns” and “Blanched Spinach with Sesame Sauce”. The blanched spinach with sesame sauce was quite plain, but it was good to counteract the spice of the other dishes and when things got “too hot” I ate a piece of spinach and could continue the meal. The Gongbao King Prawns (named after the ‘Imperial Gongbao’ Burreaucrat) were good too, spicy and cooked with celery, crushed peanuts, red chillies in a tangy sweet sour sauce laced with chilli spice and a touch of Sichuan pepper and standalone would have been a great dish, but because we were so impressed with the other dishes we knew less about, I guess in comparison it was overshadowed by the other dishes, but still very good.

If you like spicy and Chinese food, you must visit Ma La, which is the best Sichuan restaurant I have visited in London as it still delivers impressive flavour but does it with less oil and in a more “clean” way than the other Sichuan restaurants in London.

Date: 06/ 05/ 15
Location: Victoria
Price for 2 people: £99.90

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Ma La
37 Monck Street SW1P 2BL
United Kingdom
Ma La Reviewed by Hungry Bee Maija on . Rating: 4