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You don’t need travel to Ürümqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region in China’s northwest, to try its food. From New York to Sydney, the Uyghur (pronounced – approximately – ‘wee-gur’) diaspora have set up their cosy cafés and restaurants serving Turkic-style flatbreads and kebabs to appreciative budget diners. Silk Road in Camberwell serves some Uyghur dishes, but there were no dedicated Uyghur restaurants in London before the ‘Legends’ chain, which specialises in the path less trodden with regional Chinese food, opened this one in Chinatown.
The Uyghur restaurants of Shanghai can be spotted by the aromas of freshly-baked flatbreads and grilled lamb (no pork, as Uyghurs are Muslim). Wulumuchi disappoints on this score, our flatbreads were cold and insipid, no better than corner shop fare. The lamb skewers were better, well-seasoned with cumin and fatty, not unlike the grilled skewers from sibling restaurant Manchurian Legends, only without the chilli hit.
Big plate chicken is a signature Uyghur dish. The chicken is roughly chopped with a cleaver in the Chinese way, so that bone and flesh cook together and chunks of potato, chillies, tomato and thick layers of pasta-like noodles are coated in a slithery, slightly spicy sauce. This stewed dish is dotted with star anise and cinnamon bark, which gives it a distinctively fragrant note. In a similar vein is the Xinjiang naan bread with chunks of lamb in a brown, spicy stew.
Much of the rest of the menu shows a strong Han influence, and is more recognisably ‘Chinese’ to Western eyes. The dish of hand-sliced aubergines was our favourite, it’s softly melting and served cold with a delicate, salty dressing. Ding ding noodles are those-lasagne-like ‘noodles’ chopped up and tossed with a garden salad of near-raw celery and shallots, among other veggies.
The Uyghur theme extends to the Mandarin-speaking waitresses in regional dress (sequinned and brightly coloured in the Turkic way) and an interior evocative of a traditional local dwelling. It’s laudable that Wulumuchi has introduced a taste of Uyghur food to London; we just wished they’d done a better job with the bread.
16 Lisle St
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