Xi'an Impression

Restaurants, Chinese Highbury
4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(11user reviews)
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Fabulous Chinese noodles in an unassuming little place and an unlikely location.

Sweet and sour pork, special fried rice, salt and pepper squid – it’s pretty obvious that the back page of Xi’an Impression’s menu is aimed at diners who like their Chinese food to come in a sauce the colour of Irn Bru. Ignore it. Chef Wei Guirong is using this little restaurant at the foot of the Emirates Stadium to share dishes from her birthplace, Xi’an (best known as the home of the Terracotta Army).
 
And they’re the reason you should be reaching for a set of chopsticks and speeding to N7. Xi’an is a sparsely decorated little room, but made welcoming and comfortable by the waiting staff’s big smiles. The drinks list is minimal, just soft drinks and a couple of beers, but you can BYO wine for a £4.50 corkage charge.
 
Guirong trained in the cuisine of Shan Xi (the province Xi’an is part of) and has worked as a chef at Soho Hunanese restaurant Ba Shan. This explains the rich combinations of spices and soft, fresh noodles. Chicken and mushroom pot sticker dumplings are light, crisp and fragrant. And just when you thought London had seen everything the burger had to offer and more, here’s the Xi’an version: a hot, bright-white pitta-type bread with a savoury, cumin-laced beef filling. Delicious, and thankfully not a brioche bun in sight.
 
But those noodles are the star here. You’d be missing something special if you skipped ‘Xi’an cold rice noodle in traditional sauce’ – fat, slippery strips in a quietly sharp dressing. It’s a Xi’an speciality known as liangpi, which translates rather grimly as ‘cold skin’ but tastes way, way better than that. Thinner noodles came with pork mince and julienned vegetables, which tangled themselves pleasingly into a carb-packed mass when mixed (and were responsible for more than the odd table splatter). Their sauce was too insipid to make them seem exciting, however.
 
But given that our only other complaint is that the customer toilet lies behind what you would swear is a cupboard door, we suggest you find a non-match day and book yourself a table. Not only is the food great, it’s outstanding value: we ate too much of it (and drank a beer apiece) for £40.
 
Get to Xi’An soon. It has already been blogged about by China hands Lizzie Mabbott (@hollowlegs) and Fuchsia Dunlop, consultant to Ba Shan and Britain’s leading authority on Chinese food. What’s more, we hear there’s a Guardian review in the offing. Xi’an may soon be famous for more than ancient clay soldiers.

By: Ashleigh Arnott

Posted:

Venue name: Xi'an Impression
Contact:
Address: 117 Benwell St
London
N7 7BW
Transport: Tube: Holloway Rd
Price: Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40.
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Static map showing venue location

Average User Rating

4.2 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:7
  • 4 star:2
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:1
  • 1 star:1
LiveReviews|11
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tastemaker

We have been trying to make the cold skin noodles ourselves, and it was exciting to see this regional Chinese restaurant open up in our neighbourhood serving this exact dish! The food is delicious, but we do find it quite greasy (the large pool of oil left in the bowl when you are finished is a sure indicator of that). And everything looks quite spicy with chili oil and such, but doesn't actually taste that spicy.

tastemaker

Xi'an impression surely leaves an impression! This place is truly authentic, the food is cheap, it's full of asian customers (always a great sign) and the food is absolutely delicious. Greasy, flavourful, authentic! The vibe is: Come in, sit down, order your dish, indulge, leave. It's not a place to spend 3 hours chatting (it's quite noisy) or to to order dishes to share. This really is a place to fill up the belly asian style without spending much.

Tastemaker

Halfway through my first dish, a plate of noodles I was forking into my mouth with all the grace & elegance of a toddler on solid foods for the first time, and I was already planning when I could get back to Xian Impression.


Tucked round the corner from Holloway Tube station and just opposite the Emirate Stadium, this is the kind of place you would absolutely walk past without a second glance which makes it one of the best kept secrets in North London.


Don’t be put off by ‘cold’ in the description and start with the signature starter of Xian Cold Noodles which are super light & fresh and pair them with the heavily spiced Xian Beef Burger which comes in a crispy edged, fluffy centred bun.


Hand pulled noodles are generously portioned and full of gorgeous, well balanced flavour; the Xi’an biangbiang noodles in chilli sauce are enormous, soft and pack a punch of deeply savoury, umami flavour. Make sure you go here with someone you like because there’s a good chance you’ll end up wiping spatters of it off each other’s faces; maybe avoid it for a first date although rest assured it would guarantee you a second one.


It’s seriously delicious food served in the most low key but welcoming surroundings. Staff are happy to suggest options and the place was consistently packed all night.


Having the option to BYO is a nice touch and although most of the tables around us went through several changes of ownership during our evening there, we were never rushed. At £25 for a fat feast for two, this is one heck of a spectacular bargain worth racing north for.


WOW. I've barely touched Chinese food in England since a trip round china 10 years ago as I was sick of the MSG ridden Anglicised recipes. Xi'an impressions is the first time i've tasted such authentic food in the UK. Amazing dishes that you want to order and absolutely packed filled with flavour. The home made noodles are a serious treat. Don't be put off by the exterior (or do... and leave more noodles for me!). This is a real diamond in the rough... and they deliver!

Tastemaker

Ordered take away from Xi'an Impression for dinner last night and it was absolutely delicious. Dumplings were soft yet deliciously chewy with a tasty filing. The noodles in spicy sauce were wide and flat and tasted incredibly fresh - just to die for. I can't wait to return to this restaurant and dine in so that I can taste more from their menu. Very impressive all around.


Absolutely delicious. The cold noodle starter was particularly special. 


It pays to book ahead as it was quite busy, but the staff were accommodating and their dish recommendations were spot on. 


Xi'an Impression is an excellent restaurant. Staff are friendly and helpful with suggestions for first-time visitors, while the food is very reasonably priced and utterly delicious. Thoroughly recommended. Definitely worth booking ahead as the restaurant is very small - some of the problems people mention in their reviews apparently stem from a lack of willingness to plan a little in advance...


The food is nice but they are very rude over the phone. We have previously booked after a match at the Emirates - however on this time I was told I couldn't book a table at 9.45pm and was then hung up on. Terrible. 

Tastemaker

Xi'an Impression is our local Chinese, and one for which we're extremely happy has opened up. The food here is authentic, and the hand pulled biang biang noodles in particular have had me coming back several times since. The food is largely drizzled chilli oil, but the food rarely leaves you feeling like it's actually oily or too rich. Instead, it's fragrant, spicy with that familiar sensation of szechuan peppers tingling in your mouth. Given the price of the food here, it's well worth the visit to grab even takeaway. Though be warned, they take reservations which means the small restaurant is generally full or booked up. 


I'd note that the service here is extremely fast - I've been in twice and each time been served food and back out the door in 20 minutes. Largely this is because they're actively trying to turnover customers as fast as possible, but they've never been rude or rushed me in this respect. The waiter is also very happy to discuss the dishes, explain what each one has and the popular/favourite dishes per your requests. 


Having said that, I can completely understand "Arnold M"'s review, the reservation system is at odds with their current popularity with locals and they can struggle at busy times to fit people in while also respecting booked tables. Overall though, the staff have never been rude and most importantly, the food has always been fantastic.


In short: large portions, great value for money and great tasting food! 

0 of 1 found helpful

I had really high hopes for this place when I read it in Time Out, as I am also from Xi'An. When we arrived it was very busy, so it was understandable that it took a good 15 minutes for the manager (a man with glasses) to even greet us.


There were no tables left. Behind us were a group of three Chinese people, whom I believe were friends with the manager. They arrived after us, but the manager said they had reserved a table – It was obvious they hadn’t – as I saw the wait list which had no groups of three... There was one table outside which the manager offered to his friends who came after us. They refused and left, so the manager gave it to us. At this point we were happy to just be sitting down.

The manager told us to order at the counter immediately, I knew the food so I did. After we ordered, another group of four also ordered. The menu was small so a lot of orders were repeated. To our surprise, this group who had ordered after us, received some dishes before us – the same food we were forced to order at the counter, a good 10 minutes before them. When I approached the manager he was rude and made excuses saying they wanted to serve westerners first as they prefer starters before mains… I said OK. But then another main dish we both order also went to them first. I complained again, but this time the excuse was different, the manager said they actually ordered an hour before us while waiting in the queue… even though we saw him explaining the menu to them after we had ordered and sat down outside!

I’m extremely disappointed as the manager specifically said to us that this group was spending more money than us (he said £100+) and were drinking alcohol – this seemed to be the actual reason we received terrible service and were deprioritised.

The food was average at best, and you can get the exact same thing in a few other places in London without the money hungry front of house manager, such as “Chang’s Noodles” in Bloomsbury or “Murger Han Restaurant” in Euston.

I strongly recommend “Murger Han Restaurant” in Euston, they serve exactly the same food (Xi’An specialist), the environment is better and the service is impeccable – I’m a long-time customer for over a year and never had a bad experience.