A new vegan operation linked to outstanding Chinese restaurants Xi’an Impression and Xi’an Biang Biang Noodles has opened on Upper Street in Islington. Zhang Chao, who started Xi’an Impression with Guirong Wei and still owns Xi’an Biang Biang Noodles, has opened Tofu Vegan, which has replaced Galley restaurant at 105 Upper Street. It says it is “Arguably, one of the Best Vegan restaurants in UK,” having been open a week. Confidence is king, and early signs suggest it could be justified. Wei now owns Xi’an Impression and Master Wei, her solo restaurant in Bloomsbury.
The menu unsurprisingly revolves around tofu, which the restaurant will make daily, as well as several iterations of Chinese mock meats — the tempeh, seaweed, or wheat gluten substitutions that ran for thousands of years before the likes of Impossible and Beyond Meat could swoop in proclaiming novelty. Dongbei sweet potato noodles; hot and fragrant deep-fried asparagus; and Chongqing-style “chicken’ will feature, alongside cold Sichuan noodles familiar to fans of the owners’ previous work. An Instagram account teases Xinjiang-style cumin “lamb,”; a classical mapo tofu; and dòufu huā, the custardy, shimmering dish whose translation kills some of its sensation and can be served either savoury or sweet.
The opening is a bit of a coup for a street whose restaurants are more marked by transience than quality — despite the resurgence of Corbin and King’s Bellanger, and the promising arrival of Sichuan House in 2019 that appears to be holding strong, the periodic swapping of prime sites by middling chains appears unstopped by the pandemic.