Food explorers, adventurers and bloggers spend months, sometimes years in search of that over-used (and for the most times, abused) term – hidden gem, a restaurant or eatery which is outstanding yet still unknown, undiscovered. I have had more than my fair share of luck these past few weeks, discovering more culinary treasures in this one month of January than I did in all of 2019 and 2020 combined. The cherry of them all has to be Xun Wei (浔味菜馆), a family run, authentic Chinese restaurant in the back streets of Naif. Located on the top floor of the Al Madani Guest House on Al Burj Street, the restaurant’s raw charm is fueled by its unashamed modesty – this is a wayside tavern, a labour camp canteen, a hidden gem.
Our first challenge was how to order. Neither owner Xu (husband) nor Wang (wife) speak English. And quite comically, neither do any of their staff. Just our luck that their son Danny, who is fluent in English, wasn’t there when we visited. The job fell to a young Chinese lady who (thankfully) had an aptitude for charades. By the time we got to the Sizzling Bullfrog we had gotten over the awkwardness of our predicament and were actually enjoying ourselves. Eventually, Soheil, Nicky (who arrived later) and I started with Pork Knuckle, Smashed Cucumber Salad, Shredded Kelp Salad and one of the best Chicken Herb Soups I have had in a long, long time. Each dish better than the next.
Our mains were no less amazing. If we put the novelty of the bullfrog aside, the real star of the show had to be the insanely delicious Garlic Razor Clams. They were as near perfect as I have had anywhere. The Twice Cooked Pork (Hui Guo Rou), a popular Sichuan dish came next, followed by another Sichuan favourite, Dry Pot Cabbage with Pork Belly Slices, and then another, Sichuan Spicy Shrimp. Danny later confirmed what we suspected – that the family is from the Sichuan province. Recognisable classics like the Kung Pao Chicken which Soheil ordered as well as the Stir-Fried Rice Vermicelli Noodles were literally lost among the exotica at our table. Not so the Yangzhou Fried Rice which we needed as a base for the fiery dishes. It finished first. Apart from the Kung Pao, which Soheil complained looked nothing like High-Street Kung Pao, I cannot think of a single dish we did not like. All were superb.
The communication barrier did not stop owner Xu, an elderly man of limited words, from shuffling around our table, acknowledging our oohs and ahhs (and the weird mewing sounds Nicky was making) with thumbs up gestures. Yeah, he knew we were lovin’ it. Nicky’s culinary sex noises must have impressed him the most because he later came over and put two Chinese cigarettes, similar to those he had been chain-smoking, beside Nicky as a reward. He also brought Mrs Wang out from the kitchen to see the crazy trio who were eating through half their entire menu. They later took a picture of us to put on their wall of fame (the wall of glutinous greedy buggers with zero self-control they should call it).
Xun Wei is easy to find. Basically, find the Al Madani Guest House, ignoring the stares you’ll get if you ask someone for directions (apparently this guest house has something of a reputation), and you’ll find Xun Wei. Do not be put off by the guest house’s appearance nor be deterred by anyone at the front desk who may tell you “there is no restaurant here”. Do not be afraid of the lift (but do not touch anything inside beside the buttons labelled 3 and G and don’t forget to sanitize after). Do not walk back into the lift when you see the restaurant. Do not freak out when you find the menu is in Chinese only. Thankfully, there are pictures AND translations are available on Danny’s Instagram account: @xunwei1117. Everything will fall into place as soon as you start eating…trust me.
Xun Wei Chinese Restaurant in Naif is a genuine hidden gem and well worth an urgent detour.
#1 Food Blogger on Zomato Dubai – 2018, 2019 and 2020
Xerxes (pronounced Zûrk’seez) physically dines at, or orders from, each and every venue he reviews. He pays in full for whatever he and his companions eat, drink, take away or occasionally throw at each other. Xerxes accepts no money, gifts, discounts or free meals in return for reviews or favouritism. What you have read was NOT influenced in any way by the venue. Join his culinary journey on Instagram: @ravenousxerxes or reach out to him via email on email@example.com.