[Disclosure: I pay in full when I visit BIB. They know I’m a blogger, but they don’t ask for reviews or anything. I just wanted to do one because it’s long overdue]
It’s easy to get swept up in new openings, big fanfares and exciting new places to try – and we have had a fair few of those in Warwickshire and Coventry of late.
But amongst all that, it’s so important we don’t forget the many places that are quietly doing great things. They get rave reviews day-in, day-out, from customers who return again and again because they are, quite simply, great at what they do.
BIB Noodle Bar in Coventry’s FarGo Village is one of those. Long before the arrival of FarGo’s indoor street food venue and its selection of traders, BIB (and Gourmet Food Kitchen, we can’t forget them) were turning out great food in a pretty unique setting to great local acclaim.
The passion project of Qifen and Bradley, you’ll find BIB in one of the shipping containers that’s home to many an independent, creative business at FarGO. It inspires all the same buzzwords that similar places in perhaps more food-famous locations do – it’s authentic, it’s unassuming, it’s simple. And yet every time I’ve been its packed by people whose love of BIB verges on addiction.
And having tried a few of their dishes I can see why.
If you think Chinese food is about sweet and sour pork balls, prawn crackers and chicken chow mein alone, then BIB is here to show that you’ve been missing out on decent Chinese cuisine your whole life.
Here you’ll find dumplings. Proper dumplings, like my half brothers’ own Chinese mum makes. And hand-pulled biang biang noodles that will have you turning your nose up at many of the other noodles you might encounter in takeaways, supermarkets shelves and even some restaurants. Hell, even their fermented chilli sauces and pastes are the stuff of dreams if you’re a chilli monster like me.
The first time I visit it’s for the dumplings. They’re perfect. Delicate in construction, big on flavour, fried just right for a slightly golden, crispy tinge to one side of the wrappers that gives way to the soft filling that screams savoury just loud enough to make you reach for another one immediately.
I’m sitting outside sipping jasmine tea, watching the FarGo Village world go by. As I tuck into a rice bowl piled high with slow cooked belly pork that, along with the broth its sitting in, has taken on all the fragrance of star anise and spring onion, along with the umami savouriness of soy, I wonder if there’s any better place to be. And whether I have room for BIB’s famous noodles. Which I don’t.
I come back for those noodles after far too long a hiatus. It’s an evening and me and my friends are on our way somewhere else to eat but we can’t help ourselves. What is meant to be a quick dumpling stop turns into dumplings plus a bowl of noodles each and to this day I don’t regret that decision.
The thick ribbons made from wheat flour then hand-pulled are originally from Shaanxi Province. In fact, a quick Google and you’ll see they’re apparently touted as one of the “eight curiosities” of Shaanxi – which happens to also be famous for the archaeological site of the Terracotta Army.
I think in terms of global importance, I’d be happy for BIB’s biang biang noodles to be up there with the Terracotta Army. Their width makes them the perfect vehicle for the punchy, garlic and chilli-laced sauce that they sit in, while the texture is just the right balance of soft and chew that is so often slightly off-kilter in other noodles that haven’t been made with actual love and dedication the same day by the same person serving them up to you.
You can choose various toppings, but whether you go for pork, beef, chicken or mushroom, you will get the same big, bold flavours that somehow layer themselves into an experience that keeps on giving. They’ll have your lips smacking and your chopsticks reaching for the next mouthful before you really know what’s going on.
Tongue tingling chilli can sit at the bottom of the temperature gauge for those of us that are cautious, or be dialled up thanks to BIB’s own home fermented chilli sauces. My advice is to listen to Bradley’s advice when he tells you how far to push your chilli obsession – because these sauces are the real deal. No wannabe substitutes here.
The menu is small, but by the time you’ve hit gyoza, belly pork, and a bowl of noodles, you will most definitely not leave hungry. If you get the opportunity, see if you can get your hands on jianbig – a kind of savoury pancake, crepe thing that I wish Jamie would learn to make so I could have it every day.
BIB is one of those places that we so easily take for granted, but Coventry is a richer place for, and would be bereft if Bradley and Qifen ever decided to throw in the towel. Their passion is unrivalled, and their food one of the must-tries in Coventry. Pop in for lunch, for dinner, for a second dinner, or keep an eye out for when they do supper club type menus. You won’t regret it.