When he was at cooking school, Kieran Zou didn’t like noodles.

“I much preferred learning about dishes such as mapo tofu and kung pao chicken,” he says, laughing. “I had no interest in cooking noodles.”

That was in the early 1990s in his native Shanghai. Three decades later and Zou has just reopened Biang Biang Fresh Noodle in Fortitude Valley, after the restaurant became a runaway hit in its original Toowong premises.

The intervening years for Zou are typical of the kind of odyssey many Chinese-born chefs undertake to wind up running and owning restaurants in Australia. Cooking school led to positions in hotels around China, and then a move to England to further his studies while working at a Noodle Time in London. A holiday to Australia was followed by a move to the country in 2008; he ended up running the kitchen at Renata Roberts’s popular Kenmore Chinese restaurant, Sichuan Bang Bang.

“But [by] now my dream was to do a noodle restaurant,” Zou says. “I cooked them for the staff meals at Sichuan Bang Bang and they loved that.”

These weren’t just any old noodles, but biang biang noodles. Thicker and wider than pappardelle pasta, they fold and twist over each other in the bowl like great piles of mussed-up videotape. Originally a high-protein and high-carbohydrate street food of the working class in Shaanxi, a mountainous province in China’s central north, until recently they were relatively obscure, even in some parts of China.

“In this part of China there’s no rice, only wheat,” Zou says. “I went to this province and tried this food and I thought, ‘This noodle is very, very interesting, and very simple and easy to make.’ Lanzhou noodles are similar but soft. These are firm and fresh and chewy, and they must have that spring to them.”

Zou prepares each batch of noodle dough for over four hours to achieve his desired consistency. He says it’s ready to be stretched into noodles and cooked when it almost feels like human skin. The “biang” of the name is onomatopoeic and refers to the sound a biang biang noodle chef makes as they work a serve of dough on the kitchen bench to turn them into noodles.

Biang Biang Fresh Noodle’s menu in Fortitude Valley is a straightforward list of 10 noodle dishes, backed by sides such as spring rolls, house-made pickled vegetables, pork wontons and roujiamo (a doughy bun filled with fatty pork mince that Zou calls a “traditional Chinese burger”).

Zou says customer tastes have evolved since he first opened in Toowong in 2017. Back then, he added yellow curry, cumin lamb and tom yum variations to help entice locals through the door. Those options are still on the menu but are these days outsold by traditional dry Shaanxi-style biang biang noodles (pork mince, potato, eggs, tomato, carrots, shallots and salad), Sichuan-style dandan noodles (pork mince, vegetables, salad, vinegar, soy sauce, pepper oil and chilli oil, served either dry or in a soup), and dry sizzling chilli oil noodles (garlic, salad, shallots, chilli flakes, soy sauce and chilli oil).

For the rest of the menu, Zou has cleverly touched upon other regions around China. The big-plate chicken noodle references Xinjiang in China’s north-west, where biang biang noodles are also a long-time staple; the cumin lamb is inspired by the port city of Guangzhou; and the scrambled egg and tomato noodle captures the flavours of his hometown of Shanghai. For drinks, there’s a fridge of soft drinks but you can also BYO beer and wine.

The move to Fortitude Valley was forced upon Zou with the coming redevelopment of the Toowong site into an apartment block. The new shop is a tiny, no-fuss space located in Central Brunswick, on the corner of Brunswick and Martin streets, its red-and-black paint job and concrete floors a carryover from a previous tenant. There are just 35 seats inside and out, but that’s the way Zou likes it.

“You can’t make a noodle shop too big,” he says. “The noodles need to be fresh. If left too long, more than a few minutes, they don’t taste so good. So I wanted a 50-square-metre shop, so I can always get them to the table very quickly.”

Biang Biang Fresh Noodle
421 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley
0422 756 802

Hours:
Daily 11.30am–3pm, 5pm–9pm

@biangbiangfreshnoodle