It's so cute! Pork and cucumber! On a miniature clothesline!
It's the first thing that catches my eye when we make it up the stairs and onto the landing of Red Chilli Sichuan in Chatswood. Despite our booking, we're told to wait for a table to clear, joining the throng of families who stand three-deep on the balcony. Everyone, it seems, has a booking, and it feels more like the cattle call on a Sunday yum cha than a Stomachs Eleven night out for a Saturday dinner.
We make it inside after a ten-minute wait, whisked into a regal dining room with carved round tables and high-backed chairs in the colour of rosewood, staff brisk but efficient in embroidered silk uniforms.
The thin slices of pork and cucumber draped over a wooden frame is a popular order on most tables, although for the most part it's a triumph of style over substance, the pork slices a little on the dry side.
Jelly fish head $16.80
with sliced cucumbers and red chillies and chilli oil
We find the jellyfish head much more fun, curly ribbons of crunch that have been marinated in a vinegar soy dressing that is hot, salty and sour.
Cold Sichuan-style noodles $10.80
Cold Sichuan-style noodles are cool and slippery. We're devastated that they've run out of the house specialty, stir-fried sweet corn with salted egg yolk ($16.80), a plate of sweet corn kernels coated with a sticky tumble of salted egg yolk crumbs.
Not everything on the menu here is drenched with chilli or Szechuan pepper, but that's generally where we find the most fun and expertise.
Stir-fried lamb slices with spicy cumin $16.80
Stir-fried lamb slices are dusted in a heady mix of chilli and cumin served with onion and strips of green capsicum.
Stir fried duck webs $32.80
with rice noodle, chillies and Sichuan peppercorn
I relish the crunch of stir fried duck webs, deboned duck feet that are all skin and cartilage, dressed with chilli and tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorn.
Sliced chicken with fresh chilli and Sichuan peppercorn $28.80
The tongue-numbing sensation of Sichuan peppercorn is particularly noticeable in the sliced chicken, the dish so heavy with peppercorn that it leaves a lingering taste of aniseed in the mouth. The chicken is so juicy we can't resist going back for more anyway, although a plate of garlicky fried snake beans offers a welcome contrast.
Special mau xue wang $46.80
Braised blood jelly, king prawns, calamari, fish fillets and sea cucumber in spicy soup
The main event is the special mau xue wang, a huge cavernous bowl that prompts a rapid game of table chess as we try to make space for its arrival. We plunge the ladle into the chilli red soup to find a delicious mix of king prawns, calamari and fish fillets. The real treasures to savour are cubes of pigs blood, morsels of tender honeycomb tripe and plump batons of gelatinous sea cucumber.
Chef's special hot fish fillets $38.80
But the Chef's special hot fish fillets offers an even more impressive spectacle, the bowl littered with hundreds of dried chillies that make us nervous with fear.
Upon tasting, we discover that the dish is not half as hot as you'd think, the soup more noticeable for more of that tongue-numbing Sichuan pepper than chilli, which are mostly empty shells. There's a huge mountain of fish in this dish, and realise that this dish is much the same as the one before, albeit with the extras.
Sichuan bean jelly $7.80
dressed with sour and spicy sauce
Lip tingling from the chilli is offset by numbness on the tongue by the Szechuan pepper. Sichuan bean jelly offers some cool respite, although even these are served with a sprinkle of Sichuan pepper.
Sliced beef, beef tongue and tripe with chilli sauce $9.80
We also pick our way through beef slices served with shavings of beef tongue and hula skirts of bible tripe, a dish of textural contrasts especially with the sprinkle of sesame seeds and chopped green shallots on top.
Steamed and deep-fried Chinese bread $9.80 (8 pieces)
served with condensed milk
And of course we can't leave without a serve of mantou buns, a platter of eight that includes half-steamed and half-fried. The fried ones are the first to be depleted, the buns deep-fried until the outside forms an almost toffee-like skin.
They're best dipped in the bowl of condensed milk, a serve that is never generous enough, and always scraped clean. The mantou is not meant to be treated as a dessert but eaten alongside your savoury dishes, but I save mine for last anyway, a pocket-sized treat of deep-fried fluffiness that provides a perfect end to our meal.
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Red Chilli Sichuan
Level 1, 272 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9411 3298
Open 7 days 11.30am-2.30pm and 5.30pm-10.30pm
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10/19/2010 04:48:00 a.m.