Signature stew of diced rabbit with cucumber $28
You're eating what?!
There's a cheeky smile in my voice when I tell a work colleague I'm off to have Spicy Panda for dinner. It's not literal of course - just the name of the restaurant, but its quirky name means it's easily remembered, a novelty when it comes to the usual roll call of Chinese restaurant names.
Jelly fish with cucumber in garlic sauce $10.80
Spicy Panda sits on what I call Dixon Street north, the stretch of Dixon Street mall between Goulburn Street and Liverpool Street. There's an interesting mix of restaurants here, like Crazy Wings, Arisun and Kasumi Izakaya, and a sense of energy that comes from an area yet to be fully discovered.
A keen waitress stands at the base of the stairs to Spicy Panda. Her pictorial menu and persistent cajoling seems essential to catch the attention of passing traffic unaware of the restaurant upstairs.
D and I are in the mood for Sichuan and we're pleasantly surprised by the fancy surrounds we find ourselves in, a large dining room with carved rosewood partitions and bustling staff in waistcoats.
Dan dan Sichuan noodle topped with pork mince sauce $4.80
The signature stew of diced rabbit with cucumber is the first to arrive, a crater-sized dish that is dotted with both dried and fresh chillies. The rabbit has been chopped into nobbly pieces, requiring a certain level of determination to extricate all the flesh from the bones. The rabbit is tender but the flavour is a little overwhelmed by the chilli and Szechuan pepper. A pool of oil is a little disconcerting at first, but chunks of partially cooked cucumber provide some relief.
Dan dan Sichuan noodle is quite a large portion for the $4.80 price. A tangle of slippery rice noodles is spiced up with chilli pork mince, chilli oil and the crunch of blanched Chinese vegetables. A bowl of this on its own would suffice most appetites for lunch.
Crispy smoked duck
We had been hoping to order the crispy smoked duck served with what looks like a layer of deep-fried sticky rice ($24.80) and are crestfallen when we are told it has sold out. We have to settle for the crispy smoked duck on its own, a half-bird that arrives with a pot of plum sauce and a mound of seaweed salad.
The aroma from the smoked duck wafts over us immediately. The tender flesh has a complex smokiness which I breathe in deeply. Its skin is a deep brown colour and deliciously crisp. The plum sauce is unnecessary.
White and golden buns (steamed and deep-fried) $8.80
We have far too much food for two people but I've sold D on the idea of deep-fried mantou buns and we order them greedily. Our leftovers are packed into the most stylish carry-bags I've ever seen - more Prada than Chinese restaurant - and our buns arrive soon after.
Mantou buns are usually served as a side to meals, and our waiter had been a little confused when we ordered them at the end of the meal. We don't care. A sauce of condensed milk is all we need to be convinced that this qualifies as dessert.
The deep fried mantou buns beg to be eaten first, the skin caramelised to a golden crackle. We dip them into the sweet condensed milk, bringing flashbacks of condensed milk on fluffy white sandwich bread as kid. The steamed version is almost as good, soft and fluffy with a skin I like to peel off separately and savour.
We emerge with tingling tongues and rotund bellies. We found plenty of spice but no pandas, unless you count the two stuffed pandas. Us.
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Tel: +61 (02) 9262 7007
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11/11/2010 06:20:00 a.m.