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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Spicy Panda, Haymarket Chinatown

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.

View Larger Map
Spicy Panda on Urbanspoon

Spicy Panda
Level 1, 8 Dixon St
Haymarket, Chinatown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9262 7007

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Sichuan - Chairman Mao, Kensington
Sichuan - Golden Sichuan, Haymarket
Sichuan - Red Chilli Sichuan, Chatswood

Haymarket - Arisun
Haymarket - Crazy Wings
Haymarket - Kasumi Izakaya
Haymarket - Meet Fresh Taiwanese Desserts
19 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 11/11/2010 06:20:00 am


  • At 11/11/2010 8:26 am, Blogger Michigan Food Blog said…

    what gorgeous food! I wish we had asian reastaurants like this around

  • At 11/11/2010 9:21 am, Blogger Mel said…

    Glad you're not eating spicy panda's! That would be sad. The pork mince looks great - I've got a huge craving now.

  • At 11/11/2010 11:34 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    I love Sichuan food - can't get enough of those hot and spicy Sichuan peppers

  • At 11/11/2010 12:38 pm, Blogger Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said…

    Call it my mind playing tricks on me but I too thought you ate panda =D Panda is an animal not meant to be eaten =p Can't quite recall if I've tried rabit before, obviously not something I eat regularly. Looks good! Mmm I'd like some smoked duck for lunch thanks!

  • At 11/11/2010 2:22 pm, Blogger Pat said…

    Dude, I've been there 11 times now and that duck with sticky rice has been either "sold out" or "not ready" EVERY SINGLE TIME. Still, even if it's not quite up to the Dainty Sichuan standard, it's definitely one of the best Sichuan places in Sydney on a good day. Hit the deep-fried rabbit with dry chilli next time. It's bangin'.

  • At 11/11/2010 2:46 pm, Blogger Cluelessbear said…

    Yum! Be sure to try that...still can't believe how i didn't know about this place till now :(

  • At 11/11/2010 3:59 pm, Blogger Walter Mason said…

    Damn - that looks SOO good - we're going to have to try this place soon!

  • At 11/11/2010 4:08 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am sooo going simply on the name alone!

  • At 11/11/2010 5:15 pm, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    They're endangered! Leave them alone...! Oh-
    But seriously, misleading name...

    Love dan dan noodles, and the pretty array of mantou :)

  • At 11/11/2010 8:00 pm, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    The smoked duck must have smelt amazing! I'm glad you got to to take home the leftovers so there was room for dessert.

  • At 11/11/2010 8:40 pm, Anonymous carol said…

    really enjoyed reading ur reviews, any pic on the 'Prada' paper bag for your mantau ?

  • At 11/11/2010 10:19 pm, Blogger A cupcake or two said…

    eehehe Spicy Panda. Cute. Jelly fish. Its been so long since I have had this. The food looks great and pretty affordable too.

  • At 11/11/2010 10:52 pm, Blogger YaYa said…

    A foodblogger treat - over order everytime so you can try as much as you can even if there's only two of you (and the more conscientious waiters will tell you off, fearful of waste) and then take the leftovers home for a second go, yep, that's my strategy too!

  • At 11/12/2010 8:06 am, Anonymous shawn said…

    Thanks for the post - we are wooping with excitement at this place :-)

  • At 11/12/2010 12:18 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Jellyfish!! Also, you know how you're talking about sweetened condensed milk on fluffy white bread as something from childhood? I think I'm going to eat that tonight. At 23.

  • At 11/14/2010 11:26 pm, Anonymous David said…

    Tan Viet's spicy beef with bread roll is just amazing. Everyone should try it.

  • At 11/17/2010 9:41 pm, Anonymous Sara @ Belly Rumbles said…

    The Dan dan has caught my eye. I must admit I really like jellyfish. It took a friend of mine over from japan to order it, I tried it and now am hooked.

  • At 12/25/2010 1:42 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    oh that's really nice. i love that restaurant.

  • At 1/09/2011 10:42 pm, Anonymous kewpie said…

    oooh... am on a mantou crave lately! thank u for sharing this with us


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