Sunday, June 20, 2010
Hong Kong - Da Ping Huo
Possibly one of the earliest private dining places in Hong Kong, around since at least the earlier part of this decade, and still at the same "hidden" locale, simply for the deceptive address. The entrance is actually a "hole in the wall" on Graham Street.
The concept is actually better than the food. Run by a couple from Sichuan, the husband is the "host" and artist behind the art on the stark white walls. The wife is the chef and does her rounds at the tables, with a diminutive hello, then ends off with a powerful Chinese ditty that shows off her vocals and range.
Service is very spotty, with the help looking stressed and watching where they need not be watching. If you're not too good with spicy, my advice is to try and get them to part with an entire pitcher of lemon-infused water at your table so you don't have to cry for help ever so often.
Appetisers were slightly underwhelming until the appearance of the dry-roasted beans in a quintessential Sichuanese pepper based sauce. The heat is not the apparent type but increases as you dig in. The numbness is addictive, and as you down each spoon, your lips pucker up naturally. Who needs collagen lip balms or for that matter, red lipstick.
The other appetiser which acted as a good counter to this was the cucumber strips in a chilled mollasses and vinegar combo sauce.
The first mains was a steamed chicken in a sauce made with few chillies but lifted by a variety of spices native to Sichuan and with added fragrance from the roasted peanuts.
The use of clear soups to cleanse the palate was a good idea, but the only snag is that they were pretty tasteless by Cantonese standards. Maybe that's the intent but I thought they bordered on bland.
So after our Chinese cabbage soup topped with minced chicken, we were very pleasantly surprised and excited by the braised beef brisket with whole Sichuan peppers. This was rightly served with a bowl of steamed rice, and the 2 went together like a house on fire (pun intended). The brisket was very well braised, and required little to no chewing, and did well enough to soak up the flavors from the chillies and other spices. Possibly my favorite from the entire evening.
Consistent with the host's theme of serving one spicy dish with one non-spicy, the next dish of minced pork with sweet potato topped with glutinous rice was homy but perhaps a little rustic to deliver much flavor, especially with the presence of such other spicy friends at the meal.
My dining friends definitely enjoyed the next dish of shrimps with a spicy sauce that much more, and this was also perfect with rice. Even on its own, the chopped up vegetables of celery, chillies, spring onions, etc. was a crunchily fresh yet spicy and importantly tasty accompaniment on rice.
The other winner of the night was the Ma Po Tofu. Possibly the most famous dish and most associated with Sichuan, this was done with minced beef, instead of the bastardized more usual minced pork. The tofu was silken smooth, like good Sichuanese tofu. Maybe a little known fact for the uninitiated, Sichuan is actually famous for its tofu, and especially the silken texture they are able to achieve, and best eaten with a spicy sauce, aka Ma Po tofu. The story has it that Mrs. Ma was a poor woman from the province tasked with making a dish that would impress a rich guest and the result has gone on to become the province's most famous dish.
After being served with yet another bland lettuce soup this time, the last dish of the evening of minced chicken dumplings in a spicy sauce arrived. The use of minced chicken was disappointingly tasteless and perhaps pork would have been a better choice. So while the sauce was pretty decent, I was too full to want to make the most of the dumplings and left mine after a singular bite.
Dessert was a welcome chilled Sichuan tofu with water chestnuts and attap seeds. An interesting variation of almond tofu, and a decent enough finish to the evening.
Overall, nice for a visit after a long while, but given the limited variety, is not something to go back to too often.
LG/F, 49 Hollywood Road