Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hong Kong - Sijie Sichuan Dishes 四姐川菜

It's labeled as a private kitchen in some places, but it's not that kind of place.  Housed in a building which looks like every other building in Wanchai (or known in some quarters as the World of Suzie Wong), the only hint of a restaurant behind the door is the bunch of of red hot chili peppers hanging on the front door.  Inside, it is as spartan as spartan can be with tables of varying sizes lined along what looks like 2 units leased by the restaurant.  But the smells are mistakably Sichuanese.  You can almost feel yourself immersed in an oil of Sichuan peppers, deeper and deeper as the night progresses, especially as Sijie whips up a storm in the kitchen.  Tip: do not wear clothes which have to be dry-cleaned or carry any leather bags to dinner.. 

Service is extremely friendly and helpful.  I had to call ahead for directions and parking facilities and the dude who answered very patiently guided me through the streets of Wanchai, which for those living here will know, is not car-friendly.   

The focus is on the food here since there is little else except for Sijie's chugging antics at the end of a long night.  Refined cuisine is not on offer either.  What you get is a piece of Sichuanese authenticity tucked in central Hong Kong and all the fiery robustness of what makes a hearty Sichuanese meal.

The huge bonus of eating in a big group, and a group of like-minded foodies is that you get to order almost everything on the menu.  Pricing works on a per person basis and so depending on how many people you have, you are allowed to order the number of dishes for that price.  No more, no less.  

Cold noodles tossed in Chili Oil
This was the quintessential Sijie appetiser which kicked us off and was easily the unanimous favourite of the evening.  Chilled al dente pulled noodles tossed in an addictive spicy oil with all the classic ingredients of a Sichuan spicy oil, complete with a kick from the chilies and a numbing madness, it was definitely the way to get us all started on an excited note.

And with most Sichuan appetisers, the rest become variations and subsets of the same spices but provided with different platforms/textures to bring out different notes of spice.

Salivating Chicken
This is meant to make you salivate as the name suggests but sometimes, there may be so much numbness created that you may temporarily lose control over tongue and degenerate into a drool but fortunately, none of that occurred here but just the pleasurable sucking and slurping you are supposed to do when savouring wine..  no need to spit though.

Slices of Husband and Wife's lungs
Textures here are a little crunch, a little beefy meatiness...

Thinly sliced pork in a garlic based chili oil
Then a more pungent delivery through the fragrant garlic-laced oil, complementing the thinly sliced pork, allowing the flavours of the spices to come through without too much of a porky flavour.

Cucumbers tossed in a chili oil
Refreshing cool crunch from the cucumbers as temporary halfway house..

Steamed eggplant in mild spicy sauce
Sweetened with juicy eggplants in a comparatively mild sauce with a sweet finish..

Crunch pig ears in numbing oil
Then, a finale of crunch again this time from pig's ears, which are slightly gelatinous around a crunchy cartilage, given taste by the sauce only.  One of my all-time faves.

Mandarin fish in boiling oil
The main courses started with the classic Sichuan dish of what it literally "boiling water cooked" Mandarin Fish.  As you probably figured out, it's not really water but oil.  And lots of it.  There as a medium for cooking and not to be drunk (no it's not gravy).  This allows for the fish to be just cooked without being overly so.  The fish is sweet and succulent and good with a bowl of steamed rice.

Beef slices in boiling oil
Beef is the other popular choice for this dish and beef soaks up the spices and is therefore extremely flavourful.  Sijie's renditions were competent but can't beat some of those I've had in China where the spices are more apparent than the oil.

Salt and pepper Shrimps Sichuan Style
Very well fried so you can crunch on the shells too.  Extremely tasty and very good with the ice cold beer on offer..

Sauteed crab in Salted egg yolk
This was my favourite main dish of the evening.  Every bit of the crab was generously coated with the fragrant salted egg yolk mixture and complemented the fresh crab very well.  The priceless bits were the salted egg yolk over the crab roe.  Cholesterol from hell but all things bad are good...

Deep fried chicken with dried chillies 
This was well done too although the chicken bones were a little too bashed up and made eating a tad difficult since you need to be careful with splinters.  Otherwise, step aside KFC Hot & Spicy...

Twice fried Long beans with minced pork
Tasty but a tad oily...  although this dish rarely isn't.  It is after all deep fried then stir fried to give it that creased but glistening look and extra crunchy texture.

Sauteed eggplant in sweet chili sauce
Good with a bowl of rice and a nice reprieve from all the heat.

Deep fried battered pork
This was tasty but unfortunately the meat was too tough and it just was a let down given the other goodies.

Mapo Tofu
I had the pleasure of taking this one home after "winning" the table spin prize.  Too much ginger and garlic bits and detracted from what I usually prefer is the numbing chili goodness of the sauce.

Rice Crispies with a seafood sauce
Rice crispies are always fun to eat but this one was only an "ok" since the sauce wasn't very exciting.  Can be missed.

Sweet Cooling Tea
Being what they call a "hot-based person" I downed 2 cans of this stuff through the night.  Still didn't prevent a series of pimples from surfacing... oh well.  It was good for the sugar anyway.  Next time, I follow in Sijie's footsteps.  She beat every hot blooded male in the room in a beer chugging competition at the end of her illustrious night in the hot kitchen.  And you know what?  She has flawless, poreless complexion despite her exposure to all that heat.  The magic of beer...

All in all, an extremely fun night with foodie friends, eating and laughing the night away.  Thanks to @g4gary for organising!

Shop 289, 2/F, Ko Wah Building
285-291 Lockhart Road
Tel: +852-2802 2250

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