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Empress of Sichuan

Friday, 19 November 2010

After a great experience at Chilli Cool, we decided to hit the winner of The 2009 Golden Restaurant Award.

Conveniently located smack dab in Chinatown, our group of a half dozen retrieved our booking and were promptly shown to our table; we had specifically asked for a round table which was provided, but we were stuck in a corner and I felt a bit squashed in the corner. The interior is pretty nice and the entrance definitely has a huge impact on people walking in with the (fish depopulated) water feature and huge racks of wine behind glass. So far so good then.

Spicy green bean with mince pork and preserved vegetable”. Hmm, not bad but not particularly interesting, still, it is one of our Sichuan favourites. We actually ordered another portion half way through the meal.

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Fragrant chicken with dried chilli and pepper”. One of those dishes we’ve ordered in all the Sichuan restaurants because it’s something so simple but usually turns out really well. Here, they had lots of chilli and Sichuan pepper around which provided for lots of zinging numbing spiciness. Tasted great, but my only complaint is that the bone was left on. Now, normally I don’t mind eating meat with bone stuck inside, but with such small pieces of chicken, the bone (and splinters) are more of a pain. Prefer the boneless version at Chili Cool.

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Ma po tofu”. The token tofu dish, this version is not bad (better than Chili Cool's IMO). It didn’t hold my interest for very long though.

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Beef slices in extremely spicy soup”. Again, we just had to order this Sichuan staple. I wasn’t too impressed by this one as I didn’t like the addition of not only bean sprouts but also cabbage into the soup. More beef, less vegetables please. Providing the perforated ladle to scoop out the food from the oily soup was a nice touch though.

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Grilled lamb skewer Sichuan style”. There was a strong smoky aroma coming off the tender pieces of well marinated lamb. It also had a quite potent spiciness to it that doesn’t become apparent till a few bites later. Quite liked this kebab.

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Farmer’s Fish” baked fish with onion, cumin and black bean.

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Me: Ok so we got a few dishes chosen de. Anything else you guys want?
Friend: Hey we gotta try this Farmer’s Fish thing! I read on a blog that it’s good.
Me: Huh. Which blog you read?
Friend: Dunno la. Some noodle guy.
Me: lol. Ok.

It turned out to be really good too. I was a bit hesitant at first because the best thing to do with a not-so-fresh fish is to deep fry it, then throw a lot of strong pungent sauce over it. Still, the fish itself didn’t smell or taste funny and the meat itself didn’t feel off. The sauce was just awesome and demanded lots of rice to eat it with.

Intestines with dried chilli and pepper”. Sometimes, it’s better not to think too much on what you’re eating. Specifically, I was trying hard to un-remind myself of a description I had read earlier about tripe although the term “faecal creeper” is kinda hard to forget. Still, I freaking loved this dish here. The intestines were crispy and had bags of flavour (the good type! Not faecal flavoured) from the seasonings to the Sichuan peppercorns.

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Onwards to the desserts.

Deep fried pumpkin cake, Sichuan style”. As my friend said, “If you blindfolded me and fed this to me, I’m pretty sure my only description will be ‘fried oily dough’”. Thoroughly disappointing.

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Black glutinous coconut ice cream”. I only had a small mouthful as I was getting quite full at this stage, but I didn’t think it was particularly amazing.

Lotus Seed and white fungus in sweet soup”. I quite liked this after a hot spicy meal, but it was a bit too sweet and strangely the soup had a quite thick consistency.

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Sticky rice balls with sesame in sweet soup”. Hmm, not bad but I suspect this was of the frozen variety.

Needless to say, all the above desserts weren’t particularly great.

Altogether, the bill came up to £25 per person including a couple of soft drinks and soy milk but without any alcohol. Service was decent if not particularly impressive. It wasn’t too busy so they also allowed us to stay and chat at our table for a while after we finished.

Food – 5.5
Service – 5.0
Atmosphere – 6.0
Value – 5.0

Overall the food was really good. Much like Chilli Cool, there wasn’t anything fancy, just straightforward Sichuan food delivered fuss free. I think the food here was pretty comparable to Chilli Cool and I don’t think I favour one more than the other particularly much. That being said, the bill here is more expensive although you’re paying more for the location and ambience than the food itself.

Best bit: spicy tasty goodness.
Worst bit: the desserts. All of them. Oranges would have been better.

Empress of Sichuan
6 Lisle Street
Tel:+44(020) 7734 8128

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