China Sichuan

I’ve been getting quite interested in Sichuan cuisine lately and have been making some classic dishes from the region at home so I wanted to try the cooking first hand to see how my approximations compared. Obviously a trip to China is out of the question so the next best thing was to try one of the few Sichuanese restaurants in Dublin.

I’d heard good things about China Sichuan and after a fairly tumultuous move from their old venue in Stillorgan to Sandyford – just as the property boom collapsed – that saw them close down for six months, they reopened and have recently won the Best Ethnic Restaurant in Ireland award in Food & Wine magazine.

As you can imagine, an industrial estate on the outskirts of South Dublin is not the best location for many businesses but thankfully the Luas mitigates this somewhat and at least means no one has to be the designated driver. We arrived at three o’clock on a Sunday without a reservation thinking there’d be no need given the time of the year but were very surprised to find the dining room was nearly completely full. Thankfully there were still a few tables and we were seated quite quickly.

There is a special lunch menu we were too late to avail of (it finishes at 2.30pm) featuring two courses for €16 but most of the choices are pretty standard and uninspiring Chinese fare and I don’t see the point in coming all the way to Sandyford to eat stuff you could have anywhere else in the city; the á la carte has a much better selection and there is a chef’s recommendation section specialising in traditional Sichuan dishes.

To start, I ordered the salt and chilli soft shell crabs which came with a spicy cucumber salad and they were excellent; you eat the lightly battered crabs whole and there is a lovely contrast between the crunchy exterior and the delicate flesh. My wife had the pork and chicken waltip dumplings accompanied by a very strong dipping sauce that I felt somewhat overpowered the subtle flavour of the fillings.

For my main course, I chose the unpromisingly named boiled spicy beef mistakenly thinking it was the dish I linked to at the start of the post (it was actually this one). The waiter warned me it was going to be extremely spicy which I expected anyway as Sichuan food is notorious for what in Chinese is termed ma la and refers to the tingly, mouth numbing effects (ma) of the Sichuan peppercorn and the spiciness (la) of chilli peppers. I was preparing myself for something of the intensity of a vindaloo but as it happens, whilst there was a very nice kick, it wasn’t ludicrously hot at all and was definitely the outstanding thing we tried on the menu. My wife got the pork shreds with fish fragrance in a garlic and ginger sauce which I wasn’t too fond of as I’m not a big fan of sweet and sour (it would be nice if this had been mentioned in description as it came as a surprise to both of us) but the side dish of noodles were fabulous.

Unfortunately, the dessert selections weren’t great so we decided to skip them and finish by having some proper Chinese tea which was very good. For wine, we ordered by the glass (I didn’t get the names but the selection is small enough to figure out what’s what) and had a fantastic Viongier (€9.00) with the steely minerality of a young Rielsing and a fine off-dry Gewurztraminer (€11.50) that handled the chili in my crab dish admirably. After the waiters dire warnings for my main I wasn’t even going to bother trying to find a match but upon realising the spice wasn’t as overpowering as I thought it would be I found it went really well with the Australian shiraz (€8.50).

Service was very good at the start although, strangely, became less attentive as the restaurant emptied out: maybe because they were getting ready for the dinner service but it took around ten minutes for someone to take my credit card to pay our bill. Something worth noting is that this restaurant very child friendly (there were a lot of families having lunch) and we were given a good table with plenty of room for our buggy even though they were quite busy; the staff also couldn’t do enough to help us when we had to heat a bottle for the baby. The total price, not including tip, came to €83.

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