It’s cold, isn’t it? It’s definitely colder than last year and it certainly feels like a proper winter so far. Winter always brings hotpot to mind and recently I tried a version new to me. I’d heard of dry hotpot but I only got my first taste of it a few weeks ago when a friend organised a dinner at Jinli, a restaurant in Chinatown just a little off the usual tourist path. This is a Sichuan restaurant that used to be China City and when I got there, I saw that every table had a large dish in the centre from which diners were picking out delectable little morsels. This was Sichuan dry hotpot.

Of course, we got our own dry hotpot too, with my friend arranging for the various ingredients from a long list provided to him. This is what appeared! You can see the cans of soft drink around its edges for scale.

Tonight's massive Sichuan dry hotpot! 🌶🌶🌶

It was a veritable mountain of a typically Sichuan spiced stir fried hodge podge! There were dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorns for the usual ma la flavour and various other spices that I couldn’t really put my finger on. My friend had ordered thin slices of pork belly, luncheon meat (Spam), fish balls, lotus root, Chinese cabbage, choy sum, tofu skin, and sweet potato noodles. We had a bucket of rice for our table too, necessary for all that concentrated spicy flavour!

My understanding is that this style of hotpot is a newer style of dish in China and is currently very popular. I’ve heard that Jin Li isn’t the only place that serves it in London so do keep your eyes peeled if you’d like to try it. For the five of us, this giant hotpot, two starters of and excellent mouth-watering chicken and fried green peppers, rice and soft drinks came to about £24 each.

Jinli
4 Leicester Street
London WC2H 7BL

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On Little Newport Street in Chinatown, next to Baozi Inn (and owned by it too, I believe), there’s a tiny slip of a shop that sells chuan chaun xiang, a Sichuan spicy snack food. It also goes by the name mala tang and is not dissimilar to Sichuan hotpot, only the foods are on skewers and its the vendor who cooks your selection in their one gigantic communal pot. Jeanne and I stopped in one afternoon to try it out.

Chuan Chuan Xiang

The little place has a menu posted outside on the window and inside on the counter. Everything costs the same per skewer and there’s a good variety of meats (mainly processed) and vegetables available.

Menu

Inside, there’s just room for a few people to order over a counter. In the back, all the ingredients are lined up on skewers or awaiting skewering. A plexiglass window stands between you and a bubbling cauldron that seems to only be filled with chilli oil, chillies and Sichuan peppercorns. Don’t worry – it’s not too bad! That day, we split a pork luncheon meat (read: something similar to Spam) skewer and a fish ball skewer since we just had lunch.

Bubbling Pot

When your order has had its time in the jacuzzi from hell, your skewers are dumped into a foil takeaway container and sprinkled with chopped spring onions and coriander. There may have been a sesame based sauce available as well but I’m not entirely sure.

Skewers

The heat was a lot milder than I expected but they were still delicious. Can’t go wrong with Spam in chilli oil. Now, while I say that the heat wasn’t too bad, I did notice that the chilli oil doesn’t cling terribly well to Spam and fish balls. If you were to order the Chinese leaves, for example, my experience has been that those wrinkly leaves provides lots of little nooks and crannies for burning red oil to hide. It’s probably not clear yet but I love the skewers and I love the concept and I wish that there were more sunny days in London in which I may wander down to Chinatown and munch on street food like this.

In addition to the skewers, the little shop also sell massive baos which are also available to eat next door at Baozi Inn. While I believe this is the first chuan chuan xiang place in London’s Chinatown, a competitor has already opened around the corner on Gerrard Street so…time to try them too!

Chuan Chuan Xiang
(next to Baozi Inn)
Little Newport Street
Chinatown
London

Having already tried Ba Shan across the street, Rachel and I wanted to try the Sichuan Bar Shu the last time we met up for dinner. Their humongous photo-illustrated menu reminds me of those I encountered in China and as usual, stressed me out! Everything always looks so good and it’s hard to decide though decide we must.

Mouthwatering Sichuan chicken was one of our choices, and this was possibly the first version I’ve had that was boneless and that boneless chicken was piled on top of bamboo shoots and something else. It was very flavourful but didn’t pack the heat you’d expect of its glistening red oil bath.

Mouthwatering Sichuan Chicken

Numbing and hot dried beef was also from the starter section of the menu and was a great, hot, chewy beef jerky. I did feel, however, that the heat levels in this (and the rest of the dishes) had been toned down and I wasn’t detecting much use of Sichuan peppercorns (which I assumed they should use to get the numbing effect in the name).

Numbing and Hot Dried Beef

Fish fragrant aubergines were all slippery and spicy and desperately needing lots of white rice to soak up all the sauce. However, I did feel it was a bit one dimensional in flavour and have had better versions elsewhere.

Fish Fragrant Aubergines

We also ordered off the street snacks section in the back of the menu. One order of Boiled crescent dumplings in chilli-oil sauce were excellent, with a great porky filling.

Boiled Crescent Dumplings in Chilli-Oil Sauce

A one person order of Dan Dan noodles was just enough for a taster for two. These were incredibly moreish with its spare spicy meat topping and perhaps next time I could just put away two orders of this.

Dan Dan Noodles

Portions were quite big and it was a bit cheeky for them to charge for each takeaway container we used to pack up our food – we did manage to pack it all into two boxes, enough for next day’s lunches for the both of us though. I think it was also that protein at the beginning of the meal that filled us up! In total, the food (2 starters, 1 “main”, 2 snacks) and one order of rice, a beer, a tea and those takeaway containers came to about £55 in total – this does seem like quite a lot of money for it all – and service was sometimes absent. The food is generally good but it certainly isn’t the cheapest Sichuan restaurant in London (there are cheaper and they’re just as good if not better).

Bar Shu
28 Frith Street
London W1D 5LF

Bar Shu on Urbanspoon

Jen of Dashi Dashi organised a Saturday lunch meetup last weekend and we, Luiz of The London Foodie and his Dr G, and May of Slow Food Kitchen gathered to try her local Sichuan restaurant, Tian Fu, in Shepherd’s Bush. I’d already got the thumbs up for this restaurant from a couple of my Chinese colleagues and was looking forward to that lunch. Of course, I was looking forward to the company too, not having seen any of them for a few months!

I have to admit that I did feel like I was cheating a bit on my local Sichuan restaurant by heading to another relatively local one. Well, they needn’t worry – not because the food was bad (actually, the food was very good here) but because they don’t do our favourite corn with salted egg yolk! Do any of you feel this way with your local favourites?

Between the five of us, we ordered six dishes. First to arrive were the dry fried green beans (£6.80) which came in a massive pile and were fried till tender with pork and minced pickled vegetables. They were rather toothsome little beans, lovely things.

Dry Fried Green Beans

The rest of the dishes arrived in equally large portions. The fish fragrant aubergine (£6.80) came in a large shallow bowl full of the tender, silky vegetable. The flavours were well balanced and utterly addictive and let the record show that a certain blogger finished the last of the sauce with the last of the rice at the end of the meal! (I’ll be honest – if my stomach hadn’t been full to bursting, I would have done the same!)

Fish Fragrant Aubergines

Cumin lamb (£8.50) while not Sichuan but rather from Xinjiang, was exactly as I remember in the Muslim Restaurant in Beijing: tender slices of lamb fried with lots of cumin and onion. It’s amazing how something so simple can be so good. It’s absolutely delicious with white rice and I can even imagine it being a great bar snack by itself.

Cumin Lamb

The dry braised beef tendon (£8.50) had a wonderfully addictive chew to it and had a slow burning heat with all the chillies with which it was fried. I don’t normally order tendon but this was just delicious.

Dry Braised Beef Tendon

A grilled sea bass in chef special chili sauce (£12.00) turned out to have been deep fried in batter but it was still delicious for it. As you’d expect, a whole fish, with bones, topped with a whole mishmash of things making up the special sauce, is quite difficult to eat but it was quite worth all the work. There were loads of things going on in that sauce – lots of different tastes and textures too. A warning to pescetarians and those with allergies out there: the special sauce on top contained minced pork and peanuts!

Grilled Sea Bass in Chef Special Chilli Sauce

Surprisingly, the water boiled pork (£8.00) came with lots of crushed chilies rather than the usual whole dried chillies or dried chilli chunks I’ve usually seen, making it quite spicy. Thin slices of pork, along with Chinese cabbage and beansprouts, were swimming around in the chilli laced broth; you don’t drink the oily broth unless you’re a masochist! However, I can’t recall many Sichuan peppercorns, those little nubbins of numbness.

Water Boiled Pork

With jasmine tea and white rice for everyone (surely it’s impossible to eat Sichuan food without white rice), and service, the total came to £72.20. The menu has something for everyone – there are many Sichuan dishes (both spicy and not spicy) and even a section in the back for British-Chinese dishes. There’s even an all-you-can-eat Sichuan hotpot deal that I’d love to try in the winter. Service was a bit grumpy but it’s great that we have another good Sichuan place out here in the west. Thanks for organising this again, Jen!

Tian Fu
37 Bulwer Street
London W12 8AR
(it’s very close to the Debenham’s end of Westfield, towards the green)

Tian Fu on Urbanspoon

See that dish below? That’s the corn with salted egg yolk at the Sichuan restaurant in Acton. I have no idea how they fry the corn kernels, each little kernel coated in a batter with salted egg yolk, and yet they don’t stick together at all. As you eat them, the crisp, dry coating gives way to the pop of the juicy corn kernel within, the salty mixing with the fresh sweetness. I’m craving it again as I write this!

Corn with Salted Egg Yolk

A little over a week ago, I met a number of bloggers at said restaurant, my local Chinese restaurant. One dish that I insisted on ordering was that dish above. I do believe the dish went down very well with everyone – seriously, if you make it to Acton to eat at the Sichuan restaurant, you must order the corn with salted egg yolk!

Of course, such a combination doesn’t sound very Sichuan-y, a cuisine better known for its use of chilies and tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. The batter with salted egg yolk does seem to be quite common on prawns or crab or lobster; I think you gnaw off the delicious saltiness while eating the meat within the shells. But then a couple days ago, I happened upon kattebelletje‘s photo of fried corn in Sichuan province itself (she’s taking a cooking course in Chengdu). It exists – the dish does exist in China! However, we’re not sure if there was salted egg yolk in the batter but the amazing, individually coated, fried corn kernels are all there!

Of course, this isn’t the only excellent dish there. I love the dry chicken with chilies, the drifting fragrance chicken, and the sweet and sour aubergine. I can’t forget the ants crawling on a tree and their Guangong beef and their mapo tofu and their excellent hotpot. The dan dan noodles and Sichuan cold noodles are also particularly lip tingly and good.

But make sure you’re eating that corn!

Sichuan Restaurant
116 Churchfield Road
Acton
London W3 6BY

Sichuan on Urbanspoon

Last Saturday, I called together a group of friends (eleven of us in total) and enticed them over to Acton in West London by promising Sichuan hotpot, sweet and sour aubergine, and other spicy goodies. They were not disappointed with the spread!

The hotpot (half spicy, half non spicy – the non spicy side had loads of delectable fried garlic):

For the Hotpot

Spicy crab and other delights:

Spicy Sichuan Crab

Guangong beef, very tender and with lots of chilis and Sichuan peppercorns:

Guangong Beef

We even had two sweet and sour aubergines on the table and I forgot to take photos of them. One was as before, with the pork on top, but the other was ordered with no meat and was topped with peas and pineapple – delicious!

We even managed to find room for dessert! This was my first time having dessert there. These were toffee apples and bananas, deep fried in batter and covered with a thin layer of crisp toffee:

Dessert

Oh, and I also forgot to take a photo of the other dessert we had – sweet potato pies, little fried mochi-like fritters. I’ll definitely be having dessert here again. Thanks for making it a great night, everyone!

All the photos from the night can be found in this Flickr set.

Sichuan Restaurant
116 Churchfield Road
Acton
London W3 6BY

Sichuan on Urbanspoon

I just had to share this amazing sweet and sour aubergine we had a couple weeks ago at our local Sichuan restaurant. There were a few new additions to their menu and this was one of them.

Sweet and Sour Aubergine

It was a huge aubergine (eggplant) sliced like a giant Hasselback potato then dipped in batter and deep fried. After plating, a spicy sweet and sour sauce with pork was poured over.

Sweet and Sour Aubergine Closeup

The amount of oil required to deep fry the whole aubergine really scares me but the taste was so amazing! The sauce was the closest thing to General Tso’s sauce I’ve had in the UK – it was sweet and tart with the vinegar and had some chili in it. The sauce is something I hope to replicate at home; I’ll pass on the deep frying!

Sichuan Restaurant
116 Churchfield Road
Acton
London W3 6BY