This is, I think, the latest addition to the city centre’s small list of “not Cantonese” Chinese restaurants. It’s on the southern fringes of the centre, at the end of Princess Street. And, as with many such places, it’s in the basement of one of the old Edwardian cotton trading buildings. These days, we’re used to being older than other diners at a restaurant but, here, folk were less than half our age with many perhaps being students. Certainly the very reasonable pricing would make it attractive to students. And, for what it’s worth, all the other customers appeared to be Chinese – not always a guarantee of good food but at least a possible good indicator.
With experience of the other Sichuan places, like Red Chilli and Red & Hot, we correctly made the assumption that portions would be vast, so decided to skip starters. It was straight into the food mountain that was fish fragrant shredded pork . Well, this was a new one for us and a very successful one. Shredded pork is always going to be a winner, whether it’s American pulled pork or, as here, mixed with lots of strips of ginger, sliced garlic and a couple of different (although unknown) greens. And it’s ginger, Sichuan pepper and the inevitable chilli that are the predominant flavourings. No fish, of course, they do like their bit of fun, don’t they. Apparently it’s only called “fish fragrant” as it uses the same seasonings as used for fish.
The other vast mountain was the Sichuan standard of gong bao chicken. Well, standard for me. It’s one of those dishes which you know so well, you can judge a place by how it is. And how it was, was damn good. For me, the right balance of flavours and textures, with the crunchy nuts, the slightly sweet, slightly more vinegary sauce. And there’s the dried chilli lending something of a smoky kick to it all. Even my partner, usually no fan of chicken outside our own kitchen, tried it and declared it a winner.
Upto now, I’ve reckoned Red & Hot to be my first choice for Sichuan. I think they’ve just been overtaken.