Eating out: Lucinda O'Sullivan at China Sichuan, Sandyford
It's Chinese food, but perhaps not as you know with the delicious, exotic goodies that are on offer at China Sichuan in Sandyford
I don't know anybody who doesn't actually love good Chinese food. Its appeal is across the board and, for many, including myself, the first experience of exotic food is often Chinese.
It and Indian were the mainstream Asian cuisines available here before the market broadened, in relatively recent times, with all sorts of great Pan-Asian eateries that offer everything from Vietnamese and Korean to Indonesian and Japanese.
However, somewhere in between that period, Ireland also had what I might call a Celtic Tiger love affair with Thai food, which, for a long spell, overshadowed the popularity of true Chinese food. Much of that Thai food was of the slosh-and-serve variety and, happily, most of it went with the Tiger!
The China Sichuan, a long-standing, high-end Chinese restaurant run by Kevin Hui, has just swept the boards at this year's Irish Restaurant Awards in association with LIFE, to be voted Best World Cuisine in Ireland 2014. Originally run by Hui's parents, and located in Stillorgan, it moved to purpose-built premises in the Sandyford Industrial Estate. Forget any ideas of kitsch wallpaper and Chinese artefacts, the decor here is sleek and sophisticated, as is the presentation and service.
Chinese food falls, generally, into eight regional categories, with probably the best known being Cantonese. However, Sichuan/Schezuan cuisine originates in south-west China and is, to my mind, far more interesting.
Its vibrant, strong flavours have made it universally the most popular Chinese regional cuisine. Look out for XO chilli sauces, meats smoked with camphor tea, chillis and cumin, ground Sichuan and black peppers - spices and cooking methods you are unlikely to see in your local Chinese restaurant.
On our visit, some two dozen hot and cold starters (€5.50-€12.25) included pork belly slices with spicy garlic and soy dressing; while hon yu guozi consisted of poached dumplings in a hot and spicy chilli oil. Luo bo gao, traditional Chinese turnip cake pieces, were pan-fried in XO sauce; while spicy baby calamari were pan-fried with sweet soya sauce and chilli. One of my very favourite dishes is soft-shell crab - a variety of crab which, having moulted their old, hard shell, are cooked and eaten whole.
At the China Sichuan, the soft-shell crab (€11.50) was coated in salt and chilli, deep-fried, covered in crisp toasted almonds and chilli flakes, and stunningly presented tumbling from a pastry shell. Likewise, a quarter of aromatic duck (€12.25) was top-notch. Rich, moist and succulent, cut into chunks, it was served with spring onions and cucumber, pancakes and hoi sin sauce.
Mains (€14.75-€35) included pan-fried black sole fillets in XO sauce; pan-fried monkfish pieces in spicy yellow bean sauce; fried shredded lamb in aromatic Sichuan sauce; Haozan rib-eye beef pan-fried in teriyaki and Sichuan pepper sauce; along with myriad other delicious-sounding dishes.
Rabbit (€18.50) proved intriguingly different and delicious. Bite-sized pieces were seasoned and pan-fried with roasted green-tea leaves and chilli, sprinkled with sesame seeds, resulting in a soft, almost smoky aromatic flavour with a bite. Our other main course was lobster (€35) cooked in ginger and scallion.
This was a colourful extravaganza of rich coral shell, offset with the vibrant greenness of spring onions and the creamy lobster meat chopped and sitting in a bowl of amazing jus. With these, we shared one portion of boiled rice (€2.90).
We finished up by sharing a scrumptious, rich ginger sponge (€7) with ice cream.
So, with a bottle of Alsace Hugel Gentil 2012 (€35), which was perfect with aromatic food, bottled water (€4.50) and two espressos (€4.50), our bill, with optional service, came to €140.85.
A feast from the East.
China Sichuan, The Forum, Ballymoss Road, Sandyford Industrial Estate, Dublin 18.Tel: (01) 293-5100
Three to try
15 Fade Street, Dublin 2. Tel: (01) 677-9764
Style A Hong Kong-style deli kitchen from the people behind the Asia Market. Roast duck and char sui hang from butcher’s hooks. Try sides of sticky duck skewers or duck spring rolls. Eat in or out
Try Duck on the Run — a traditional whole roast duck, €20
Wine Soft drinks only
8 Lower Kilmacud Road, Stillorgan, Co Dublin. Tel: (01) 278-3328
Style A first-floor premises with an intimate, traditional, red-and-black decor. Gong has an extensive range of Cantonese and Sichuan dishes
Try Dry-fried shredded duck in Sichuan style, with pepper, €18
Wine From €19
LEE’S CHARMING NOODLES
105 Parnell Street, Dublin 1. Tel: (01) 872-9340
Style A traditional Chinese restaurant with an extensive menu to suit the palates of the conservative and the more adventurous diner. From home-made dumplings, through stir-fried razor clams, to jellyfish salad with chilli and vinegar
Try Szechuan roast duck, €11.80
Wine Soft drinks and Chinese teas only