herald

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Wok on the wild side

EVERY town in Ireland now has at least one Chinese restaurant and nearly every one of them has an identical menu. Sadly their most popular dish is likely to be the distinctly non-Chinese dish of chicken curry and chips.

Dublin is different. A friend from Hong Kong actually finds it easier to get authentic Sichuan cooking in Dublin than in her native city, so it is not just in Ireland that Chinese cuisine is adapted to suit local tastes.

China Sichuan in Stillorgan has always had curry on the menu but its real mission is to lure in unsuspecting locals with familiar dishes and then encourage them to try the real thing.

Sichuan or Szechuan province is easily China's most important culinary region and has been known as a haven for food lovers since ancient times thanks to their abundant natural resources and love of spicy and tasty flavours.

Sichuan's capital city Chengdu was also recently awarded a rare Unesco City of Gastronomy award.

China Sichuan is located close to the Bleak-on Quarter (sorry Beacon Quarter) in Stillorgan. Thankfully, it is well signposted as it would otherwise be impossible to find in this labyrinthine and utterly uninspiring industrial estate -- I recommend arriving by Luas.

Family Sunday lunch outings are never easy for kids unless they include pizza, but our 11-year-old was happy to see some familiar dishes on the good-value Sunday menu of €18.50 for two courses.

Spring rolls were deliciously light and crispy -- a world away from the oil-sodden mess more commonly found on takeaway menus.

Beef curry was tender pieces of beef in a mild curry sauce -- conventional but all the better for it. Our son filled his prawn crackers with beef and rice and popped them into his mouth whole -- unconventional but "fantastic" he declared.

Shredded pieces of cold Bon-Bon chicken in a hot and spicy sauce had the distinct flavour of the mouth-numbing Sichuan peppers mixed with fresh chilli peppers.

Salt and chilli crayfish tails in the lightest of batter were a revelation -- sweet, fresh and delicious.

Sweet and sour chicken is another takeaway mainstay, but this sweet-sour sauce was incredibly light and had no hint of gloop or cornflour-heavy unpleasantness.

Dan Dan noodles is a classic Sichuan street food of flat noodles in a spicy meat sauce with preserved vegetables, and the version here managed to taste both rich and fresh but was perhaps a little short on tangy Sichuan pepper.

Our additional side dish of plain noodles was fought over by all of us thanks to, once again, the bright, clean flavours.

We shared two desserts -- a creamy, rich chocolate brownie with good quality vanilla ice cream and a selection of three mouth-tingling sorbets (peach, raspberry and lemon) that managed to taste rich and sweet as well as utterly refreshing.

There is a lightness of touch and an elegance in the cooking at China Sichuan that is very difficult to find in any restaurant of any ethnicity in Dublin.

Our abiding impression as we left was that we must return for a full-on culinary blow-out on the evening menu, which contains dishes such as pan-fried rabbit with roasted green tea leaves and camphor wood, and tea-smoked duck.

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