J, G and I like Sichuan food A LOT. It’s not because we can take mass amounts of chilli. Nope, it’s because we enjoy suffering and sweating through our meal and torturing ourselves with the next bite. Slightly masochistic? Yes. Funny? Yup! Especially when we can point and laugh at each other when one gets a sudden attack of chilli heat and numbness and has to down a whole pint of beer or any available liquid on the table. It’s also great at giving you the bee stung look on your lips haha.
We decided to sneak in a Sichuan meal while the weather is still relatively cool. I think Sichuan food is sooo satisfying when it’s slightly chilly outside, it definitely warms you up! It’s not nearly as fun when the weather’s boiling and you’re deliberately eating stupidly spicy food.
I organised dinner for 8 at San Xi Lou in Mid-Levels, which I think is one of the best Sichuan restaurants in HK. My friends A aka “Vendino Boy” and R aka “R-rated”, can’t take spicy food very well so out of fairness, we asked the chilli rating on some of the dishes to be reduced to mildly spicy. Our waitress looked at us like we were so LAME for asking for less chilli but in all honesty, it actually meant that I could really taste the food! Usually I’m so distracted by the heat that I fail to register the flavours and the textures so it made a pleasant change to be able to stuff my face without crying 😛 .
San Xi Lou is very understated in its decoration with simple carved wooden panels, wooden booths and tables. The ambience is fun with diverse groups of friends and families collectively plunging their chopsticks into huge bowls of chilli oil. One thing that always makes me laugh is the presence of an emergency bottle of water on each of the tables in San Xi Lou. They also have an excellent selection of beverages to counteract the heat, one of my favourites is cold soyabean milk. We discovered something else even better: the cold lychee and aloe vera juice which came in a tall glass with lots of ice and made me feel like I should be drinking it on a beach in Hawaii.
San Xi Lou offers hot pot as well as your normal a la carte menu with a variety of traditional Sichuan dishes. I have a few favourite dishes at San Xi Lou and I thoroughly recommend that you try them!
First up for starters we ordered the sublime marinated cold chicken with peanut spicy sauce and the diced jelly fish with garlic sauce. The jellyfish is sliced thick and coated with generous amounts of garlic, enough to ward off a group of Vampires!
Non spicy dishes included the sichuan style smoked duck, the sauteed prawns with salted egg yolk and the turnip and pig’s bone soup. The smoked duck was absolutely amazing. It was succulent, fat and salty and tasted like a cross between ham and duck, which we affectionately called “hack”! The prawns with egg yolk were moreish, big chunks of salted egg yolk dripping from the prawns and nicely crunchy prawn shells. The turnip and pig’s bone soup was ginormous and after the soup was ladled out, we were left gawking at this ridiculously large plate of pig’s bone and turnips in the middle of our table.
– Ma Po Tofu, a sometimes stupidly fiery dish of tofu set in a spicy chilli sauce in a beautiful bright red oily chilli suspension. Most of us couldn’t get enough of the Ma Po tofu, gobbling it up with our bowls of rice.
– Soft shell crab with pepper and chilli- the pièce de résistance! This dish never fails to produce a reaction, mostly due to the fact that the deep fried pieces of soft shell crab are buried in a giant mount of frightening looking dried chillies and Sichuan peppers that renders your mouth numb if you accidentally bite into one. The explosion of flavours is intense and very aromatic. YUM!
Chopstick rating: 4.5/5
San Xi Lou, 7/F, Coda Plaza, 51 Garden Road, Mid-Levels. Tel: 2838 8811