Thursday, November 22, 2012

Empress of Sichuan - London

I had written about our meal at Empress of Sichuan some time ago. Its not often that I write about the same restaurant twice but this one merited it. We did have a very good meal there, so we thought; why not give it another shot. You often have a problem when you re-visit a restaurant where you had a particularly good or pleasant meal. The second visit ends up somehow disappointing. Either the food is just not right; you order something that is not good, the waiters are different and do not respond to your excitement, so many factors. This has happened to us too on more occasions than we care to remember.. Anyway, we decided to give Empress of Sichuan another shot.

A pleasant walk in the refreshing London cold got us to a nearby pub where we had a couple of drinks. Then it was time to walk across for dinner. The restaurant was 80% full, and full of Orientals happily dipping their chopsticks into large bowls of soup on a heater. Yes, they were enjoying the interactive thrill of a Mongolian Hot Pot. It’s quite a good thing to have on a winter day especially with a few friends who eat the same things as you. It gets more enjoyable if you have some intoxicants with the meal. The hot pot costs some GBP 24.50 per person and is unlimited. You get all types of seafood, meat, vegetables and tofu. You are warned that you can eat for only 2 hours. After that all food is charged for!!!

On looking at the menu we were confused. So many dishes leapt out waiting to be ordered. There were just two of us!! For starters we got a cold starter of Sliced Pig Ear with Chilli Oil. What a knockout dish. The strong Ma La sensation of the Sichuan Peppercorns with the Chilli Oil and the Fried Sichuan Chillies went so well with the cold crunchy Pigs Ears and the slivered Cucumber. This was a truly delicious beginning to our meal. After the starter our lips were really tingling. Wow!

One of the restaurants specialities is the most unimaginatively named Steamed Beef with Rice Paste in Bamboo Tube. Despite the clinical name we ordered this. This was the second knockout punch. Beef short ribs, some of the most melting cuts of beef, were slow cooked and the added to the heavily spiced ground rice. This was a dish that in my view was comfort food. It was warm, it was soft, the meat was tender, fall of the bone melting, there was spice it was porridge like consistency – in other words comfort food. Absolutely brilliant dish.  This dish though spicy with chilli did not have any Sichuan Peppercorns, so the spice was different.

In addition we ordered something we have had quite often at the China House at the Hyatt at Kalina in Mumbai. Here it was called Double Cooked Pork Belly Slices with Chilli & Onion. At the China House it’s called Wok Cooked Pork. What the dish it is, Pork Belly which is cooked whole, then thinly sliced like bacon and then it’s given the second cooking. To accompany this we had a single bowl of Egg Fried Rice. The contrast between the dish at the Hyatt and the dish here was dramatic. This was a robust dish, with the funky and salty bursts from Black Beans and the heat of Green and Red Chilli all cooked in a healthy amount of chilli oil. The dish at the China House seemed correct but simply `kanjoos’ or stingy or un-generous when compared to this one. Think loving indulgent grandparents versus a wicked step mother, both are related to you but one is mean, the other large hearted. I do not know if my simile is apt but I am sure you get my drift. I have attached the photo of the dish at China House. You can make your own decision.

The dish at China House

For desert we had bought a few Macarons from Laudree. Took the edge of the spice.

It was a monumental meal. Superb on all counts. A bit heavy on the chilli front but I am not complaining. The whole meal has cost less than a single main course at Alain Ducasse where we are headed the next night. But such is life. 

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