Empress of Sichuan

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Going out for Sichuan is the new going out for a curry in London. It’s just the thing to do after you have had a few drinks and want to enjoy some seriously spicy food to wash them down. So, the question is where to go? Empress of Sichuan is a relative newcomer to London’s burgeoning Sichuan restaurant scene. The restaurant is located in the heart of Chinatown and looks a step above most of the surrounding restaurants, yes there menus are in plastic sleeves but there is also white linen on the tables, moody lighting and a wine collection displayed in racks near the door.

Kung pao chicken
 
I visited Empress of Sichuan with three other foodie friends, American in London, Laissez Fare and Martin. American in London had eaten at Empress of Sichuan previously (you can read her review here) and had been impressed so was keen for a return visit. We arrived on a rainy night with no booking at almost 10pm at night (and yes after a few drinks as well) but the staff were still happy to accomodate us. The menu is extensive and divided into cold entrees, poultry, seafood, vegetables, meat, noodles and special Sichuan hot pots. We needed food to soak up alcohol though so we turned to the kung pao chicken (£10.50). It is hot, hot, hot with big flakes of dried chilli and Sichuan pepper scattered throughout. Wham! As soon as I bite into it I get that cool mouth feel of Sichuan pepper that is so addictive. American in London is critical of inclusion of cashews in the dish rather than peanuts but as a cashew fan I can’t complain.
 
Ma po tofu
 
Ma po tofu (£7.50) is packed with more of the ubiquitous chilli nestled amongst the cubes of tofu and minced pork. The tofu has a lovely silken texture as it swims in thick chilli sauce. Minced pork also adds flavour to the twice fried green beans (£8.50) which are very moreish but lacking the delicious dryness of those on offer at Bar Shu. For lovers of fatty pork (and who isn’t?) Empress of Sichaun’s dong po pigs joint (£13.80) is a real treat. The meat is pulled by the waitress of the bone at your table and the chunks of tender pork are real melt in the mouth material. This is one of the restaurants signature dishes and I like the large, share with your friends serving style but I think the dish itself could do with a bit more chilli given that it is a Sichuan restaurant.

Twice fried beans
 
That said, Empress of Sichuan is a great mid range restaurant, striking a nice balance between the surrounding cheap and cheerful Chinese restaurants and high end restaurants such as Hakkasan. Our bill came to £15 each (admittedly with hardly any alcohol) which is great value for this part of London. When I am craving a Sichuan fix I am glad to know that there is another option in town to sate my addiction.
 
Dong pao pork joint
 
Essentials
Details: 6 Lisle street, China Town, WC2H 7BG (Ph 0207 734 8128) Tube: Leicester Square
Damage: Reasonable
7/10
 
Links
If you liked reading this you may be interested in Bar Shu which is a nearby Sichuan restaurant and Chilli Cool another Sichuan restaurant in Kings Cross.
 

Empress of Sichuan on Urbanspoon

12 comments

  1. I’m glad you like Empress of Sichuan. I don’t want to be a pedant but Dongpo pork isn’t meant to be spicy as it’s a dish from the area around Shanghai rather than Sichuan. It’s served in many Sichuan places as like steamed fish, it’s one of those dishes that transcends regional divisions.

  2. Looks mouth wateringly good! And great value!

  3. Those dished look delicious – great photos! Thanks for sharing:)

  4. GC – I’m so glad you enjoyed our last-minute bite to eat. I felt almost personally responsible that the dong po pig’s joint that night wasn’t as silken and well-seasoned as it was the last time I had it.

    Anyway, the dish is a kind of slow cooker/comfort food dish that I grew up eating, so I am biased in its favor whenever I see it on menus (even if at a Sichuan resto).

  5. I love mapo tofu when it’s done well. the best one I ever had was one cooked by Iron chef Chinese Chen Kennichi at a dinner. It was so complex I was totally unable to discern what was in it! 😛

  6. Glad to hear you also liked this place, I went there with Mr Noodles, and we were both very impressed. That pork dish looks fantastic, I can’t wait to order it next time I visit.

    I was also pleased to hear that you will be at Jim Haynes’ do at Fernandez and Leluu, so I will finally get to meet you!

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  7. I rather liked the food at the Empress of Sichuan but unfortunately, our waitress didn’t give me a glass with my beer (when my male companion got one) and then later emptied my bottle into his glass. As you can imagine, I was seriously unimpressed. I did love their cold tofu dish though.

  8. Mr Noodles – never a pedant! And you are right it is from Hangzhou to Sichuan.

    Lex Eat – Yes it was great value.

    Stephanie – Thanks

    American in London – I always feel personally responsible when I recommend a place as well! I really like the Dongpo so can only imagine it must have been amazing when you ate it.

    Lorraine – mapo tofu by an iron chef sounds pretty good

    London Foodie – I look forward to meeting you then too.

    Lizzie – Oh dear. I had a beer there so perhaps you had trained them into the shock horror of females drinking beer!

  9. Hi there,

    I thought the food was pretty decent and was also (pleasantly) surprised at the bill when it arrived. As we had relinquished control of ordering to American in London, I hadn’t even bothered looking at the menu too much. As you say, it’s fairly classy inside compared to many of the other Chinese places in the area (though you can’t really tell from outside).

    Best regards,

    LF

  10. LF – That’s why I love eating out with American in London at Chinese places – she takes charge! Look forward to reading your write up.

  11. We had an unbelievably BAD experience at the Empress of Sichuan! We got to know this restaurant in conjunction with Terracotta Film Festival 2012 as it was advertised in Terracotta programme booklet.

    Basically, their staff refused to honour the 15% discount clearly offered in the booklet for the festival and charged our credit card the full amount, saying they’d not heard of the offer. When we complained and asked to speak to someone more senior, the two waitresses working claimed they could not reach the manager and had no way of refunding credit cards. They stated they’d be happy to refund us if we’d paid cash but couldn’t do so for a card payment, despite my husband offering to show them how a refund is done on the card machine. Whilst the £6 in question isn’t a huge deal, it was the conduct of the staff charging us which really annoyed us. The two waitresses were smirking and giggling while talking to us and didn’t handle the matter with professionalism. They also showed us a number of leaflets for other offers, which had nothing to do with the matter at hand in an attempt to change the subject. It’s hard to believe they had not heard of the Terracotta offer when literature for the festival was placed on the tables as well as piled in the area near the front door.

    Most importantly food wasn’t up to the standard we had hoped for. That, combined with the poor service from their staff was a huge disappointment. We ordered ma po tofu, marinated chicken slices in spicy sauce and boiled fish slices in extremely spicy soup. All the dishes were bland and the spicy soup had no kick to it. We expected spicy soup to be served hot and not luke warm. The chicken slices were more chicken skin than meat.

    When we entered the restaurant there were set menus referred to on the windows but at no point were these offered as an option whilst we were inside. We initially thought the decoration was nice but after being brought to our table, we realised that the table cloths and wallpaper were stained. The leather seats for the tables along the walls were damaged and repaired with tape! We were asked to sit at a table for four in the middle of the restaurant, despite a smaller table for two being available. At no point was the restaurant busy, and by the time we finished our meal (4:30pm on a Sunday afternoon) we were the only ones in there aside from staff.

    We asked to check the bill; they gave us a receipt displaying the total amount being charged with no mention of a service charge being included. Then I realised there was a small itemised bill below the receipt stating a 10% service charge was charged whether you liked it or not. When making our payment with the credit card we were handed the card machine to add a tip on top of the 10%!

    Since this negative experience, we have confirmed with Joey Leung, the Terracotta Festival director, that the restaurant was well aware of the 15% discount offer and should have honoured it. He passed our details onto the restaurant manager but we have yet to hear anything from him/her, which is in keeping with the poor service we experienced at the time.

    Nothing will make us return to Empress of Sichuan restaurant. Beware!

  12. Anon – What a shame to hear about that it sounds like really shocking behaviour on behalf of the staff.

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