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
Details: 6 Lisle street, China Town, WC2H 7BG (Ph 0207 734 8128) Tube: Leicester Square
Category: Restaurants - Chinese, WC2