Once in a little while, there emerges a restaurant so painfully appealing that a mere glance at its menu induces a profound alteration in your saliva glands, rapidly causing them to produce colossal amounts of drool. The overflow of drool can be quickly averted with intense lip licking or if that is simply not enough, a diversion by way of a simple cough, bringing your napkin to your mouth to hopefully absorb most of the fluid that is threatening to spill down your front, rendering you socially uncool for all of eternity.
Which is a really long time.
Empress of Sichuan is one such restaurant. I met my girls there for our date night last Thursday and a quick glance at their menu not only had me sucking back the gallon of saliva quickly amassing in my mouth, but I was barely past the starters page when I realised that I’d already mentally ordered enough food for an army, not five girls, albeit five girls with very healthy appetites.
I wanted to order everything on the menu, from the marinated jellyfish with chicken & cucumber in hot & sour sauce, to the Sichuan hot & sour soup, to the shrimps with salted egg yolk, and the pork belly steamed with preserved vegetables. Plus about 30 other dishes. But I predict that my relationship with the Empress will be a slow courting. A few dishes now, a few more next time, and the next, and eventually Thy Will Be Mine. Or at least I will have had all the dishes I craved. Same same.
So on this particular visit, my first, I contained my complete overwhelmedness and we ordered a handful of starters, mains and desserts. Considering my other Sichuan experience was so red it looked like something out of a slasher flick, I was impressed that Empress of Sichuan could capture the intense chilli hit and the inimitably numbing effect of the Sichuan pepper without their dishes looking like a blood bath.
And remarkably, each dish tasted different. This, compounded by the very efficient service (the tea bitch – if I may call them that – refilled our cups with such diligence that I almost felt guilty for not constantly sipping to ensure she had something to refill when she came around every 30 seconds), has securely lodged Empress of Sichuan into my mental list of favourite restaurants.
So anyway, what did we end up ordering? Aside from chilled tofu with spring onions you see above, we also shared…
Thousand year egg with red chillies ~ scarily red but not mouth-burningly not. A delightful blend of chilli with century egg.
Marinated cucumber with garlic & sesame oil ~ DELISH. But anything coated in garlic and sesame oil will render me weak at the knees.
Intestines with dried chilli & pepper ~ one dish which I might say was better at Chilli Cool, for no other reason than that it was crispier there, but still, a delectably spicy starter.
Sea-spiced three vegetables with aubergine, red peppers & potatoes ~ whoever knew potatoes could taste this good? Presumably pre-fried before being added into this sweet and spicy stew-like dish, the potatoes completely stole the show.
Dan dan noodles sichuan style ~ simple, warm and tasty, a bowl of this would be perfect on these cold autumn days.
“Farmers fish” baked fish with onions, cumin & black bean ~ this dish totally reminded us of the deep fried seabass from Tukdin which we loved, although this particular dish oozed with an intense cumin and black bean flavour. I wasn’t really aware that cumin was a Sichuan spice, but in the greater scheme of things, I’m not really aware of that many things 🙂
“Ma po tofu” spicy diced tofu with minced pork ~ this is a regular choice of ours whenever it’s available wherever we dine, and really a standard dish that if you get wrong, you’re just a really crap Chinese restaurant. Thankfully, Empress of Sichuan is not a crap Chinese restaurant and their ma po tofu was delicious.
Desserts! I think I actually squealed with glee when I eyed red lotus with white fungus in sweet soup on the menu. One of my all time favourites and not nearly available at enough restaurants anywhere. The whole of two red lotuses were a little on the parsimonious side, but ample amounts of white fungus made up for that and all in all, I was a happy girl.
Coconut ice cream with black sticky rice & sago ~ black sticky rice with sago. I shit you not and instead of the usual coconut milk, a generous scoop of luscious coconut ice cream. Maybe a little left-field, or maybe this is traditional in the Sichuan province, but whatever the case, this worked and was actually the favourite amongst most of my friends.
Sticky rice balls with sesame in sweet soup ~ otherwise known as “tang yuan”, there were so many in this little bowl that honestly? It’s like a meal in itself. Filled with black sesame, these little balls oozed goodness into your mouth with one tiny bite and has inspired by friend Christine to make some at home! I’m totally volunteering to taste test 😉
So that there is Empress of Sichuan! Here’s hoping my long courtship (which will undoubtedly require discipline, dedication and many many visits) will prove triumphant, at least for my belly.
Empress of Sichuan
6 Lisle Street,
Chinatown, WC2H 7BG
0207 734 8128