Spatula, Spoon and Saturday

Eating and Cooking all the things in Melbourne

Melbourne Food Review: SiChuan Dining Room, Hawthorn

Oh my god, I am so stoked about this place. I have read John Lethlean’s reviews on Epicure and in both reviews he stressed about how interesting the menu is so we decided to give it a go one (very) late Saturday lunch.

From the outside, the restaurant looks just like any other suburban Chinese restaurant (which was why we’d never been) but the dining room was large and spacious (I guess it also helped there only three tables were taken up) but the inside was rather nicely decked out. We, of course, have a TV playing Hong Kong movie in the corner (you’d need that).

It was yum cha hour but I decided that we wanted to try their menu. The menu was awesome. It had all the interesting things not available in your typical Chinese restaurant. I was so excited at how interesting the menu is. I have never even heard and or read about many of the items. So, with that in mind, please don’t think too badly of me that I ordered four dishes between the two of us.

(‘Pickled black fungus and chilli salad’ – $8.80)

The first ‘entree’ was pickled wood ear mushrooms and chilli. Personally I object to it being called fungus because that just kills the dish’s appeal. The vinegar smell was very strong but strangely enough it didn’t really taste very vinegary at all. It was rather salty. I can’t say I liked it very much but at least I have tried something new. I still remember my former boss Sila’s reaction a few years back when she came across woodears ‘Ewww!!! It looks like ears! I can’t eat that!’

(‘Sichuan style devilled chicken’ – $18.80)

We had to order the ‘devilled chicken.’ It didn’t really matter that it was probably the only dish in the menu we had heard of. Let’s face it, why wouldn’t you order the dish that had more chilli and Szechuan peppercorn in it than the chicken? It was awesome. The chicken pieces were well flavoured and the Szechuan pepper numbed my tongue. The sensation was just unbelievable. Sure I have had this gong bao dish before but it was never as intense and delicious as this one.

(‘Crispy corn kernels coated in salty duck egg yolk paste’ – $13.80)

John Lethlean mentioned this dish in his review. I love anything coated in the salted egg yolk and deep fried and I have had a few dishes with it before (mainly pork, chicken or prawn) but I have never heard of it being done with corn kernels. A basket of it came (i.e. a lot of food) with a bit of sprinkles on top. I didn’t really quite get the idea of the sprinkles on top but that didn’t bother me.

The corn kernels were yummy. It was piping hot and crunchy with sandy, salty egg yolk ‘batter’. It was the best thing since sliced bread. I swear if they sell this at the cinema instead of pop corn, I would be in heaven. The corn used, I suspect, was frozen corn kernels. I was actually expecting tinned corn and was pleasantly surprised. Yum.

(Sichuan noodle jelly in clay pot – $13.80)

I was forewarned by the picture menu that the ‘noodle’ in this dish wouldn’t exactly be noodles but I was still mildly surprised when these bubbling claypot of bright green cubes showed up. This dish presented itself a little bit later than the rest and by then I had sufficiently assaulted my poor tongue with the previous dishes (it was numb). I found this dish to be rather hot.

The ‘noodle’, I believe them to be jelly cubes made from mung bean – so for those of you who are familiar with the mung bean product, it wasn’t so different. It was semi crunchy and chewy. The sauce was the typical Sichuan feel, hot and salty. I brought most of it home as it was just too much food. And I feel bad for not doing it justice at the restaurant.

We were also given segments of sweet navel orange at the end. A welcome relief.

The food here carried that very typical Szechuan flavours – the hot, the spicy, the salty and the oily. I loved it. It wasn’t toned down for the Australian palate and there was no chilli rating. You just order it and hope that you are strong enough for it. It was hot and gutsy and I loved it for that. Oh yeah, did I mention I loved it? Josh did too.

(Our funky takeaway bags)

We ended up taking all of the dishes home because we just couldn’t eat everything. The waiters were incredibly nice and professional (a rare find in a suburban restaurant, I tell you). The food was so incredibly interesting and honestly good. Handsome and richly decorated dining room. And cheap. Did you notice how cheap the dishes were?

We are so going back.

SiChuan Dining Room, 723 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn