Sichuan is one of those words I never know how to spell. Sometimes there's a Z. Sometimes it's 'shi' instead of 'si'. It's bloody confusing! For this post, I'll adopt the spelling that the restaurant itself uses, which seems like the safest bet. Despite all those academic struggles, Sichuan cuisine encompasses some of my favorite flavors EVER. Spicy, numbing, savory and hints of sweetness. It's food that packs a punch. I found about Sichuan Bang Bang on The Urban List. It sounded so good that I wanted to visit right away but then I discovered that it was located in Kenmore, a part of Brisbane that I rarely visit.
Marc and I don't normally drive anywhere for dinner but I lured him out with the promise of spicy food. We ended up lost and late. I was fuming and ready to give up thinking we weren't going to get a table because we had missed our reservation. We got there 15 minutes late and the small restaurant seemed packed but luckily someone else had just finished so they were able to fit us in.
While we were waiting, we took in the surroundings. It's quite interesting because it seemed like we were in a very residential part of the 'burbs with nothing going on as far as the eye could see... yet Sichuan Bang Bang itself was a compact, concentrated hive of activity. There were a couple of tables outside with people eating, drinking and being merry. Once we were led to our table inside, we saw that it was much the same within the restaurant.
As I mentioned before, the restaurant is small but I liked the decor. It was distinctly Asian but also artsy and funky. I spent a good while admirng the paintings, in particular the rather cheeky one behind the counter.
Complimentary Chinese tea
Chinese tea was complimentary, which beats out many of the larger Chinese restaurants in town that charge per head for tea. I didn't always like tea to accompany my meals but it's definitely growing on me, especially for greasy food like Sichuan-style cuisine or yum cha. It's cleansing and refreshing.
Spicy drunken and fried quail
We ordered two appetizers and two mains to share. Our first starter was the spicy drunken and fried quail. I felt about 5 seconds of remorse seeing how tiny the little birds were but that evaporated once I started munching on them. They were very tasty with a seasoned salt coating and juicy flesh. When I hear 'drunken' on menu descriptions, I think of Shanghai-style drunken chicken which is served cold and very boozy. I couldn't detect any alcohol in this dish butI don't know if it was supposed to or if they just meant 'drunken' as in, "this dish tastes awesome when you're drunk".
Salt, pepper and chili squid
Our other starter was the salt, pepper and chili squid. The batter was light and nicely seasoned with a bit of 5 spice and chili. Although the batter could have been crunchier, I liked that the squid pieces were really thick and fleshy rather than scrawny and submerged in thick batter like what you find in some restaurants.
Sichuan wok fried eggplant - with pork mince in chili sauce
My pick for mains was the eggplant with pork mince. I order this dish, or a varient of it, at every Sichuan restaurant I visit. I love it! It also makes a good point of comparison between different restaurants because it's something I can get critical about. One thing I look for is how well-cooked the eggplant is. I don't like it too firm or too bitter. There is such a thing as too squishy as well but it's a less common mistake. I like the eggplant to be fairy squishy without much resistance but not to the point where its disintegrated into the sauce. The eggplant at Sichuan Bang Bang was right on perfection. The mince sauce was yummy and flavorsome although it was a tad on the sweet side for my palate. Overall, it was still a delicious dish though!
Classic Sichuan beef hot pot
Marc predictably went for a dish with a 3 chili rating. I've had the classic Sichuan fish hotpot many times before, iconic for its tender slivers of white fish swimming in a pool of rediculously spicy oil. This time, we went for the beef version (the first time I've seen that on the menu and dare I say, probably to cater for a Western palate). When brought out, the dish was as visually intimidating as always; which is to say you can't see anything beyond a layer of floating red chilis. I started coughing on my first bite and this carried on throughout the remainder of our meal (a waitress came to check that I was OK and brought out a plate of cooling cucumber) and even Marc (who thinks he's the God of spice tolerance) admitted that this was hot. It was one of those dishes that's painfully spicy but so delicious that you can't stop eating it. I had been trying to resist rice for anti-carb-diet reasons but it's impossible to eat something like this without rice. I wouldn't say I prefer the beef version to the original fish version but it worked better than I expected.
I loved the food at Sichuan Bang Bang. I had my reservations because the clientele is generally non-Asian but the food tasted fairly authentic to me. The decor was fitting and the vibe was fun and feasty. I thought the service was lovely too, which is a bonus for an Asian restaurant.