Felicitous Chinese food
Authentic dishes for New Year celebrations at China Sichuan
Restaurant Title: China Sichuan
Proprietor: Kevin Hui
Address: The Forum, Ballymoss Road, Sandyford Industrial Estate, Dublin 18
Phone: 01-293 5100
Dear Dublin city planners: Sandyford? What in the name of neighbourhoods were you thinking? When the cars aren’t roaring past the wind is. Two types of wind: a sea wind that will skin you and mountain blasts that cut to the marrow. Both varieties are tunnelled for maximum impact by those tall buildings that must have looked so shiny and brilliant on the plans. And on a stormy night the winds come loaded with stinging pellets of hard cold rain. To hell or to Sandyford.
These are my grumpy thoughts when I push open the door into the warm, calm space of China Sichuan. This restaurant is a refuge and, on a miserable Monday night, they’ve achieved something astonishing. It’s pleasantly busy. One look at the value menu (€20 for two courses, all night Monday to Wednesday and early evening the rest of the week) probably explains it.
This weekend billions of Chinese dumplings will be folded and crimped by cooks celebrating Chinese New Year everywhere. Early morning visits to friends and family will herald New Year’s Day, and the cook of the house will have been preparing food for days before. My friend Grace says Chinese people are much more likely to make small talk about food than about the weather. Food is an obsession.
Grace has had some dismal Chinese dining experiences in Dublin. In one restaurant the sauce on a meat dish was so sweet it tasted like it had been tipped out of a jam jar. So here she asks the waiter to ask the kitchen to cook her food “Chinese-style”. This is met with the bristle of an opera singer who has been asked to stay in tune. That is the only way they cook things here, the waiter insists.
The comfortable room is decked out in browns, with huge lampshades and tealights on the tables. The other (empty) side of the restaurant has been screened off with lacquered wooden screens, which makes it cosier. Our smooth black chopsticks rest on hollowed shiny black pebble-shaped ceramics. Napkins are linen. There isn’t a prawn cracker in sight.
Instead, a tangle of bean sprouts in chilli oil are a crisp, fresh calling card for the heat of some of the dishes that follow. Starters come promptly on black square plates. There’s a pile of Loh Bah Gou, or cubes of Chinese turnip, with sweetly charred scallions and red chillies sprinkled over them. These aren’t just cubes of the raw vegetable, but a soft, light sauce of turnip boiled with rice flour (typically) and deep fried, which makes them a little like Spanish croquetas. They’re light and gorgeous.
The Waltip dumplings pass Grace’s test of authenticity: the innards of these crescent-moon-shaped parcels are dense with pork, in pastry that’s both moist from the steaming and crisp from the frying. A tart, dark dipping sauce adds a hit of piquancy to the umami.
Most Chinese cooking starts with the same three things: garlic, scallions and ginger. They’re all in the lamb main dish, which we get with rice. The scallions are sliced in thick chunks so they’re still sweet, and the lamb has been beaten flat to soften it. There’s still a background taste of Irish stew in this simple dish. The Sichuan aromatic duck comes with pancakes in a lidded bamboo box. The skin is crunchy, the meat a little dry, so the plum sauce completes the spectrum. There are matchstick scallion shards to be rolled up in the pancakes.
A dish of long beans (French beans) with Chinese radish is a stunner – hot spicy, brilliantly cooked with the radish reduced down to sweet brown shards that cling to the crunchy beans.
Fresh fruit is the typical end to a Chinese meal, and the desserts offer a more western take. We try a lemon-curd puff, which is light enough to need netting down. I get a plate of poached pineapple slices with a ball of mango sorbet on top. It’s a sweet, clean end to a parade of genuine Chinese flavours, combined with the freshest of vegetables, good meat and assured cooking. Dinner for two with soft drinks and dessert comes to €93.40.
China Sichuan, The Forum, Ballymoss Road, Sandyford Industrial Estate, Dublin 18, tel: 01-293 5100
THE VERDICT: Authentically delicious Chinese food
Music: Light jazz
Wheelchair access: Yes
Food provenance: None