The best of its kind WINE CHOICE

 

A restaurant where the food is more than the sum of its parts

CHINA SICHUAN,The Forum, Ballymoss Road, Sandford Industrial Estate, Dublin 18. 01- 2935100 www.china-sichuan.ie

LIKE ALL MEN - well, all real men with a full complement of testosterone - I rarely, if ever, read instructions. We believe that everything should be self-explanatory. And that we know how to do things anyway.

This is not at all the same as our reluctance to ask directions. It is true that real men would rather submit to a prostate examination than ask how to get somewhere. But this is not because we have great trust in our natural ability to navigate.

No, it's because we retain a vestigial fear from childhood, a fear that we will blow our cover as agents of Uncle (membership of which was available by way of a curious arrangement with Tayto Crisps).

Now, where was I? I don't know what the real man's position is on asking for advice in restaurants. I'm a bit agnostic. There are restaurants where you just know that a request for advice will be turned to the advantage of the kitchen as it tries to clear out the larder before the environmental health officer's next visit. In more respectable establishments you will end up with something that simply isn't selling - and this often because Irish consumers are so utterly conservative.

The news is good this week. Very good indeed. I have found somewhere from which I will have to be removed, on a regular basis, with threats of violence.

When you go to the new, very cool and chic China-Sichuan you will be tempted, doubtless, to stick with the old favourites, of which many have survived in the new incarnation. This, believe me, would be a shame. Don't, I beg you, order for yourself.

Get the enthusiastic and understanding staff to choose for you and experience stuff that previously has never crossed your mind. And, for what it's worth, I reckon the new China-Sichuan is one of the very best restaurants of its kind in these islands.

This is what arrived, each course a surprise, when two of us sat down with a hearty appetite.

First, tiny baby squid, flash fried with sweet soy sauce and plenty of dried chilli, garnished with crispy seaweed. This was really an amuse-bouche, small and jewel-like, packed with flavour, a lovely kick-start for the gastric juices.

Then a stunning vegetarian starter of sliced Chinese mushrooms with dark soy sauce wrapped in a sheet of bean curd and fried: a combination of crisp, slippery, chewy textures and clean yet earthy flavours. At the end of the meal we asked for just one more portion of this. I could eat it for weeks on end.

Much the same can be said for what came next: chopped soft-shell crab, which was stir-fried with Sichuan pepper and crushed soybeans. This was the sort of thing where you end up licking your finger and running it around the dish to pick up any remnant, however tiny.

Then some traditional dim sum. This was har kow, a combination of minced prawn and ginger in rice-flour pastry, steamed. Dim sum are freshly made here every day, as you can tell by their delicacy and brilliantly fresh flavours.

Then tea-smoked duck, crisp skinned, still pink and wonderfully infused with smoky aromas, served with sharp plum sauce. A great old China-Sichuan favourite, but somehow modernised.

Then the fish special of the day, which was steamed cod dressed with ginger, garlic, scallion and fresh coriander, topped off with minced green chilli that delivered an electrifying kick to a dish that was so utterly well judged and impeccably balanced.

This was one of the best things I've eaten in years, full of strong flavours yet true to the fish, much more than the sum of the parts.

Finally, steamed char siu buns, but not as we tend to know them: sweet bread dough encasing long-cooked pork with honey.

To add some greenery there was stir-fried choi sum, better than most asparagus.

We drank red Pu-erh and green yin long teas, the former well able for any spices, the latter amazingly delicate and refreshing. And there was lots of still mineral water and a couple of serious double espressos. The bill came to €127 for enough food to feed three.

This restaurant is a milestone in the story of food in Ireland. Beat a path to its door and prepare to be seduced. But what it really deserves is adventurous palates. tdoorley@irish-times.ie

THE SMART MONEY

Mushrooms in bean curd and the choi sum with a pot of Pu-erh tea would make a beautifully balanced lunch for €16.50.

WINE CHOICE

Apart from the wonderful range of teas, sakes and cocktails there's a very carefully chosen wine list arranged by grape variety, 16 of which are available by the 150ml glass or 375ml carafe. It's impossible to do justice to such a list here, but bear in mind Domaine Sylvain Bailly Quincy (€34), Meyer-Fonne Pinot Blanc (€30), Loimer Langenloiser Grüner Veltliner (€30), Craighall Ata Rangi Chardonnay (€69), Guitan Valdeorras (€35), Mas des Bressades Rosé (€29), Yann Chave Crozes-Hermitage (€40), Château Jouclary Cabardès (€26), Domaine Tempier Bandol (€60), Clos Mogador Priorat 1991 (€160), Dehesa Gago (€27), Mauro Tempranillo (€67), Conterno-Fantino Dolcetto d'Alba (€37), Seghesio Zinfandel (€50) and Pittacum Bierzo (€31).

A list that really does match the level of the food.