Sliding fairly seamlessly into a stylishly decked out space that used to house Bona Fides Café on Druitt Street, Spicy China presents the opportunity to explore Sichuan cooking.
It’s a far cry from the Chinese restaurants of my childhood, where this cuisine was always spelled Szechwan, and completely avoided 'ma la': the hot and numbing combination of fiery chillies and tingly Sichuan peppercorns. So, naturally, that’s exactly where I head...
Surrounding our table in an aromatic cloud, a large cast iron pot is carried in by the handle and placed ceremoniously on the table between us. We peer through the steam into a wonderful red tangle of freshwater crayfish, their claws extended as if they aimed to climb out of this fragrant mix. The Chilli Yabbies ($39.80) are cooked in more than just chilli oil (la) and Sichuan peppercorns (ma). There are also plentiful ginger slices adding pungency to the Sichuan peppercorns’ floral edge; smokiness from scorched dried chillies, and earthiness from fermented soybeans. We glove up and rip the heads off our yabbies, consuming their tail meat dripping with ‘mustard’ (the orangey-brown liver fat from under the carapace extending from the head) and oily broth. The end result is a symphony of flavour that enlivens all our sense receptors at once, pleasing mouth, nose and tummy.
Against such a hero ‘three-chilli’ dish, we decided to leave the menu’s more exotic offerings – pork aorta, intestine, braised blood jelly and beef tripe – for another day. We settled on a ‘one-chilli level' Stir Fried Shredded Pork in Hot Spicy Garlic Sauce ($22.80), which sadly was over-sweet, and made me wish I'd opted for the ‘two-chilli’ pork mince topped Mapo Tofu ($16.80) instead.
No matter, the broth from our yabbies is delicious eaten over Chongqing Style Fried Rice ($16.80) – a dish coming from a city by the same name in Sichuan Province, set on the Yangtze River.
Stay in China with their light, easy-quaffing TsingTao ($7.50) beer – with all these ma la flavours, you’ll probably need it.
70 Druitt Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9262 9372