Recently we took a wander down Dixon Street and ended up at the place that pioneered Sichuan cuisine in the Sydney region, all the way back in 2002. It’s called Red Chilli Sichuan Restaurant, and you access it via a carpeted staircase that has seen better days. The dining room however, is expansive and nicely decorated, with an array of private dining spaces.
High backed wooden chairs surround golden-topped tables that are bathed in yellow light. Slate tiles frame a viewing window into the kitchen, where a calm, efficient white-clad chef labours.
The second you’re seated, your table is instantly treated to tea and an appetite-inspiring plate of spicy Sichuan-style cabbage and peanuts. It’s got bite – as has much of the traditional, Sichuan menu, though it also contains Sichuan dishes that are devoid of heat, like tea smoked duck.
Anticipating a chilli-heavy meal, we load up on beverages – Tsing Tao Beer ($7) and a very cuisine appropriate Handpicked Margaret River Chardonnay ($10/glass). The wine list her eis a cut above those trotted out by many of the neighbouring Chinese restaurants. Handpicked Wines – who have a cellar door in Chippendale – offer a curated collection of wines from around the globe, mostly earmarked for export to the burgeoning Chinese market.
You'll also find a considerable Baijiu selection at Red Chilli Sichuan Restaurant. Baijiu is China's distilled grain spirit made from fermented sorghum - one of the more famous ones is called Moutai - but it may be an acquired taste.
First to land are the fiery dried red chillies of Deep-Fried Chicken Dices with Hot Dry Chilli ($24.50). This dish looks much more scary than it eats. Pick through the dried chillies and only eat the fried chicken morsels, which will quickly numb your lips with Sichuan pepper powder.
For something a bit saucier, the Stir Fried Clam with Spicy Sauce ($28.50) is a well-balanced dish. The little, briny clams are rounded out with tender lotus root, ginger, shallots, more dried chillies and Sichuan pepper. It’s gentler on the spice, and the sauce is lovely scooped up in the clamshells, and on rice.
We also try loading it into an odd little steamer basket of Sichuan Style Sweet Corn Bread ($9.50/6). While it's a good vehicle for delivering sauce, I'm not sure these are entirely successful. They look, smell and feel a bit like corn-flavoured Playdough, with a curiously sweet rather than salty flavour. I'm more enamoured with a well-blistered plate of Stir Fried Green Beans with Pork Mince ($18.50).
It was a solid introduction to the inaugural Red Chilli Group restaurant that started their journey towards ten restaurants. This group now contributes to the popularity of Sichuan cuisine in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra and Brisbane.
Red Chilli Sichuan Restaurant
Level 1, 8 Dixon Street, Haymarket
Ph: (02) 9211 8122