Whilst everyone else has to make do with a measly two celebrations in the last week of the year I get to have three with my birthday falling on the penultimate day of the year. Admittedly I know no different but it doesn't seem the ideal day for a birthday as everyone is looking forward to the New Year's Eve celebration and there I am trying to drag them out a day early to set them up with a nice hangover. Still every year folk come out though and this was no exception.
As mentioned previously I love my Sichuan food, well that I've cooked from recipes, but have never eaten it in a restaurant. I took my birthday as the ideal opportunity to remedy this situation though and so booked up a table at the reasonably new Snazz Sichuan over in Euston. It's a pretty strange place to have a restaurant being down a bland road near the station and sitting two doors down from a brothel. It's an easy distance from my flat though and when it comes down to it I was there for the food anyway.
The twelve of us met in a pub in Kings Cross for a couple of drinks beforehand so by the time we got there at least half the party were looking very scared from all the stories of offal heavy Sichuan dishes I had regaled them with. I assured them that there would be lots of "normal" food too though and that the offal lovers could sit together and keep our internals eating to ourselves.
At the restaurant there's the option to have a hot pot, a Sichuan fondue of sorts, where a vat of bubbling, heavily spiced stock is placed in the middle of table and you buy plates of raw meat, seafood, veg and offal which you cook for yourselves in this bubbling liquid. We decided this would be an effort with such a big party though so agreed to give it a miss and pencil in a future date with a more select group. Instead we opted for a dish each with the birthday boy getting to order any more dishes if the waitress deemed we needed any. I was looking forward to grabbing another six offal filled delights of mine own choosing but alas she was very honest and said the 12 the guests chose were pretty much enough.
The menu (which can be seen here) had loads of great sounding dishes on and ours included: chengdu style twice cooked pork, fragrant and spicy pig tail and shank, fire exploded kidney flowers, special cooked pig blood casserole (my choice), special chili chicken, drifting fragrant chili, guan gong beef, zhong crescent dumplings, bei dumplings, king prawns with hot peppers and cashew nuts, pomfret braised with tofu, mapo dofu, strange-flavoured rabbit, fish fragrant aubergines, aubergines with black beans, stir fried bitter melon and tofu with garlic all topped off with boiled rice for all. A veritable banquet by all accounts. We had a vegetarian and a no pork eater with us and the waitress was great offering to cook, within reason, veg only or pork free versions of all dishes.
If folk had entered fearing offal this fear was soon replaced with a fear of chilies. I like my food hot but I've never seen so many dried chilies in dishes before. This dish of special cooked pig blood casserole probably had the most but it was far from being alone, in fact on the menu it's shown as 3 on the heat scale compared to the guan gong beef's 4.
On the topic of this dish what a magnificent dish it was. A big mound of shredded bible tripe and beansprouts with slices of firmed pig's blood (think black pudding without the oats and fat) and Spam in a spicy broth topped with about an inch deep of chili infused oil and maybe 50 dried chilies. Quite unlike anything I've ever been served before.
Other standout dishes were the cold strange-flavoured rabbit which was small cubes of bone-in meat in an sticky, spicy, sesame seed and peanut filled sauce. Keeping up the cold theme the ox tripe in garlic sauce was out of this world, the firm bite of the bland tripe being pepped up perfectly with garlic, coriander, spring onion and sesame oil - another very new taste and one of my favourites for the night. The fire exploded kidney flowers were tender and juicy and had the heat of chili bean paste without being overpoweringly hot. Twice cooked pork is something I've cooked before, pork belly first boiled then cooled before being thinly sliced and fried with leeks and sweet bean paste - it was encouraging to see their version was very similar to my attempts at home. Fish-fragrant aubergines were salty, spicy and buttery soft. The pig tail wasn't for the texturally challenged but if you were happy to chew you were rewarded with a gelatinous, rich, meaty delight. The sweet, fragrant soy sauce dip was a perfect accompaniment to the mildly seasoned pork and chewy wheat flour dough of the zhong crescent dumplings which, even if bland by a lot of Chinese dumpling standards, luckily far surpassed my home attempts. This was all washed down with a couple of bottles of rice wine and some Tsing Tao Chinese lager. All this came in at maybe £25 a head.
37 Chalton Street,