Red Chilli Sichuan restaurant is near Fitzgerald Street, the less popular end of James and from the outside is not particularly appealing – it took the place of another Chinese place, Golden Fortune, I think. Inside it is all dark wood, red and gold trim, paper lanterns, fish tanks.
The menu is one of those resplendent with photos of the food to give the unfamiliar a glimpse of what they are ordering. Interestingly the “market prices’ of fish are set as dollars per pound, rather than grams…an Imperial throwback.
The wine list is non-existent; the only alcoholic drinks listed are beer and spirits – although a few bottles of wine can be spotted in the fridge and from the small array we spied, and grabbed, a bottle of Madfish chardonnay. Others seemed to be SSB and straight sauvignon blanc. I don’t know why so many Asian restaurants just don’t try to develop a good wine list – if they are not familiar with wine, get some advice – a few aromatic whites – Riesling, gewurtztraminer, pinot gris – and rosé – these all go so well with spicy food; it is a shame they often let themselves down.
Anyway, to the food. We looked through the pictures and decided on a couple of dishes – stewed fish with pickled cabbage and chilli, and squid tentacles with crispy fried chilli, plus a small bowl of steamed rice. The serves were enormous.
The fish, basa we were told, came in a very large bowl, full of broth, loads of tender, juicy fillets, crisp cabbage scattered throughout, and a few chopped chilli floating on top. The broth was very spicy; Sichuan pepper with its mouth numbing effect was very evident, as were chilli and garlic. The dish was full of zesty flavour – and the pickled cabbage provided a good backdrop of crunch and vinegar sharpness. It was a very good dish, but way too much – I think the friend I was with who took away the remains will be feasting on it for a day or two yet.
Our second meal – again a very generous serve – came as a pile of crispy fried squid tentacles, sitting on a bed of puffed rice crackers, spring onions, and fried chilli – the chilli was relatively mild which was as well because our fish had certainly hit the spice high notes. Squid was tender and the whole dish came together well with varying textures and flavours complementing each other.
We were impressed with the quality of our meals – the service was fine, friendly; it is by no means a cheap and cheerful, some of the prices hit the high side of reasonable, but we enjoyed the experience. It is worth wandering a little farther down James to try it out; best to be in a group of 4 or 5 if you want to try a range of dishes – now if only they could fix the wine list.