One of the places that I have missed being able to get along to during the lockdown was Szechwan Zen – with its very spicy and addictive food. So, with the added incentive of cool weather calling for some heat to warm us up we set out for lunch.
Located in Newcastle Street, and in smaller premises than the older place in the square in William Street, both the dining room and the menu have reduced in size, but not the spice levels of the food served.
Szechwan cuisine originated in the south west of China and is characterised by pungent and spicy flavours resulting from the liberal use of garlic, chilli, ginger and star anise and the unique flavour of Szechwan pepper – this has an intensely fragrant, almost citrus like flavour which produces a numbing sensation in the mouth – and we do enjoy the style.
Another thing to remember about the various Szechwan places around town is the size of the serves – they really are designed for groups and with just the two of us we decided, after initial thoughts of more, one main would be all we needed and so it proved.
One dish we had not had before took the eye and roasted whole fish with chilli was soon arriving at the table. What a sight – a tray containing a whole, roasted, split and butterflied fish under a copious amount of chopped, dried, fried chilli along with sliced celery, green onions, tofu, potato and more, all in chili infused oil.
Spicy it was, with all the flavours of chilli and pepper building up a good head of steam – the fish, tofu and vegetables all well-cooked, tender, fresh, crunchy as the case may be – and most of all fulfilling our craving for heat. Despite the daunting sight of the chillies it was all very enjoyable – although you would need to have a love of chilli to fully appreciate it – luckily, we do. A bowl of rice was all we needed as an accompaniment (wine aside!). (You can choose differing levels of spice so if chilli heat is not your thing, you can still experience some excellent food)
As for drinks – they have not retained the licence from the old place and byo is the order of the day and our bottle of rosé was a fine, crisp and dry companion.
It was great to see Szechwan Zen back in action as the restrictions slowly lift and, also, that they have continued to produce high quality spicy, generously sized food at very good prices. This is a place you should experience soon.