Yearning for some spicy food during the recent rainy cold spell we went along to Szechwan Zen, knowing that is just what we would get. Now 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 one main would be all we needed – thus it proved, with still around a quarter of the dish taken away for later.
You can design your own hotpot here so that is the course we took – choosing six ingredients to go into a dry style dish, with a couple of others already in the base mix (capsicum, potato) – fish fillets, shitake mushrooms, squid tentacles, fish tofu, Chinese broccoli and eggplant – and then it was all put together with a good whack of dried, fried chilli and Szechwan pepper. Once again you can choose from 5 spice levels – we went for very hot, leaving the top note, extremely hot, for another day.
Spicy it was, with all the flavours of chilli and pepper building up a good head of steam – the fish, squid, tofu and vegetables all well-cooked, tender, fresh, crunchy as the case may be – and most of all fulfilling our craving for heat. A bowl of rice was all we needed as an accompaniment (wine aside!) and still, as I said earlier, plenty left over for a takeaway.
As for drinks – they have not retained the licence from the old place and byo is the order of the day.
Szechwan Zen maintain the quality of the food for which they built their reputation in William Street – spicy, generously sized dishes – excellent value for money.