THE ENDORPHINS OF WELL-BEING
ON PARNELL STREET
Sichuan Chilli King
100 Parnell Street
Phone: 01 878 3400
Irish Daily Mail
18 March 2017
Serendipity. I discovered Sichuan Chilli King by chance and this is rather unusual for me when it comes to restaurants.
As far as food is concerned, there’s a great network of advice out there: personal contacts, restaurant critics, social media, even to a very small extent Tripadvisor if you have the time to trawl through and get some idea of which “reviewers” actually know their gluteus maximus from their ulna.
On this occasion, I didn’t rely on any of that. I was struggling along Parnell Street (which, for non Dubliners, is not one of the capital’s more fashionable thoroughfares at the best of times) at the height of the Luas works, and caught sight of Sichuan Chilli King.
It’s not much to look at from the outside but two things drew me in. One was the menu in the window, written in Chinese (or Sichuanese Mandarin, I suppose) and English. The other was the fact that it was nearly full and everybody appeared to be Asian.
Of course there was also my delight in Sichuanese food insofar as I know anything about it but my introduction was by way of the wonderfully refined cooking at the China Sichuan in Kilmacud, now in Sandyford. I learned a bit more when I managed to get beyond the European menu in the terrific M&L off O’Connell Street and various places in London, Hong Kong and Australia but the one dish I consistently loved involved beef and chillis.
Now in Sichuanese cooking – at least in my experience of it (and I recommend all of Fuchsia Dunlop’s cookbooks if you want to learn about the nuts and bolts) – there’s the citrus spiciness of Sichuanese pepper that has a strangely numbing effect on the lips. It’s not actually a pepper but comes from a variety of ash tree; there’s something to throw into the conversation if you’re cornered by a food bore. But there’s another mainstay spice: dried chilli, each cut into short lengths, and consistently fiery.
Between the two, Sichuanese food – when genuine and not attenuated for us Westerners – is very, very hot. Sweet and sour pork, it ain’t. Chicken chow mein, it most certainly isn’t.
Anyway, my favourite hot and lip-numbing dish is simmered beef slices served in a sauce of dried chilli, chilli oil and Sichuan pepper. I think it’s called shuizhu niurou, but don’t hold me to that.
On this visit to Sichuan Chilli King we started with some decent enough shumai prawn dumplings and a bowl of wonton soup that was seriously impressive. Silky parcels of pasta containing chicken meat were served in a bowl of simple, intense, unadorned and unspiced chicken broth.
This dish was one of the most comforting things I’ve tasted in ages and I’m reminded that concentrated chicken broth, a big part of Jewish food culture, is thought to be so good for you that some call it Jewish penicillin.
Then came our beef (when ordering our waitress said “you know that’s very, very spicy?”) fragrant with lots of crushed Sichuan pepper on top, a substantial slick of red chilli oil above the thin slices of tender beef which, in turn, rested on lots of bean sprouts and slices of Chinese cabbage, all bathed in a profound broth. And simply loaded with dried chillis.
It was fabulous, as it always is. This was, I think, my sixth time eating it here. Do they tune it down a little for Westerners? Possibly so, but by the time you get to the end you’re on that thin line between pleasure and pain and your endorphins are pumping out a wonderful sense of well-being and liveliness. Yes, this is slightly mind-bending food.
I don’t know why Green Beans Western style are so called on the menu. They are green beans, certainly, but here they are served with even more dried chilli, dry-fried with what I think is fermented chilli bean paste and garlic. I could eat a whole plate of this for lunch.
With rice, four beers and two sparkling waters, the bill for this feast came to €51.10.