176 Toorak Rd
South Yarra 3141
03 9078 1686
It was a midweek evening, that I rushed frantically from work driving through traffic to arrive at this food blogger eat out. Parking, to my amazement, was quite easy to find.
Pushing open the heavy door, one collides with the loud chatter of predominantly Chinese diners and sharp scent of chilli brewing. Though the décor is supposedly much improved from its earlier establishments, it still confers an efficiency and casual unpretentious feel about it, and certainly lacks the sleek of HuTong a couple of blocks away.
Having read previous discussions over the naming of this restaurant, I thought I’d also put my spoon in the pot and stir it around a little. 天府川菜馆 (Tian Fu Chuan Chai Guan) literally translates to Heaven-Sichuan-House. Now to digress, I’ll explain briefly the historical relevance to this name. Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, has historically resided on a land of plenty, and was famously described in the Qin dynasty as being free of flood and draught, nor hunger (水旱从人，不知饥谨), and subsequently labeled as the “country of Heaven” (天府之国). So in referring to Tian Fu, one strictly speaking refers to the flat plains of Chengdu but equally loosely referring to the Sichuan province of the present day. Ok, so how does that translate to “dainty”? It doesn’t, but I suppose it sounds nice?
The shiny menu, laden with colourful (and notably red hued) photographs of each item comes as a practical pre-empt of the spicy onslaught to follow – certainly by no means dainty…
ChongChing chilli chicken – mountains of dried chilli, Sichuan pepper and somewhere within were pieces of deep fried chicken. So I exaggerated a little, but I wonder why is it necessary to put so much chilli that hardly anyone will eat or let alone finish. The chicken isn’t too dry, and has a salty albeit spicy hit to it.
Hot and spicy fish Pot – Whilst the excess of chilli, oil and peppercorns did add nice flavours to the naïve white flesh of fish, I highly doubt anyone downed more than a few mouthfuls of the huge basin of soup. I wonder whether this sort of wastage occurs in native Sichuan?
Ma Po Tofu – It is simply made with a strong fragrance of salty bean paste & black beans, chilli oil and peppercorns, contrasted against the blandness of soft tofu. It does however lack a degree of heat and also presence of rice wine.
Fish flavoured Eggplant – I always fail to comprehend why the clumsy English translation is always worlds apart from the elegant descriptions written in Chinese, but nonetheless one of the popular orders here, offering juicy bites of fragrant eggplant in a thin shell of crispy batter.
Cumin lamb slices – though the meat was a little on the dry-overcooked side, the cumin intensity and chilli heat is always a winning combination with the slight gaminess of lamb.
Preserved eggs with Hot capsicum – we ordered this dish against my advice in saying this could be easily prepared at home, although that is coming from someone who has mum at home who cooks just about anything Asian. I must say the preserved eggs were a little too pungent on sulphur without enough sharp acidity in the sauce to counterbalance it.
Potato salad – shredded potato salad with capsicum was a refreshing change to the high heat, strong flavoured dishes.
Duck tongue – duck tongue will generally get me salivating with its soft gelatinous bite, but oddly enough it was a little crunchy and lacked much flavour aside the kick of heat.
Dry stir fry beans – stir fried with minced pork and garlic the slightly wok-wrinkled crunchy beans had a moreish saltiness about them.
Pork lungs and other offals – I’m sure it wasn’t called this, but I can’t really remember the name. It was served as a cold appetiser.
Rating: Yummy. Overall Dainty Sichuan is cheap and with hugely satisfying serving sizes for the stomach, but is somewhat underwhelming on the palate. I have to agree with Melbourne Culinary Journal, that the dishes are heavily laced with chilli (but not necessarily in heat) and personally I feel it lacks a dimensional complexity and balance to its flavour, particularly lacking in the ‘fresh’ element.
P.S. ‘Fresh, fragrant, spicy and hot’ are the four vital elements that is generally accepted as what encapsulates the Sichuan cuisine.