London’s best Sichuan restaurants

According to the Chinese, China is the place for food, but Sichuan is the place for flavour. Sichuan is a Southwestern province of China, its capital is Chengdu and its varied cuisine is rich with flavours of chilli, mouth-numbing Sichuan pepper and a host of other delicious ingredients.

In the mid-noughties Sichuanese food started to catch on in the UK. It’s addictive. At a Sichuan restaurant, as well as spicy heat, you can expect tasty cold appetisers, lots of offal and menus with lurid colour pictures.

Some favourite dishes include:

Cold appetisers, such as hot and numbing beef, mouthwatering Sichuan chicken in a lip-tinglingly spicy sauce and husband and wife lung slices.

Twice-cooked pork. Every Sichuan restaurant serves a version of this classic dish. Wafer thin slices of boiled pork are stir-fried in bean pastes with black beans and green vegetables until they melt in the mouth, delicate yet full of flavour.

Twice cooked pork at Yipin

Fire exploded kidney flowers. An expertly spiced dish that takes the humble kidney to new levels of presentation, flavour and texture.

Pock-marked old woman’s bean curd. Possibly the world’s best-named dish, after a Mrs Chen whose face was marked with smallpox scars. Many versions of this dish are vegetarian and alive with chilli, Sichuan pepper and spring onion. Some versions also include beef or pork.

Pock-marked old woman's bean curd at Bar Shu

Dry-fried green beans. Dry-frying is a technique widely used in Sichuan where raw ingredients are stir-fried in a dry, hot wok. In the case of dry fried green beans, they are cooked until the skin blisters, with garlic, ginger and sometimes minced pork. Incredibly tasty and tender.

Chengdu dan dan noodle. A classic Chengdu street snack, usually with wheat noodles cooked with sweet fermented sauce, spring onion, preserved vegetables and sesame paste.

There are now quite a few restaurants in London, and further afield, where you can get a spicy fix of Sichuan. Here are some of the best:

Bar Shu, 28, Frith Street, London W1D 5LF. With a menu full of Sichuan classics, you can’t go too far wrong at Soho’s Bar Shu. Set up with the help of British Sichuan food guru Fuschia Dunlop, whose fantastic book Sichuan Cookery enables you to recreate their dishes at home.

Yipin, 70-72 Liverpool Road, London N1 0QD. Near the Angel in Islington, Yipin offers Hunanese and Cantonese food as well as dishes from Sichuan. Has the best twice-cooked pork I’ve tasted.

Red & Hot, 37, Charlton St, London NW1 1JD. Wonderfully formerly known as Snazz, this restaurant in slightly grimy King’s Cross is now part of the small Red & Hot chain. with other branches in the Chinatown areas of Manchester, Birmingham and London.

Chilli Cool, 15 Leigh street, London WC1H 9EW. This small restaurant tucked away on a quite street not far from King’s Cross station has a good selection of tasty Sichuan dishes. They are proud of their homemade chilli sauce and I imagine they get through a lot of it.

Further afield:

My Sichuan, Old School, Gloucester Green, Oxford OX1 2DA. Recently opened and could well be Oxford’s best restaurant! Try the signature dish of hot and spicy crispy king prawns, cooked with Sichuan pepper, dried chilli, peanuts and dried mushroom, in a rich and tasty sauce.

Red Chilli, 70-72 Portland St, Manchester M1 4GU. Also has branches in Leeds and York.

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