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Empress of Sichuan (CLOSED)

Restaurants, Chinese Chinatown

Time Out says

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Sichuan is flavour of the moment in London. Even established Cantonese restaurants are hiring a Sichuan chef and pepping up the menu with a score or more of the spicy dishes from China’s western region.

Empress of Sichuan occupies the former site of the short-lived Keelung in Chinatown, and retains many of its features; the photographs of the brat pack on the walls sends mixed messages. As does the menu, which is lengthy, often expensive, and intersperses Sichuan with other dishes, prefaced by a page stating the chef’s credentials.

His version of ‘bear’s paw tofu’ – a classic Sichuan dish – comprised of thin slices of pan-fried beancurd mixed with slivers of velvety pork. The sauce was pleasingly slithery with a moderately hot and savoury effect on the palate, with just a hint of ginger and shards of spring onion; the puckered appearance of the tofu lends the dish the ‘bear’s paw’ name, while black fungus (cloud ear mushrooms) adds both contrast of colour and texture. An excellent dish.

Bitter melon had been cut into celery-like moon-shaped slivers, then dry-fried until tender; the bitterness of the gourd was not unpleasant once tempered by the wok. Another winner.

Dish three was the biggest disappointment. Dan dan noodles are the most famous street food of Sichuan, renowned for their appealing kick of numbing Sichuan pepper combined with the heat of chilli oil. Getting the balance right is tricky.

The chef here dodged the difficulty entirely by cooking up a dish with no discernable sichuan pepper kick, and only the mildest of chilli kicks. This didn’t so much resemble dan dan noodles as linguine bolognese.

Service was pleasant, but not very attentive or clued up about explaining the dishes. At the next table, a food blogger was being hosted by two men who appeared to be restaurant managers. The blogger boasted about his blogging contacts and his love for Chinese food, but also how there were some things on this menu he wasn’t prepared to eat – ears being among them. His companions were, of course, all ears. Don’t be surprised to read shilling about this Empress elsewhere.

 

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Address: 6-7 Lisle St
London
WC2H 7BG
Transport: Tube: Leicester Square tube
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