Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Swansong Dinner

Sichuan Lab might easily be overlooked by passers-by with its dark decor resembling more like a night club and the nondescript, unmarked entrance next to a serviced apartment building across the street from a park and in the middle of the Wanchai wet market district. But it's always noticeable by any Sichuan food lover for its non-compromising take of classic cuisine with its chef in helm considered one of the most authoritative voices in the local culinary scene, especially in the subject of authentic Sichuan cuisine.

We came for dinner in mid-June after hearing its chef Kenny Chan (affectionately known as Master Tak) is retiring before the end of the month. While it may seem odd for a Chinese restaurant in such contemporary interior, it's actually chilled and comfortable, and extra bonus for having proper wine glasses for the bottle we brought in. Full a la carte food menu is available at dinner service featuring mostly Sichuan dishes, but this time we opted for their promotion menu with a combination of fixed courses and some dishes with unlimited refills - this way we could eat more in quantity and variety. We ordered a couple of other dishes to complement our meal as well. 

Our first course of hot and sour soup struck the perfect balance of spiciness and acidity with plenty of ingredients (tofu, mushrooms and pork blood curd) julienned and put into the thickened soup base. The translucent crispy beef has always been Master Tak's signature dish - while I thought it's not as thin as it used to be but it has good crispy texture and nice combination of sweet and spicy tastes. 

We shared two Mandarin Fish dishes in tasting portions done in two different styles. First was the poached fish slices with crispy soybean crumbs. Silky and thin pieces of fish combined with the crispy crumbs made from the deep-fried soymilk pulp with a touch of garlic and chilies gave this a nice contrast in texture. Second course was one served in red chili broth - it's done in just the right heat so the chilies didn't overwhelm the other flavors and served with bean sprouts, but I would prefer the fish be cut slightly thicker to give it a bit more of a bite and substance. 

Other dishes on the menu were served with refills available - but turned out we barely finished our first round of servings of everything on the list. This is my second Sichuan meal this week, and generally speaking, the dishes here were less spicy as our previous meal, but still with good spice flavor and aroma. My favorite was the sauteed peanut sprouts, with the humble ingredients given a facelift with just a touch of spices and seasonings ("twenty dollars you got a handful at the stall at the market right behind", as Master Tak told us) It's similar to bean sprouts (from green beans) but thicker and slightly crunchier. I also loved the double-cooked pork and Kung Pao chicken, and we finished with steamed Xiaolongbao and bowls of traditional Sichuan-style noodles. Like the dessert with a bit Sichuan flair too - a scoop of chocolate icecream infused with a hint of chili flavor. 

Went with a bottle of champagne again this time, an interesting collaboration of a champagne house (Arteis & Co) and grower (Jean Diot) with a local grocery/wine curator (Sunday's Grocery). Deep straw color and full-bodied made entirely from red/black grapes, purfumic on the nose, hint of red berries on the palate and good acidity. 

We mourned when Master Tak's previous restaurant Yun Yan was closed a few years ago, and I had the similar sentiment this time, not knowing whether the restaurant will be the same after his departure, but let's keep the fingers crossed that it will. 

When? June 16 2020
Where? Sichuan Lab, G/F Lodgewood by L'Hotel, 28 Tai Wo Street, Wanchai
Menu Highlights? Crispy Paper-thin Beef Slices 
Drink? Sunday’s Grocery x Champagne Jean Diot x Arteis & Co x Elliot Faber Blanc de Noirs NV 

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