Chilli Cool (London)


Dim sum
isn’t the only Chinese food we ate in London; we predictably also ate a fair bit of Sichuan. Predictably, because our love of Sichuan food is of a piece with the general food culture’s love of Sichuan food. Just as the Twin Cities have no other decent regional Chinese food worth the name but boast a handful of quite good Sichuan places, London too has seen an explosion of Sichuan restaurants in the last decade or so. Leading the way is the Barshu group, which in addition to their upscale eponymous restaurant also has a few hipper, more affordable outposts. We didn’t eat at Barshu but we did eat at another pricey Sichuan place opened by an ex-Barshu chef (more on this later) and at one of the Barshu group’s aforementioned hipper outposts (more on this later as well). First up, however, is this writeup of the altogether less fashionable Chilli Cool on Leigh St. in the King’s Cross area, a hop, skip and jump from the British Library and not too far from the British Museum (or, for that matter, the Dickens Museum). Continue reading

A. Wong (London)


I’d said I’d have reviews of a couple more Indian restaurants this week but I decided to give you a break from Indian food. Accordingly, here is an account of an interesting lunch of mod dim sum and other snacks at A. Wong, located in the borderlands between Victoria and Pimlico and a world away from Joy King Lau.

Named for the owner, Andrew Wong, A. Wong opened in 2013 on the site of a previous unremarkable Chinese restaurant owned by his father. Well, I don’t know myself that it was unremarkable—I’m pulling that description from Jay Rayner’s rave review in the Guardian from about a year ago. As you will see, if you read his review, A. Wong features pan-regional Chinese food, passed through the filters of contemporary cheffy technique and plating. If you’d ever wished you could eat har gow with a citrus foam on top, or a sesame ball with a dab of foie gras inside it, well, A. Wong may be the place for you (but make sure to get a reservation). But how well is all this done? Read on.  Continue reading

Dim Sum at Joy King Lau (London)


The word on the foodie street is that Chinese food in London is nothing very special and that, unlike Indian food, there’s no good reason to seek it out when visiting. Accordingly, when I was here last August I didn’t look at any Chinese restaurants. However, when your visit is not for a week or two but for three months the prospect of going without any kind of Chinese food is untenable—for us anyway. As it turns out, one of London’s better reviewed Sichuan restaurants is a hop, skip and jump from our flat—we’ve already eaten there once and I’ll have a report once we’ve eaten there again. But how about non-Sichuan Chinese food?  Continue reading

Dim Sum at Elite, Again (Los Angeles, July 2016)

Elite: Sticky Rice
We skipped dim sum on our trip to L.A. last winter—this because we were going to be in Hong Kong a month later and it didn’t seem particularly urgent to eat dim sum in L.A. Now, of course, after five months in Minnesota, the opportunity of eating dim sum that is better than just acceptable was hard to pass up. I have to admit, however, that I was a little bit nervous: years of eating dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley has made it hard for me to get excited about dim sum in Minnesota (the best of which would be about third-tier in the SGV); would eating excellent dim sum in Hong Kong do the same to the SGV? Our meal at Lei Garden had been an order of magnitude better than any we’d ever eaten at Sea Harbour or Elite—would either of these places still do it for us? It was to one of these that we wanted to go, of course: they’re still the consensus top picks in the SGV. The fact that we were going to be eating on July 4 all but ruled Sea Harbour out. The waits can be 1-2 hours on regular weekends. Elite can be as crowded but for whatever reason we’ve always had luck getting in there, and so that’s where we decided to take our chances. How did it turn out? Read on.  Continue reading

Szechuan Impression, Take 2 (Los Angeles, July 2016)

Szechuan Impression: Farm Chicken in Chilli Oil
We ate at Szechuan Impression on our trip to Los Angeles last winter and at the end of my review I noted that I expected we’d be back on our trip in the summer. Well, this came true almost immediately upon our arrival in Los Angeles. We got in on the evening of July 1; we ate lunch at Szechuan Impression on July 2. Joining us for lunch were Sku and his family, with whom we eat on every trip, and with whom we love eating (as they are one of very few families whose attitude to eating out is exactly like ours, that is to say, excessive). Since our last trip Szechuan Impression has opened a second branch but we made a return to the original in Alhambra. I am glad to say that expansion has not had any negative effects on the kitchen: our meal was as good as the previous, and that one was one of the best Sichuan meals we’d ever had (and better than the Michelin starred one we ate in Hong Kong a few weeks later).  Continue reading

Lung King Heen (Hong Kong)

Lung King Heen:
Well, it’s been over two months since we got back to Minnesota from Hong Kong and here finally is my last meal report. This was our last restaurant meal there and in terms of reputation this was the biggest one of them all: under head chef Chan Yan-Tak, Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons holds three Michelin stars, the only Chinese restaurant in the world with that distinction, and is on most people’s short list of the best Cantonese restaurants in the world.

We’d not originally planned to eat there—I had Fook Lam Moon on my radar instead for high-end Cantonese—but as a result of our fabulous dim sum meal at Lei Garden (also in the International Finance Center where the Four Seasons is located) we ended up there for weekday lunch. Let me explain. Continue reading

Qi – House of Sichuan (Hong Kong)

mapo-tofu
Eating Sichuan food in Hong Kong is probably a bit like eating Mexican food in New York but we couldn’t resist. All the Cantonese food we’d eaten so far on the trip had been so superior to their analogues in the US that it didn’t seem unlikely that the Sichuan food would be too. Then there was the fact that stray dishes with Sichuan flavours that we’d eaten at early meals at Crystal Jade and Lei Garden had been very good indeed. And so we swapped out our original plan of eating a Shanghainese dinner with a reservation at Qi – House of Sichuan, a very well-reviewed restaurant that recently picked up a Michelin star. Even if it wasn’t likely to be as good as eating Sichuan food in Sichuan, we figured it would give our favourites in the San Gabriel Valley a run for their money. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way.  Continue reading

Tasty Congee & Noodle Wantun Shop (Hong Kong)

Tasty Congee: House Specialty Wonton Noodles in Soup
After a week off I’m back to reports on our meals in Hong Kong in late January and early February. This is the home stretch—only two more after this, probably. I’m also back in the IFC mall. This was our third meal there and we came back again the next day for an outstanding lunch at Lung King Heen. This, however, was a meal at the far end of the spectrum from Lung King Heen. Which is to say not that it was cheap (though much cheaper than Lung King Heen or even Lei Garden) but that it features very basic Cantonese comfort food: the setting, as befits the IFC location, was also very comfortable indeed; this is no Yat LokContinue reading

Under Bridge Spicy Crab (Hong Kong)

Under Bridge Spicy Crab: Claw
After three reports on excellent Cantonese outings in Hong Kong I now come to the first of two slightly underwhelming meals. As it happens we came to the meal for pretty much the same reason that this review comes when it does: as a break. It was our second night in Hong Kong and we’d already eaten four meals in a row that featured relatively mild flavours, excellent though they were (at Crystal Jade, Yat Lok, Crystal Jade again and at Lei Garden), and had another similar lunch planned for the next day. And so for our second dinner we decided we’d do a meal centered on more robust fare. We couldn’t get into any of the better-reviewed Sichuan places on short notice (though we did get into one of those the next night—more on that next week) but were able to snag a table at one of the three locations of Under Bridge Spicy Crab in the Wan Chai neighbourhood. Herewith our experience.  Continue reading

Lei Garden, Dim Sum (Hong Kong)

Lei Garden: Xiao Long Bao

My friends and enemies alike in Minnesota are sick of hearing how much better dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley is than dim sum in the Twin Cities. Well, I can now report that the better dim sum in Hong Kong is to a place like Sea Harbour in the SGV as Sea Harbour is to anything in Minnesota: several levels beyond. The basis for this claim is a mindbogglingly good meal we had a few Saturdays ago at Lei Garden in the International Finance Center in Hong Kong. We’d wanted to eat at least one fancy dim sum meal and Lei Garden, with its Michelin star, was our pick.   Continue reading

Dumplings and Noodles at Crystal Jade (Hong Kong)

Crystal Jade:

A sign you’ve married well: you get off a redeye flight from New Delhi to Hong Kong with two small children in tow and suggest to your partner that the first thing you do is sit down at the airport location of Crystal Jade for some dumplings and noodles and she excitedly agrees. This, by the way, is something all visitors arriving in Hong Kong should do, whatever the time of day. You’ve got to get your trip off to an auspicious start. Of course, it’s not like this will be your only opportunity to eat at Crystal Jade. The Singapore-based chain has >100 branches in Asia (and a couple in San Francisco too, apparently) and Hong Kong has 21 of them.   Continue reading

Roast Goose at Yat Lok (Hong Kong)

Yat Lok
I still have a couple of meal reports from our recent trip to Delhi to come but I thought I would start on our Hong Kong meals as well. We stopped in Hong Kong our way back from Delhi. We were supposed to be staying with friends but due to a family emergency we only ended up staying in their house—they were back in India while we were there. We had a lot of eating planned with them but managed quite well on our own. Hong Kong is one of those cities where, if you like Chinese food, it is kind of difficult to not eat well. It helped though that I was armed with a lot of recommendations. We ate across the price spectrum while we were there, and one of the very best meals was one of the cheapest and certainly the simplest: at Yat Lok on Stanley Street in the Central district.  Continue reading

Szechuan Impression (Los Angeles, Winter 2015-16)

Szechuan Impression
Szechuan Impression opened in 2014 and almost immediately became the major rival to Chengdu Taste in what could be called the second major wave of Sichuan restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. The first wave, by my reckoning, crested in the early 2000s with the debut of Chung King in Monterey Park (on Garfield). Chung King carried on for a decade and a half (about three lifetimes in the SGV), moving to new digs in San Gabriel in the process, but by the time they ignominiously folded up last year they had well and truly been eclipsed by the new standard bearer, Chengdu Taste. I will note, however, that the coverage of Chengdu Taste always seemed to me to forget how good Chung King had been in its prime. Still, Chengdu Taste’s newer dishes were a revelation and their greater attention to ambience was also a far cry from the utilitarian aesthetic of Chung King and Yunkun Garden and co. One way to describe Szechuan Impression is to say that it goes further along both of those axes.  Continue reading

Grand Szechuan, 2015

Grand Szechuan: Beef and Tofu with Peanuts
This is my fourth report on Grand Szechuan (first, second, third) and my first since December 2014. We’ve been eating there regularly all year, however—I’ve just been waiting to post one large round-up of dishes that we hadn’t had before or that I hadn’t reported on before. This is that round-up. (Though there are a few familiar items in here too.)

Since my last report on Grand Szechuan there’s been a bit of ferment in the Twin Cities Sichuan scene. Little Szechuan has closed their West End location (we haven’t been back to their St. Paul mothership in a while, and so I don’t know if they’re still religiously hotpot only there). There have even been some reports of decline at Grand Szechuan (and some speculation about possible changes in the kitchen). Well, we’ve been eating there all year and we haven’t noticed any decline. And on our last visit we confirmed that Chef Luo is still running the kitchen. In fact, they have some new dishes, though only listed in Chinese on a board stuck to a wall, and I’m happy to report on them here.

Continue reading