Location: Coda Plaza, MacDonnell Road
Type of food: Sichuan
Rating: ***** (5 of out 5)
San Xi Lou, named after Qing Emperor Qianlong’s (乾隆) priceless collection of calligraphy scrolls, has been serving authentic Sichuan cuisine in Hong Kong for decades. The restaurant remains one of the city's best kept secrets in large part because it is tucked away at an awkward commercial building in an out-of-the-way residential enclave.
The Sichuan restaurant has been consistently snubbed by the Michelin Guide Hong Kong, which, no offense, is hardly an authority on Chinese cuisine. But San Xi Lou is so good that it has now taken up another floor at Coda Plaza; so good that I keep going back despite my general resistance to ethnic Chinese food; and so good that I give it a rare five-star rating.
|San Xi Lou on MacDonnell Road|
The best dishes at San Xi Lou are shui zhu yu (水煮魚; steamed Mandarin fish), kou shui ji (口水雞; literally, saliva chicken) and fuqi feipian (夫妻肺片; sliced beef innards), all prepared with a generous amount of red hot chili peppers and huajiao (花椒), a potent Sichuan pepper known not for its spiciness but the tingly numbness it leaves in the mouth. At San Xi Lou, you will find most dishes uniformly red and swimming in chili oil made from these two types of peppers.
The restaurant has a limited menu for vegetarian and non-spicy food. If you are seriously squeamish about eating very hot food, this is not the place for you. Otherwise, go with a sense of adventure and you are guaranteed a great time. You will find San Xi Lou a place where every dish is a dare and where patrons wash down delicious, authentic Sichuan cuisine with hearty quaffs of cold beer or homemade soy milk.
If some of the dishes prove too spicy or greasy for you, dip the food in hot tea to wash off the offending chili oil. But whatever you do, try not to spoil the fun for the rest of the table by squirming and complaining. You are, after all, in a Sichuan restaurant.
|My favorite: steamed Mandarin fish|
San Xi Lou is known for its authenticity and no-nonsense good service. The restaurant appeals to a broad customer base. At any given night, you will see a diverse mix of local diners, Mainland Chinese visitors, expatriates and tourists from every corner of the world. It is also a restaurant of choice for company events and birthday parties. The main dining hall is full of laughs and cheers from happy patrons clanging glasses and discussing the food they are eating, instead of checking their Blackberries or playing with their iPhones. And because Sichuan food is not for the fainted hearted or the weak stomached, eating all that leftover chili peppers makes for a perfect, though perilous, penalty for drinking games.
|Another favorite: saliva chicken|