176 Toorak Road, South Yarra
Phone: 9078 1686
It’s been a long time between visits. The first – and until recently, the latest – time I visited Dainty Sichuan Food was in its first incarnation on Smith Street, in Collingwood. I still remember that night; it was the first time I’d tried Sichuan food, and it was something of a revelation. We had ordered the Chongqing Chilli Chicken, and upon finding that is was a bed of dried chillies interspersed with miniscule chunks of chicken, we’d been a little disappointed. Though Dr D had the wisdom to take the left-over dried chillies home with him, and a couple of nights later made a fiery chilli soup which was a testament to just how much firepower those chillies contained.
Cut to about seven years later, and Dainty Sichuan is now Southside – a large contributing factor to my not having visited sooner – and about four times the size of the original shopfront. It’s gained a cult following, and the menu has expanded to match the new expansive restaurant. And yet it’s still hard to get a table on weekends! Luckily we’d booked, and we moseyed on down with our two bottles of sparkling – gotta love a BYO restaurant – from nearby drinks.
Normally I don’t comment too much about my dining companions’ chilli tolerances, but it’s relevant here. I like to think I can handle my chilli. I’m no lightweight, but nor am I a chilli fiend. My dining companions this night were otherwise. Mr I is something of a lightweight. I think it’s because he’s tall and lanky, like one of those sweet yellow peppers you can munch on as if it were a banana. Ms D, on the other hand, is a bonafide chilli hound. She’s little and fiery, like a Thai birdseye chilli. We like to joke – though it’s not a stretch of the imagination – that she likes to have yum cha because dumplings are a good accompaniment to the chilli oil. So in deference to Mr I’s delicate palate, we opted for some less challenging dishes.
First up was the kung pao chicken. This came in a massive metal dish, and when it arrived, we started to worry about the fact we’d ordered three dishes between the three of us.
I much prefer this dish to the signature Chongqing Chilli Chicken, largely because it’s not drowned in a sea of dried chillies, and the fresh green chillies are a much tastier option, IMHO. Also, you get much better chicken! Little chunks of thigh fillet, as opposed to the chopped up wing bits in the CQ Chilli Chicken. Finally, the peanuts in this are awesome, and come into their own when you hit that point where you’ve all ‘finished eating’ but all continue to pick at bits off the plate for the simple reason that food is still sitting in front of you. Peanuts rock in this situation! The dish overall had a nice balance of heat and saltiness, though – like most dishes in Sichuan food, I find – was heavily dependent on the steamed rice as a foil. I guess that’s the way the style of cuisine has been designed.
Having read enough blog posts about Dainty, I knew the one dish I had to try was the spicy eggplant. Though I’m a little disappointed with it, to be honest. I think I had a notion that they were going to be like eggplant chips. And they were, mostly. But the insides weren’t soft and gooey, and the glaze had a touch too much vinegar for my liking. Still, perhaps it’s just me, because the eggplant seems to garner universally glowing reviews.
The other dish we had was sliced pork belly, with bamboo shoot. This dish was a winner! The pork belly (winning here) was lightly salt-cured like bacon (winning there) and then stir-fried with bamboo shoot, garlic chives, leek and chilli (everywhere is winning).
As you can see, we had a lot of food.
We got through most of it, and even Mr I liked it. See? (That was on our way out.)