Long gone were the days when Chinese food was synonymous with just crispy battered pork fillets coated with sugary ketchup sauce, or stir-fried thin egg noodles with sticky dark oyster sauce in a party of finely chopped carrots, beef mince and baby pak choy. The dynamic city of Melbourne has come a long way since then. The gastronomic palate of Melbournians has well expanded beyond the ordinary Cantonese Siu Mai, or the slippery Shanghai Xiao Long Bao. The city of Melbourne is consistently permeated with global aroma of the most exotic types, people are now demanding for authenticity in taste and texture. The usual Chinese dishes packed in cubic-shaped take away containers might soon be superseded; Chinese food is now an art, a specialty culinary of distinctive taste based on its respective originating region.
One of the most popular entrants into the diverse Chinese food market in Melbourne is the Chongqing or Sichuan cuisine. The Chinese simply sums up the Sichuan culinary experience in two words: “Mala” (麻辣), or “tingly numbing” and “spicy” in their literal translation. Originated from the Sichuan province in southwestern China, the Sichuan cuisine is well known for its insanely liberal use of chilli peppers and chilli oil. Any first-time challenger of Sichuan cuisine is well advised to brace yourself in anticipation of some excruciating numbing sensation (which might also leave you shedding a tear or two). Definitely not an experience for the faint hearted.
The Dainty Sichuan at Lonsdale Street is highly recommended if you are craving for some piping hotpot within the central business district. The flavoured soups are tantalizing and the ingredients are fresh- the two “musts” for a quality hotpot experience.
The consistently long queue, endless waiting list and docket numbers being handed out, the large presence of Chinese customers – the combination of these might be your good indication as to the popularity of the restaurant and its genuineness of flavour. This centrally-located restaurant is one of the many specialty restaurants under the Dainty Sichuan umbrella group, and is by far the glitziest and largest to date.
Although well known for its ferociously red chilli broth that can easily send anyone perspiring profusely in swollen lips, the restaurant has very graciously inserted a variety of flavoured soup bases in its menu as alternative choices for those lacking of Sichuan courage. Your personalized hotpot will be heated and kept simmering in metallic vessel placed on your individual induction cooktop inlaid into the table. You then place the fresh raw ingredients into the pot and wait for the fragrant stew to work its miracle and turn them into edible cuisine of intense flavour.
The sliced meat, mushroom, tofu, meatballs, seafood and egg dumplings are painstakingly displayed on serving dishes of different sizes and shapes, a true pleasure to the visual sense. The massive selection of sauces and condiments for you to mix and match, and to produce your individualized dipping sauce of bespoke quality is another real plus that makes the hotpot experience a truly enjoyable one.
I am desperate to go back for more!
149 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne (Between Russell and Exhibition Street)
Daily 11.30am – 3pm, and 5pm – 10pm