San Xi Lou
7/F Coda Plaza, 51 Garden Road, Central
Tel: 2838 8811
Cuisine: Sichuan, including hotpot.
Price: About HK$200 per person without drinks and before adding the service charge.
Ambience: Retro Chinese, with carved wood screens and sturdy wooden tables and chairs. There are a few private rooms.
Pros: The food is balanced, rather than one-dimensionally spicy. The servers - especially the managers - are friendly and knowledgeable.
Cons: The noise level can get quite loud, especially when the bartender is making blended drinks. Spiced pork kidneys (HK$88) were disappointing; the kidneys were cut into uneven pieces and overcooked, so they were tough. The glutinous rice dumplings (HK$20) were well-stuffed with sesame paste but the wrapper was too thick and chewy.
Recommended dishes: Sichuan green noodles with hot and sour sauce (HK$28 for a small portion) had a spicy, numbing sauce contrasting with the cool, slippery noodles. Marinated ox tripe with chilli sauce (HK$58) included at least two types of meat other than the promised stomach - thin slices of tender, fatty pork and chewy beef; the different textures were enjoyable. Sauteed diced chicken with spicy red chilli (HK$138 for a regular portion) didn't have much meat - most of the dish was dried chillies which give flavour but aren't meant to be eaten. But the small chunks of chicken were tender and spicy. The ma po dou fu (HK$68, above) is well-flavoured with minced pork, fermented black beans and sweet-spicy chilli paste. We also ordered a couple of cooling dishes. Fried eggplant with minced pork and dried chillies (HK$68) was mild, with a sauce that was more sweet than spicy. The eggplant had been peeled and cooked so it was toothsome, rather than mushy. The greatest pleasure in eating fish heads (with ginger and green onions, HK$108) is the different textures - gelatinous, meaty and crunchy, so this dish didn't disappoint. Egg yolk steamed buns (HK$28) were some of the best we've tried because the wrapper was so delicate.
What else? This restaurant used to be known as Man Jiang Hong, located in Causeway Bay.