176 Toorak Rd South Yarra, VIC 3141
It’s no secret that I love my spicy food – think sweaty-browed, eye-watering, can’t-feel-my-lips spicy. Perhaps it’s in my genes (my dad hails from Northern China, where they live and breathe chillies), or maybe I’ve just been desensitised from a whole lifetime of eating them, but the result is the same – I do my darndest to incorporate spice into practically everything I eat.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder that Dainty Sichuan was my restaurant of choice to celebrate my birthday last year. Usually I have trouble booking a birthday dinner because it happens to fall on New Year’s Eve, but luckily, the Chinese tend to postpone celebrations until Chinese New Year, so I was able to snag a spot for my family and K just a few days in advance.
So strong was the aroma of Dainty Sichuan’s food that I could smell it at least 3 blocks away – a heady mix of peppercorns and chillies, it was more than enough to make my mouth water. We were promptly seated upstairs and the waiter/?manager engaged us shortly after to offer his dish and drink suggestions. In fact, the service throughout the whole night was quite impressive – the food emerged in a timely but unrushed fashion and was cleared quickly after eating, and the waiters were very accommodating of our requests.
Chinese soy milk is way better than the usual supermarket variety, so if you’ve never tried it before, make a visit to your local Asian grocer. It’s pretty obvious why this was the drink of choice once you see the dishes that we ordered!
Yes, that is a lot of chillies. Yes, that basin is full of oil. Yes, it’s probably not the healthiest thing in the world. But it was delicious! Be warned though, I’m fairly certain that the chillies in this dish are reused (hence they’re skimmed off by the waiter at the start), so if that puts you off, I wouldn’t order it. The fish was very tender, and even though you can’t see it, there are sprouts and other vegies hiding at the bottom of the basin.
Again, I admit there’s lots of oil, but nothing beats the flavour on this ribs. Full of dry heat from the Sichuan peppers and cumin, they are mind-blowingly good and best enjoyed with some rice as they can get a bit salty by themselves. In addition to the ribs, there’s also sprouts, rice cakes (which soak up a lot of flavour), and lotus roots mixed in.
The price of the pork ribs and boiling fish dishes may seem a tad steep for a Chinese restaurant, but rest assured that the serving sizes are HUGE. I’d definitely recommend sharing each between at least 3-4 people unless it’s all you’re planning to order!
While this dish may not sound particularly appetising, it hails from a literal translation of its Chinese name and is supposedly representative of its appearance. This was K’s favourite dish for the night, and for good reason. The mince mixture was amazingly flavourful and the stir-frying of the vermicelli noodles added a lovely ‘breath of the work’ to the dish. I was very impressed by how well the noodles soaked up the flavour from the mince without being soggy or wet in the slightest, and even though it wasn’t super spicy, there was a nice kick to it.
If I could only order one dish from Dainty Sichuan, it would be the Fish Flavour Eggplant. I’ve previously voiced my love for fish-fragrant or ‘yu-xiang/yu-shiang’-style dishes here, but this version absolutely blew my mind. Thick-cut pieces of eggplant are initially fried to create a thin, crispy outside coating before being cooked in a sticky, sweet, spicy sauce and the result is phenomenal. This is probably one of my favourite Chinese dishes of all time, and will certainly draw me back to Dainty Sichuan time and time again.
The slices of lamb were tender and well-flavoured with cumin, while the garlic sprouts were a highlight for both K and my brother. I personally found this dish rather unexciting and probably wouldn’t order it again.
Overall, I was very impressed with the food and service at Dainty Sichuan and loved having my birthday dinner there. The highlights were the Fish Flavour Eggplant and Ants Climbing Trees, both of which I’d certainly return to eat again. The only downside is that the dishes tend to be share-sized, perfect for larger groups and not as couple-friendly, but you can always take-away any leftovers! I’d highly recommend this restaurant if you also enjoy eating spicy food, or just want a bit of a challenge for your taste buds!