Times Square’s Food Forum is the chosen location of San Xi Lou’s second sister restaurant. The original SXL holds a gargantuan two-floor space in Central’s awkwardly located Coda Plaza, yet diners have continued to flock there in droves over the past decade seeking authentic Sichuan-style hotpot and other fiery dishes, as well as excellent dim sum.
The Causeway Bay iteration is smaller but more contemporary in design, with new and inventive specialities introduced alongside reliable faves. Colourful portraits and bamboo graphics pop and the birdcage and fish-shaped lighting fixtures provide a touch of whimsy.
We eased into the menu with two cold dishes: sliced pig’s ear and cucumber with spicy sauce ($68) and chilled asparagus lettuce with chilli sauce ($68). Though petite in size, these spicy plates packed a real punch both from the chillies and the mound of garlic scattered across each, enough to make Dracula quake in terror. The thinly shredded strands of asparagus lettuce were a particular favourite – this dish managed to be light and refreshing despite the heft of spice. Don’t be squeamish about the pig’s ear itself, which is mild in flavour with a pleasing crunch.
The classic San Xi Lou dishes we sampled included Sichuan-style stewed catfish ($368 for regular; $438 for large), SXL roasted chicken ($198 for half; $388 for whole) and, from the dim sum menu, minced pork dumplings with spicy pumpkin soup ($48) and steamed egg yolk buns ($38).
A no-brainer order for us at any Sichuan restaurant is boiled fish cooked in very generous amounts of oil, chilli and Sichuan peppercorn, with a layer of dried chillies floating across the top that signals the tongue-numbing flavours within. We thoroughly enjoyed SXL’s version of this dish. The catfish was tender and silky smooth, the amount of oil used was not excessive and the fresh bamboo shoots, cucumber, bean sprouts and thick, chewy Sichuan green noodles were welcome additions to counter the heat.
Much more sedate was the chicken, roasted to deep brown perfection with a cracking skin and juicy meat that oozed flavour with each bite.
The dim sum were well executed. Be careful with the soup dumplings (xiao long bao) – the thin, nearly translucent skin gives way to a very, very spicy minced pork and pumpkin broth interior. We usually have unlimited stomach space for xiao long bao, but we couldn’t handle more than one of these little numbers.
This new branch of San Xi Lou in Times Square is another Sichuan superstar, this time in more upscale surrounds. The prices are on the high side (we would have shelled out $1,300 had our meal not been graciously comped), but the spice factor is spot on. Although we didn’t try the hotpot this time around, we’ll certainly be back to do so (we’re dying to find out what the spicy bandit broth is all about – will it literally take our breath away?).
Shop 1102, 11/F, Food Forum, Times Square, 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay, 2111 9952
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.