There is something about that speckled little Sichuan peppercorn that is incredibly addictive. Known as the 花椒 (huājiāo, or flower pepper), it produces a tingling, numbing sensation referred to as 麻 (má). It is mainly found in red (most common) and green (rarer, with a sweet, citrusy aroma) varieties and is closely related to another great spice – Japanese sansho pepper – but is not related to black pepper or chilli peppers.
Sichuan restaurant CHUAN is one of the newest restaurants to open under the LUBUDS umbrella, which operates other high-quality establishments such as Yue 穴, ODDS and MIÁN at The Murray, Hong Kong. CHUAN is run by two Sichuan cuisine masters with more than 40 years of experience between them. Chef Lee Chi Kwong and Chef Leung Yip Yuen aim to source the finest ingredients in order to showcase their culinary skills through exquisite Sichuan delicacies. This is not your everyday Sichuan restaurant, and it celebrates more than just a pretty peppercorn.
We started with a trio of cold appetisers. The grilled green chilli with geoduck ($158) is delicately coated with a light film of green Sichuan peppercorn oil, enough to get a tingle without being heavy.
The Sichuan dried bean curd ($88) is steamed bean paste served in a sweet sauce, which would be a pleasant accompaniment to a spicy dish but lacks personality on its own.
Our recommendation is to order the preserved egg with green chilli ($78). The translucent egg is mild and creamy, and the paired sauce kept us coming back for more in order to try to identify the source of the umami and complex flavours.
One of the most memorable dishes of the evening was the Sichuan-style stewed mandarin fish ($438), a refined version of the famous dish of Sichuan boiled fish (水煮魚). The broth with osmanthus fish (桂魚, guìyú ) is light and not at all oily, but it still feels substantial, with QQ potato-starch noodles and cucumber found in the broth. Rather than using traditional bean sprouts, the CHUAN Sichuan masters have chosen to use peanut sprouts, which are our new favourite thing. They are larger than bean sprouts, with a mild peanut flavour and a great bite – no soggy sprouts here.
The sautéed diced chicken with spicy red chilli ($318) is a dish ordered all over Sichuan to enjoy over a long, relaxing meal. You usually search for the tiny pieces of chicken amongst the red chilli like a treasure hunt. Not so with this dish! Acknowledging our pace of life here in Hong Kong, CHUAN has significantly upped the chicken-to-chilli ratio to make our treasure hunt much easier, with more time spent eating than hunting. Is it cheating? Perhaps.
We also tried the braised water bamboo in broth ($148). On its arrival, we suspiciously eyed it – it looks like noodles, but it is actually wonderfully tender bamboo shredded into noodle-like strands, reminiscent of zoodles, and formed into bundles. The broth is thick, soothing and comforting, made with chicken, and whilst delicious, we do wonder if there might be a vegetarian option available.
Making a sizzling entrance, the fried prawns with pepper in casserole ($468) is the priciest option we tried, and it did not disappoint. The pot is filled with both prawns and delicate white peppercorns sourced from Hainan province, which we are told grow the best white peppercorns in China. The prawns are pressure-cooked to infuse the pepper flavours and are then made crispy so that you can eat the entire prawn, shell and all, between the head and tail. They are coated in a powdery pepper salt that is initially subtle but builds to tingle your lips. This is a dish to share with family and good friends – you won’t want to share it with anyone else!
The most unremarkable-looking peanut rice dumplings in ginger soup ($68) are our number-one must-try. This dessert continues the taste-bud journey, with a delicate and floral ginger soup that warms the peanut filling in the dumplings to make them malleable, almost oozing from the dumpling skin. The peanut filling is just a little sweet and lusciously creamy, and even if you think you can’t, you will probably finish all four dumplings and the soup.
It’s easy to put Sichuan food into a certain category, a food bucket, that typically involves the Sichuan peppercorn and its drug-like properties. CHUAN provides plenty of má, but in varied and complex dishes that are neither oily nor overwhelmingly spiced in a single flavour. The prices here reflect the quality and also the restaurant’s location. Whilst we tried items from the à-la-carte menu, CHUAN also offers hotpot and Sichuan variations of dim sum at lunchtime, such as crispy buns stuffed with roasted goose and steamed rice rolls (cheung fun) with spicy sauce. We are definitely coming back for those!
– 20% discount when dining in from 2:30pm – 6pm.
Takeaway / Delivery discounts
– 20% discount when you pickup your takeaway at CHUAN.
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.
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