To many, the thrill of roller coasters is the sole purpose of visiting theme parks. Each time my friends and I were waiting in line for a ride, we would always try to remain cool. Every few minutes the coaster would fly by, hurling the passengers upside down, whipping them from side to side. My insides would start to churn, but I still wanted to get on. At times I would wonder, Why do I keep doing this to myself? Well, because of the extreme sensations a roller coaster promises – the rush of adrenaline that sends my heart beating wildly as I grip onto the rail with sweaty palms and scream against the wind.
This is my experience whenever I eat chilli. I know the excitement I get when I spot sambal or chilli padi with my dish, as well as the sweats and hoarse gasps that always follow the heat high.
With the 7 Chillies menu at Hutong, I embarked on a roller coaster ride of spice that promised thrilling drops of heat and invigorating ascends of aromas. The restaurant setting could not have been more perfect. The view was breathtaking, overlooking the harbour with glorious views of the Kowloon waterfront. Most of the tables are round, allowing diners to admire the birdcage decorations in the centre and encouraging them to participate in conversations.
The meal began spectacularly with a beautiful white rose of squid with Sichuan green pepper 藤椒花枝 presented in a woven basket, garnished with peppercorns. The basket was also gently smoking with dry ice, setting the scene for a dreamy first presentation. Each slice was infused with the Sichuan peppercorns, which are grown at lower altitudes and have a strong, citrusy flavour. They not only removed all hints of any fishy aroma but also left the squid meat succulent and very fragrant. Don’t be deceived by its elegance – it may look as if there isn’t any heat in this dish, but the mouth-numbing punch is still very much present.
Our next starter was the steamed Hokkaido scallop with pickled Hainan yellow chilli 泡椒带子, served in its shell on a bed of glass noodles. Though the scallop’s delicate texture was paired with hot and sour hits from the chilli bits, the flavours were surprisingly quite subtle. The noodles also soaked up most of the juices from the pickles and scallop, making for a good slurp and enough sapidity to jolt our palates. One thing was for sure – both the numbness and spiciness had gone up a notch, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that the hottest chilli in China was used to create this dish.
The kung po–style Ibérico pork with heaven-facing red chilli 宮保黑豚肉 was one of Chef Saito Chau’s innovative takes on the classic sweet and sour pork dish. This red chilli inherits its name from the way it grows, which, unlike any other pepper in the world, points upwards to “face heaven”. It offers a more mellow piquancy that balanced well with the Chinese vinegar used in the pork. The meat alone was luscious, fatty, slightly nutty and very sweet. But paired with cashews and caramelised apple and the taste further amazed us with its explosion of flavours and textures. This heaven-facing red chilli dish was mild but, without a doubt, heavenly.
Xinjiang Anjihai chilli is traditionally served in a stew of chicken and potato, but Chef Chau took a slightly different approach with his crystal prawns with Anjihai chilli and broad bean sauce 魚香大蝦 course. There were three tastes evident: saltiness from the broad bean sauce and salted fish bits, a slight bitterness from the bed of green peppers and sweetness from the prawn flesh. I piled a fork with a little of each element and ate the dish with gusto. My tongue was coated with rich and intense flavours that didn’t sting, and they all tasted ambrosial.
Chef Chau decided to pile on the spice in his next dish, Angus beef tenderloin in Sichuan red pepper and chilli broth 水煮牛肉. The final touches were completed at the dining area, with a flaming presentation to briefly simmer the dish on high heat. The strong ma la mix – Chengdu red paprika, Sichuan red pepper and heaven-facing chilli – was perfectly paired with the meat and tasted divine. The beef not only retained its moisture but also absorbed the exquisite broth. Moreover, we learned that, based on traditional Chinese medicine, this spice concoction improves blood circulation. The dish also contained slices of “old yellow cucumber” to combat the heat, creating the perfect balance in a bowl. The beef and broth were fiery enough to leave a spicy aftertaste on our lips and tongue, but they were absolutely delish and worth panting for.
The shredded chicken fried rice with fennel seed and Lao Gan Ma chilli sauce 茴香手撕雞炒飯 didn’t pack heat, but it was beautifully fragrant. Each delectable chew was filled with the strong aroma of fennel seeds that continued to linger in our mouths afterwards. Pineapple bits also created occasional bursts of pleasant zings and the savoury, tender chicken shreds atop the rice superbly rounded off the dish.
Along with the rice, the chef served black garlic and Shandong chilli steamed with Chinese cabbage wrapped in lotus leaf 荷香黑蒜山東辣津白. The smell of this vegetable dish was alluring. Wrapping the cabbage in the lotus leaf not only retained its juices and spices, but the garlic was also softened to toothsome, delicate bits. This dish focused more on the robust flavours and less on the heat, but it was still as delectable and delightful as the rest.
Every dish on Chef Chau’s 7 Chillies menu is packed with a punch, mastering the art of heat. I love how he creates an immersive dining experience by presenting the final touches at the table. We were always eyeing the fresh-out-of-the-kitchen dishes, eagerly watching how they were going to be served. I highly recommend a dinner booking to enjoy the full waterfront views of the Symphony of Lights.
The 7 Chillies tasting menu is priced at $928 per person, but it is worth the high price for the spice excitement. For those who reckon they may experience spice-withdrawal symptoms, a selection of chilli oil can be purchased from the restaurant’s spice market to curb your fiery cravings.
28/F, One Peking, 1 Peking Road, TST, 3428 8342
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