The hype: Not just another Sichuan establishment, Chengdu Restaurant takes care to offer classic dishes of the cuisine in the most imaginative ways. Sure, there’s an a la carte menu of typical Sichuan staples, but wouldn’t you rather get a sweet sesame ball bigger than the size of your head?
The vibe: Your bog-standard Chinese restaurant setup, wedged neatly between other Amoy Street institutions like Nouri and Burlamacco. It can’t rival fellow Sichuan concept Birds of A Feather, a little further down the street, in decor; but it makes do for a casual, comforting meal of well-executed spice.
The food: Between the two chefs at the stead, Chengdu Restaurant boasts under its belt experience cooking for the likes of Jacky Cheung and Jay Chou, and at restaurants in Sichuan like Qiao Jiangnan. Perhaps their time abroad was too limiting; if you’re here to have a memorable time, we can’t recommend enough opting for the more dramatic dishes on the menu.
The Chili Beef with Sweet Corn Base ($24.80) features beef cubes atop a “plate” of sweet corn. Break off the base, which has the consistency and taste of Indian muruku, to eat with the beef; the spice here is lacking, but it’s a good starter. A worthier contender is the sauce that comes with the Pork Belly in Garlic ($12.80)—an imaginative dish that quite literally launders your pork slices on a wooden rack.
If you thought that was theatrical, you haven’t seen anything yet. Enter the Spicy Grilled Frog Skewer ($29.80), which comes sailing out of the kitchen on a straw boat navigated by a Confucius-type figurine belting Chinese opera. As the precious cargo docks on your table, the dry ice within the boat is activated, causing atmospheric steam to pour forth. Honestly we’d order this for the gimmick alone, but the flavors of the dish are on par with its ambitious presentation. Sichuan spice saves everything—even something like bullfrog skewers, here flash-fried till crisp and brushed with traditional Sichuan sauce.
Take a breather with a sour soup like the Beef with Pickles in Sour Soup ($25.80) or Fish with Green Pepper Soup ($26.50). The mala at Chengdu leans more sour and numbing than straight-out spicy; the fish soup in particular will have your lips buzzing from the first taste.
Finally, dessert too must be a mad affair. The Giant Sesame Ball ($16.80) is painstakingly flipped, rotated and crisp-fried for 20 minutes; it’s worth the wait when the monstrous glutinous sphere arrives, crispy on the outside with a balanced sweetness inside.
The drinks: If you aren’t fond of Chinese tea ($8.50 for a pot), there’s also Pear Juice ($3), a modest selection of beers like Qingdao Beer ($8) and Snow Beer ($8), as well as Chinese, red and white wines.
Why you’ll be back: To try the more traditional dishes on the menu, after your melodramatic, virgin Chengdu experience. It’s also not often you find Sichuan that’s more numb-leaning in taste, so here’s one tried-and-tested place to satisfy the craving if it ever hits. Affordable too.