Red & Hot, Chinatown/Charing Cross Rd, London
A mini chain with branches in Birmingham and Manchester, seemingly popular for the sichuan style hot pots, an obvious peppery aroma in the air.
I stuck with the regular cooked dishes and was generally happy.
Ma2 la4 dou4 hua1 (hot and numbing bean flower) has a decent level of spiciniess, although more wouldn't hurt. It lacks sufficient sichuan peppercorns for the cooling numbing quality, not a tingle of my lips. But the flavour is otherwise sound: a gentle course of vinegar in the background to round off the heat, a pleasant aromatic, peppery and chilli flavour. They use soft bean curd rather than true dou4 hua1 (bean flower), a very fine and delicate bean curd that is often served sweet, but occasionally dons a savoury flavour in dishes like these.
Dan4 dan4 mian4 (dan dan noodles) come topped with tiny crispy bits of pork, and a fairly aromatic base of chilli oil. The noodles are a tad soft.
Shui3 zhu3 niu2 rou4 ("water cooked" beef), a fiery sichuan classic, is a bit tame here, no numbing quality and could be more spicy, but the spicy and peppery flavour combination is good. A rich layer of oil, as expected, so that as the slices of meat are taken of the bowl, they become coated with a sheen of the oil and the flavour it carries. Napa cabbage and celery are also present, for a contrast.
The glutinous rice dumplings filled with sweet ground black sesame (tang1 yuan2) are very well made, superior to the ones at Dragon Castle that I tried recently. The skins are soft and delicately chewy, the ground black sesame almost liquid.
Pretty good on the whole, and certainly worth checking out. The aromatic qualities of the Sichuan dishes at No. 10 Chinese Restaurant, especially the spicy fragrance of the oil-based sauces, suggest a more dexterous hand on the wok there, but Red & Hot does a better job for baseline spice level. I think the chef at No. 10 is probably more skilled and it may be easier to up the spice level there than to have the Red & Hot kitchen calibrate the flavouring better. But one never knows till one tries. Will have to request more numbing spiciness at both places and try more dishes to see how they compare. Will be curious to try the nearby New China on Gerrard Street for their Sichuan items.
Hi, I dragged my husband out to No 10 based on what I read on Chowhound (thanks, Limster). We went on August 30, so I guess the chef was on holiday then. I tried the Dan Dan Mian, the waitress seemed very surprised when I asked for it (we're not Chinese). My hubby got shy and went for his standard Wonton noodle soup. He said it was one of the best renditions he has had, with freshly made wonton filled with bits of prawn and Chinese mushroom and a nice broth. This was the first time I ever had Dan Dan Mian, so couldn't really judge how good or bad it was. My main gripe was that it was served in a bowl that was really chipped around the edges, the entire rim had practically come off. Not good for a restaurant that looks pretty new (I used to live in Earl's Court in 2004 and it wasn't there then). The bowls of a table of young Chinese students were similarly chipped, I wonder what is going on with their crockery. The noodles were firm, with crispy bits of ground pork on top, the sauce was quite tangy, and not as hot as I would have expected. Maybe I should have asked for it to be spicy? I thought Sichuan cuisine was famed for its spiciness. Anyway, any advice as to what a non-Chinese speaker should order and how to order it would be welcome. We asked the waitress for recommendations; she was very polite and nice but not really good at advising us on Sichuan ordering for beginners.
I agree that it's not spicy enough at No. 10, and I think we all have to ask for extra spicy and also for the numbing flavour that comes with sichuan peppercorns. The crispy bits of pork are a key feature of this noodle dish, and everything else sounds about right and similar to my experience.
Pretty much all the dishes on the white board are worth trying and most of them are Sichuan. It might be worthwhile to ask them what's one the white board and have them translate. (Sorry, but I can't remember the dishes they have on the menu aside from the ones I've tried.)
I would also recommend reading a bit about Sichuan food ahead of time, there's definitely been discussions of various Chinese cuisines on the general topics boards, so a search there might churn up useful bits of info.
Thanks for your post, hope to hear more, since it will give everyone a better picture of their food.