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Monday 1 February 2010

London Restaurant Reviews - Empress of Sichuan


Empress of Sichuan

I’ve been enjoying my culinary ventures into other regional Chinese cuisines (beyond Cantonese and Pekinese) since coming across Fuschia Dunlop’s fascinating work a couple of years ago.

More recently, Dr G and I were lucky to be accompanied by a connoisseur of such cuisines, Mr Noodles of Eat Noodles Love Noodles, as we visited the newly opened Empress of Sichuan in London’s Chinatown.

The decor is simple but tasteful, although I would not describe it as an elegant restaurant. It occupies the premises of the late Keelung and has maintained much of its predecessor’s furnishings and decor.

Ordering was carefully done by Mr Noodles apart from the fish dish which was chosen by Dr G. I felt that all dishes were outstanding with the exception of the Dan Dan noodles which were good, but unfortunately not on a par with the other dishes.

The “Beef slices in extremely spicy soup” @ £12.50 (also known as “Boiled Beef Slices in a Fiery Sauce” – shui zhu niu rou) was, as expected, rich and deliciously hot. The meat had a light and silken texture - a superb example of a dish I have tasted many times before.

The “Fragrant chicken with dried chilli and pepper” @ £13 was also excellent and bursting with flavour and the aromas of chillies and Sichuan pepper.

I was slightly disappointed with the “Dan Dan noodles” @ £4.80. It was more like a noodle soup and it missed one of my favourite ingredients “Ya Cai” a type of Sichuanese preserved mustard green which imparts an extra layer of complexity to this dish.

The “Farmers Fish” (baked fish with spring onion, cumin and black bean) @ £21.50 was by far the most successful dish of the evening. The crust of spring onions, cumin and black bean in which the fish had been baked had some complex flavours – it was sweet, spicy and salty, and went incredibly well with the white fish.

To accompany our mains, we also had “Spicy green beans with minced pork and preserved vegetables” @ £8.50 and various portions of steamed rice @ £2.50 each. The spicy greens dish is a must for any visit to Sichuanese restaurants, and Empress of Sichuan’s did not disappoint.

The beans were dry-fried until tender and slightly wrinkled, and had a subtle sourness from the Shaoxing wine and soya sauce in which they were cooked.

Service was attentive and very friendly. The manager came to speak to us towards the end of our meal and offered us some complimentary tea. She explained that the restaurant was offering a 20% discount in the month of January and most of February during weekdays, as well as giving us some background information on their Sichuanese chef and current management.

The total bill came to £81 (or £27 each), including service, 5 beers @ £3.50 each and 20% discount. Prices are about 50% higher than some of the budget Sichuanese restaurants in London.

Even though some may feel that this is a tad high for a midweek meal, in my opinion, Empress of Sichuan offers incredible value for the level of sophistication and the high standard of cooking.

Empress of Sichuan is definitely a cut above any other Sichuanese restaurants I have been to in London or abroad including Chilli Cool or Gourmet San, the latter being not exclusively Sichuanese. After years of avoiding Chinatown as a destination for authentic Chinese food, I am very pleased to have found a restaurant that stands out from the tourist haunts.

Verdict – Excellent Sichuanese cooking at mid-range prices in comfortable surroundings in the heart of Chinatown. I hope this, along with other recent openings in the area, may herald the revival of Chinatown as a centre of excellent Chinese cooking. Highly recommended.

Empress of Sichuan on Urbanspoon


  1. Empress of Sichuan was an excellent choice by you ! For Sichuan food, I'd continue to go to Chilli Cool for everyday eating whilst coming here for a more classy meal.

  2. I went back to Chilli Cool last week and again the food was very good... Looking fwd to Harrison's burger tomorrow though...

  3. This looks like a great place - always good to have one or two China Town places noted down as somewhere decent. Not always easy. The fish looks particularly good.

  4. Hi Grubworm, this is now one of my favourite restaurants in Chinatown together with Rasa Sayang and Leong's Legend, definitely a place to consider in the area.

  5. Have not had a proper SiChuan meal before other than those in hawker centre fare back home. I could almost tear just by looking at the 'fiery sauce' photograph if you know what I mean.

    Just walked past this place while shopping for groceries at SeeWoo the other day. Will pop in by for some fiery sauce beef slices next time round. Thanks for the post!

    C K

  6. Hi CK, I highly recommend any of the dishes we had at Empress of Sichuan, the only disappointing dish was the Dan Dan noodles. Chilli Cool is also a good option and cheaper too.

  7. Another lovely post. Very excited going to this place tomorrow night! With my friend Pip who lived in China so should be able to do some great ordering - yum. Going to find out from here the place she took me last time in chinatown which was also Sichuanese and amazing - will post about it soon.

    Hope you enjoy Vietnam - Hoi An was my favourite place :)

    Sasha @ The Happiness Project London

  8. Hi Sasha, I hope you have a good meal there - i really recommend the Farmers Fish, it was fantastic. You might want to read Eat Noodle Love Noodle's review too.

    I am actually in Hoi An, I have been here before this is by far my favourite place in the whole of Vietnam!!

  9. My friend was also slightly disappointed with the “Dan Dan noodles” @ £4.80. But I took a Covent Garden restaurant guide earlier and tried classy Sichuan food only

  10. Well Robert, this guide of yours seems to know a few things... Ta.

  11. Love this place! One of the few places in chinatown where you can take a date to, as the decor and ambience is minimal and relaxing. The food is exciting as well as being excellent quality. Not your conventional chinatown joint - a truly unique experience. Quite a few spicy dishes and interesting ingredients but have an open mind and try it!

  12. Tried 'Empress' this evening. Really great food! Bizarre decor (lots of pictures of Sinatra, Rat Pack, Beatles, Tom Jones etc.)
    Definitely stands out among the numerous cantonese-food-for-gweilo places in China Town.

  13. The "Fragrant chicken with dried chilli and pepper" looks very delicious. Graving to eat this one! Thank you for sharing this! I would definitely shared this site to my friends who also loves to read food and restaurant reviews! I'm hungry now! : )

  14. I ate here the other night! Didn't fancy spending anothern night cooking in my serviced apartments London and was really impressed with the overall quality. I felt that the service and the food was good. The decor (asforementioned) was slightly dubious though!

  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  16. Nice one! I really like you'r writing, you got me in the mood for china-town (:
    I got a restaurant blog as well if you like to read it.
    Bye (-:

  17. Wow a lovely blog, love the photos!


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