Every now and then, a restaurant comes along that just hits the nail on the head.
Red Chilli is one of them.
Down a dark flight of stairs on a busy corner in the northern part of the city, you’ll find a first-rate Chinese restaurant, busy and bustling, people queuing for tables. Waiting staff with an aloof, preoccupied air buzz back and forth carrying heaving plates of Eastern delicacies.
The menu is Sezchuan in influence, long and comprehensive. We landed on a set menu, more through a lack of time and a need to order quickly than choice. I was disappointed not to be able to try the pig’s trotters, but Jenny seemed relieved.
Hot and sour soup, warm and spicy with a sharp kick and a mellow sourness started things off, followed quickly by a varied platter of Chinese starters – spring rolls, prawn toast, seaweed, sweet and sour pork spare ribs. The ribs were small and delicious. Too predictable and pedestrian, but done very well.
A quarter of crispy duck was quickly dealt with, the duck shredded at the table and rolled up in pancakes with hoisin sauce and cucumber. It’s a Chinese restaurant staple, but none the worse for that.
For the main course, we had deep-fried chicken breast in a spicy sauce – thin and tender strips of chicken, battered and fried with a hot and sharp sauce over them. Beef and prawns in a Cantonese style were served in a basket of noodles. Steamed pak choi was clean and refreshing. An egg fried rice dish, full of vegetables and seafood provided far too much carbohydrate.
The food at Red Chilli is just excellent. It’s a magnificent example of a Chinese restaurant, and, so I’m told, as close to traditional, authentic Szechuan cuisine as you’re likely to find in the North. The welcome omission of any form of MSG certainly helps.
The service was a little erratic. The people dealing with incoming customers were not that attentive, to say the least. On arriving, I walked up to the ‘wait here to be seated’ sign and waited.
Waiters, bar staff, the people on the counter all walked past me as if I were invisible. We ended up on ‘the list’ only after Jenny’s assertive intervention.
That said, our waitress was excellent, sending us away with the substantial leftovers from the rice dish for lunch on Sunday.
Red Chilli is a great example of a proper Chinese restaurant. The food is great, the prices are reasonable, there’s no chemical additives and the dining room looks the part.
Next time, I’ll explore the more esoteric parts of the menu more.