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19 February 2009

The China Sichuan Restaurant

Stillorgan's benchmark China Sichuan Restaurant relocated last year, and opened just a little late for our Bridgestone 100 Best Restaurants 2009 Guides. But, as Caroline Byrne reports, Kevin Hui's restaurant is already rockin':

Anyone living in the Stillorgan/Kilmakud area of Dublin will be aware of and possibly a fan of China Sichuan. As the name implies it specialises entirely in dishes from that region and is believed by some to be the best Chinese restaurant in Ireland - certainly the view of its extremely loyal local following, whose constant presence made it very difficult to get a table without booking.

Working in the barren landscape that is South County Business Park, my colleague and I were fond of taking the odd long lunch at the Stillorgan restaurant, where very traditional surrounds, efficient service, nice good value food (think cod in yellow bean sauce and the occasional spring roll) and the odd sneaky glass of wine, did just the trick of a Wednesday afternoon.

So, hearing that Kevin Hui had moved his popular little traditional restaurant into the Sandyford Industrial Estate, we were anxious to see if this was a great stroke of luck or a big disappointment for these two local fans. We booked a lunchtime table (which was probably sensible given how busy it was) and settled in for the 1 o'clock sitting.

The new digs are a good bit larger than the old restaurant and are kitted out in a very modern Beacon Quarter-esque style. Service is very quick and friendly, coats are taken at the door and the dining room is of the white tablecloth variety. In spite of this formality, the two-course set lunch was a staggeringly reasonable €16 the day we dined there. The a la carte has changed somewhat, in the spirit of modernising and progress, according to Kevin. But it's a huge selection with nearly 20 appetisers alone, so plenty to choose from.

Sichuan cooking uses plenty of strong contrasting flavours: lots of salt and vinegar, soy and other local condiments, plenty of garlic, and the menu does its best to show you as much as possible of the cuisine. They do a good spring roll, if that’s what floats your boat, but more adventurous palates might be tempted by the likes of “Ma Lah”, cold spicy cucumber slices marinated in soy, vinegar and chilli, and served with scallions and lettuce. This dish came as a generous portion but it’s very light and piquant, and nicely whets the taste buds before the main course.

We stuck to the set lunch where there was plenty of good stuff to choose from. The Aubergine and Tofu Stir Fry in Hot Ginger and Garlic Sauce was delicious, so much so that my companion decided this was her new favourite. I went for the fish special of the day, Monk Fish in Black Bean Sauce with Spring Onion, which was well-cooked but not too tough, tasty and very light, and a perfect portion for me but a hungrier person may feel a little underfed. Fried or steamed rice came with both meals – at €16 this is stunning value for what you get, and definitely makes and argument for China Sichuan being our best Chinese restaurant.

While the quality and value on the set lunch menu is undeniable, you can pay up €60 a head for dinner here, working off the a la carte and choosing decent wine. Dishes like King Prawns in Crispy Salted Duck Egg Yolk, Sweet and Sour Fish, Fried Fillet of Sole in Yellow Bean Sauce, and the popular Sichuan Camphor Tea Smoked Duck, make for opulent feasting. Once again though, I don’t think you’d feel you weren’t getting value for your money, and the service, ambience and overall experience of the restaurant tick the boxes too.

I’ve been to Dublin’s own ‘China Town’ recently, aka Parnell Street, and enjoyed a fairly good ‘Chinese’ for under €20. However, I got what I paid for. I challenge any of those restaurants to produce the quality and elegance of China Sichuan for the same good value. This is an excellent restaurant, please please let it survive!

China Sichuan
The Forum
Ballymoss Road
Dublin 18

T: 01 2935100

Accepts credit cards
Sunday - Friday: 12pm-10pm
Saturday: 6pm-10pm (Booking necessary for weekends/Thursday evenings)