Although Sichuan cuisine is renowned as one of the 'big four' pillars of Chinese cuisine, I've always thought it one-dimensional, in that the food just paralyzes your tastebuds with lots and lots, and lots of chilli. Also, it's coz my repository of Sichuan dishes was limited to mapo tofu, hot & sour soup, and kung pao chicken. But, there's apparently more to Szechuan cooking than spicy chillis that burn your tongue all the way to your stomach (and out your ass but that may be a tad too much information? heh). There's also delicate soups, clear and light noodles, and fresh raw vegetables. This recent revelation was by way of a lunch at Tian Bao Szechuan Kitchen, a casual eatery at Takashimaya so successful it's spawned an outlet at Hillview.
The Lettuce with Sesame Paste ($6.60), crisp and refreshingly chilled, was a lifesaver, to douse the fiery potency of the chilli pepper dishes. I was surprised, I never thought Sichuan food would have such a dish.
The Sour & Spicy Soup ($7.80), dotted with shrimp dice, bamboo shoots, tofu and egg drop, was a little less spicy than I'd expected, but flavours were layered and nuanced.
I loved the Tiao Bao Nourishing Chicken Soup ($10.80) rich in depth and earthy with juicy matsutake mushrooms.
The "Nutritious Chicken Soup" ($9.80) was heady with ginseng root and sweetened with wolfberries and red dates.
The Chilli Wantons ($8.60) or hong2 you2 chao2 shou3 was also surprisingly subtle, the chilli oil emulsion tinged with savoury sesame notes which complemented the pork mince. A must-try.
Another must-try, was the Signature Szechuan Dan Dan Noodles ($8.80), showered liberally with chopped nuts, sauteed mince, and slicked with a peanut butter-soy-chilli oil sauce redolent with garlic and black vinegar. I loved the salty-piquant-spicy balance in this.
The Stewed Chicken Noodles ($12.60) with shitake mushrooms was delightful, largely due to the fantastic noodles, which texture was just the perfect spot between chewy and soft.
The Szechuan Style Sweet & Sour Fried Sheng Yu Fish Fillets ($19.80) with mixed peppers was a robust lively dish. An easy-to-like crowd pleaser.
The piece de resistance, the Szechuan Wok-Fried Chicken with Chillis ($15.60) was like popcorn chicken, on steroids. I swear they dusted this with poppy, it remained addictively delicious despite the tongue-numbing spiciness.
These purply pearly globes were as pretty as they were yummy. Delectably chewy, the Sweet Potato Balls ($6.80) were oozy with ground peanut filling.
Tian Bao Szechuan Kitchen
391 Orchard Road #05-06
Ngee Ann City
Tel: 6734 4216
Open daily from 11.30am to 4.15pm for lunch; 5.30pm to 9pm for dinner