Following various fiery experiences at London Sichuan restaurants including ‘My Old Place’ and ‘Sichuan Folk’ in Spitalfields, this peppery Chinese cooking was a cuisine I wanted to explore but was slightly scared of. A few months ago, Taste of Sichuan moved into Walthamstow High Street and we’ve been fans ever since.
They offer the same kind of dishes as at sister restaurants The Sichuan in Old Street and Tian Fu in Shepherds Bush, but at more affordable east London prices. The cool thing is that leading the culinary team at The Sichuan and Tian Fu is an award winning, cook book writing Chinese chef – Zhang Xiao Zhong. He’s worked in Sichuan restaurants across London including Bar Shu in Soho and Hutong in the Shard. And I guess this explains the quality of the food at the Taste of Sichuan. I’m not saying he’s here in Walthamstow cooking in the back kitchen, but you can see the same influence in the dishes on offer.
Sichuan cuisine is based around dried red chillies (lots of them!) and the tongue numbing Sichuan peppercorns. The shiny red, laminated menus are the size of a book; full of helpful pictures and descriptions of every dish. Some of it I remain too afraid to try, such as the ‘Husband and Wife’ offal slices, pigs ears and feet, red braised eel or mouth-watering frog – and what is Bear Paw Bean Curd? This is authentic, provincial Chinese cooking. But don’t be scared off, there’s also some more familiar dishes including dim sum, crispy duck, king prawn with mixed veg, chicken in black bean sauce or beef with spring onions.
From the starters we’ve sampled so far we love the fried salt and pepper squid which is fresh and light and served among a mountain of sliced red onion and green chillies (no naff sweet-chilli dipping sauce here). More unusual, but equally addictive is the blanched spinach, served cold with a sesame sauce (both about £6.50). If you’re feeling really naughty go for the sweet and sour spare ribs which left us in a happy but sticky mess. There’s also a whole page of soups and Hot Pots and a ‘choose your own ingredients’ Chengdu Mao Cai which can be tailored to meat, fish or vegetarian tastes.
The specialty dish, which easily feeds two people, is a crispy grilled whole fish (sea bream) served in an oven-roasting dish, sizzling in a fiery oil infused with dried red chillies, spring onions and Sichuan peppercorns. Included in the price, you can choose three additional items from a list of vegetables such as fungus, mushrooms, broccoli, sweet potato vermicelli, various types of tofu, bamboo shoots and lotus root, all for only £18.
Other recommends include the dry-fried green beans with or without a topping of salty, garlicky minced pork with three kinds of chilli – fiery and delicious (£7.80). The whole crab with ginger and spring onion is a bargain at £13.80 and the dry wok lamb ribs (£9.80) taste amazing. Also a delicate dish of sea bass steamed simply with chopped red chilli was so delicious I wanted to order it again straight away (£12.80).
The lunch menu (also served at weekends) includes a range of dishes for less than £6. These seem to work out as half portions with rice or noodles included and make a fantastic quick lunch if you’re out market shopping. As the food is cooked to order, loads of the dishes can be tailored to vegetarian or spicy/non-spicy choices, though I’m not so sure about vegan options.
The portions are generous, the quality of ingredients is good and MSG free. The young staff can be sometimes quiet and shy. With massive mains around £8-£13, go with family or friends and try a few plates to share. This also makes it easier to manage the staggered arrival times of the dishes. This place deserves to do amazingly well, go now before everyone else finds out – just don’t take my favourite Saturday lunch time table!
Taste Of Sichuan: 167 High Street, Walthamstow, E17 7BX
020 3583 8864. 10am-10pm.