For a Real Taste of China, Yell at the Staff and Eat Duck's Tongue, Says Terry Durack ; Eating Out
Durack, Terry, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
The opening page of Snazz Sichuan's vast 15-page menu lists some important rules and regulations for lao wai (foreigners) regarding loud talking and laughter, yelling at the waiters, and blatantly annoying your neighbours. They actually WANT you to talk loudly, laugh, call out to the waiters and check out the food of diners on the next table.
It's the best advice to come out of China since Mao said "Dig tunnel deep, store grain everywhere, never seek hegemony". For some of us, and that seems to include all Sichuanese people, this sort of behaviour comes naturally. Throughout China and Southeast Asia, I always make the rounds of the tables before ordering, checking what everyone is eating.
At Snazz Sichuan, my wife immediately goes into meerkat mode, her head swivelling left and right, clocking the hot pots laden with smoky dried chillies, steamy soups, and red chilli casseroles. As soon as we sit down in the rather erratically decorated split-level space (floaty silks, sheathed wedding-reception chairs, pop-art posters), she targets a table of six young Chinese people in the corner. Obligingly, they stop eating and hold up their dishes for her inspection. She points.
"Fish-fragrant pork slivers" says our sweet, eager-to-please waitress, decked out in a somewhat quaint floral apron/tunic. So that's one down. In the meantime, I interrogate the young couple at the next table. "What's that?" I ask, pointing to a cast-iron hotpot propped up on four legs. "Drifting fragrant fish with bean curd in Sichuan flavour" they answer. "And that?" "Steamed chicken in Chongqing special sauce".
And so our order grows.
Snazz is not your regulation high-street Chinese, nor is it quite your new-world designer modern Asian. Part of the New China Club (a club, art gallery and restaurant set up by Sichuan businessman James Wang), it aims to bring a genuine Chinese cultural experience to London.
Having eaten there twice now, with plans to return, I would add the following advice to the list:
Don't look at the decor, look at the food.
Don't take any observant Muslim, Hindu or Jewish people. Or vegetarians. Or those with nut allergies (there are peanuts in everything).
Take lots of friends. To do justice to the huge menu and servings, you need at least four people.
If there are only two of you, order up big anyway and take the leftovers home, thereby getting two meals for the price of one.
Don't be put off by the fact that everything you order is swimming in a red sea of rich, oily, chilli-laden stock. It has a full-bodied, fruity sweetness to it, rather than a coarse heat. Besides, it's the smoky dried chillies floating in it that are the killers.
If you do choose to eat the dried chillies, then go for a walk outside while the coughing, spluttering and tears work their way through your system. If you stay at the table, everyone just laughs at you.
Always order one dish that scares you silly, like the four- chilli-rated Guan Gong beef, or something with ducks' tongues, ox tripe or pig's intestine. …