Friday, 18 February 2011

Sichuan Folk review Hanbury Street Chinese restaurant - good food, warm service and karaoke to boot!


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Address: 32 Hanbury Street
London E1 6QR
Tel: 0207 247 4735
Nearest Tube station: Liverpool Street

Ratings (out of 5 *) Price: Below £20 pp
Service charge: 12.5%
Taste: *****
Service: ****
Ambience: ***
I thought I should put way up front in case you are one of those who’ll glaze over paragraphs of words. Sichuan Folk’s food is easily the best Sichuan food I have come across in London (more on that below). We were served by two young staff in their twenties and I rarely come across such warm service. Then again, it might be that we were the only customers at Sichuan Folk that afternoon.

I was told of Sichuan Folk Chinese Restaurant by a fellow Singaporean. There’s a running joke among us: Singaporeans especially look forward to lunchtime and take great joys in discovering new eats in the vicinity. I know some people who can survive on just crisps and Pret for lunch but coming from an island where eating is the national pastime, that’s sheer torture.

Well, if you happen to work or reside in the Spitalfields area, you would be spoilt for choice when it comes to lunch. The area between Bishopgate Street and Brick Lane is crammed with restaurants and eateries and all within a ten minutes walk of each other.

According to the staff, Sichuan Folk has been in business for only ‘a couple of months’ and my sources are already giving it thumbs up. Glad to find that it’s featured on Toptable as well, we made our way down there on a Saturday afternoon.

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We did a double take when we reached there. Sichuan Folk’s fa├žade looked rather tired, hardly like a new restaurant. In contrast, the Nude Espresso (with its overpriced coffee) a few doors down looked more welcoming. In fact, I hesitated for a bit, peeked through its tinted glass to make sure that it was indeed opened for business before stepping into Sichuan Folk.

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The entire restaurant was empty short of one other table (which cleared soon after). It might be the timing (2pm) but my expectations dipped by quite a bit by then. Surely, it could only get better, isn’t it? Thankfully, things did get better almost immediately when the two young friendly staff greeted us. In between chatting with the staff, I flipped through Sichuan Folk’s menu and something occurred to me. “Is Sichuan Folk in anyway related to Bar Shu?” Wife beat me to it. It turned out that Sichuan Folk has got no relationship to any other Sichuan restaurant whatsoever and that was when we were told that the restaurant was new having just opened a couple of months before.

In order not to repeat the mistake of over ordering at Hunan Xiang Cai Guan (Local Friends), we asked for only two mains - fried intestines and twice cooked pork and topped that up with a dan dan mian.

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Sichuan Folk is the only Sichuan restaurant that we have come across that actually serve ‘man tou’ (or plain buns) with their twice cooked pork (hui guo rou). At a very reasonable £6.90, the ample portion of twice cooked pork came with four buns, strategically placed on four corners of the dish. The twice cooked pork at Sichuan Folk was unlike any that I have tasted; the slices though thin weren’t dried up (like Bar Shu’s) and still had a layer of fat attached thus retaining the juicy bit. Just shove in some slices and accompanying peppers into the buns and you got yourself a tasty snack.

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It didn’t just stop there. The fried intestine (£8) was even better. Unlike the almost crispy version at Chilli Cool, Sichuan Folk’s still retained its suppleness and texture. It was done just right and almost addictive. Wife pointed out that the chilli base for both dishes tasted distinctly different, which was more than what we can say for the Sichuan restaurants that we come across in London thus far.

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Dan dan mian (£4.50) didn’t disappoint as well. It has that sought after peppery taste without being soaked in chilli oil.

When asked for the 'dessert menu', the staff gave us an embarrassed smile, "We have but two items for dessert - sesame dumplings and pumpkin croquettes." And he went on about how the dumplings are freshly made in the restaurant itself. I would rather have a limited but proper Chinese dessert menu than one that is filled with different varieties of ice-cream and the likes of it. We went for the pumpkin croquettes in the end.

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At £4.80 (five pieces), the pumpkin croquettes were a fitting end to a satisfying meal. Lightly deep fried, there was a thin ever so slightly crisped surface and a soft interior dotted with pumpkin bits.

While I didn’t mind Sichuan Folk’s dim interior lighting as much as Wife did, I thought it was a pity that the soft zither music playing in the background was drowned out by the karaoke session that was ongoing at the rear of the restaurant. Yes, Sichuan Folk does karaoke as well. Boosting two rooms that can sit ‘just under twenty’ each and with rates starting from £100 for a three hour block, Sichuan Folk is perhaps the only place offering karaoke in a mile radius.

I’m not sure whether it is a good idea for Sichuan Folk to do karaoke as well. I mean, the food’s good, no doubt about that (well, you can find out for yourself) but I would imagine that many wouldn’t fancy having their meals disrupted by budding singers screaming themselves hoarse for it does get a tad loud whenever the adjoining door was opened. All that said, Sichuan Folk is a welcome addition to the Sichuan cuisine scene in London and I do look forward to my next visit.

Sichuan Folk on Urbanspoon

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