Now that I have rediscovered my hearty, homely, more informal Sichuan favourite San Xi Lou (I lost it for two years, when it closed as Man Jiang Hong in CWB and became San Xi Lou in Central), I no longer have to brave Madame Wong’s end-of-service party trick quite so often – which is a relief.
You see, I think Madame Wong’s genuine Sichuan food at Da Ping Huo is really very good. The decor is stylish and I think her husband and front-of-house manager is also very adept at what he does, and is a knowledgeable and friendly man.
However, some of the notes Madame hits when she emerges from the kitchen to sing Sichuan Opera at the end of the evening, hit me like a sonic weapon, making my lips curl back, blood drip from my eyes and the wax melt in my ears.
They pierce my skull and reach deep into the most primitive medullas of my brain, squeezing them in a fist of steel. I have to grip the table edge with all my might so that I don’t appall everyone by stuffing my fingers in my ears and screaming for her to shut up.
Maybe I’m part canine and the notes she hits are to me like a dog whistle is to man’s best friend.
Suffice to say, that I think Da Ping Huo might experience more repeat business if the singing was only on certain nights of the week, and therefore avoidable. It makes the joint feel a bit themed, and it does put me off going as often as I’d like to, (or maybe this is a ruse so they don’t have to change the menu too often, as they know that most people wouldn’t be able to stand the operatics more than once a month…)
Anyhew, on to the food.
Food: As natives of Sichuan, the owners do put on an authentic meal, (my friend from Chengdu rates the food highly). You are fed what Madame Wong wants to feed you. You have about 8 courses in total. The menu is well balanced, combining some deeply spicy-hot dishes that leave your nose streaming and you drinking beer by the gallon, with more delicate ones, and then some in between.
The food is truly delicious, artistically presented and so far is the most elegantly executed Sichuan cuisine I have found in Hong Kong.
However, I have to say that I’m pretty sure, give or take a couple of dishes, I have had the same menu each time I have visited. I’d love to know what other people’s experiences have been, but I do think they could mix it up a bit more. Let me know…
Drinks: the usual beer, teas and soft drinks etc, but a couple of interesting additions like plum wine (which I’ve been led to believe takes the sting off the chilli a bit).
Service: Service is good, Mr Wang introduces each dish which is helpful, and waiters are efficient and subtle.
Ambience: Mr Wang is an artist and so the whole restaurant is very stylish. The backdrop is minimalist so that his own works stand out displayed around the walls. It’s a chic, industrial, minimalist vibe. All good, in fact, until Madame Wong comes out to shatter your eardrums.
The first time I heard her, it was fine. I let it go because the concept of the chef coming out to show you their other talents and entertain you is lovely. But by the second or third time, it really is too, too much, especially as, much like the menu not changing, she hasn’t changed her tune once either (how about a spot of Elvis or Doris Day next time?).
Price: Can’t remember the exact price at the moment, and no one’s answering the phone down there. It’s a good value meal – less than HK$300 for the food, so with drinks and service it ends up around $400-$500 depending on how thirsty you are or what you’re thirsty for.
Location: GF, 49 Hollywood Road, Central. (Slightly tricky to find, entrance is on Graham Street which is the little alley shooting down the hill at the junction of Lyndhurst Terrace and Hollywood Road). Tel: 2559-1317. It is always a good idea to book ahead. There are two strict sittings per night.
Da Ping Huo, is great for taking out-of-town guests and tourists, as the food is real good, the decor stylish and the experience out of the ordinary. But I myself can’t go more than 2 or 3 times a year simply because of the singing and the menu not changing.
Thankfully as I’ve found San Xi Lou, my Sichuan experiences now balance in Hong Kong, and so once again I can look forward to going to Da Ping Huo, in the knowledge that I have another really enjoyable Sichuan restaurant to satisfy my chilli lust on a more regular basis.