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Located on the second floor of the drably chic J Senses building (also home to Madam Sixty Ate and a host of overpriced apartments), Qi House of Sichuan is no country bumpkin. Prospective diners will emerge from the sleek elevators straight into a pulsating, dimly lit club of a restaurant that is decked out in sultry orientalist garb; there are woods the colour of midnight, lamps the shade of blood, and Peking opera iconography splashed across the walls with style. It’s contemporary regional Chinese food for the trendy, and the shrill voices of 20- and 30-somethings ricochet around the hard surfaces, mashing with the high-octane bar music. Tables are a little tightly packed, and the room is labyrinthine with its various nooks and dividers. Like its downstairs neighbour, there’s a lovely terrace should you wish to sweat out the chilli heat embraced by Hong Kong humidity.
In case you missed the visual cues and the later part of Qi’s lengthy name, the house serves explosive cooking from the Sichuan canon; we’re told that several of the chefs had previously worked at various notable Sichuan restaurants around town. A neat ten pages of dishes are helpfully annotated with categories such as ‘spicy’ (be prepared for these) and mala (numbing and spicy, a hallmark of Sichuan cuisine), and careful perusal reveals more than just your typical dan dan noodles and chilli oil wontons (though mighty fine they are, with slipperly al dente wrappers, generous juicy filling and a balanced spicy dressing); homesick Americans might even trill at the sight of General Tso’s chicken. To start, small nibbles ranging from dried, salty chillies (so addictive we asked for seconds and thirds) to lightly cooked cabbage are already on the table – a good start. A signature dish of mouth watering chicken (marked with the petit flame icon suggesting its mala nature) is full on in spice and flavour and sends us reeling; the chicken comes deboned, which may please some eaters, but we prefer to gnaw on our poultry pickings. Minced pork lettuce wraps are regulation good, though there is no need to add extra sauce from the dish provided, as the mixture is salty enough on its own, almost overly so. The star of the show is the signature chilli Dungeness crab, which is anointed with enough chill heat to reach the grey line between pain and pleasure. The crabmeat is sweet and not at all overdone, and the shells curiously soft enough to tackle without too much help from the cracker. The portion, too, is generous for the price. A close second for favourite would be the Xinjiang-inspired cumin lamb with roasted chilli, which is aromatic and well spiced, though rather greasy. A good palate cooler is the Shanghainese-style crispy rice cakes served with a thickened seafood broth; the porous, crunchy popped rice soaks up the mild soup wonderfully. Sated, we had to cancel our order of potato noodles in Hunan broth (which we’ll come back for) and skip dessert (a simple three line-up of red bean pancakes and puffs, and standard ice cream flavours).
At the time of our visit, the restaurant’s liquor license had not yet been granted, though we’re told there will be a selection of creative cocktails to be confirmed.
It’s hard to build up a rapport when you are served by several different staff throughout the night, but generally service was genial. We did feel that the staff could further improve their knowledge of the menu and give better guidance, particularly when it comes to the portion sizes.
A very filling meal for two with soft drinks and service is around HK$400 a head; coming with a large group is recommended to capitalise on the varied menu and hearty servings.