Sauchiehall Street on a Saturday evening is an anthropologist’s dream. Walking from Renfield St past empty shop units you can’t escape the feeling that it’s seen better days. The great retail boom that followed pedestrianisation in the 1970s has faded, superseded by grand temples to consumerism such as the Buchanan Galleries. But wind your way towards Charing Cross and you’ll find the upper reaches dominated by bars, clubs, takeaways and, yes, some damn fine restaurants. So as the July drizzle descended, and finding ourselves in need of some warming spice, we decided to pay a visit to Sichuan House.
One thing Glasgow doesn’t lack is Chinese restaurants. There are plenty to choose from but until fairly recently there’s been little to distinguish them. You’d see the same selection of Westernised Cantonese fair repeated across multiple locations with hokey names and massive fish tanks. I’m happy to report that Sichuan House does not have a fish tank. Not that I could see anyway. What it does have is a menu that requires some stamina if you’re to read it cover to cover. The variety on offer is slightly overwhelming but we manage to narrow it down to 5 dishes: kung po scallops, shredded pork in Peking sauce, stir-fried aubergine with sweet potato and peppers, diced lotus root with chilli vinegar and an order of grilled pork dumplings. This, it would later emerge, was enough food to feed a 5 a side team. Not that it came as a surprise. It wasn’t our first visit and we love this place so much that all pretense at restraint flies out the window as soon as the menu is in front of me.
Sichuan cuisine is all about spice. The eponymous peppercorn lends it’s numbing heat to many dishes on the menu and the kung po scallops are no exception. We try to mix it up on each visit but find it impossible not to order this dish. Fat, juicy scallops are dredged and quickly deep fried before being tossed in a sweetly spicy sauce with onions, peppers, courgettes and dried chillis. The result is phenomenal. The scallops miraculously retain their delicate flavour despite all the spice and each one bursts with a crunch in your mouth. The only criticism I can offer is that it’s best when eaten immediately, which you’ll want to do anyway as soon as you’ve tasted it.
Shredded pork in Peking sauce obviously isn’t a Sichuanese dish but it provided a nice contrast to the fieriness of the scallops. It came, as most dishes here do, in a sharing sized portion with slivers of spring onion on the side and a heaping helping of rice pancakes. The pork was tender and the sauce was pure umami goodness. Together with the spring onions inside a pancake it made for a perfect bite of food.
We envisaged the stir-fried aubergines as a side dish but it arrived steaming hot and piled high. Tossed together with caramelised sweet potato and mixed peppers in a sticky and deliciously savoury sauce. The pork dumplings are made in house and were fantastic. A slightly thicker, handmade wrapper gives them nice bite and the filling was juicy and perfectly seasoned. I could happily eat a pile of these on their own. The only slight misstep was the diced lotus root with chilli and vinegar. In fairness it was exactly as described, but the woody texture of the lotus root made eating it something of a chore. On top of this it didn’t really deliver the punchy flavour I was expecting.
The food at Sichuan House is exceptional. I’m naturally sceptical of giant menus but here they somehow manage to pull it off and in some style. The diverse menu encourages you to be adventurous as long as you can get over the paralysing fear of the unknown. And if you’re not sure about something, just ask. The food isn’t the only exceptional thing here. The staff are friendly and helpful and are always happy to answer questions from wary diners. And if it’s all just a bit too much, you’ll find the usual selection of sweet and sour, chow meins and curries at the back of the menu. But it would be a pity to come here and eat what you can have in a couple of hundred other restaurants in the city.
The food and service are both outstanding at Sichuan House, but the whole package is incredible. The restaurant is tastefully designed and manages to feel cosy despite its large size. There are extra touches too that add to the experience. After your drinks order is taken a selection of complimentary snacks arrives in short order: deep friend peanuts, cucumber salad and sesame seaweed are the perfect introduction and give you an idea of what’s to come. And as a palate cleanser at the end of your meal some simple sliced fruit; on this occasion it was watermelon, but on a previous visit it was orange slices. Without these touches I’d be raving about this place, but in taking that extra bit of care and attention the whole experience is elevated to another level.
For our mountain of food plus a bottle of water and Prosecco our bill came to a touch over £78 which I’d pay every day of the week. Drop everything and go there now.
345-349 Sauchiehall St
0141 333 1788
Attention to detail