Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Red Chilli Sichuan Restaurant - Civic, Canberra

I was very disappointed when La Pasa Singaporean closed down as it had been one of my favourite haunts in Civic. So I eagerly awaited the opening of this restaurant which has taken up the space instead. The Red Chilli Sichuan Restaurant is part of the Red Chilli Group which has restaurants in Sydney and Brisbane. The Canberra restaurant is so new that it hasn't even been included on their website nor do they have business cards yet.

Stepping into the restaurant, I thought the renovations were impressive, with majestic Chinese architectural wooden arches greeting you as you walked into the restaurant. The interior looked much fresher and brighter after the installation of more ceiling lights.

Unfortunately, the rest of the evening went downhill from there. The day before, I'd made a reservation for 7pm. Arriving right on the dot at 7, the restaurant was like a madhouse. The waiters were bustling around the restaurant, there were people sitting on chairs near the entrance and on the cushions around the water feature, all waiting to get a table and the noise was almost deafening. And this was on a Thursday night.

Starving after a long day at work, I was relieved I had made a table booking. As it turned out, they had recorded my booking but hadn't actually set aside a table. Every table and seat in the restaurant was taken. After 10 minutes of waiting (along with another group who had made a booking but were also waiting for their table to be cleared), they finally told me that people were leaving and that they were cleaning up the table for us. Take heed, making a reservation does not guarantee a table at the specified time; it only puts you at the top of the queue, ahead of walk-in groups.

In their haste to seat us, the waiter brought clean plates and bowls before wiping down the table, which meant we had to help them by holding the crockery up so they could clean the table. The table was made of clear glass (so you could see the intricate detailing of the furniture) but you could also tell when they were just wiping the grease around the table.

It was incredibly difficult to get the attention of any wait staff when we were ready to order or when we needed another pot of tea. I don't know what type of Chinese tea ($1 per person) we were served, but it was surprisingly nice (I'm not a huge fan of Chinese tea, but I'll tolerate it at Chinese restaurants). 8pm came and went. The crowd was thinning out and the restaurant was almost half empty. Despite this, we were still waiting for our food. Two pots of tea later (an hour and 15 minutes after arriving at the restaurant), our food finally arrived.

Stir fried green bean with pork mince ($14.50)
This was the first dish to arrive and the best dish by far. The beans were cooked nicely and the pork mince was well seasoned. (Although, we might have given the dish an unfair advantage as we were famished by the time it arrived.)

Stir fried Sichuan style pork ribs with dried chilli and rice crackers ($22.50)
The pork was overcooked and dried out, which was surprising, given that the meat was still on the bone. It also lacked depth of flavour (or any flavour for that matter). It was mostly just dry and salty. The rice crackers were like dense and hard prawn crackers, without the prawn flavour. I tasted one and that was enough for me.

Fried garlic chicken ($17.50)
When this dish came out, I thought it looked like a plate of chicken nuggets - with Japanese style presentation. In hindsight, this was probably not the best indicative dish to order at a Sichuan restaurant, however, in terms of taste, I actually preferred it to the pork ribs. That's not to say it was a good dish. It was more that the chicken nuggets seemed to retain the heat better, the coating was crunchy and the meat was still juicy. However, there were a few tough tendons in the chicken and the garlic flavour seemed to have been randomly distributed between the pieces.

If you order rice at a Chinese restaurant, you can usually help yourself to a container of rice that they bring out. So to add to the list of gripes so far, they only brought out a bowl of rice per person ($2.50 each). That's an expensive bowl of white rice!

Needless to say, it was a very disappointing visit to Red Chilli Sichuan Restaurant. There was no respect for table bookings - choosing to make a quick buck from an early-bird sitting and risking the sitting for which the customer had bothered to make a booking. The longer a restaurant takes to bring out the food, the better the food must be to make up for the wait. This was the longest wait I've had (in my life) for Chinese food and the food was not at all close to being worth the wait nor value for money.

Food Avenue rating: 3/10.

Red Chilli Sichuan Restaurant on Urbanspoon


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