Le Flaneur | Sichuan House Seafood
Disclosure: I was invited to dine at these restaurants
In this post, I’ll be covering recent restaurant invites from places serving two very different types of cuisine: French food from a cafe in Hawthorn and Chengdu-style Szechuan food in Richmond!
5 Church St
Hawthorn, VIC 3122
03 9853 8587
Having read my previous post about the pleasant brunch that I had with Ashley at Le Flaneur two years ago, the café’s owner (Tony) eMailed me asking if I was keen on coming back for dinner. Le Flaneur has recently started doing dinner service on Friday and Saturday nights. I thought… “why not?” and brought Fakegf along for the French food discovery.
We made our way there separately after work on a Friday… traffic was surprisingly smooth! On arrival, the cafe had just opened its doors at 6.30pm and we could pick any seat we wanted. I felt like I was in old familiar turf from two years ago… seeing the eclectic mix of mismatched chairs and tables of different makes and sizes. So Alice in Wonderland. We chose a table, settled in and was ready for the French ‘tea party’.
2010 Château de Ruth Côtes du Rhône, France 10.50
Since we drove, Fakegf and I could only have one glass of wine each (anything more than one glass would turn us into crazy drunks anyway, which wouldn’t be prudent). Our waiter (with the cute French accent) recommended a red wine from Rhone Valley, France. It was a very agreeable drink.
Two plates of toasted sourdough arrived shortly after, and I have to confess that I nearly finished both plates (Fakegf only had one slice) through the course of our meal. Ahhh… good sourdough is truly one of life’s greatest pleasures!
Wine cured beef tenderloin, crystallised ginger, green grapes, sherry vinaigrette 17
Cauliflower gratin with herbs crust 16
The dinner menu is short and succinct, listing 3 entrees, 2 mains and 2 dessert. So we pretty much sampled the whole menu.
I liked Fakegf’s cauliflower gratin… rich and comforting, perfect for winter. I eagerly mopped up the last of gratin with slices toasted sourdough. The combination of flavours in my cured beef entree, however, tasted a bit too unusual for me. I wasn’t keen on the sweet cubes of crystallised ginger and the breadsticks tasted oddly cuminy. I’d prefer if the dish was made simpler.
Confit of duck legs, orange gel, hazelnut purée 27
All that said, our mains were excellent. Classic canard a l’orange generously served as two perfectly cooked confit duck legs in orange sauce with an added spread of hazelnut purée. The nut puree went really well with the duck… who’d have thought?
Pan fried John Dory, gruyère custard, Paris mash, black olive soil 26
I had a perfectly seasoned and pan fried John Dory served with umami-laden flecks of olive soil and gentle dabs of gruyere creme. Once again, who’d have thought cheese could go with fish!
Apricot clafoutis, whipped cream 12.5 | Lemon mousse meringuée 12
It’s dessert time! The clafoutis tasted like a cakey flan topped with a delightful jasmine-scented whipped cream, and Fakegf approved of the lemon mousse which tasted confidently tart from fresh lemon and its rind.
I’d like to thank Tony for kindly inviting us in to sample Le Flaneur’s dinner menu. The cooking’s French, comforting and done nicely. We left with very full bellies… especially greedy ol’ me, eating all that sourdough!
Sichuan House Seafood
I dined here the very next day after Le Flaneur… talk about a weekend of overeating!
By the way, it’s a little presumptuous of me to have said I was invited. The real story is, I tagged along with Lauren as a guest at Sichuan House Richmond. She was invited by the owner and could bring a few friends… namely myself, Fakegf and The Angmoh… SCORE!! And the most interesting twist of events was – we actually dined together with the owner, Peter!
Peter turned out to be a lovely man with a passion for good Chinese food. That’s why he decided to open Sichuan House (CBD & Richmond) to help bring good Sichuanese cuisine into Melbourne. The massive menu was both fascinating and daunting, nearly 3/4 of the dishes were unfamiliar to us. We were glad that Peter took the reins and ordered a good flow of dishes for us to sample.
Stewed boneless free range chicken in spicy sauce | Black fungus in fresh chilli sauce
Dandan Mian | Wontons in chilli oil
So we embarked on what was to be an epic and spicy meal, so nice and warming for that freezing Winter’s night.
I’ve decided not to go blow-by-blow with describing each dish here, but we enjoyed most of them. The pickled black fungus and dandan mian (spicy cold noodles with sesame paste) were particularly toothsome.
Songshuyu (松鼠鱼) | Deep fried prawn w salted yolk
These next two dishes were actually non-spicy, serving as ‘palate cleansers’ for the next (gigantic) wave of dishes to come. Songshuyu (nicknamed squirrel fish) is a popular dish in Eastern China, fresh whole barramundi is lightly fried and served with sweet and sour sauce. Very moreish. The salted yolk prawn, however, was too rich and pungent for my tastebuds though.
Peter was very animated right through the meal. He was full of stories and anecdotes about the origins of the dishes, local customs, how the restaurant came about, and why some of the Chinese dishes (eg: ants climbing the tree) are named so funnily. Interestingly, he explained that if you were to visit Sichuan province in China, you’ll realise that the spice levels isn’t as high as you’d expect in their dishes. That’s because the Sichuanese eat it everyday… they’ll lose their taste if it’s consistently crazy spicy. That’s food for thought for those of us who benchmark Sichuan food based on how spicy the dishes are.
…YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!!!
Hehe… but I’m at fault at too… enjoying the bravura of eating the spiciest dishes around.
Anyway, during a little pause between the tidal waves of food, we got into a conversation about Sichuan peppercorns. Peter very kindly went into the kitchen to show us the different types they used in their dishes… pink, green and frozen peppercorns. Amazingly, each of them boasted a different fragrance, flavour and lip-numbing tingle. So different from the weak, blackish ones that you’d find at your local Asian grocer. We were told that ideally, the peppercorns should be less than a year old… and if possible, harvested in May.
We also learnt that Sichuan House’s dishes tastes a little different to other Sichuan restaurants in Melbourne because the style of cooking is more from the city of Chengdu rather than Chongqqing. Chongqing-style dishes are usually more knock-your-socks-off spicy and oily, whereas Peter prefers his dishes to focus more on the subtleties of flavour. All his chefs are from Sichuan province in China and he sends them to Chengdu every year or so to keep up to date with culinary trends.
Ants climbing the tree | Beef in chilli oil
Fish fragrant eggplant | Xiao long bao
And say hello to our final platoon of food dishes. The ants climbing the tree was Peter’s favourite dish in the restaurant, which tasted good but leant towards the salty side. I was superbly full by this point, but couldn’t help eating more and more AND MORE of the eggplant. That… to me, was the dish of the night. It’s the best fish fragrant eggplant that I’ve tasted in all of Melbourne, I’d come back to Sichuan House just for this dish. And here’s a tip: eat it the moment it’s served, because it tastes SPECTACULAR when it’s fresh-out-of-the-fryer crisp and hot.
And here’s a little backstory, the dish yuxiang qiezi (鱼香茄子 – fish fragrant eggplant) contains no fish whatsoever. It is named so because a famous Chinese poet was having lunch when a friend dropped in unexpectedly. The poet asked his wife to cook one more dish, and she looked around the kitchen and used whatever was available, which were a few eggplants and some Sichuan sauce that’s normally used for a fish dish. The new eggplant dish turned out amazing… and the rest is history.
I’d like to thank Peter for his kindness and hospitality, and for being such a generous and informative host. And thank you, Lauren, for asking me to come along! This was one of the few meals I’d eaten where we could not finish our dishes, but that’s the Chinese way… where one makes sure the guest does not leave hungry. Contrary to that, I left the restaurant soooooo incredibly full that I skipped breakfast and did not want to think about eating again until mid-afternoon the next day!