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Sichuan in Bristol


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Bristol now has a restaurant specializing in Sichuan and Yuanan cooking. Called Zen, it's on Millennium Square more or less next to the Planetarium. (http://www.zenharbourside.co.uk/).

Two of us ate there on Sunday night and ordered the Sichuan Adventure set menu. I'm not normally a set menu person but this one includes Water Boiled Sea Bass, Aromatic Chili Crab and Hell's Concoction which were all dishes we wanted to try. We were warned that this set was spicy.

First the cold appetizers - Sichuan mouth watering chicken, a black fungus salad where the crunchy/slightly slimy texture of the fungus was as important as the taste, and garlic pork rolls - thinly sliced cold roast pork wrapped round slivers of garlic and vegetables and dressed with a hot chili sauce. All excellent.

Then Aromatic Chili Crab. A whole crab between the two of us, hot and cooked in a sauce of, I think, chili oil, softened garlic cloves - lots of garlic cloves - ginger and spring onion. Fiddly, messy and really good. Scrape the garlic/ginger/chili/crab meat mess out of the shell, it's probably the best bit.

A short gap, then the Water Boiled Sea Bass, Hell's Concoction and dry fried green beans with garlic, and steamed rice. The first two came in bowls the size of tureens thick with dried chillies and, with the fish, Sichuan peppercorns. We made a mistake with the Hell's Concoction and allowed our waiter to skim off quite a lot of the dried spices - he was concerned we wouldn't cope but he left all the spices with the fish when asked.

Water Boiled Sea Bass - Chinese cabbage and chunks of fresh fish floating in a fragrant broth with dried chilies and the best Sichuan peppercorns I've had, not just numbing but with a clear, spicy citrus taste. They did offer to take the fish out for us but we refused, preferring to hunt for it.

Hell's Concoction - Chinese black pudding, various bits of tripe, other offal and unidentified meat along with bean sprouts. This was all floating in a very oily, hot broth. Not everything in this was to my liking - some odd spam-like meat for example - but there was plenty that was. We did ignore the beans a bit because there was a huge amount of food and good though garlicy, spicy beans are, the other dishes were much more interesting. (Expect to take left-overs home.)

I've been cooking from Fuschia Dunlop's Sichuan Cooking for 5 years and only this year actually eaten Sichaun food in restaurants. I made it to Bar Shu in Feb and Red Chili in early April and have been hoping for a good Sichuan restaurant in Bristol for a long time. In my opinion Zen rivals Bar Shu (and is better than Red Chili - although more expensive). The service was very friendly and I am sure they'd be very happy to help those less familiar with Sichuan cooking through the menu. Not everything is insanely hot.

Anyone else been?

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aha CY, thanks for the post, I had read a message posted on a bit of paper in the window of the Chinese food shop I use when I'm in Bristol announcing a new Sichuan resto there but it was written in Chinese, didn't have the name or address of the place and just gave a ph. no. to ring for info....you have solved the mystery :smile:

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It's encouraging that restaurants have finally worked out that some of their non-chinese customers might actually want to venture beyond sweet and sour pork.

That set menu does sound particularly adventurous though!

I've got a craving for some Sichuan food now - i've just been reading Fuschia Dunlop's Shark's fin and Sichuan Pepper. Bristol isn't too far, wonder when the next train is.....

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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  • 3 months later...
Bristol now has a restaurant specializing in Sichuan and Yuanan cooking. Called Zen, it's on Millennium Square more or less next to the Planetarium.  (http://www.zenharbourside.co.uk/).

Anyone else been?

We tried it for dinner on Saturday night. Overall a good meal, as you say nice friendly service and good food. We tried:

Pickled Sichuan Vegtables - crunchy and spicy with good flavours.

Pan fried dumplings - tasty, and as they say on the menu they seem home made.

Aromatic Chilli Chicken - we have had this version in a very good restaurant in Hong Kong and this is slightly differnt, hee they are small battered pieces of chicken rather than larger pieces simply coated in a fiery spice mixture and fried. It is tasty but suffers in comparison.

Twice Cooked Pork - a very satisfying dishes with good flavours and a nice crunch to the vegetables in the dish.

Ma po Dofu - the flavour was fine, but it was a little too soupy.

Overall we enjoyed the meal, the staff warned us about the heat when we ordered, but apart from the crunchy vegetables all the dishes seemed underpowered. I suspect Sichuan cuisine is toned down for UK tastes as I felt the same about Bar Shu when we tried it a couple of years ago. My other comment is that the dishes are far too large, and are therefore quite expensive. It would be far better for them to halve the portion size and the price. I would have loved to have tried a broader range of dishes but at £12 to £18 pounds per dish we limited our ordering, we are glad we did because when they arrived they were enormous and we struggled with the mountain of food. The bill for two was £51.48 including tea, rice, and 10% service.

I hope it is a success, but I worry that it was only 30% full on a Saturday evening.

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