With colder nights, eating out choices have gravitated towards favourite hot and spicy options.
Indian? Thai? Mexican? We decided on the sometimes overlooked Chinese Sichuan cuisine and headed to Foodsing in the Church Corner shops. It is not a specialist Sichuan restaurant but there are plenty of options on the menu.
Our party of four were hopeful despite our lack of a reservation and yes, we were ushered to a table. Foodsing is at the back of a pedestrian mall, across from a popular fish and chip shop but the food makes up for the plain walls and utilitarian furniture. Staff bustled about the two-thirds full restaurant, carrying steaming platters of food to the lively mixture of student groups (no doubt attracted by the BYO license and reasonable prices), couples and families.
Our Chinese guest likes to start with a cold dish so we selected the ambitiously titled Delicious Chicken ($6). While the cold strips of well-seasoned chicken served on a bed of sprouts were fine, the presentation did not match the Mandarin name. It should have been served with more chilli and Sichuan peppercorns.
Our cold Tsingtao beer ($6) paired well with hot and spicy flavours but most of the patrons evidently disagreed with our choice, judging by the popularity of the BYO wine.
Our first main, poached sliced beef in hot chilli oil ($18) is a famous example of Sichuan food. Thin, tender slices of beef are poached and served in a bright chilli-red soup - a combination of chilli and the unique "numbing" flavour of Sichuan peppercorns, huajiao, on a bed of Chinese vegetables. While the heat in Foodsing's version was probably enough for most, the adventurous might request more chilli when ordering.
Roasted fillets of local red cod ($14) were presented with a delicately flavoured blanket of spring onions. My comment that the fish was slightly overcooked was met with derision and the consensus was that the fish was an excellent counterbalance to the bold chilli of the aforementioned beef.
Crispy Hot Chicken ($18) was devoured down to the last peanut, with a small pile of chicken bones piling up on the side of our plates. This dish, an icon of the Chongqing style of Sichuan cooking, is hot, numbing and, cooked well - as it was - is a beautifully balanced combination of flavours.
Of the order of Mongolian roasted lamb ribs ($16) and garlic pork spare ribs ($16), the pork ribs were preferred. The batter-like coating was slightly sweet with the garlic adding flavour rather than overpowering, and the dish was a change from some of the more conventional pork choices at Chinese restaurants.
Finally, we picked stewed tofu pot ($12). Red cooking uses soy sauce, Chinese rice wine and sugar to produce a hearty, almost sweet stew that is a change to the heat of the chilli. It is said Mao Zedong loved red cooked pork and I can see why.
Foodsing's tofu version with seasonal Chinese vegetables and mushrooms is a must-try. Tofu is an important part of Chinese cuisine, important enough for early revolutionary Qu Qiubai to include it in some of his last known words before being executed by firing squad in 1935: "Chinese tofu is the most delicious food in the whole world. Goodbye and farewell!"
Where: 376 Riccarton Rd, Church Corner, ph. 341 6992 Hours: 11am - 9pm, daily How much: $130 for four people, including drinks. Entrees $2-$10, mains $12-$40. Rice and noodle dishes $8-$10. Licensed and BYO.
Upside: The new owners of Foodsing show a commitment to authentic, well-cooked Chinese food and there are plenty of changes from the standard fare. Good parking.
Downside: The decor won't win any prizes and probably not the place to go for a private chat.
Go again? Next week. I want to try the braised pork and egg and see what it was about the dish that Mao Zedong liked so much.
- The Press