Last year we featured a rather great mix from Villette. The alias of Siné a London based DJ (who has supported acts like John Talabot, The XX and Metronomy in hometown Istanbul), producer, amateur photographer and food enthusiast. It was this last point that led us here. In the first of a new series from Siné alongside her eating partner - the equally excellent Ambassadeurs, aka Mark Dobson who has a Tobin-like love for turning found sounds into samples and processing them beyond recognition - they'll be highlighting some of the culinary gems of both the capital and the rest of the world. First up a Chinese gem just off Brick Lane.
Since I moved to London, there's been one place that I've found myself returning to over and over again. The age old rule they say is when you see a restaurant frequented by a lot of people from the same region as the cuisine, you know that it is good. And this is no exception to the rule! A tiny little place just off Brick Lane, Sichuan Folk in my opinion is the best Chinese food you will ever put in your mouth in the whole of London. So who better than the very person - a former professional chef - that introduced me to this place to answer my questions as to what makes Sichuan Folk so special.
Qǐng màn yòng!
Mark, where did you find this place?
I had walked past this restaurant quite a few times and had always been curious as it seemed very busy every time, it’s a very unassuming looking place so I initially didn’t think much of it judging by the exterior but I heard someone raving about it so I checked out the menu and saw all sorts of interesting dishes like Jellyfish, Frogs Legs and Pigs Intestines and realised this probably isn’t the usual westernised Chinese food you find elsewhere.
How many times have you been here so far?
Out of all the restaurants I have been to, this is the one I frequent most often for sure. I have been here at least 2 or 3 times a month.
What did you have here and what would you specifically recommend?
I have had most of the food on the menu but a recurring favourite is the face-meltingly-hot ‘Sichuan Style Sliced Beef in Numbing and Spicy Sauce’ which is a cold starter that is incredibly hot and literally does make you mouth numb as the Sichuan pepper actually works as a local anesthetic when you eat it. It’s a fiery dish but is packed full of the classic bold flavours of Sichuan cuisine. My other favourite is the ‘Traditional Boiled Fish Slice’ which despite its very uninteresting name is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. It consists of a large hot pot of extremely spicy and again numbing, yet delicious stock that the fish is poached in along with Chinese cabbage and a whole buttload of chillies.
Sounds yummy! Anything you didn’t quite like?
One thing I did not like was the ‘Cloud Ear Fungus’ which was just not to my taste texturally.
What?! I loved that! I’m not very sure about the impossibly spicy dishes though. I have had some painful nights after dining here. Is this place for everyone?
If you don’t like hot food then I would still recommend it. Alongside all the extremely fiery dishes are a number of more subtle ones that are less bold on the chilli front but still full of amazing flavours. Also if you want to try one of the spicier dishes they will gladly make them less spicy for you.
Good service in London is like rare vinyl. Any issues with that?
The service is brilliant. It’s a successful restaurant that makes amazing food and you can tell that the waiting staff there know this and are very proud. They will happily take you through the menu recommending things that they enjoy themselves and they do this in a genuine way, not like other restaurants that will just recommend the dish they have been told to maximize profits.
Do you think the ambiance is a bit of a downer? They've had some refurbishments a few weeks ago but it still does not ooze a lot of character.
No I like the ambience. The restaurant is very causal with shared tables and the food is incredible and it shows on the faces of everyone in there that they are enjoying it and it's always busy so always has a great buzz.
Is it any good for a date?
It’s not the most romantic of places but if you want to take someone there who loves food, the quality of it will trump the lack of romance I think.
Is it pricey? Also, when you make a reservation, they politely ask you to bring cash, which can be inconvenient for some diners.
It’s not very expensive (starters around £7/8, mains around £12-£18) but as most of the dishes are made for sharing then yes it does work out quite affordable.
Venue: Sichuan Folk - 32 Hanbury Street, London, E1 6QR
Cuisine: Sichuan Chinese
Price Range: Medium
For more information, see the Sichuan Folk website.