It’s an odd sensation to arrive at a restaurant with an impending sense of dread. The building’s past gave us a feeling of intense foreboding as we arrived at Huilongzhen, the new Sichuan restaurant on the second floor of China View. A long line of past gastronomic casualties – most recently, the Sicilian themed Bantu – is obscured by the well-lit, airy space.
Gone are the wine racks and olive oil and in have come red lanterns and liberal splashes of chilli oil on heaving mountains of Sichuan’s iconic mouth-numbing peppercorns.
Huilongzhen’s speciality is crawfish, served plain or with the classic mala flavouring. Gorgeous as the carmine-red crustaceans (small 6RMB; large 9RMB) may be, you’ll experience a taste that is ultimately underwhelming for the effort involved in opening them up.
In fact, underwhelming dishes are something of a trend here. No Sichuan restaurant should be without koushuiji (literally ‘saliva chicken’) and here the chilli oil-slicked slices of poached chicken arrive in a plentiful heap (32RMB), but lack the mouthwatering effect the name claims.
There are bright points. The lesser-known leaf zhe’er gen makes a beguiling appearance in a cold salad (18RMB). The foliage, native to southwest China, is tossed with julienned celery, chopped chilli and diced garlic and finished with a generous pour of vinegar. The almost creamy texture of this intriguing leaf is well paired with the acidic bite of vinegar and the dish provides a welcome respite from piles of peppercorns. Another high point is the iron cauldron filled with cauliflower florets dry-fried with celery, spring onions, chillies and salty flecks of bacon (28RMB).
Competent but unremarkable, it’s hard to imagine Huilongzhen being the first to break the culinary curse of China View.