Sichuan food is so ubiquitous that it’s useful to have a few hallmark dishes by which to judge whichever joint you find yourself in. One useful case study is koushuiji, which translates as 'mouthwatering chicken', so-called because it’s, well, mouthwatering – or it is when it’s done right. This was happily the case at Dongzhimen’s new neighbourhood Sichuan restaurant, Dongwai Xiaoguan.
Dongwai’s rendition costs a humble 28RMB and comes perfectly poached and bathing in a mala oil that’s lighter than we would have expected. The spiciness is subtle and the tender meat falls easily away from the bone. So far, so good.
Next we try the pork shoulder (68RMB). The huge, fatty hunk that arrives is easily enough to feed four. It’s a fun dish for communally digging your chopsticks into, but it’s not going to change your life, or your lunch for that matter. The wanzamian (18RMB) also doesn’t live up to the juicy heights of the koushui chuck – it’s got that deeply savoury flavour you want from your noodles, but there’s too much noodle and not enough topping, rendering the whole bowl a little bland.
Any criticism that’s leveled at Dongwai Xiaoguan must come couched in the caveat that this is a convenient, local joint that’s clearly popular. There is also a refrigerated wall of skewered meats and vegetables for dunking in the fiery cauldron that is boboji – worth investigating if you’re in a group. Importantly, nothing on the menu is going to leave you feeling shortchanged.
By Amy Hawkins