26/06/2022

THAILAND DAILY

NEWSPAPER / MAGAZINE / PUBLISHER

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A perfectly sour, sweet, spicy, mouth-numbing Suan Cai Yu by chef Robert Wong at Grand Majestic Sichuan

Sichuan cuisine is all about the flavours, not just the spice. And chef Robert Wong perfects it at Grand Majestic Sichuan, especially with the sour, spicy and perfectly mouth-numbing Suan Cai Yu.

Contrary to a sorely misunderstood popular belief, Sichuan food is not all spice and sweat. It’s actually a very complex profile of over 20 multi-layered flavours that sit on a wider spectrum of spicy, garlicky, sweet, tingling, sour, savoury, bitter, flowery and smokey. In fact, majority of the dishes in the cuisine are not very spicy at all. Sichuan flavours fall under its own category of mala (麻辣), which combines both the mouth-numbing sensation of Sichuan peppers in má (麻), and heat from the chillies in là (辣).

It’s something that Robert Wong, then one-Michelin star Chilli Fagara alum, and now, head chef at Black Sheep Restaurant’s glitzy new Sichuan supper club, hopes to dispel with his menu at Grand Majestic Sichuan, created in collaboration with chef, cookbook author and four times James Beard awardee, Fuchsia Dunlop.

Chef Robert Wong, head chef at Grand Majestic Sichuan

Dunlop, a recognised expert in Chinese cuisine, spent 25 meticulous years studying everything Chinese gastronomy had to teach. She has penned her learnings with influential books that explore the rich and extensive world of Chinese cooking in acute detail, in particular Sichuan cuisine, with popularity spanning from across the globe, including China where translated editions have been published: Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper (2008), Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes from the Culinary Heart of China (2016) and The Food of Sichuan (2019) among others.

Grand Majestic Sichuan’s menu, in the very capable hands of Wong and Dunlop, is guided by an in-depth understanding of flavours coupled with traditional cooking techqniues of the region. An authentic showcase of the breadth of Sichuan cuisine, the dishes here moves away from a sole focus on mala and incorporates other flavour components such as “suanni wei” (蒜泥味, or garlic paste flavour) which adds and elevate to the Sichuanese experience and embrace the distinct aromatic range on the palate.

As an old Sichuan saying goes, “Each dish has it own style, a hundred dishes have a hundred different flavours.”

Wong adds, “Sichuan cuisine is often misunderstood. There is an expectation that all of the dishes in the cuisine are going to be a certain kind of spicy, but most of the dishes do not fall into the category. Great Sichuan food is about forming an overall symphony of flavours. It should have an incredible depth and complexity.”

Within the substantial menu of cold appetisers, wok-tossed mains, slow-simmered soups, broths, stews and street snacks, one stands out as a quintessential dish of the cuisine, having met a varied profile of flavours and being a dish that’s enjoyed across the country. Here in Hong Kong, you’ll find restaurants dedicated solely to the singular dish: Suan Cai Yu (酸菜魚) or line-caught grouper stew with picked mustard greens, a searing-hot, soupy broth of simmering slices of lightly deep-fried fish, bean sprouts, chillis and picked mustard greens which are at once spicy, sweet, sour, savoury and umami.

The perfect Suan Cai Yu, as Wong explains, is one of balanced flavour — “Not too spicy, or too sour which will overshadow the sweetness and umami of the fish”. And the fish at Grand Majestic Sichuan is the utter standard.

Suan Cai Yu, line-caught grouper stew with pickled mustard greens (HK$298)

Making picked mustard greens of their own, Wong is able to manipulate the ingredients to best complement and fulfil the satisfying flavours of an authentic bowl of Suan Cai Yu. Traditional rice vinegar is swapped out for lychee vinegar for stronger aromatics and a satisfying sharp sourness; while the traditionally milky white broth is replaced with a clearer base, with added sweetness from the carrots, bay leaves and onions.

“Our in-house recipe combines the strong fish flavour with just a bit of sour from the mustard greens, spice from the chillis and, of course, the from the Sichuan peppercorns that are so important to the cuisine.” Wong says. “It is not only a colourful dish, but one that brings the palate on a journey through the cuisine.”

ChongQing Lai Zi Ji, firecracker local “three-yellow” chicken with heaven facing chillis (HK$308)

As you now understand, the secret to Sichuan cuisine is in the flavour. And flavours, however large or small, are carefully extracted from the various sauces, ingredients and components to create a well-rounded journey of Sichuan cuisine. For Grand Majestic Sichuan’s Suan Cai Yu, its the hero of the dish, the fish. Chosen depending on seasonality, the fish adds umami to the olive green broth that Wong mentions is best served with potato noodles (make sure you get extra portions!). The dish’s usual Mandarin Fish is interchanged between different species to offer the necessary sweetness or freshness, including Sole, Giant Grouper and Golden Pomfret.

“It’s what has the best flavour at the time of the season,” Wong says. And they do tastings with the fish regularly.

A Sichuan-native himself, Wong singles out the Ma Po Dou Fu as a favourite of his own. Other must-try: Bang Bang Ji, poached local “three-yellow” chicken in sesame sauce; Hong You Chao Shou, pork wontons in sweet soy and chilli oil; Chen Pi Niu Rou, grass-fed beef tenderloin with ten year-aged tangerine peel; and ChongQing La Zi Ji, firecracker local “three-yellow” chicken with heaven facing chillis.

“I hope to breathe new life into Sichuan cuisine in the city,” Wong continues. “Showcase the balanced flavours and complexity of the dishes, all while seeing the familiar flavours of Sichuan through a fine-dining lens. Sichuan cuisine is in my blood, it is my family and my heritage.”


Grand Majestic Sichuan is open Tuesday to Sunday from 6 to 10pm. Reservations can be made here.

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