Review: Qi – House of Sichuan

Sometimes I get the vague feeling that being a person heavily vested in restaurants is similar to being a parent (No, I can’t afford to be a parent in Hong Kong). Yes, that may be a bit of a stretch, but bear with me for a second, because there are a few similarities.

First off, you love your baby more than any other baby in the world. Even though there are babies more beautiful, more talented and more cuddly than yours, you still think your baby is the best, simply because it is your baby. It’s the same with restaurants. Once you fall in love with one, you refuse to listen to other people’s opinions and will only believe that your favourite restaurant is up there with the best of them in the world. Yes there will be big names but they won’t nearly be as good as your favourite place. Like a baby, you can observe a restaurant as it grows. You watch as it starts small, stumbling through mishaps before it blossoming and achieving success (well the good ones always do). It will start winning local accolades before attracting more attention, and may even be awarded prestigious international awards like a Michelin star.  Yes I may sound like a nutcase, but I do think this way. And in this sense, Qi – House of Sichuan is my baby.

I fell in love with Qi when it was just another restaurant in Wanchai overshadowed by the big names in its vicinity. It was located in the uber trendy J-senses on Ship’s Street. But when you consider the pedigree of the restaurants nearby, you would be forgiven in overlooking Qi. In the same building, there is the three Michelin starred Bo Innovation. Opposite to it is Akrame Benallel’s eponymous one starred restaurant. On the same road, there are eateries by two British superstar chefs; Jason Atherton’s 22 Ships and Ham & Sherry, and The Pawn by Tom Aikens. With such a crowd, it is definitely hard to stand out. Yet, the quality was undeniable. Everything that came out of the kitchen was pitch perfect: Tender, boneless cuts of chicken slathered in a mouth-numbing chilli spread, glazed deep fried slices of beef in a ginger sauce, delicate morsels of dim sum.. This humble blogger instantly became a devotee. So you can imagine my delight when I read this year’s Michelin guidebook and discovered that Qi was the recipient of a Michelin star. I felt like a proud parent.

Best of all, despite gaining a star, they did not change anything. They still do the same killer-value lunch set (a 3 course meal for less than HK$150, a bargain for the quality of the food), the swanky decor and the addictive electro music remained, and most importantly, they never watered down the food. Many Sichuan restaurants – along with many other ‘exotic’ restaurants in the city – ‘tone down’ the level of heat and spice to suit the palettes of Hong Kong clients, and by doing so, they end up blaspheming the good name of their cuisine (Looking at you Kaum by Potatohead). Here in Qi, while the food is modern, it is unmistakably rooted in classical Sichuanese cuisine. Chilis and spices are used in abundance, and thank God it is, as a Sichuan meal is not complete without a drenched t-shirt and an oral cavity that is suffering from third degree burns.

While I usually come for dinner, this time, my partner and I settled for lunch. To brace ourselves for the meal ahead, we skipped starters (Though the mouth-watering chicken and the dumplings slathered in chilli oil are both exquisite) and simply started off with a simple plate of garlic stir-fried broccoli (HK$90). I always – and justifiable so – feel ripped off when I order stir-fried vegetables in restaurants, knowing that it would only cost me a fraction of the price to do it at home. So while the broccoli was expertly cooked until it had just the right amount of ‘snap’, feel free to omit this when you visit the restaurant unless you really want your greens.

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First of the mains was the sugar glazed ginger and scallion beef (HK$160). I have ordered this religiously since the first time I visited this place, and it never fails to disappoint. The beef is crisp from the frying and drenched in a dark, sticky glaze. Yet it still remains tender, with the meat falling apart in after a bite. The sweet, mildly spicy sauce stimulates the appetite and pairs fantastically well with rice. Also, for those who cannot handle the spice (seriously though, why would you go to a Sichuan place if you can’t eat chilli?), this dish is also relatively tame, where any overbearing heat from the chilli is offset by the luscious, sugary sauce.

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Our second main course was a classic Sichuan staple- braised mandarin fish fillet in a chilli oil broth (HK$240 for small, HK$300 for large). Tender slices of mandarin fish were lovingly poached in a fiery chilli broth until barely cooked. The powerful broth was chock full of goodies like bean sprouts, vegetable shoots and chewy mung bean noodles. But be warned, this is spicy with a capital S, as you can see from the large number of chilli peppers floating in the oily broth. Your eyes will water and your tongue will sting, but then again, one cannot experience true pleasure without going through pain first. This is utterly delicious, and totally worth the pain and stomach cramps you will go through for the next few hours.

Seriously, do go to Qi, you’ll thank me for the tip. While prices are steep and portions teeters on the small side, the food is as good as it gets in the city. You should go.

Qi – House of Sichuan, 2F J-Senses, 60 Johnston Rd, Wanchai