Before you singe your tounge on the fiery Sichuan fare, try getting it round this restaurant's twisty name. Hidden away from the hordes on Huanshi Lu, Zao Fang Gong Chuan Cai Da Jiu Lou (now try saying that backwards) makes up for your tied tounge by exquisite style and design. The focus on form and appearance begins well before the entrance itself, with a charming facade that juxtaposes traditional Chinese architecture with, erm, escalators.
Inside, the homage to historic building traditions continues, along with an eye-catching selection of furniture straight out of and antique showroom. In fact, it is quite a challenge to take everything in; the dragon's head waterfull, the carp pond complete with hanging songbird cages, and the gated centrepiece. It is an unusual blend of the archaic and the abstract, glass and steel conspiring to overwhelm carved stone and serpentine door pulls.
Seating is spacious, with both tables and chairs maintining the antique feel. The staff are refreshingly gracious and the menu is quite extensive. Unfortunately, as in so many similar establishments, the accurate translation of the dish names has been completely overlooked, with far too many unpleasant intestinal references and comical transliterations. We were tempeted to order the lotus feet and pittercallers (sic) but instead settled for deep fried rabbit (RMB 28), and a rather bland steamed meatball (RMB 28), and a rather bland steamed meatball (RMB 28) that was supposedly one of the chef's reconmmendations.
Our confidence was later restored with the arrival of deliciously tender, braised vegetable hearts with ham (RMB 26), which actually turned out to be bacon. Of course, this is a Sichuan concern and even though we did not pick any of the spicier combinations, there were plenty to choose from. Just behind us, at a separate table, a young couple were playing the Cantonese game of 'five-ten,' with the loser having to sample yet another helping of what was obviously an extremely fiery dish as a forfeit.
Zao Fang Gong Chuan Cai Restaurant, Daily 11am-2pm, 5-10pm. No cards.
Address: 419 Huangshi Dong Lu, east side of Ou Zhuang Overpass
Tel: 22260166, 2260177