Name: Spicy Ginger Café
Address: 25 Childers St, Canberra. 2600
Ph: 02 6162 1708
Hours: Lunch: Monday – Saturday, 11:30am – 2:30pm. Dinner: Monday – Saturday, 5pm – late night.
Chinese food needs a crowd. It is joyful food that needs to be shared, spread around between people. There is simply something strange and wrong about eating a meal from the most populous nation in the world by yourself. While I usually have no problem eating alone, I struggle to do it with Chinese.
Which is why I was thankful at Spicy Ginger Café to be accompanied by 19 people and copious amounts of wine. It was an outstanding way to welcome the Year of the Rabbit.
Spicy Ginger Café, specialises in the cuisine of Sichuan province which is rapidly, and understanding, rising in the popularity stakes. In a country that has for over a century really only recognized Cantonese food as being Chinese, Sichuan has started to open the door to the other flavours of this mighty nation.
But while this is a style of food where many people only think of the heat and the numbing sensation of the eponymous pepper, there is so much more to it.
Spicy Ginger gives this complex, mouth-tingling cuisine the attention it deserves, delivering many layers of flavour underneath that famed heat. One dish that especially manages this fine balance involves firm but tender slices of cod fillets and fresh vegetables, floating in soup of Sichuan hot spicy numbing-flower peppercorn and chilli. There was so much going on, with so many levels of excitement.
This was an epic dish. For a restaurant, and a budget restaurant especially, to have one thing this good on the menu is a coup. To have a second, well, that’s off the charts.
Braised eggplant in hot pot has such an innocuous name, and is so simple a concept. Yet it is spectacular. I adore eggplant, and nearly always order it when I see it on a menu. This is one of the best examples that I have come across. Thick, sexy, and gloriously warming. A delight.
The other dishes don’t quite live up to these two, but, really, why do they need to? Stir-fried runner beans with dried chillies come close with a kick of heat and freshness, and Sichuan gongbao chicken is a very adept version of the dish. Pork dumplings are meaty and juicy and delivered what they promised. But they are all overshadowed.
In the Chinese zodiac, Rabbits are gracious, amiable, softly spoken friends. It’s hardly fitting for the crazy punch of Szechuan food, but perfectly suits the impressive and unimposing service. Even when some of the group celebrated a little too boisterously with the wine (BYO, eschewing the brief wine list), the staff was always attentive and accommodating.
The value is incredible, with our veritable feast costing a mere $22 per person. Everything was good, with two moments of genius. Dollar for dollar, this would be very close to the best food in town. If you only eat the cod and the eggplant, there would be no question about it.
So get a group together and share some plates, whether you’re ringing in the Chinese New Year or not.
Kung Hii Fatt Choi!