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Szechuan Spice at Dai Pai Dong

One of my best memories of visiting China was the labyrinthine alleyways and hutongs, my nose guiding the way with every twist and turn. Like most, my first impressions of the country were formed via my taste buds as in China, work, play, romance, business and family all revolve around food. And food choice is everywhere. Now back in Abu Dhabi, luckily, I don’t have to go too far afield to relive the vibrant and spicy flavours.  Dai Pai Dong, the Chinese restaurant at Rosewood Abu Dhabi has recently launched their new ‘From the Alleyways of Szechuan’ menu.

Available until the end of April, Head Chef Dong, has designed a carefully crafted menu dedicated entirely to Szechuan cuisine. After choosing 10 of the most popular dishes including: chili poached beef; pickled cabbage seabass; wok-fried chili clay pot and sautéed chili beef; the Szechuan style of cooking is characterised by bold and spicy flavours and an insistence on freshness.

The menu is indeed impressive, but upon my arrival at the restaurant, a drink at the bar is recommended to whet my appetite before dinner. The barman immediately offers me their signature drink which is ice cold and delicious. The bar itself is one of my favourites in the city; dark wooden floors and beautiful furniture, it’s welcoming, intimate and definitely flies the flag for ‘no-frills cool.’

I’m taken to my table and as I decide on what to order, I look at the chefs in the kitchen (the kitchen offers live cooking stations, so you can observe while you eat), which is all busyness and action with woks billowing out heat and smoke. It’s exciting to watch.

There’s a decent list of small plates and larger courses to choose from depending on your appetite.  I decide to choose four dishes and start with the chilli poached beef. Compared to the other dishes, it has one of the smallest ingredients list: sliced beef, chilli sauce, peanuts, sesame, coriander, spring onion but it’s big on everything else: flavour, creativity and wow factor.

My second dish is the poached chilli pork tenderloin, a feast celebrating the crunch of bean sprouts, the distinct flavour of cumin and the fiery spice of chilli oil, garlic and spring onion.

Up next is the wok-fried sliced beef ribeye.  This is a melt-in-your-mouth dish and comes with red and green chilli, enoki mushrooms flash fired with cumin. Just delicious.

My final dish is the wok-fried chilli shredded chicken. Flavours are bold yet balanced, obtained through using lettuce root, mushroom, vinegar, soy sauce and sugar (giving it a mildly sweet flavour) and light-handed cooking techniques such as steaming and quick stir-frying.

If you still have space, try saving room for the chili chicken wanton, a flaky pastry with spicy shredded chicken, but be warned, like most of the dishes on the menu, one is never enough!  However, despite how full I am, I already have plans to return.

More Information
From the Alleyways of Szechuan Running until 30th April. Daily noon-3pm & 6pm-11pm. Prices start from AED 48 Dai Pai Dong, Rosewood Abu Dhabi, Al Maryah Island (02 813 5550).