Have I gotten over the fact that winter has come early? NO.
Am I glad that the bitter cold makes me crave for hot and spicy Szechuan food? Hell, YES!
Is Red N Hot THE place to go to satisfy this craving? 99% YES!
Why 99%? Because this place stinks, literally. The pungent chilli vapours tend to be rather offensive and clingy after a while, so bad that your clothes, hair, bags stink when you leave. But we don’t care, because the food is really good. Besides, we have been well-trained enough to wear our grubbiest clothes and not bring our most precious leather bags whenever we eat at Red N Hot. Seriously, this is very important if you don’t want to spend days sniffing at yourself, and grimacing whenever you do that. You don’t want to get your Birkin permanently defiled with the stench too (yes, we saw a Birkin, and a couple of Chanels make grand appearances at a completely unforgiving place like Red N Hot, and we winced in pain to witness this, even though these bags were regrettably not ours).
Anyways, five of us soldiered on to Red N Hot yesterday, armed with ridiculous appetites, without a reservation, and lots of time to spend in the queue for a table. This place is popular. An hour later, we earned a table upstairs, and since we were familiar with the menu, we ordered without hesitation and ended up sharing ten dishes.
Of these, my favourite has got to be 口水鸡, which literally means mouth-watering chicken or saliva chicken. Not that this is prepared in the chef’s saliva, that would be really appalling, to say the least, but this is a cold dish, where poached chicken is drenched in copious amounts of spicy chilli oil, and so eating this makes your mouth water. Personally, I think the sight of this makes me salivate. There is something very alluring about the scarlet red chilli oil interlaced with the creamy skin of the poached chicken. Now, Red N Hot does this really well. The spice from the oil and fragrance from the roasted groundnuts, bring out the creaminess of the chicken. I could have this everyday with bowls of rice, and not ever complain. It isn’t very spicy to me, subtle heat comes through with every bite, just enough to tantalise you for more, but not too much to put you off eating it. We always have two portions of this, because it is a real crowd-pleaser.
To cool us down, we would always have the cucumber (蒜泥黄瓜) marinated in garlic and sesame oil. It’s calming, well-flavoured and you emerge, yes, cool as a cucumber, with all the Szechuan spices you are having.
This may sound disgusting, but I like pig’s ears (红油猪耳) and having them steeped in a spicy chilli oil is a must. You get a little bit of crunch with the cartilage in the sliced ears, and it’s a pretty good snack, to me at least!!
We also like the dried beans (干煸四季豆), it is a tad salty, but this is nothing a warm scoop of rice can’t solve.
The Gong Bao King Prawns (宫保虾球) are very good too. Succulent, fat ribbons of prawns in a sweet and spicy sauce, again, a great accompaniment for rice!
Do also try the Sliced Fish Topped with Chilli and Szechuan Peppers (水煮鱼). This is a rather fiery dish, with impossibly tender pieces of sliced fish drenched in oil. The kick comes from the Szechuan peppers. These are little peppers that resemble black peppercorns; biting into one of this will numb your mouth instantly, so beware!! I can’t deal with numbness because I like to be able to taste my food, so I always pick the peppers out. The heat from the dried chillies that permeates the oil should be enough to light you up.
I haven’t got any pictures, but the sliced pork belly in mashed garlic sauce (蒜泥白肉) is absolutely fantastic with lots of rice (can you tell that I’m a big fan of rice, already?). The white tofu in golden yolk casserole (金沙白玉豆腐) is simple, but so very delicious; this consists of smooth tofu cubes soaked in a light and fragrant salted egg yolk broth, again very delightful with rice.
I would recommend having a mix of spicy and non-spicy items. It can be an overkill if you have everything spicy (and you might suffer from the runs….), and it certainly defeats the purpose of visiting a Szechuan restaurant without trying anything fiery. Also, grab a bunch of foodies, because you would want to try as many dishes as you can. The ones I’ve recommended are good bets, my group of dinner pals always enjoy these dishes and so do I. If you are squeamish about oil and heat, Szechuan cuisine is probably not for you. But to me, this is a good way of staying warm during winter and a refreshing departure from the usual Chinese food we have in London. You can also opt for the Szechuan hotpot dinner at Red N Hot. We haven’t tried this because we can easily replicate this at home.
Whatever it is, if you’re planning to head to Red N Hot, just remember to dress really simply in your dirtiest clothes. You will thank me for that. If not, you can grab takeaways too.
Red N Hot is located at:
59 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0NE