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Chilli Fagara’s Executive Lunch Menu: Savor Numbing Spice in Sichuan Fine Dining
by: Rubin Verebes
March 16, 2022
Chilli Fagara, a leading Sichuanese mainstay in Soho's bustling foodie scene, has attracted crowds to experience the fiery, numbing, and authentic central Chinese fare for over 17 years. The dim-lit venue transports diners on a trip north to experience the decadent sights and tingling tastes of Sichuan cuisine.
Opening in 2005 on Gough Street, Chilli Fagara operates in a cosy, fiery venue on Old Bailey Street. For 11 years, the venue has garnered critical acclaim with recommendations and awards from the Michelin Guide.
Chongqing-born-and-raised chef Chan Kai-ying, alongside daughter Tracy, endeavour to deliver a Sichuanese cuisine challenging the perceptions of Hong Kongers, with innovations in flavours, healthy eating, and adapting with the times.
The Excellent, Fiery Executive Lunch Menu
Chilli Fagara’s latest culinary offering is the restaurant’s signature and chef-curated Executive Lunch Menu (HK$348 pp), an elegant Sichuan feast of Chef Chan’s signature plates, seasonal seafood and meats, and blends of snappy, fiery Sichuanese peppers.
Available daily from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM and 4 to 6 PM, I sat down to treat my tastebuds to a considerate exploration of the Sichuan food concepts of Ma (numbing), La (burning), and Tang (neutral) flavours.
The debut of my four-course lunch at Chilli Fagara begun with the Ma La Tang Samplers, an introductory starter exposing the range of spice levels employed in the lunch menu and heat routinely used in Sichuan cuisine. The appetisers include the Pork & Vegetable Dumplings (Ma), Shredded Chicken in Spicy Peanut Sauce (La), and Karana Lettuce Wraps (Tang).
The sampler dish aptly prepares you for the introduction of Chilli Fagara-style Sichuan spice in the menu, whilst kickstarting your tastebuds into the action. The plant-based Karana meat, made from jackfruit, is an addictive snack that elicits a nice herbal taste with cumin-infused ‘meat’, onions, and carrots. The fiery shredded chicken is snappy with each bite, blending the sweet, pickled cabbage, nuttiness of the peanut sauce, and a nice grainy texture with the chicken. The dumpling finale bites at your tongue, in preparation for the real fire coming in the later courses!
Onto the second course, I dug my spoon deep into Chill Fagara’s Signature Beef Soup, a briny, fiery broth that spits fire with grindy Sichuanese peppercorn, and the Chicken and Matsutake Soup, silky smooth consommé with chunky bits of boiled chicken and mushroom.
Gamey and salty flavours are strong with the beef soup, which first introduces a pleasant onion aftertaste, followed by a strong kick to the throat with the numbing la. Conversely, the chicken soup is smooth and rich with a salty chicken flavour; the mushrooms, however, are small enough that they do not add to the taste but bring colour to the pot.
For mains, I was treated to three spice-enriched Chilli Fagara classics, namely the Sizzling Beef Slices, which could rival almost any Chinese-styled beef slice dish I have tasted before this. The dish is whipped out of the kitchen with smoke billowing from the red-hot metal plate cooking diced leeks, onions, garlic, and beef chuck.
Wow. The beef is utterly tender. With each bite, you are welcomed with a bursting of sweetness from the garlic soya sauce gravy and the saltiness of the beef. The sliced Chinese leek and onion helps balance the creamy gravy with bit of bitterness. I finished the plate clean and scooped up the remaining gravy soaking in the white rice; it was heavenly.
My next foray in raw Sichuan fire was the Spice-Infused Broth with Fresh Mushrooms, a tall bowl of shiitake and maitake mushrooms, garlic, bean sprouts, leeks, potato noodles, and cloves dunked in a hot chilli-peppercorn broth.
With the mushrooms and glass noodles boiled with the beefy broth, each bite of vegetables or slurp of noodles oozes out the spicy juices of a mixture of mala pepper, vinegar, ginger, toasted sesame, and roasted garlic – a melange of salty treats ready to attack your mouth. I would caution that this dish is not for the faint-hearted as the peppercorns within can light up your throat and nose, in a good way.
The final hit of my lunch experience at Chilli Fagara was the Fragrant Crispy Fried Sole Fish, a buttery yet blazing fried fish plate, garnished with fresh Sichuan peppercorn, and dusted heavily with garlic and dried mala pepper.
The chef team at Chilli Fagara did excellent on this dish. The cornmeal chewy batter is tough to the bite, but when cracked, it reveals a gooey, soft, and salty inside that warms the mouth, with a numbing punch that trails all along the mouth and nasal canal. I would advise to take each bite slowly and eat alongside white rice to cool one’s mouth.
Chilli Fagara satiates ones craving for numbing, burning, and earthy flavours in a classic Soho eatery that delivers on the sights and tastes of southwestern Sichuan cuisine. The Executive Lunch Menu delivers a hearty experience for exploring the ma, la, and tang flavours that best encapsulate the passion of Chef Chan and Sichuanese-styled cooking.
To garner a whole experience at Hong Kong’s Michelin recommended Sichuan eatery, I recommend selecting the Signature Beef Soup, Sizzling Beef Slices, and the Stir-fried Mock Chicken for a modern take on a Sichuanese classic. If you can handle your spice, choose the spicey mushroom broth; but if you want an age-old taste of Chilli Fagara, choose their Emperor’s Prawns.
This food review is based on a complimentary media tasting provided by Chilli Fagara in exchange for a truthful review and no compensation. The opinions expressed within represent the views of the author.
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