Si Wei Yan has an excellent spot on Club Street. The Sichuan restaurant, which opened late last year, occupies the first unit on the road, next to the junction with Cross Street - so it is the first thing you see when you turn in.
But the owners undermine that advantage by doing away with a proper entrance to welcome diners. You have to figure out - through some signs pasted on the glass - which of a number of closed doors is the way in, because there is no reception counter. You then walk into a room laid out with two tables and try to attract the attention of the service staff, who may or may not be busy attending to the diners sitting there.
Otherwise, Si Wei Yan is pleasant enough in a simple but tasteful way, with well-spaced tables and cheerful lighting in a bigger dining area further in. But you would have to speak Mandarin to the Chinese staff. My attempts at speaking English both on the telephone and at the restaurant are futile.
The menu lists many of the Sichuan dishes Singaporeans are familiar with, such as Boiled Fish Fillet With Sichuan Sauce ($28) and Authentic Sauteed Diced Chicken With Chilli ($14).
But the chicken dish seems to be adjusted to the Singaporean palate, which is more attuned to the milder heat of local chillies than the sweat-inducing chilli oil and numbing Sichuan peppers it should be cooked in. I hardly break a sweat with this insipid version. And there's no numbing sensation either.
SI WEI YAN
1 Club Street, tel: 6221-6836, open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 10pm daily
Food: 3.5 stars
Service: 3 stars
Ambience: 3 stars
Price: Budget from $50 a person
But that's me. If you feel your mouth burning after eating spicy fried chicken at Western fast-food outlets, then you may find this spicy enough.
Another dish I am not enamoured with is the Boiled Fish Fillet With Pickled Cabbage And Chilli ($32). The pickled cabbage here is more like kiam chye (salted vegetables), which makes the dish more salty than sour. I much prefer the combination of sour and spicy flavours that usually characterises this dish.
For a better fish dish, go for the Boiled Fish Fillet In Sichuan Sauce, which comes in a spicy stock covered under a layer of dried chillies and bright-red chilli oil. There is enough Sichuan pepper too, to induce the numbing sensation I enjoy without paralysing the tongue.
The large pieces of fish look suspiciously like frozen dory fillet, but they are smooth and, with all the spices, rather tasty.
Some of the non-fiery dishes are good too.
The Signature Boneless Pork Knuckle ($38), which is deep-fried, is sliced thick and the meat comes with skin attached. It is not blubbery soft - which is how I like it because you get a better bite. But it is also tender enough not to overstress your jaws and is well-marinated.
It comes with a chilli dip, so those who need some spice can dip the meat into that. But I find the pork tasty enough on its own.
The Cumin Flavoured Lamb Ribs ($20 for four pieces) are nice and tender too. The ribs themselves are a tad under-seasoned, but the mix of chopped garlic and spices they are tossed in is delicious. Coat the lamb generously with it before biting into the meat.
A dish that is new to me is Stir Fried King Oyster Mushroom ($18). The mushrooms are sliced paperthin and fried with spices and a few drops of chilli oil. As you chew on the dry and slightly tough slices, the characteristic flavour of the mushroom comes through before a mild heat from the chilli kicks in. The combination is pleasant, though the dish strikes me as more appropriate as a snack to go with alcoholic drinks.
You will find hits and misses at Si Wei Yan, but its prices are friendly enough to allow for return visits to ferret out the gems in the extensive menu.
I did, dining there twice with friends, and am glad for it.
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- The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.