Much to my father’s disappointment, spicy food is not something I have always liked. Thankfully, however, my weak little taste buds have adapted and now I add chilli to almost everything. So when I read about the relocation of 20-year-old Sichuan restaurant Yun Yan from Tsim Sha Tsui to Times Square, I was eager to spice up my taste buds and give it a go.
I never visited the old restaurant, but from my understanding it was much more traditional and perhaps a little dated. The new one has undergone a complete revamp, boasting a modern and relaxed look complete with light wood, bamboo, rustic brick walls, lime green chairs and a colourful, eye-catching mural.
The menu stays true to classic Sichuan recipes, presented in a creative, modern manner. It is divided into two parts – ‘spiced’ and ‘flavours’ – that offer a huge variety of dishes for spice-lovers and the slightly less courageous folk too.
As we waited for the latecomers to arrive, we easily went through two bowls of chilli popcorn. Although clearly the humidity had got to it and it was slightly stale, it was seriously addictive and suggested the rest of the food would be too.
We were, however, a little disappointed by our first dish of pork wontons in chilli oil and garlic sauce. I could barely note even a hint of chilli and the flavour in general was a little on the bland side.
We couldn’t resist trying an all-time Sichuan favourite, Kung Pao chicken. I’ve definitely had spicier versions of this dish, but did come across the odd Sichuan peppercorn that instantly numbed my tongue. The chicken was beautifully tender and had a lovely flavour, even if it wasn’t particularly fiery.
Sautéed string beans with minced pork is another one of my favourite dishes at any Chinese restaurant and these definitely did not disappoint. The beans still retained their crunch and sweet flavour, which contrasted nicely against the salty minced pork.
I had heard that the sautéed spicy king prawns were big, but did not anticipate quite how big each individually served prawn would be; in fact this photo does not even do it justice! As we bit into the gigantic, tender and delicious prawn, the unanimous opinion around the table was that this was without a doubt the best dish yet. Twice the waiters tried to clear my plate once I had finished, but I insisted on keeping the sauce for my fried rice; it was that good.
Another dish I had heard a lot of fuss about was the mandarin fish slices with crispy soybean crumbs. Perhaps it was because I tried it straight after eating the strongly flavoured king prawn, but I again found the fish to be just a little bland. This is not to say it wasn’t tasty, but in comparison to the other dishes, it just didn’t particularly stand out.
The amusingly named ‘Ants climbing a tree’ – so called because the minced beef tangled in the mung bean vermicelli could perhaps resemble such an image – was deliciously moreish. Considering it came from the ‘Sichuan classics’ section of the ‘spiced’ menu, it was milder than it could have been, but nothing a dollop of chilli sauce couldn’t fix.
Fried rice, as I’ve said before and I will say again and again, is one of my favourite dishes of all time. Yun Yan’s version with seafood and crabmeat was lovely, the chunks of soft scallops and prawns particularly pleasing. The rice was tasty on its own, but did, as I had imagined, taste even better with a spoonful of the king prawn’s spicy sauce.
Interestingly, the spiciest dish we had eaten all evening may well have been our dessert of handmade Sichuan peppercorn ice cream. Having never before seen such a thing on any menu, not ordering it wasn’t even an option. At first taste it seemed like just an ordinary creamy vanilla ice cream, yet lingering behind this was that well-known Sichuan tingle that left our tongues numb even after leaving the restaurant. Hats off to whoever thought that one up.
On the whole I found it a shame that the fire, which should be very apparent in Sichuan food, was toned down a few notches at Yun Yan. There are, however four little pots of different kinds of chilli sauce on the table, for those who need more spice in their food; I guess this way they can successfully cater to all taste buds.
The total bill, including a bottle of Pinot Grigio and excellent service, came to $1500 between 4 of us – a lot less than I was expecting it would be considering we massively over-ordered. It was a pleasant meal in a fun, lively setting that I would happily return to for decent (though not outrageously spicy) Sichuan deliciousness.
Shop 1001B, 10/F, Times Square
1 Matheson Street
Tel: +852 2375 0800