Three Kung Pao Chicken

There was a time in China during the Cultural Revolution when this was a dish that dared not speak its name. It was too good for people to stop eating it but they called it the more literal “fast fried chicken cubes” instead of Kung Pao or Gong Bao, the official title of the Qing Dynasty governor of Sichuan for whom it was named. Basically it’s a stir fry of chicken, peanuts and green onions all cut to peanut size with masses of dried chilli, which you don’t eat, and Sichuan pepper which you do. Even though it may have originated in that governor’s home province of Guizhou, it’s as Sichuan as you can get.

Taste of Shanghai (Photo: Stephanie Clifford-Smith)

Taste of Shanghai

In an area with plenty of competition, this place with its chain restaurant efficiencies is invariably packed. Nobody’s quibbling about it flying the Shanghai flag as it were and serving a Sichuan classic (AUD $20.89). There’s a pleasing uniformity to the way all the ingredients including the chillies are cut in this version so it gets points for that. On the other hand, it’s a pretty sweet, sticky interpretation which gives it a more Shanghai feel. To be expected here I guess.

Address: 264 Liverpool Road, Ashfield (and branches). Telephone: +61 2 9798 2877

Spice Temple (Photo: Stephanie Clifford-Smith)

Spice Temple

Push the door with its hologram of billowing silk and descend to this room that’s permanently mood lit, innocent of natural light at any time of day. There’s been no dumbing down of spice levels in the Kung Pao chicken or any other dish in our experience. Any Chengdu native would be impressed with the hefty dose of chilli and Sichuan pepper, giving a double whammy of heat and numbness. The chicken pieces are chunkier than tradition would dictate but the restrained sweetness is spot on. The service, the decor, the CBD locale and the cashews instead of peanuts help justify the price tag (AUD $49).

Address: 10 Bligh Street, Sydney. Telephone: +61 2 8078 1888

China Chilli (Photo: Stephanie Clifford-Smith)

China Chilli

Hot pots are big movers on this menu so huge gas bottles under the tables get priority over customer comfort. Even if you’re just ordering Kung Pao chicken (AUD $19.80) you’ll be doing it with twisted legs. When it lands though it’s pretty good. All the ingredients are cut small and there’s a gutsy, no-nonsense use of sliced, barely cooked, garlic and ginger. Although we like a bit of green for cosmetic reasons, here they only use the white part of the green onion which is as it should be. That said, the peanuts could’ve been crunchier.

Address: 364 Forest Road, Hurstville. Telephone: +61 2 9586 2877

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