First published on 29 Jun 2012. Updated on 29 Jun 2012.
Superior Sichuan dishes in a dramatic Chengdu teahouse-themed space
Incongruously stuck in the facade of a mall set back from dusty, congested Yanan Lu, is the massive carved wood and stone entryway to this stunner of a Sichuan restaurant. Enter the lobby and cross over a blue and white tile mosaic set in the dark marble floor. Waitstaff, in magenta embroidered costumes, greet you and send you upstairs to the vast dining room.
Here, blimp-shaped woven basket lanterns (modelled on silkworm cocoons) hang overhead, while underfoot lie more of that grey-brown marble, struck through with white, resembling lightning marks. Tiled eaves, gray stonework and sepia photographs line the walls. It's all meant to evoke an old Chengdu teahouse, remade on a grand, modern scale with seats for 800.
From 7.40pm to 8.10pm every night, Chengdu actors in gorgeous embroidered costumes perform Sichuan opera. The only bizarre note is the modern 'interpretation' of the traditional music: some of it is set to a pumping house beat and it's too loud for conversation if you're nearby. For just a taste of it, you can sit on the other side of the dining room and walk over for a glimpse of the action or to take a photo.
The waitstaff are exceedingly gracious and enthusiastic from start to finish. And the fabulous food is best of all. If it all feels spectacularly polished for a new restaurant, it's because this is an established brand in Chengdu where its two branches are landmarks and tourist attractions. The same chef who worked at the Chengdu restaurant for a decade now heads the kitchens in Shanghai; they've even brought 70 per cent of the waitstaff from Chengdu.
Other than adding some Shanghai dishes, the menu is very similar to the original, and you can hardly go wrong. The fatty translucent pork slices of the popular da dao guazi rou (38RMB) are laid in an incredible chili bath with crushed peanuts and chives, showing a masterful balance of heat and fragrance. Ribs, in a sticky coat of glutinous rice (maxiang paigu, 78RMB), are fall-apart tender after being steamed in a bamboo basket. Delicious sautéed garlic festoons the vermicelli with baby cabbage (fensi wawa cai, 48RMB).
Shunxing makes for a delicious, fun meal, a great place to bring visitors, and an inexpensive route to sampling some of Chengdu's traditions.