I've only visited a handful of private kitchens in my life. I was first exposed to the concept more broadly when I traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where "closed door restaurants", or private kitchens, was where the best food in the city was being served. In Boston, I dined at the home of Chef Peter Ungár, now chef-owner of the excellent restaurant Tasting Counter in Somerville.
After moving to Hong Kong, I discovered that the private kitchen scene in Hong Kong is also thriving.
High rents have caused some chefs to go the private kitchen route, serving exquisite meals out of their own homes or other types of spaces. In Hong Kong, private kitchens make use of a private club license, which has less fees and restrictions compared to a restaurant license, but also less freedom to publicize.
Private kitchens range from occasional meals that a chef prepares in his personal home all the way to full-on operations that are virtually indistinguishable from a normal restaurant.
Sijie Sichuan Restaurant is one such restaurant.
Sijie Sichuan Restaurant (literally translated as "fourth sister Sichuan cuisine" 四姐川菜) is located on the tenth floor in Bartlock Centre in Causeway Bay. There's not much signage outside, though when you enter you do see huge signs that indicate you are at the right place.
Sijie serves a handful of drinks but it is more of a BYOB place, no corkage fee (woo hoo!).
The ordering is pretty straightforward. For a fixed per-person price of $300 HKD (a little under $40 USD per person), you choose a number of appetizers and main course dishes, which the table then shares family style.
They recommend that 2-3 people (that's us!) get 2 appetizers and 3-4 main courses, 4-5 people get 3 appetizers and 4-5 main courses, and so on, all the way up to a party of over fifteen people ordering 8 appetizers and 13 main courses (how fun that would be!).
Since it was just the two of us, we tried our best and ordered 2 appetizers and 3 main dishes. Simple stir fried vegetables are included and not counted as part of the courses you order.
One of the signature dishes, and definitely one of our favorites, was is the Sichuan Cold Noodle. Chock full of flavor from chilis, Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, and other spices, this potent dish is spicy but not painfully so. There's a tiny bit of sweetness which adds a depth of flavor that I loved.
Sichuan purists will argue that it's been "dumbed-down" because it's not crazy mind-numbing spicy (and it's a bit sweet). However, I think most palates, especially western ones, will find those changes a welcomed relief.
Ha ha, Bryan discovered that he loved the numbing feeling of chewing on whole peppercorns paired with carbonated beer (accentuates the experience), so he was seeking them out (!).
Poached Fish in Chongxing Style is another "must order". It's a HUGE dish with tons of tender white fish in a spicy flavorful broth. I really enjoyed it.
It's nice to order at least one or two non-spicy dishes so you can "take breaks" from the spicy dishes. I've always loved sauteed shredded potato, and thus version with minced pork was delicious.
Chongxing Deep Fried Hot Chicken looks like a bigger dish than it is, due to the volumes of chopped dried chilis that are in the dish. The numbing flavors are spicy and addictive.
All in all, we really enjoyed our meal at Sijie Sichuan Restaurant and vowed to come back with a bigger crowd so we could really try more dishes. We were really pleased with what we had ordered, and we thought the price was quite reasonable for the amount of food we got.
It is cash only, so make sure to bring enough! There are two locations. We visited the original one in Causeway Bay, but there's also one in Wan Chai.
Sijie Sichuan Restaurant
Causeway Bay 10/F, Bartlock Centre, 3 Yiu Wa Street, Causeway Bay
1/F Aubin House, 171-172 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai