OK, first, let’s start with the headline news. I’ve made the move from Sydney to Melbourne. It’s a long story, but the short of it is that I’ve joined the crew at Lonely Planet and have flown south. So Gosstronomy is travelling with me and expanding to Melbourne as well. At the same time, I’m looking for someone to take over all of my dining dates in Sydney. Anyone interesting in a side career of prolific eating and drinking?
As for Melbourne, as any foodie worth their weight in sea salt knows, it’s a food-lover’s smorgasbord. And I’ve been happily wandering its streets, ogling at the insurmountable eating options. It’s so invigorating having a whole new city to digest.
Which brings us to Dainty, and to the fact that I’m an incorrigible spice snob. Everywhere I go, I meet people who curl up like manhandled caterpillars at the slightest whiff of chilli. Wimps, I think, while keeping it to myself so that I don’t sound like a complete dickhead. Instead, I just look annoyingly smug.
I was just meandering around the Melbourne CBD, looking for takeaway near my hotel, when I stumbled across Dainty Sichuan Food at the end a dodgy-looking Chinatown alley. Sichuan is music to the ears of a spice maven like me. Plus the dining room was full of Chinese diners, so my graze-dar gave the thumbs up and I popped in for a feed.
The waiter spoke broken English, so it took pointing and gesturing to work out what I wanted… or rather didn’t want. No, not the cold pork. No, not that massive chicken platter. No, not the liver and pig’s ear. A little interrogation later, I settled on the shredded hot and spicy beef, but the waiter didn’t seem keen on me having that either. “Spicy,” he warned and pointed to the three-chilli rating on the menu. Upon which I laughed and told him that I liked spicy food. He then scrawled the order like he was signing a legal waiver.
The dish soon arrived, liberally sprinkled with chilli skin and flakes and stir-fried with onion, garlic, bean sprouts, green onion and strips of julienned beef. The flavour was big, bold and oily joyful. And after two minutes, I had to take a moment. Another minute and I was scoffing black tea, despite knowing it wouldn’t help. Worse still, the food was too good not to keep eating. A few more minutes and I urgently requested water. And I kept going. Further embattled, I went to the fridge and bought a bottle of sweet milk tea, just to keep the heat at bay. Halfway through, I raised the white flag.
Note to self: when a Sichuan restaurant has chillis hanging from the ceiling as decoration, do NOT order the menu equivalent of a three-alarm fire. It’s been ages since I had food this a’blazing, but I do love the fact that these guys don’t pull any punches for weak Westerners like me. In fact, I later discovered that these punches were perfectly described in a great write-up by The Age’s Matt Preston. “Dainty is ain’t,” he writes, adding that the food “should come with the type of warning you’d give a friend about to step into the ring with Mike Tyson.” If only I’d known.
For my love of spice, I served a night’s penance of grueling heartburn. Even so I’ll be back, but next time I’ll bring my humility and with it some daintier Dainty aspirations.
Dainty Sichuan Food, 26 Corrs Ln (btw Lonsdale and Little Bourke sts), Melbourne, (03) 9663 8861