Beijing has many Sichuan restaurants, but few are older than Sichuan Fandian - first set up in 1959. It's an eatery with a glorious past. It was suggested by the pioneer Chinese marshals, many of whom came from Sichuan, and was approved by late Chinese premier Zhou Enlai. Among its celebrated faithfuls were political leaders Deng Xiaoping and former French president Jacques Chirac.
Sichuan Fandian's Wangfujing and Prince Gong's Palace branches were relocated and reopened at the present location at Xinjiekou last December, where the historic restaurant takes on a new look and offers a new set of classic, as well as updated Sichuan dishes.
Let's start with the popular Chuanbei (northern Sichuan) bean jelly, and white pork slices topped with mashed garlic and paved with cucumber slices - two cold dishes that are more tasty than spicy. Two other classic offerings are double pork-lung slices, and "uniquely flavored" chicken slices, spiced with a mixture of bean sauce and chili sauce.
Cabbage boiled in a clear soup involves a process much more complicated than it appears. A representative of fine-dining Sichuan cuisine, the soup is boiled for more than 10 hours with abalone, shark's fin, an old chicken, duck, and then clarified with minced chicken breast. The soup is very flavorsome, and the cabbage soaks up the flavor, although it looks as clear as water.
"Fish-flavored" prawn ball adopts the same cooking skill in fried yuxiang shredded pork slices, tasting fresh, sweet, slightly spicy and sweet. The restaurant's kongpao diced chicken looks a bit messy, but tastes wonderful.
Unlike the restaurant's previous Prince Gong's branch, the new Sichuan restaurant offers some popular modern Sichuan dishes. These are boiled fish in spicy soup, bullfrog in spicy soup, and boiled pork giblets in spicy soup. The dishes are served in tasty red-chili soup, although it is all milder in taste than in appearance.
Finish off the meal with mapo toufu, the classic bean curd with spicy and tongue-numbing flavors. It is an absolute winner, and a great match with a bowl of plain steamed rice.
The average bill is 100 yuan ($15) a person, although two people can eat a fine meal at around 50 yuan a person.