We Visited A Szechuan Hideaway In Victoria
It's the downstairs at Dragon Inn Club that earns the restaurant its hideaway credentials, the basement a warren of rooms, nooks and unexpected alcoves. Downstairs is where the hotpot happens, with hotplates set into a handful of the tables. But it's also where you'll find the private dining rooms, and the big, screened-off group tables, and the small, cave-like recesses set along one corridor.
There's a big group of Chinese businesspeople getting mildly rowdy in the basement the night we visit, so we opt for the thick-of-it kitchen and bar upstairs — still dimly-lit and scattered with enough ornate screens to feel cosy.
Not everything on the menu packs the usual Szechuan burst of chilli heat. We start with a shared dim sum basket — the dumplings delicately wrapped in near-sheer casing, lightly spiced with saffron or silky with pureed roots.
The cocktail menu's making a clear bid for the bar area at Dragon Inn Club to be an after-work pitstop in its own right: crammed with complex, unusual and carefully-balanced mixes and justifying a stop in for shared dim sum and a couple of jasmine-infused or chilli sugar syrup-laced drinks. The earthy, all-spice notes of the Terracotta Soldier are oddly moreish — though the clay statue it comes in, makes for a slightly unwieldy drink — but it's the lavender-scattered Lagavulin whisky sour that really blows our minds, sweet and smokily perfect.
There are easily enough dishes on the menu to chart a non-Szechuan course through dinner, but we get drawn into the soft shell crab and the dried chilli chicken. The crab turns up in a bright ocean of carmine, the generous amounts of crab — several of them, beautifully crunchy and garlicky — still dwarfed by the amount of Szechuan bell chilli covering them. The dried chilli chicken's also fearsomely Szechuan in heat levels, the chilli so perfectly balanced with the nuttiness of the fried chicken it keeps us piling more onto our plates, even as it punches us in the mouth. We feel hot enough to breathe flames all the way home from Victoria.
There are no regrets. We clear as much of the chilli on our table as humanly possible, and we'd do it all over again tomorrow. But as we tackle the Szechuan chilli dishes the privacy of those two-person alcoves downstairs grows in appeal. Just a little, secluded nook where nobody can see you steam from the ears.
Dragon Inn Club, 16-18 Upper Tachbrook Street, SW1V 1SH.
Last Updated 11 December 2017