Finally, a much longed for experience has been crossed off my foodie wish-list: I have finally sampled the vegetarian fish-flavoured eggplant at Dainty Sichuan! Indeed, it was my first visit to Dainty Sichuan entirely.
Jen and I were so keen to get stuck into some eggplant action that we actually showed up to their Toorak Road location before it had even officially opened for the day. Oops! Never mind, five or so minutes of loitering on their doorstep later, we were let in and sat ourselves down as the first customers of the day.
The decor at Dainty is a little rough around the edges, and the tinny orchestral arrangements of 60s pop tunes being piped through leaves a bit to be desired. I’d heard plenty of stories about the waitstaff being brusque, but ours were perfectly fine, if impersonal.
To the food! To start with we had garlic cucumber – sticks of cold cucumber graced with a very simple, slightly warm, minced garlic sauce. This is the sort of dish that I could happily gobble away at every day, the cool crispness of the cucumber contrasting beautifully with the fresh, comforting garlic sauce. This involves A LOT of garlic though, so not a dish to order if you’re on a saucy date, as you will be living in Stinktown afterwards.
Next was the mushroom threads served with a dome of white rice. This was a reasonably plain dish (I assume it’s more often ordered as a leavener against some of the more chilli-drenched dishes) but I’m such a happy mushroom fan that I was quite contented with it. If you like the sound of lightly stir-fried mushroom lengths with a light soy sauce that you can moosh around with rice, this for you.
We had to wait a bit for the fabled eggplant to reach the table (we’d nearly finished our first pot of chrysanthemum tea!). The eggplant is cut into wedges, basted in sweet, chilli-ish sauce, and fried. Fresh out of the fryer, the eggplant is molten, soft and delicious – although I’m still not sure what it is exactly that makes it “fish-flavoured”. It does seem to be the type of dish you should order and eat first, though – having already filled ourselves with cucumber and mushrooms, we were already struggling a little, and once the eggplant starts to cool the wedges start getting soggy and stick to each other. The flavour build up also gets very sweet after a few pieces, there not being as much chilli heat involved as you might expect to balance out the sweet. From reading other blog posts about the dish, it seems as if it’s best enjoyed shared among a big group, so you can devour a few pieces each when it’s still nice and hot and at optimum tastiness. Shared between two (who are already a bit stuffed) it does tend to outstay its welcome.
My first Dainty experience wasn’t awe-inspiring, but nor was it a disappointment. I’d really like to go back and explore the menu a bit further; I had my eye on a black fungus and chilli dish, and in general I’d like to find out whether there are more vegetarian dishes that employ scads of chilli so I can have more of a fiery flavour experience. There’s also their new outpost in Box Hill that is devoted to hotpot that has definitely made me keen for more Sichuan food times. It may not quite meet the hype, but Dainty Sichuan definitely deserves it’s well-known place on Melbourne’s culinary map.
176 Toorak Road, South Yarra
Ph: 9078 1686