This ultra shiny modern-Sichuan restaurant is Shu Liu’s first dining rodeo. He’s a fashion designer and dinner-party-enthusiast-turned-chef, but you’d never suspect it. Except for his obvious love of glamour. The front window is stacked with Louis Ghost Chairs (those clear seats that look like they’ve been nicked out of Barbie’s playhouse), while red LED lights trace a path around the concrete walls, bouncing off sculptures made from coat hangers, disused Bunnings shelves, storage cages and industrial chains. It feels like you’re eating in a nightclub – only sanitary.
Liu sticks to his Sichuan roots here, (there’s a lot of hot and numbing action) although his domestic cooking style makes him less inclined to pile on the grease.
Prime your tastebuds for the onslaught of peppers with a little bottle of grapefruit soda and a slug of tequila. Served straight out of the Capi bottle with one of those super-straws you find in bubble tea, it’s the cheapest aperitif in town at $8.
There’s good news for bean fiends too. Around one third of the menu steers vegan. Crunchy little daikon rolls sprouting a forest of enoki mushrooms, chives and smoked tofu, balanced by salty soy, and a fiery pot of silken tofu swimming in a nuclear Sichuan pepper sauce are plain tasty whichever way you sway. Although if you dig meat, you’ll want to start with a set of tender little chicken dumplings with a wafer-thin omelette standing in for wanton skins and sweet sticky hunks of duck, napped in a star anise, rock sugar and mandarin glaze.
For the most part, Liu's aim is true, with just a few wobbles. On Time Out’s visit, the savoury baked egg custard made with chicken stock has a somewhat solid rather than silken texture, and the pairing with little rounds of purple carrot seems more for aesthetics than taste. Grilled shisito peppers stuffed with prosciutto make similarly strange bedfellows. The pungent ham and acrid, almost bitter charred peppers stand irreconcilable at opposite ends of the flavour spectrum, lost without a mediator. But then there’s the glorified street hawker snack of creamy kipfler potato slices, crisp fried and rolled with fennel seeds, garlic and Sichuan peppers. Or a nutty bowl of egg noodles, sticky with walnut oil and crushed peanuts for twisting up with your thin slices of black bean coated beef fillet.
The service is slick, the quibbles minor, and easily fixed. For a hospitality amateur, Liu has created the most unusual combo of space and menu that this part of town has ever seen. Chalk it up as a win for the dodgy end of Johnston.