1935: Sichuan cuisine with a touch of nostalgia
There’s a lovely wall painting in one of the private rooms of 1935, one of the more recent restaurants to open at M88 in Central. It’s the face of a woman, rendered in deep navy and grey and gold, a portrait at ease in the colour palette of its surroundings. It's the portrait of the restaurant owner’s grandmother.
When Ms. Lam – I am given no other name, but ‘Ms Lam’ – was younger, she was raised for the most part by her grandmother, with whom she would often take the train to Sichuan. For many of us, the years of our childhood hold a special place in memory. For Ms. Lam, these were the years spent in the company of her grandmother and the flavours of her cooking.
It is these flavours Ms. Lam hopes to showcase at 1935, I am told. The Sichuan restaurant pays homage to this time in memory, with train station-touches around the restaurant, as in the dining booths, and furniture inspired by antique medicine cabinets. The navy and cream motif, with touches of bronze and gold, runs through the long, compact venue. Views of neighbouring skyscrapers and their monotone cubicles come through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
It’s all very…vintage. A little Great Gatsby-eqsue. I imagine this would make a nice venue for a date, or a gathering with family for a special occasion, or even a good weeknight’s treat. Depending on your point of view, there’s a slight audio-visual disconnect via the playlist, populated with blues and pop hits, all of them current, from the West.
I wish my tolerance for spice were a match for the cuisine we were having, known best for the burn of Sichuan peppercorns and chilli oils. It’s almost synonymous with fire. Our host was kind enough to suggest milder options.
Starters were crispy bean curd mille crepe, poached homemade wontons, and double boiled soup.
They were all very homey. The double boiled soup had a nice sourness to it, while the bean curd mille crepe was surprisingly filling and held its own as a dish. An easy favourite was the poached homemade wontons: a medley of sweet, spicy, and umami, a perfect mingling of the sauces, meats, and the wrapper holding it all together.A good range of options abounds on 1935’s menu, without being overwhelming. Appetisers and soups, seafood mains including crabs, king prawns, and fish, meat dishes featuring free-range chicken, beef, pork and duck, veggies, fried rice and noodles, desserts.
We went with fried king prawns with ginger, garlic, coriander and Sichuan chilli sauce; wok-fried Australian M4 Wagyu cubes with cumin; braised egg plant, diced pork and chilli; all over a cup of steamed rice.
The fried king prawns were nicely done, tender and moreish, the garnishing and chilli sauce bringing layers and layers of flavour to the palate. The Wagyu cubes were incredibly tender, with the cumin adding a nice nuance to the dish. The braised eggplant was also homey, slightly spicy with a touch of sweet, the perfect comfort food.
The cocktails were a surprise. I went for the Chu Veh Ching, with peach, pistachio, absinthe, lime, pandan, and Chu Veh Ching – which I didn’t recognise. It was described to me as a type of spirit only older people drink. They brought out a green concoction topped with pandan leaves, a lime and a flaming sugar cube.
It was strong, with the absinthe quite dominant; there was also a longer, more medicinal aftertaste. It turns out Chu Veh Ching is a liquor made with Chinese herbs, and which itself contains the flavours of anise. The peach and pandan offered a nice buffer, while the pistachio was subtly there as well.
I also got to try the Pep.Chi Razzi, a mix of vodka, apple, pineapple, hawthorn, lime, chilli, Umeshu – a Japanese liqueur – and Chinese spice cordial.
This was interesting. The chilli flavours were there, yet the spice never comes. It’s almost muted by everything else – the cold, perhaps, or the citrus, or the sweetness. It’s confusing, but it’s also really good.
For dessert, we had housemade ice cream – spicy chocolate with Chinese spirit – and Sichuan ice jelly. The ice jelly looked a bit jarring: a blob of what looks like clear silicone, with a strawberry in the middle. It was a simple dessert, sweet and light.The ice cream was a different story: deep, rich chocolate ice cream, punctuated with both liquor and chilli spice. The flavours, co-existing yet contrasting, was quite incredible to taste.
Dining at 1935 is like a spruced up version of dining at home: the food is homey and well executed, the flavours are clean, you’re all nicely dressed up. Lovers of Sichuan food – and those with stronger palates, palates more equipped for the best of this regional Chinese cuisine – should come try the more fiery dishes.
Ms. Lam’s grandma, born in 1935, would not make it to the restaurant’s opening. There is little doubt, however, that this labour of love would make her proud.