176 Toorak Road, South Yarra (map)
So not to boast or anything, but last night Matt and I *may* have hit upon the perfect combination of Dainty dishes.
Dainty Sichuan, home to the best authentic Sichuan food in Melbourne, moved from its former scuzzy Chinatown laneway location to posh South Yarra in 2009. Its current digs have fancy pictures on the walls and bigger rooms, but the atmosphere remains chaotic and bustling with students grouped around hotpots. I introduced Matt and S to Dainty a few months and they've gone back repeatedly. We decided late in the afternoon yesterday to catch up for a spontaneous dinner, and Matt and S brought along their friend J. Our mission: to order the perfect combination of Dainty dishes.
Four dishes is the perfect amount for four people. No entrees or extras, other than steamed rice and a few Tsingtaos which we sent Matt to get from the fetch-it-yourself fridge by the stairs.
We tried the cumin lamb slices ($24.80) on Matt's first Dainty visit, and he and S have ordered them on each of their subsequent visits. The heat in the dish is a triple threat (chilli, sichuan pepper and cumin) blended together masterfully. The cumin is brilliant. Don't be scared off by the fact that it has a 3 chilli rating (the maximum) in the menu - we reckon it's more like a 2 chilli dish.
The Kong Pao prawns ($25.80, 2 chilli rating) were juicy and sticky and sweet and sour, everything a good Kong Pao/Gong Bao dish should be. Because I am wussier than Matt and S, I left some of my chillies on my plate.
For the first time we ordered the pork threads with garlic shoots ($20.80) and were well pleased with the result. Described in the menu as "Sichuan home style", the dish was spiked with lots of ginger and slightly milder Sichuan pepper (though it still had a 2 chilli rating).
And last but certainly not least, the legendary fish flavoured eggplant. New York culinary enfant terrible David Chang (who recently announced the planned expansion of his empire to Sydney, thus ensuring renewed #momofukurage in Melbourne) declared Dainty's eggplant to be the best thing he's eaten in Australia, enthusing to Gourmet Traveller: "They fry it, I think they roll it in sugar and fry it again, and then they toss it in chilli madness."
This would have to be one of my top 10 favourite dishes in Melbourne. The 2-chilli-rating chilli is pickled, and the use of sugar and corn flour help give the eggplant the most sensational sticky texture: lightly crisp on the outside and meltingly soft on the inside. $17.80 for a small mountain of the stuff, and worth every last cent.
The bill came to just over $40 each and we floated down the stairs in a happy post-Dainty haze. MUST RETURN SOON.