Sichuan Food’s Peking Duck: Resting on Former Glories

According to Google, Sichuan Food on Amsterdam’s Reguliersdwarsstraat was the first Chinese restaurant in the Netherlands to be awarded a Michelin star, holding one star for over a decade from 1993 until 2005. When I went to visit in 2019, it looked like not much had changed since the early 90s: pink satin tablecloths, paper doilies on every plate, elaborate hostess trolleys on wheels… even a futuristic but dated toilet seat that lifts up and down with the wave of a palm.

But hey, oldies can still be goodies – right? Despite its name, Sichuan Food is known not for its (umm) Sichuan food, but for its Peking duck – traditionally served in three courses. But since the duck takes 30 minutes to prepare, we sated our initial hunger with some dim sum and an old-school cocktail (kir royales and dry martinis seemed fitting, under the circumstances). On the dumpling front, the ha kau was a little watery, while the siu mai was like a bad burger – solid lumps of processed pork. Better were the fried chicken dumplings, although you can’t see them here as they were on the layer below.

Sichuan Food Amsterdam - dim sum
Underwhelming dim sum at Sichuan Food

Still, on to the main event: the duck. First up, it was served in the classic Peking pancakes with hoisin sauce and shredded cucumber and spring onions. While you may be used to rolling these yourself, at Sichuan Food, they assemble them for you – stuffed with the crispy skin of the duck and loosely rolled in homemade pancakes that are thicker than the kind you generally see. They tasted delicious, although the oil pouring out of the duck skin was at times overpowering.

Sichuan Food Amsterdam - Peking duck
The famed Peking duck…

Next, we were served soup made from a thin duck broth with slices of the duck and some spring onions floating in it. The duck meat itself was good, but the skin quickly morphed from crispy to soggy and flabby – not a great mouthfeel.

Sichuan Food Amsterdam Chinese restaurant
Duck soup – complete with several doilies

Finally, the remainder of the duck came fried up in various capacities: the breast was served in a traditional orange sauce, while the rest of the meat had either been finely diced and fried to be rolled into lettuce leaves, or stir-fried with onions and peppers. The former was probably the best in terms of flavour and texture, while the lettuce wraps were lacking in both. Note the “rose” made from a radish on the side on the plate – when was the last time you saw one of them?!

Sichuan Food Amsterdam - duck
Duck three ways – and a radish rose!

Dinner came to €60 each, with the duck courses alone reaching €38.50 a head. Sichuan Food made us pay €5 for a bottle of water, which sends me livid every time it happens. Perhaps bottled water was the norm in the 90s – it’s not anymore. But that was my conclusion across the board: an inescapable sense that this is a restaurant little changed in 30 years. And in a culinary scene that’s evolved in leaps and bounds since the 90s, that’s no longer going to cut it. Perhaps Sichuan Food is still in a few guidebooks, but there’s only so long it can rest on former glories.

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Sichuan Food (Chinese)


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