The Dragon Bowl

Licensed/BYO $-$$
196 Macquarie Street, Hobat
0487 796 368
Open: Lunch Monday to Saturday noon to 2.30, dinner seven nights from 5.30. Takeaways.

In China they describe a thick person – someone who is slow on the uptake of new ideas – as like trying to get green beans to take in salt and oil. And, when it comes to Asian food in Hobart, it seems too many of us are a bit bean-like.

An Asian takeaway owner of my acquaintance, for example, relates the story of a customer who came in every day, week after week, and ordered the same satay for lunch. One day the owner convinced the man to try something different. Next day the man came back and – you guessed it – ordered satay. In much the same way, a local Thai restaurateur tells me how customers come to his new restaurant and, ignoring what the owner believes are his new, excitingly authentic dishes, order exactly the same ones they’d been eating for 12 years at his old place! Frustrating and disappointing. Or, at another establishment, like those people who insist on ordering the menu’s three-chilli-rated green chicken curry – “but not too hot or spicy please”.

These thoughts came to mind after a recent dinner at The Dragon Bowl.

It was our second visit, the first being a few months after the restaurant’s opening in June last year. On that occasion, I hadn’t been overly impressed. But then I was told the chef had walked out the day prior to our dinner, so I hadn’t reviewed it.

This time there was a new chef and the food was much better.

From a typically long Chinese menu of the fairly standard black beans, sweet and sour, dimsum and satay variety, we enjoyed a serve of nicely crisped salt and pepper chicken wings, a lovely beef and eggplant hotpot and a sweetish dish of Mongolian lamb. But then things got a lot more interesting.

The owner, Yong Wang, is from the Sichuan province of south-west China, the capital of which, Chengdu, was declared a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2011 in recognition of its culinary sophistication. And tucked away among the restaurant’s 62 menu items are a small number of dishes from the Sichuan region, including a green bean and pork mince dish similar to one of the most popular dishes on Written on Tea’s menu in Sandy Bay. And as good as Written on Tea’s beans are, those at The Dragon Bowl are even better due to the inclusion of a minced, preserved and pickled vegetable called ya cai that Wang said was unique to Sichuan.

Then followed two dishes – a huge bowl of fish pieces poached in broth and stir-fried chicken with vegetables – each with that wonderfully elusive and intriguing signature of Sichuan food, what the Chinese call mala, the fruity, numbing tingle of toasted Sichuan peppercorns subtly melding into the heat of chillies and leaving a lingering flavour that, beyond heat, just teases the palate. Both were also what Wang rightly called xiang la – fragrant and spicy.

The dishes were so good that I asked Wang why he didn’t replace some of the many Chinese usuals on his menu with more Sichuan specialties. “Because too many people say they’re too hot and spicy and send them back”, he said.

And that’s the crunch, the price WE pay for our unadventurous, culinary timidity.

But, if you can handle the mild fruity heat of fresh and dried chillies, and the unique flavour of Sichuan peppercorns, those, like similar Sichuan dishes at Hejos, are the dishes that set The Dragon Bowl apart. And they’re the ones I’ll certainly be back to order.

Dimsum x2 ($6), wonton soup ($8), green beans ($15), Sichuan chicken ($17), roast duck ($27), Peking duck x 6 pieces ($30)

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