There is a tendency on the part of some “gourmets” to deride MSG as an evil, taste-destroying additive that leaves one with a hangover. They are wrong. When deployed in reasonable amounts, it gives Chinese food a bit of oomph.
At Spicy Ginger, a Chinese restaurant next to Unilodge that’s been kicking round for years, MSG is friend, not foe. The next day’s hangover did not outweigh the extremely well-priced, delicious food and friendly, if a little brusque, service.
We arrived at around eight-thirty and had to wait a while to be seated in a half-full restaurant. I took it as an opportunity to examine the décor, which bridges the gap between the magnificent splendour of 1980s pink chairs on powder blue carpet and the utilitarian aspect of a cheap Asian takeaway joint.
This is a good sign. Good Chinese restaurants are always daggy.
A regional focus on Sichuan is also a clear plus. Spicy Ginger, unlike many other Chinese restaurants, does not try to make every well-known dish from anywhere in China just to please gwailo tastes.
Having said that, I think the chilli level in the food was lowered a little for us. My lips were left disappointingly un-numbed by Szechuan pepper. The hot and spicy chicken with bullet chillies was an especially mild incarnation of a classic. Apart from the chilli level, though, the dish was delicious. It had a complex, dry spice marinade and the chicken was juicy without being oily.
The steamed Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce was fine, as that dish always is. Blandness is a common hazard here. Note to self: make a more interesting, Szuechanese order next time. In any case, perhaps due to some MSG, that marvellous chemical additive, the broccoli provided a serviceable accompaniment to the meat dishes.
Our final dish was some braised pork ribs with chilli and vegetables. This was by far the highlight of the night. The pork was tender with rendered fat, and the sauce had a little more complexity and flavour than that of the chicken.
We had three dishes shared amongst three people and couldn’t finish them. Spicy ginger may be slightly more expensive per dish than Shanghai Dumpling across the road, but it is a cut above in generosity and flavour. Without alcohol, it was significantly less than $20 each. For food this good, that is seriously cheap. My advice: Stick to the Specialties menu and don’t forget to up your electrolytes after you’ve ripped into the MSG. The hangover’s worth it.