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Photographs: David Straight

San Bao is just far enough from the Dominion Road Dumpling Triangle that it doesn’t often get much of a mention. Which, for you at least, is a good thing: by night, it’s full of families and by day it’s quiet. There are jaunty red chairs and green tablecloths and a television on in the corner showing a Chinese soap opera: on a recent visit one couple actually positioned themselves in front of it. During the day there’s a big kettle full of sweetened soy milk to drink.

It is, simply, some of the best Sichuan food I’ve yet eaten in Auckland. It is spicy without being over-powering, and there is liberal use of Sichuan pepper corns, which are numbing rather than burning and which make everything just ever so slightly tingly – you’ll see this in the fish with bean sprouts and spicy oil sauce ($28.80), which comes in a little clay pot. And there is a dish of deep-fried greens with pork mince ($16.80) which is brilliant. Servings, in the main, are enormous.

But here is the thing you really must order: the “BBQ Fish With Spicy Sauce”, ($32.80), a dish you see often in Sichuan: a whole fish that has been grilled, then immersed in a beautifully piquant chilli oil to finish cooking. It comes out bubbling and frothing, and then it cools down and the deep spiciness of the dish comes through, just enough so you can taste it – it goes very nicely with their house-made pancakes, just by the way. SFG

HOURS Open six days from 11.30am to 11.30pm; Tuesdays from 4.30pm.

ADDRESS 708 Dominion Road, Balmroal, ph 630 9633

IMPORTANT DETAILS Don’t be afraid. Even the spiciest Sichuan food isn’t actually that hot.

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