Hidden Hunan-Style Restaurant in Makati Doesn’t Hold Back The HeatOctober 8, 2014
With restaurants popping up left and right in every new real estate development area, businesses end up pulling all sorts of gimmicks just to vye for a customer’s attention. But there are restaurants that survive and thrive amid the influx of food trends. Xiang-Chuan (also known as 6404 Camia Street, “the restaurant between two aircons” or You Jie Xiao Chao among older references) is one restaurant that continues to serve excellent Chinese food. Unlike its equivalents in busier areas like Binondo, Malate, and San Juan, Xiang-Chuan is located on the quieter side of Rockwell, along Camia Street. You instantly feel the dichotomy of Metro Manila when walking from the condominiums along Rockwell and into this restaurant.
One look at the restaurant’s façade and you’ll wonder how it manages to attract customers. The front is covered in grills, but take a closer look and you’ll see a glass door displaying an “open” sign. The new entrance is smaller than the one from two years ago, but it still blends in with the street’s other houses. Upon entering, one feels as if he or she has intruded into a home: the walls are bare, save for one that displays a few food photos. There are two rows of wooden tables that could easily be part of a small kitchen or a suburbia dining room. All the table tops glisten under the fluorescent light, and the pristine interior indicates that the restaurant is safe for eating.
Were it not for this restaurant’s hidden location, Xiang-Chuan probably wouldn’t fit the usual standard for Ghetto Grub. The menu’s affordable prices for Hunan cuisine, however, say otherwise. The menu offers a wide array of tofu, pork, fish, and other protein cooked in Hunan’s signature spicy style. A lot of their staples are still on their menu, such as the fish head, but the last page also introduces new items like the Hunan style snail or “kuhol,” as the waitress communicated to us Filipinos. For our visit, we ordered the Beer Duck (390), the “Kuhol” dish (PHP 250), and fried dumplings (PHP 180).
All three plates were served steaming and generous enough for sharing. The plate of snails easily became a favorite: each shell’s filling was bursting with ginger, chili, garlic, shallots, and onions. One snail was enough to kick in the spice, yet the heat wasn’t so intense that it numbed the tongue. In fact, the warmth that lingered had us reaching for more. My lips were smacking in chili oil, but my palate didn’t register that “umay” taste even after five shells were stacked on my plate.
The dumplings balanced the intense heat and flavor of the snails. The pieces were steaming upon first bite, but the bottom was fried enough to give it that crisp crunch. The wrapper held itself together even after soaking the dumpling in the sweet soy sauce.
I thought I’d be too full to eat some of the Beer Duck, but one piece led to another and my plate was soaked in chili oil. Although I am a fan of duck meat, its strong flavor tends to stop me from eating midway. But the beer, chili, star anise, pepper, garlic, green and red peppers, and artichokes allowed the duck to deliver an incredible kick to the palate. Spicy food addicts should anticipate biting the meat off the bone and sucking it dry right after.
This restaurant has been serving Hunan cuisine to both Filipinos and Chinese for many years. The menu also holds pages and pages of options for any kind of preference, so anyone will be able to appreciate Hunan cuisine according to their preference. Unlike other restaurants that hold back on servings or in taste, this hidden but well-known eatery manages to offer large dishes at affordable price ranges. I look forward to revisiting this place again.