What can you do for a group of folks that has everything? A really good meal that reminded them of home. When Mei Lan Fang threw a banquet for his fans which consisted of the who’s who in Beijing, he can only offered the best cuisine from his beloved home in Suzhou.
Mei Family Banquet is a very unique dining experience in Beijing because of three reasons – history, atmosphere and taste.
Mei Lan Fang 梅兰芳 was a famous Peking Opera singer. He was renowned around the world as a HuaDan 花旦, the female soprano lead in the Peking Opera. No, it is not a typo error – Mr Mei sang in falsetto and cross-dressed for his female protagonist roles. But he was not like those transgender performers from Bangkok. On stage, he was recognised around the world as the best Peking opera singer of his time. He established the Mei-style of Peking opera that combined the HuaDan (Female Lead), QingYi (Lead Damsel in Distress) and DaoMaDan (female warrior roles) styles of oratorial into a single character.
Off stage, he was married to two women, the latter gave birth to 9 children for him. He was a perfect society gentleman, a patriot, a family man and yet had a love affair with a fellow female opera singer. During the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, he refused to sing for the Imperial Army by growing a moustache. Of course, he was also famous of his love affair with Meng. This story contradicted with his faithfulness with his wives and was not in his official memoirs as he converted to the Communist Party later in life and was elected member of the People’s Representative. However, this extramarital romance with Meng Xiao Dong was captured in many other autobiographies (including that of Meng) and made into many movies in recent time.
Mei, being one of the societal elite of his day, often threw elaborate banquets for his friends in high society – not unlike the cocktail parties of New York. After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, he stayed in one of Peking courtyard houses 四合院 that used to belong to a concubine of a royal family member 侧福晋. It featured a beautiful centre courtyard with rooms surrounding the well-appointed courtyard. It was in such history and elegance that the restaurant was set in.
The restauranteur had retained the courtyard in its original splendour. Decked style of the Suzhou garden, it had a fake mountain made of a piece of coral stone from West Lake. Bonsai trees decorated the surrounding while a 240-year old date tree stood as the centre piece. The main halls were converted to dining halls, while the bedrooms and studies were made into smaller dining rooms for private party. We were hosted in one of those studies that overlooked one of the courtyard.
All these elaborate setup would be futile if the food could match up with this fantastic backdrop. They offered a la carte and also a banquet style 10 course dinner that included a myriad of appetisers.
You knew you were in for a treat when you were presented with a menu that was written on a fan. On the back of the fan was a replication of a Chinese painting that was drawn by Mei himself.
The dinner started with an assortment of cold dishes 凉菜味碟 that included Smoked Pomfret Fillets 烟熏鲳鱼, Mustard Green with Water Chestnut 雪菜菱角, Dates stuffed with Glutinous Rice 心太软, Fried Shrimp 油爆虾, Duck Tongue 酱烧鸭舌, Honey Bitter Gourd 凉拌苦瓜 and Smashed Cucumber 酱黄瓜. These were all Jiangzhe Cuisine that included styles from Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang. The characteristics are the sauce (usually sweet and savoury) and complexity of preparation. For example, the dates were dehusked then stuffed with glutinous rice and then glazed with sugar.
Couple’s Millet Porridge cooked in Chicken Stock. Mei was said to have this porridge every time before his performance. It was very delicate and tasty. The millet had pretty much disintegrated into the chicken stock. The green gru that you see that formed the half of Yin Yang was a spinach mousse.
Coconut coated Tempura King Prawn with Salad Mayo – this is a very typical Cantonese dish that made into the menu. Mei Mansion caters to a lot of foreign guests and it would be difficult to just present the most traditional Shanghainese cuisine as they were usually made up of unfamiliar ingredients. So deep fried prawns always work.
Steamed Seabass with Fermented Bean Sauce with Choysum. Simple, delicious, delicate.
Mushroom Soup. Unlike the Italian variety, this was made with a very flavour rich chicken stock thickened naturally using the mushrooms. Mushrooms release a thickening agent when cooked that gave the collagen rich stock it’s texture. Of course, a little cornstarch helped as well.
Piece de resistance for the evening was this Deep Fried Duck wrapped in Caul Fat with celery and fruit salad 翡翠鲜果 酥网鸭. This is a very elaborate dish. Duck breast is wrapped with yam and fruits (in this case, mango) in caul fat, dragged through panko and deep fried. Then it is cut to size and served with a mayo sauce. Here, the chef added a light fruit salad (sweet) and sautéed celery (savoury) to balance the dish.
When Nestle Asia came up with Maggi Seasoning, they never expected the reception it would get among the different Asian cultures. 荷塘美极牛肉粒 Lotus Root with Sautéed Sirloin Beef Cubes – the name “Maggi” rhymed with the Chinese phrase for Beautiful. So literally this dish is called Beautiful Pond Beef Cubes.
I love Maggi Seasoning even I knew it was bad for health. God knows how many artificial ingredients have been added to make that unique taste. In China, Maggi Seasoning was given a centrestage for several dishes. Firstly, fried eggs for breakfast were often dappled with a dash of the savoury, fishy sauce. Here, the chef used the seasoning to sautéed the sirloin beef cube. The lotus roots, snow peas and black wood fungus were sautéed, thankfully, with a more traditional seasoning of stock and salt (and ajinomoto).
Bacon Fried Rice 培根炒饭 was not a Mei-inspired dish. Because we had foreign guests and to come up with a GF dish, the chef came up with this fried rice. Everyone loves bacon and everyone loves fried rice. 🙂 However it was Chinese bacon and not the streaky bacon that we get in the supermarket. So it was a really smoky salty variety that was really good with the green laden fried rice. Perfect end to the meal.
Dessert was a couple of sweets that represented Beijing and Suzhou. Mei was born in Beijing but his ancestral home was Suzhou. 驴打滚 literally meant Donkey Rolling in Mud. This is a glutinous rice rolled with sweet date paste dusted with icing sugar.
Red Bean Glutinous Rice in Wine Syrup 豆沙酒酿圆子 is the representative dessert from Suzhou. The wine syrup is made with fermented glutinous rice (the little white specks in the soup) that gives the dessert the sweetness and oomph. Slow cooked red bean and glutinous rice ball are added.
That’s a lot of glutinous rice for dessert. So to round it up, they provided a little bit of fruits to aid digestion.
It was pricey, but worth it and a must try for the experience and atmosphere. Reservation recommended.
Mei Fu Jia Yan 梅府家宴
Address: 24 Daxiangfeng Hutong, ShiChaHai,
Xicheng Qu, Beijing, China, 100009
西城区 大翔凤胡同 24号
Phone: +86 10 6612 6845
Date Visited: Oct 2016