When you visit Hangzhou, there are three classic restaurants that you need to visit : LouWaiLou 楼外楼, Flavour Restaurant 知味觀 and of course, Hangzhou Restaurant 杭州酒家. This is a very old visit which was I wondered why I did not blog.
白年老店 Century Old Brand
Behind the modern exterior glass facade is a refurbished mansion from the early 20th century. When you walk into the restaurant you will see a plaque with the words “味宅” ‘Home of flavours’.
Founded in 1913 by Mr Sun YiZhai 孙翼斋, Zhi Wei Guan 知味觀 is a Hangzhou restaurant with a long history, providing delicate dim sums, snacks, and desserts. Besides petite dishes, they also offer traditional Hangzhou dishes, such as Xihu fish in vinegar gravy and beggar’s chicken which I blogged in another post in their other brand restaurant.
糟油拼盤 Assortment of savoury in wine lees
One of the best way to preserve food is to soak them in alcoholic beverage of some sort. The popular choices include Huadiao and Chinese wine lees. Hu 滬 cuisine (generalisation of the cuisines of Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang areas) relies on this method frequently, not only to preserve seafood, but to also enhance the flavours of the source. Sea snails 香螺 on their own are not a delicacy but when they are soaked in wine, they now incorporate the flavour of the wine and elevate to a delicacy. Other stuff in this assortment included prawns, edamame, pig stomach, pig tongue, chicken, turtle meat.
蟹粉小白菜 Shanghai greens with crab roe
Shanghai greens with crab roe was an easy dish to love since it’s effortless eating – no need to pick through the crabs’ shells and deal with the mess – and there’s about 4 crabs worth of meat in that bowl! The richness and crab roe balanced by fresh green vegetable that is sauteed ever just slightly. A very good combination.
But it’s the crab season, we need to work through the crabs ourselves
大閘蟹 Hairy Crabs
Yangchenghu 阳澄湖 is located between Taihu 太湖 and the Yangtze River. The hairy crabs migrate from Yangchenghu towards the Yangtze delta for mating in September and October. The local fishermen harvest the animals during this migration. Because of the rounded pebbles at the bottom of the lake, these crabs have white belly and golden mitten. Taihu hairy crab tends to be larger and not as pretty because the bottom of the lake is more gravel than pebbles.
Yangchenghu crabs are no longer in the top spot, thanks to deteriorating water quality. They’ve since been taken over by breeding farms in Taihu, Wuxi, and the dam of Henan Anjia in low-lying Chongming Island, Shanghai. While die-hard Shanghainese still insist on hairy crabs from Yangchenghu, most people have already converted to the later harvests.
Since 2012, I have not missed the annual crab season. We had two of the Yangchenghu version and two of the Taihu variety for comparison. Taihu variety were bigger than the Yangchenghu (they can be identified with the tags on the legs in the first picture) for the same price. I could taste any difference from the roes, but the fresh of the Yangchenghui version was slightly sweeter. Is the difference in price justified? Not really these days, with the elevation of farming techniques in all the regions.
茶樹菇芡實炒毛豆仁 Edamame with tea tree mushrooms and gorgon fruit
Gorgon fruit 芡实is not a fruit but the seeds from the prickly water lily. The gorgon fruit is said to tonify spleen and kidney. The fresh version is also known as 鸡头米 and is a seasonal staple for autumn.
Tea tree mushrooms (velvet pioppini mushrooms), botanically classified as agrocybe aegerita, are wild, edible mushrooms highly favoured for their firm texture and are commonly added to pasta, soups, and stews. Mostly available as the dried version, they can add a meaty taste to vegetarian dish, like this very simple edamame beans sautéed with tea tree mushrooms.
東坡肉 Dongpo braised pork belly
东坡肉 Braised Pork Belly “DongPo” style here has been cooked in individual portions. Pork belly were cut into squares and braised in a big pot before carefully placed into individual bowls and steamed once more. When you opened the paper covering the individual urn of pork, you were greeted with a whiff of aroma and right in there was the caramelised sauce glimmering with a clear layer of fat. The fat has fully rendered and melt in your mouth. I find the lean meat a tad too dry though.
西湖蒓菜湯 West Lake water shield soup
Water shield is a type of water plant that grows everywhere in Jiangsu, and would almost be a weed. Water shield has a distinctive gelatinous slime on the underside of the leaves and coating the stems. Due to its texture (it coats itself with a gelatine like substance when cooked), it was believed to be beneficial to health, particularly good for replenishing collagen 🙂 Again, the vegetable has no taste. It borrows the taste from other ingredients (ham, pork, chicken stock) that are used to cook the dish.
The Century Old Restaurant
The food is traditional Hangzhou Jiangzhe cuisine, but the service is modern and prompt.
Flavours Restaurant (Zhiweiguan) 知味观（高银街）
71 Gaoyin St, Qinghe Lane, Shangcheng District, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
Tel : +86 571 8783 1638
Date Visited : Oct 2016