This is a Shanghai institution – a Shanghainese-Szechuan restaurant that has attracted generations of gourmands as well as who’s who of old and new Shanghai.
The building was a historical building gazetted for conservation that was built in the 1930s, during the heydays of Shanghai. Built in 1925 by British businessman, Sir Ellice Victor Sassoon, Cathay Building was an high-end apartment building during that time. He is famous also for building the Cathay Hotel (which is the famous Peace Hotel along the Bund) and yes, Vidal Sassoon is a nephew of his. The building was confiscated by the PRC government in 1951 for “tax evasion” charges to Sassoon.
The restaurant was founded in 1935 by Madam Dong Zhujun 董竹君 at a different location. Because the original location can see the river view, that’s why it was named Jinjiang 锦江 (view of the river). Originally it served Sichuan cuisine. But over time, it evolved to incorporate Shanghainese culinary elements, losing the spiciness but retained the techniques of Sichuan cuisine.
Jinjiang during the revolutionary wars was a meeting place of Communist underground cadres as Dong was a communist sympathiser. Finally when PRC was founded, Dong was elected a prominent people’s representative of Shanghai by the new government, and she went back to her F&B roots and restarted Jinjiang. Because of her prominence, Jinjiang was the location of many State Banquets when the dignitaries went to Shanghai. In the current location, she has entertained President Reagan, Kissinger, Her Majesty the Queen and Charlie Chaplin.
1/ 十式风味冷盆 10 cold appetisers
When you arrive into the private dining room, the ten plates of appetisers were already placed nicely on the lazy suzy. They were all Shanghainese classics – 醉鸡 drunken chicken, 油爆虾 oil fried shrimps, 脆皮黄瓜 cucumber in vinegar, 拌海蜇头 vinegar jellyfish, 凉拌绞瓜丝 spaghetti gourd salad, 五香牛腱 five spice beef brisket, 咸鹅肉 salted goose, 川味豆皮 tofu skin in Sichuan chili, 醋拌木耳 wood fungus in vinegar – but the classic of the classics was the 手撕熏鱼 smoked fish.
This appetiser is not served nowadays. The smoked fish is not salty. The smoking process has not dried up the fish but imparted a nice woody fragrance. Dipped into the ginger vinegar, the salty, sour, sweet treat is complete.
2/ 巴蜀飘香 Bashu savoury soup
巴蜀飘香 Bashu savoury soup is not what the name suggested – it is no exactly a spicy Sichuan hot and sour soup. It’s a signature dish that has been served since it was founded.
Bashu savoury soup is like a mini “Buddha jumped over the wall” – over 20 ingredients are needed to make this soup. You can see sea cucumber, pig tendon, dried scallop, dried mushroom, quail egg, fish maw, abalone, etc swimming in a rich chicken and pork stock. And then there are the ingredients that you cannot see but taste in the soup – the collagen in pig trotters that has been incorporated into the stock, plus ribs and Chinese Jinhua ham to provide that umami. And before serving, a dash of Chinese Huadiao wine to lift the fragrance.
This soup is a standard repertoire in State Banquets served in this place. You can taste the history, the elaborateness, the hospitality of the host in wanting to give the best to the guests. And it is a really tasty soup.
3/ 青芥干烧虾球 tiger prawns in two style
The tiger prawns were prepared in two classic ways – coated lightly and deep fried, the prawn is then coated with wasabi mayo, and sautéed straight up in garlic and chilli for that Sichuan association.
4/ 喇沙煮红膏蟹 laksa mud crab
Here’s an innovative way of eating mud crab. Firstly, it’s the season for crabs, they are fattened with roe and primed for the winter. And then there’s the laksa stock. Jinjiang has recently gained the reputation to continue to reinvent itself and serves one of the best laksa in Shanghai. What a homely feeling, the laksa stock brought me straight back to Singapore. Come, give me a bowl of vermicelli and the meal is complete.
5/ 锦江烤鸭 Jinjiang peking duck
While it’s not a Shanghai dish, Jinjiang has owned the Peking duck preparation. The duck skin was so thin and crispy and not greasy, it was the familiar way we knew in Singapore.
6/ 鲜鲍焖猪蹄 stewed abalone and pig tendons
Beautifully stewed, the pig tendons melted in the mouth and were full of flavours of the stewing liquid. The whole abalone lost its appeal when paired with the tendons.
7/ 黑椒黄桃牛肉粒 sautéed black pepper beef
Invented as a result of becoming a venue for the State Banquets, the sautéed black pepper beef was a favourite among the foreign guests that went through the halls of Jinjiang. Tender, flavourful, the balance of the spice and the beef was perfectly executed.
8/ 生煸时蔬 sautéed vegetable
The vegetable dish is the classic 酒酿草头. The vegetable is a perennial found in Shanghai, almost like a weed with very herby taste. It is usually cooked with yellow wine, I have yet to eat it in any other way. It is sometime paired with pig intestines. Go figure, two items that are cheap can be a classic Shanghainese dish.
9/ 芦笋山药元贝 scallops with asparagus and mountain yam
A very nice combination – instead of water chestnuts, they used mountain yam.
10 / 豉油皇红星斑 steamed red grouper in superior soy sauce
By the time the tenth course was served, we were really stuffed. The fish was almost untouched.
11/ 南瓜麻球 pumpkin sesame ball
This is exactly like humchinpang in Singapore but with a sweet pumpkin mash filling. Savoury and sweet, mushy and chewy, a contrast of texture and taste in the mouth.
12/ 栗子粉果盆 chestnut mousse
And for the final course, a chestnut mousse that is seasonal for autumn.
The private dining room has been hosts to many dignitaries. It was in this same room many Hollywood stars dined in. It can seat comfortably around 15 folks and has an adjourning living room for cocktails before dinner.
Because they have been serving dignitaries, the service was fantastic and attentive. Food, of course, was a notch above the rest. It will never be mentioned in Michelin, because it is state-owned, and therefore would not participate in those commercial wrangling and marketing. Nevertheless, it is always full by reputation.
We managed to get a table at this peak period of company year end functions and state dinners because of guanxi – we were old customers of the place and therefore the management has specially left this room for us.
But you should try, if you can, when you are in town.
Jinjiang Hotel Cathay Club 锦江饭店锦北楼·华懋荟
Tel : 021-32189888
Date Visited : Dec 2019
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