Once in a while, I would choose to go for a vegetarian meal 素菜. Unlike the traditional Buddhist vegetarian meals 齋菜 that is steeped in religious restrictions, I opted for the modern fine dining ovegetarian meal 素菜 whenever they are available.
Tiexiangsi Water Street 鐵像寺水街
Tiexiangsi Water Street 鐵像寺水街 is an emerging commercial block in Chengdu High-tech Zone. The whole conservation area includes the ancient temple of Tiexiang Temple 鐵像寺 and several blocks of new and conserved buildings that now house restaurants, bars and boutiques.
The specially planned small bridges, flowing water and courtyard pavilions are full of the characteristics of Sichuan Fengshui. Therefore, it has attracted many interesting restaurants that have different dining concepts, like this one focusing on vegetarian fine dining, Huadao Yushan Pavilion.
Huadao Yushan Pavilion
Sichuan is a place where traditional Buddhism and Taoism flourish, with a long history of vegetarianism and a huge vegetarian audience. In the early years, religious elements were a major selling point of vegetarian restaurants, but now the “new vegetarian” emphasizes vegetarian food itself, returning from imitation meat dishes to the original flavor of ingredients, and adding the concept of kaiseki cuisine.
Huadao Yushan Pavilion is a kaiseki vegetarian cuisine originating from Taiwan. The founder, Chen Jianzhi, took Chengdu as his first stop to enter the mainland. The elegant environment, creative dishes and cooking methods that preserve the original flavor of the ingredients make Yushan Pavilion the first choice for vegetarians.
Yushan Pavilion occupied the whole building towards the southern end of the compound. After walking through a teahouse at the front entrance, you get into the main dining area.
Passing through the front hall to the open courtyard, bamboo and rattan chairs surrounded the small table in twos and threes. The faux Ming and Qing furniture was accompanied by soft meditative music. There were also several tatami private dining rooms around the courtyard. The simple and elegant environment was not overly decorated and added a Zen ambiance to the vegetarian dishes we were about to partake.
鈺臻 懷石料理 “Jewel” Kaiseki
It was said the word “Kaiseki” 懷石 comes from the ancient allusion that monks did not eat after noon, and hugged warm stones to stop hunger. That may be an urban legend, but shōjin ryōri 精進料理 originated from Kyoto where Buddhist temples provided a short banquet of vegetarian courses for visiting pilgrims. This was later developed into kaiseki ryori 懷石料理 , an elaborate dining ritual over 8-10 courses in a strict presentation manner not unlike French fine dining.
Yushan Pavilion’s kaiseki menu included appetizers, soups, main dishes and desserts. There were nearly ten dishes. Although it was made of vegetarian dishes, it was quite enough for a huge appetite like mine, the waitress assured me.
And before we started our kaiseki, we went through a ritual cleansing of our hands, just like when one would do before entering a Japanese temple, a ritual to cleanse our thoughts.
金沙鈺賜 Golden Pumpkin Cream
I wasn’t a fan of pumpkin soup, but with the addition of morel mushrooms, it was ok. Like all the vegetarian fine dining I have been to, mushrooms of all varieties will be featured in all the courses. Morel mushrooms have always been a favourite of fine dining chefs given its pine aroma and umami.
木榭陳香 Pine and Wood
This starter course contained three different appetisers/small bites that would be considered amuse bouche.
The waitress recommended that we start with the avocado tartlet. 塔塔牛油果 Avocado tartare on a tortilla cup is a very simple raw avocado chopped and dressed with EVOL and vinegar. A bit under seasoned I felt. It could do with a bit of salt.
The second appetiser is 智慧糕 Pistachio crusted glutinous rice cake. This is the vegetarian version of 猪血糕 blood pudding made with purple glutinous rice. Slightly better, but still very bland. Perhaps after 7 days of Sichuan cuisine, my palate has gone heavy.
Two ways to eat this appetiser – one way is to wrap the filling with nori seaweed wrap.
The second is to eat it with the chickpea crisp. Either way, this was the weakest of the three appetisers.
妙想花枝 Sichuan-style Walnut with Black Fungus
Three ingredients made up this course – fresh walnuts, black fungus and dried radish.
“The slender branches support the clouds and trees, looking for Qiang suits [walnuts].” The slender branches referred to the deep fried vermicelli that was smoked with tea leaves fumes.
The noodles used is a special handmade noodle from Guanghan. The method of making this noodle is like a combination of 竹升面 bamboo pressed noodles from Guangzhou and soba noodles from Kyoto. The noodle dough is first pressed with bamboo and then sliced to strands like a soba.
A very dry dish, it is a bit like another classic vegetarian dish 蚂蚁爬树. The taste is mala 麻辣味.
宮保杏鮑菇 Kung Pao King Mushroom
A special dish that was not part of the menu combined the taste of Sichuan cuisine with vegetarian ingredients. The fried king oyster mushrooms were crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, while maintaining a full meaty feel, with a spicy, sweet and sour taste of Gong Bao.
一味山珍 A Taste of Mountain Treasure
Another mushroom dish, this is the problem with a vegetarian meal that refrain from using processed ingredients like extracted gluten. Gluten was traditionally used to imitate meat in order to give the sense of eating meat. Without that bulk, mushrooms are used instead. Mushroom has the advantage of texture and umami, and different mushrooms have different taste profile, like this Pilose Antler Mushroom that tasted like chicken.
鹿茸菇 Pilose Antler Mushroom (Lyophyllum Decastes) has been cultivated successfully in Yunnan. The species is edible when cooked. However when consumed uncooked, this species may cause liver failure, nausea, and diarrhoea. Similar taste to the shimeiji mushroom 鸿禧菇, which many described as a chicken flavour, it is referred to as Hatake Shimeiji in Japan.
The fungi was stir-fried with Sichuan peppercorn for that numbing and hot flavour 麻椒味, one of the 24 flavours of Sichuan. The heat came from the fresh green chillis.
天賜玉露 Palate Cleanser
And as a palate cleanser, lemon enzyme drink which the Taiwanese swears by their healthy properties. For me it was just a sour fruit drink served cold. Why? Because heating it up will kill all the probiotics in the drink. Here’s my next question, can probiotics survive in acid?
胡汁猴排 Black Pepper Mushroom Steak
胡汁猴排 Black Pepper Mushroom Steak is Yushan Pavilion’s classic signature dish. Fresh lion’s mane mushroom 猴头菇 (Hericium erinaceus) is first beaten to loosen its fibres and then marinated for 24 hours. It is then pan fried on both sides with black sesame oil, and topped with black pepper and rosemary sauce.
Hericium erinaceus is an edible mushroom belonging to the tooth fungus group. Native to North America, Europe and Asia, it can be identified by its long spines, occurrence on hardwoods, and tendency to grow a single clump of dangling spines. While dried ones are easily available, fresh lion’s mane mushroom is considered a rarity, especially for one of this size.
The main fruit of the mushroom had the texture of steak and cut like steak. With the black pepper sauce, it tasted like a cheap steak from the hawker centre where the umami came from MSG. And like all fine dining vegetarian steaks I had before, there’s no sense of fulfilment that one gets from chewing meat. However it is the best one I have tasted so far, even though my partner thought she tasted some Chinese herbal aftertaste.
磐石逢春 Stone Bowl Rice
The final two courses – rice and soup – came together like a Japanese kaiseki. Just the pickle is missing.
The presentation reminded me of bibimbap.
The topping is made from antler mushroom with dried bamboo shoots. A shot of soy sauce is added and then fresh black truffles are shaved on the rice. You then mix it up like bibimbap.
The Yunnan farmed truffles were quite tasteless. Which explained why they were willing to add quick a large amount into the rice. If this was black truffle from Italy or Spain, it would have been a great dish.
碧海浮香 Bamboo fungus with boletus and basil
This bamboo fungus 竹笙 soup was quick delightful with sweet basil floating on top to give a sharper aroma. Besides bamboo fungus, there’s boletus 牛肝菌. These two types of fungi were not the common types and could be quite costly when bought outside.
餐後甜點 Fruit Bowl
The dessert was a fruit bowl made from persimmon. The balls were persimmon, the cubes were dragonfruit, and the jelly drops were osmanthus jelly. The persimmon was in season and the dessert gave a wonderful end to the kaiseki.
Taiwanese-style Braised “Pork” Rice 台湾素卤肉饭
After the kaiseki had been served, the waitress asked if we had our fill. I jokingly said, “No”. She hurried back to the kitchen and came back with a Taiwanese-style Braised “Pork” Rice 台湾卤肉饭.
There wasn’t any meat in this rice, only mushroom. It could have fooled me except for that bitter TCM taste that had been bothering me for the entire dinner.
Yushan Pavilion menus are regularly changed and new items are launched to match the ingredients of different seasons, like bamboo shoots in spring, truffle mushrooms in autumn, and warm hotpots for cold winters.
The presentation was immaculate, the meal was well-planned, it fit the definition of a kaiseki dinner. However the flavours were not as varied as the traditional kaiseki, and when compared with the Japanese shojin ryori it was miles away from the standard. I was surprised there’s no tofu or gingko or more green vegetables featured in this dinner course. It could do better with more variety. In the end it was a pretty meal, but forgettable in terms of flavours.
华道生活 · 鈺善閣．素．養生懷石
武侯区铁像寺路88号铁像寺水街16栋附101号, Chengdu, 中国大陆地区
Tel : +86 28 8512 2888
Date visited : Dec 2021
Michelin Chengdu Guide Plates 2022 (inaugural)