Aquatic bounty of Hangzhou

2016-09-09 15:07China Daily Editor: Feng Shuang ECNS App Download
Braised spotted sea crab with clams and bean curd in rice-wine vinasse. (Photo provided to China Daily)

Braised spotted sea crab with clams and bean curd in rice-wine vinasse. (Photo provided to China Daily)

Chef Wang Yong feels blessed by geography. "Hangzhou is basically a rich bowl of produce," he says, smiling as he describes the seafood, the freshwater fish and crabs, and the seasonal vegetables readily available here.

Wang presides over the kitchen at Jin Sha, easily the most awarded restaurant in Hangzhou. Perched right on West Lake inside the luxury Four Seasons hotel, Jin Sha commands the top spot on Trip Advisor rankings as well as holding prestigious awards from magazines like Food & Wine and Forbes.

I've joined him for a meal just before the G20 opens in the city, and he starts me off with a salad of green vegetable and almond slices, served with goose liver paste and spring-onion pancakes.

There's also a test: Porcelain cruets appear at my right hand, and he asks whether I prefer soy sauce or vinegar.

The answer doesn't reveal much about a non-Chinese like myself, but Wang knows that locals in Hangzhou will choose vinegar, while visitors from nearby Shanghai-and there are many-opt for soy.

Wang has been at Jin Sha since its opening six years ago, but he's hardly been tethered to the spot. When he's not busy creating new menus or directing special events, he takes short getaways to explore food trends elsewhere. Recently, he's followed his nose to Yunnan (in pursuit of white mushrooms), Suzhou, Tokyo and Bangkok to "refresh his food spirit".

Many of his culinary finds are closer to home.

Nearby Taizhou, two hours away, is famous for goodies like sanmei, or three-door crab, and other seafood and fresh vegetables.

His ability to look near and far has produced dishes that in turn produced accolades for the restaurant. Local favorite renshen fu gui ji (beggar's chicken) is elevated by using locally raised, free-range chicken. The menu also boasts beef tendon and papaya baked in puff pastry, and chilled mango-pomelo cream served with baked walnut puffs.

Our third course on this visit is a twist on the local fish soup. Wang puts the native fish to good use elsewhere on the menu, but for this signature soup he imports black cod-"more flavor, more nutritious, fewer bones"-and enriches it further with black fungus, mushroom, carrot, cucumber and ginger, serving it alongside a crispy bean-curd roll.

Next is a regional specialty he prepares closer to the script: braised pork with abalone in sweet soy sauce with sauteed sweet peas. The dark soy is reduced to a thick, sweet richness (from added sugar as well as the reduction process) that resonates with Wang and his Shanghai roots. If you're not sure you love abalone, Wang may lure you with this recipe: It's a classic dish that's embraced throughout the region.

The restaurant's menu draws from Shanghainese, Cantonese and classic Hangzhou cuisine, with an excellent wine list and a lively bar for pre-dinner drinks. Seventy percent of the Jin Sha's customers are local, and there is a separate driveway and entrance for the restaurant, so guests don't have to wander through the hotel to get there. The main dining room seats 80 people with an outdoor terrace overlooking the lagoon and gardens; 11 private dining rooms allow guests to entertain discreetly.

Wang is taking the opportunity of our visit to test-drive a recipe he's created for Jin Sha's fall menu. The braised spotted sea crab, with clam and bean curd in rice-wine vinasse, is still apparently in the experimental stage. Before we can finish it, he's back at our table with another version, this one with handmade fishball instead of the bean curd. We're not sure we like the second one better, but our palate are clouded by the fact we are getting rather full at this point.

After a serving of fried rice with crabmeat and flying-fish roe comes dessert, and it's a wow moment. Capitalizing on Hangzhou's famous tea culture, the sweet is a Longjing (dragon-well tea) cream pudding. In this city there is a temptation to dip into the dragon well rather often-sometimes the result is so subtle it's hardly noticeable, sometimes it's so tea-tea that it's more distracting than delicious. Wang, however, strikes the perfect balance, letting the Longjing leaves haunt the dessert like a musical fugue but not overpowering it.

(By Mike Peters)

If you go

Jin Sha

At the Four Seasons at West Lake, 5 Lingyin Road, Hangzhou. 571-8829-8888.


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