This came from realizing I had dines from my trip last year I still have yet to capture - semi-consciously saving best for last, I just never got around to posting about them, and they were some of the most incredible meals (not just last year, but perhaps, ever!).
So, let's start with Xi Yan - sites of some of my favorite 'modern' Chinese meals ever both in 2010 and 2009. 2009 was before the blog, but the meal was so amazing I feel compelled to share it even now (as you will see, one of the dishes became the header for my blog!).
Xi Yan is truly one of a kind, started by Jacky Yu, a former graphic designer in advertising who decided to give up a high-paying career to pursue his passion as a chef.
His unusual background makes its presence known in several critical ways: a distinct aesthetic from decor to menus, great branding, and well 'designed' concepts for dishes along with playful, marketing savvy puns / updates of traditional dish names.
G.O.D. nostalgic home furnishings and gifts store, the Xi Yan concept (Chinese for 'banquet') quickly found a large and loyal audience, and expanded to several branches across Hong Kong. Also recognizing the private kitchen trend and chance to experiment with new dishes to a limited set of 'test' diners in a more intimate setting, Jacky opened a private kitchen with just 6-8 tables tucked away in an office building in Wanchai.
We managed to score reservations months ahead of a holiday vacation - we expected to be impressed, but the meal went far beyond in creativity, taste and overall experience!
The prix fixe menu:
Braised Abalone in Japanese Sake and Soy Sauce - while abalone is iconic to any Chinese banquet as a luxury item (usually as a giant 'steak' in starchy broth), we'd never seen it served like this, amuse bouche sized, in a seashell topped by a stroke of fusion genius - uni (sea urchin) and ikura (salmon roe), ingredients more typical to sushi. The fusion of two historically politically opposing cultures were reinforced with the mixing of Japanese sake and Chinese soy sauce for the base. Beautiful dish - our mouths were definitely amused and pleased.
|Example of Chinese |
Shan Shui painting
Jacky took a classic, very rustic Chinese dish, braised pork belly with preserved vegetables, and elevated it to a work of art inspired by traditional Chinese "shan shui" (山水 mountain, water) paintings. Veggies were molded into a tall tower, then meticulously enrobed in thinly sliced pieces of lush, fatty pork belly in the shape of a mountain - then placed in a serene looking 'lake' of sauce studded with additional pieces of meat to evoke boulders in the water. Then he gave it a Chinese name that was just as beautiful - translation won't do it justice, but the general gist is "Rolling east hills above the clouds intoxicates for a thousand leagues" (the key pun being the Chinese words for 'pork belly', 柬玻which phonetically also sound like the words for East Slope/Hills). Clever and so gorgeous we could barely bring ourselves to eat it.
Here Jacky first steams the fish, then deep fries it for a salty crunchy exterior, while the inside is so tender it could make you cry. And whole fish is usually served on its side - but here it's served 'upright', as if still alive - a little scary looking even for us who are used to seeing whole fish, so we can only imagine the reception by non-Asians. In any case, this fish was pretty damn delicious, and taken over the top with the western inspired touch of citrus coming from the original use of pomelo. It made so much sense we wondered why no one had thought to do it like this before?
All in all, an amazing meal that inspired us with its creativity on all levels - creativity backed by taste and talent both in the kitchen and out. No wonder the private kitchen became fairly public knowledge (and objects of desire) pretty much instantly.
When I returned the following year to Hong Kong for the annual holiday trip, we went to visit their then 'new' public restaurant branch in Taikoo Shing, which has a more fast casual, less high-concept vibe and offerings but was also an incredibly delicious meal. With a group of 6 people, we got to try a ton of dishes - gotta go to sleep so I will start with the pictures here, and fill in the recap shortly!
|Fried Spring Rolls with Radish and Dried Oysters|
|Dan Dan Mian in soup (left), no soup (right)|
|Grilled Thai Pork (charcoal grilled pork neck)|
|Deep-Fried Crispy Chicken |
with Fermented Bean Curd Sauce
|Seaweed and Shanghai Noodles|
in Prime Fish Soup
|Custard Glutinous Dumplings with |
Sweet Potato Ginger Soup
|Clockwise from top left: Red Bean Tofu Pudding, |
Milk/Banana Ice Cream, Banana Pudding, Glutinous Rice Pudding
On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6.5 bites
Presentation - 6.5 bites
Originality - 6.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6.5 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%
Coming up shortly: Review of lunch at Xi Yan Restaurant
Xi Yan Private Kitchen
3rd Floor, 83 Wanchai Road., Wanchai, Hong Kong
Xi Yan Restaurant ("East" branch)
Shop G505 & G508, Ning On Mansion, Stage V Taikoo Shing, Hong Kong