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Archive for the ‘Shanghai & Hangzhou’ Category

AmanFayun Hotel Rooms & Scenery – Hangzhou

In Shanghai & Hangzhou on April 19, 2011 at 1:20 am

AmanFayun Hotel prides itself in being an exclusive place of tranquility.  It is in the mountains about 15 minutes away from the center of Hangzhou, near the Lingyin temple.  The hotel is built using the preserved houses of the village that existed long ago, that was, at one point, going to be demolished by the government.

Walkway

Houses and roads are mostly as they were back then, but the interiors were all renovated to be more like a hotel.  Most buildings are around 300 years old, and the oldest building, the building that is now the library, is around 700 years old.

700 year old building - library

To get from place to place we traveled the main village path, where there was hardly anybody walking around.  At times this hollowness could feel scary, with only a few lamp posts to guide you at night.  But at other times this was a place of peacefulness and meditation.  The village was hardly touched yet flowers grew abundantly on naturally twisted branches, and the foliage was enchanting.  The paths were mystically laid with undergrowth and covered with clouds of fog hovering, only for us to break them.

Side Path

Carved Buddha on Mountain side

Fresh Flowers

Our hotel room was huge – there was a canopy bed, a large washroom, and heated floors.  There was plenty of empty space that gave it a clean feel, as well as big, grand yet humble closets that lined the hallway connection between the washroom and main room.  The washroom itself could be considered a room, and a big one at that.  Everything was tidy and clean, with a rustic touch.

Couches

Delicate Tea set

Canopy Bed

Hallway with Grand Rustic Closets

Washroom

Washroom

Toilet

AmanFayun gives such a harmonious feel to it that commercial hotels could not endeavor to do the same with a typical building within a city, or even a common resort. We loved AmanFayun for its sense of peacefulness in the midst of our busy lives, and even our busy holidays.

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外婆家 – Waipojia (Grandmother’s House) Restaurant – Hangzhou

In Shanghai & Hangzhou on April 18, 2011 at 9:51 am

外婆家 is a popular restaurant that often pops up in food blogs online, so after a tiring morning trudging along West Lake (though the scenery was very pleasant), we contentedly sat down and waited for a seat.

It was a great disappointment.

One thing we ordered (and we ordered quite a bit despite only being a party of two) tasted quite good, another okay, the rest were mediocre or even bad.  The only exceptionable qualities this restaurant may have had, were that prices were extremely low and the dishes were extremely large – but these alone are not good enough reasons to eat at any restaurant.  Because the prices were so low it caused us to over-order, not knowing that the size of the dishes was humongous.  Inevitably, we wasted a lot that meal.

This was the “okay” dish.  It’s one that is quite common: Pork Slices with a lightly spicy dressing.  The taste of this was good but average, and the pork was certainly edible but was not the tender soft meat that one would expect, especially from such thin slices of meat.

Pork Slices with Spicy Dressing

The one dish I liked was this roasted pork.   Because there was a lot of fat surrounding the meat (which one shouldn’t eat for the pork slices are around 50% fat), the meat was tender, and the spiced powder was flavorful, making the entire dish more exciting.

Roasted Pork with Spiced "Chili" Powder

Vegetables tasted ok but were way too salty.

Vegetable

These razor clams were mediocre – they didn’t taste bad but they couldn’t be called “good” either; not all that fresh.  We were also afraid to eat them because they might not be cleaned well.

Razor Clams on a Sizzling Pan

We ordered this fish in minced green chili and peppercorn as it sounded and looked interesting, but somehow the chili and the fish didn’t seem to go all that well together.  The chili was so overpowering that the fish was rendered tasteless.

Fish with Minced Green Chili and Peppercorn

Noodles with fried eel and baby shrimp.  This is supposed to be a Hang Zhou specialty but came with no flavor at all.  It was bland, bland, bland.  The noodle was also not firm as how I would like it.

Pot of Noodles

A big plate of Nian Gao – Nian Gao that was too thick, too doughy, and too sweet.

Guifa Nian Gao - Fragrant Rice Cakes

外婆家 might be cheap and it might have big plates of food, but if the food isn’t good there is no reason to eat at such a restaurant, and I would suggest you use up your calories somewhere else.

XinJiShi (新吉士)-Shanghai

In Shanghai & Hangzhou on April 12, 2011 at 10:42 am

XinJiShi is one of my favorite restaurants in Shanghai. The decoration isn’t new or fancy, but you can still sit quite comfortably. The one I went to is located in XinTianDi, a popular tourist area, but I have heard that the original one is even better.

XinJiShi is a restaurant that serves classic Shanghainese food, but it’s special because the food is cooked extremely well. My favorite dish there is the earth chicken soup, served in a big white pot. The soup is clear and rich, lightly salted and very tasty. There isn’t much else besides the chicken – but the chicken used is a special “earth chicken” that gives a completely unique flavor.

Earth Chicken Soup

This wasn’t the only dish that won my approval.  Their congyoubanmian葱油拌面 – a mixed noodle with scallion – was the best I have ever tasted.  The crunchy fried scallions were laid atop chewy noodles, and the sauce was the perfect combination of sweet and salty.

葱油拌面

Because we felt it would be healthy if we chose a vegetable dish as well, we asked the waiter for what was in season.  And he recommended this – “Cai jian”, cai, meaning vegetable.  This is a specific part of the Shanghai baby vegetable and was the best vegetable I had tasted in a long time, so much so that we finished off the entire plate.

Baby Shanghai Vegetable - In season

There was one dish that was particularly disappointing though – smelly tofu.  This is a classic and is normally one of my favorite dishes.  But it was mediocre – the edges were not crispy, and the insides too moist.  It could not compare to the other dishes.

Another dish that is one of my favorites normally is honey glazed ham with crispy bean curd.  The taste is a combination of salty, sweet, plump, crispy – it was quite good.  The only reason I have to be hesitant is that I’ve tasted a better one – in the restaurant “Suzhehui” or Jade Garden. Theirs is a dish with thick slices of ham , and adequate amount of thick honey.  But all the same, the quality of the ham was quite good here too!

Honey Glazed Ham with Crispy Beancurd and Wrapper

and…  I’ll have a brief description for the rest of the dishes we ate.

For appetizers we had a dry salted chicken and pork balls/sticks wrapped in bead curd and served in chicken soup.

Salted Chicken

Beancurd wrapped pork in chicken soup

And we also had an excellent hai fen fen pei – crab with thick clear noodles.  This dish can quite often turn out smelly, but at this restaurant it was very fresh (although the color may give indication to otherwise).

Crab with clear noodles

This is my favorite place to eat Shanghainese food in Shanghai – if you go to Shanghai this would be the first place I would recommend.

Street Snacks – Shanghai

In Shanghai & Hangzhou on April 9, 2011 at 1:35 am

Street snacks can easily be good or bad.  There have been many a snack that had looked interesting, but when eaten had either a bad taste or no taste at all.  Still, there are quite a few good snack places along the street, you just have to try them.  That was the case when we visited Tianzifang, a popular tourist area with little old-style streets.  Just outside of Tianzifang was a shop selling different kinds of “bing” or Chinese pancakes.  As this shop seemed like it was getting a lot of good business we tried one of their steaming hot pancakes – and it was good!

For a very cheap price we got a bag of this crispy (and chewy) pancake that was dotted with green onions and sesame seeds and smeared lightly with a “chili” sauce.  The reason I put “chili” in quotations is because it wasn’t spicy at all, it was more of a tasty bean paste.

Crispy Pancake

Walking down another street on our way to XinTianDi, we passed by this pancake shop.  At first the pancake looked dry and too crispy for my taste.  But an egg was cracked on it, different ingredients put on it, and sauces were added so that when I finally tried it was an explosion of yummy flavors in my mouth.

Impression West Lake (印象西湖)

In Shanghai & Hangzhou on April 9, 2011 at 1:19 am

In the dark, we walked from the Hangzhou Four Seasons to an entrance of West Lake, where the show “Impression West Lake” was playing. Bleachers had been set up to look onto the lake, and I wondered where and how the performance would take place.  On the water?

It certainly was on the water, which left me wondering how they did it.  The choreography of the show was very grand and made a great performance.  Whenever one scene ended, there was the next scene, entirely different and very surprising.

Impression West Lake was a show of an ancient legend, one where a man falls in love with a snake.  I didn’t read into the story too much – I had come for the show.  Here are some snapshots:

Table No 1 by Jason Atherton – The Waterhouse – Shanghai

In Shanghai & Hangzhou on April 3, 2011 at 2:35 pm

My family and I sat in the car for quite a time before we reached the boutique hotel named “The Waterhouse”.  Its distinct orange neon sign, hoisted on some elegant cement, shone through the relatively quiet streets.  I had been here once before and was anticipating a good night to come.  Table No 1 was a restaurant that emphasized sharing; you sat at a long communal table with other guests and you shared what you ordered with your party.  To start of the dinner, a glass of Riesling was ordered, and it had an excellent taste.

 

Our Table

Riesling

For starters, we ordered three dishes: razor clam with chorizo, crab risotto with crab bisque, and a tuna tartar.  All of them were delightful – the crab risotto wasn’t too heavy but had a clear taste of crab and was placed in a light pool of crab bisque.   The tuna tartar had a cool, sour taste that had a tint of sweetness to it.  The razor clam is a perfect fusion of east and west – absolutely scrumptious, colorful and unforgettable.  And, if I were to choose only one appetizer, I would go for the razor clams.

The appetizers were shared – and enjoyed – by all.

 

 

Tuna Tartar

Razor Clams with Chorizo

Crab Risotto in Crab Bisque

The main courses did not disappoint, even after such brilliantly crafted starters.  Again we ordered three dishes.  We had an aged sirloin, beef cheek accompanied with snails in bone marrow, and a sole with squid ink and risotto.

The steak was not your regular slab of meat.  The tender beef had been cut into strips, and each strip was placed alongside baby spring onions.

Aged Sirloin

Beef cheek was quite good, but normal.  The mashed potatoes and snails in bone marrow that went with it were very fulfilling.

Snails in Bone Marrow, Mashed Potatoes

My favorite main course was the sole with squid ink and risotto.  A lot of people, when coming to restaurants such as this, would ignore the choices of fish.  This one is really quite special and worth trying.  The sole had the right lightness to it, and the risotto wasn’t too heavy.  They certainly went well together; the squid ink and spring vegetables atop a spoon of sole and risotto was delectable.

Sole on Squid Ink Risotto

And the last course of our meal: the dessert!  I say this with such exclamation because the dessert served at Table No 1 is something to be exclaimed about!  As if the earlier part of the meal hadn’t been good enough, the desserts came in, dishes of unique flavor – delicacies that should be savored every bite of the way.  We had even thought about not eating dessert.  Dinner had been entirely satisfying and filling.  But then we knew the experience wouldn’t be the same without desserts, so we decided, this time, to order only two: a warm chocolate cake with blood orange tea and white chocolate and a lime and pinenut parfait (with coconut meringue).

The warm chocolate cake spilled with melted chocolate (as it should have).  But what made this dish interesting was the blood orange tea that surrounded the cake.  It was like a warm orange juice infused with herbs and served in a glass teapot.  Often warm chocolate cake is eaten with ice cream, but the blood orange tea served the purpose of ice cream and more.

Hot Chocolate Cake with White Chocolate and Blood Orange Tea

The other dessert, the lime and pinenut parfait had a very cooling feel.  The pinenuts gave it a bit of a crunchy texture, while the coconut meringue and the parfait itself was smooth and a little bit cold (in a good way).  This dish was inspiring and one of my favorites.

Lime and Pinenut Parfait, with Coconut Meringue

Jason Atherton’s (and Scott Melvin’s, the Head Chef) dishes are interesting and just plain yummy all in one.  Sometimes restaurants that try to “modernize” their dishes lose sense of what simply tastes good, a factor that is clearly of paramount importance.  My experience, with my family, at Table No 1 is entirely a positive one; Table No 1 is definitely a restaurant we will come back to (hopefully soon) in the future.