November 3, 2023

Country bumpkin goes north: surprise by the Bay

Pin It

The pandemic years have seen the borders between Hong Kong and the rest of China pretty much closed, requiring an amount of time in quarantine on both sides which borders on stupid. We have therefore not set foot in China since late 2019. In fact, I haven't been to Shenzhen for more than a decade. Having heard many stories of how the city has experienced rapid development, along with tales of delicious food at prices far below what we pay in Hong Kong, we began planning for an eating trip up north.

The first trip got derailed by me finally getting Covid. A rescheduled visit was subsequently cancelled when the restaurant I was due to visit lost its chef. Finally, I used the pretext of visiting a friend to get us across the border.

During the years when I did cross into Shenzhen with some frequency, it was almost always by taking the train up to Lo Wu (羅湖) then walking across that bridge. Futian District (福田區) was far away from any golf course I was hitting or shopping and massage places my friends wanted to visit. But this is where the new station is for the high speed rail, so we decided to limit our activities to this area.

The ride on the high speed rail was quick and efficient. A mere 14 minutes elapsed between the time we started moving to the train coming to a rest at our destination. Definitely not long enough to justify me paying for first class, but I know how Foursheets hates the crowd when she rides the train to Lo Wu. Today there were just 3 of us in first class...

We had a little trouble finding our way inside the massive Futian Station (福田站), but we finally managed to get above ground right next to Futian Shangri-La - my chosen hotel for this trip. For first-timers like us it just made sense to be in the center of everything.

We had heard many stories about how people from Hong Kong now go north to do their grocery shopping - much like Singaporeans cross into JB - so Foursheets decided she wanted to hit a local supermarket. Olé has an outlet just 3 blocks away from our hotel, so we strolled over to check it out. Must say their selection is pretty impressive and they definitely cater to customers who want the nice stuff. Pricing ain't exactly cheap, but if you ever wanted a leg of jamón from Cinco Jotas or some organic local produce, this is the place. Foursheets did notice, though, that the tourists from Hong Kong only looked around and took advantage of tasting offers - they weren't buying anything this premium.

After freshening up back at our hotel, we set off to meet our friends for dinner. They have been stationed in Shenzhen for a few years now and don't get many visitors from across the border, so I think they were pretty happy to see us. Of course, it's another excuse to pop open a couple of nice bottles of wine!

The Mandarin Oriental Shenzhen is less than 2 years old, and looks absolutely grand and stunning. The Bay by Chef Fei (东湾 - 由辉师傅主理) is not in the main structure and has a long name, but the dining room is classy and elegant. I had not heard of either the restaurant or its chef before (it turns out that the other restaurant that bears his name has 2 Michelin stars in Guangzhou), but I happily went along my friend's suggestion. And boy! Am I happy that I let him pick the restaurant!

The restaurant had proposed a selection of dishes for the four of us, and initially I told my friend that I was happy to go along with anything, but... I guess I just couldn't resist changing things up a bit. In particular I wanted to try a couple of Chiuchow dishes and see how a fine dining restaurant in a luxe five-star hotel would interpret them.

Our welcome drink had jasmine tea as a base, with a very lovely fragrance.

Marinated radishes, vinegar, soy sauce (椒麻樱桃萝卜) - right off the bat, we were very impressed. The pickled cherry radish came with a nice balance between acidity and sweetness, accented by Sichuan peppercorn oil giving it that unique fragrance.

Chaozhou style cold fish, Puning bean sauce (潮式冻午笋鱼饭) - this was totally not what I expected at all! With traditional Chiuchow-style cold fish (魚飯), the fish is de-boned, split open into two halves and served whole. That's not what we got at all.

Instead we have small chunks of tender and fatty fourfinger threadfin (馬友) topped with a little bit of fermented soy bean sauce from Puning, as well as a few eggs of caviar. This was so, soooooo good. Possibly the best Chiuchow cold fish I've ever had.

Poached chicken, ginger dip (贵妃白切葵花鸡) - Foursheets has given up on eating chicken in Hong Kong, but I knew I had to introduce her to the famed “sunflower chicken (葵花雞)". I'd never had it before myself, but so many of my foodie friends have raved about it that I felt we must try it. Gotta say Foursheets was very, very happy with this chicken. She liked the flavors of this chicken that has been raised on a feed that includes sunflowers (petals and seeds, among other parts), and the fact that they are free-range meant the meat had a firmer consistency.

Crispy roasted pork belly (冰烧三层肉) - the crackling was thick and very crunchy. What else can one ask for?!

Double boiled duck, Chinese wampee sauce (山黄皮炖红树林水鸭汤) - I chose this particular soup instead of the more luxe option the chef suggested, not because I wanted to cheap out but because I genuinely thought the flavors would be more interesting. And I was absolutely right. I love me a duck soup with clear broth, but this one had the added bonus of being boiled with wampee (黃皮) to give that distinctive citrus flavor. So happy I picked this

Crispy roasted pigeon (玻璃脆皮乳鸽) - this was proposed by the chef, and I see no reason to turn down a roast pigeon!

The skin was very nicely spiced, and so thin and crispy. The meat had lovely, gamey flavor. Not as milky as my favorite Chinese roast pigeon, but nevertheless this was very juicy and the jus runs off the pigeon as one bites into it. The meat was slightly more dry but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Very, very nice.

Steamed minced pork, crab, rose oil vinegar sauce (玫瑰油醋汁和乐蟹蒸手打肉饼) - if one just reads the description of the dish, one could be forgiven for getting confused as to what this is all about

The end result, though, was something that worked pretty nicely together... especially with the vinegar which had acidity and good flavors, but also balanced by some sweetness.

Stir-fried lily bulb (清炒鲜百合) - always happy to have sweet and crunchy lily bulbs stir-fried simply.

As we had two bottles of big reds, we felt that we could add an extra meat dish, so I picked something extra out from the menu.

Pan-fried Australian rib-eye, crispy garlic, chili pepper sauce (椒麻煎烹澳洲肉眼皇) - the presentation looked very pretty with all those shredded and fried chili peppers on top.

The ribeye was tender as expected, thanks to the fat. The chili delivered enough heat to be interesting without blowing one's head off. Pretty good.

Boneless crucian carp congee (挑战刀工极限无骨鲫鱼粥) - this was a really nice congee with a very milky fish broth base, but I found the fish a little on the muddy side - which, honestly, was not a total surprise.

The kitchen had knocked off at 10 p.m. so we could not order any dessert. We got a small serving of fruit instead.

Any meeting with this particular friend is bound to involve some bottles of Sine Qua Non, and tonight was no exception:

2002 Duval-Leroy Femme de Champagne, dégorgée 18 Novembre 2020 - this was really nice, ripe with marmalade notes. Drinking after the chilled fish brings out the fatty flavors from the fish. Perfect.

2013 Keller Westhofen Kirchspiel Riesling trocken - served about 30 minutes after opening. Lots of petrol on the nose, with a bit of honey. Much more ripe than expected, and lacking the acidity one is looking for from a großes gëwachs wine.

2007 Sine Qua Non Pictures Grenache - served 1 hour after decanting. Pretty fragrant nose, nice and ripe fruits here with lots of oak. Fragrant and woodsy notes. Drinking pretty well.

2008 Sine Qua Non The Line - decanted 1 hour after opening and served after 2 hours in the decanter. This was more open and a little more flamboyant compared to Pictures, with sweet and ripe fruit of course, almost like blueberry jam.

Tonight's dinner was certainly beyond our expectations, as I honestly had none. I was so happy we made the trip here, and I really do want to come back and try more of the chef's dishes... or venture further to Chef Fei (黄景辉)'s restaurant in Guangzhou.

My friend felt that we hadn't had enough alcohol tonight and needed a nightcap, and he very kindly suggested we go to Ensue Bar as it's at our hotel.

KwaiFeh Punch - I love girlie drinks and I love lychee, so this was totally up my alley.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails

TripAdvisor Travel Map