June 7, 2024

A night of Champagnes and Burgundies

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We haven't seen our friends from Down Under for 6 years, thanks to their 2019 plans being cancelled on account of social unrest followed by 3 years of Covid border closures. Now that borders have been open since late 2022, we are glad to welcome them back on the last leg of their trip before they return home. I rounded up the Candidate and the Film Buff for our first dinner together tonight, as the Aussies definitely had some things they could bond over.

I was surprised when the gang voted in favor of Xinrongji (新榮記) over another crowd favorite, and even more surprised when, booking our table just 5 weeks ahead of tonight, I was told that YES, one of the restaurant's very limited number of Peking ducks was still available for pre-booking. I didn't hesitate for even half a second.

I picked out a few other dishes to pre-order, but when we arrived at the restaurant, the manager informed me that we were still some distance away from the minimum charge required, especially since the Candidate was being counted for this purpose despite her very late arrival and the fact that she was not expected to partake in any food. So I added a few other dishes on the spot, but was told it was still not enough. The manager was obviously trying to get me to order the high-value items to get us to spend more, but unfortunately I just wasn't interested in those items.

We always start with some fruit as well as some confectionery:

I didn't bother asking where the melon came from, but it was pretty crunchy just like ones from Hami (哈密) or elsewhere in Xinjiang.

Walnut cookies are always nice here.

We also had a trio of snacks, which included rehydrated dried celtuce (貢菜), peanuts, and marinated dried fish. These came in handy as we waited for a late arrival.

Marinated spicy cauliflower stem (泡椒花菜) - this came with a few slices of cut chilis for a little color to break the otherwise monochrome palette. Pickled in vinegar, they also came with a little touch of heat. But the version at Yongfu (甬府) is a class above, both in terms of flavors and in presentation.

Steamed sunflower chicken (白切葵花雞) - yes, I know we already have a Peking duck coming our way, but I couldn't pass up the chance to order Foursheets' current favorite chicken. It was very flavorful, more than your average restaurant chicken. Everyone was happy.

Crispy Cutlassfish (黃金帶魚) - fried cutlassfish has been one of my favorites since childhood, and I was happy to have it again tonight. I warned our visitors about the tiny bones on the edges where the fins were, but once those have been removed, I relished chomping down on the flesh which had turned golden brown and crispy on the outside.

Peking duck (北京烤鴨) - ours was the third duck served in the main dining room in the evening. As I have said time and again, I don't usually order Peking duck while dining at Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong, as there are other - and better - options. But I have heard so much about the Peking duck served here - at a restaurant serving Zhejiang cuisine - that I felt the need to check it out for myself.

OK... so the crispy skin - which we were advised to taste on its own with just a dab of sugar and without the pancake or anything else - was pretty nice. The chef had scraped away some of the fat underneath, but I would have happily lapped it up. Overall, this was pretty nice.

Stir-fried duck rack in salt and pepper (椒鹽鴨架) - once the meat and crispy skin had been sliced off, the carcass was sent back to the kitchen for a second serving. This was pretty damn good!

Braised sliced bamboo shoots, home-style (家燒筍衣) - this is a dish I love to order. The bamboo sheath had been marinated, and came with some salted pork belly (家鄉肉) which adds a certain amount of 'ooomph' to the dish. Love vegetable dishes that aren't vegetarian...

Boiled baby octopus pickled Chinese cabbage (酸菜煮望潮) - the webfoot octopus (望潮) from the East China Sea is something I love to order here, as it comes in a cloudy, vinegar-based soup with white pepper and some pickled mustard greens (酸菜). The octopus is always nice and springy. I also enjoy watching the ink from the octopus leak into the soup and see the color slowly change.

Wok-fried beef with termite mushrooms (雞㙡菌炒雪花牛肉) - this was a dish that the manager pushed me to order, which also happened to be the most pricy. I was reluctant to order beef here, as I don't find sliced beef interesting at most Chinese restaurants. But I really wanted to have some termite mushrooms (雞㙡菌) from Yunnan Province (雲南省), and after dismissing all other options mentioned by the manager, I gave in and agreed to get this.

This turned out to be very popular with our guests, since the marbled beef was very tender. As for me... I was happy to have tasted the shrooms. The crunch green chili peppers were pretty interesting, as some were completely harmless while other pieces really packed a punch with that heat.

Braised razor clams with Guangdong zucchini (浦瓜燒蟶子) - rather than getting them cooked on a sizzling teppan as the manager suggested, I thought this proposal from the menu was pretty nice. They tasted pretty good in soup form with calabash, chives, bamboo shoots that were really crunchy, and dried shrimp shells. Another big hit with our visitors.

Braised pomfert in home style with rice cakes (家燒鯧魚配年糕) - another classic I try to order whenever I can. Since they source the fishies in smaller sizes, we had to take on two of them.

I was lucky to get the head and the tail, and I gotta say... the flesh on this pomfret was just so, sooo soft and silky. Just like buttah... which, given pomfrets are butterfish, is perfect. That big ass piece of dense rice cake, though, proved to be too much tonight.

Braised tofu with preserved pork and black fungus in chicken soup (刀板香藏木耳鹽滷豆腐) - this is one of my favorite tofu dishes in town, and it's been too long since I last tasted it. I love how the pieces of tofu are just so jiggly and packed full of soy bean flavor, with strong, smoky notes that just isn't found in the vast majority of other tofu. We've also got tiny little Tibetan black wood ear fungus (藏木耳), slices of button mushrooms and, most importantly, strips of salted pork known as daobanxiang (刀板香). So, soooo good.

Braised sea anemone with sweet potato noodles (沙蒜燒豆麵) - this is such a unique dish that I just had to order it for our friends from Down Under. I did tell them that we were eating "Nemo's home"...

This was VERY tasty. The sweet potato glass noodle did a good job soaking up the rich and tasty sauce, and the little anemones were nice and crunchy. Our guests found this very interesting.

We were pressed to order our final dishes before the kitchen knocked off at 10 p.m., and they were pretty firm on this.

Traditional "Linhai" pancake with egg and minced pork (雞蛋麥餅) - this piqued the interest of our guests so I ordered it. Not that interesting in my book.

“Huangqiao" sesame seed and ham cake (黃橋燒餅) - it's really difficult for me to pass up a chance to order these, as they are among my favorite dim sum items anywhere. I love the flavors of the diced ham along with spring onions, the taste of lard in the filling, and the fragrance left behind by the sesame seeds. A fine way to finish our long meal.

Our visitors had given us a heads up about the 2 bottles of Selosse Champagne they would be bringing tonight, so I fished out another bottle to match. Both the Film Buff and the Candidate were delighted to find that their tastes in wine aligned well with our guests.

Jacques Selosse Les Chantereines, dégorgée 26 Janvier 2017 - drank some 45 minutes after opening. Nose was nice and caramelized with some vanilla notes along with some marmalade. Really lovely, and almost getting some savory notes on the nose. About an hour after opening the nose was really fragrant, with sweet notes of sugar cane. Later on there were also notes of aged tangerine peel, with a little smoky and savory notes.

Jacques Selosse Chemin de Châlons, dégorgée 1 Fevrier 2017 - drank some 45 minutes after opening. The nose was also caramelized with a little more sugar cane. On the palate there was a little bit of savory mineral notes. Initially this was more simple compared to the Les Chantereines, but with more aeration this got much better, showing more body and more complexity. Still very savory. Some 2 hours after opening this became really nice, and was lighter, more easy going compared to Les Chantereines, but definitely not a simpler wine.

Jacques Selosse Le Bout du Clos, dégorgée 13 Avril 2012 - drank about 2½ hours after opening. Nice with savory minerals on the nose, with sugar cane showing much, much later. There was really good depth on the palate here with a long finish, and the 5 extra years of aging compared to the other two really shows. There was a good amount of acidity on the palate, too.

2008 Lucien Le Moine Clos Saint Denis - drank about 45 minutes after opening without decanting. The nose was pretty fragrant, and the wine was fairly elegant. Showing a little meaty nose and nice notes of leather. About 1½ hour after opening we also got some lovely black cherries on the nose.

2011 Georges Roumier Moret-Saint-Denis 1er Cru Clos de la Bussière - drank about 1 hour after opening. Very nice and toasty on the nose, and later showed more animal and leather notes. This was really very nice and very silky smooth.

2014 Georges Roumier Moret-Saint-Denis 1er Cru Clos de la Bussière - drank about 2 hours after opening. This was very clean and seemed relatively subdued compared to the 2011. Around 3 hours after opening, this opened up well to show some really lovely fruit.

2013 Benjamin Leroux Bâtard-Montrachet - the nose was really ripe and oxidized, with a little flint as well as some stone fruit.

Our friends really enjoyed their meal, and in fact, all of us did. All the dishes were well done, and I'm happy to have come back tonight. However, the restaurant closes at 11 p.m. and they pretty much kicked us out on the dot... Not such a nice feeling, but then again, we were no big-spending VIPs.

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