Try the tempting 'Black Pearls' of Hangzhou cuisine
In China if you want to know whether a new restaurant is worth a visit, most people will check on Dianping.com, probably the most widely used restaurant review website in the country.
Recently, its parent company, Meituan-Dianping, released the first edition of its “Black Pearl Restaurant Guide.”
Considered by some as the Chinese version of the Michelin Guide, the publication awarded 471 diamonds to 330 restaurants in 22 cities in China and also in Tokyo, Bangkok, Singapore, New York and Paris.
Those that you must visit “at least once in your lifetime” receive three diamonds. “Must visit for anniversaries” receive two diamonds and “must visit for gatherings” receive one diamond.
Fifteen Hangzhou restaurants have made the latest list: two three diamonds, five two diamonds and eight one diamond.
“All our reviewers are Chinese,” said Yin Rui, project owner of Black Pearl. “We like to promote standards based on our own culinary culture.”
The reviewers are master chefs, inheritors of a certain cuisine, renowned gastronomes, food critics and also high-end users from Dianping.com.
They visited restaurants anonymously, rating venues on food, atmosphere and the balance of tradition and innovation for the cuisine.
“Every restaurant is visited by at least three people and we make sure that the reviewers are not related to the restaurant in any aspect,” added Yin.
Only five of the 15 are unique to the city — eight are in hotels and two are chain restaurants.
The estimated average spend per head in these venues is 537 yuan (US$85).
“Last year, we released a must-visit ranking, which was based purely on data generated from our users,” said Yin.
“But the ‘Black Pearl’ is from a select group of people.”
She stressed the list is not aimed at exclusive venues, rather it is to “set a standard for what is a good restaurant.”
Shanghai Daily recently checked out some of those that made the list, from five-star hotels to streetside legends.
Jin Sha at Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake
杭州西子湖四季酒店金沙厅 ★ ★ ★
Hidden on quiet Lingyin Road near the Yanggong Causeway, Jin Sha offers a private and pleasant environment that few other places in the city can compare with.
Designed by the Japanese design studio Spin, the interior fuses a touch of elegant Zen-style Chinese garden and pavilion-style residential halls in the hotel.
Jin Sha has long been praised for its innovative Zhejiang and Jiangsu cuisine. Signature dishes include hazelnut goose liver pâté with spring onion pancakes, boiled sea whelks in rice wine sauce and Shanghai-style braised pork with abalone in sweet soy sauce.
“All the chefs are looking for the best ingredients,” said Wang Yong, executive Chinese chef at the hotel.
“But I think ideas and how you present them also matter a lot.”
Wang told Shanghai Daily that he spent a lot of time trying out food from other restaurants here in China and abroad.
“That has always given me inspiration for new combinations and pairings — nice food goes beyond the borders,” Wang said.
Apart from a regular menu, Jin Sha offers nine other seasonal menus to go with the availability of local food. Reservations are recommended.
Address: 5 Lingyin Rd
Tel: (0571) 8829-8888
Madam Zhu’s Kitchen
In 2008, Zhu Rong, known as Madam Zhu, founded her first restaurant outlet in the Pudong New Area in Shanghai. Now she owns several restaurant brands under the name “Hanshe,” specializing in gathering the best of different Chinese styles.
Her new establishment “Hao Noodle and Tea” opened in New York in 2016, receiving good reviewers from critics at New York Magazine and The New York Times.
The Hangzhou restaurant was opened in 2011 and has always been one of the busiest among all their outlets nationwide.
“The restaurant is located in a two-story Chinese traditional building by the Grand Canal, with exquisite views typical in the Jiangnan region (south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River),” said Ding Ying, marketing director at Hanshe.
The most popular dish at Madam Zhu’s Kitchen is Peking duck. As some restaurants have turned to modern facilities to roast the duck, Madam Zhu’s keeps the traditional way of using wood chunks from jujube trees. The duck therefore bears a special kind of aroma. Afterwards, you can ask for the duck bones to be stir-fired with spiced salt or served as a soup with vegetables.
Address: 100 Lishui Rd
Tel: (0571) 8802-1288; 8802-9288
It may be surprised for some to see Deming on this list. Most of the restaurants featured are up-scale and expensive. Deming represents the other end — no fancy furnishing, no menu. Just home-style cooking at an affordable price.
Owner Zhu Deming used to work as a chef at a local factory canteen. The restaurant was established as a family business, with Zhu as the chef and boss and his wife as cashier and in charge of serving the food.
Now they employ more than 20 people in their 170-square-meter venue in a residential community.
It is known for its braised dishes, such as pork intestines and duck.
The intestines are cleaned inside out to get rid of any smell. They are fried in a pan before being stewed with cooking wine, light soy sauce, sugar and spices.
Although the braised food is usually served cold, it is much tastier when hot.
Aquatic food is another safe choice if you are not so sure what to order. Zhu spent 10 years wholesaling food from the Qiantang River, so he knows exactly where to find the best.
Address: West side of Bldg 3, Bagua Xincun, Fenghuangshan Rd
Tel: (0571) 8608-0573