Sunday, January 22, 2017

Neighborhood Shanghainese

Thought we would use the occasion of an early Chinese new year family reunion dinner to check out a new restaurant right in our hood. Jardin de Jade (蘇浙匯)at Cityplaza is the second branch of this nationwide chain of Shanghainese restaurant in Hong Kong, in addition to other one in Wanchai which got a Michelin star a few years back and has been keeping that rating since.

The restaurant took up one corner in the mall which used to house the food court, and has now turned into an enclave with several other casual yet upscale restaurants. There’s nothing special about the décor, just typical of any modern Chinese restaurants, with the dark dining area with a combination of round and long tables and private rooms further at the back. And despite the place barely one-month old, it's already getting popular with 80% of the tables filled when we arrived and more continued to come in even after normal dinner hours.

The a la carte menu has a wide range of classic Shanghainese dishes from simple snacks to seafood to meat and dimsums and dessert, plus some creative dishes or delicacies like abalone or sea cucumber. We began with a trio of cold appetizers. While the tea-smoked eggs with caviar (招牌茶薰蛋)were not quite in the same level as ones served at Shanghai Fraternal Association (which we considered to be the best in town), it was decent with strong tea flavor.

Having brought in a bottle of Barolo, I picked a few rich dishes to pair with. The meat in the braised pork belly casserole (紅燒肉配百頁)was firmer than I expected, but it tasted great with the "bai ye" tofu skin presented in knots inside the clay casserole pot taking up some of the soy braising sauce. "Nian Gao" (年糕), or New Year sticky rice cake, was often eaten as one of those auspicious dishes during Chinese New Year symbolizing growth. The Shanghainese version is a savory one often stir-fried with cabbage and meat (and eaten all year long), and the one we had has just the right bite to it.

The tofu casserole was the only vegetarian dish we ordered. Somewhat similar in taste as the "nian gao" dish, but then it's typical of the "Benbang" school of Shanghainese cooking style, which literally meant indigenous or original.

Normally one would start with the lighter dishes then move on to the richer one, but somehow our sautéed river shrimps with longjing tea leaves (龍井河蝦仁) arrived last, long after we finished the other dishes. (took it as one of the teething issues, in addition to some of the dishes went missing at the end) Those little shrimps tasted great on their own with a slight hint of tea fragrance, but greatly enhanced by the drops of black vinegar drizzled on top, drawing in some sweetness and a mild tangy taste.

We went for another auspicious dish to end our dinner with. Babaofan, or the Eight Treasures Rice (油煎八寶飯), is a traditional Shanghainese dessert, made with sticky rice, sweet bean paste and scores of other ingredients (hence the name) It was steamed than pan-fried to give that crispy surface. It's not as filling as I thought judging by its appearance, and the portion was just right for the four of us.

With many new restaurants opening up nearby, I think this is the one that stood out, and this is the right kind of restaurant that we need in this area.

When? January 19 2017
Where? Jardin de Jade 蘇浙匯, Shop 312, Cityplaza, Taikoo Shing, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Sauteed River Shrimps with Longjing Tea Leaves
Drink? 2007 Renato Ratti Barolo "Marcenasco"

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