24 Hours in Hangzhou
Thanks to a high-speed train that transports visitors to Hangzhou from Shanghai under 50 minutes, the beautiful and historic city of Hangzhou has become an even more of a popular tourist destination than ever. Recently, we unveiled our fine dining guide to Shanghai, therefore it only makes sense that we would also do a mini one for Hangzhou, considering that it is such a common side trip nowadays.
While Hangzhou is less than 200 kilometres southwest of Shanghai, the cuisine offered is distinctly different. Thanks to both West Lake and Qiantang river, freshwater fish and prawns feature prominently in Hangzhou cuisine. The flavours are in general lighter and fresher than Shanghainese cuisine, and tend to let the natural flavours of the ingredients shine. And so, without further ado, our 24-hour guide to fine dining in Hangzhou.
8pm: While Hangzhou cuisine remains quite traditional on the whole, especially at popular tourist haunts such as the 150-year old Lou Wai Lou or the popular chain Wai Po Jia (usually translated as Grandma’s Home), there are also some restaurants that are modernising, incorporating European ingredients or techniques while still retaining the flavours of Hangzhou cuisine. One of these restaurants is Yee Chino, a whimsically decorated restaurant with red armchairs, exuberant floor tiles and idiosyncratic knick-knacks. Featuring a hefty menu that includes everything from salmon sashimi to foie gras in truffle sauce, it can be difficult to know where to start. One of our favourite starters was the crab in yellow wine (pictured), a cold crab that had been marinated in wine, but not cooked, giving the flesh a sashimi-like texture. The wine has sweetened the flesh of the crab, which is tempered by the copious amount of briny red roe. Another dish we thoroughly enjoyed was a deep-fried pork: in a town awash with dongbo pork (a braised pork belly), this was another unexpected yet tasty surprise.
1 Lu Yang Lu, Hangzhou. (Opposite the Ferrari showroom). Tel: +86-571-8707-0777.
1pm: One of the newest and most beautiful resorts in Hangzhou is the Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake, which has the enviable location of being right on West Lake. Jin Sha is the signature restaurant at the hotel, serving Cantonese, Hangzhou and Shanghainese cuisine. As private dining and entertaining is common in China, Jin Sha provides eleven exquisite private rooms, each with its own pavilion and outdoor balcony that overlooks the tree-lined lake.
Using the best seasonal ingredients such as spring bamboo shoots in the earlier part of the year, Jin Sha expertly recreates some of Hangzhou’s most well-known dishes. One of our favourites was Song Sister’s Fish Soup: a dish that dates back to the 1100’s and was first tasted by the emperor Zhao Gou. Usually made with Mandarin fish and reddish in colour thanks to a hint of red vinegar, Jin Sha reinvents the soup here by using cod fish and making the soup lighter in both colour and flavour thanks to its omission of the vinegar. The famous beggar’s chicken is of course worth a try, as it is both moist and flavourful, with a touch of decadence thanks to it being stuffed with a whole root of ginseng.
Four Seasons, 5 Lingyin Lu, Hangzhou. Tel: +86-571-8829-8888.
8pm: If you’ve had enough of Chinese food and the repertoire of traditional Hangzhou dishes, then La Pedrera may be the place for you. Hangzhou’s first Spanish restaurant that boasts a chef from Barcelona, this three-story restaurant on trendy Shuguang Lu is a cute find. Offering both traditional tapas such as croquettas and Iberian hams, the menu also includes more modern takes on the classics. Take for example the gazpacho, which comes with thyme ice cream and water tomato ravioli. While not all the dishes were uniformly successful, we had to admire the creativity and enthusiasm of the chef. Dishes to order include the fried chistorra, a bright red sausage made from pork and beef that orginates from the Basque region, and a perfect snack to nibble on while sipping the strong sangria. Other interesting dishes include a dish of mushroom carpaccio with a ball of cold foie gras, garnished with a pipette of rose petal oil and vanilla salt; and an exuberantly garnished mackerel on toast.
4 Baishanquan, Shuguang Lu. Tel: +86-571-8886-6089.