Yong Fu, Shanghai
This restaurant is located inside JinJiang Hotel, a hotel with almost 100 years of history. Walking into the entrance and the lobby, you immediately notice the décor is a bit dated; my first impression was that it must’ve been a luxurious and exclusive place in the past, but that its glory days were probably long gone. However, we were there just for the restaurant, Yong Fu (home of Yong family), and not to stay in the hotel.
This was actually our second dinner of the evening. We had too few days to fit into our eating plan, so once in a while, we needed to do a double dinner. The reason I was very keen to visit Yong Fu is because I have never tried the cuisine of Ningpo, a city south of Shanghai. Since it is considered the best Ningpo restaurant in the region, I had to make a stop there, even if it was just to sample a few courses.
The hotel seemed to be very vacant, we didn’t see anyone when passing through the lobby except the reception employees who pointed us to the elevator which would take us up to the restaurant. Once the door opened, we saw that the room had a traditional Chinese style with dark lacquer tables and a calligraphy of Yong Fu hanging above them. As we walked into the dining area, noting the bookshelves, the fine porcelain, the clay teapot, and brush painting scrolls on the wall, it felt like we were visiting someone’s home. The menu was big in size, filled from page to page with gorgeous photos of Ningpo’s classic dishes. Even though it was our second meal of the evening, we couldn’t leave without trying a number of their signature dishes. To start off: Short Razor Clams sourced from Chang Jie. It might sound like a boring choice but these are the most tender razor clams I have ever had. I haven’t experienced such a pure flavour from clams elsewhere. The soy dipping sauce wasn’t needed at all. It was so extraordinary that I immediately included this restaurant on my “must revisit” list.
Next was the Secret Recipe Iced Crayfish. Despite being a simple marinated crayfish dish, the size and the freshness made it one of the most memorable dishes of the trip. They handpick everyday from their own supplies and won’t accept anything less than 50 gram for the dish. Again, the purity of the flavour is something that you can only experience very rarely in other restaurants. Also, the Shao Xing Yellow Wine marinade consisted of 10+ other ingredients, soaked for 6-7 hours. Last but not least, the presentation was unusual but fun, arranged to appear as if there were lots of crayfish crawling up an ice mountain. World class dish!
Another signature dish was “Ningbo 18-cut” which is a classic of the region: a raw Suo Zi crab marinated in yellow wine. I am usually not a fan of raw crab since the texture is often too sticky and it is not the safest food to be eaten raw, but in this case the purity in flavour is worth the risk. I thoroughly loved the balance in flavour of the crab with the wine. They chopped the crab the classic way into 18 pieces (hence its name), so that it was very eater-friendly instead of what could have been a horrendous chore of picking out the meat from the shell.
Of course, there were several other dishes that were not-to-be-missed. A “sheep tail” bamboo shoot– a light and appetising starter with intermingling soft and crunchy textures. The Braised Beef– tender cubes of beef with such a perfect balance of vinegar and sweetness that I had to order another bowl of rice to soak up all the sauce even though this was my second dinner. For dessert, you have got to go with the Black sesame rice ball, something that I would have never ordered myself because I just don’t typically like these sticky, doughy, chewy balls. But my god, after my first bite, I had a moment of enlightenment to their potential. The delicate skin was soft and gummy without being chewy or sticky at all. Completely different to all the other rice balls I have ever had. It was then followed by a runny black sesame paste oozing out and the whole thing just melted away. All in all an incredible finish to a flawless meal of exceptional ingredients, delicious flavour, and perfect execution in cooking!