Fine china plates
Cynthia Rosenfeld gets the lowdown from Australian expat chefs on their favourite places to eat, from Beijing to Shanghai
HE ancient Chinese greeting Chi fan le mei you ?’’, still commonly used, translates literally as: Have you eaten rice?’’ Chinese urbanites enjoy a 21st-century diet far more diverse and delicious than the staple grain, thanks in part to a small band of talented Australian chefs heating up kitchens from Shanghai to Beijing. But when not making a name for themselves in global culinary circles, where do the likes of David Laris and Michelle Garnaut go to eat? Here, five high-profile expat Aussie chefs divulge their China dining secrets.
Sydney-trained David Laris ran Terence Conran’s popular Mezzo restaurant in London before heading east to open an eponymous restaurant on Shanghai’s historic Bund. Considered the city’s most elegant eatery, Laris is feted for its signature dishes such as foie gras terrine with porcini mushrooms, and beef tenderloin with pancetta.
Although he has developed five Beijing eateries for the newly opened The Opposite House hotel — including the contemporary Asian Bei and Medinspired Serrano, with its much talked about wood-fired pizzas — the Australian-Greek chef still makes time for the Hunan cuisine at Shanghai’s Guyi. Laris calls this
one of the finest regional cuisines that exists in China’’.
Though less well-known than Sichuan cuisine, it shares some fiery characteristics, including pepper, coriander, cumin and dried chillies. He recommends trying Guyi’s cumin-crusted ribs and suan ni bai rou, fatty pork served in soy sauce with blanched garlic, for their more balanced sense of spice’’.
It is not for the faint hearted,’’ he warns. does taste so good.’’
Laris by no means limits himself to China’s indigenous dishes. A new favourite he describes as
rocking, despite its location in a downtown business complex’’ is Maya, a homely Mexican eatery that
captures the essence of fine Mexican cooking’’. Favourite dishes include lime beef and cilantro chicken tacos and praiseworthy fusion chilli relleno with pomegranate and goat’s cheese.
Laris also raves about the amazing fresh tuna’’ at Tenya, where the small focused menu is all about the tuna, from ground tuna belly to grilled tuna head served with fresh lemon and ground daikon. One simply must try the meat that comes from the head, which partially steams in the cavities that the grill cannot touch. It’s proof that the simple things in life are often the best.’’
After getting his start in Teague Ezard’s Melbourne kitchen, Dane Clouston hopped to Hong Kong, where he opened Opia to regional acclaim. While he prepares for Jing An, his soon-to-open restaurant at The PuLi Hotel in Shanghai, Clouston, too, heads to Guyi, which he calls my first good food experience in Shanghai. I highly recommend the pickled radish and carrot with dry shrimp, while the rice steamed in clay pots gives rice an entirely new dimension.’’ Clouston has recently discovered Jia Jia Tang Bao, which opens its simple wooden doors at 6am to serve until the dumplings run out, usually in the afternoon’’.
Clouston downs Jia Jia Tang Bao’s signature xiao long bao made with crab roe and pork stuffed inside a silky dumpling skin and served in a rich soup with black vinegar and ginger. He says you can spot the first timers
transfixed by the ladies expertly wrapping each dumpling to order behind the glass partition . . . authentic Chinese edible entertainment’’.
When he craves Western fare, Clouston heads to Franck in the French Concession area of Shanghai; it’s tucked down Ferguson Lane, as the happening enclave is generally known. I go there for the generous portions of jamon iberico de bellota and the relaxed bistro atmosphere with simple chalkboard menus in English that are the perfect antidote to deciphering Chinese characters all day long. Plus the pate de campagne is especially satisfying.’’
Clouston’s friend Steve Baker, executive chef at Shanghai’s Mesa restaurant, hails from Adelaide but has been cooking overseas for 15 years, from Bermuda to Indonesia. Baker prefers his Chinese with some fusion thrown into the mix, as the dishes are done at Lost Heaven, set inside a lovingly restored 1920s-style European villa in the French Concession.
This was Baker’s first exposure to the ethnic foods of China and neighbouring Burma’s Dai, Bai and Miao minority groups. He says dishes such as flash-fried Mandalay fishcake and the Dai chicken with green onions and a generous dash of garlic are almost as good as travelling to China’s frontier, thanks to such intense but nuanced flavours’’.
Clouston has also been squiring recent arrival Mark Beckwith around town. The new chef de cuisine at M1NT has only lived in Shanghai a few months but already makes a point of following fellow Aussies to Guyi, where his instant favourites are the bullfrog hotpot and the stinky tofu with chilli, which he insists tastes better than it sounds. The prices are cheap, which travellers will appreciate, and the food is like nothing back home.’’
Beckwith has also made his way to Mesa, Steve Baker’s place, because, though I’m really loving the local cuisine, sometimes I crave the taste of home, such as Baker’s grilled veal chop with mustard crushed potatoes and artichoke in a mandarin port wine glaze, and the roast lamb rump with garlic creamed mash’’.
Melbourne-born Michelle Garnaut planned to open Capital Mrestaurant in Beijing in time for the Olympics but the Aussie chef still awaits its debut inside a 19th-
A touch of class: Diners at long-time Beijing favourite Made in China at the Grand Hyatt can watch the action in the adjacent kitchen
Shanghai surprise: Fine Mexican food is served at cosy Maya restaurant
David Laris century mansion near Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
Garnaut is no stranger to the obstacles of opening in China, having successfully established M on the Fringe in Hong Kong and Shanghai’s Mon the Bund since she left home more than 20 years ago. She has made good use of the Beijing delays, dining at Xiao Wang’s Family Restaurant. The decor, she says with a smile, is
terribly tacky’’ but she adds that the staff are friendly and patient and there’s always something for everyone: children, Muslims, Hindus and Jews, the lactose intolerant, gluten intolerant and nut intolerant, vegetarians . . . even vegans’’.
Though the menu lists options for adventurous diners — duck tongue and ink-fish soup, deep-fried pork intestine with red chilli and brined chicken feet with the relatively innocuous green pepper — it also incorpor- ates extremely edible barbecued lamb ribs dry rubbed with anise, peppercorns and cumin and plenty of tofu dishes. But what’s really special at Xiao Wang’s,’’ Garnaut says, is the fabulous setting. It’s in one of my favourite parks in China.’’ Which happens to be just a few blocks from her soon-to-open eatery, staffed with a new generation of Sydney chefs eager to start cooking.
She speaks for Laris too in praising a well-established Beijing favourite, Made in China at the Grand Hyatt.
It’s warm and friendly and full of life. If they say they have no tables, which is the usual case if you haven’t booked, sit up at the bar and enjoy peking duck with good wine,’’ she advises.
Garnaut insists visitors should not limit their culinary tour to China’s two best-known cities, but instead head for Dongjiang Seafood on the banks of the Pearl River in Guangzhou. It’s massive: four floors of tables that
Guyi: Room A, 87 Fu Ming Rd, Jin An District, Shanghai, phone (+86 21) 6249 5628. Jia Jia Tang Bao: 90 Huanghe Lu, Shanghai, phone (+86 21) 6327 6878. Lost Heaven, 38 Gao You Rd, Shanghai, phone (+86 21) 6433 5126. Dongjiang Seafood: 2 Qiaoguang Rd, Haizhu Square, Guangzhou, phone (+86 20) 8429 7557. www.threeonthebund.com www.theoppositehouse.com www.cosmogroup.cn/maya www.tei.com.cn www.thepuli.com www.franck.com.cn www.mesa-manifesto.com www.m1nt.com.cn www.m-restaurantgroup.com www.xiaowanghome.com www.beijing.grand.hyatt.com