Fine china plates

Cyn­thia Rosen­feld gets the low­down from Aus­tralian ex­pat chefs on their favourite places to eat, from Bei­jing to Shang­hai

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

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-

But it

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

Check­list

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

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