Again lifting from Ruoxi’s page over at Chifun – her review of Xiyan when the DGS crowd and Jeff went a couple weeks ago now. Like she mentioned, the wine was sadly unremarkable. I should have brought my wines from Tasmania – but at $30 a corkage, a little hard to digest. Nonetheless, well fed and lubricated (four bottles), we were a noisy bunch. Hopefully, we weren’t too loud for the two love birds at the table next to us (and their scary bouquet of balloons):
This was my second trip to Xiyan, a boutique Chinese restaurant helmed by HK celebrity chef Jacky Yu. Started in Hong Kong, it popularized the private dining concept, making humble regional dishes high-brow yet still comforting at the same time. Both times I ate there at the behest of PS, who after our first wine tasting dinner thought so favorably of the restaurant that she would gather 12 of us this time to fill up an entire table, amongst them Jeff who was visiting and many of the wine-sipping folk from DGS. Ironically, the wines we picked were at best undistinguished and even worse corked (though the waitress changed immediately with apologies), but the conversation was definitely interesting and got more raucous as the night went on.We went through a gut-busting 12 courses that evening. If I were to ever visit Xiyan again, I would prefer not to repeat that, for 12 courses were just too much food to bear, even with a few champion eaters in the house (ww, i’m looking at you).I would be more selective, and save the bulk of my stomach for their specialties which I could and would order over and over again, for each of the three star dishes did not disappoint. An appetizer of gorgeously sweet and ripe momotaro tomatoes slick with liquid sesame and wasabi cream was gone in no time whilst we settled down and sipped our first bottle of wine.While the name of salivating chicken course was inelegant, there was definitely no false advertising since we were definitely salivating over the punchy flavors of the fermented bean paste and chili oil that forms a sludgy sea around a whole poached chicken. The dish is further supplemented by ingenious addition of century eggs to provide added earthier flavors and konnyaku noodle threads to mop up the addictive sauce in place of rice.The last no-fail signature dish is a whole fried seabass perched on a thai style pomelo salad. The flesh is just cooked through even though the shrimp-paste coated skin and fins were fried to such crispiness that we in fact treated them like chips. The pomelo salad’s sweet and tart flavors added flavor to the otherwise unseasoned fish, the pearly pulp contrasting with the silken quality of the fish.Carnivores can eat really well at Xiyan, for while the other meat dishes were not as satisfying as the three signatures, each dish was quite tasty on their own.There’s a plate of grilled por served with a fish-sauce and lime juice based dip resembling Vientamese nuoc nam. The thinly sliced pork is sweet like char siew with a nice char, the level of tastiness elevated with the tiny dice of fresh lime, which when popped into the mouth with the pork and a swish of sauce provided additional pops of tang and savoriness.A big plate of cold prawns, steamed then steeped into a wine marinade was highly addictive. We tore into the flavorful prawns, sucking at the shell and head, our tongues growing numb from the lethal szechuan peppercorns that are invariably thrown into the marinade. A basin filled with beef was another good dish, texturally perfect with the efforts of slow braising evident in the moist chunks of meat and slippery soft tendons. Flavorwise it boasted the spicy and heavy profile similar to the chicken, and the spicing of the prawn, unfortunately leading a flavor fatigue. Perhaps a different treatment, a sweeter soy-based sauce ala cantonese stewed beef would fare better.
Vegetarians however are somewhat out of luck at Xiyan, most of the vegetable focused dish clunkers. The best in the mix was a dish of cubed silken tofu in a yellow-tinged sauce, the color derived from undoubtedly more than a healthy number of salted-egg yolk, the broth taking on a chowder-like consistency. Simple, but very original. Then there were the medley of very blah dishes, the DIY lettuce wrap with stir fried vegetables with dried oysters reminded me of a skinless popiah, the stir fried spinach there for the sole fact of providing vitamin a and c into our diet, and the intermezzo of simply pickled green mangoes, while a welcome palate cleanser after a series of heavy dishes, could hardly qualify as a dish. Perhaps some more thought could be applied towards creating more inventive food for herbivores.
Our epic dinner ended with a bowl of multi-colored rice dumplings in sweet ginger soup, the filling not your typical peanut or black sesame but an intriguing mix of ingredients not usually linked with tang yuan. Its both sweet and savory, largely tasty and most definitely quirky, not unlike the personality of Xiyan the restaurant. Try guessing what’s inside. And no, I’m not telling!Advertisements