Dining at the Yu Restaurant at second floor of The Ritz-Carlton, Beijing is an experience to cherish for again, and again. The Chinese people pride themselves in on being one of the earliest people to develop sophisticated notions of polite social culinary interaction. This includes the highly sophisticated rules of etiquette governing acceptable table manners and tastes. Yu Restaurant, which can hold up to 110 dinars, presents exactly that and nothing more than sheer sophistication. The restaurant offers a traditional tea-themed Cantonese cuisine. As I sat in one of the seven luxurious private chambers to dine like a Qing Dynasty emperor, I was mesmerising on the thoughts of what surprises I may be in for. A large water feature welcomes guests to the restaurant.
What’s more is that a tea master await all comers to intimate and sumptuous gastronomic affairs. Yu in Chinese stands for ‘Jade’, and there is plenty of it decorating the walls and the interior of this luxurious eatery. The interior of Yu is bathed in a bright red and mahogany wood colour, blended in neatly with golden beige accent pieces. These somewhat create a sooth feeling of elegance, sheer prefecture, and absolute comfort. Each of the seven private chambers is named after a type of jade stone, for example our room was called ‘Blue Jade’. Attention is paid to even minute details, from the tea corner to the silk wrapped menus. The menu includes at least a dozen tea samples encased within the menu.
As I was presented with the menu, I just looked at the Chef de Cuisine, Ku Chi Fai, and asked him to ‘Surprise me’ with his culinary magic. Then there was the house tea sommelier who was available to assist in guiding our choice of tea to go with each dish.
It’s best to commence with the sweet yet tangy flavoured ‘Double whelk matsutake soup’ (松茸炖响螺) which is a lovely medium-to-deep yellow in colour, and shows the red and black cherry aromas as the soup touches the back of your tongue and neck with each sip.
Yu offers an extensive menu of refined Cantonese dishes made with fresh ingredients and precise execution. The ‘Appetizer selection’ (前菜拼盘) contains the popular honey roasted suckling pig—a classic Guangdong dish—has skin cooked to a perfect, crisp orange and a smooth and juicy centre. Also, watch out for those baby cucumbers- they are immensely tiny and cute!
If you have a special place in your heart for seafood, like I do, then go for the main gem of a dish: ‘Braised cod fish ball with spices in casserole close-up’ (大千焗银鳕鱼). It looks like a piece of art work rather than a dish. Dare to tuck into the noodle nest which achieves high level of sophistication, as the whole dish is edible. You cannot argue with exceedingly good boneless pieces of succulent codfish lying side-by-side with the baby shallots. Yummy!
Continuing with the seafood theme (they love seafood in Canton!), the next dish that sandwiches the meal is ‘Grilled prawn with preserved vegetables dry eggplant’ (宫廷梅干虾球). Bright, elegant, and delicate looking (and tasting) prawns add enough sweetness and sourness to this wonderful gastronomic jewel. Autumn breeze marks the perfect season for slightly nutty yet buttery dishes such as the grilled prawns.
No Cantonese meal is complete with the ‘Taro puff and egg tart’ (芋蓉酥拼蛋挞), this ‘out of this world’ dish is a delight to have with any Cantonese dish. Its not really the presentation of the dish that matter’s but rather the taste. Cantonese people (especially those from Hong Kong), would not hesitate in pointing out the quality of a perfectly made egg tart. Soem will even argue to the point that their egg tart is the best in the city. The bright lemon colour of the yolk inside the tart, and the slight softness of the tart indicates to outstanding quality of the product. The easier it is to drop out of your hands, the worse the quality (i.e. the stronger the egg tart, the better it is). Challenge any Cantonese person and they will have no hesitation is proving you wrong. The nose of the dish displays a certain aroma of vanilla (it may be true), and lemon. Enjoy it while you can and make sure that you don’t leave any bits and bobs lurking around.
For the finale, ‘Chilled sago mango cream, and fresh fruits’ (杨枝甘露拼水果) is the treat of the day. But forget the fruits, its the chilled sago mango cream that can eat your heart away. Slightly dry, sweet to the front of the mouth, but all in all a complete journey of sheer perfection and a beautiful long length of butter, sago and mango kissing your throat with each spoonful. It’s great, and it’s all truly Cantonese at the Yu restaurant. It’s one of such prestige appellation to round off a perfect meal at one of the most sought after eateries in Beijing.
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