Just an hour’s drive from Hangzhou, high in the mist shrouded Moganshan, in a protected valley surrounded by bamboo trees and tea bushes sits Le Passage – French luxury country house hotel and gourmet destination. I was recently invited there to taste the five course meal prepared by their new Japanese chef Toya Koda, who has many years’ experience working in some of the finest restaurants in France.
As our vehicle got further away from Hangzhou, the smog slowly gave way. Driving further and further up Moganshan on the twisty roads, the pollution cleared away completely and the shapes of clouds could be seen again.
Moganshan was once a getaway destination for Shanghai’s elite during the 1930s, and Le Passage’s luxuriously appointed suites recreate that spirit and sophistication. I thought the beautiful historic looking buildings were restored, but they are in fact newly built with reclaimed materials and all the modern comforts. The bed, in particular, is worthy of a five star hotel with squishy huggable down pillows and silky cotton sheets. An additional building perched above the main building is nearing completion, adding more capacity to the original forty rooms.
On a walk through the hotel grounds, a lovely floral scent caught our attention. It came from a few late blooming roses still determined to carry on in early November. One can only imagine the sweet perfume that surrounds the area during early summer when the 12,000 rose bushes are in full bloom.
Le Passage practices a farm-to-table philosophy to produce or source fresh, organic, locally grown food for the hotel. They raise black haired pigs in nearby farms, fed on a diet of organic vegetables, to make saucisson, ham, pâté and terrines. The fruity black and green tea found in guest rooms come from their own tea plantation and is completely free of pesticides and chemicals. What they can’t get in China, they import – such as seafood from Iceland and the finest foie gras from Rougié of France that they turn into pots of decadent dreamy foie gras confit.
The five course dinner started with Homemade Foie Gras Confit with fig jam and freshly baked brioche. The foie gras melted like butter on the tongue and had a distinct meaty flavour.
The Seafood Flan was a creative and inventive fusion of Japanese and French cuisine. Over a base of chawanmushi steamed egg custard was a thin layer of seafood bisque soup and a delicately poached Icelandic prawn. The chawanmushi was smooth as silk, the bisque was intensely flavoured with the essence of shellfish and the prawn was exquisitely sweet.
The fish course of Miso Halibut was perfectly cooked and sat over creamy pomme purée and was accompanied by crispy deep fried kale.
The mouthwatering Pigeon Pie was a special treat of a traditional French dish that is hard to find nowadays. Half a pigeon was encased in buttery pastry and baked to golden perfection. The pigeon was juicy, and there was an alluring hint of truffles.
For dessert, we had Lemon Soufflé and Passionfruit Sorbet. The lemon soufflé was airy, sweet and hot while the sorbet was sour and cold. The contrasts between the soufflé and sorbet – sweet vs sour, hot vs cold – played off brilliantly.
Chef Toya’s style blends Japanese, French and Chinese cooking sensibilities while exploring the possibilities of locally grown food. At 580RMB++ per person, the five course dinner is a great deal and an absolute steal.
A stay at Le Passage is the ultimate quick getaway from Hangzhou into the fresh clean mountain air. Outdoor activities include hiking the bamboo hills, biking around the picturesque countryside, golfing at the two nearby courses, birdwatching, swimming at Le Passage’s year round heated swimming pool and sledging snowy slopes in winter.
Le Passage is only one hour by car from Hangzhou. Alternatively, you can take a thirteen minute G train to Deqing station and be picked up by the hotel car for a quick twenty minute drive to the hotel. Le Passage makes it even easier for you to come visit now with their winter promotion of 1880RMB++ per person/night which includes Chef Toyo’s five course dinner in the price.