Upon entering the Diaoyutai Hotel, I was soothingly stunned by the balance and openness of the high ceilings and evenly designed corridors that had different rooms with round, red, doorways with no actual doors: the epitome of a fengshui feast for the eyes. The wall of translucent windows, directly facing the main entrance, gently poured sunlight into the perfectly lit lobby. The modern classical music playing over well-placed speakers just created a perfect balance of yin and yang, ancient and modern.
I was lead to my right and was instantly hypnotized by the ambiance of the restaurant inside the hotel named Pinju Hangzhou (品聚杭州). From the fine, ceramic tableware, to the paintings and decor, Pinju Hangzhou made me feel as though the designer borrowed sophisticated elements of Hangzhou's rich history as a fishing village and port of trade, but left it classy and subtle. Upon arriving at our table, several skillfully plated appetizers were already awaiting us. With that the salivation started, and we began to dig in with, slender, black chopsticks.
MORE magazine had the privilege of tasting their new, autumn menu. In other words, there was going to be ample servings of a plethora of delicacies. So, I saved some room in order to make sure I would get at least a few mouthfulls of each offering. Hot, Earl Grey was poured for us, lending a flowery fragrance to the meal and showing sophistication in food and pairing. Thumbs up for that!
Amongst the starters there were a couple of standout dishes, and the drunken crab (熟醉河蟹) was definitely one of them. Personally, I adore this dish, which is also made using live shrimp. The two delicious twists on this particular version were: 1) the crabs were already cooked and seasoned before being delved and brined in baijiu, thus giving it an extra level of flavor. 2) the baijiu became a delicate and sweet, thin, sauce with almost no obvious scent or flavor of booze, which I have never experienced when eating Drunken Shrimp. I highly recommend this dish, especially to seafood lovers.
The second one was the 香糟带鱼 a.k.a daiyu, or ribbonfish in a yellow wine brine. It was slightly oily but seasoned well and delicious in taste and texture. Also a great appetizer, the seemingly infinite tiny bones can ruin the experience for all those unaccustomed to the specific method of gently sucking the fish meat off of the vertebrae. For encouragement, even the most experienced daiyu eaters have to spit out a bone or two occasionally, so no need to be bashful.
In terms of plating and presentation, while all portions were small, they were exquisite. Worth also mentioning is the Taro, Purple Potato and Walnut salad served in small, hollow pumpkins that exude the essence of Fall and Halloween.
Next, was the hearty, delicious 莲藕山药排骨汤, or Short Rib Soup with Chinese Yams and Lotus root. The broth was delectable with a perfect fat to water ratio, and the lotus root slices were crisp and stewed to perfection. The icing on the cake was the inordinately succulent, tender short ribs. They were specially brought in from Jinhua which is known for its pork, especially 两头乌, which literally means "two, black-headed pig". Basically, it's head and behind are black while it's mid-section is white, and they're damn delicious when cooked.
Actually, two of my favorite dishes incorporated that black-headed pork. The second was the Soy Sauce Braised Squid with Fatty Pork (目鱼红烧肉). Plated on a black skillet and served with green onions, the squid (points for originality since squid is not usually braised in soy sauce) had a luscious texture, almost as tender as the pork that accompanied it, making it the star of this dish. The sweet and savory gravy from the soy sauce braise took on the flavor of all the ingredients and was so sweet, savory, thick and tasty that Pinju Hangzhou and chef Peter Yu could make a fortune bottling it and selling it in stores around the world. This dish is a must try!
Pinju Hangzhou is a mix of traditional Hangzhou flavors and foods with spices and dishes found throughout the world. The prices are low for such classy, sophisticated food and the ambiance and designs are clearly screaming Hangzhou but with a global tone. Their loyal customers are plenty in number due to the great value (the soy sauce braised squid and pork is only 88RMB, and the soup only costs 68RMB) so make a reservation a day in advance.