Guan Zhi is an elegant tea house/restaurant where, not only can you eat Southern Song dynasty cuisine and drink fine teas, but you can also learn a lot about history and tea culture. Housed in 2 separate buildings, one modern building serves multi-course set meals and the other building is a restored 1920’s house for drinking tea and participating in tea ceremonies.
Hangzhou was the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty from 1127-1279, which saw it develop from a small city of no significance to one of the largest and most prosperous of the time. Song Dynasty was a glorious period for China when science, art, poetry and culture flourished. The gentle scholars had plenty of leisure time and indulged in devising creative ways to eat, drink and pass the time away.
At Guan Zhi, they saught consultation from Southern Song historians to recreate the cuisine but also updated it as well. The chef here used to be the executive chef at Landison, so dishes are plated in a western style and cooked with modern techniques and ingredients. Guests can choose among set menus priced from 298-500RMB, including a vegetarian menu for 298RMB. We savoured dishes such as Mango Salmon Tartar (三文鱼芒果塔塔), with house-smoked salmon that had a lovely pronounced smoky flavour and firm texture.
Then came Crab Stuffed Orange (蟹酿橙) made with crab roe and orange flesh which historically was served in an orange shell but here is presented in a bowl. Slow-Cooked Scallops are first cooked at low temperature sous-vide then seared for a crisp exterior. The plating is artistic and painterly, with a streak of amethyst hued purple sweet potato, dots of golden coloured apple puree and picking up the scallop will reveal a splash of spring green toned basil oil underneath.
The meat dishes are especially good, like the 16 Hour Slow-Cooked Bones Southern Song Dynasty (炙烤16小时低温慢煮南宋炙子骨头), which are pork ribs marinated in alcohol, cooked sous-vide, then grilled to order with a sweet and sticky Chinese BBQ sauce. The slow cooking lets some fat melt away, making the meat less oily, tender and moist.
12 Hour Slow-Cooked Canadian Ribs (低温慢煮12H加拿大小排) were rich, juicy and full of deep beefy flavour. After slow-cooking, they were also grilled with the Chinese BBQ sauce.
Also worth a mention is 63 Degree Hot Spring Egg with Asparagus (63度温泉蛋配芦笋). The Japan imported egg sits atop butter sautéed mushrooms and asparagus, accented with bacon bits and what looks like Japanese furikake seasoning.
Menus will change according to season and you can choose a tea to pair with your meal. We had an exquisite Yunnan Dian Hong (极品大金针, 398RMB for 2 ppl) that had the fragrance of sour plums and a sweet complex taste. This tea soaked up lots of sunshine in Yunnan and the liquid seemed to glow with a fire-like orange brilliance.
After lunch, we proceeded to the older building to take-in a matcha tea ceremony. Many people will associate matcha tea with Japan, but this method of drinking powdered green tea was actually introduced to Japan from China during the Song Dynasty.
Southern Song dynasty’s leisure class would enjoy drawing designs and calligraphy in the matcha tea foam, having competitions with each other. Who knew that hundreds of years before the world had latte art, the Chinese were already doing matcha tea art? Customers who partake in the tea ceremony (698RMB/2 pax) can also try their hand at whisking the tea and creating designs. Included in the price of the tea ceremony is 2 wagashi Japanese sweets.
Guan Zhi offers a unique culinary experience that is also educational and enlightening. It would be a perfect place to visit after a walk through Hefang Street or Southern Song Imperial Street.