I once read an article talking about the private kitchens of Hong Kong, a secret underworld for those in the know, where normal citizens with a passion and talent for cooking opened up their homes to invite the public to come eat the food that they cooked from their heart. I really wished I could have visited one of these private kitchens, but never had the chance… until now. With the opening of Jimmy’s private kitchen, all of us in Hangzhou can go experience this special kind of dining.
Jimmy, originally from Dongguan, came to Hangzhou over twenty years ago to start a hairstyling school. By day he cuts hair for Hangzhou’s fashionistas and by night he cooks simple but exquisite seafood using the freshest ingredients available. Jimmy has extremely high standards when it comes to selecting ingredients. The local chicken doesn’t have enough flavour, so he trucks in chickens from Dongguan daily in refrigerated trucks.
For that night, I assembled a handpicked group of diners – an American guy who knows about food, a Dutch guy who knows about creating a fun atmosphere, a Chinese guy who has been in more restaurants than a Catholic has been in churches, the photographer and myself.
He will greet you at the door, bring you to a table and set you up with drinks right away. We got a local brewed beer - Dutch Courage. Each table is set up with a steamer in the middle of the table to cook food. We all take our seats and the theatre begins. Plate after plate of food is brought out from the tiny kitchen and laid around the steamer. One by one they go into the steamer, and Jimmy has an innate sense of how long to cook the different seafood. Hovering over the table, he lifts the steamer lid at the exact moment required then gives some simple instructions to dip this crab in that vinegar, or this scallop in that soy sauce.
My goodness were the scallops beautiful! Soft morsels steamed simply with some garlic to bring out its natural sweetness. The seafood comes from Wenzhou or Zhoushan and they meet Jimmy’s strict standards. When seafood is this fresh, it shines by itself and doesn’t need any heavy spices or chilies to hide its taste.
Then we tried the chicken. Wow! That chicken had flavour! I’ve never had chicken like this before and I’m salivating now as I think about it. All other chicken pales in comparison. It tastes like chicken, but amplified a hundred times, and that farm fresh taste lingers in your mouth long after you’ve swallowed.
There is a table setting for Jimmy and he stops by to eat with us from time to time, in between dashing off to other tables to tend to other customers. Throughout the dinner, various friends of Jimmy walk in and out, and you feel you are witnessing a part of their everyday lives. Although you’ve never met these people, there is no awkwardness and everyone goes about their business like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
At one point, a pot of congee or rice will come out. We had beef congee that night, and the rice porridge had such a lovely silky consistency with generous amounts of marinated beef. When you think the parade of food is over, out comes some meat dishes – spareribs steamed in black bean sauce and Dongguan frogs with red dates, lily buds and mushrooms which is a very homestyle dish you’ll find in Cantonese homes.
Throughout the rounds of food, the oohing and aahing, the mmmms of appreciating, there will be lots of drinking and laughing. Jimmy will keep the alcohol flowing with other special recommendations from his collection, like a dark imperial ale from England or the fruity and light Rising Sun Pale Ale from Japan.
It’s the ideal place for having fun with a group of people, in a special cozy setting where you really feel at ease. No pretenses, just great food, great friends and great atmosphere.
In my years as a food writer, I’ve been to some places, I’ve eaten some food, but this was a really unique experience.
Reservations are required from 5-9pm and you can make an appointment by contacting number 13185061210. From 9pm till around 1am, guests can just drop in. Jimmy does speak some English, but communication shouldn’t be a problem. Just sit, eat and drink to your heart’s content. Dinner costs around 150-250RMB/pp depending on how much alcohol you drink.
Add Jimmy on your wechat to make reservation: ajun175256