There are a lot of places in Hangzhou that are trying really hard to look authentic without being too rough around the edges. Most of these places fail to pull it off. Either they fail miserably in giving visitors a sense of relaxed and cozy comfort with foods that make the trip worthwhile, or the venues in question are over the top caricatures of themselves that make you want to eat and run away as fast as you can. Fortunately, there is a safe haven for all you satisfaction seekers, and while only in operation for a couple of months, it's already making a name for itself. The spot we visited this time was Zao Feng Nian Jian. It's a mouthful of a name, but one that will leave a lasting impression on those who want to enjoy a dose of authenticity, without regretting it later. The new location, which is based on the already successful and respected 3-year old original, is filled with warmth and casual comfort. The generous use of unfinished wood and intelligent application of natural lighting that casts mysterious shadows everywhere heightens the sense that you've found something worth investigating further. As our food arrived, we noticed that authenticity doesn't mean cutting corners. The brutal heat outside was held at bay by superb air-conditioning inside. A bamboo steamer basket with lao tofu made a great starter, which was followed by spicy Sichuan-style fish in broth with glass noodles and large chunks of coagulated duck blood that - now, hold on - don't affect the flavor of the dish whatsoever. Fried rice with crumbled bacon and chives really added a nice dimension to the meal, and the two best dishes of the day had to be the braised chicken in spicy broth, and the clay-pot braised pork with potato. If you're in the mood for that Hangzhou flavor, the pork was fatty, sweet, and melt in your mouth good. If Sichuan spice is more your thing, the braised chicken will prove deeply satisfying. At 220RMB for 4, we would have to say that this restaurant is like a lightly used, vintage leather jacket. It already looks pretty good, but it still has a few stiff and unblemished spots that will undoubtedly improve as they are smoothed out and worn in with age, leaving only the supple comfort of familiarity. You'll like the interior design of this place as much as you'll love the food, with random bits of Mao-era literature, dilapidated transistor radios, and bird cages suspended from the ceiling adding to the overall experience. We can't wait to see what Zao Feng Nian Jian looks like in a couple of years, because our guess is that a good venue like this one can only get better with age. The 4 of us had: Zaofeng Sichuan-style Chicken 灶丰麻香鸡 56RMB; Sliced Fish, Duck Blood and Glass Noodle in Chili Soup 川椒奇辣鱼 50RMB; Braised Pork and Potato in a Pot 坛子烧肉 35RMB; Old Tofu Cooked with Peas and Preserved Vegetables 木盆土豆腐 19RMB; Lard Fried Rice with Vegetables 猪油菜炒饭 16RMB; Fresh Watermelon Juice 鲜榨西瓜汁 38RMB/pitcher; Red Rock Beer 红石梁 12RMB/bottle; Our bill: 226RMB.
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