Friday, November 19, 2010
Westlake's famous restarant, Louwai Lou.
We couldn't find the restaurant on Westlake which a friend had recommended for cheap and good Hangzhou food so we opted for the most famous restaurant on Westlake, Louwai Lou. Louwai Lou is where dignitaries dine when they visit Westlake and photos of President Clinton and other world figures dining in the restaurant are printed on the menu. We were told that we shouldn't miss Hangzhou's most famous dishes: crystal prawns sauteed with tea leaves, beggar's chicken, Tung Po belly pork and Westlake vinegar fish. Since there were just two of us, and we were both still up to our throats with the banquet dinners that we had in Shanghai, we couldn't try all the dishes at one meal. The plan was to leave some of the dishes for dinner, especially the beggar's chicken which we couldn't handle for lunch. We've had crystal prawns with tea leaves before and although it was good, it wasn't something we particularly craved for. I wanted to try the Westlake vinegar fish, to see how it compares with my version, especially since this restaurant is famous for the dish.
Dried fish in Shaoxin wine, a Zhejiang dish my in-laws love.
The dried fish can be bought in vacuumed packs. I don't like the flavor of preserved meat from the Zhejiang region. The offending flavor is very prevalent in Shanghainese vacuum packed preserved meat such as duck giblets and beef jerky. I wondered what the spices were and found a couple of cloves and a bay leaf among the fish. I don't know what else was in the seasoning but it made me shudder.
Brinjals with prawn roe paste.
I've never eaten a bad brinjal dish in any Chinese restaurants, in China or anywhere else. This one was delicious, as usual.
Tung Po pork. RMB16.80/RM8/USD2.50 per piece.
The first time I was served Tung Po pork was memorable. We were in Hangzhou on a tour 11 years ago. We were each served a covered bowl. When the lid was opened, a brownish square of fat and skin, with hardly any meat, sat in the bowl. We all gasped because we've never seen such a fatty piece of belly pork. Only one guy at our table dug in, and he raptured about it while we looked on, curious and appalled. He had more than two servings and I thought he was going to have a heart attack right at the table. For many years later, I've regretted not eating that piece of fat. When this little bowl was placed in front of me, I actually felt disappointed that the pork wasn't as fatty as the first piece I was served.
But Louwai Lou's Tung Po pork WAS GOOD, so good I could've eaten another bowl if not for my own belly which was overflowing onto my lap. I ate all the fat and the skin, mopping up everything in the bowl with the bun that came with the pork. I missed out 11 years ago and I wasn't going to again this time. Thank you, poet and scholar Tung Po.
Westlake vinegar fish.
Finally, the star of the meal. We chose the gui fish because the price at RMB99/RM50/USD17 per half kg was in-between the price for grouper at RMB198/99/USD32 per half kg and grass carp at RMB69/RM35/USD11 per half kg, something like that.
Hub said a good fish should always be steamed Cantonese style and I had to eat most of this dish myself. I found it very similar in taste to my attempt and if I may, I think my sauce was better because Louwai Lou's sauce was so acrid it choked us. However, they cooked the fish to just the right texture because it was very tender and the flesh was very fine and smooth. Like I've said before, when it comes to cooking fish, timing is most important.
When the bill came, I knew we've been had. The fish alone was RMB119.60/RM60/USD19, meaning that it was 1.3 kg. The fish measured one chopstick long from head to the beginning of the tail, about 25.4 cm/10". I knew from my years of marketing that a delicate fresh water fish of this size can't be that heavy.
Although the food in Louwai Lou was delicious, Hub and I both agree that it wasn't outstandingly so, given the fame and the prices.