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Xao Xiong Fan Dian

3 14 10 chez Castor, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan

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This Shanghainese restaurant opened in September 2011 after Nobuhisa Umemoto (born 1980) came back from his travels (he previously ran Maison de Umemoto Shanghai in Tokyo). Specialities include  braised beef tongue and cheek of Yonezawa beef, as well as pitan (century egg) tofu. In a basement in Shibuya, it is the only two star Chinese restaurant listed in the 2013 Michelin guide. The office building above the restaurant is a candidate for Tokyo's ugliest, but once you descend the concrete stairs to the dining room the interior is quite smart, with lots of dark wood. We sat at the kitchen table, a counter with room for four diners, and there was a small dining room that could perhaps accommodate another eight people, but on the night we visited only two other diners were present all evening. There was no a la carte, just two slightly differently priced tasting menus.

The meal began with a plate of nibbles: red bell pepper, aubergine, century egg, jellyfish and a scallop. There is a limit to how exciting a bit of braised red pepper and aubergine can get, but these were cooked properly, the century egg was OK and the jellyfish was suitably crunchy. However the scallop was ludicrously overcooked, reduced to a rubbery blob. The other elements were 11/20 but I hardly have a score low enough for the scallop. Next was bamboo shoot steamed for four hours, as a soup. This was pleasant enough, though the stock of the soup was very bland, but the bamboo shoot was quite tender. It was not a patch on the high quality bamboo shoots I have eaten elsewhere in Tokyo, but it was fine (13/20).

Next was braised sharks fin. Shark fin has a gelatinous texture favoured in Chinese culture, but one which most western palates find challenging. It has little flavour, so it is really a textural experience. I have rarely eaten sharks fin, so do not feel it appropriate to score the dish. It did taste rather better than the last shark fin I tasted in London. Next was abalone, another dish prized by Chinese. It is often chewy in texture when not of the highest quality or prepared carefully, but in Japan I have frequently had excellent abalone, including for lunch today. Sadly this abalone was just the stereotypical chewy version (11/20) that I have encountered in London, a pity as it is clear that this ingredient can be excellent in Japan.

Steamed grouper was better, properly cooked and a nice piece of fish, though there was no real attempt at seasoning or a sauce (3/10). Steamed broad beans were also pleasant enough, again quite bland (13/20) but the best dish was braised beef cheek, simply served on its own, but very tender and having good flavour (15/20).

A dish of "tomato and egg" was, well it was an omelette, and not an especially great one at that. This is a pretty bizarre dish to serve as a course in an expensive tasting menu (1/10). Fried rice with shreds of assorted seafood, including a little crab, concluded the meal; the rice was cooked well enough, though the crab had little flavour (2/10). Finally there was a bowl of mango, which of course was just bought by the kitchen and served, so hardly fair to mark. It was the dish that had the least intervention (none) from the kitchen, and was actually the most enjoyable thing about this meal, as it was a nice, ripe mango.

The staff were perfectly pleasant, though they only spoke a few words of English. There seemed to be no waiters on duty, just the two chefs, one of whom who brought out the dishes and drinks. As an overall meal this was dazzlingly ordinary. This litany of culinary mediocrity has two Michelin stars, which really makes me wonder if the people that inspected this for Michelin have even been to Hong Kong or Beijing, or just read about Chinese food in a guidebook. Only one dish of the meal came even within shouting distance of one Michelin star level, never mind two. It is also obviously far worse than, say, Chugoku Hanten Fureika in the same city, which has one star.

The bill? ¥27.295 per head (£179) with just beer to drink. No, that is not a typo; I wish it was. £179 per person for a deeply ordinary Chinese meal and a few beers. This has to be the most ludicrously overpriced dinner I have ever eaten. This restaurant is not "worth a detour", it is simply not worth eating at full stop. 

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