This restaurant is located in what used to be the British Embassy, a rather grand building. You approach through gates and a path leading to the restaurant. The dining room is on the ground floor, with garden terrace seating and also a private dining room. There is a large garden that did not appear especially well maintained, and indeed the whole place had an aura of faded grandeur. The restaurant specialises in the cuisine of the Shanghai region. There was a vast menu, and there was a tea menu as well as a wine list.
We started with mung bean custard cake, a rather odd concoction that was quite sweet, which seemed a curious start to the meal, like serving a lemon tart at the start of a French meal. It had a grainy texture that was not particularly appealing (12/20). Drunken chicken was slices of cold chicken, on the bone, that have been marinated in wine. The wine flavour came through but the chicken itself was a little too dry, and the chicken was fridge cold (at best 13/20). Bean curd “ham” came with smoked egg. The slices of bean curd did not do anything for me, but the egg was interesting, the yolk having a sticky texture and there being a distinct smoky flavour (13/20).
Next was a tray of preserved cold meats. Some dry ice was used to create a mist over the plate, which must have looked quite impressive to someone who has never seen this effect before, perhaps someone who has just woken up from a decades-long coma, or having never eaten in a restaurant before. This kind of gimmick seemed dated a decade ago. Duck was acceptable but rather dry, pork also dry but having a bit more flavour, while a shrimp partly in its shell was inedibly chewy. Best were some preserved ginko nuts. Clearly this way of preserving meat evolved out of necessity in the days before refrigeration, but tasting it makes you realise just how grim those days must have been (11/20).
The first hot dish was much better, pork belly that had been braised in rice wine and soy. This was very nice, not too fatty and having a slight sweet and sour flavour (14/20). Tofu and crab roe with scallion was remarkably lacking in flavour. Crab is a costly ingredient, and it was barely detectable here (11/20). Meatballs of minced pork were served in a stock along with water chestnuts and bak choi. The meat itself almost entirely lacked flavour or seasoning, and the bak choi had become rather soggy (10/20).
The best dish was baby bak choi and baby bamboo. This bak choi was much more delicate and had pleasing texture, while the batons of baby bamboo were tender (14/20). Finally we carried some xiao long bao, the liquid pork and crab filling tasting only of pork, perhaps again because crab is a costlier ingredient. The dumpling had decent texture, being fairly thin, but some xiao long bao that we tried just afterwards for comparison at an admittedly well-regarded street place called Jia Jia Tang Bao tasted better, for less than a tenth of the price (12/20).
Service was mostly reasonable, the waiter at least checking with us whether the pacing of the dishes was all right. The reason that there are not many photos is that the waiter initially said that no food photos were allowed, and then later seemed to lose interest in applying this bizarre policy. He had no objection to my taking photos of the room, just the food. Later he clarified that photos on a phone were OK, but not a camera, which was surreal. All this in a completely empty dining room. The bill, for a fairly light lunch with just tea to drink, came to CNY 493 (£56). If you drank wine and ordered more ambitiously then a typical cost per head might come to £80 per person. This is a crazy price given the standard of food and the vast range of alternatives in this city. It was perhaps telling that at this lunch we were literally the only diners, though two latecomers did wander in just as we were leaving. This is another example of incomprehensible Michelin scoring in Asia. Two stars? Hardly. The well-travelled Chinese people that I ate with were similarly unimpressed with the food here, so this was not just the view of some foreigner who didn’t “get” the food. If you compare this with one of the better restaurants in Hong Kong, or indeed London, then its assessment is incomprehensible.