salad-days on Bldg 1, Lane 161, 465 Zhenning Lu, near Xinzha Lu RSVP via web only Taian Table (Zhenning Lu) Price per Person: 1,843 Rmb
Atmosphere: Nigh on perfect. With just 24 seats, the majority of them surrounding the bar/kitchen, the seating arrangement and room design is very well-thought out. There are also two booths facing the front of the bar. Even when full, this restaurant doesn't seem too busy or crowded. The room is centred around the the kitchen. Chatting to your dining companions, your eyes are drawn to the chefs, in almost reverence, as they create and fine-tune the dishes you're paying top dollar for. The lighting is finely balanced, bright enough in the right places to see your food in striking clarity, whilst also dim enough to afford you some privacy in a small room with thirty other people. Two minor qualms came in the shape of an annoying draft from the door – we were on the corner of the bar nearest the door, so whenever it was opened we got an icy blast of winter air. The second was the champagne bar upstairs. On the night of our dining, there was a particularly boisterous posse of ladies getting their drank on. The occasional piercing cackle of laughter from upstairs slightly dampened what was otherwise a pristine air of class.
Food: After we were treated to a few welcome nibbles and a glass of champagne, the 'Tartar of Dutch Veal Loin' kicked the main dishes off in style. My teeth sank into the tender veal. Coupled with a crispy beef tendon, it was an interesting and exquisite dichotomy of cooked cow. Next up was the 'Cold Cappelini Pasta Salad', consisting of hairy crab, caviar and lime. This was a refreshing treat, the tiny morsels of hairy crab being a 'Brucie Bonus' on top of the already delicious combo of cold pasta and sumptuous roe. This dish was perhaps inspired by the common Chinese dish of Scallion Oil Noodles, a nice nod to local cuisine.
The 'Cauliflower Mousse' with sea urchin gelato was an absolute treat, perhaps the pick of the bunch. That is, until the 'Foie Gras Custard' was presented to us. The Chef reeled off descriptions of corn prepared in around five different ways, topped off with some foie gras (at the bottom). He summarised 'If you don't like corn, you probably won't like this dish'. Fortunately we did and I'd probably stick with this as the best of the dozen dishes on offer that night. The 'Sichuan Mountain Trout' with grilled celtuce (Chinese lettuce) and seaweed was also noteworthy. A really quite excellent piece of fish.
The accompanying wine pairing will set you back a hefty 780 RMB. I'd say it's well worth it though. If, after demanding “We want the finest wines available to humanity, we want them here, and we want them now!”, this assortment was presented to Withnail and I, in the Penrith tea-rooms, I feel they would have been placated. As it was on this night in Changning, as an accompaniement to each couple of dishes, they were wonderful. For your money, you get four glasses, on top of your champagne on arrival. We even got a couple of aged, ethereal rums to finish the meal off after the magnificent desserts.
The 'Australian Angus Beef Sirloin & Cauliflower' with air dried beef cheek, smoked egg yolk and brown butter Hollandaise was tasty enough, but one of the less memorable entries on the lengthy menu. It was the lamb that was the pick of the meat offerings. The 'New Zealand 'Te Mana' Lamb' comprising lamb saddle, BBQ roasted shoulder, accompanied by artichoke and red pepper was unlike any meat I've ever tasted. According to their website, this type of lamb is the result of 'discovering sheep with a different type of fat, an intramuscular fat, higher in Omega-3 with marbling on a micro‐scale'. This unique type of lamb was truly beautiful; fortunately it's on the fixed menu.
Having a sweet tooth, I opted for an additional dessert, along with the two on the main menu. The 'Purple Shisho Sorbet' was described to us as a palate cleanser. It was a showy effort, employing the use of liquid nitrogen for an intended 'wow' effect. Whilst it felt like it was mainly for the aesthetics, it did serve its purpose of freshening one's mouth. The 'Lemon Tart', made up of Italian meringue, Jasmine tea and Limoncello, was even better.
The 'Confiit Mandarine' with chestnut, mandarine sorbet and ginger rounded off a superb meal off with a flourish. Another splendid dessert to cap a pretty much flawless meal.
Service: The service was first-class. I heard Chinese, English, French and German being spoken by the staff, and that was just in our little corner. This well-trained, knowledgable and friendly team introduced each dish and type of wine succinctly to us before serving. The Chef de Cuisine brought several of our dishes over and was as welcoming and chatty as his colleagues. The founder, Stefan Stiller, wasn't here on this occasion. Perhaps next time.
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