Sunday, May 23, 2010

An Aristocratic Dining Experience

When I take Bus 107 westwards, I always pass by this restaurant called Nei Fu Dishes and it prompted enough curiosity to finally check it out with a friend.

It's actually called Wuyutai Nei Fu Dishes (吴裕泰内府菜) and it is only a few stops away from Dongzhimen Wai Dajie, practically walking distance from where I live.

Once you step inside, you immediately sense it's aiming to be considered a high-class establishment, with a group of young women in nicely-designed costumes who politely welcome you. The interior decor gives a grand impression, with European-style chandeliers, long tables with tall chairs, and booth areas decorated with curtains where we were seated.

Front and centre is a large raised stage, framed with a wooden carving all around the top and bottom; however, from where we were sitting, all we could see was a thick black granite pillar that obstructed our view. A guzheng, or zither that looked rather dusty was lying on the table off to the side, which prompted the possibility of entertainment while dining.

Meanwhile, we were handed a massive menu that was a good attempt at trying to compete with Da Dong. The long rectangular tome featured large pictures, though the photographs were not nearly as well styled as Da Dong's; but the prices were competitive and some dishes came in small, medium and large sizes.

The restaurant specializes in tea-flavoured dishes, possibly due to its link with the chain of Wuyutai teashops all over the city? This was not confirmed, but a strong hunch, as there was a small tea shop at the entrance.

After we ordered, the entertainment soon began despite having only a handful of tables occupied, with a man dressed to the nines in a Peking Opera costume and singing renowned performer Mei Lanfang's favourite songs complete with the hand gestures he standardized.

A woman dressed in a red qipao complete with black pumps was the emcee and came on stage to explain what each part of the costume was and its significance. While it was a good education, it didn't seem like much of the audience were interested.

Nevertheless, our food soon arrived, a cold appetizer of baby octopus marinated in a sauce of vinegar and chillis that was slightly spicy and crunchy. This soon followed with pea shoots stir-fried with garlic, and one of the restaurant's signature dishes, jinzhong cha jiuxiang furou, a variation of the dongpo rou dish, or braised pork belly. While the meat was honestly not melt-in-your-mouth, the flavour was still delicious and went well with the buckwheat steamed bread we put it in like mini sandwiches.

We also ordered pork ribs that were roasted and covered in a number of ingredients including red and green chillis, peanuts, preserved vegetables and black beans. The server duly removed the bones making it easier to eat, though it was quite a spicy adventure and we couldn't finish but took home later.

This was complemented with a bowl of Family Wu buckwheat noodles called wujia kuqiao mian, served in a deceptively spicy sauce topped with peanuts. At first it didn't seem that spicy, but then your tongue slowly became numb from the Sichuan peppercorns in the broth. Nevertheless, the noodles were delicious and hearty.

Meanwhile, the entertainment continued on stage, with a woman lying on her back and balancing and spinning a number of objects on her feet, like a ceramic planter, a circular rug and a table. Although she wore a halter-top outfit, a modern take on the usual qipao, and Cirque du Soleil-esque music, it wasn't quite enough to take these acrobatic tricks to another level.

Diners didn't seem to notice the man throwing giant ceramic planters in the air and then balancing them on his head either; it's just kind of sad these people are performing quite amateur stunts that don't get much respect these days. The man who performed the changing faces or bian lian routine also seemed new at the job, constantly turning his back to the audience to adjust his costume and hardly changing his face throughout his act until towards the end.

As the last performer, the emcee herself performed a few operatic numbers that were lively, and it seemed like she lived for the stage.

In the end we were pleased with the food, though a bit too spicy, but wished we didn't have to be subjected to the entertainment...

Wuyutai Neifu Dishes 吴裕泰内府菜
144 Dongzhimen Nei Dajie
Dongcheng District
6401 2228

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