Xinrongji: Well-deserved Michelin star (9.3)

I have had Xinrongji in Shanghai before the pandemic as a business treat, and then again in Hong Kong, but I was very pleased to visit it again with friends, where I could be forgiven for photographing during the meal’s most eagerly anticipated moments. The food was wonderful and we all mindfully savored the meal and enjoyed the experience—except, of course, when someone who has not heard of sea anemones (a specialty at Xinrongji) had to google it for images.

The restaurant is a fine one with history that dates back to 1989, and not one of those that serves expensive Chinese delicacies for corporate guests without too much of a character. The cuisine of Taizhou is celebrated here. A small, charming water city just about in the middle of Hangzhou and Shanghai, or Ningbo and Wenzhou, Taizhou is probably not known to most people, but it is the hometown of Xinrongji’s founder Zhang Yong, who by now has probably made the restaurant more famous than Taizhou itself. While you’d be able to order Peking Duck and even stir-fried wagyu or Anhui-style spicy beef here, Taizhou and its surrounding cities are really more famous for their fresh, usually small fish and shellfish from the ocean and the rivers, which are terribly delectable and addictive.

On our visit, the dietary restrictions of our entire party altogether meant we had to stay away from shellfish and beef, so we shared between the four of us Peking duck, sea anemone sweet potato noodles, baked fresh pomfret rice, stir-fried dried tofu with Chinese chives and braised radish. For dessert, we had deep-fried rice cakes with osmanthus syrup and almond sweet soup with egg white.

Everything was made to a high standard and hospitality was fine. Servers were prompt and helpful and generally knowledgeable. In terms of the restaurant layout, the place is a labyrinth of private rooms (the minimum charge for the smaller rooms are $5000 and $10,000 for lunch and dinner respectively) and is particularly suitable for private gatherings. For a more casual meal, the dimly lit and elegantly fitted large dining room would make you more than comfortable, as seating is very spacious, perhaps overly so. Do, however, come in a group no smaller than four if you hope to try a few more dishes. And call on the first day of each month for reservations in the following month.

I do wonder how the same version of the restaurant is like in Beijing, where it is the only three Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in the capital—a city where so much good food abound. But before that happens, we are definitely happy enough with our very own Hong Kong branch. Next time, I’d be keen to try their baby octopus (wang xiang), braised croaker, braised bean curd, cuttlefish ink rice cakes and of course, crabs, too, when they are in season.

Food Rundown

Peking duck, $798
The Peking duck here was undoubtedly one of the best we have had in the city, if not the best. The meat was firm but succulent, and the skin is beautiful and thin with a melting crisp, a perfect midpoint between the archetype 20th century Peking duck in Beijing and the fattier, thicker and crispier-skinned preferences of today. Use your hand to whizz together your favorite condiments and altogether they make a divinely flavorful combination. The traditionalists would swear by spring onion and bean sauce only, while others would like to have a go at it with sugar and haw sticks. Either way, the duck is an absolute treat, and I’m certain it isn’t just because I love duck.

Sea anemone sweet potato noodles, $221/half portion
This dish is not always appreciated by some because they might have expected a heavily salted and greasy sauce to coat the glassy noodles, but this is actually a simple dish that highlights the briny sweetness of sea anemone, a strange marine animal that is a relative of jellyfish (interesting fact: sea anemones do not age and can live to over 60 years of age!). In addition to a pleasant briny-sweet taste sea anemones have an interesting, satisfying texture, and are mostly prized by locals for their alleged aphrodisiac properties.

Baked fresh pomfret rice, $498
I wouldn’t really say that the fish was out-of-the-world delicious, but the way the entire pot of baked rice was executed was really quite ingenious. The pomfret was sliced very thinly with skin on and glazed with a sweet and savory sauce, almost like a good grilled eel, though somewhat less firm-fleshed, and while the rice looks brown, it isn’t actually salty, which means it really is packing in a lot of flavor, partly from Chinese-style bacon (larou) but surely also from the fish. Overall a very hearty dish, particularly suitable for ending dinners with heavy drinking.

Stir-fried dried tofu with Chinese chives, $168
This dish was what really cemented my positive view about Xinrongji, as they’ve managed such a simple dish with the utmost attention and elegance. The chives were tender and sweet, and the dried tofu exceptionally flavorful and soft. Of course, I’m not suggesting this to be a must-order unless dried tofu and chives are your thing, but it means we can move away from signatures and still be made happy.

Braised radish slices, $128
Each piece of radish is flawlessly tender, and is the perfect carrier of a savory-sweet braised sauce. You would not regret ordering this.

Deep-fried rice cakes with osmanthus syrup, $88
This was my first time having rice cake made this way, and it was a pleasant surprise. We enjoyed the rice cakes plain as it had enough flavor that way, plus the crispy shell packs a great deal of crunch, but you could also add some of the osmanthus syrup for a floral aroma.

Almond sweet soup with egg white, $58
A dense almond soup with lots of egg white in there. A nice treat.

Xin Rong Ji
G/F-1/F, China Overseas Building, 138 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
$$$$, Chinese, Zhejiang, Taizhou