The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Chinese @ Manchinro Honten, Yokohama

On our (not so) recent visit to Yokohama, we had lunch in Chuugakai (Chinatown). There were plenty of restaurants to choose from along the sides of the main street of Chinatown, but we wanted somewhere that served reliably good Chinese food. We only had my Tokyo Lonely Planet Guide (LPG) and its dining recommendations to go with, so we selected Manchinro Honten which is one of Yokohama Chuugakai's oldest and most popular Cantonese restaurants. According to the LPG the restaurant serves "delicacies prepared by a respected Hong Kong chef". According to this website, the restaurant employs "ten first-class chefs from Hong Kong". We had a Hong Kong expat resident in our midst, so this meal could at least prove interesting.

And popular, it is. We walked in the restaurant around 12:30pm with no reservations, and not surprisingly we were told that the restaurant was full and that we ought to make a booking for 2pm. Which is not too bad - we could wander down the street and snack on nikuman (steamed meat buns) in the meantime. I needed a toilet break, so I took the liberty at using the restaurant's swanky facility while Rob and his aunt waited for me on the sofas in foyer. When I came out, we were told that there was a table ready for us. Bargain! We didn't have to wait 2 hours for lunch after all!

The view of the restaurant from my seat:

Manchinro Honten is a beautifully decorated restaurant that is set out to impress. Polished wooden floor, beautiful porcelain on display, and there was even a pianist who was just finishing up his piece as we walked in. It is large, spacious with a luxurious ambience. This is certainly an upperclass dining establishment. Service was great, and considering the size of the restaurant, we didn't have any trouble getting the waiter's attention when we required it.

We did, however, had trouble deciding what to eat. I saw some familiar dishes but many of the photos of the dishes on the menu were more pretty than the Chinese fare that I'm used to. Rob's aunt was more than happy to let us choose all the dishes so we chose dishes using the basic structure of soup, carbs, red meat and seafood. They were all delicious, and for the first time regarding Chinese food served to me in Japan, I had no complaints. As to be expected, the flavours of each dish were more subtle than the more authentic Cantonese food I'm used to, but I understand that majority of the restaurant's clientele are Japanese and hence the need to modify the food. There were additional spices and condiments on the table to season the food to your liking.

The soup was Szechuan Soup, which wasn't as sour or spicy as many I've had, but still quite delicious (Rob, who is not a fan of Szechuan soup, even thought it was good). It was thick, eggy with meat, tofu and clear noodles. The carb was savoury Glutinous Rice, which was sufficiently sticky and deliciously flavoured from the small pieces of lap cheong (Chinese sausage).

Szechuan Soup and Glutinous Rice:

We ordered Beef in Special Sauce and it was Rob's and his aunt's favourite dish of the meal. The beef was tender, and the sauce was both savoury and sweet without being too cloying. It was pretty good, even for a non-red meat person like me. The seafood dish of the meal was a Crabmeat Parcel wrapped with Lettuce and served with green leafies and a light eggwhite sauce. It was a very mild-flavoured dish, which was a good thing because it allowed the subtle taste of the crabmeat to come through the dish. It tasted very healthy.

Beef in Special Sauce; and the Crabmeat Parcel:

We shared two desserts: Anmitsu (a popular Japanese dessert with jelly, anko, fruits and gyuhi) and Mango Pudding with Mango and Coconut Sauce. Even though Anmitsu was clearly not a Chinese-style dessert, none of us had eaten this sweet and I had heard enough about anmitsu to want to try it. It was delicious, and the syrup was not too sweet however the anko was almost too sweet. Fruits included a slice of fuji apple and apricots, and the gyuhi (mochi-like white thing) was yummy! There was even a scoop of chocolate ice cream in the ensemble. The Mango Pudding was nice and light, almost mousse-like and unlike the dense and heavy mango pudding that we're used to. We couldn't really taste the coconut in the sauce because the mango flavour dominated the dessert. I'm a big fan of Asian-style desserts because most of them are light which is a nice way to end a heavy meal (as is often the case with Chinese food).

Anmitsu and Mango Pudding:

Overall it was a lovely meal. The total bill for the three of us came to a bit more than 11,000yen (~AU$110), which is a lot more than I'd usually pay for Chinese food, but I thought the service, the presentation and the taste of the food were worth the price. I enjoyed the meal, but I do miss the no-fuss (read: messy), big flavoured Chinese fare that I'm used to.

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