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, 31 May 2008

Dumplings @ Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant, Tokyo

(Apologies for the lack of posting on my journal - this week has been very busy for me.) On Saturday, rain was forecasted so we planned a lunch + movie date in Roppongi Hills. Our previous dining experiences at the Hills have proven to us that we can get consistently reliable and good foreign cuisine right here. True, they tend to be on the pricey side, but you kinda get desperate when you cannot find good Chinese food anywhere else in Japan. We watched The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, which was brilliantly done and stayed true to the book (by the way, the first movie of the Narnia Chronicles was the first time I was truly delighted with a movie adaptation of a book - the others, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy, have always been somewhat disappointing). But before the movie, we went in search for lunch around the vast area of Roppongi Hills, and landed ourselves inside the Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant.

Apparently (as a brief googling revealed), Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant is a well-known Chinese restaurant chain founded in 1900 in Shanghai - although I'm sure the prices are much cheaper in China than in this Roppongi branch. According to the Roppongi Hills' Gourmet Guide, we can at least expect to "enjoy the best dumpling in town, which are based on a secret technique from old Shanghai" at this restaurant. Honestly, I did not have high expectations of a restaurant that specialises in steamed dumplings - I mean, how many different fillings can you put in steamed dumplings? However, we were both pleasantly surprised with the variety offered on the menu. I'd first tried Shanghai-style dumplings a few years ago in Melbourne's Chinatown when my Melbournite friend took me to a very popular Shanghai restaurant, which I would not have even known existed if not for her (thank God for local knowledge!). However, those dumplings I had back then were simple, rustic and cheap (but delicious and very filling!) in comparison to the exquisite ones offered at the Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant. That's the least I would expect for the price we paid! The restaurant decor was decidedly Chinese, but the service (as typical of Japanese) was far better than at most Chinese restaurants we've dined at in Australia and New York.

We went with a-la-carte, but a set course menu is available for those who do not want to bother with choosing individual dishes. We started out with the 3-Spoon Appetisers (1050yen). For the spoon appetisers, you can choose from perhaps 8 or 9 types with the choice of having 3 spoons or 5 spoons. Our selection of three was Marinated Jellyfish with Julienne Vegetables, Chicken with Sesame Dressing and Scallop with Yuzu Dressing. The jellyfish was pretty good with a well-flavoured vinegar dressing. The chicken was probably the best out of the three - it was simply done but the sesame flavour made it stand out. The scallop was disappointingly blah - it was quite flavourless and the texture wasn't moist and tender like well-prepared scallops ought to be. We also ordered Yuba with Minced Pork (630yen). Yuba (or what I know as fuzhu in Chinese) is tofu skin, and although it is rather plain on its own without fillings, it's one of my favourite pieces in yong tau foo. These yuba were stuffed with minced pork filling and steamed in a bamboo basket - they were only so-so, and the main negative point was that the top layer and parts that weren't in the broth were a bit dried out. It's my opinion that yuba is best served in soup - the silky texture is a delight on the tongue.

3-spoon appetisers - (clockwise from top) Chicken with Sesame Dressing, Scallop with Yuzu Dressing, and Marinated Jellyfish with Julienne Vegetables; and Yuba with minced pork:

Then we had Curried Pork Pie (630yen) which we thought was similar to the familiar Malaysian curry puffs but made with pork filling and flaky pastry instead. It was good. The Chinese-style Pie with Cashew (735yen) was next, which had a savoury cashew filling. It was delicious, but I ate so many different food in that meal that I can't tell you how or why it was delicious.

Of course we had dumplings - we were in a dumpling (aka steamed bun) restaurant afterall! We went for variety and chose one of the set-of-three Soup Buns (1260yen). There were three types to choose from, and we ordered the "Specialty" type which gave us shrimp, pork and crab roe (the term 'ovary' was used on the menu but I think roe sounds better). I was actually quite puzzled as to why these were called soup buns because they clearly weren't in soup, but it was only after I bit into one that I understood why. Inside each of the dumplings are the respective fillings with some liquid broth. The soup inside each dumpling made the dumplings really moist which made it such a pleasure to eat - you just have to be careful not to burn your tongue with the hot liquid. The fillings all had similar taste and texture, so it was no wonder that Rob had a bit of trouble differentiating between the different fillings (I have a more sensitive nose and taste, but I still made guesses as to which ones contained which fillings). Shortly after, our order of Sticky Rice Buns (siumai-style) was served. This tasted similar to lor mai kai (glutinous rice wrapped in a lotus leaf - one of my favourite dishes to order at dimsum/yumcha), and I think I could taste some minced pork in it. Rob particularly enjoyed the contrast of texture between the drier chewier dumpling skin at the top and the softer moister skin at the bottom.

3 Soup Buns and Sticky Rice Dumpling:

For sweets, we settled on Sweet Red Bean Pie (735yen) and Black Sesame Balls in Sweet Soup (630yen). Even though we were in a Chinese restaurant, I'd half-expected the red bean filling in the pie to taste like the often-too-sweet Japanese an (an almost ubiquitous filling in many Japanese sweets), but to our pleasant surprise, the bean paste was just like the darker Chinese-style tausa. These pies were yummy! The star of the meal, however, was the bowl of sweet black sesame balls. Rob's crazy for these black sesame dumplings and when we were still living in Perth, we'd often buy frozen packets of these sesame balls (and the peanut ones) at Asian grocery stores. We particularly loved the mildly sweetened soup scented with the flowers of kinmokusei (i.e. fragrant olive, or sweet olive). The fruity floral flavour of the kinmokusei blossoms accompanied the sesame dumplings very well, and I appreciated that the soup was not too sweet.

Sweet Red Been Pies and Black Sesame Balls:

All up, it was a very satisfying and pleasant meal. The bill came to around 6800yen (~AU$68) for two, which I thought was reasonable for a restaurant in Roppongi Hills. Yet another good quality foreign cuisine meal at Roppongi Hills.

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