If you have been following my Instagram feed recently, I meandered through four cities in China: Chengdu, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Chongqing. It’s a whirlwind of a trip that at times feel exhausting yet but it was all exhilarating and worth the hours on the plane and train.
My first destination was Chengdu. This capital city of the Sichuan province is obviously famous for pandas (alas, I didn’t have time to see) and for most people, the city of mala (麻辣) spicy food. I admit I explored this city in a very limited capacity since it was a daytime layover than an overnight. So, I managed to see quickly the historic attraction sites of Wide and Narrow Alleys (宽窄巷), Jinli (锦里古街), and Wuhou Shrine (武侯祠) during the early morning hours. I savored the early hours of not having many tourists surrounding me and the environs since they come by the busload. These particular sites were lovely. I adored these centuries-old buildings and homes that kept in great shape at the Wide and Narrow Alleys. No one builds this stuff anymore nor of the same quality materials. Jinli is a pedestrian street that is whose buildings are still kept in the Qing Dynasty style but they are converted to retail shops and restaurants (same for the Wide and Narrow Alleys and a few boutique hotels too).
I’ve managed to eat two bowls of incredibly delicious mala beef noodles and dan dan noodles at a small street side restaurant for a late breakfast. Those noodles were cooked nicely (springy with good chew) and the chili oil sauces had some serious fire that it starts as a low and slow burn then it builds on as I ate and rolls to a fire with a tingling sensation in my mouth. It was marvelous. I walked around some more and eventually made my way to The Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu for lunch at Li Xuan.
The Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu is located in the Central Business District of Chengdu. It’s centrally located as it’s about 10 minutes away (by taxi) from the busiest shopping area in the city, Chunxi Road. The ground floor of the hotel is where reception and valet are located. Its actual main lobby starts at the 25th floor. When I got off the elevators, I was stunned at the view and the lobby lounge area is very lovely; a fine mix of Chinese and modern Western decor.
Li Xuan is an upscale Cantonese-Sichuan restaurant that’s located on the 26th floor. The decor is modern, a bit glamorous and sophisticated. We had a tasting menu set ahead of time. What I’ve learned is the executive chef is from Guangzhou and technically specializes in Cantonese cuisine. He adopted his current home city’s fare using its famed spices and chilies in certain dishes with good restraint.
While we had a number of delicious and superbly executed dishes, I will give you the highlights of my favorites.
I don’t know about you but whenever I get out of a plane, I crave a bowl of really good soup or broth. It feels comforting and restorative to me to drink soup after sitting in a very long flight (I’m talking 14 hours). The kungfu soup with Yunnan morels, bamboo fungus and a shrimp dumpling served in the cup was divine. Of course, the ingredients in this soup is luxurious but how the chef and his team made this soup was perfection that it strong, clean mushroom and sweet pork bone flavors in the soup with just the right amount of collagen for that silky mouthfeel.
The braised abalone in ice ball is a showstopper type of dish since the large teardrop-shaped ice sculpture lands in front of you. The slightly warm abalone that’s nestled inside with a hemisphere of cantaloupe is very good pairing. The gentle sweetness of the melon works with the inherent sweetness of the mollusk. The abalone was beautifully cooked that it slices with the knife fairly easily.
The Sichuan flavor Australian beef with morels (椒麻烹澳洲牛肉配百花羊肚菌) is one of the few dishes where the chef did serve a Sichuan influenced dish. The spice level is tempered than what I expected for a Sichuan dish but I like it because I can appreciate the beef’s flavors besides potentially having my palate blown out with the mala spices.
The crispy roasted squab was simply divine. The burnished brown skin that is delicately crisp yet the meat retained its juiciness and it just cooked through. I would eat the whole bird by myself but that would be rude since I had other friends eating with me.
Though this jasmine tea from Fuzhou is served at the Lobby Lounge, it needs a mention. I tried many jasmine teas and they smells and tastes artificially fragrant that I can’t drink past two sips. This one was the Goldilocks kind of perfection where it does taste floral but not overwhelming on the palate and it had this particular flavors that’s beyond the sweetness and floral that made it memorable.