Dark vermillion columns reach skyward to a wooden-raftered ceiling, slate bricks lie underfoot and wicker floor-to-ceiling shades drape down the high walls. A grey rug inset with winding dark blue flowers divides the soaring room in two like a church aisle, ending at a koi pond under a wooden staircase. The solemn elegance of Jing Cai Xuan’s atmosphere, combined with spa-like music tinkling in the air, all add to the illusion that you’re in a luxury holiday resort, rather than a Cantonese restaurant, and the vague feeling that if you looked out the massive windows you might see the rolling tea plantations of Hangzhou rather than looming glass and steel Jingan skyscrapers.
Grey slate, dark wood and austere lines are signature elements of the restaurant’s designer Jaya. The celebrated Indonesian-British architect also designed The Puli and Fuchun Resorts in Hangzhou, both renowned oases of natural materials and temple-like grace.
The construction of Jing Cai Xuan was an 18-month process and no less effort has gone into the sourcing of ingredients for the kitchen. They established a private farm on Chongming Island which delivers fresh vegetables, poultry and pork to the restaurant daily and they claim they will never use genetically modified cooking oil or MSG. Due to the limited supply of pork, the restaurant’s signature honey stewed pork (98RMB) must be booked at least a day in advance, and it would be a distressing error to miss this dish, as we did on our first visit. Fortunately, we booked a second time, even though the first seat to open up was three days later at 11.30am. If we hadn’t, we might never have tasted this honey-infused char-blackened meat which is the most delectable roasted Cantonese pork we have ever tasted.
The restaurant’s other signatures are equally worthy, if not quite as breathtaking. The crispy chicken (88RMB) has dark amber skin and yielding flesh while hongshao pork (98RMB) is sticky and rich.
The standout dim sum include sweet and tenderly fragrant shengjian buns (36RMB) filled with minced greens and padded with sesame seeds. Steamed egg yolk custard buns (22RMB) are made with the same airy dough, this time surrounding a centre of runny, salty-sweet egg yolk-custard, like a Chinese version of salted caramel.
Not every dish is a paean to glorious cooking. The giant chunks of tofu in soup (58RMB), another specialty of the restaurant, are only for those who like that musky tofu flavour which tastes burnt to some palates, while the foie gras pancake (28RMB) is an oily bun whose filling has no discernable foie gras.
Yet if you stick to Jing Cai Xuan’s signature dishes, there is plenty to gratify and thrill any appetite. This superb menu combined with the transporting atmosphere make Jing Cai Xuan our new favourite Cantonese dining destination.
By Crystyl Mo