Words: Louise Miller
Photos: Monica Tindall
It’s always a good sign when a restaurant is heaving with happy local patrons. It’s an even better one when the busy bustle takes place on a weekday lunchtime. When our companion Wu, ushers Monica and I through the grand entrance of Xuecheng, the dining area reveals just that: table after table of lunchers stretching across a multitude of plates with chopsticks poised to grab another mouthful of whatever was taking their fancy. As we weave in amongst other patrons, admiring the abundance of exotic dishes on display, we realise that our lunch will be one to remember.
Wu leafs through the encyclopaedic proportioned menu, ordering on our behalf, much to our relief! The photos of each dish, however, would be of great help to anyone dining here without their own local guide.
Roast Duck, Xuecheng Restaurant
We begin with the restaurant’s speciality, Kao Ya or Roast Duck. Its glistening crispy skin provides a great crunch that complemented its rich tender flesh. Accompanying pepper, Chinese onion and a tasty local sweet soya bean sauce deliver great contrasting flavours to the meat.
A mere few minutes in and we are distracted by a dramatic drumbeat announcing an imminent performance at the far end of the restaurant. Expecting some dancing perhaps or even a tea ceremony, we’re more than a little surprised to see this Minjian or folk performance in which, two chefs gracefully and ceremoniously remove the next batch of birds from an ornate pot and hang them up on a rack on stage before the whole restaurant.
We’re intrigued and a tad fearful of the name of our other meaty dish – Black Pepper Cowboy Bones. We know that China is a nation of adventurous eaters – could cowboy be code for anything other than beef? Monica kindly lets me try this first! We need not have worried though as this popular dish eaten throughout all of China consists of cross sections of spare beef ribs with strips of aubergine and capsicum – tangy, peppery and delicious.
We are treated to a trio of veggie dishes: Crystal Dumplings, Fried Parsley Lily and Vegetable and Rice Soup. We love the wholesome fresh flavours of all three but the Crystal Dumplings are what we keep returning to for more, despite the fact that it has become increasingly clear that we won’t come close to finishing the abundance of food before us.
Reasons to visit Xuecheng Restaurant: An authentic setting and experience with a gigantic menu, Crystal Dumplings and Roast Duck (dish and performance).