Xihe Yayuan is a popular Chinese restaurant at the Ocean Terminal extension of Harbour City in the Tsim Sha Tsui section of Kowloon. And it has a privileged location at the end of the pier affording wonderful views of Victoria Harbour. The focus is on Northern Chinese cuisine. And the featured dish is an innovative take on Peking duck. But many other mouthwatering dishes are also on the menu. I had lunch there recently with three friends. So what will be the verdict?
The Back Story
Xihe Yayuan is a chain of restaurants featuring Peking duck. While their headquarters is in Beijing, there are several outlets in Beijing as well as several other mainland Chinese cities. For example, there are branches in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Wuhan, and Xi’an. In addition, there are outlets in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Peking Duck 101
Peking duck is a roasted duck dish that is highly popular in China. In fact, some foodies consider it China’s national dish. To clarify, Peking duck is prepared from ducks that have been specially bred for the purpose. And they are slaughtered after 65 days.
Before being roasted, the ducks are seasoned according to a special recipe. Then, they are dried and roasted in an oven, where they are hung. Peking duck is usually brought to the table whole. And it is carefully carved by the chef in front of diners.
Generally speaking, the ducks feature a crispy skin and little meat. And they are usually served with thin pancakes and condiments, which diners use to make bite sized sandwiches. And they can be eaten with either the fingers or chopsticks.
Usually. the condiments include spring onion, cucumber, and a sweet bean sauce. Often, the chef returns the carcass to the kitchen, where he prepares one or two additional dishes, which are brought to the table later.
Peking vs Beijing – a Note on Spelling
Peking duck is named after the city of Beijing, which is the capital of China. So what accounts for the difference in spelling?
Beijing is Chinese for “northern capital”. And it was traditionally spelled “Peking” in English. After the widespread adoption of pinyin as a way of transliterating Chinese into the Latin alphabet, the English spelling of the city changed from Peking to Beijing.
To clarify, the Chinese name of the city did not change. Only the way the city’s name was spelled in English changed.
In the same vein, Tsing Tao became Qingdao. But the eponymous beer kept its traditional spelling. And when Canton became Guangzhou, the Canton Trade Fair – which is held in the city – also retained its customary nomenclature.
Needless to say, we ordered the Xihe Yayuan Peking Duck! I mean, that is why we chose to eat at this particular restaurant! And the price for half a duck was HK$348 (US$44.25).
When the duck arrived, it was accompanied by the same traditional condiments that are usually served with Peking duck. However, in addition to these were several innovative condiments. And this is what really impressed my dining companions.
For example, there was a kind of candied powder, which exploded in your mouth. And there was something that appeared to be made with wasabi. The list goes on.
While the duck was being prepared in the kitchen. we ordered several other mostly light dishes. For example, the pickled cucumbers – a traditional starter – were HK$68 (US$8.50).
Served with a bowl of thick soup, the boiled dumplings were HK$98 (US$12.50).
The tofu with sea urchin and crab was HK$148 (US$19).
Served in a lotus leaf, the braised rice with diced chicken and abalone sauce was HK$148 (US$19).
The pork pancakes were arguably the most innovative dish that afternoon. To start with, they had been rolled, fried, and then sliced into bite size servings. Most importantly, rather then being served with a dipping sauce on the side, each one had a little plastic squeeze bottle stuck into it. They were HK$68 (US$8.50).
For dessert, the Chinese yam was served with blueberry jam with what looked like a pansy. Was it edible? Or was it just for decoration? I didn’t think to ask. Anyway, it was HK$88 (HK$US11,25 ).
We also ordered xiao long bao (not pictured). And they were HK$68 (US$8.50).
The Ambiance and Service
Xihe Yayuan had a contemporary almost zen-like décor. And there were floor-to-ceiling picture windows along one side, offering sweeping views of Victoria Harbour, the Hong Kong skyline, and the West Kowloon Cultural District. As for the service, it was professional and unobtrusive.
The bill for four diners came to HK$1,114 (US$142), which included HK$80 (US$10.25) for tea. Add in the HK$111 (US$14) service charge, and the total damage came to HK$1,225 (US$166), which worked out to HK$306 (US$39) each. However, we had promotional vouchers, which covered roughly one half of the bill.
I think it’s that million dollar view that brings many diners in. The view really is gorgeous. And it must be especially nice to dine there when the sun sets or after dark.
Regarding the food, the restaurant’s strong suit would have to be innovation. As my dining companions pointed out, the Peking duck was accompanied not only by the traditional condiments. In addition, there were the innovative condiments. And this is what stole the show.
And we all agreed that the most interesting dish was the pork pancakes. When they arrived at the table, we all went, “Wah!”
In fact, I’d love to have them again – perhaps washed down with a nice glass of wine! They would make excellent canapés – especially considering the novelty factor!
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These restaurants are also located in Harbour CIty:
Xihe Yayuan – Ocean Terminal, level 2, OTE 203, Harbour City, Tsim Shat Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Telephone: (852) 2157-3128.
Xihe Yayuan is located in the Ocean Terminal section of Harbour City. In fact, it is within walking distance of the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Terminal and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. However, the walk to the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR Station is a bit of a hike.