Longjing Manor: Hangzhou’s most famous restaurant

Longjing Manor: Hangzhou’s most famous restaurant

You’ll remember everything about “Dragon Well” Manor -- the food, the service, the scenery … and the bill
long jing "dragon well" manor
Longjing Manor is set in a tranquil and traditional Hangzhou garden. Choose to dine in a private room or al fresco.

Set amid tea plantations, away from the crowds thronging West Lake, Longjing (“Dragon Well”) Manor gained global acclaim following a review by famed British food writer Fuchsia Dunlop in “The New Yorker.”

Dunlop highlighted the restaurant’s devotion to serving traceable food -- from farm to plate -- drawing comparisons to American restaurateur Alice Water’s Chez Panisse.

Longjing Manor proprietor Dai Jianjun (戴建军) became a somewhat unwitting personality in the burgeoning locavore dining movement.

Beautiful food, beautiful scenery

Part of the appeal of Longjing Manor is its serene setting.

Hangzhou has long been known as “Shanghai’s back garden.” The feeling of ease and calm seems incongruous in a prosperous city of nearly 9 million, but it’s a very real sensation for visitors from Shanghai and other larger cities.

Rows of imported luxury vehicles in the Longjing Manor parking lot attest to the popularity of the restaurant as a retreat for the region’s wealthy elite.

The restaurant is made up exclusively of private rooms, with at least one waiter dedicated to each table.

You can also eat al fresco with dramatic views of surrounding tea plantations.

Longjing Manor offers a daily set menu based on available ingredients -- almost everything comes from local farms.

A notable exception is sea cucumber, which is imported from Liaoning Province.

Resembling a diseased phallus, the dish inevitably draws giggles from the sternest diners. Longjing Manor’s sea cucumber is much less chewy than other versions, but will rarely land on any foreigner’s list of favorites.

long jing "dragon well" manorLongjing Manor cooks sea cucumbers in abalone soup.

Zhe cuisine, an under-appreciated tradition

The cuisine of the Yangtze River Delta, encompassing an area including Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, rarely makes an impact outside of the region.

Although “Zhe” (浙江菜) or Zhejiang cuisine is one of the Eight Culinary Traditions of China, it lacks the spiciness of Sichuan or Hunan cuisine, or the creativity and resourcefulness of Cantonese cuisine, which have delighted palates around the globe.

But almost any dish one might try (save the sea cucumber) will be worthy of praise.

The vegetables are noticeably fresher and crisper than what is typically served in Shanghai, and even the roast fatty pork (hong shao rou, 红烧肉) is much more refined than usual.

Although more bland than familiar Chinese cuisines, the Zhe food at Longjing Manor is considerably lighter and less oily than that in Shanghai. This lightness is a hallmark of Zhe cuisine.

Longjing Manor is not cheap. Lunch for four, including two cups of tea and two glasses of yellow rice wine (huangjiu), runs about RMB 2,100.

While the setting and service are superb at Longjing Manor, comparable farm-fresh food can be found at less attractive restaurants around the region for less than one-tenth the price. The more cost-conscious foodie may prefer to arrange a picnic among the surrounding rows of Longjing’s well-manicured tea plants for a similarly memorable experience.

A word of caution for those with limited Chinese language abilities: Longjing Manor caters almost exclusively to the local market, so communication can be difficult. Parties without a Chinese speaker will likely experience difficulty confirming a reservation or (as happened during our visit) be shown the toilet when requesting a glass of water.

More on CNNGo: 

Longjing “Dragon Well” Manor (龙井草堂)
399 Longjing Road, Hangzhou
杭州市龙井路399号
+86 571 8788 8777
10 a.m.-10 p.m.
caotangadai@vip.163.com

 

John Coughlan is a California native, Irish national, and longtime resident of Shanghai’s former French Concession.

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