the wedding banquet
I’m not as informed within the Hong Kong foodie world as I’d like to be – so it was only this past week that I finally made a visit to Xǐ Yàn Sweets down in Wanchai’s Wing Fung Street. All credit goes to my mom, who is always reeling off names of restaurants that I should try out, for varying reasons!
Xǐ Yàn Sweets is the brainchild of artist-come-restauranteur/chef Jacky Yu. The original Xǐ Yàn started in 2000 as a ‘private kitchen’, or speakeasy/underground restaurant, that are popular in Hong Kong. The menus change constantly and you eat what the chef decides to prepare that day, a good indicator that the food served will be fresh and seasonal. In fact, written at the bottom of the sample menu for the speakeasy is the following disclaimer:
Note : the menu may be subjected to slight changes if the chefs believe that certain ingredients available for the particular day is not as satisfactory for serving.
To find out more, check out a wonderfully written and comprehensive review of the original Xǐ Yàn over at Cha Xiu Bao!
The name of the establishment, Xǐ Yàn (囍宴), is a nod to the traditional Chinese wedding banquet, but the dishes couldn’t fall further from the rigid, set styles of banquet fare, where there will be one chosen regional cuisine throughout the entire course progression. The marriage, if you excuse the pun, of many different regional Asian cuisines at Xǐ Yàn means that in one night you’ll be able to sample delectable dishes ranging from sweet Japanese tomatoes with sesame sauce (which my tomato-aversive mother declared as the best she had ever tasted) to coconut chicken soup. A peek at the sample menu from their website also reveals dishes such as foie gras somen, tofu ice cream, and scallop on glutinous rice with olive & black bean paste – showing a true fusion of some of Asia’s best cuisines, with a slight Western/European touch.
For our meal that day we ordered from the lunch menu (ranging from $70-80HKD, with a free drink and the option to add dessert to your meal for $18HKD). First up were my Zhenjiang spareribs with sesame rice, which were tangy and on the right side of sweet. The small porcelain bowl of dark vinegar sauce was definitely deceptive – it concealed an entire bounty of melt-in-your-mouth spareribs under its surface! The rice was admittedly not that special, merely white sesame seeds sprinkled on top of decently cooked grains, but no real complaints there. The crispy chicken breast did leave something to be desired though – compared to the rich flavour of the Zhenjiang spareribs, the chicken was rendered bland and tasteless, and it definitely wasn’t as crispy as one would have expected. With that said, it was not a bad tasting dish. It was light and indeed tasty; it was unfortunate that its simple flavour was overpowered by the strong vinegared spareribs (probably a mistake on our part to order such vastly different dishes!).
The meal left us rather full and satisfied, but never being one to refuse desserts (particularly in this branch of Xǐ Yàn, with the word Sweets tacked on at the end!), I ordered the intruiguing ‘black and white pudding’, or rather, the black sesame & tofu pudding.
You can see by the photo just how silky the pudding was, with its gleaming, moist surface. The pudding was adorable to look at and even better to eat. My mom, who doth protested and took only a few spoonfuls to sample the dessert, ended up justifying a few more mouthfuls on the premise that tofu and black sesame are ‘very healthy ingredients’. Indeed! It was yummy, and the fact that the tofu and sesame brought forth a slight bittersweet flavour made it less cloying on the palate, as opposed to desserts that err on the overly-sweet side. The little black sesame seeds were a nice touch. Needless to say, the entire pudding was devoured in record time.
Xǐ Yàn is an interesting place, and even with its sleek and modern decor it still manages to retain some warmth and comfort – perhaps this is due to the food, as I always find Asian cuisine to be innately comforting and obviously familiar. I’d love to try the original Xǐ Yàn (private kitchen), but I hear there is a constant waiting list a la the Oprah Winfrey show, so in the meantime I shall be planning another visit to Xǐ Yàn Sweets, or Xǐ Yàn Tastes in Causeway Bay.
One thing my mom and I were both wondering was whether Xǐ Yàn was also inspired by the Ang Lee movie of the same name (The Wedding Banquet, 1993), which I love. As a film that touches upon themes such as departure from tradition, East meeting West, and of course the brilliant interpretation of modern day homosexuality makes it hard for me to imagine that Jacky, as an openly gay media personality, wasn’t in some way paying homage to it. In any case, it’s a culinary venture that scores highly in my book.
Xǐ Yàn Sweets
Shop 1, G/F, 8 Wing Fung Street
Wanchai, Hong Kong
Tel: 2833 6299
3/F, 83 Wanchai Road
Wanchai, ong Kong
Tel: 2575 6966
Xǐ Yàn Tastes
2/F (inside G.O.D)
Leighton Centre, Sharp Street East
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Tel: 2881 6693
And for our friends in Singapore:
Xǐ Yàn Singapore
38A Craig Road
Tel: 6220 3546