The One With Fa Zu Jie – A Shanghainese Adventure With A French Twist

I have been living in Hong Kong for almost three years now, and the term “private kitchen” still puzzles me. Is this the name given to residential flats converted to quasi-restaurants serving a select table of discerning diners? Or a place with too few tables that, with their popularity, their waiting lists are at least weeks-long? Or, or… are private kitchens just that – a kitchen in a house, a private residential address, a handful of regular customers?

Maybe my more experienced foodies will be able able to shed light into this, but for now, let me share with you a gem of a find I had in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong.

And I do mean in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong. To reach Fa Zu Jie (法租界) was also part and parcel of its mystic and experience. Snaking your way round unassuming stalls, down suspicious looking alleyways, climbing the most unlikely looking staircases, even your iPhone GPS and printed maps may be of little use.

So, what do you do? Follow your nose. When you are confronted with a nondescript door with the unmistakable smell of delicious cooking and faint clinking of champagne glasses, you do what your gut tells you.

You knock.

Fa Zu Jie’s Shanghainese version of Eton mess is incredible. A gigantic American strawberry the size of a baby’s fist is accompanied by a meringue and cream that has been flavoured with the aromatic osmanthus flower, and it is a wonderful, light dessert t

Stepping into Fa Zu Jie is like attending a party where you know nobody yet you feel right at home. The immaculate space, with its glassroofed backyard and open kitchen, could comfortably seats 30 patrons on a busy day. And it was a busy night.

Winnie's Birthday Dinner at Fa Zu Jie

The three men behind Fa Zu Jie were no doubt the force to be reckoned with to the success of this undeniably popular private kitched. Fa Zu Jie is simply Mandarin for the French Concession, and Shanghainese-French fusion food of its fixed menu (HK$538 per person) was nothing but stellar, through and through.

Winnie's Birthday Dinner at Fa Zu Jie

A word about the menu. It is full of funny sounding names which got me chortling in amusement the first time I read it. For example, what in the world is Miss Quail. Mr. Sanuki. Wax Apple. Wolfberry. All are Half Drunk? Who is Mr. Sanuki? How do you get an apple drunk?

But as you sink you teeth into their wonderful creations, all notions of ridiculous dish names and equally unhelpful description went out of the window.

Winnie's Birthday Dinner at Fa Zu Jie

The aforementioned dish was actually like drunken chicken, only that the larger sized Australian quail was used. Cooked with aged hua diao (rice wine) and served cold on a bed of chewy Japanese udon, it was perfection to the last slurp.

Winnie's Birthday Dinner at Fa Zu Jie

Black Sea. Exploration. As you put your spoon to dig into this glass, you’ll explore sea whelk, fried sugared sea weed, possibly umami and jelly made from Jinjiang vinegar. A surprising burst of flavour with every spoonful.

Winnie's Birthday Dinner at Fa Zu Jie

Snow. Yellow Croaker. Delicately poached fillet with buttery broth, balanced on silky tofu. Both were so smooth, sometimes I couldn’t tell if I was tasting fish or tofu.

Winnie's Birthday Dinner at Fa Zu Jie

Spring. Snow. Dutch Yellow. Bamboo shoots with Hollandaise sauce and deep fried capers. Strange combination, yes? But it worked like a charm.

Winnie's Birthday Dinner at Fa Zu Jie

Diana Spicy Slow-cooked Beef. Wonton.
It was surprising how such a large chunk of beer could be stewed to such tenderness. The wonton itself was a masterpiece; stuffed with pumpkin and onions which made it sweet, an interesting contrast to the pungent beef broth they were sitting in.

Winnie's Birthday Dinner at Fa Zu Jie

Red Dress. White Hat. With such a name we hazarded a couple of guesses on what this dessert would be. Red bean soup with almond? Watermelon with bean curd? So imagine our delighted surprise when the dessert appeared in the form of a large (and I do mean large) strawberry with meringue and cream lightly scented with osmanthis flower. After the parade of Shanghainese fusion food we had it was such a wonderful end to a great meal.

The service at Fa Zu Jie was impressive to say the least. Wine glasses were promptly filled (it’s BYOB with no corkage charge) and each dish was lovingly described and emphasised. Advanced booking is mandatory, and you need to have at least a table for four.

I could not imagine a better place to spend my birthday at.

Fa Zu Jie (法租界)
1st Floor, 20A D’Aguilar Street
Central, Hong Kong
3487 1715

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