Some 1700 kilometres north of the province of Guangzhou, about the distance from Madrid to Prague, lies Shanxi, literally "west of the mountain".
Given the distance, it's no surprise the food in Shanxi is different from the Cantonese food of the south. A trip to the newly opened Shanxi Noodle House on Lincoln Rd in Addington was a chance to sample these differences.
Shanxi province, not to be confused with Shaanxi, the home of the Terracotta Warriors, is renowned for being the home of the Kingdom of Jin, coal, sites of Buddhist importance, vinegar and wheat. It is the Chinese wheat specialties that mark this restaurant as something special.
Our party of four was quickly taken to our table, weaving our way through the closely positioned tables. The restaurant was half full of mostly Chinese groups and families, but the hubbub of the place ensured that conversations were as private as we wanted.
While many of the city's Chinese restaurants treat decor as an afterthought, this restaurant is beautifully, almost ostentatiously decorated, and completed with something of a rarity - an open Chinese kitchen. It affords a fine view of busy chefs preparing dishes and making Shanxi hand-pulled noodles.
There was only a short wait before our shared entree of deep fried squid ($8) arrived. It was astonishingly good, lightly seasoned and tender.
In short order our mains began to arrive with the first being the steamed pork slices with buns ($32). Don't let the name fool you, the pork belly is flavourful, tender and delicious - placing a slice or two in the delightful mantou, a steamed bread from northern China we could have been sitting in Taiyuan.
The sweet and sour fish ($38) arrived next and didn't match up to the starter, and other restaurants locally do it better. The choice of perch seemed odd and while two of us are used to picking fine bones out of our food, our guests were not so keen.
There was no time to sulk; a highlight of the night, sauteed chicken with hand-pulled noodles ($28) arrived. The noodles were exactly as they should be, al dente, and served here with a warmly spiced stewed chicken and potatoes. Lovely comfort food for a cool evening and just what you might eat after a hard day touring temples in Wutaishan.
Shanxi pancakes are famous so we took the chance to sample the crispy pancakes with minced beef ($22) which were good but perhaps over-shadowed by the crispy beef ($22) arriving shortly after. The beef is coated in a thin, crunchy batter and it is a delicately flavoured dish - which was quickly devoured.
Our food was well matched with a shared bottle of pinot noir at a reasonable corkage of $5 for the bottle, which we supplemented with a choice from the extensive selection of teas at $2 per person.
We could have ordered from an adequately broad wine list from $28 a bottle had our guests not been so generous and well prepared.
The chefs at this restaurant, all Shanxi natives, are experts at their craft and produced a delicious meal for us. It was heartening, particularly for the northern Chinese in our group, to see such a fine, authentic restaurant in Christchurch. The prices are definitely not in the cheap and cheerful category, but as they say 'yi fen qian, yi fen huo' - roughly, you get what you pay for.
One can only hope the vision of this restaurateur to bring such sophisticated Chinese food to our city is rewarded.
Shanxi Noodle House
283 Lincoln Rd, Addington, ph 423 1976 Hours: 11am - 10pm, open seven days.
How much: $172 for four people, not including wine. Licensed and BYO wine.
Upside: Very authentic food. Friendly and knowledgeable staff.
Downside: Not for the cheap and cheerful eaters-out. Snugly placed tables.
Go again? Absolutely. I'm thinking about pork and buns right now.
- The Press