Ariticle :Randy Lee Svendsen Photos:by Don Cody, Randy Lee Svendsen and Qing Wang Fu, TianJin
QING WANG FU
I had the pleasure of being invited to visit Qing Wang Fu for 2 days to review their Chinese Restaurant the first night and participate in a Western Style Wine Dinner the second night. I was particularly excited about this opportunity due to the historical nature of this site, located in Tianjin. According to the property’s website, “The Qing Wang Fu cultural hotel area is composed of Qing Wang Fu (Prince Qing’s Mansion), an urban cultural relic club, and Qing Wang Fu Hotel, a townhouse hotel themed in history and culture. Carrying deep historical contents and legendary stories, Qing Wang Fu, firstly built in 1922, was the Mansion of Zai Zhen, the ‘Prince Qing of Iron Hat’ in the late Qing Dynasty. The adjacent Qing Wang Fu Hotel, whose predecessor was named “Shan Yi Li” and firstly built in 1937, matches the main part of Qing Wang Fu perfectly as a supporting area. The Qing Wang Fu cultural hotel area is located in the ‘Five Avenue Historic Building Area’ where most cultural and historic buildings in Tianjin are located, and a strong British ‘villa’ style can be easily felt when walking here. After two years of careful restoration, now, the Qing Wang Fu area has become the best place for people to relax themselves in a busy city life. High-ended services and top facilities are available for cultural tourism, catering and leisure, and conference accommodation, meeting all needs of modern life.Those knowing peace and calmness well must transcend the material world. Here, you will have an unworldly ‘heart’ experience of relaxation. Qing Wang Fu is located at No.55 Chongqing Road (originally Cambridge Street of the former British Concession), Heping District of Tianjin. Starting to build in 1922, it has been designated as a municipal-level cultural relics protection unit and a historic construction under special protection in Tianjin. The building was the private residence designed by Xiaode Zhang (Lande Zhang), chief eunuch of the royal family of the late Qing Dynasty, and constructed under his supervision. After one-year construction and completed in 1923, it was then regarded as a top-class residence for the Chinese living in the old British Concession. In 1925, Zaizhen, the fourth Prince Qing in the Qing Dynasty, bought the house from Xiaode Zhang and moved in. Thus, it was named Qing Wang Fu. Almost a hundred years has passed, and this ancient mansion has been endowed with new meaning after its delicate renovation. It is now one of the projects under Tianjin Historical Architecture Restoration and Development Co., Ltd. CCA International, a company with world fame, is responsible for its daily operation. It has become an urban cultural relic club for cultural tourism, business conference, dining and recreation. Its elegant dining rooms for Chinese and Western food, cozy wine vault and romantic Bistro Thonet with a garden view are the top choices for rest and relaxation. The Qing Wang Fu Hotel adjacent to the mansion is formerly an English style residence community consisting of 7 townhouses with gardens, built in 1937 and named Shan Yi Li. After two-year’s repair, the hotel fully retains its architectural style of brick walls and sloped roof with red tiles as well as its orderly street blocks, and becomes the first townhouse hotel themed in history and culture in Tianjin. With separate courtyards and a private tranquility, the hotel now has 16 attached-villa-style hotel suites and 17 hotel apartments. The lanes and alleys are filled with the modesty and profoundness accumulated with time, telling stories of the ages.”
I arrived in the afternoon and checked into the hotel and I was escorted by Miller Yao, Sales Manager, to what I thought would be my hotel room. I was surprised and delighted to discover that my hotel room was actually a 3 floor Townhouse named Paisley, and Mr. Yao carried my heavy bag up a flight of stairs to my bedroom on the second floor. He showed me how to operate the switches and lights and left me to explore the rest of the place. Like a normal Townhouse there was a front and a back door opening to the gated gardens, and the first floor contained living and dining rooms and a well-appointed kitchen and half bathroom. Up the stairs to the second floor you find a private reading room with comfortable chair and table by a window, a sitting room with 2 chaise lounges, the bedroom with a king size poster bed, and a huge bathroom. Up another flight of stairs is a private office with a nice writing desk where I could sit and work while looking out the window at the other villas. This was my favorite room to take notes and do some writing. After unpacking and getting situated, I went out the door and walked back to the main lobby to see about dinner. I was greeted in the lobby by Cherry Zhang, English Interpreter & Historian. Still light outside, she gave me a tour of the Mansion’s property, the museum, the main Mansion with 2 floors and a basement, and other old buildings surrounding the Mansion. In the main building there is an atrium, which occupies the center of the first and second floors leaving all other rooms around the edges. The Prince liked Beijing Opera very much and when the performers would come from Beijing to perform in Tianjin, they would also perform at the mansion, and the Prince performed in some of the operas himself. Servants at the mansion even made a special baijiu called XiangBai for the Prince and his family. This was a very impressive and historical place and I could imagine what it must have been like almost a hundred years ago. Cherry took me to the restaurant on the second floor and introduced me to Tian Tian, Financial Assistant & Interpreter, and to Carl Liu, Front Office Manager & Concierge. I was delighted when they told me they would join me for dinner so I didn’t have to dine and write alone. We were in the Shanghai Room, named after the Prince’s voyages to the world sailing from the Shanghai Port. Selina Zhou, Restaurant Supervisor, opened a bottle of 1421 Classic Chardonnay from Xinjiang Province, China, and served it to our table. Our first dish was Roasted Pacific Saury, a whole fish (head removed) served pre-cut for easy use with chopsticks. This was preserved with a sauce that smelled like a vinegar marinade and baked in the oven. The fish had nice firm texture and complex flavors from the marinade of vinegar, garlic, and soy sauce. I loved the effect of the marinade, creating really good flavors and I enjoyed the fruity Chardonnay white wine with the fish. This was a different environment for me because my new friends joined me for dinner and explained all the interesting things to me, which was fun. Our next dish was Osmanthus & Lotus. Selina explained it was half of a sliced fresh lotus root stuffed with rice and sauce from boiled osmanthus flowers and sugar. This was sweetly scented with semi-firm lotus texture and deliciously sweet sauce and rice stuffed in the holes. A little different than my previous experiences with stuffed lotus root, the lotus was softer, but still firm, and the sauce was sweeter with a hidden spice I could not identify, maybe cinnamon or star anise. Great sweet flavors! Chef Tang Kwan To from Hong Kong stopped by to have a glass of Chardonnay with me and we took a nice photo together. Selina explained our next course, Seafood Shark’s Fin Cartilage & Mixed Vegetable Bisque, including Salmon, Tilapia, Crab Sticks and Mixed Vegetables in Chicken Broth with Starch for thickening. The soup was hot, thick, and chunky and a bit spicy from white pepper. There were chunks of seafood, and spinach was chopped fine giving the soup a distinctively green color. It was a hearty winter soup with special flavor from the shark’s fin cartilage, which looked like a pale noodle. It was good and savory and a little salty. Our next treat was King Prawns Deep-Fried in Shredded Potato. The peeled cooked prawns were rolled whole into balls, then coated with a salad dressing and rolled in pre-fried shredded potato and served with a cherry tomato. It looked good and crispy. I ate the cherry tomato first and then experimented with the big yellow ball of crispiness on my plate. The thick outer coating of shredded potato was very crispy and flavored nicely with the salad dressing that made it cling to the prawns. The dressing was mayonnaise based and a little sweet. The king prawns were firmly textured with good shrimp flavors that went well with the cool Chardonnay. This dish was excellent and fun to eat, crispy and sweet! Next was White Turnip & Sautéed Beef Tendon with Green Onions & Chili Sauce. The turnips were tender and the green onions were bursting with flavors from the excellent brown sauce, which was quite spicy. The slices of beef tendon were firm with lots of beef flavors. Red and green spicy chilies finished the mixture with a great sauce! Selina brought our next course, Bamboo Fried with Asparagus. It was a beautiful dish with cut bamboo and green asparagus spears covered with bamboo heart, a soft fibrous white colored substance that absorbed the sauce well. This is actually a fungus that grows inside bamboo. A few gogi berries were sprinkled on top for sweetness and the sauce was thick and clear with mild flavors. It was an interesting vegetable dish. Selina brought some Fried Rice with Garlic that included shrimp, scallop, bacon, egg, and carrot. There was an XO sauce to mix with the rice so I added a big spoonful and mixed it all together. Made from meat, seafood, chili, and peanut oil, it added a lot of extra flavors. The fried rice was good along but the XO sauce brought it to a higher level of excellence. This was a classic fried rice dish with good aromas and flavors, a great way to finish the main courses. Dessert began with 2 kinds of Dim Sum. One was a dark green dome of green tea and wheat flour filled with a paste of mashed red beans and coated with sesame seeds. It was sweet, smooth, and tasty. The white one looked like a stuffed leaf and corn was the predominant flavor with hints from the diced bamboo shoots and a little red pepper for a savory finish. Finally we were served a Mixed Fruit Platter of Watermelon, Kiwi, Dragon Fruit, Honey Melon, and Cherry Tomato. The end of a wonderful evening, we had a nice talk about our dinner while we finished our wine and then we left the palatial mansion and said good night.
Night 2: A Wine Dinner was arranged by Micarthy Shi, Food & Beverage Manager, and Chantal Li of Chantal (Tianjin) International Trade Co., Ltd. Western style dishes were paired with 6 wines from 1421 Wines of Beijing. Held in an auxiliary wing across from the mansion, the room was designed for this purpose, with lots of wine racks, a long table and big TV for presentations. Well appointed and attractive it was a good room for the event with several wine glasses at each seat for the different wines. Our first course was Pantry Scallop & Salad. The plate was beautifully arranged with stalks of asparagus and some greens with dots of sauce on the plate. The big sea scallop was very fresh, soft and tender with mild flavors. With this we had 1421 Gold Chardonnay from Xinjiang Province, China, an excellent fresh and cool white wine with soft gold color and good fruit flavors, particularly good with the scallop. Our next course was Black Mushroom Soup served with 1421 Carmenere from Chile. The soup was thick with rich mushroom flavors and there was a decoration on top of cream and a sprinkling of herbs. When I mixed it all together it blended well with the mushroom flavors and became a creamy mushroom soup. The red wine was medium bodied and went well with the flavors in the soup. Our next course was Poached Codfish with Bell Pepper Sauce served with 1421 Sauvignon Blanc from Chile. The fish was super tender and soft and the mild flavors from the sauce complimented the fish nicely. Under the fish was some spinach soaked in the sauce so I took some fish and spinach and mixed it all in the sauce and it tasted great. It was an interesting combination of textures and flavors. The cool and fresh white wine was light and fruity and was good with this fish dish. Our next course was Grilled Beef Filet & Foie Gras with Goose Liver Port Wine Sauce and Asparagus & Baby Carrots. This was served with 1421 Gold Cabernet Sauvignon and 1421 French Oak Barrel Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon also from Xinjiang, and 1421 Shiraz from Australia, thus giving the diners an opportunity to try 3 wines with this dish. The pan-fried foie gras was on top of the steak and the sauce was medium bodied and not overpowering as many steak sauces can be. It was a good match for the beef and foie gras, which I tried together. The beef was cooked medium and it was tender, while the foie gras was soft, both tasting good either together or alone with the sauce. The 3 wines were all medium bodied, but offered 3 distinct differences in flavor. The Gold Cabernet Sauvignon was not aged in oak barrels so it had pure Cabernet Sauvignon flavors, the French Oak Barrel Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was aged in oak barrels so it had the added complexities from the oak, and the Shiraz had the classic flavors and spiciness Australian Shiraz is known for. The guests truly enjoyed having 3 wines to experiment with and this stimulated a lot of conversation about the influences and flavors of the different wines with the food. Now it was time for dessert, Cheesecake Classic with Blueberry, Strawberry & Whipped Cream. The cheesecake was plain with classic texture and flavors and there was a design on the plate made from chocolate sauce. I tried half of the cake plain and then mixed the rest with the sauce for a nice finish to the dinner. We had plenty of wine left so we continued to enjoy our conversations while sharing a few more glasses of wine. It was a very pleasant evening. I savored 2 great dinners in 2 great nights, 1 Chinese and 1 Western, all on the property of a Qing Prince’s Mansion. This coupled with my spectacular townhouse accommodations left me feeling quite special, so much so that I pondered how nice it would be to just move in and never leave. Thanks to everyone at Qing Wang Fu for memories I shall never forget. Tianjin, you have given me yet another reason to visit you often!
My Best as Always,