Thursday, 4 October 2018

Celebrating Chinese Moon Festival at Lychee Oriental

On the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, Chinese and Vietnamese people all over the world celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. After the Spring Festival, this is the most important date on the Chinese Calendar and is sometimes known as Chinese Moon Festival or simply Moon Festival. In the Gregorian Calendar, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls in late September or early October depending on when there is a full moon at night. 

On Tuesday 25th September, Glasgow restaurant Lychee Oriental launched a 5 course set menu that pays homage to Hong Kong's 1950's tearoom culture and Chef Jimmy Lee hosted a special press dinner where myself and Nicola joined some of Glasgow's movers and shakers to celebrate the Chinese Moon Festival in style.
Chef Jimmy Lee is a popular face on the Glasgow restaurant scene, partly down to his regular TV appearances but mostly down to the rave reviews that his upmarket restaurant has been receiving since he opened the restaurant doors.

The menu at Lychee Oriental offers a wide selection of traditional Chinese dishes using the best Scottish ingredients and often with a modern twist however, the Chinese Moon Festival menu that we enjoyed was a collection of dishes that Jimmy had put together to help us get a feel for the food that he would enjoy with his family at this important time of the year.

Once our introductions were out of the way, our first course of Ginger Broth Congee arrived to kick off the celebrations. I've never had congee before and when advised that it is a traditional rice porridge (or gruel) served all across Asia, I wasn't too sure that I wanted to eat it as I'm not a big fan of porridge however the contents of the little copper cup in front of me was a very pleasant surprise. Once I got over the texture, the rich flavours of fresh ginger and spring onion stood out and acted as a foil to the savoury and salty flavour from the broth that the congee had been cooked in. The crispy deep fried lotus root looked great for the picture but also provided a contrasting texture against the soft congee. 

Next up, we were presented with Crispy Wontons with Soy Butter Dip. I love wontons, regardless of whether they are boiled or deep fried although if given the choice, I'm on the crispy version every time. These traditional deep fried parcels were stuffed with a filling of well seasoned pork mince & shrimp and on the plate resembled the money bags carried by wealthy Chinese gentlemen in days gone by. The wontons were fantastic, crispy on the outside but soft and juicy on the inside with the flavour of ginger, garlic and sesame fighting for attention on the palate. Great on their own, but when dipped in the accompanying soy butter sauce, the flavours were taken to another level. 

The showpiece of the evening was the main course of Five Spice Beef Flank Stew which was served at the table by Jimmy from an ornate casserole dish. I always associate Chinese food with quick stir-fries and dishes so was eager to see how the Chinese do classic comfort food.

When the lid was removed, the restaurant was filled with the rich aroma of a well cooked stew. The undeniable notes of Chinese five spice, star anise and cinnamon permeated the room and we all looked forward to tucking in.

When Autumn begins to roll in, a hearty stew is one of life's pleasures and the slow cooked beef flank infused with the flavours of the Orient was an absolute winner. The meat was soft, tender and fell apart with little pressure from my fork whilst slow cooked carrots added an extra layer of texture to the stew. In addition to the spices mentioned before, the beef had been cooked alongside a generous handful of dried chillies and although Jimmy warned us not to eat the chillies, they did manage to impart a very pleasant heat that lasted on the tongue and lips for some time after. I serve my stew with mashed potatoes and and brocolli, Jimmy served his with steamed rice and pak choi - both work a treat! 

Chinese restaurants are not really known for their desserts. I think the last time that I ordered a dessert in a Chinese restaurant I had a choice of either banana fritter or a banana split, which in fairness don't really float my boat, and as a result I have not ordered a 'Chinese' pudding in many years. That said, after Jimmy's pudding of Hong Kong Peanut Butter French Toast with Banana Fritter and Ginger Ice-cream, I'll be taking care to check the puddings in the future.
Talk about indulgent? Soft, sweet banana encased in a thin batter made this one of the better fritters that I've had the pleasure of eating. The French toast was sublime, crispy outside with soft eggy bread and salted peanut butter inside, and when eaten with the ginger ice-cream, an almost perfect mouthful of pudding heaven. 

The Moon Festival is all about lunar appreciations and as such, Jimmy ended the meal by serving Mooncake, a Chinese bakery product made using lotus been paste with a salted duck egg yolk hidden inside which is regarded as a delicacy and usually shared with friends and family. Mooncake is very rich and also a bit of an acquired taste so Jimmy cut the cake into bite size pieces and also removed the salted duck yolk. I'll be honest and say that I wasn't a fan of  the Mooncake although the majority of the guests at our table seemed to enjoy the unusual texture and flavour of the cake.

Our Mooncake was served with a pot of Chinese tea and despite the tea not being as strong tasting as my preferred 'Builder's' Tea', I found it worked well as a digestif after our traditional Chinese banquet.

The Chinese Moon Festival Menu is available until October 25th and costs just £30 per head which I think offers fantastic value for money. 
We had a great evening as guests of Jimmy Lee and look forward to  getting back again soon. In fact, we have no excuses for not returning quickly as Nicola was lucky enough to win a voucher at the start of the evening when Jimmy welcomes us all along and offered us each a Moon Festival gift. 

I would like to thank Chef Jimmy for his hospitality and generosity on the night and wish him all the best for the future. We dined as guests of the restaurant however the review above is an honest account of our evening.

Don't miss your chance to grab a piece of Chinese tradition by booking online here.

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