Shelter from winter coldness

By Zoe Li (That's Beijing)
Updated: 2007-01-08 09:23

Seeking shelter from Beijing's unforgiving winter, we rushed towards Xiangjiang Mingcheng for some Hong Kong-style hotpot, and were relieved upon finally entering their warm dining hall. Spacious and cheerful, it was dotted with pots of bubbling broth, while dense steam unfurled over the ruby cheeks of diners.

We ordered the soup base made with huadiao, one of the best of Shaoxing's yellow wines. One whiff of its pungent aroma cleared our heads and piqued our appetites. A whole chicken was served with it, and was cooked at the table.

This is one of those hotpot places where you don't have to do anything for yourself if you don't want to. The courteous waitress did all the dirty work, putting the raw chicken pieces into the boiling soup and measuring the cooking time carefully. She turned the heat off at the right moment and advised us to let the chicken steep in the hot water for a while. The result was thoroughly cooked yet tender and succulent chicken meat. A refreshing Cantonese-style ginger and spring onion dipping sauce was provided. Authentic and lightly mixed with oil, the ginger brought out the flavor of the chicken meat.

As we were enjoying the chicken, we chucked all the meatballs into the pot, as they take some time to cook. Meat and seafood balls in southern cuisine are prized for their shuang texture, which lies somewhere between crispy and chewy. The ideal meatball should have a resistance to the bite that suddenly gives way to crispness. Xiangjiang Mingcheng's spherical creations are testament to this. The assorted shouda-hand pulverized-meatballs were freshly made on the premises, delivering the shuang-ness we were looking for.

The cubed beef with tendons also took a while to cook, as the tendons need time to soften, but they're well worth the wait. The chewy beef soaks up all the goodness from the broth, while the XO sauce we dipped it in-a paste of chilies and dried seafood-pushed up the savory notch.

After a feast of protein, we craved sweets. The hot walnut tea was pale, bland and suspiciously watery, but we gave them a second chance and ordered milk tarts. Though the petite pastries were sweet enough, the filling was insufficient, and the shell lacked body. The free fruit plate was able to console us to some degree.

Despite dessert, we enjoyed an authentic Cantonese meal in a spotlessly clean, casually sophisticated environment, leaving us thoroughly defrosted on a bitter winter's night.

Xiangjiang Mingcheng
Location: 2/F, Tower B, Donghuan Plaza, Dongzhimen Dongzhongjie, Dongcheng
Tel: 010-64183666/64183777


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