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Home-style in Hanghzhou provides welcome respite

FINDING a restaurant to relax and try some local cuisine around the West Lake in Hangzhou seems to be a super easy job for most people. But when you want something special, not tourist-oriented, in this city known as "heaven on earth," it can be a time and energy consuming mission.

Actually, it was almost by coincidence that I found the Da Chik Mun restaurant on Beishan Road. After several hours marching under the scorching sun around the West Lake, my only needs were to find somewhere to rest my sore feet and feed anything edible into my empty stomach. My random choice of eatery proved to be a smart decision, not only satisfying my palate but also providing a fresh dining experience in a city I have visited many times.

Renovated from a temple dating back to the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), the restaurant offers a quiet and classic atmosphere. While interior decor is prone to the ancient Chinese style of wood frame windows, red lanterns and a lotus pond, the steel dining tables and fluffy sofas on the ground floor look modern and comfortable. So does its menu.

Boasting itself as an eatery supplying private home dining cuisine, the restaurant names a series of dishes after Da Chik Mun, including Da Chik Mun Pig's Knuckle and Da Chik Mun Special Roast Pork Chop. According to the duty manager, most of the restaurant's dishes were created by the chief chef who employs unique seasoning and tries to mix different ingredients in a new way.

Following Chinese ordering tradition, I chose three courses of cold dishes as entrees. The Da Chik Mun Pig's Knuckle (36 yuan/US$5.27) is definitely a must try. Different from the processed pig's knuckle available at supermarkets, the meat and the pork skin blended completely, tasting smoother and delicious. The chef adds a few fried pork flakes on top of each piece, which strengthened the taste of the flesh and eliminated the pork skin's greasiness.

When the waitress served the Small Yellow Croaker in Black Bean Sauce (28 yuan), it didn't look that attractive, appearing to be no different from the same dish at any Chinese restaurant. But the first bite of the fish proved me wrong. The salty flesh fully absorbed the black bean sauce, but my palate could still distinguish the succulence and freshness of the fish and agreed the simple flavoring was the best way to present the fish. The last cold dish - Peasant Family Flavor Vegetable Rolls (18 yuan) - wasn't such a surprise. Maybe it was a better choice for vegetarians as it just wrapped dozens of fresh vegetables with a bean curd leaf.

For hot dishes, I recommend a meat dish and vegetable meal. No matter what else you order in Da Chik Mun, these two shouldn't be missed. The chef applies his magic to squeeze all the greasiness out of the Da Chik Mun Special Pork Chop (48 yuan). The pork chop was tasty and refreshing, the meat tender and juicy, and I personally liked to nibble the delicious lean meat on the bone. The Mushrooms Braised with Leaf Mustard and Cauliflower (28 yuan) is another special creation. The leaf mustard is cut into tiny pieces cooked into a soup with slices of mushroom and cauliflower. The cooking retains the vegetables' original freshness and it tastes light and a little sweet, which in my opinion is much better than the usual fried style of other restaurants.

Though the quantity of each dish was not sufficient, the prices are very fair for such private home quality cuisine. When you've enjoyed the gourmand experience in Da Chik Mun, take a visit inside. According to reports, the restaurant owner, an interior designer, spent nearly 6 million yuan to renovate the main hall of Zhaoxian Temple. The ancient temple was destroyed at the end of Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and it wasn't until 1676 that several monks raised funds to rebuild it. After 1949, it used to be a warehouse of nearby Xinxin Hotel. To protect its originality, the owner didn't remove any old infrastructure during the face-lift. Instead, he added ancient artifacts to retain the atmosphere.

The hall now is divided into two floors and private rooms on the second have a nice view of the West Lake, especially in fine weather.


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