China’s thousands of years of history have nurtured a diverse and beautiful cultural treasure. With the refinement of Chinese cuisine, the catering industry is stillexploring how to present Chinese aesthetic, which cannot be achieved fortnight and for some people, it is a lifelong endeavour. This year’s newly-awarded Michelin one-star Sichuan cuisine restaurant in Guangzhou – Yong – is a pioneer in this regard. In its first year of operation, Yong has not only developed its own style but also created a memorable dining space where Chinese culture is perfectly interpreted through the art of food.
I have known the founding team for a long time. They chose to renovate a century-old villa in Dongshankou, an old urban area of Guangzhou. The original architectural structure and even the name of the building were retained. Only the internal walls, ceilings and floors were renovated with full respect of cultural significance. The ceiling aged and coated with gold foil, the entrance door, the stone steps, the floor furnishings and dining tables, all have a story to tell. It has been more than two years since Yong came into being, counting the revamping and one-year opening.
The operation team not only projects their dedication to Chinese culture onto the restaurant building and interior design, but also makes replica serving wares based on the original materials and appearance of ancient cultural relics, which are exquisite enough to make us attend to and appreciate them. The team would not miss any opportunity to reproduce Chinese aesthetic.
The evolution of Yong has not stopped, and new elements are still being added. Despite conducting a bold recreation of historical relics, the restaurant has never deviated from being low-key and modest. It is an energy that can bond and create connections, and each time I’m deeply moved by the details.
This time, I was invited to try out Yong’s anniversary menu. It was also a reunion for me, being able to catch up with many friends. Having recently won one Michelin star, team Yong was greatly boosted in morale. The dishes reflect Chef Zhang’s confidence in his cooking style, not just technique-oriented, but also bringing in local terroir and ingredients. This time, his Sichuan dishes incorporated more Cantonese elements, which I think is both pragmatic and in line with the future trend.
In addition to pursuingtasting good, Chinese cuisine seeks body-nourishing and health-benefiting values in food. This time, there are many dishes that have left a deep impression on me. The first dish for warming up, Termite Mushroom Soup that uses seasonal ingredients is aromatic and mellow to drink. The Pickled Pepper & Chicken Feet in the appetitser box is a dish developed by Chef Lan in his early years, which is well-known far and wide. Chef Zhang replaces the chicken feet with pig ears that are also chewy and rich in collagen.
The Guaiwei Beef is numbing, spicy, sour, slightly sweet and savoury – slightly steals the show at the start of the meal.
The Appetitser Box
The Peppery Squid is excellent: Dongshan Island squid from Fujian loaded with roe is stuffed with a mixture of glutinous rice, Wuchang rice from Heilongjiang, Japanese dried scallop, and Nuodeng ham from Yunnan. The squid is quickly pan-fried on both sides before serving with a soft center, preserving the squid’s aroma and chewy texture. The problem of overcooking is commonly seen in many Chinese dishes, but Chef Zhang cooks with precise control over food temperature and level of doneness.
The highlight of the meal is the Fish Maw in Pengqi Crab Sauce, featuring small baby crabs that live in the freshwaters along the south-east coast of China. Crab roe is made into a rich crab sauce, crab shells and bones into clear broth and crab oil. The process of preparing the crabs and making the sauce is already complicated. Fish maw is simmered in chicken consommé before being placed on top of the sauce and peas. The dish’s vibrant colours and rich umami are widely appreciated by the diners.
The Peppery Squid/ Fish Maw in Pengqi Crab Sauce
I’ve always liked the way Chef Zhang handles sea cucumber, soaking and simmering it in thick chicken broth until it reaches a desired level of softness. The sea cucumber is filled with shrimp and pork paste, a common stuffing in Cantonese cuisine, and paired with a sauce made from chicken broth and pickled vegetables. A dish that fuses Sichuanese pickled flavour and Cantonese technique.
For Softshell Turtle with Bean Paste, 5-year-old softshell turtle is selected for its rich content of collagen and tender meat. Bean paste is stir-fried together with turtle soup, ginger and garlic, thickened and smoothened by the collagen in the soup. This is a tonifying dish that’s perfect to have in early autumn.
Finally, squab breast is smoked with camphor wood and tea leaves and chargrilled twice, then left to rest for a while before being cut into pieces, with excellent control over the degreeof doneness.
Tea-smoked Squab Breast
The exquisite dessert section includes Fermented Bean Curd Cake, Sugar Fritters, Steamed Pork Slices with Tangerine Peel, Almond Tofu, and Ice Jelly in Brown Sugar Syrup, each presented in replica ancient wares, exuding timeless elegance and refined temperament while satisfying your sweet tooth. Much like Chinese petit-four, it would be great to add them to the everyday menu.
Fermented Bean Curd Cake, Sugar Fritters, Steamed Pork Slices with Tangerine Peel, Almond Tofu
I visited Yong once when the building was still under renovation. Watching them going from uncertainty in menu design to today’s achievement, makes me deeply moved. They let culture shine through while using the best quality ingredients at the same time: although it is not a budget restaurant, it just seems Yong has no cost considerations, which had me wonder how they have managed to run the business in a sustainable way.
If I were to look back on the menu and dining experience, there were some really minor issues, but the quality of the anniversary menu deserves beyond doubt two stars. The ambience and service have progressed a lot,showcasing elegance, attention to detail, and sophistication. Chef Zhang’s journey has just started, and so do many Chinese restaurants. The hope is that in the future, more Chinese restaurants can demonstrate their cuisine and aesthetic with confidence and dignity.
Food itself is the best slogan for a restaurant. Yong has truly lived up to its philosophy: true flavours are natural and serene.
（Left to Right）Ricky Li，Owner of Yong、The Author、Dizhu Lu，Gastronome、Lan Guijun, Executive Chef of Yong、George Zhang，Head Chef of Yong
Photo: Allstar Communications、蘭亭永