Not any more, it seems – and for those in doubt, visiting the new restaurants in Hangzhou, and some older ones, will prove this. Here are four to prioritise on your next visit.
1. Ru Yuan
Recently opened fine-dining restaurant Ru Yuan is housed in a three-storey concrete and pine wood property in Hangzhou Botanical Garden.
Forgoing the pomp and grandeur of many traditional Chinese restaurants, Ru Yuan has a minimalist Japanese aesthetic, with a breezy main dining room on the ground floor and eight glass-wrapped private dining rooms and a whisky bar on the floors above.
The brainchild of chef-owner Fu Yue Liang, a Hangzhou native with 40 years of experience in restaurants – six of which were spent as the first executive chef of the award-winning Hubin 28 Road restaurant in the Grand Hyatt Hangzhou hotel – Ru Yuan is on a mission to showcase Hangzhou produce and flavours.
Long snout catfish from the Qiantang River is chopped over a layer of pork fat so that it is gently suffused with lard, then made into a fish ball and served in a clear fish bone broth, made with spring water, with juicy Yunnan teardrop peas.
Yellow wine-braised Jinhua pork belly, cooked over a low heat, is crowned with fried Longjing tea leaves and served with a modicum of rice alongside a pumpkin pancake and fermented mustard greens.
For his rice dish, Fu makes a thick broth from jiangya (air-dried duck marinated with soy sauce) and serves it as paofan (soup rice) over a crusty puffed rice ball.
11 Yuquan Road, Xihu district, Hangzhou
2. Wild Yeast
Wild Yeast, on the fifth storey of an office building in Hangzhou’s Binjiang district, used to be a bistro, but it changed its location – and its concept – to become a fine-dining restaurant. Live Taizhou seafood, brought in fresh daily, is the main focus of its menu.
For the restaurant’s tasting menu, head chef Lin Zihan serves live king prawn sashimi style in a salad with peanuts and white fungus, as well as pomfret that is first smoked, then fried with spices and served with sweet soy sauce.
Bombay duck, also from the East China Sea, is deep-fried and served with a dip reminiscent of Worcestershire sauce. The communal-style Taizhou yellow croaker cooked with spring onions, ginger and lard and served with Taizhou rice cakes is great for those in the mood for a feast.
Wine pairing advice for the restaurant’s selection of more than 3,000 wines and champagnes can be had from Sommelier Skylar Ye, a recipient of the Michelin Guide Hangzhou’s sommelier award in 2023.
304-305, 3F, Zonia Tide Ginza, 2077 Binsheng Road, Binjiang district, Hangzhou
3. Jie Xiang Lou
Jie Xiang Lou, in a bamboo forest within the Seven Villas Hangzhou resort, serves Jiangnan cuisine made using produce from Zhejiang province, of which Hangzhou is the capital.
Executive chef Jack Yu’s mini beggar’s chicken dish comes with tableside theatre: a hammer is handed out to guests to break the clay, within which sits the chicken with abalone and chestnuts ensconced within a lotus leaf.
The biggest hit of all is Yu’s old duck soup – with Xiaoshan duck slaughtered at three years old, brewed with dried bamboo shoots with Jinhua ham and served with a chunk of fried mountain yam.
Seven Villas, 1 Bapanling Road, Xihu district, Hangzhou
4. Lan Xuan
Lan Xuan is a low-key, smart-casual restaurant owned by a well-travelled food and wine connoisseur It is housed in a restored old building amid centuries-old trees in a village-like setting within Hangzhou’s Amanfayun resort.
The 13-year-old restaurant serves up creative Chinese cuisine with some of the best ingredients sourced in and outside China. The menu features evergreen classics like cherry tomatoes stuffed with candied hickory nuts, but it’s the seasonal dishes that are particularly exciting.
Steamed Qing Yuan chicken (certified by its Geographical Indication sign) is served with Yunnan porcini and morel mushrooms, while Yunnan pine mushrooms are served as strips with double-boiled pressed meat broth.
Plump swim crabs from Ningbo, in season in autumn, are chopped into chunks and braised with perilla leaves (also from Ningbo) alongside chunky rice cakes.
While the dishes here mostly stick to the traditions of Zhejiang province, expect the occasional dash of fusion – the claypot rice cooked with bamboo shoots and topped with queen crabmeat dusted with yuzu zest is a fine example.
Wash them down with either French white wine or an offering from the list of Shaoxing rice wines.
22 Fayun Lane, West Lake Street, Xihu district, Hangzhou