With enough Yunnanese spots within a few minutes’ bike ride to fill an entire guidebook, Hani Gejiu needed to stand out. Unconnected to the now defunct Baochao Hutong original in all but name, what this incarnation brings to the dining table is Sue Zhou, who teaches slicing and dicing at The Hutong. Tucked away in a bungalow just out of the Bell Tower’s shadow, Zhou has created a storybook vision of the mountainous province: lustrous embroidered pillows adorn every chair, paintings of dancers and musicians decorate the walls and instrumental music whispers over the speakers.
The inspiration is the Gejiu area of Yunnan, a few hours’ drive south from Kunming, but the menu is mostly easily recognisable, tourist friendly Yunnan standards. If visitors need an introduction, the chef’s selection (130RMB) allows newbies to take a sample. While we were there Zhou herself came out from the kitchen to explain her gastronomic map to a woman who had only been in China a few days. She could use a new cartographer, though; the two page menu is disappointingly limited,with an entire page devoted to just noodles and drinks.
We started with a tofu mint salad (28RMB), a reasonably sized bowl of crisp herbal mint leaves and lengthy, firm strips of tofu drenched in pleasantly piquant oil. The small hill of lemon chicken salad (38RMB) is less enticing – the sauce has too much sweet and not enough citrusy sour, and the brutally shredded white meat is too tough for an enjoyable chew.
Cheese (68RMB) is a Yunnan restaurant necessity – pillowy slices of lightly spiced dairy that squeak in the mouth. Ours arrived overcooked and rubbery. The dull squares are arranged in orbit around a dead star of salty, greasy sausage and slimy green peppers.
Hardly any of Gejiu’s famous barbecue snacks are on parade. Our roast fish (68RMB), however, was the talk of the table – an entire fish that was nearly too big for the plate, its moist meat hiding behind papery, spiced skin. Tear out a hunk and bathe it in the spicy, sticky honey crimson glaze that enlivens the fish.
Emboldened, we ventured into Yunnan’s villages with a portion of douhua noodles (26RMB), hoping for a delicious, dry-stirred noodle topped with a shapely dollop of creamy, light,silken tofu. The tofu is present, but lost in a plain broth populated by average rice noodles. We would have loved to try their multi-grain rice bowl, but it took so long to prepare we had to cancel it.
Zhou’s culinary foray will be appealing to laowai
scenesters, but there’s too much room to improve to have mouths watering. Still, it’s another Yunnan addition to the area– perhaps a cheese-and-mint-salad crawl can be arranged.