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Mar 18, 2009 03:01 PM

Dragon Well Manor in Hangzhou

I read this intriguing blurb by Fuchsia Dunlop in <<The New Yorker>> magazine a while back about Dragon Well Manor, a local food-centric restaurant in Hangzhou:

Later this spring, I'll be in Shanghai for a month and am considering taking a day trip to Hangzhou to try this place. Have any 'Hounds been there or heard reports? Think it's worth the trek?

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  1. I am planning a trip there as well. I've scheduled Hangzhou for the first week of May, just to check this place out.

    5 Replies
    1. re: beetlebug

      Nice. I'm currently scheduled to be in Shanghai in mid-April to mid-May. If I beat you to Dragon Well, I'll post a blurb. :)

      1. re: cimui

        We may overlap. I'll be arriving in Chengdu on 4/29. After Chengdu, we will be flying into Hangzhou. I just haven't worked out how when yet, probably around 5/3 or 5/4. Then over to Suzhou and Shanghai before we head into SE Asia.

        1. re: beetlebug

          If I see a cute panda in the restaurant, I'll wave! ;)

        2. re: cimui

          If you get to Hangzhou before April 17, you can check out the tea festival now underway.

          1. re: Xiao Yang

            oh wow. that sounds very much like my cup of tea (hohoho). 'preciate the heads up!

      2. Food-centric restaurant? I know lots of those. It does seem that the notable restaurants in Hangzhou turn out to be tourist traps, I hope this one isn't headed for that fate.

        19 Replies
        1. re: Xiao Yang


          ok, i didn't want to get into the fancy pants hyphenation, but you leave me no choice.

          it's a local-food--centric restaurant!

          for the record, which tourist traps would you recommend we avoid in hangzhou?

          1. re: cimui

            Gotcha. Actually, Chinese restaurants in China typically tend to be local-food-centric, if not organic; the produce in restaurants in Shanghai mostly comes from suburban Shanghai, for example.

            I would avoid Lou Wai Lou (except for historical interest), Shan Wai Shan or Anything Wai Anything, which probably are no longer worth the price.

              1. re: Birdseed

                I found it served tired versions of old standard dishes that are done better almost anywhere else, and at a lower price. They seem to be resting on their laurels, loke Lao Fan Dian in Shanghai

                1. re: Birdseed

                  thanks for your take, birdseed. what is it about lou wai lou that you really think shouldn't be missed?

                  1. re: cimui

                    I should add that if you haven't been to LWL before it's probably worth it for the historicity and the locale, and it's not terribly overpriced; just don't expect a transcendent meal.

                    1. re: Xiao Yang

                      Xiao Yang, I have to agree with you re: LWL. Against my better judgment, and mostly because we were really tired from walking all the way around Xi Hu and starving and happened to be on Bai Causeway at lunchtime and couldn't catch a cab to a better restaurant, etc... we ended up eating lunch at Lou Wai Lou, today. Had the beggar's chicken, dong po rou, crispy tofu skin wrapped around pork, sweet lotus root, and crispy rice with sweet and sour baby shrimp.

                      Most of it wasn't awful, but the beggar's chicken and dong po rou I think I have had better versions of in Flushing, New York. The chicken was a bit overcooked and both it and the dong po rou lacked the depth / layers of flavors that you get when these dishes are done really well. I enjoyed the dongu (shitake) mushrooms in the chicken dish, but the heavy handed use of low quality soy sauce in the chicken really obscured those flavors and the flavor of the lotus leaves.

                      The sauce in the sweet and sour shrimp / crispy rice dish overwhelmed any flavor from the shrimp, alas, but it's hard to go wrong with crispy rice, in my book, I love it so. The crispy tofu skin dish was actively bad. Although I love crispy tofu skin, this version was horribly greasy and hadn't been drained at all after frying. Also, there was no discernable meat filling at all. Really massively disappointing. The lotus root was too sweet for my tastes, but I'd never had it before, so I don't know what it's supposed to be like.

                      Unlike other places in Hangzhou, wait staff at LWL were not very friendly and seemed very exasperated at having to wrap leftovers. (However, I did see two lovely, elderly couples at the next table being treated quite well by other wait staff.) All in all, I wish I'd heeded your advice and skipped this restaurant!

                      1. re: cimui

                        Thanks for the report cimui. I've made a mental note to skip LWL when I get to Hangzhou.

                        Still want to dry Dragon Well Manor though.

                        1. re: beetlebug

                          I still want to try Dragon Well Manor, too... I didn't get my act together to make a reservation in time. After Dunlop's article came out the restaurant became predictably more popular and hard to reserve. I'd probably give it a month's advance notice to be safe. Good luck!

                          There are two other restaurants I'd recommend in Hangzhou. Zhi Wei Guan (apparently they do xiao long tang bao and shumai really well, but we didn't try those) and Waipo Jia (Grandmother's Kitchen). The former is upscale, but you'd be very hard pressed to spend more than 20$US / person. The latter is a local chain that's well loved. I don't think either allows reservations for groups smaller than something like eight. We went at slightly off hours and didn't need to wait long.

                          1. re: cimui

                            Thanks for the recommendations, there are going on the list (I also saw your post about Zhi Wei Guan).

                            I did a quick search for a web site for Dragon Well Manor, but didn't find one. I'm going to be in Hangzhou from May 3-5 (leaving in the am).

                            Any idea if 1) DWM is open for lunch and 2) how to make a reservation?

                            How arrogant of me to think I can just walk in. Although, I may still do that since I'm still planning the overall trip.

                            1. re: beetlebug

                              I had the concierge at the Sofitel try to arrange a dinner reservation for me, so I'm afraid I don't have contact information, either, and don't know whether it's open for lunch. I'm starting to wonder if it's one of those places where you have to know someone or know some secret telephone number to get in. (Blech.) Unless you manage to ferret out a number, probably the best way to proceed would be to call your hotel once you've confirmed your room and ask them to arrange a reservation.

                              1. re: cimui

                                I found this on some random blog. When I arrive in ChengDu next week, I'm going to give them a call. If that doesn't work, I'm going to try and walk in when I arrive in HangZhou.




                                1. re: beetlebug

                                  *high five*

                                  nice job! you'll be my chowhound hero if you make it there and give us a blow by blow report. =)

                                  1. re: cimui


                                    I called Dragon Well this am and scored a reservation for Monday lunch. they also had openings for Sunday and Monday dinner so you may want to give them a call.

                                    I'm very excited since I planned my China itinerary around this restaurant. (yes, I'm a dork.)

                                    1. re: beetlebug

                                      oh beetlebug, good for you! you're a food dork in the best sense possible.

                                      i don't know whether i'll have time to get back to hangzhou, actually. i have to stick around shanghai this weekend and i'm planning to take my final weekend in suzhou, which i haven't visited, yet.

                                      so please do report back so that the rest of us may dine at dragon well vicariously.

                2. re: Xiao Yang

                  i probably didn't describe the restaurant very well. according to dunlop, dragon well manor is unusual in that it attempts to keep certain farming and eating traditions alive, developing connections with local farmers and sourcing from only those whose production methods they've verified to ensure that food has been grown or raised in certain ways. and they harvest / have locals harvest wild, edible plants, too, apparently. so it probably goes beyond being local food centric (however you want to hyphenate it).

                  thanks for the warnings about the tourist traps. i'll do a bit more research and ask around with friends who live in shanghai, and will probably post a separate thread re: shanghai restaurants after i've done so.

                  really appreciate this and prior threads, xiao yang. i've actually been reading a lot of your posts on the China board closely for a few months, now.

                  1. re: cimui

                    I would agree that Lao Wai Lou trades a lot off its location and reputation, but for me the beggar's chicken alone is worth the trip. I have to admit, I have only been there once but I enjoyed a terrific meal (Chicken, Pumpkin with salty egg, shrimp). Only negative was the goose liver - steer clear of that.

                    I will certainly explore Dragon Well Manor on my next visit to Hangzhou. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

                    1. re: Birdseed

                      After reading Fuschia Dunlop's article and your posts I was really exciting about trying Dragon Well Manor on my trip to Hangzhou last week. I even invited my Chinese teacher who has moved back to Hangzhou so that we could eat together. Moreover, I was able to reserve the last available table so all of this heighted my expectations that it would be a very special meal.

                      I had a very mixed experience. The setting is very attractive and the pavilions are lovely. However, while I found the quality of the produce very good, I was really disappointed at how they were cooked. For example, bamboo shoots, while very fresh, were sliced in different sizes and thicknesses so they hadn't cooked evenly. Our first course was soya milk which was very good but hard to shake the associations with breakfast.

                      Maybe the chef had an off day but there wasn't much flavour in the food. Except for the nian gao (sticky rice cake) which was excellent and I still would love to eat now!

                      There were many dishes but only two that linger in my mind. It felt like there was not much care in the preparation of such good ingredients. It was the most expensive meal I have paid for in China for four people but unfortunately, far from the best.