Beijing celebrity chef ditches duck for reef fish
By Mark Godfrey, SeafoodSource contributing editor reporting from Beijing, China
29 November, 2012
In another sign of China’s growing appetite for rare reef fish, celebrity chef Dong Zhenxiang, better known as Da Dong, has switched the focus from duck to rare, imported seafood in a new menu. One of China’s most celebrated chefs, with a half-dozen Beijing eateries bearing his name, Da Dong made his name serving stylized versions of local favorites — in particular, Beijing roast duck — to a loyal clientele of locals, diplomats and tourists.
Now, however, he’s catering to a taste among the local nouveau riche for rare tropical fishes and imported shellfish. At a recently-renovated Da Dong restaurant next to Tuanjiehu subway stop in down-town Beijing well-heeled local businessmen eat humphead wrasse at RMB 1,980 (USD 317.70, EUR 244.53) per 500-gram serving, with a soundtrack of Norah Jones — beloved among middle class Chinese — playing in the background. There’s also humphead wrasse served with lobster soup in a presentation of “…visual appeal but also a mild and fresh flavor that will tempt your palate.” Both humphead wrasse and varieties of grouper are endangered species with depleted stocks, according to numerous NGOs which have been trying to prevent overfishing.
Known for combining Chinese cuisine with Western presentation styles, Da Dong also serves various varieties of grouper for RMB 980 (USD 157.25, EUR 121.01) per 500-gram serving; leopard grouper is served in a stylized version of a regional Chinese dish. Likewise, there’s “hot and sour leopard coral grouper,” available for the same price. Staff explained that the humphead wrasse and grouper were sourced live in Southeast Asian and flown from southerly Guangdong and Fujian provinces to Beijing. Da Dong meanwhile charges RMB 698 (USD 112, EUR 86.18) for French blue lobster, listed as from the Bretagne Islands, “…used to be reserved for French nobles only,” according to a description in Da Dong’s menu.
The Da Dong menu advises diners that the three ultimate delicacies of Chinese cuisine are sea cucumber, shark’s fin and abalone. Text and photos in the menu also praise Da Dong’s “voluptuous” Australian scallops from the “pure” Great Barrier Reef. Prices are also hefty for “King Alaskan Crab” and for “crab fat paste with fish maw,” served at RMB 888 (USD 142.48, EUR 109.62) for a normal size and RMB 1,766 (USD 283.36, EUR 217.99) for a large-size serving. More affordable options include yellow croaker and carp. There’s also braised halibut at RMB 258 (USD 42.40, EUR 31.85) per 500-gram serving and two-flavor sole at RMB 128 (USD 20.54, EUR 15.80) per 500-gram serving.
While Da Dong wasn’t available for comment, he’s not the only one serving up high-priced reef fish. A ten-minute walk from his Tuanjiehu outlet, across the busy third ring road, the Haiyizhongting Seafood Restaurant is also serving rare seafood to a high-end clientele. On the second floor of the Nexus Soho, a new office tower, the restaurant serves up Panther, potato, leopard and green varieties of grouper for RMB 980 (USD 157.25, EUR 121) per 500-grams. Another favorite item on the menu is shark’s fin with clam (RMB 698 (USD 111.99, EUR 86.18) per serving), explains manager Guo Fei Fei, who explains the restaurant is one of two owned by the same company in Beijing. The Haiyizhongting is owned by a businessman in the city of Taiyuan, capital of the coal-rich province of Shanxi in north-central China, explains Guo, adding the chain has a dozen restaurants in Shanxi.
Open only a year, the extravagant décor and table ware of the Haiyizhongting private rooms, done out in faux-Rococo stylings, is designed to appeal to wealthy Chinese businessmen and their wives and mistresses. Luxury cars, leatherwear — and rare fish species — are all status symbols for China’s nouveau riche. A new report by the Boston Consulting Group shows China’s newly affluent will represent USD 3.1 trillion (EUR 2.39 trillion) worth of buying power by 2020 and account for 5 percent of global consumption. The report, titled The Age of the Affluent: The Dynamics of China’s Next Consumption Engine, says the affluent — richer than members of the middle class but not as wealthy as the superrich — have annual household disposable incomes of at least USD 20,000 (EUR 15,388), and are currently 120 million strong with annual buying power is USD 590 billion (EUR 454 billion). By 2020, this group will number 280 million — 35 percent of China’s urban population or 20 percent of its total population. Additionally, the USD 3.1 trillion annual buying power of the affluent will equal Japan’s total consumption in 2020. “Businesses need to establish lasting relationships with these consumers,” added Jeff Walters, a BCG partner and a coauthor of the report. “The time to get to know them is now.” Da Dong, judging from the line of BMW and Audi sedans parked outside his restaurant, appears to have gotten to know their tastes.
29 November, 2012