Sitting in a beautifully carved booth, the fragrant scent of Tieguanyin tea tickles the air. Angelic servers dressed in white float amid the stunning furniture, while Chinese tea sets, brush paintings, tangkas and mandalas set the stage towards meditation.
A Shiva Guanyin sculpture watches over diners and emanates calm. The menu is a study in poetry, thoughtfully balanced to feed the body and spirit, and in this case purposely de-emphasising the replacement of meat.
Choose from set menus, and select at least one of the ones for 268RMB – a bargain for such a broad sample of excellent fare.
The chef, an alumnus of My Humble House, demonstrates culinary prowess beginning with a crisp cornet of minced vegetables, a nod towards American chef Thomas Keller’s signature starter. Then comes a slight decline with chilled starters, both hits and misses, which are almost too beautiful to deliver.
The ‘pure matsutake soup,' a transparent elixir with venerable matsutake mushrooms from Yunnan, delivers a punch of flavour. ‘Tofu like chrysanthemum soup’ reveals a floating chrysanthemum artfully carved from egg tofu with a goji berry stamen.
‘Gold soup with green tofu’ is where the magic deepens. A pavé of pebbly green-skinned squash is actually transformed tofu with a chopped spinach ‘rind’ centered on a pumpkin-like silky purée with shimeji mushrooms.
This dish is all about texture and illusions – the core of most Buddhist vegetarian cuisine. ‘Towel gourd cook gluten’ consists of light batons of squash with misshapen globes of gluten that melt in your mouth.
It’s an excellent representation of what gluten can be, and too often is not. ‘T[h]ree types of vegetables in South China’ is a light-tasting union of white vegetables, including lily buds, but it’s perhaps the ‘scent carbon in snow’ that most justifies the 268RMB menu.
A tube of bamboo is stuffed, sealed with sea salt, roasted until carbonized, then ceremoniously cracked tableside to reveal a completely vegetarian version of a sea cucumber. Read past the oxymoron of wanting to order sea cucumber and taste this dish.
It’s what most people wish sea cucumber actually tasted like: delicious – a refined vegetarian version of the Hangzhou classic known as beggar’s chicken.
Finish the meal with rustic barley rice or the rice with vegetarian broth that warms the soul. Desserts are varied but should be applauded for the creative use of chestnut and haw, a local fruit that’s often ignored.
Samadhi is Sanskrit for a Buddhist state of intense awareness and concentration, which is achieved through meditation, a sort of midpoint between enlightenment and nirvana while being fully present. Dinner at Samadhi the restaurant will get you close enough.
By Lillian Chou