We love how Yunnanese food combines a distinct set of spices, cooking techniques and pantry of ingredients, all of which help it stand out among the many indigenous cuisines of China. A bit further up the road from hutong Yunnan mainstay Dali Courtyard, in a nearly identical converted courtyard house, several variations on the same theme have finally resulted in what might just be one of our new back alley favourites: Green Shade.
The first iteration of the space, creatively dubbed Dali Su, was a pricier take on the Dali Courtyard model – a prix fix menu of Yunnan specialties. The model, which incorporated some regional delicacies and took the price point from the original’s 128RMB per head to 248RMB, failed to cultivate a following and was eventually scrapped. The present incarnation, which is loosely affiliated with its more established cousin, has benefited from the mistakes of Dali Su and the success of the darling Green Shade.
The décor of Green Shade is homey and unassuming; the two dining rooms are virtually free of ornamentation. In the central courtyard, a tree winds its way through a newly built raised platform. Big enough for four tables, the space offers rooftop views of the surroundings as moonbeams filter through the glass canopy to mingle with yellow candlelight (on a clear night, of course). There are no menus at Green Shade, which makes it great for large groups.
The set (120RMB per person) includes seven to ten dishes, depending on the daily ingredients. Although not every special request can be accommodated, the scope of the dishes is such that there is something to make everyone happy. We visited several times to test the variety of the offerings. The meals start off light with frisee salads with vermicelli and spicy lemongrass dressing, followed by broccoli steamed with rice wine and garlic, and then sautéed salted Yunnan goats’ cheese, one of our absolute favourites. Things really pick up with dishes of Yunnan mushrooms steamed in banana leaves; prawns fried with tea leaves; roasted tilapia stuffed with mushroom, broad beans and lemon grass; fried dried beef with coriander and jasmine blossoms; slices of sweet Yunnan sausage and smoked tofu stewed with anise, cardamom and chilli.
The dishes are simple, unadorned and incomparably flavourful. The service is warm if a bit distant at times, and things do get backed up in the kitchen on busy nights – though it never seems to detract from our experience. Between the food, the space and price, we don’t think it’ll be long before we’re back for more.