What’s the best antidote for coldest day in Melbourne in 10 years? Why, bunkering down for dinner at David’s Restaurant in Prahran.

Thanks to David’s, RM and I, along with some other journos and the lucky winners of a Herald Sun competition, were invited to chat and dine with David Zhou, owner of David’s Restaurant and the Oriental Tea House, to celebrate the restaurant’s Winter Menu. Over several hours, we were treated to five delicious courses of traditional Shanghaiese dishes, a particular thrill since RM and I had only recently returned from eating very well in Shanghai and China generally.

First up, Double Boiled Chicken Soup. While my murky photo doesn’t do the soup justice, it was a very nourishing concoction of the kind my mum or grandmother would make, consisting of shredded chicken combined with wolfberries and bamboo shoots. Apparently it helps strengthen the immune system, an important side benefit for the onset of winter.

Second course was individual steamers of pork siu mai. I’m normally not a huge fan of siu mai as it can often come out as one solid meatball, but these were very nice morsels of juicy pork encased in a thin silken pastry.

Third course was a stir fry of shredded Peking duck meat with bean sprouts, shredded carrot and capsicum in sweet plum paste. This was the kind of tasty and hearty dish which was perfect with steamed rice. Though if I’d known what was coming up next I would’ve reduced my intake of rice.

The piece de resistance, Beggar’s Chicken. This dish is very hard to find in Chinese restaurants in Australia, as it’s time consuming and tricky to execute. The legend goes that a beggar stole a chicken. Chased by officials and with had no stove to cook it on, he wrapped it in leaves and mud and lit a slow underground fire. The fire caused the mud to form a tight clay crust and when the crust was cracked open, a tender aromatic bird was revealed. The beggar began to sell the dish to villagers and a Qing dynasty Emperor was so impressed with the dish that he ordered that Beggar’s Chicken be added to the list of dishes served at the Imperial Court.

These days, it’s a marinated chicken stuffed with a fragrant glutinous rice concoction of shrimp, pork shiitake mushrooms, ham, spring onion and carrot, all soaked in the juices from the chicken. The chicken is then wrapped in lotus leaves, bound and encased in a clay crust. This whole chicken (yes,  each person received a whole chicken!) was served with beautifully colourful stir-fried bok choy, broccoli, plump shiitake mushrooms and carrot, which unfortunately had to play second fiddle to that impressive bird. The dish was truly groan-worthy, both in taste and size.

Thanks to several pots of David’s specialty tea, we squeezed in the dessert, three fried wontons filled with banana and a smear of red bean paste, dusted with crushed black sesame sugar.

As expected from a one-hat restaurant, the meal was truly delicious. What made the night particularly memorable for me thought was the very interesting conversations with David Zhou. I found that he has a lovely restaurateur’s demeanour – he’s friendly and personable, quick to joke, remembers customers (one of our number had held his birthday party at David’s 10 years ago and David still remembered him!), is attentive to detail and infectiously enthusiastic about Chinese food and culture. In particular, he is extremely knowledgeable about Chinese tea. I was intrigued to hear him speak about the aromas and flavours of tea and the varieties of tea leaves in the same way most people are used to hearing sommeliers speak about the qualities of wine and grapes. If you’re after high quality tea, often with medicinal properties, then after that dinner I am convinced that Oriental Tea House is the place to source it.

The Jetsetting Parents are arriving for another eating fiesta in a few weeks, and I’ve already raved to them about this menu. It’ll be interesting to see whether they’re as impressed with the Beggar’s Chicken as RM and I were.

Thank you to David’s Restaurant for inviting me to the event.

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