One of the most definitive characteristics of Chinese vegetarian cuisine is the use of wheat, soy protein or gluten-free Quorn to create faux meat.
Indeed, many vegetarian restaurants in China are renowned solely because of their skill in sculpting Chinese classics such as the squirrel-shaped Mandarin fish using such ingredients.
But at Fu He Hui, Shanghainese chef Tony Lu has no interest in subterfuge. The mantra at this Michelin-starred establishment revolves around purity, simplicity and minimalism. The restaurant’s elegant, Zen-inspired decor says just as much. After all, vegetarian cuisine in China has its roots in Buddhism.
Just a year after it opened, the restaurant’s immaculately refined dishes earned it the honour of being the highest ranked new entry in the 2015 Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
What made this feat even more impressive is the fact that Lu has to oversee the operations at three other restaurants under the Fu banner – Fu 1015, Fu 1039 and Fu 1088 – as well as consult for the highly-acclaimed Yong Yi Ting at Mandarin Oriental Pudong.
Unlike its conventional peers, the creations here are devoid of the heavy sauces so typical of some Chinese vegetarian dishes.
Set in a sprawling colonial villa, Fu He Hui comes across as an oasis of peace. There is no communal dining here. Guests dine in their own private rooms. The pristine white walls, sleek rosewood furniture and Chinese antiques also lend the space a quietude and refinement not found in other vegetarian establishments in the country.
Unlike its conventional peers, the creations here are devoid of the heavy sauces so typical of some Chinese vegetarian dishes. Don’t expect big, punchy flavours – the magic lies not in the intensity but in the interplay of textures and unadulterated taste of each ingredient.
The taro dumpling is a prime example. In this multi-textural dish, velvety taro mash containing bits of yam and mushroom cubes is encased in a ball of crispy golden batter, which is perched atop a foundation of spinach and pumpkin.
In another, a succulent piece of seared king oyster is paired with crispy tofu skin, slices of cucumber and soybean paste. The dish, at first glance, looks like a serving of Peking duck complete with the usual condiments. But it is just clever presentation skills at play. Diners are never served faux meat here.
Some dishes stand out because of their simplicity. The soup that is made from wild matsutake mushrooms from Yunnan relies on nothing more than the fragrance of this rare fungi which is accompanied by the subtle sweetness of fresh snow peas. The same can be said for the dish comprising just tender matsutake and crunchy cauliflower atop a sweet puree.
There isn’t an à la carte option at the restaurant. Diners pick from either of the three tasting menus that have eight dishes each (380, 680 and 880 RMB), excluding the complimentary starters. The key difference between the options is the rarity of the ingredients and the heftiness of the dishes.
Indeed, some meat-lovers would likely be astounded at how satiating a vegetarian meal can be after dining here.
Fu He Hui
1037 Yuyuan Road, Changning district
+86 21 3980 9188