Karen Chen of Jiang Guo 328 naturally thought Shanghai Sichuan restaurants used excessive amounts of shoddy oil so she opened Yi Zhang Hong, a Sichuan concept that scales back the grease, cuts out the MSG, and uses top-shelf cooking diesel. A noble cause, but while dining, we quickly realized what the problem was. Good Sichuan restaurants in Chengdu and elsewhere also employ quality oil, but lots of it. Instead of too much bad oil, Yi Zhang Hong uses too little good oil, which is even more tantalizing, since the high-caliber ingredients give it potential to be a killer Sichuan restaurant.
Yi Zhang Hong’s stylized paintings of pastoral rural scenes and a warm red chandelier, make it a soothing retreat from the bustle and smoke of the surrounding hotpot dives. Literally, since no smoking is allowed. And not in the typical Shanghai sense, where they hang a sign to appease the powers that be while patrons smoke like chimneys beneath it. No, put it out or get out.
Spicy chicken with peanuts
When glancing at the menu, you wouldn’t think that Yi Zhang Hong was a ‘health’ concept, just a restaurant that’s super sourcing-conscious. The pork hails from the US, the lamb from New Zealand, and the beef from Australia. The menu also emphasizes that they don’t use MSG, or artificial chili powders (no Sichuan restaurant worth going to would), and only use high grade oil.
And the menu offerings seem characteristically diverse and colorful with cold dishes of sliced pig’s ears, beef tongues, and hot plates like “water boiled fish” (68RMB) and Chinese bacon with green garlic (RMB68).
But you bite into the double-cooked-pork (58RMB), and all those commercials about low-fat butter and cake mix that supposedly taste “just like the real thing,” come flooding back to you. The pork is high-caliber, the peppers vibrant, and the black beans plucky, but without enough oil to bind the ingredients together the dish tastes bland and unfinished.
Double cooked pork
The traditional spicy green beans with dried chillies, green peppercorns and garlic (32RMB), a personal favorite, suffer the same plight. They’re fresh but flavorless without proper lubrication.
The one dish we tried that worked was the ‘spicy chicken with peanuts’ (koushuiji, 38RMB). Our sauce was a bit watery and the chicken scrawny, but the flesh harbored the simultaneously firm and yielding texture of good poultry, and the spicy-numbing marriage was dead on.
Like French fare that scales back the butter and cream, Sichuan fare that holds back the oil defeats its own purpose. Yi Zhang Hong is shooting a potentially fantastic Sichuan concept in the foot. We’d advise them to ratchet up the oil, and limit the “health concept” to its no smoking policy.
Yi Zhang Hong – 354 Wulumuqi Zhong Lu, near Fuxing Xi Lu (乌鲁木齐中路354号,
近复兴西路). Tel: (0)21-6471-8687. Hours: 11am-2pm lunch, 5-10:30pm dinner.
See a complete list of our reviews here.
Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].