WHEN the warm spring breeze ruffles West Lake water, swings verdant willow branches, and enchants travelers, it is the best season to visit Hangzhou.
For first-timers, the east side of West Lake is a must. Unlike the hilly west bank, it is flat and suitable for a stroll. On one side is the serene lake dotted with rowing boats, and on the other there are many chic restaurants, stores and galleries.
And the northeast part is highly recommended. There, a trapezoidal zone between Hubin Road — the northeast West Lake bank — and the city’s bustling Longxiangqiao commercial area is an ideal place for wandering, killing time, watching local life and trying different foods.
Walking the area takes only about an hour. But it’s worth taking more time to explore centuries-old architecture, small hole-in-the-wall eateries and luxury hotels.
Early morning, you will see locals practise tai chi, sing Chinese operas and enjoy dance.
Today, Shanghai Daily introduces restaurants with local cuisine along or near Hubin Road.
At the south corner of the trapezoid lies antique-looking Hangzhou Restaurant, obviously a place of local cuisine and, established in 1921.
On Yan’an Road, it is one of the oldest Hangzhou restaurants, although it was renovated several years ago.
The restaurant combines chic and traditional decor and offers local dishes at great value, including some found in recipe collections written 1,000 years ago.
The menu features 12 Hangzhou dishes, from the famous to the grassroots traditional.
Shanghai Daily’s recommendations include Beggar’s Chicken and Longjing Shrimp. Bun-lovers should try buns steamed on pine needles.
Pumpkin in bread is a fusion dessert plus a staple food, ordered by almost every table. Cooks stuff pumpkin into bread and then bake.
Lines are long during holidays. If your budget extends to 200 yuan (US$29) a head, go to the fifth floor’s 1921 Lakeview Restaurant, a branch of the traditional Hangzhou Restaurant, located just above it and sharing the same entrance.
It features high-end decor that matches the scenery, with large tables, delicate chairs with traditional Chinese carvings. And the food is a more delicate version of Hangzhou Restaurant’s.
Dessert lover should not miss a gorgeous nouveau Hangzhou-style lotus cake. It’s a small pink cake shaped like a lotus, made of crispy layer upon layer. It’s served with dry ice, adding to its aura of mystery.
Address: 205 Yan’an Rd
Parallel to Hubin Road, Baifu Road is a small strip featuring a slew of restaurants. Some restaurants here are well-decorated, but win their position by loyal customers.
Little South Land, which looks rather plain, is one. It opened more than a decade ago with only six tables. Now it has 16 tables and attracts celebrities such as Chinese actress Zhou Xun.
The restaurant is renowned for its seasonal foods. Spring is a good season for luosi (Chinese mystery snail), bamboo, vegetables and fish — all bought every morning at market. A signature dish recommended all year long is pork braised in soy sauce with eggs.
Address: 10 Baifu Rd
Chinese breakfast youtiao (fried twisted dough) and doujiang (soy milk) is like bread and milk in the West. But nowadays, small booths frying youtiao and boiling doujiang is seen less and less in cities partially because making simple food doesn’t pay.
But some businessmen are reshaping this landscape by serving them at chic restaurants.
Gu Zao Yong Le Cun on Dongpo Road, featuring a decor of Chinese-style vintage, is one such place.
There youtiao — about twice the size of those at ordinary booths — costs 6 yuan; doujiang is from 8, and other classical breakfasts such as fantuan (rice roll), shaobing (pancake) are also on the menu.
Address: 26 Dongpo Rd
Named one of Asia’s top 50 restaurants by William Reed Business Media, Hubin 28 at the Hangzhou Hyatt Regency serves traditional Hangzhou dishes, as well as specialties from surrounding cities.
With a reputation for consistent quality Hubin 28’s signature dishes include braised traditional Dongpo Pork, wok-fried Longjing Shrimp, and steamed orange filled with crab meat and roe.
Budget is more than 400 yuan a person. But value for money is excellent if you’re in the mood for a high-level experience that makes the most of local cuisine and fusion.
Another advantage is that you don’t need to queue for a seat.
Address: 28 Hubin Rd
Hangzhou people’s love for noodle started about 1,000 years ago when it became the country’s capital in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) and the court from north China brought wheaten food culture.
With paintings and photos of old Hangzhou on its walls, Noodle House is a delightfully decorated small restaurant serving typical Hangzhou noodles, including local specialty pian’erchuan — noddles topped with pork slices, bamboo shoots and preserved vegetables.
The price is from 15 yuan for vegetarian noodle to 36 yuan for shrimp and kidney noodle, but one can add toppings.
Address: 10 Disan Lane, Xingyuanli, Baifu Rd