Monday, 4 July 2011

The Rustic Delights of Big Rock 大石

This is the penultimate post of The Cantonese Season, and it features my favourite meal of the whole trip. Sorry Hong Kong, but the honour goes to a very special restaurant on the outskirts of Guangzhou!

Fish market
Back in the day, Dashi (大石), which means 'Big Rock' in English, was a small village located between the cities of Guangzhou and Panyu. Nowadays, it's been swallowed up by the urban sprawl but there remain a few signs of its rustic past such as 花好悦园酒家 (there's no English name but the translation is something like 'Delightful Garden of Good Flowers Restaurant').

Upon arriving at this restaurant, you could be mistaken that you've strolled into a market, as there are displays of vegetables and seafood, as well as rows of fish tanks. Walk further in, and there are open kitchen stations each devoted to their own speciality such as the steamed bun station.

Steamed bun station
Ordering is also done differently. You literally walk around the market area with your server, and select fish, seafood, and vegetables to be cooked in the style of your choosing. For other dishes, you can visit the various kitchen stations to see if you like the look of the food. For example, from the rotisserie station, we ordered this juicy and succulent roast goose (燒鵝). It saddens me that this dish is seemingly impossible to find in the UK.

Roast goose (燒鵝)
Roast chicken (燒雞)
The Cantonese love chicken, and popular styles of cooking include white-cut chicken (白切雞), soy sauce chicken (豉油雞), and crispy fried chicken (炸子雞). But one style that isn't as common is roast chicken (燒雞); this particular one was honey-basted and I loved the crispy skin. The rotisserie station get top marks!

Covered outdoor seating
In addition to the market area and the open kitchen stations, the restaurant proper consists of a normal indoor dining room and a covered 'outdoor' area (monsoons are not uncommon in this part of the world). We bagged a table in the outdoor area, right by the lily pond.

Steamed dace (清蒸土鯪魚)
Steamed fish is always a popular choice to take centre stage in a Cantonese meal. In this case, it was steamed dace (清蒸土鯪魚) aka Chinese mud carp. I'd never eaten fresh dace before, and it was a revelation. It helped that it was just cooked.

Fish-skin dumplings (魚皮餃)
Of all the dishes that I ate on this trip, the fish-skin dumplings (魚皮餃) stood out as my favourite. These are essentially wontons with a fish-skin wrapper and a filling of pounded fish meat. I also liked the broth (non-fishy) and the vegetable that it was served with. Apologies, but I've forgotten the name of this veg that bears some similarities to water spinach or morning glory (蕹菜 ong choi).

Stuffed tofu (酿豆腐)
I had a feeling that this stuffed tofu (酿豆腐) dish was special when I saw a whole kitchen station devoted to making it. I'm not a tofu man but everybody else was raving about it.

Braised goose with taro (芋頭燜鵝)
I still have dreams about the braised goose with taro (芋頭燜鵝) and the amazing light citrusy gravy that it was served with. This was a perfect combination especially with the taro soaking up the gravy. Of the two goose dishes, I preferred this one.

Green aubergine (青茄子)
We had lots of vegetables at the table, and my Mum, revealing her inner-blogger, insisted that I take a photo of the green aubergine (青茄子). As she rightly pointed out, these are seldom seen outside of Asia.

Sweet potato cakes (番薯餅)
These mashed sweet potato cakes (番薯餅) were fluffy inside yet crispy on the outside. I forgot how much I liked these until I saw the photo again. Sweet potato is very common in southern Chinese cooking and is eaten in addition to the more usual accompaniments of rice and noodles.

Mini filled 'bolo' bao (菠蘿包仔)
Never let it be said that the Chinese don't do desserts. Pineapple buns or bolo bao (菠蘿包) don't normally contain any pineapple (the name comes from the cookie-like topping that resembles the outside of a pineapple). These did though, with a delicious pineapple jam filling. The other dessert was a hand-made black sesame paste (芝麻糊) – also tasty.

Cantonese cuisine has many faces, not all of them pretty. Take, for example the use of unethical ingredients, MSG and mass produced additive-laden sauces. That's why it's important to champion the simple rustic approach of restaurants like this one (and The Chairman in Hong Kong). However, worthy principles count for little if the end product doesn't deliver. This does, and from start to finish, it was a meal to remember. It goes without saying that you should visit this restaurant if you can.

There isn't really an address for this restaurant, as it's in the middle of nowhere. The easiest way to get there is by taking the Guangzhou Metro (Line 3) to Dashi (大石). Leave the station using Exit C then walk for about 5 minutes with the exit of the metro station behind you. Eventually, you should spot a couple of restaurants on your left. The one you want is 花好悦园酒家, as in the photo below:

Alternatively, I can forward a pdf copy of their business card with a map and directions in Chinese if you contact me by e-mail.


  1. Gosh, this is good stuff! I was somewhat disappointed in my last trip to HK. Fully expecting to find loads of good eateries and restaurants, I didn't do my research prior to the trip. Well, save for some 'mandatory stops' often frequented by tourists, there was nothing that left a deep impression.

    Anyway, the 魚皮餃 looks great. I can see myself popping in one after another. Hah! I'm a tofu lover and the 酿豆腐 looks fabulous. Strangely, not alot of places in London actually serve them, or am I just looking at the wrong places?

  2. Man you are making this trip so easy for me.I'm going to eat very well indeed.
    By the way, can you also go up to Hunan province for me and do some research there.
    This is going to be one good trip. Thanks

  3. Wow this is really interesting! I'm fascinated by the goose dishes, don't think I've ever had goose chinese-style! If I imagine the roasted version is anything like roast duck then sign me up! And I love dumplings, the fish skin wrapped ones must have been good. The green veg looks like our local spinach:)

  4. LChow - the fish-skin dumplings (魚皮餃) are amazing. On tracking down stuffed tofu (酿豆腐) in London, I'm sure many places might rustle it up if you ask nicely.

    Mzungu - thanks, although I'm a tad embarrassed to take the plaudits, as most of the places I went to were chosen by friends, family or colleagues! I'm very envious of your trip to Hunan.

    Hungry Female - roast goose is indeed done in a similar way to roast duck, but braised goose is just as good, if not better. For some reason, possibly to do with the breed of goose, it isn't seen much outside of the south of China.