Hangzhou’s Most Famous Restaurant: Lou Wai Lou April 21, 2011Posted by pacejmiller in China, Food, Reviews, Travel.
Tags: China, cuisine, Gushan, Hangzhou, Hanzghou cuisine, Lou Wai Lou, Louwailou, restaurant, West Lake
On more than one occasion, a local Hangzhou resident told us, ‘You haven’t been to Hangzhou unless you’ve been to Lou Wai Lou.’
Lou Wai Lou literally means a ‘building outside a building’, and is Hangzhou’s most famous restaurant, apparently with a history of more than 150 years. Situated at the foot of Gushan (Solitary Hill), Lou Wai Lou is perfect for tourists wanting a taste traditional Hangzhou cuisine and the beautiful scenery of West Lake.
Naturally, we decided to go there for dinner on our first day there. We were told that we might have to grab a number and come back because the restaurant tends to have long lines, but it was a weekday and the place was relatively empty, probably around 70% capacity.
From the outside, Lou Wai Lou is indeed very grand. I think the one we went to is the newly built version, because there is another Lou Wai Lou a few blocks down and looks a lot less fancy. There’s also another Lou Wai Lou just across the road, a smaller one floating at the edge of the lake, which I don’t think was open that night. Anyway, we dined on the second floor in the non-smoking area, although it was pretty much pointless because it was adjacent to the smoking area.
Seeing that this was probably a once in a lifetime experience, we went with all the Lou Wai Lou classic dishes, the ones that all the famous people have when they visit the place.
First off, we got a vegetable dish with some traditional Chinese greens. It was surprisingly bland, glazed with oil and salt.
Third, the most famous dish of all, the West Lake Vinegar Fish. Even as the waitress brought the plate over, I could smell the overwhelming odour of the black Chinese vinegar. It was gross. Obviously a lot of people don’t mind it but it made me want to vomit. I didn’t end up having any of it.
Fourth, the almost equally famous Dong Po Pork, which is a piece of fatty stewed pork (with the skin in tact) which you put into a fresh bun shaped like a castanet. I’ve had it before and have enjoyed it when in the right mood. We ordered one, thinking it would be enough for four people, but when it came we were stunned. It was a tiny serve, with just one bun, barely enough for one. Didn’t the waiter think it was strange that we were ordering just one serve for four people?
Ultimately, Lou Wai Lou was a huge disappointment. Easily the worst meal I had in China. Bland, unattractive and (relatively) expensive. At first I thought that maybe I just wasn’t accustomed to Hangzhou cuisine, but the other restaurants we frequented after Lou Wai Lou were all excellent.
2 out of 10
Address: 30 Solitary Hill, West Lake, Hangzhou