Mei Mansion Restaurant sits within an area of around 1000 square meters, in a big courtyard consisting of three smaller ones, beautifully laid out with attractive plants and winding paths. This delightful environment was originally the private residence of a duke’s concubine. Most of the things here have an interesting history. The jujube trees are thought to be over 240 years old, and the stone peg in the backyard dates back to the Ming Dynasty. When you open the door and enter the courtyard you will feel, not as if you were in a restaurant, but rather in your own house.
Mei Baojiu (the youngest son of Mei Lanfang), now serves as the Honorary President of the Board. Mei Lanfang was a legendary maestro, and his son Mei Baojiu is also a celebrated master of Peking Opera. Many of his father’s belongings are on display in the restaurant, including tableware, hand-held camera and marvelous memorabilia. Once in the restaurant, you feel as though you are in a small and exclusive art museum, dedicated to Mei Lanfang.
Unlike other courtyards, Mei Mansion is more like a perfect land that is dedicated to embodying the spirit of Mei Lanfang. The paths are studded with round and smooth pebbles, like strings of scattering notes. Leaning towards a meandering stream, you can simply touch the water with your hand. All of a sudden, everything seems secluded, as if all the worldly concerns were nowhere to be found. While walking along the winding paths leading to nooks that are shaded by lovely plants, you will get an idea of the appeal of the traditional gardens commonly found in the south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. The guestrooms are given distinctive names and decorated in various styles according to themes, such as plum blossom, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum. From time to time, you will hear songs that are rich with phonographic memories, and learn something of Mei Lanfang’s personal life, if you wish.
Mei Mansion Restaurant is owned by actor and producer Du Jiayi, who produced a successful film about Mei Lanfang. Standing next to the Prince Gong’s Mansion, the restaurant outshines its surroundings with its exquisite architectural style. Here, the boss is called dongjia (host) and the manger zongguan (the house manager) in Chinese (these names were preferred in the Qing Dynasty). All the menus are written by the manager, containing altogether 600 dishes. Four of the chefs are the successors of Wang Shoushan, the chef responsible for the meals and special requirements of Mei Lanfang. The highlight of the cuisine here would be the green and white chicken porridge. To cook such porridge, chicken breast meat is stewed for 48 hours until it becomes all smashed, and then vegetable juice is added. Mei Lanfang is said to have preferred to this kind of porridge daily.
As hutongs are generally narrow, cars cannot enter the courtyard. So a rickshaw may be just as easy, and it will take you right to the courtyard. When you finish your meal, Xi Zhenquan, the general manager of the restaurant, will give you a menu or a folding fan with his calligraphy on it as a gift. The type of gifts will depend on how much you spent in the restaurant. The front of the folding fan is printed with the pattern of plum blossoms originally created by Mr. Mei, and sealed with the stamp carved by Mr. Qi Baishi (a celebrated master of traditional Chinese painting). While the back is printed with the names of classic operas that were once performed by Mr. Mei. The waitresses here all have sufficient age and experience to be able to share their knowledge of the history of the mansion. The Chinese guests would call them mei sao, which helps to reduce the distance between the guests and the waitresses.
If you are here for dinner, an old gentleman will be appointed to tell you the history and stories behind each picture and article displayed in the courtyard and corridor, taking you into a world of Mr. Mei’s personal life. You will feel as if you were watching an old movie or an appealing Peking opera. The bygone glory of the celebrated master just resurfaces in front of you.
Green and white chicken porridge: Simmer the chicken meat for 48 hours until it becomes smashed, then add some vegetable juice into it and shape it like the pattern of taiji, with a half white and the other half green. The porridge features a light taste, alluring aroma and delightful colors. Mei Lanfang is reputed to have eaten a bowl of this porridge before his stage performances.
Mandarin fish covered with juice: This can be a little complicated. The fish is simmered, and then all the bones removed, whilst the juice is preserved. The fish is then sliced and reassembled to form the shape of a fish, which is coated with the liquid from the simmering.
Other recommended dishes: abalone coupled with sea cucumber, homemade cakes, fried prawns, walnut cheese, homemade roast duck, stir-fried shrimps, steamed bass with potherb mustards, steamed meat (steamed in a bamboo steamer)