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Fine Dining Establishments Reinvent Themselves in Austerity China

One Dalian clubhouse is proving a role model for upmarket restaurants suffering from government cutbacks.

Photo: Huochetou: A reinvented restaurant for a new reality.
Huochetou: A reinvented restaurant for a new reality.
Photo: Huochetou: A reinvented restaurant for a new reality.
Huochetou: A reinvented restaurant for a new reality.

With the mainland government's commitment to curbing public spending, in line with its austerity programme, continuing to have a real impact on the revenues of five-star hotels and upmarket clubhouses, one Dalian establishment has managed to reinvent itself in line with this new normal. Indeed, the Huochetou fruit wood roast duck restaurant is now being seen as a prime example of just how exclusive eateries can adapt to these changed market realities.

People-friendly Approach

Prior to the introduction of the austerity measures, the Huochetou clubhouse had made little effort to target local consumers, relying, instead, on official functions and business engagements. Following the introduction of the new legislation, however, its management swiftly adopted a new, more people-friendly approach, while retaining the establishment's upmarket décor and ambience.

A master chef, one particularly skilled in roasting ducks, was recruited from Beijing's famed DaDong Roast Duck Restaurant. This was followed by a high-profile roll-out of a "DaDong fruit wood roast duck" themed menu, along with a specially-priced lunch promotion, also incorporating a number of Dalian's indigenous seafood specialties. As a result, according to the management, the restaurant has been fully booked ever since. Such is its apparent popularity, that the restaurant no longer accepts lunch bookings, while dinner reservations have to be made at least three days in advance.

Quality Cuisine

According to Liu Fuyou, Huochetou's head chef, he is always keen to incorporate delicate cuisines from around China into his menu, while he also prides himself on creating dishes that exude an artistic air and a degree of creativity. Overall, the restaurant has struck to a policy of using fine ingredients and preparing traditional dishes, but reinventing them with a degree of contemporary flair. It is a formula that seems to appeal to local diners, many of whom would never have previously considered visiting the establishment.

Photo: Meticulous preparation.
Meticulous preparation.
Photo: Meticulous preparation.
Meticulous preparation.
Photo: Meticulous preparation.
Photo: Meticulous preparation.
Photo: Meticulous preparation.
Photo: Meticulous preparation.

One of the key elements in its success has been the popularity of its crispy, oil-free roast duck. It offers this traditional dish in three appealing variations – roasted duck skin dipped in white sugar; duck meat wrapped in a thin pancake or duck meat stuffed into a clay oven-baked sesame roll.

Photo: The three crispy duck options.
The three crispy duck options.
Photo: The three crispy duck options.
The three crispy duck options.
Photo: The three crispy duck options.
Photo: The three crispy duck options.
Photo: The three crispy duck options.
Photo: The three crispy duck options.

Upmarket Ambience

Aside from the quality of its cuisine, the restaurant has also sought to maintain its upmarket ambience. The walls of the dining room are adorned with a traditional Chinese verse, which reads: "Tall grasses on the narrow path and evening dew wets my clothes". Such couplets are intended to subtly relax diners, allowing them to wait patiently during the 80 minute preparation time required for the crispy duck, while also enjoying the refined aesthetics of the establishment.

Overall, the key to Huochetou's transformation has been its emphasis on food quality and people-friendly products. It is a formula that other establishments would be well-advised to follow.

Nancy Liu, Dalian Office

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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