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Diaoye Sirloin: a revolution in traditional restauranting

Photo: Diaoye Sirloin: light but extravagant.
Diaoye Sirloin: light but extravagant.
Photo: Diaoye Sirloin: light but extravagant.
Diaoye Sirloin: light but extravagant.

The rapid rise of the Diaoye Sirloin restaurant chain is a remarkable story. The chain prides itself on paying attention to every detail of its operation, including ingredients, cooking methods, cutlery and service. As a result, the chain has developed a highly competitive offer over recent years.

Diaoye Sirloin has been acclaimed as China’s first “light extravagant meal” catering brand. “Light extravagant” refers to an eating experience that is somewhere between fast food and a more formal meal. To this end, the restaurant offers more tasty and elegant fare than low-priced fast food outlets, while demanding less time and outlay than high-end fine dining establishments. It is now said that, in informed dining circles, you cannot truly claim to be a gourmet if you have not sampled Diaoye Sirloin.

Diaoye Sirloin prides itself on having a thorough knowledge of the food it serves, seeing this as a key part of its success. Its philosophy is that “every ingredient has its own origin and its own history”.

In line with this, the original Diaoye Sirloin recipe was created by Dai Long, a master chef who spent Rmb5 million patenting the brand.  Dai Long is said to be the inspiration behind the chef featured in God of Cookery, Stephen Chow’s 1996 movie. Chow is said to have actually learned cookery from Dai Long when he started planning the movie. The film’s most famous line - “Only leftover rice makes good fried rice, idiot!” – is said to be a direct quote from Dai Long.

Photo: Exquisite decor.
Exquisite decor.
Photo: Exquisite decor.
Exquisite decor.

The two dishes that Dai Long is most proud of are The King’s Fried Rice and God of Cookery Sirloin. Dai Long was the executive chef of the state banquet held on the evening of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover. The two dishes were said to be among those served to China’s leaders.

The sirloin is said to be best served with one of three types of exotic rice -  Koshihikari rice (Japan’s top-rated rice, lauded as “the world’s number one crop”), Crab field brown rice (grown in crab-inhabited, artificial fertilizer-free paddy fields) and Thai Fragrant Rice (the epitome of Thailand’s 5,000 years of propagating water crops).

The knife used to cut the sirloin is in the style of the ancient crescent-shaped variety crafted from Damascus steel and adorned with Mohammed’s ladder and rose patterns. The sirloin is also stewed in a patented pot.

As for coffee, only civet coffee beans from Indonesia are used. The water used to brew the coffee and steam the rice is sourced from the Nongfu Spring Company, while the bowl containing the sirloin noodles has been specifically designed to facilitate the ultimate dining experience. The chopsticks offered to diners are made from Burmese Wenge wood. These are all brand new and come with a laser-printed logo. After use, they can be washed and repackaged in a gift box. Customers can then return with their own personal chopsticks on their next visit.

The meticulous attention to detail that characterises Diaoye Sirloin is now being copied by many start-ups in the restaurant sector. A good example here would be the hot towels prepared by high-end restaurants for customers, many of whom are sceptical about the cleanliness of the proffered linen. To counter these concerns, Diaoye Sirloin has replaced these hot towels with moist tissue paper imbued with fragrant oils. Explaining its policy, the company says: “The sweetened scent of fragrant oil helps stimulate customers’ appetites”.

As to why its waiters all wear black masks in the style of the heroes of tales of classic Chinese chivalry, the answer is simple – it prevents their saliva from adulterating dishes when they speak to customers.

The restaurant also provides male customers with four special types of tea - West Lake Longjing Tea, Dong Ding Oolong Tea, Jasmine Tea and Yunnan Pu'er Tea. These come in a range of light to heavy flavours and are prepared as non-fermented, semi-fermented or fully-fermented. Female customers, on the other hand, have a choice of more floral teas, including Roselle Tea, Lavender Tea, Chamomile and Chinese Globeflower Tea. These are said to offer health benefits related to eye beautification, slimming and detoxification. These are all free of charge and refillable upon request.

Photo: Cutting-edge cutlery.
Cutting-edge cutlery.
Photo: Cutting-edge cutlery.
Cutting-edge cutlery.

At Diaoye Sirloin, customers can decide which dishes will be retained on the menu and which are to be replaced. Those that appeal the least are deleted from the menu, which has a minor update every month. The menu also has a major revamp on a quarterly basis, ensuring customers are offered the freshest seasonal selection.

Customers who win competitions on the restaurant’s weibo site are accorded VIP status. While the questions are not difficult, they do require entrants to have a good understanding of Diaoye Sirloin. The restaurant seldom advertises, relying on word-of-mouth to attract customers.

In the run-up to its official launch, Diaoye Sirloin undertook a six-month “pre-opening trial period”. This saw hundreds of culinary critics, gourmets and showbiz celebrities invited to sample its food on daily basis. In this way, the restaurant generated significant publicity as it went through the process of refining its dishes.

The restaurant’s “pre-opening pass” was hard to come by, with many celebrities apparently honoured to be invited to participate in the sampling. The joke at the time was that “two out of three celebrities had already enjoyed Diaoye Sirloin’s dishes, while the third was on his way to do so.”

With the celebrities told they were among a privileged few to experience the menu, the restaurant relied on their feedback to help it perfect its food and its service. As a result, when Diaoye Sirloin officially opened, its dishes had already been finely tuned to consumer preferences.

The lesson from Diaoye Sirloin is that new businesses in traditional sectors can succeed if they think and act innovatively. Given the rapidly evolving commercial environment, proactive change has never been more important when it comes to sustaining a company’s core competitiveness.

Lynn Ma, Beijing Office

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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