Article By Francis and Jin
No.355 Huixin Road, Renaissance Xi’an Hotel, Qujiang New District.
(029) 6563 3333-8506
Average Price per Person /人均消费: 110RMB
We visited Si (“Silk” in Chinese) Specialty Restaurant at the end of May. Xi’an had already become hot and humid, and we arrived sweaty and tired. However, it is impossible to overstate how immediately refreshing it was to step into the well air-conditioned Renaissance hotel with a pleasant floral fragrance hovering in the air. A short walk across the lobby brought us to the main dining area of Si, where we were immediately greeted and shown past wooden sculptures of saddles reminiscent of those once used by silk road travelers. We were seated at a corner table with views through tinted glass walls of both the noodle pulling station and BBQ grill, the latter already aglow with red-hot charcoal.
The hostess kindly recommended some traditional Xinjiang dishes, which we easily agreed on. After ordering, we rather uncouthly drained our glasses of cold lemon water (which were promptly refilled). Francis’ ice-cold Qingdao didn’t last long either (Wusu, a popular Xinjiang beer, was sold out).
We were quick to be served with a colorful mountain of Jiaomaji as a starter, a ma pepper-flavored cold chicken dish. The freshness of the chicken, thinly sliced onions, and peppers were representative of the exceptional quality of ingredients that we would enjoy throughout the meal.
Next, we moved onto BBQ skewers of lamb and beef. Each metal skewer carried a hefty portion of beef, while the lamb came on the more traditional long, wooden sticks. These were several times pricier than your average BBQ in Xi’an, but were also several times larger and simply without rival in meat quality. Notably, the lamb skewers were also served with thin Mandarin pancakes, fresh slices of marinated onion, and a home-made sweet soybean sauce. Dipping onion into the sauce and wrapping the barbecue lamb together with a pancake balanced the heavier meat with a light and crispy texture.
Next came the dapanji, or the “big plate of chicken,” a Xinjiang meal that purportedly rose to popularity in the 1990s when a migrant from Sichuan mixed chili peppers with chicken and potatoes. Originally designed as a cheap option for travelers eating at odd hours, this dish is definitely not a budget option at Si. What is clear, however, is the effort put into making it. The gravy is extraordinary thick compared to normal dapanji, which better adheres to the ingredients, adding a more intense flavor. Also, the chunks of potato are not just simply boiled, but are apparently fried beforehand, the caramelized surface of which lends additional satisfaction to this staple.
To complement, we had also ordered Naan, a plain round baked bread reheated over the fire. We took a moment to enjoy the fragrance of the toasted sesame seeds before unceremoniously dunking chunks of it into the dapanji sauce.
While the quality and taste of the previous dishes did not disappoint, the final two dishes were undeniably the highlights. The shouzhuafan (hand-pulled lamb and rice) and the yogurt were simply incredible. The lamb cuts, presented over rice and orange strips of carrot glistening with rendered lamb fat, were tender and bursting with juice and flavor. The yogurt was thick and smooth, topped with condensed milk and raisins, and was delightfully cool and sweet after a series of hot and savory dishes.
Overall, we would enthusiastically recommend Si as a worthy destination if you are looking to splurge on exceptional northwestern-China cuisine, but perhaps not recommend for the more budget-minded or pretentious eater seeking authentic Xinjiang fare. Most of their creations include localized innovations. It is also worth noting that Si offers a whole roasted lamb (must order 1 day in advance) for a smooth set price of 1888 yuan (spit-roasted over the restaurant’s own fire pit). We are looking forward to trying that next time with friends.
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