Chinese restaurants have big menus, but this one is enormous! In front of you when you are seated the menu place mat lists more than 100 dishes, then the waitress gives you the 20 page menu proper.
I have always been amazed at the second-rate options available in Bali for lovers of Chinese cuisines. Strangely most of the larger Chinese restaurants in Bali have big brothers in Surabaya or Jakarta that serve wow Cantonese food, so why not in Bali? Maybe too much emphasis on the group tours!
Back in the 90's there was The Shangri-La [now Dynasty Hotel] which was superb, but its demise produced a big gap till Feyloon and Chinoiserie arrived. Now Denpasar joins the ranks of acceptable Chinese food with Imperial Xi-Fu, at the Fave Hotel.
A la carte Dim Sum rarely reaches the heights of the traditional 500-1,000 seat dim sum house with fresh trolleys coming out of the kitchen every few minutes. That was the 1st shock at Imperial Xi-Fu. Many dishes are prepared to order, which can result in a serving delay. A constant disappointment, not only in Bali but even in the once-great food courts of Singapore, are the pastry dim sum, far too often the pastry is thick and dry, the filling tasteless. Most popular is Char Siew [usually diced BBQ pork]. Here they are superb, the pastry light, the surface shiny from the egg wash, dotted with sesame seeds, the filling piping hot, well worth the waiting time, far better than having been prepared days before and re-heated. They are often referred to as Pillow Puffs, as their shape resembles, listed on this menu as 'Grill Red Sweet Pork', a strange title although the English descriptions are poor throughout this menu.
The other two main styles of dim sum are dumplings and steamed buns [Pao]. Once again the Cha Siew [BBQ Pork] Pao are perfect. Like most dim sum here served in threes, these small soft, fluffy buns arrive in their basket straight from the steamer, and once again the filling is rich, tender and tasty.
The first dumpling ordered, Tim Cheong Fan Udang, was a bit of a surprise as the dish comprised three crepe-like folds stuffed with prawn meat [rice noodle rolls], and a side sauce to pour over all, before struggling with the chopsticks. I then discovered that the dumplings I wanted was in fact Hau Kau, well stuffed with prawn meat but sadly the shell a bit plastic.
Yes, they also have chicken feet, and other appendages, if you really must!
Away from traditional dim sum, which normally provides a complete lunch [or brunch] there are also a few appetizers you can order as starters. The Deep-fried Fish Skin may look daunting but is quite addictive as are the Deep-fried Mushrooms, Spicy Jelly Fish and Century Egg with Sour Ginger. Roasted Pork always makes a great starter, traditional Honey Pork or a combination plate.
There is almost a divide in Chinese restaurants between the Asian and Gweilo [white-skinned ghost people] customer, in the way they prefer to eat their food. Asians seem to prefer their meat on the bone and their fish cooked whole, whereas most westerners prefer all the food boneless. Luckily both are catered for here.
Live Seafood features prominently and most is displayed around the restaurant. Lobster takes pride of place and can be had Steamed with Garlic, Baked with Cheese, with salted egg sauce or ginger and spring onion. Almost all of the other seafood [prawns, bamboo, tiger or white-shelled clams, abalone, sea cucumber, scallops, etc] can be ordered in similar manner. The Crabs are either male or female [with eggs] and can also be had Singapore style or casseroled with vermicelli noodles and XO sauce served in a claypot. The many varieties of live fish can be steamed or deep-fried. Steamed fish seem to retain all their flavour, so soft that the flesh just falls away from the bones. Something very different is their 'Two Varieties', cooked separately with salt and garlic, wok-baked and lined side by side.
Shark's Fin soups are also available including that very special Fuo Tiao-Quang, literally 'Buddha Jumps Over the Wall', supposedly so good that it entices vegetarian monks to jump the wall and try it!
Whilst Seafood takes up most of the menu it is their Roast Duck that Imperial Xi-Fu prides itself as being its specialty, and rightfully so! They hang across the front of the kitchen in true Cantonese fashion. Served on the bone chopped across in easy to eat sections, you are meant to suck the meat directly of the bone. The meat tender, warm and juicy, the skin very crisp, with thick hoisin sauce for dunking! Duck Meat is also served in minced form, sitting on lettuce cups.
Roast Chicken is offered the same way although there is also a Deep-fried Boneless Chicken Breast, flattened, crumbed and fried, the strips of meat soft and tender, the crumbed exterior acting like a second skin to keep all the juices and flavour inside. I also like the Deep-fried Chicken in a fermented bean curd sauce. The Lemon Chicken is another show stopper, tangy rather than overly sweet, and there is always that 'darling of the suburbs', Sweet and Sour Chicken [or pork].
There is something here for everyone. All Asian cuisines cater very well for vegetarians, and not with just the usual stir-fries. Pan-fried Black Mushrooms are with Sweet Bean and Bean Sprouts and another mushroom dish sees them wrapped in bean curd sheets, with oyster sauce.
Desserts will be popular with lovers of Durian. You can order it deep fried, wrapped in wonton leaves or as an ice cream, sitting atop a glass of chilled black sticky rice.
Three Banquet set menus are available [for two to ten persons, priced and sized accordingly].menus 1 and 2 comprise 8 courses at a cost of Rp. 4-500,000++ p.p. whilst the 10 course banquet includes Suckling Pig and costs Rp.700,000++ p.p.
Whether for a quick Dim Sum with Yum Cha [green tea] or a full Cantonese banquet, Imperial Xi-Fu is a welcome addition to the Bali dining scene. It is an oasis, with free parking, in central Denpasar.