Dinner and a show isn't an unheard of concept in Chengdu-- where dinner and Chinese opera shows go hand in hand. At Yu's Family Kitchen you'll experience a different kind of theatre thanks to the elaborate degustation highlighting a different side of Sichuan cuisine.
In 2010, Chengdu became the second city in the world named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Famous for the mouth numbing Sichuan peppers, fiery hot pots, and mapo doufu; people are slowly learning that there are many more layers to the cuisine of this region.
Yu's Family Kitchen is on Zhai Xiang Xi alley, just off of Xia Tong Ren road. The area has been restored with a faux historial feel and its streets are filled with restaurants, cafes, and small stores. You won't find Yu's Family Kitchen written in english, but keep an eyes out for the big doors at number 43. If they're shut don't be shy to knock and come inside.
The restaurant is run by Chef Yu Bo. He's inventive and creative in the kitchen; while his dishes bare little resemblance to many of the traditional dishes you'll find at other Chengdu restaurants and street stalls they stay true to the flavours and history of Sichuan.
16 cold dishes are first placed in the centre of the table in a checkerboard fashion before they're promptly moved to the edges so you can serve yourselves. At first glance they're nothing special. A few vegetables beautifully presented but without much substance. Looks can be deceiving. A plate of vegetables might look simple, but Yu plays with flavours and textures to make sure each one plays its role.
Of course there are some dishes that look anything but plain. From gilded truffle to pastry paint brushes. If you're lucky to get an English speaking waitress then you'll get a description of each dish as it's placed in front of you. Sometimes things can get a little lost in translation, but Yu's Family Kitchen isn't catering for a horde of travelling Westerners. Learning about each dish can be a good way to learn more about Chinese cuisine and the practices surrounding it. There are the rare mushrooms grown in the Chinese countryside, and the bamboo shoot tea named for the way it resembles bamboo shoots as it settles at the bottom of your glass. If you're not already very familiar with Sechuan and Chinese cuisine, chances are you'll learn a lot in one night.
English speakers at Yu's family kitchen can be few and far between. It's recommended that you make a booking, but you may have some difficulty over the phone. If you're staying at a hotel in Chengdu see if someone at the Concierge can make the call for you. You won't be guaranteed to get a table if you turn up on the night. Not all of the waiting staff speak English; service is good through the whole restaurant, but you'll miss out on some elements if you can't speak Chinese or you can't get an English speaking waitress.
Even if you're familiar with Chinese cuisine, Yu's family kitchen is neither like what you'll find in small local restaurants nor degustation menus from the West. Some complaints that the food isn't 'traditional' enough do a disservice to Yu's skills and creativity. He uses high quality ingredients and traditional cooking methods to create new and interesting dishes. This is in no way fusion food, just a modern take on an incredibly varied cuisine.
After about 30 dishes, dessert is served. Balls of battered and toffee covered apple are brought out quickly, accompanied by a small dish of water. You move fast to place them in the water so that the toffee sets and you get a hard crack when you bite in. These are reminiscent of the toffee covered fruits that you can buy off the side of the road. Another has a sweet and glutinous filling with a surprisingly crisp outer layer. Of course each meal can vary, and you never quite know what you'll get.
The meal is a little more expensive than your average local restaurant, but you'll pay less per person if you have more people. If you're interested in learning about the history, and the future, of Sichuan cooking then Yu's Family Kitchen is a must try destination. Be willing to step a little outside of your comfort zone and let Chef Yu Bo take the lead.