Back in 2000, I went to Suzhou for the first time, and had one of the most memorable meals at the classic Songhelou restaurant. One of the dishes, Cherry Pork, had the most wonderful taste even this old brand has changed. At my last visit it looked old and tired, but bizarrely with the old Chinese charm. Now it’s refurbished and turned into a 21st century restaurant. The decor has received the much-needed TLC.
The dishes were still the classic dishes from the region, but with the ever-increasing health conscious customers, it seems that the cooking has undergone major transformation also.
As one of the main excuses for this repeat visit was to re-live the moment of that melt-in-your-mouth cherry pork (with a very unhealthy but absolutely delicious chunk of pork belly fat), we ordered the dish once again. However, this time it was a total disappointment – while there was not so much fat which might be more healthy, but the meat was drier and tougher, and the sauce was not intense like before (the only way to describe what it was like in 2000 – imagine the best gravy made from the meat fat, and then it’s many times more intense with flavour).
We also ordered another Suzhou classic dish – Squirrel Fish. This was not a new species of fish; instead it’s a fish that’s been deboned, fried and shaped like a squirrel. There’s more information about the origin of Squirrel Fish on the web. The dish was beautifully presented, but with a more sweet and very little sour flavour. This is not unusual though for this region. To accompany these two rather rich-flavoured dishes, we had a mixture of four vegetables which was a good dish though the pool of oily soy sauce was slightly less welcoming.
While Songhelou is one of the classic Chinese restaurants in Suzhou, I found that it failed to sparkle on this occasion. Without the attraction of the Cherry Pork, perhaps I’ll head to Deyuelou on the opposite side of the road next time I’m in Suzhou.
Address: (Quanqian branch) No. 72, Taijian Lane, Pingjiang District, Suzhou, China
Opening Hours: Daily: 11:00am-1:30pm, 5:00pm-8:30pm
Total: 13/20 [Based on visit in January 2012]