When it comes to feng shui, Xie Wang Fu occupies a significant piece of real estate. It looks out directly at the imposing stone facade of the venerable Bank of Japan building in Nihonbashi. A bastion of wealth, prestige and enduring solidity, there’s no other location in Tokyo to rival it.
As the first overseas offshoot of Shanghai’s best-known specialist crab restaurant — Cheng Long Hang, with five branches to its name, plus a Michelin star — nothing was left to chance. To make it extra auspicious, the doors officially opened on Dec. 12 at precisely 12:12 p.m.
In Shanghai cuisine, freshwater Chinese mitten crabs are the supreme delicacy of autumn-winter, valued not so much for their pale flesh as for the rich tomalley and roe prised from under the carapace. But since the season is limited — October through January — they are normally served in restaurants as part of a wider menu.
Xie Wang Fu — loosely translated, the name means “Crab Kingdom” — breaks fresh ground by serving these hairy crustaceans year-round. It’s able to do so because its parent company farms them in-house, ensuring consistent quality and sanitary control. It also processes the crabs, flash-freezing them at minus 40 degrees Celsius, to lock in the color, texture and flavor.
Shipped to Tokyo twice a week in peak season, the crabs are steamed whole to form the centerpiece of Xie Wang Fu’s multicourse banquets. These range in price and complexity from ¥15,000 up to a hefty ¥50,000 per head, but all include a good number of other dishes.
The meal opens with a selection of light appetizers — “drunken crab” steeped in shaoxingjiu (rice wine), tiny crab-shaped nikogori (jelly) of pincer meat, perhaps some abalone or pork belly — prepared with admirable finesse.
A classic recipe from the south Suzhou area pairs a golden-orange mixture of roe, milt, tomalley and crabmeat with a small serving of long-grain rice. A cruet of black vinegar is served on the side, to modulate the intensity of flavors.
Another trademark dish is sauteed crab breast meat accompanied by a small popin — a crisp, concave cracker coated with sesame seeds. It’s a substantial offering, concentrating the rich meat from 20 crabs, but you are likely to find yourself scooping up every last morsel.
The procession of crab dishes is punctuated by a small serving of green vegetables, and perhaps some tender slices of wagyu bathed in a light, fragrant broth, Chaozhou style. More than just a change of pace, this is a way for the kitchen to show it is equally skilled in other genres of Chinese cuisine.
Ensconced in one of the private chambers, seated in style around a classic Lazy Susan, this is a total immersion experience. A top-end banquet can run to a dozen courses, so if you’re there for the evening with family or friends, and planning to drink a few bottles from the extensive wine cellar, be sure to budget three or more hours.
But you don’t need to spend a small fortune to try the Shanghai crab here. A more relaxed approach is to drop in for one of the set lunch menus. Even the simplest option (an affordable ¥2,800 per person) will include some appetizers; one of Xie Wang Fu’s signature crab and pork xiaolongbao dumplings; and a generous bowl of steaming dandan crabmeat noodles in a spicy, creamy soup that is guaranteed to keep the late-winter chill at bay.
This month, as China and its diaspora celebrate the Lunar New Year, Xie Wang Fu is gearing up for plenty of demand for tables. While the secluded private dining rooms provide the best social distancing, the spacious main dining room is where you’ll find the view and that positive, powerful feng shui.
Mitsui Bldg. No. 2, 1F, Nihonbashi Muromachi 2-1-1, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 103-0022; 03-6665-0958; shintai.co.jp; open 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-10 p.m.; closed Sun.; set lunch from ¥2,800, omakase from ¥15,000; dinner omakase from ¥25,000; takeout not available; nearest station Mitsukoshimae; nonsmoking; major cards accepted; English menu; some English spoken
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