China Club opens to a ready-made audience of loyal followers

Welcome to the Club.

China Club (photo credit: ANATOLY MICHAELO)
China Club
(photo credit: ANATOLY MICHAELO)
When the popular Asian restaurant The Bun closed its doors suddenly last summer, it surprised and disappointed many die-hard patrons. Fortunately, these fans did not have long to wait for the eatery’s reincarnation, with the same ownership, management and chefs: brothers Shei and Ayal Kitches. Even the location remains the same. Except while The Bun featured pan-Asian cuisine, and favored the spongy steamed buns from which it derived its name, the new iteration is definitely China-centric. 
Situated in a narrow alley just off the main entrance of Shuk HaCarmel, the small restaurant with open kitchen features only backless stool seating indoors, at counters and two high tables, while a few basic tables and chairs are just outside. Rhythmic music plays in the background, at tolerable decibel levels.
The alcohol menu lists four specialty cocktails (NIS 40-44), and our waitress had her recommendations at the ready: the margarita with black cardamom, and the Chameleon – vodka with melon liqueur and cucumber. The former had the faintest hint of the exotic spice, while the latter was crisp and refreshing, with a touch of sweetness. 
The food menu comprises three sections: Starters (NIS 21-46), Mains (NIS 59-89) and Sides (NIS 14/18). All but one of the starters are vegan while only one of the mains-- and both side dishes-- are. Interestingly for a Chinese restaurant, there is no pork or shellfish on the menu. 
We asked Chef Ayal to suggest dishes for us to taste, and he readily agreed. As we waited, we snacked on the complimentary pickled cabbage appetizer, which did its job of stimulating the salivary glands. 
First came the eggplant in Shaoxing wine, with sesame, crispy garlic and cilantro. The tender vegetable melted in the mouth, while the delicious sauce left a pleasant tingle of heat on the palate.
Next came the Hong Kong-style sashimi, featuring Spanish mackerel that evening. The extreme freshness of the raw fish was evident, but the blandness of the marinade left something to be desired. 
We had one request of our own for a third starter: the Chinese kohlrabi cake, with fermented chili and scallions. The gently fried rectangular veggie patty was enhanced nicely by the embedded flecks of chili and accompanying green hot sauce.
Our first main course was another of our requests: the Carmel duck, the local version of Peking duck, with the Kitches’s own fluffy Carmel Market pitas substituting for the customary tiny pancakes. We had great fun stuffing the pitas with the succulent duck, black pepper hoisin sauce, scallions and cucumber; apart from the lack of crispy skin, it was very reminiscent of the original delicacy. 
The chef’s choice for us was Wonton chicken soup – a steaming bowl of rich broth infused with chili oil and chock full of plump Chinese dumplings, bok choy and smoked cabbage. There was more than enough for two people to be satisfied by this hearty and tasty dish. 
China Club’s three desserts are not on any menu, but they were explained by the waitress, who also recommended the flan with caramel miso. This complex sweet-and-savory topping on the custardy flan elevated this deceptively simple-looking dessert to something sublime.   
We also tried the lychee-coconut sorbet, served on a bed of buttery crumble mixed with Szechuan pepper and peanuts. There was a great interplay of flavors, textures and temperatures that is rare for a dessert. 
By the time we finished our meal, the restaurant was full, with more people waiting in line for a table. Clearly, the Kitches brothers’ fan club has transferred its allegiance from The Bun to China Club. 
China Club
Not kosher
Sun-Thu: 6 p.m.-11 p.m.
Fri: 12 noon-4 p.m.
Closed Saturdays
Hillel Hazaken St. 18, Tel Aviv
Ph: 03-604-4725
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.