WHEN the Chinatown pagoda disappeared in a pile of rubble to make way for the building of the Boardwalk’s new five-star hotel, I can’t have been the only one who felt a pang of sadness.
It had been a handsome building and one I had always strongly associated with the Boardwalk.
But what was once Lai Kung Chinese and the Kyoto Japanese restaurants would rise again in the form of Yi Pin, now a single Asian restaurant on the ground floor near the double escalator leading visitors up to the new hotel and international convention centre.
Yi Pin threw a humdinger of a party on Sunday to mark its second birthday at this location. Patrons, friends and business associates came from far and wide to feast on huge platters of sushi and sashimi and all sorts of Chinese favourites, like Yi Pin’s signature crispy chicken with sesame seeds.
This was one invitation Salvelio and I did not want to miss, as we had attended the opening of Yi Pin two years before. We could scarcely believe so much time had passed and were eager to congratulate owner Willy Fan and his right-hand man, chef Joe Lin, on their achievement.
I’d always found these two very endearing and was especially touched by their incredible work ethic – Yi Pin is open seven days a week, for lunch and dinner, and yet you’ll always find Willy and Joe around.
At Yi Pin’s heart remain these two men who are partners, friends, family. OK, so technically Willy Fan and Joe Lin are not related, but they have such a close bond that they consider themselves family.
And at the end of a gruelling day in the kitchen they even go home together: Joe lives with Willy and his family in their home in Summerstrand.
Willy’s wife Judy and daughters Denise, Alice and Debbie all consider Joe part of the family. Likewise, many of Willy and Joe’s customers at Yi Pin have become like family.
“We’ve seen guests who started coming as primary school pupils growing up to be students. Some are even married – and still keep coming back,” says Willy.
Unlike the original Chinese and Japanese restaurants that they opened at the Boardwalk 12 years ago, Yi Pin offers a fusion of the two, with both styles of cooking under one roof.
Yi Pin also has a more contemporary and minimalist style of décor, with more subtle Chinese touches than the heavy red and gold ornamentation of its predecessor.
Feng shui principles have been applied in the decor and design, for instance in the round chandelier at the centre of the restaurant which is surrounded by an octagon, another important shape in feng shui.
All this wonderful energy must surely have rubbed off on Salvelio at the opening, as he managed to net R500 in casino chips or credits after being one of the winners in a game of ping, pong, plop in which contestants attempt to bounce ping pong balls first onto dinner plates and then into a bowl.
Diners have been loyal to the two restaurateurs and chefs for the past 14 years because they offer authentic Chinese and Japanese food, Willy says.
“Our sushi, for example, is not westernised. Traditional Japanese sushi focuses on the rice, the quality of the ingredients, the variety and the presentation.” Back in the kitchen, the chefs are all of Chinese origin to ensure that the cooking is traditional.
One of them is Joe’s equally amiable younger brother, Anton, whom we are sure will follow in his brother’s footsteps.
The two hail from the Fujian province in China, while Willy and his wife are both originally from Taiwan. Willy’s daughter, Denise, is also closely involved in the restaurant, including as a shareholder.
She looked incredible in a silk kimono on Sunday night and her adorable baby daughter Lily enchanted everyone there.
Willy’s three girls practically grew up in the restaurant and we hope to see much more of little Lily too, as Yi Pin continues on its path to success.
Easy recipe for you to try at home: Yi Pin’s prawns with pineapple
THIS unusual dish is tasty and extremely easy to make. Willy and Joe say the tastes are so balanced that you don’t need to add salt, as the fruit gives it sweetness.
It’s hard to pinpoint its origins but it is a popular dish throughout China, they say.
It serves one but you can double up for two people.
Ingredients250g raw king prawns, peeled and deveined
50g fresh pineapple, cut into blocks
three leaves of very finely shredded cabbage or lettuce
1 cup of home-made or Japanese mayonnaise (shop mayo can be too acidic for this dish)
½ tsp wasabi
juice from a fresh orange
Maizena for tossing the prawns in
MethodMake a deep incision in each prawn in the same place where you have removed the vein, but don’t cut right through.
Toss the prawns in Maizena so each is properly coated.
Deep fry the prawns in very hot oil (about 180°C) for no more than about 15 seconds or they’ll become tough. Drain on kitchen paper.
Mix the remaining ingredients, except for the lettuce or cabbage and prawns and pineapple. Now add the prawns and pineapple and stir through. Place on the lettuce or cabbage and serve immediately.