Friday, February 14, 2014

Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea at Xi Shi Lounge

Xi Shi Lounge on UrbanspoonI had previously blogged about free Chinese New Year afternoon tea for persons born in the Year of the Horse at Xi Shi Lounge in the Shangri-La Hotel, and on Thursday I finally got around to going with a few friends.

The small but beautiful lounge looks a bit cramped, but there is actually a decent amount of room to move between tables. The overall ambiance, especially if you can go on a quieter weekday afternoon, is peaceful and easily adds value to the mere $38 for their luxurious high tea set.
The courteous and soft-spoken female hostesses wear sleek cheongsams, adding to the lovely ambiance. This special uniform, however, has a zipper end ends right under their right upper arm. I suspect it chafes, actually.

The afternoon tea is served from 11.30am to 5pm, and if you can manage a later seating, there is live entertainment on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

Their special Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea combines western afternoon tea with eastern/fusion elements. It is overall beautifully presented, interesting to try, and with subtler flavours. Nothing too bold here except the ginger soup -- I found the flavours rather tame for my taste, actually, but your mileage will vary.
Their tea selection has a variety of interesting flavours, and you can ask for cream/mlk and sugar.

BBQ Pork in Brioche Bun
  • Large chunks of tender pork. Could have used more sauce/jus, I thought.
  • The bun seemed a bit on the dry side and this was sadly distracting.
Crispy Duck Spring Roll
  • This was really decent. Nicely crispy on the outside and a good amount of duck meat on the inside.
  • What would have made this even better, I think, would be a bit of flavourful roasted duck skin and duck fat. Animal fats have been out of vogue for a long time, so I suspect it was deliberately left out, even though the tastiest portion of a roasted duck is the skin and fat.
Curried Tofu Wrap
  • This was just "okay" for me, but I am used to curries and spicy-hot food, so I thought it was really tame. If too much spiciness turns you off, you will probably like this a lot better.
Smoked Salmon Bagel with yuzu mayonnaise
  • I wasn't paying attention to the mini-bagel, but my friends didn't think too much of it. They thought it should have been chewier. I thought that might have made it more annoying to take bites out of this open-faced sandwich.
  • Rather plain. Whatever was special with the mayonnaise didn't make itself known.
Signature Scones (one plain, one orange) with two types of jam and clotted homemade cream
  • Definitely could have been more buttery in aroma and flavour. But again, this might have been a conscious, heart-smart low-butter decision.
  • The scones were otherwise very nicely done. You could just gently press your butter knife between the layers and expect the scone to just cleanly break apart into two nice halves. This is not always the case with scones, some of which require more sawing.
Green Tea Opera Cake with a sprinkle of gold flakes on top
  • A very sadly too-small portion for this delicious cake.
  • The bottom of this is a very thin piece of what looks like green tea milk chocolate. It will probably stick to the serving plate, and the cake is already quite delicate, so I recommend you don't just grab it. Use your butter knife to push it/scrape it loose first.
Coconut Rice Cake
  • Again, a sadly too-small portion. Although, the tea set as a whole is a filling medium lunch, so it's hard to complain. I would have traded a scone for a bigger piece of opera cake and rice cake, though.
  • A simple-looking yet delicious item that is probably based on nian gao, but which is far more convenient to eat.
Egg Tarts
  • A strangely not-very-flavourful mini egg tart.
Black Sesame Dumpling in Ginger Syrup (Tang Yuan)
  • If you want to try the soup, get ready with tea to wash it down. The ginger here has good bite to it, and a bit of bitterness. It also gives you a light burn at the back of the throat. Definitely not for everyone, so have just a taste first. I recommend either drinking this first, or last if eating lots of sweet pastries can give you a heavy feeling that you like to counteract with something sharp.
  • The black sesame dumpling is ok. The white shell doesn't tend to soak any of the soup, so it's safe that way. But it is also tasteless.
  • Instead of trying to cut it, just bring it up to your mouth with the spoon and take a bite. The chewy exterior is a chore to cut and you can just make a big mess.
For $38, I think there's good value here. The items themselves didn't really have any standouts, though the Green Tea Opera Cake was quite good and the Coconut Rice Cake was pleasantly tasty in it's humbly simple way. What enhances your experience is the interestingness of the menu, the ambiance of the venue, and the excellent service.

We were there on a Thursday afternoon at 1 pm and the hostess told me that they were fully booked for the afternoon. Probably for that reason, our party of four was seated at a table that was really meant for two. They squeezed in our place settings, but the table could not accommodate two afternoon tea towers, and the second tower was placed on a very small side table (which they might otherwise offer you if you have a purse, to save you from placing it on the ground). Everything else fit just fine, including four pots of tea.
If a very full table bugs you, you could ask for alternate seating, such as at the bar-height long table for larger parties.

A couple of teas were out of stock, and there was a rosemary-peppermint tea available which was not listed in the menu. Before you browse the tea menu and set your heart on a flavour, ask your server first about what's available and what's not.

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