The Hyatt Hotel is one of Manila’s grandest and for me one of the more accessible five-star hotels in the metro. I live maybe 20 minutes away, and after this luncheon I had, I began wondering why we didn’t visit the restaurants here a little more. I was invited to an intimate lunch at Li Li’s Restaurant a few days ago to sample the restaurant’s lauded dimsum dishes alongside a couple of other cool kids (READ: really talented bloggers). It was my first time being formally invited to an event like this, so I was a mixture of nerves and excitement. Aside from the delicious food, the other great part was getting to meet other bloggers like myself. I’m actually a shy person but I somehow managed to be less awkward, and in the end I had a lot of fun and ate a lot of dimsum!
Speaking of dimsum, I am a huuuuge dimsum lover. If you’ve been following this blog, you’d know I made a promise to myself to cook every single recipe from my favourite dimsum cookbook. Apart from that, almost every month, my two best friends and I go out for a dimsum date where we always end up stuffing our faces full of har gao and radish cake. But if I thought what we did during those times already qualified as “stuffing” ourselves, boy was I wrong. Eating here at Li Li’s, now this is the real deal.
Hyatt’s Li Li Restaurant is inspired by the life and the home of Li Li. She was born and raised in Hong Kong, and because she belonged to an affluent Chinese family, she was able to study in La Sorbonne in Paris. Her love for both the Chinese culture and the Parisian lifestyle led her to make the decision of settling in Paris with a mission to introduce her rich Chinese cultural heritage to the Europeans. She then opened a gallery specializing in Asian fine arts. During one of her visits to Geneva to attend an Asian-themed art exhibit, she met and was swept off her feet by Vince, a French UN Ambassador for Culture.
Even after the birth of Li Li’s two children Fei Fei and Bai Ling, the whole family would continue to travel around Europe, to places like Tuscany and Switzerland. They led a rather charmed life and was constantly surrounded by many fine things. But after 20 years in Europe, Li Li decided to come back home to Hong Kong to help run the various family businesses. It was here she discovered she had an interest in becoming a restaurateur. She wanted her restaurant to become a place where guests could feel at ease wherever they sat, with the warmth and coziness of home. The decor, down to the the pieces of cutlery, are an eclectic mix of Chinese and European objects collected throughout Li Li’s years of travel.
The living room first greeted me when I arrived. It was very grand, with a giant chandelier glittering like diamonds overhead. The shades of reds and oranges used in the room give it a predominantly Asian flair, though clearly the chandelier was more European. A perfect place for idle conversations, it is here guests await to be seated while being served hot glasses of delicious tea.
Right beside it is the wine cellar, which houses a long rectangular table perfect for private conferences. The lovely paintings add a wonderfully Chinese touch to this room.
The main dining room is housed in a long bright hall dotted with simple but elegantly set tables.
There is also another dining area that is elevated. This one feels a bit cozier and more private. There are photos of Li Li’s ancestors on the wall; a show of respect to the elders.
Next up is a pair of private dining areas representing the bedrooms of Li Li’s two children.
And finally, the library where we were to dine for this day. This was my favourite room among all of them. I’m bookish by design so I was captured immediately by the shelves housing both books and these quaint Asian trinkets and statues. The painstaking attention to detail not just in the library but in every room in the restaurant pays off in the way the restaurant’s vibe is unmistakably Chinese, but it still has a whisper of European influence. I’ve honestly been to very few restaurants as well thought out as this one.
The table setting once again was not very frilly; oozing with a simple Oriental elegance.
I especially loved the spoon with the carved feather handle.
Once I sat down, I noted the lovely little tulips painted on the plates. Tulips are very European in my mind, but the way they were painted looks similar to the Chinese watercolour style. They complemented the Asian vibe of the whole room with ease. While I was busy enjoying the room’s ambiance, we were served with a gigantic glass of Li Li’s signature Guava Iced Tea brewed with black tea.
Before dining, our hosts at Hyatt decided to treat us to a little tea ceremony to allow us to appreciate the art of tea. The one they presented was the Gong Fu-Style Tea Ceremony.
Tea ceremonies are always such an interesting sight, and it makes you truly appreciate the tea you’re drinking after seeing all the effort that goes to ensuring you get the “proper” tea served to you. The first thing to be done is to ‘warm the pots and teacups’ (溫壺燙杯). Once all the tools are prepared, the tin of tea leaves is passed around the room for guests to examine and smell. This part is called ‘appreciating excellent tea’ (鑒賞佳茗) and is the major point of the whole ceremony– appreciation for the tea and for the people the tea is being shared with.
Finally we get to the main ceremony proper called ‘the black dragon enters the palace’ (). It involves a couple of steps so I decided to turn it into a video for you to experience it better. You’ll have to forgive the shaky nature of my video because I haven’t shot anything since graduating from university, plus this is only the second time I’m using the video feature on my new camera, but I still hope you glean something from watching it.
And now ladies and gentlemen, I present to you glorious dimsum! The food we were served is only a sampling of what Hyatt’s all-you-can-eat dimsum buffet offers. Aside from dimsum, you can also order delicacies such as Wok-fried Radish Cake, Chicken in Simmered Soya Sauce, Barbecued Pork Belly, Braised Noodle with Shredded Abalone Mushroom and Stir-fried Vegetables in Garlic. All that for just Php888 net per person every Monday to Saturday!
First up is one of my favourites: Steamed fish shape dumplings with cod fish and Chinese parsley. I really loved how the softness of the codfish contrasts with the firm dumpling wrapper.
These “Shanghai” style Steamed Pork Dumplings, more lovingly called the Xiao Long Bao are always dimsum favourites of mine. It’s actually my next target for when I get the time to make homemade dimsum again!
You eat them using a round ceramic spoon to prevent the soup inside from spilling out, but if you’re a dimsum hustler like myself, you would just dip the dumpling into the ginger-soy sauce and pop everything into your mouth. No spillage, and you get the full explosion of soup and dumpling. Yum!
One of the interesting-looking dimsum dishes we had were these Steamed crabmeat dumplings with black mushroom. Looking at it, I never would have guessed what these dumplings were.
We also had these lovely Steamed shrimp and dried seawood rolls with asparagus and fish roe, along with the ever-present shu mai (Steamed pork & shrimp dumpling with flying fish roe).
Of course we were served the crowd-pleaser har gao, Steamed shrimp dumplings with bamboo pith that literally every dimsum-eating person I know loves.
I don’t like fried things all that much but I have to say I always enjoy a good taro puff whenever I dine in a Chinese restaurant. Hyatt’s Deep-fried mashed taro puff with chicken is good, but unfortunately it’s not the best I’ve tasted.
Another fried dish I enjoyed, surprisingly, are these Pan-fried spinach dumplings with shrimp. They are part of my top three dishes for this meal.
The third and final fried dish on the menu were the Deep-fried bicho-bicho stuffed with minced shrimp and topped with wasabi-mayonnaise. I didn’t particularly care for this dish on its own though I enjoy eating bicho-bicho with my congee on occasion.
If you ever pressured me to pick just one super duper favourite dimsum dish I had in this meal, I would probably pick these Steamed fresh scallops dumpling. They were simply divine, and were so pretty covered with the green dumpling wrapper. Ugh, just writing about them now is making me crave for them!
The more filling dishes from the meal are these Baked barbecue pastry puffs. Their bite-sized but they have a way of settling into your tummy heavily. You can see how gorgeously flaky the interior of the puffs are, savoury and buttery contrasting with the sweetness of the barbecue filling.
Another dish heavy on the stomach is the Steamed glutinous rice with assorted meat wrapped in lotus leaf. They are indeed delicious, but the moment I ate them, I began feeling full immediately. But it could just be me because I’m not used to eating a ton.
And now we’re almost done with the meal. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to take another bite after all the food above, even though I just ate a single serving from each, but somehow I found a way! (It was mostly from drinking all that tea. Very good for digestion!)
I really enjoyed this Hot and Sour Soup they brought out before dessert. It was spicy with a very subtle sourness which I thought was perfect. I’ve eaten these instant Hot and Sour powdered soup packages in the supermarket but once you get a taste of this very authentic soup, the difference in flavour is a world away.
And now, a little dessert perhaps? What I liked the most about the dessert part was how they kind of reinvented these typical Chinese sweets to create something new while still keeping the essence of the dessert intact. They did it with these fried Sesame balls by filling them with white chocolate instead of the typical sweet bean paste.
They also transformed my favourite Mango sago and added bits of pomelo and almond jelly. The florentine cookie stick adds a nice touch!
Well after that dimsum showcase, I really hope you’re hungry for Li Li’s dimsum-all-you-can-buffet. In fact, the good people at Hyatt are giving you, my dear readers, a special treat for when you dine in Li Li Restaurant:
This bottomless iced tea costs Php300 net if you buy it on its own. This promos is valid until June 30th 2013, but I personally think this dimsum-all-you-can meal would be a nice treat for Moms especially with Mother’s Day right around the corner!
Before I go, I would like to thank Hyatt for inviting me to this fun little luncheon, and I would also like to thank the chefs responsible for this amazing meal. 謝謝你們! Thanks everyone!
And finally, for purposes of full disclosure, I would just like to say I would never ever tell you to eat at a restaurant I didn’t love. You can rest assured I loved the dimsum here at LiLi Restaurant. So go forth and dine!
Li Li Chinese Restaurant
Li Li Restaurant offers an all-you-can-eat dim sum for just Php888 net per person, available from 12:00 noon to 3:00 pm, from Monday to Saturday. They also have Sunday Yum Cha from 11:30 am until 3:00 pm, ideal for guests who enjoy an endless array of delicious dim sum for only Php1,650 net per person.