Restaurant: Xi Shi Lounge – Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea
Cuisine: Tea/Pacific Northwest/West Coast/Fusion/Desserts
Last visited: January 24, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Downtown)
Address: 1128 West Georgia Street (At Shangri-La Hotel)
Subway stop: Burrard
Price Range: $20-30+ ($34 Afternoon Tea)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 4 (for Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea)
- Inside Shangri-La Hotel
- Euro-Asian/Fusion menu
- Aafternoon Tea Service
- Lunch service
- Great for snacks
- Cocktail/wine list
- Afternoon Tea with live classical piano
- 11.30am – 1am (Seasonal Patio from 11.30am – 11pm)
- 11.30am – 5pm (Saturday and Sunday)
**Recommendations: Afternoon Tea
Adding to the growing list of Chinese New Year menus in Vancouver is Xi Shi Lounge’s Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea (limited time). I’m loving the enthusiasm for the New Year and the various restaurant choices and menu options are more than welcome in a multicultural city.
Xi Shi Lounge opened late last year at the Shangri-La Hotel just underneath Market by Jean-Georges. It features an Euro-Asian fusion inspired menu with a focus on chilled and hot snacks, limited lunch items and a traditional Afternoon Tea. Yes, Afternoon Tea, not High Tea, there’s a difference (see my post here). On this occasion I was invited to their Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea which is offered from January 23rd through Sunday, January 29th from 11:30 am to 5:00 pm.
One of the things I valued most at the Xi Shi Lounge Afternoon Tea service was the live classical piano performance they had for entertainment. I’ve been to Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Vancouver, The Secret Garden Tea Company, The China Cup Tea Company, Applewood Country Gifts, Tearoom & Bakery, Tracycakes Bakery Cafe, and The Urban Tea Merchant, but this is the only one that featured live entertainment which really made it an elegant and upscale experience. This is featured on a daily basis even with their regular Afternoon Tea service.
It was nice to see Xi Shi continue the Asian theme with the Nikko chinaware rather than the English brands. When it comes to Afternoon Tea I can get quite particular because there are a certain set of expectations and traditions that come with it. Ambiance is a big part of it. It was an elegant, stylish and posh tearoom, and I found it carried more of a cocktail atmosphere fit for after work drinks.
I recently tried the “Year of the Dragon” Signature Afternoon Tea at The Urban Tea Merchant a block away. It featured a standard version of Afternoon Tea, but with some playful Asian influences. It was definitely still more Westernized, and if you’re looking for something more traditional to the Chinese culture, that isn’t quite authentic as dim sum, then I would suggest trying this Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea at Xi Shi. Personally, the “foodie” part of me enjoyed the food, value and overall experience at Xi Shi more, but the “tea lover” (not connoisseur) in me appreciated the luxury teas and tea culture at The Urban Tea Merchant. They both offer very different experiences and each have their strengths and clientele so it depends on what you’re looking for.
Even though I am very familiar with traditional dim sum, I still appreciated this Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea at Xi Shi, but on another level. I didn’t have expectations for authentic dim sum, but I was expecting a general understanding of the East meets West concept since the menu was developed by Chef Wayne Harris of Market by Jean-Georges upstairs. Jean-Georges is notorious for Asian fusion, so I was quite confident in the Chinese New Year menu even though the chef is of non-Asian decent. The selection of dim sum was more traditional than I expected from a place like Xi Shi, and if it can introduce or warm people up to traditional Chinese food via a modern context, I’m more than happy.
Now for the “stick to tradition” readers, I wouldn’t compare this Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea at Xi Shi Lounge to authentic Chinese dim sum. However, they actually did a good job replicating dim sum dishes making it more approachable for Western tastes. I would say the food was probably more Westernized than a place like Wild Rice (where the chef is non-Asian, but culinary trained in dim sum), but I do respect the extra effort they went on creating an entire menu just for the New Year and it was representable of Chinese food. Food authenticity aside, I would recommend this for anyone who values ambiance and style and it plays well into the Chinese New Year celebration.
On the table:
**Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea – 4/6 (Very good)
- $34/per person (Includes choice of loose leaf tea)
- Available January 23rd through Sunday, January 29th from 11:30 am to 5:00 pm.
- It was Western style dim sum, but again they did a respectable job with it.
- I was very impressed with what was delivered and the value was certainly there, especially when you factor in the provided classical piano performance.
- The menu featured great variety and every item was handmade and actually representable of traditional Chinese food.
- If you compare the items to the real deal, this doesn’t really do it justice, but it also wasn’t disappointing and I really did enjoy it.
- It’s supposed to be an Afternoon Tea, but with 9 hors d’ouevres, it’s definitely substantial enough as a lunch, and that’s coming from me! (I eat a lot.)
Choice of Loose Leaf Tea – 5/6 (Excellent)
- It was a premium brand of loose leaf tea from England, and I would have loved if they offered an Asian brand to suit their Asian theme.
- I have to admit, The Urban Tea Merchant is my shrine for luxury teas and it’s hard to compete with that quality.
- **Shangri-La Blend
- A black tea blend with pineapple, kiwi and plum.
- This is the signature tea. It was a fruity tea, but it smelled fruitier and sharper than it tasted.
- It was floral, with a hint of citrus, but I couldn’t pick up the kiwi although I enjoyed it overall.
- **Classic Chai
- An assam tea with exotic spices – India at its best.
- How can I resist “India at its best”?
- This was an excellent Chai and it was heavy with the cinnamon with a hint of cardamom and even spicy ginger notes.
- The spices were quite apparent and well rounded after adding cream.
Barbeque Pork and Puff Pastry, Vegetable Spring Roll, Shrimp Dumplings
- The items on this plate is representable of Cantonese style dim sum.
- It had something baked, fried and steamed and there was good variety.
The tier of hot appetizers were served with a soy and rice wine vinegar, Hoisin sauce, and lemon plum sauce. Traditionally the only item that would come with a sauce is the spring rolls, but this was the Westernized version.
Barbeque Pork and Puff Pastry – 4/6 (Very good)
- This is more or less an Asian inspired “sausage roll”, but it does exists in authentic Chinese dim sum. See BBQ Pork Pastry.
- This was meant to be eaten with the Hoisin sauce, which is the modern take.
- It was a soft and flaky buttery puff pastry that wasn’t dry and it was well stuffed with sweet and salty barbeque pork and green onions.
- The barbeque pork was lean, but not dry and although I prefer the authentic version, I still easily enjoyed this one.
- It was less saucy than the traditional version and since it had the Hoisin dipping sauce, it was understandable.
- If you like BBQ pork style buns, I would highly recommend these Baked BBQ Pork Buns.
Vegetable Spring Roll – 4/6 (Very good)
- A spring roll is a spring roll, but for a vegetarian spring roll, this was very good!
- It was well stuffed with carrots, cilantro and sweet Shiitake mushrooms and a bit of cabbage and celery.
- They were very crispy and the vegetables still kept their flavours and textures and it had a great crunch.
- There was a very subtle heat, but it wasn’t spicy. This was meant to be enjoyed with plum sauce and I was surprised that I even liked it at all since it was just a spring roll.
- A traditional Chinese style spring roll would be stuffed with prawns and the dipping sauce would be Worcestershire sauce. As for their vegetarian versions, I actually don’t think it’s as good as this one.
- It’s ambitious to take on the shrimp dumpling.
- This is what dim sum chefs and restaurants pride themselves on and it’s one of the hardest things to master. You judge a Chinese restaurant based on their Shrimp Dumplings.
- This requires a lot of technique to make so it almost holds too much significance for me to enjoy unbiasedly.
- The skin was actually quite chewy and nice, but it was too thick and classically it should be very thin and transparent, but not breaking.
- The prawn was a Side Stripe (?) and it had a mild infused ginger flavour, but it was on the dry side.
- It just didn’t carry that desired juicy crunch of an authentic prawn dumpling – see “Har Gow“.
- The effort is commendable, but if you’ve had a great version of the real thing, this was tough to appreciate.
- It was served with a soy and rice wine vinegar which is very modern, but it actually made it taste better. Traditionally soy and vinegar sauces are served with fried meat dumplings.
Green Onion Pancake, Steam Buns, Crunchy Sesame Balls
- This was the starch tier that was in between sweet and savoury. It led up to the top tier of sweet desserts nicely.
- The items on this plate is more traditional of Shanghainese dim sum.
- Green Onion Pancake – 1.5/6 (Poor – Okay)
- Next time I would start by eating this one first. It hindered from being eaten cold. That being said, I’ve had cold versions of the green onion pancake that have worked better.
- Usually there is more green onion and it should be all crispy and flaky.
- This one was quite dense and chewy, but it tasted better with the Hoisin sauce, which is not an uncommon method to enjoy together.
- I prefer it fried, but traditionally Shanghainese cultures tend to deep fry it – see Grilled Onion Pancake (it’s not actually grilled).
- Crunchy Sesame Balls – 2/6 (Okay)
- I loved that they served these, but the only thing is that they under baked/fried them and the inside was still doughy and stretchy. The flour flavour was cooked out, but they were still under cooked.
- This is very traditional to Chinese New Year – see my post on Chinese New Year Food.
- Traditionally they’re known as “Laughing Sesame Balls” and they’re enjoyed as a dessert or sweet snack.
- The sesame balls have a crack or dent in them which represent a smile and the seeds are symbolic for “having kids” (procreation) so you’ll get pregnant after one… just kidding.
- It’s actually a deep fried sweetened pastry and usually it’s crusted with white sesame seeds.
- I actually liked the black sesame seeds better and it made it even nuttier and more aromatic.
- They’re supposed to be crunchy throughout, but these were crunchy just on the outside and then soft and bready in the middle and unfortunately still doughy in the centre.
- I really loved the flavour of these (even more than the traditional ones) because I think they used all butter rather than lard/shortening (which Chinese people use). It was richer, a bit sweeter and not as greasy or dry as the traditional ones – see traditional Laughing Sesame Ball Cookies.
Steam Buns – 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
- Wow. This was impressive. They did a great job with this and I was surprised to even see them. It was almost the “scone” on the tier.
- It’s traditionally a Shanghainese dish and they’re basically deep fried buns known as “Mantou buns”. Terracotta Modern Chinese actually uses them to make amazing Short Rib Sliders.
- These tasted very authentic and perhaps even better than some traditional ones.
- They’re meant to be dipped in condensed milk (in the centre) and enjoyed as a dessert.
- It’s deep fried, but it’s not a doughnut and it’s only the outside that is meant to be crispy.
- The inside was soft, somewhat spongy and fluffy as it should be, and the bread is a sweeter type of Asian white bread.
- The larger versions of mantou (loaves) are rolled like cinnamon buns before being deep fried and it creates a noodle like inside that Asian kids often enjoy. You can peel them like cheese strings.
Lychee and Osmanthus Flower Shooter, Red Bean Mochi Ball, Egg Tarts
- Oh gosh. Chinese desserts. Desserts is not the forte in Chinese cuisine and usually it’s just fruits, which I kind of expected, but this was still appreciated.
- I eat everything, but Chinese desserts and Indian desserts are hard for me to love.
- Indian desserts I find often too sweet and Chinese desserts often not sweet enough, and it bothers me that they’re usually served warm.
- Anyways, they took the “better” of Chinese desserts and I didn’t fear getting to the top tier.
- Alright, so I kind of feared this so I ate it first. Save the best for last…
- If you know this blog, you all know how I feel about red bean. Basically, it’s something I think I’ll appreciate when I’m older.
- Red bean mochi is more of a Japanese thing, but Chinese people still have their own version and so do Koreans. I prefer the Japanese kind – see here.
- The mochi skin was a bit doughy, dense and starchy and sprinkled with coconut, the coconut I liked!
- The inside was filled with sweetened red bean paste that was smooth and sweeter than traditional Chinese red bean paste.
- This was very rich and pasty and it’s just not my thing. That being said I still swallowed my bite and it wasn’t bad for what it was.
- A mochi that is my thing that I love (since it has no red bean) is the one from Hapa Umi that’s filled with ice cream – see Passionfruit Mochi Ice Cream.
- They did a good job with the egg tarts and they’re made in house too.
- It was a sweetened, crumbly, soft and moist shortbread like tart and the egg custard was also smooth and well made.
- It wasn’t a flaky or crispy egg tart shell, but they were very tender and even better than some Chinese dim sum places.
- There are some amazing ones at authentic Chinese dim sum, but these were still good.
Lychee and Osmanthus Flower Shooter – 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
- When I heard “shooter” I expected a drink, but this was actually jello.
- Jello shooters at Afternoon Tea was new, but of course non-alcoholic… boo. Just kidding.
- This was a version of the traditional Longan & Wolfberry Pudding or Lychee and Gogi Berry Jello.
- The bottom was the Chrysanthemum(?) flowers and I’m not sure if they meant them to sink to the bottom, but traditionally the flowers float throughout the jello.
- The gogi berries usually float throughout the jello too, but they just had the one dried one on top. This is perhaps a bit “exotic” so I understand the interpretation.
- This lychee jello was probably the best lychee jello I’ve had to date. It was full of fresh lychee fruit flavour (how? I don’t know since it’s not in season), but I loved it.
- It was fragrant and fruity and definitely sweeter than most Chinese desserts, and as sweet as most American jellos.
I just love the food sooooomuch!!!!
@ Mimi – haha! I’m glad!
Where’s the Shanghai pickled cucumbers-in-Chinese steamed bun finger sandwich ? [WINK and doing the Queen handwave …..]
A lot of carbs, this meal looks like.
I commend them for making everything in-house, especially the shrimp dumpling/hargow and bbq pork roll, items that perhaps the typical Chinese person would scoff at. Did they make their own mochi, as in actually pounding the glutinous rice into paste then shaping them ?
i definitely given them props for making everything home made but i don’t know if i’d actually eat most of the food with tea… i guess i personally like to eat dainty things when i’m doing afternoon tea and i think this menu is just a bit too heavy.. the food does look amazing though and i love bbq pork rolls with puff pastry 🙂 nomnomnom
@Linda – just by looking at the offerings, I too think it seems a bit heavy. And I also agree with Mijune that an Asian tea choice(s) would be nice to have to fit with the overall theme. Which then also brings the question, what *is* the theme of the food menu ? How does the Japanese-leaning mochi fit in in an otherwise Chinese theme ? I also feel the GOP (green onion pancake) seems to be an odd duck out. But again, my $0.25 only. I’m sure if I were there I’d eat everything in sight anyway 😀
@LR & Linda – Yes, the Afternoon Tea does have a lot of starches and that’s why I said it’s enough for a full lunch. I think the value is totally there at $34 though. This is all coming out of a non-Asian restaurant too so I definitely give them tons of cred.
As for the tea, they do serve Asian teas, I just didn’t choose them. I just meant that I wished they purchased an Asian brand of tea rather than English brand 🙂
LR – Lol, yes we can get quite picky when it’s dealing with something you know about. The theme is obviously Chinese 🙂 But remember what I wrote in the intro, it’s not meant to be traditional so we have to remove ourselves from that scope to be fair. The mochi Chinese people have started to incorporate in their menus as well and Koreans too so I think it’s fine. And yes, they do make it in house. The green onion pancake is on the Shanghainese tier and they also serve that during traditional dim sum nowadays at Cantonese places surprisingly. I had it at Top Gun!
@Linda – Also if we translate all the items in a Western context it would be mini muffins, tea sandwiches, quiches, scones and cupcakes etc… which too can be quite heavy. I see what you mean though. Definitely an Afternoon Tea you that ensures you’re full and at $34…. really worth it!
Being Chinese, I kind of cringed when I saw this afternoon tea. I can imagine my parents’ reactions to seeing this: “WHAT?! I could get this at an authentic dim sum restaurant for a fraction of the price. And it would taste better too!”
Seriously though… *shakes head*
Just the presentation is very unappetizing… and what happened to balance? Almost everything is baked/fried.
I think they should stick with Western menus. I was actually really impressed with my experience there before they had that renovation and changed from Lobby Lounge to Xi Shi.
@Krispymilk – I see your perspective, but the point of this menu was to embrace Chinese New Year in a Western context. Therefore it is only fair to go in expecting a non-traditional menu. As I said in my intro, the chef is not Asian, but they wanted to recognize the new year by creating a made from scratch menu. Although it’s not authentic nor perfect, it takes years and years of training to make “perfect dim sum”… therefore I think it was a great shot and show of effort. It was never meant to be catered to people who want authentic dim sum… in that case they should go somewhere else and I would agree with you. Balance I can see and know what you’re getting at, but if we look at traditional afternoon tea, it too contains lots of sandwiches, scones, quiche, tarts, cupcakes etc.
I find this very amusing. Because I personally love dimsum and afternoon tea, I had thought of this idea a long time ago. I thought it would be great to mix the two things I love together but everyone I told thought it was a stupid idea! But look! Someone actually had the same idea as me and did it. I wish I had a chance to try it but I was out of town…too bad for me.
@Pan – It’s still going on I think! You can still try it! 🙂
@Mijune – I think their CNY afternoon tea menu, as you already confirmed “On this occasion I was invited to their Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea which is offered from January 23rd through Sunday, January 29th from 11:30 am to 5:00 pm.” …… is now over.
Yup, current menu says otherwise too:
@LR – aww damnit.. ur right LR! Thanks! Sorry I should have read carefully. I wouldn’t trust their website though because the CNY Afternoon tea was only offered via e-mail to their subscribers and not advertised… although anyone could go in to try it. They just did WOM advertising 🙂
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