Monday, May 13, 2013

Celebrating the Life of Li Li with Dim Sum at the Hyatt Hotel & Casino

When I think back to the best dim sum experiences I've ever had, it's definitely the one that involve a large dining hall, Chinatown in New York, and a crowd of people waiting about the lobby waiting for their number to be called so they can start their dim sum feast. You feel like you're being herded in like cattle a little bit (or the Chinese receptionist just got tired of smiling) , but the wide variety of dim sum, tea, and other Chinese dishes definitely makes up for it, at least in my opinion.

I got to try a different kind of dim sum lunch buffet in Manila thanks to the good folks at the Hyatt. It was a totally different vibe at Li Li compared to the crowded Jin Fong restaurant in NYC. Walking down the steps to the restaurant at the Hyatt, you are greeted by the beautifully designed space with modern Chinese furnishings, reminiscent of a posh Hong Kong living room. This was definitely far from the overcrowded dining halls in Chinatown!

I met the very bubbly Laurie Reyes, who gave me a tour of the huge restaurant. Inspired from the life of Li Li, a Chinese socialite in Hong Kong, the restaurant is patterned after her house, complete with a wine cellar (the wine room), an elevated prayer room, a drawing room, a library that works as a private function room for big groups, and her children's bedrooms - Fei Fei and Bai Ling - that work as private function rooms for smaller parties. The story goes, she moved to Hong Kong when she got married and wanted to share the Cantonese cooking with her friends that she started to host dinner parties, with the food being the main attraction every night.

Before starting the dim sum buffet, we were treated to a traditional Chinese tea ceremony called Gong fu, where they poured cups of Oolong for me and the rest of the bloggers to try. I think it's important to note that oolong tea actually tastes better with each steep, and the second or third steep would have smelled more aromatic and tasted better than the first - what you'd call the 'throw away' steep.

Baskets and trays of all sizes and shapes of dim sum started streaming in shortly after the Gong fu ceremony, and I have to admit, it became a bit hard to keep up with all the types of dim sum after a while! To kick-start the gastronomic dim sum adventure, a tiny basket with a steamed fish shape dumpling with cod fish and Chinese parsley was served. I felt a bit bad having to eat it - it was just so pretty!

The delicate parcel it was in gave way to fresh pieces of cod that was just as delicate as the wrap it was in, with the parsley lending much of its flavor.

The steamed shrimp with dried seaweed roll, asparagus, and fish roe was a surprisingly good combination - definitely one of my favorites of the afternoon. You taste the perfectly steamed shrimp, the mild saltiness of the seaweed wrap, there's a bit of a crunch from the asparagus spear sticking out from the dim sum, and the delicate fish roe starts popping gently once you start chewing.

The steamed crabmeat dumpling with black mushroom is delicious! This is the Hyatt after all, so don't think they'd skimp on the crab meat, and the mushroom gave the dim sum extra texture. This was one badass dumpling!

I couldn't taste the scallops in the steamed fresh scallops dumpling, which was disappointing. When it comes to scallops, I prefer to have them whole and preferably pan seared with maybe a dash of truffle oil.A tiny piece in a dumpling wrap isn't the same . Or maybe I just need more than three pieces to be truly scallop-fied?

We were also served Har Gao, which is always a crowd pleaser. The steamed shrimp dumpling with bamboo pith is nothing new, but still a hit with the bloggers nonetheless. Who says no to perfect balls of steamed shrimp?

Another familiar dim sum dish is the Sio Mai - a steamed pork and shrimp dumpling variation topped with flying fish roe. These are the most beautiful pieces of sio mai I have ever seen! Caviar on your dim sum? But of course, this is the Hyatt, after all.

I loved the crunch of the pan-fried spinach dumplings with shrimp! If there's a dish I'd keep ordering again and again, it'll probably be this. The pan-fried dumplings have no trace of oil, and each crunch it makes sings throughout the room, like bells on a Sunday.

Another fried favorite is the deep-fried mashed taro puff with chicken. It's super fun to hear the crunch, crunch, crunch of the taro puff.

Ok, so this isn't dim sum, but the baked barbecued pastry puffs are one of the best I've ever had in Manila! The pastry is firm, but gives way without being too flaky with each bite, revealing bits of barbecued pork inside.

I found the deep-fried becho-becho stuffed with minced shrimp and drizzled with wasabi mayonnaise sauce to be a bit puzzling at first. I've always thought of becho-becho as more of a Malaysian breakfast food, and for this to be served as part of the dim sum buffet, a bit weird. I took it back after I tried a piece: this is really good shiz! I wanted to order three more!

The steamed pork dumplings with crab meat "Shanghai" style was alright - I still prefer the crab meat dumpling with black mushrooms over this.

The steamed glutinous rice with assorted meat wrapped in lotus leaf may look small, but it really fills you up! The aromatic lotus leaf, when peeled back, reveals yummy sticky rice with a layer of barbecued meat underneath.

The Hot and Sour soup with assorted seafood was served after the dim sum feast was over, which was just as well, as it became a nice palate cleanser beforedessert. The soup itself is mildly spicy (I love!), and adding a few drops of black vinegar to it just makes the seafood flavors of the soup more pronounced.

For dessert, there's chilled mango sago with almond jelly served in a martini glass for easy eating. This dessert is very Chinese, very Hong Kong. The bits of pomelo on the top was a nice surprise.

My favorite dessert would have to be the buchi done Li Li's way- sesame balls with a white chocolate center. Biting into the buchi, you'd expect a type of bean paste filling, but this had white Belgian chocolate, which made my sweet tooth very happy.

When mucking around Manila, indulge in a dim sum buffet at the Hyatt's Li Li for only P880 per person every Mondays to Saturday from 12 noon to 3 o'clock. As an added bonus, mention the promo code: MUCKINGAROUNDMANILA and get Hyatt's special Guava Iced Tea (worth P300) on the house! This promo is happening 'til June 30,2013, so make a reservation now!

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Li Li
+63 2 245.1234
5th floor, Hyatt Hotel & Casino
1588 Pedro Gil, Malate, Manila
Dim Sum Buffet: Mondays - Saturday, 12nn - 3pm