Celebrating Chinese New Year for us is full of customs and traditions old and new. We all celebrate with family and friends sharing meals and wishing each other good luck, health, happiness and prosperity. We eat, eat, and then eat more. We’ll have the big 10+ course meal of course and then several others more. The dishes and ingredients are just as important as getting together. The traditions have been carried on for generations before us and we’ve added our own. Chinese New Year for me over the past few years has also included High Tea at the Shangri-La Hotel. Somehow, now celebrations just wouldn’t seem right without going. It’s a special treat shared with cherished friends and family.
I felt very honoured to share this experience this year with my friend, Libby a highly respected food writer, and her daughter who had not experienced Chinese New Year before. Caitlyn walked into the hotel with eyes gleaming. I’m sure the subtle sweet and warm scent in the air and the soothing sound of traditional Chinese music being played, the Koi swimming happily in the glass pond underneath her footsteps, and the bright cheery Wishing Tree would give her stories to tell her dad and sister. I handed her her “lei see” and wished her a Happy New Year with all our usual greetings of the season. I explained that in our tradition children are giving “lucky red envelopes” from adult friends and family. Her smile grew even bigger.
For me, experience is everything. Sharing my culture is so important to me and when I can do it in such a beautiful setting makes it even more memorable especially with children.
High Tea at the Shangri-La Hotel Toronto (available until March 2) during Chinese New Year is luxurious. It’s by far the most exquisite High Tea in the city and each year the menu always surpasses any expectations right from the moment you are led to your table. The place settings are exact. Every pair of chopsticks and every Versace bone china tea set is positioned in the same manner.
Start off with a glass of Proscecco or mocktail before you decide which tea to have. The tea menu consists of seven specialty Chinese selections for Chinese New Year. I’ve always preferred a stronger black tea so I immediately was drawn to the Ancient Tea Forest Black Tea. Described as “a deeply earthy and sophisticated profile of extraordinary quality from the famous Yunnan region of China” is was exactly what I had hoped for. Libby selected the green Imperial Dragonwell tea from Fujian province. It’s one of the finest and most exclusive teas sourced from China. My young guest opted for the Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea that is light fruity and sweet. Caitlyn closed her eyes and savoured the flavours and I’m pretty sure she polished off three refills on her teapot. Yes, we each had our own teapot that was constantly kept topped up with fresh boiled water to ensure we would never run out…or have to ask.
Soon enough two bamboo steam baskets come to our table filled with an Assortment of Dim Sum. House made har gow, siu mai, dumplings and soy braised brisket baos had us pretty excited! When Shangri-La Hotel’s chefs make dim sum, they make it really well. Plump and flavourful morsels that are generous in size. Vegan option also available. I’m allergic to shellfish and informed the staff when reserving so they could make a couple of substitutions which were equally as good. I was happy they were vegetable dumplings as I knew the rest of the menu would be filled with even more goodies!
High Tea excitement always comes with the presentation of the three-tiered platters. At first glance I can recognize dim sum favourites of egg custard tarts and sesame balls but hey, it’s Afternoon Tea so I’ve also got my laser eyes on the warm scones. As each items was explained, our eyes got even bigger. I now remembered why I tell people to give themselves 2 hours to enjoy and savour here.
Sandwiches include Poached Atlantic Lobster on a fresh brioche roll, a Pacific Smoked Salmon with truffled egg, and they version of Ginger Chicken on a crispy rice base with scallion and soy. Delicious!
Two scone varieties were offered. The Royal Red Dragon Tea and the Classic Asian Lucky Spice you want to enjoy while warm. The delicate aroma from the two flavours are incredible. They are served with housemade Pandan Leaf Curd, Strawberry Jam and a Cornish Clotted Cream.
The pastries will definitely will give you a happy belly! The Black Sesame & Banana Cake with a Caramel Yogurt Mousse is light and not over the top sweet which is a great balance along side the many other delights here. Caitlyn raved over the Tofu Cheesecake with Sweet Red Bean Paste and Matcha Sable.
There is a Spiced Mousse & Candied Macadamia served in a glassware that I saved for last as it looked like a perfect finisher and Libby agreed, but I reached for the Pineapple & Yuzu Tart first and had to stop myself there. This refreshing tart left me in complete bliss!
We definitely couldn’t finish everything but the staff asked if we would like to take the remainder home. You can be sure we did not let anything go to waste! And, as you probably know, it’s also one of our “traditions” during any celebration. As a host, you always want to have food “overflowing” — symbolic of wishing everyone a continuous flow of good luck, good health, and prosperity.
Happy New Year!
The Chinese New Year High Tea at the Shangri-La Hotel Toronto (188 University Avenue) continues until March 2, 2018. $75 per person. Reservations are required.
*Photos reflect High Tea for three people.