When I first arrived in China in 2003, Guangzhou's Garden Hotel was one of the very few 5-star hotels in the city (the others being the White Swan Hotel and the China Hotel by Marriott). It still projects an air of nostalgia and has become a choice for hosting airline crews from Emirates, Qatar Airways, Saudia - Saudi Arabian Airlines, DHL, FedEx among others. The nearby areas of Xiaobei Lu (also known as Little Middle-East because of the large number of Arabs living there), and Sanyuanli (known as "Chocolate City" by the locals because of the large African community that lives there) have turned Guangzhou into a thriving international city in recent years.
During my time in the U.K. (in February 2011), I was invited to give an action packed talk on travel to Beijing at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The 1 hour talk focused on the sights & smells of the capital city of China.
Straight after I returned from London, I had the chance to review the famous White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou. Ideally situated on the beautiful island of Shamian in Guangzhou, the capital of the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, the splendid White Swan Hotel is a reminder of the rich history and culture of this Cantonese city. The White Swan Hotel was jointly invested by the Guangdong provincial government and Mr. Fok Ying Tung's Hong Kong Wai Cheung development company. When it was officially opened on February 6th, 1983 it was the city's first formally recognised five-star hotel, the first joint-venture deluxe hotel in China and the first one conceived, constructed and managed hotel entirely by local Chinese people.
Since 1985 the White Swan Hotel has been a proud member of "The Leading Hotels of the World" as the first Chinese member of this prestigious hotel organization. In 1990, it became one of the first three five-star hotels in China (now you have more than 300 five-star hotels in China!). The hotel is a favourite among many Chinese and international government officials, Heads of States, Royalty and various captains of industry.
Most visitors these day may think that the White Swan Hotel is becoming a thing of the past, however it can be reassured that because this was one of the first finest five-star hotels in Guangzhou (and indeed in China), so therefore it is something of a privilege and an honour to stay here. The White Swan Hotel is very much part of the rich history, culture and ambiance of the city of Guangzhou. The hotel has a perfect location, lying on the banks of the Pearl River with stunning views looking across to the city on one side and on the other fascinating views of Huangsha island. Buildings with fine French and British colonial architecture surround the atmosphere of the White Swan Hotel.
The White Swan Hotel is also a preferred choice of many westerners who come to Guangzhou specifically to adopt Chinese babies. In actual fact, the relationship between the hotel and the adoption agencies is so close that the lobby of the hotel is used as a family welcoming area for parties and receptions when adopted children are formally welcomed to their new family and photos are taken.
An area that is closed off to the public is the top floor of the hotel, which has been used as the Presidential suite since the hotel opened. Remarkable as it may seem, the whole floor is taken up as the Presidential suite, separated into two parts - one for the Queen (the female area) and the other part for the King (male area). While the rest of the hotel may be renovated in the coming years, the Presidential suite will remain untouched. This is to preserve the heritage and the ambiance of the rooms and the furniture on which people such as North Korean leader Kim Jong II, 37th US President Richard Nixon, Queen Elizabeth II, Deng Xiaoping, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and many others have lived in. It's perhaps one of very rare Presidential suites in the world that has a manmade garden complete with a small waterfall and a lake inside.
It has to be mentioned that no visit to the White Swan Hotel is complete without enjoying a culinary experience at the hotel's signature Cantonese eatery, the Jade River restaurant. While most westerners may not be used to eating a Cantonese style breakfast, it is highly recommended that one gives it a go when you are here. After all, it would be a waste of time and experience if you came all the way to China and you dare not try the local cuisine. Eating an authentic dim sum at the Jade River restaurant is all about the experience, the art and design of the food and the ambiance of the Cantonese surroundings.
The first that strikes you when you enter this fabulous restaurant are the words highlighted in Gold as: "叙初堂", literally standing for "this is a place" (堂) where long lost friends reunite and recall（叙旧) their past good times (当初). On the whole the name shows the charm and the poetic beauty of Chinese literacy.
To enjoy the true authentic Cantonese dim sum taste and aroma, it is highly recommended to start off with a bowl of traditional congee with preserved duck egg and minced pork. The congee should be slightly salty on its won because of the added flavour of the preserved duck eggs and the pork. It is suggested to have this dish along with a piece of fried bread stick (You-tiao) and dry scallop (just adorable).
The meal should be accompanied by a Chinese tea or teas of your choice. Highly recommended is the jasmine or the white chrysanthemum tea (good for the eyes, especially black eyes).
It would be a good thing to go for such culinary delights such as steamed rice flour roll filled with minced beef and a deep-fried turnip cake which has generous flakes of dry scallops that melt away in the mouth as one takes a spoonful. The latter dish goes exceedingly well with a slight garnishing of mustard on the top.
Just sit back, relax and watch as Chef de Cuisine Mr. Qui Wei Guo presents a session of live dumpling making in front of you as you sit back and enjoy your dim sum. Chef Qui's dumplings are rather extra special as he makes them into all kinds of different shapes and sizes. As they say in Cantonese culture that if a dim sum does not have a customary egg tart for dessert than it is not really a dim sum. The egg tart at the Jade River restaurant has all the signs of a perfect egg tart. There are none of those messy flakes falling off while you take a bite (most egg tarts of a bad quality have this feature) and there are no messy droplets of the actual egg yolk. It's just perfect the way it should be, and just gently melts away in your mouth. The egg tart is accompanied with a crispy flour cake with syrup
The dim sum of chef Qiu Wei Guo is famous and highly-recommended by Mr. Cailan, the famous Gastronomist of Hong Kong and many celebrities and VVIPs. When visiting heads of state reside at the White Swan Hotel he personally adheres to their culinary requests.
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