Located on the 3rd floor of The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Guangzhou, the award-winning Lai Heen restaurant is a fine example of fine Cantonese dining. It provides an experience like no other. You just have to be there to feel the true aroma of the Cantonese food, art and culture.
Design, perfection and presentation are the buzz words that The Ritz-Carlton, Guangzhou prides itself in especially when it comes to providing a truly five star quality cuisine. The experience at the Lai Heen commences even before you set your hands on your chopsticks. Guests are greeted by the sight of a Chinese lady dressed in traditional wear and playing the stringed Zheng. Waitresses dressed in the tradition Qi Piao can be observed delivering the dishes to the various dining rooms. The atmosphere portrays elegance and is not as loud as one would expect from a typical Chinese restaurant in mainland China. After all, this is a high quality eatery at The Ritz-Carlton that mostly plays host to business people and the high end market. Though quiet on the whole, yet still some gentle remises of laughter can be heard in the background and sometimes even the occasional “Gambei!” (“Cheers!”), followed by the clinking of the wine, or Mao-tai glasses.
Besides the main dining room, there are six private rooms and eight semi-private rooms’ that are elegantly designed and decorated. The private dining rooms can be separated by either the doors, or the tradition style of a drop-down Chinese curtain. The Feng Shui cannot be any better because all the rooms are facing towards the direction of the lady that plays’ the stringed Zheng in the veranda of the restaurant. Now, whether that’s a good thing or bad is purely a personal choice but the fact of the matter is that it projects a feeling of elegance. All the dishes are prepared under the excellent direction of Cantonese cooking master Chef Mark Leung.
The Lai Heen specialises in providing an unforgettable experience when it comes to Tea pairing. The process of “tea-pairing” consists of a pioneering blend of eastern and western fine dining experience and tradition that is available only at the “Lai Heen”. Guests can experience the Cantonese ambience and taste of an exclusive set menu featuring seven set dishes that are expertly coupled with five different varieties of tea from across China. I actually felt that this was more like an excellent art exhibition of the food and not just a restaurant. If you love tea, like I do, then you would jump at the first opportunity to try the most original of the foods at this restaurant. In all the years that I have been reviewing restaurants’ and living in China, this was the first time that I had come across a restaurant where the food has a direct relationship with certain types of Chinese tea. I could not wait to get my chopsticks into the dishes!
The culinary adventure commenced with a lovely “Grilled suckling pig in lychee tea flavour”. This dish was accompanied with freshly made Lychee tea. The suckling pig is a traditional Cantonese dish that forms part of any formal meal. Normally the standard way to present the dish is to have a whole suckling piglet in the middle of the table (complete with the head and tail!), and the guests slowly take parts of the meat.
The suckling pig is used because the skin is not so thick but rather juicy and crispy. So therefore the whole flavor of the meat along with the herbal toppings can be slowly absorbed by a melting feeling in the mouth. The suckling pig was accompanied by a fabulous portion of colored carrot that was presented in the shape of a circle- looked a bit like chess draughts’.
The next course consisted of the “Double boiled minced pork, fish maw and black truffle soup”. This scrumptious dish was generously accompanied with Chrysanthemum tea. I found this dish to be of a rather peculiar taste, not just because it was simply too hot but the fact that a soup was meant to be drank at the same time as the tea. Nonetheless, this combination is meant to be ridiculously good for the body especially during the winter.
Sautéed wagyu beef “French” style. Now, this was indeed a surprise. “French style, in an authentic Cantonese eatery at The Ritz-Carlton, Guangzhou?” I hear you say! Well, actually, yes, the sautéed wagyu beef was cooked to sheer perfection in true Cantonese style but had an added French touch in terms of the presentation. It goes well with the French-Cantonese fusion. This meal was accompanied with a Rose tea that had no colour but had the strong aroma and flavour of the romantic flower that it’s named after.
For those who have not had the chance to experience what it’s like to eat food straight from a handmade clay pot I would certainly recommend that you try the “Poached mix vegetable, dried shrimp, scallop and vermicelli in clay pot”. The clay pot is used to keep the food hot for a long time, and on the whole this was nothing but a perfection of presentation style. One could easily taste that careful attention had been made to the way the dried shrimp and scallops were surrounded by generous amounts of vermicelli. This dish was nicely accompanied with White Peony tea.
Before I was given the dessert, the chef presented a surprise Cantonese dish. A lovely dumpling accompanied with a healthy portion of fried-egg noodles shaped neatly into a pyramid was presented. I just adore dumplings, especially the ones with the shrimp and vegetables’ inside them. The Cantonese dumpling is perhaps the next best food in the far-east after the Japanese sushi. You can travel all around the world and try all the Chinese restaurants world-wide, but nothing beats the feeling of eating an authentic Cantonese dumpling in Guangzhou, the capital of Cantonese food, where people take their food exceedingly seriously.
The dessert consisted of a “Double- boiled pear flavoured with Osmanthus tea”. Even the dessert was accompanied with Osmanthus tea. The pear is a fruit considered of high esteem in Cantonese cuisine. Chef explained that this particular dish can be made according to the guests’ requirements. For example though normally the insides of the pear are taken out before the pear is served to the guests, however if the guests wish to have the pear to be filled with some other fruit then this can be arranged as well. It’s all part of the culinary experience offered at the Lai Heen. The pear is firstly boiled for almost 2 hours in the Osmanthus tea at a sustained temperature, and then served. The end result is that the guest is treated to a sweet, delicious and soft pear.
A walk around the back of the restaurant to experience the true sights and smells would bring along a perfect ending to a meal at the Lai Heen.
Prices start from 1180RMB per person plus 15% service charge (standard charge in China)
Book 3 days in advance to avoid disappointment
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