I like to come up with English names for some of the Chinese restaurants I have been to, especially if I have enjoyed them and they are memorable. This chic restaurant in a modern mall next to West Lake in Hangzhou is exactly like the name I gave it – a tea chapter.
I was at West Lake for a lovely evening walk, and was looking for a dinner place. The traditional places like 楼外楼 are not able to cater to one person as they do communal dining. Walking forlornly for over an hour looking for a place to eat, I was about to give up and just go a bistro. Then I stumbled on West Lake Tea Chapter 西湖玉茶集.
At first glance I thought it was a tea chapter. Then I realised it served innovative Hangzhou cuisine. And usually innovative means the plating is more important than the portion, so I decided to give it a try.
Why the Western world called the Middle Kingdom China? Just look at the chic porcelain dinner service that is also known as china. That was the major export from China to the west.
Once seated and after ordering the food, you are served 龙井茶 Dragon’s well tea in a beautiful glass claret.
First course, the beautifully named 宝石流霞 Rainbow of gemstones. Soft tofu is brandished with their logo to give it a charred look and smoky taste. The waitress will come to the table to complete the dish.
First, she cuts the tofu to small cubes. Then, chopped scallions, salted egg, water chestnuts and chopped peanuts are plated like a rainbow and carefully mixed and topped onto the tofu. Finally the soy sauce is poured onto the tofu.
It is as good tasting as it looks.
The next course, 一江春笋 A river of asparagus takes its name from the phrase 一江春水向东流 (a river flows east into the sea). The whole complication is the plating of the asparagus. Skinned and blanched, the asparagus is placed strategically. The buds are smooched with the oyster sauce. The stems are topped with dried scallops. It’s so pretty that you wouldn’t want to mix it up.
A very cute name, 白茶佩奇红运当头 Stewed Peppa Pig. No, children, we have not killed Peppa Pig. But this is a tea-infused stewed pork belly that has been an international favourite.
Known to the world as 东坡肉 stewed pork belly, it was invented by the Song dynasty poet Su Dongbo. Legend has it that during his banishment to Hangzhou, Su Dongpo led a life of poverty. He could only afford pork belly, so he improved on the traditional process. He first braised the pork, added huangjiu (yellow wine) to make red-braised pork, then slowly stewed it on low heat.
Their version is very well done. Melt in your mouth texture, just the right amount of sweetness and savoury. A small little bowl of steamed rice is the exact complement to the delicious piece of pork.
As I was dining alone, I ordered dishes that can be served individually. The waitress told me that they can serve just one piece of 茶香盐焗虾 Tea-infused salt-baked king prawn The prawn did not have any tea taste, but the when it was served there was the tea fragrance. However it was a bit overcooked. I guess it would be difficult to cook just one prawn 😉
Along with the meal, they gave me a complimentary dessert – 桂花高下一般香 osmantheus cake. The name is taken from the poem by Tang dynasty poet Shen Kuo 沈括 :
Shen Kuo was reminded by his mother that the osmantheus will smell as good no matter where it withered, so would a righteous man display his integrity no matter where he went.
The osmantheus cake is very fragrant, not too sweet, and has different fillings. The one I was given was the traditional filling of mung bean paste. I enjoyed it so much, I bought 6 boxes to bring home.
The whole space is very wide. If only they have improved on the privacy and the overall ambiance, I would call this fine dining.
The food is great, the service is one of the best I have experienced in China. Will visit again.
West Lake Tea Chapter 西湖玉茶集·茶宴(湖滨银泰in77E区店)
Tel : 18067974390
Date Visited : Jun 2019