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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Enthralled By Lili

Having seen numerous articles and posts about Lili, the in-house Chinese restaurant of Hyatt Hotel Manila, I was more than nominally aware of its' reputation. But somehow, Art and I never found the opportunity to visit it, despite it getting much acclaim.

Until today.

Lili begins her welcome by charming you with her sleek, stately Oriental-themed interiors, one that isn't over the top. (I'd like to think of it as the Goldilocks in local Chinese restaurant interiors: just right.) One thing that instantly delighted me was how spacious it was, something I cherish because I think I have a teeny case of claustrophobia.

The next thing I notice is the welcome of the staff: never forced, always welcoming. I've been to some hotels where the staff act imperiously, a surefire way to get off on the wrong foot. Lili hits all the marks as far as customer rapport is concerned.

But, of course, the star of the restaurant is its' culinary offerings, and they have recently added seafood dishes to their (rightly) famous dimsum buffet. The day before we were set to dine at Lili, I saw an article that alerted me to this addition (which is held from Monday to Saturday, from 12 noon to 3 PM), which even heightened my anticipation just a little bit more.

We started off with Congee with Sliced Fish, and were unanimous in praising its' tastiness. For too long, whenever we have congee from other establishments, it feels like eating baby food, blah and rather tasteless. Lili's version is the grownup, respectable relative, which was a pleasant surprise, because it looked exactly like its' other counterparts.

A must-try is their Baked Barbecued Pastry Puff, with a pleasantly aromatic meat filling, encased in a crunchy exterior. Do not leave without letting this touch your lips. Okay: less talk, more puffs.

One of our Main Dishes was Honey Roasted Barbecue Pork, which instantly transported me to a trip I took as a child to Hong Kong. The aroma and texture were spot on, and I have never been able to taste this authentic version anywhere else here.

Delectable both by sight and taste, Steamed Fresh Scallops Dumplings are characterized by their freshness, and if you love seafood as much as we do, you have to dive right in.

Lili's Har Gao (steamed shrimp dumpling with bamboo pith) easily ranks as one of the city's best versions of this popular dimsum staple, and just like the scallops, the shrimps tasted clean, fresh and had a tinge of sweetness.

Our menu card had an entry named Stir-fried Vegetables in Garlic, and we were thrilled to see that they served us broccoli that afternoon. One of our favorite vegetables, this one had just a little bit too much oil, but the garlic perfectly complimented the greens, and was quite aromatic.

Another must-have in their lineup: Steamed Crab Meat Dumpling, Black Mushroom. (It was topped with what seemed to me as pork floss.) If only we weren't too stuffed, we would have gotten another serving of this. The crab flavor permeates through the entire almost-translucent bag, and lovers of the crustacean should get this first.

One dimsum that catches your eye (and the first time I've seen one presented this way) is Steamed Dumpling with Bamboo Pith, Carrot and Celery. It reminds me of Japanese Siomai from another establishment, so the charm of this dish was really more of the presentation. Its' mildness can be seen as a minus, but I prefer to think of it as a contrast from the other, stronger flavors.

Speaking of stronger flavors, Deep-fried Norweigan Salmon and Turnip Pockets easily fits the bill. Salmon covered in a deep-fried cover and glazed in a wasabi-based cream dressing, this delivers a slight kick. Don't worry, spicy food-haters, you won't need to shy away from this one.

If you're looking for fish, Steamed Fish Shape Dumplings with Cod Fish, Parsley will do in a pinch, and it almost looks too cute to eat.  A work of art - in and out.

Chicken being one of my "regulars," I couldn't let our Lili experience go by without me trying their Soya Sauce Chicken: succulent and flavorful, it made this chicken-lover a happy camper.

There were three desserts included in the menu, and Chilled Mango Sago with Pomelo puts a spin on an old favorite, as the almost bitter pomelo strips contrasts with the creamy sweetness of the yellow base, and when I say creamy, I mean almost ice cream-level creamy.

Known as buchi locally, Lili redesigns this staple as Sesame Balls with White Chocolate. Yes, that's white chocolate in a fried sesame ball. I ask you: how can it go wrong?

I was informed by our server that they actually have two menus, differentiated by their Main Dishes. (The "other menu" had Barbecued Pork Belly and Simmered Chicken in Salt "Donjiang" Style) So it might be a good idea to ask whether they are serving Menu A or B on the day you intend to go to Lili. (The recent news article I saw featured the Pork Belly, which I was frantically looking for in the menu card. Click here to view the full write-up.)

Lili deserves all the praise it has gotten, and if you haven't tried them yet, now would be a good time to do so, since they have expanded their menu to include a separate Seafood section. The price comes to 888 (Philippine) Pesos net, so if you're hankering for excellent dimsum in elegant surroundings, you would do well to contact this well-established Chinese restaurant for your next reservation.

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