10 February 2017

Taste of love

Zong Zi Cha cocktail.
Zong Zi Cha cocktail.

Valentine's Day, when the world celebrates romance, is always a sensory delight, Mike Peters reports.

Every year on Feb 14, happy couples can enjoy a dazzling array of pinks and reds, inhale the aromas of a quiet and romantic dinner, and savor nibbles and sips made elegant with loving care. Fine restaurants and hotels are primed for the occasion. China Daily takes you for a quick tour of some treats in store for couples looking for a little magic on a special night out. Your favorite spot for a romantic dinner date or drink probably has something special going, too-but don't delay making reservations.

Zong Zi Cha

Hakkasan, Shanghai

When British bar manager Matthew Hall started researching Chinese flavors and influences, Zong Zi Cha was one of the first drinks he created to integrate influences from seasonal dishes.

"The zongzi is a steamed sticky rice dumpling from the Dragon Boat Festival, typically packed with a variety of fillings including adzuki bean paste and red dates," he notes. "Typically when we design a drink we consider several elements: sour, sweet, spirit, bitter. So I tried to construct a drink that could combine these elements and carry them in a cocktail."

Hall's inspiration progressed into a drink as he combined elements of steam (aromatic rose infused dry ice vapor) and rice (sake). "Northern style zongzi tend to be sweet and dessert-like, so we included Marasca cherry and rose."

The base of the drink is Hendricks gin, he says, which is complex but marries well with floral and dark fruit. Also the alcohol strengthens the drink's character.

While there is actually no cha (tea) in the concoction, Hall says, "tea is a big part of dining culture so I placed certain elements in: Aromatic bitters and the tannic quality from the fresh cranberry juice add texture and depth."

Bund 18, 5/F, 18 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu. 021-6321-5888.

Full Bloom

Bar De Luxe, Hong Kong

The brand-new Japanese cocktail bar is a partnership with celebrity bar guru Hidetsugu Ueno's Bar High Five Tokyo. If you can't enjoy the cherry-blossom season in person, head bartender Yuriko Naganuma, a Ueno protege, offers a way to do it vicariously, brining the gorgeous spring phenomenon right to your tastebuds. The drink combines either Kirin Fuji Sanroku Whisky (HK$178, or $23) or Bulldog Gin London Dry (HK$158), with bespoke cherry blossom liqueur, Luxardo Maraschino, and lemon juice or homemade roasted tea bitters.

29-30/F, 8 Wyndham Street, Central district. 852-3706-5716.

Rose, Ginger and Yuzu-Infused Hokkaido Scallop

Bostonian Seafood and Grill, Langham Hong Kong

We didn't even see the scallop at first, so artful is this Valentine's Day amuse bouche. Camouflaged within the center of a pink rose, the delicate display is almost too pretty to eat. Another romantic gesture on the five-course set menu is the Cherry Mon Amour dessert, a sweet mixture of glazed cherry, kirsch fruit brandy and pistachio. The special Valentine's set menu is HK$1,188 per person and available for a minimum of two dinner patrons.

8 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon district. 852-2375-1133.

The Ferreo

China Tang Landmark, Hong Kong

China Tang's two outlets have given real romance to their Valentine specials: Harbour City Stewed pork belly with red dates and candied fruit, speaks to "eternal love", the restaurant says, while braised sea cucumber stuffed with shrimp mousse represents "two hearts that beat as one". But our heart and our sweet tooth, seem to beat as one: We were successfully wooed by China Tang's landmark location, where the bar team has created The Ferreo, a cocktail with dark rum, Frangelico, amaretto, Cointreau and egg white, topped with chocolate powder and gold leaf, priced at HK$128.

4/F, Landmark Atrium, 15 Queen's Road, Central district. 852-2522-2148.


Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

It's not a truffle, insists French chocolatier Gilles Marchal of Maison Chaudun, whose surreal sweets are on offer during an extended pop-up at the hotel's cake shop. "That first bite of a pave is sheer ecstasy," says Marchal of the little square of ganache dusted with bitter cocoa powder that has become his signature. The ganache is made from a blend of three types of chocolate combined with whipping cream. Left to mature for 24 hours, it is cut into small squares using a guitar cutter, matured for another 24 hours, and then delicately coated in bitter cocoa. Free from preservatives, added sugar, and additives of any kind, this exceptionally fresh chocolate confection is best enjoyed when taken out of the fridge 15 minutes before eating. A box of 9 paves is HK$198; 25 pieces cost HK$558, available until Feb 28. Marchal has also introduced a decadent limited edition of chocolate lucky gold coins in honor of Chinese New Year.

5 Connaught Road Central, Hong Kong. 852-2825-4008.

Red velvet cake

Waldorf Astoria Beijing

Red velvet cake has a famous history with the Waldorf Astoria in New York. The pastry team at its Beijing sister hotel has taken it a step further, offering both a New York and a Beijing version of the treat in a collection of red-velvet inspired sweets. The original recipe is rich, moist dark chocolate with cream-cheese icing, while the Beijing spin has a white-chocolate center. Fanciful dark pink raspberry macaroons, light as air strawberry chocolate mousse cake, a picture perfect red-velvet cupcake and a parfait of Praline Paris Brest with raspberry puree and raspberry cream round out the offerings now available in gift boxes. A four-piece box is 168 yuan ($24); six-piece box is 218 yuan.

5-15 Jinyu Hutong, Dongcheng district. 010-8520-8989.

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