It was quite the tea party on Thursday night as 12 lucky Straits Times (ST) subscribers and their partners enjoyed a sumptuous tea-pairing dinner at Orchard Hotel's Hua Ting Restaurant.
The dinner - part of the ST+ news with benefits rewards programme - was hosted by Life editor Tan Hsueh Yun and deputy Life editor and food critic Wong Ah Yoke.
The diners were the first to try chef Chung Lap Fai's summer edition of Hua Ting's tea-pairing degustation menu, which was launched yesterday. It runs until the end of June and is priced at $98++ a person.
Chef Chung started the tea-pairing menu in December last year, in line with Hua Ting's reopening after a multi-million-dollar makeover. In the lead-up to the meal, Ms Tan and Mr Wong worked with him to fine-tune the menu for the event. The menu not only pairs tea with dishes, but also incorporates the use of tea in the preparation of the food.
For the fried rice, for example, chef Chung cooks the rice in jasmine tea infused with pandan leaves before frying it with conpoy and organic black garlic.
Similarly, the Dawn of Spring tea (jasmine pearl with rosemary) is used in the stock for the supreme chicken soup with fish maw and crab meat.
The 54-year-old chef said in Mandarin: "It is important to balance the tea flavour with the soup so the tea doesn't overpower the soup. You also can't have the soup mask the flavour and fragrance of the tea.
"When planning this menu, I had to understand whether the tea would go better with meat or seafood. That's why I paired the lighter, more fruity tea (Fruity Noon) with the sea bass and the Lychee Red Tea with the braised pork rib."
Indeed, the crispy sea bass with a medley of fruit was unanimously voted the best dish of the night by the diners. Another standout was the braised pork rib with candied bacon, lychee stuffed with prawn, and greens.
The meal started with a trio of appetisers - duck roll smoked with 10-year-old pu erh tea; scallop smoked with Imperial Tie Guan Yin; and chilled abalone with Dong Ding Oolong - and ended with chilled tea jelly, baked yam puff pastry and custard mochi.
Ms Chan Ping Theng, 39, who works in finance, attended the dinner with her friend, who participated in the contest. She said: "It's the first time I'm having such a tea-pairing meal. It's a lovely concept. I'm a tea person, so I really enjoyed it. I loved the natural sweetness of the Lychee Red Tea."
Diners also received a goodie bag, which included Hua Ting's house-made dried shrimp chilli sauce and Fruity Noon tea.
Throughout the night, conversation flowed freely across the three tables as diners mingled with Ms Tan and Mr Wong as well as among themselves - chatting about everything from cooking tips to the fall in price of Mao Shan Wang durians.
Ms Tan, 50, said: "What a fun group of people. Ah Yoke and I spent time at each table and I had a good time talking to our guests, finding out where they eat and talking to them about tea.
"Hua Ting really sets the bar high. Like I was telling our guests, it's a bold move to commit to having four tea-pairing menus a year to go with the seasons. Chef Chung outdid himself with this summer one."
Orchard Hotel general manager Tina Sim, 49, who was also at the dinner, said: "Chef Chung is very receptive to suggestions to improve the menu. We like to be challenged - you always have to push yourself."
Freelance interviewer Oh Choon Yean, 49, who dined with her elder brother, said: "I enjoyed the interesting play of flavours and the tea pairings. The use of lychee (in the braised pork dish) was intriguing, so maybe I'll try it in my cooking too."
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