March 12, 2019 – Vinz Lamorena
You already have a bit of expectation going into a Chinese restaurant. It is, after all, one of the earliest international cuisines Filipinos have grown familiar with. We immediately imagine circular dining booths, the classic rotating centerpiece, and white porcelain placed all around the table—the traditional Chinese dining arrangement.
That’s the first thing Hilton’s Shanghainese restaurant takes out of the picture—the monotony and predictability of the Chinese cuisine dining experience. Yes, it still has the staple of round tables—but entering Hua Ting restaurant is like being transported to Shanghai’s 1940s nightlife. Calligraphic steel sculptures by Zheng Lu welcome the diners into the space, where one could already witness the restaurant’s playfulness in details.
“The authenticity of what we bring here at Hua Ting is definitely unsung. The main difference on the way we do things is we’re bringing in a modern approach to how we present Chinese cuisine—from our tableware to the way food is served,” Hilton executive chef Dennis Leslie said.
Among Shanghainese favorites is the Xiao Long Bao, which is also available in Crab Roe and Mushroom flavors. Hua Ting’s dumpling has a significantly thicker pastry. Best eaten right after it is served, the wrap easily melts in your mouth as you get to the chunky and generous center. Their version of the Xiao Long Bao doesn’t have that much soup, but that’s simply because this Shanghainese restaurant takes no shortcuts. Chef Leslie revealed that in Hua Ting, the Xiao Long Bao’s pork filling has been patiently braised to produce the flavorful soup that is most looked forward to.
“Our focus here is the flavor is inside the actual dumpling itself. So we use a lot of fresh ingredients and a lot more of that slow cooking to get that soup nice and flavorsome,” he said.
“Hua Ting’s process makes use of techniques that are prominent in Shanghainese cuisine, and so we slow-braise most of our dishes. In slow-braising our pork ingredients, its own meaty, savory liquids that come from that filling eventually become the soup people love,” the executive chef shared.
While the famous soup dumpling steals the show, one shouldn’t snub the Sheng Jian Bao. It is a formidable contender with the same filling—and it explodes with flavors and gives you the same delightful meat soup. These pan-fried pork buns are seared beautifully underneath and dense all over. Like the Xiao Long Bao, we encourage you to dip these pork buns in the mixture of ginger and vinegar, too. It lends a certain boldness to the dish.
There’s also a bit of Cantonese recipes on the menu. Among the options is the stir-fried Beef Tenderloin. Every bite of it drowns you in sweet and savory goodness—it features extremely juicy tenderloin cuts that magically melt in your mouth. It’s also served on a bed of unbelievably crunchy and locally sourced bell peppers.
The main star of Hua Ting’s current menu is the Fragrant Tea-smoked Duck. The meat is brined before it is smoked with Chinese black tea for two hours. While it doesn’t have the crackling skin of the Peking Duck, you get this succulent and moist texture over fork-tender and juicy meat in exchange. The smoked duck has an indulgent layer of fat underneath the chewy duck skin that’s an interesting addition to the dish’s simple yet aromatic flavors.
“The Fragrant Tea-smoked duck is something original here in the Philippines. I haven’t seen a lot of it being done here. I actually had it over in China, Australia, then I told Hua Ting’s chef about it,” chef Leslie recalled.
“He told me ‘I can do you one better!’ He produced this one and it’s spot on. It’s got a simple flavor, but even the bones are super tasty as well—you sorta just want to gnaw on it for a while,” he added.
Don’t forget to order the bestselling Red Date Milk Tea, a welcome palate cleanser in between dishes. It’s far off from the milk tea you’ve probably spent a handful of minutes lining up for, but it’s got a taste that you’ll definitely remember. It’s got a refreshing tangy kick that’s quite similar to lychee. It’s also got that smooth and creamy texture like most Chinese desserts.
Pair this drink with the Red Sugar Glutinous Rice Roll. The dessert is tikoy reinvented. Thin slices of rice rolls are deep-fried to perfection creating a crusty exterior. It envelopes a party of textures and nutty flavors. Now that's how a crowd-favorite delicacy becomes crave-worthy.
“Shanghainese cuisine is definitely a lot fresher. There’s a lot more vegetables, and a lot more focus on the seasonality of vegetables. There’s a ton of braised dishes—we slow cook them for a long time and feature a variety of meats, a lot of secondary cuts,” chef Leslie said.
As Hua Ting focuses on local produce, their vegetable-based dishes have tripled since opening in 2018. The restaurant, along with the rest of Hilton’s in-house food concepts, sources farm-to-table ingredients. Most of their produce are from Laguna.
This particular advocacy of Hua Ting is three-fold—they want to put local produce in the spotlight, help small farming communities, and ensure the quality of the ingredients they use is both healthy and organic.
“Chinese cuisine is regarded as a little bit unhealthy, oily, fatty—we really want to change that view. The intensity of flavors come from the meats itself—there’s 0 percent MSG, preservatives and additives in the dishes we serve. Everything on your plate is grown here in the Philippines so it’s always fresh,” the chef shared.
“That’s something we want to highlight to the diners here: Not only does the food taste good, but it’s good for you,” he added.
If there’s anything our meal at Hua Ting taught us, it’s this: There can be less guilt in enjoying good food.
Find Hua Ting at the 2nd floor of Hilton Manila, Newport Boulevard, Pasay City.
Photos by Diane Gundaya and Vinz Lamorena
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