I visited Shanghai back in 2010, almost a decade ago. Back then, I was neither on Instagram nor active on Facebook (plus, I wasn’t on roaming), which explains the lack of travel photos of that trip on social media. It was a work trip, too, so besides the press junket activities, all I remembered about the trip was walking along The Bund, Nanjing Road, and the Xintiandi area lined with restaurants and shops with a period feel, as well as other historical sites. And of course what I remembered the most was how delicious the food was. I don’t remember any of the restaurants we dined in, but I remembered enjoying each and every one of them. It was also on that trip that I learned to eat and love Xiao Long Bao.
So when Hilton Manila invited my husband and I to sample some of their classic and new dishes at its Shanghainese restaurant, Hua Ting Brasserie Chinoise, I immediately accepted.
Hua Ting’s name was inspired by the popular Hua Ting Road district in Old Shanghai—the Paris of China—an area filled with old houses and braisseries that’s famed for its row of Shanghainese restaurants. Hua Ting Brasserie Chinoise offers the same authentic Shanghainese cuisine known for its bold flavors, complex preparation, and unique cooking styles.
Hua Ting offers an exciting menu, where you’ll find new dishes alongside traditional ones. The creatively presented dishes are classic with a modern take, making use of fresh locally sourced ingredients that are healthy and delicious. They don’t use MSG, so you can really taste the natural flavors of the dishes. Your food is always prepared fresh—only after you order it. You may need to wait a little longer for your food, but my husband and I didn’t even notice; the food came in, one after the other. They also gave us a complimentary appetizer of deep-fried crispy rice cake with scallops and chili mayo sauce on top (see below). I loved the texture and a light crispness to the rice cake.
Expect expertly prepared delectable Shanghainese cuisine, as international Executive Sous Chef Kevin Xu, who, of course, hails from Shanghai, China is at the helm of Hua Ting. There’s another Shanghainese chef who’s in charge of just the dimsum and dumplings, especially their signature Xiao Long Bao. Chef Kevin came to our table just to make sure we are enjoying the dishes that he conceptualized himself just for Hua Ting. If you want variety, you’ll find some popular Cantonese food in the mix (marked accordingly in the menu).
Perfect for celebrations, Hua Ting has three beautiful private dining rooms that come with a modern motorized Lazy Susan atop each table. I love the restaurant’s posh interiors and ambiance, and all its intricate details. The table setting is lovely and the condiments are complete: there’s mild soy sauce, black vinegar for the xiao long bao, and chili oil.
Our meal started with the Shanghainese Hot and Sour Seafood Soup (P398). While typically on the menu of other Chinese restaurants, Hua Ting’s take has mild heat and acidity, so even those who shy away from anything spicy or sour will find this soup comforting and the taste just right.
Next came my favorite: Steamed Assorted Xiao Long Bao (six pieces for P428) that comes in three flavors: mushroom (black), crabmeat (yellow), and the traditional Shanghainese version (white). You can also order six pieces of just the variant you like for P288 for the Mushroom and traditional and P328 for the Crabmeat one. All three are delicious, and note that all of them contain pork. There’s lots of flavor, especially in the tasty soup, and each piece is large—it took me several bites (and slurps of the soup) just to finish one. As with all dishes, the Xiao Long Bao is freshly made by their Shanghainese dimsum chef only when ordered. I like that the wrapper is firm and strong enough that it doesn’t break apart and spill soup when you pick it up with their pointed chopsticks, while also not too thick to a point that the wrapper interferes with the taste and your enjoyment of the Xiao Long Bao. I’m no Xiao Long Bao expert, but I’ve eaten enough of it to assure you this one’s well-made and worth a try.
The traditional Xiao Long Bao remains my favorite for having the most flavorful and comforting broth and meat, but I still enjoyed the two other variants. The Crabmeat Xiao Long Bao had a mild flavor, but it was rich. I appreciated that the traditional Xiao Long Bao flavor I always look for was not overwhelmed by the taste of crabmeat—although you might want to note this observation if you’d prefer a bolder crab flavor. On the other hand, you can really taste the mushroom on the Mushroom Xiao Long Bao, both in the meat and the broth within, even after putting in black vinegar. As with the Crabmeat version, the distinct traditional Xiao Long Bao flavor complements the mushroom well without one overwhelming the other. I’ve tried flavored Xiao Long Bao in a different restaurant where the flavors almost drowned out the traditional taste and made it indistinguishable, so I’m glad this wasn’t the case with Hua Ting’s.
Our first main dish was Cantonese Beef Tenderloin (P758). While it’s the only non-Shanghainese dish among our orders, it was actually my favorite. I like that it’s sweet and the meat is so tender. There’s a slight heat in the rich sauce that’s best paired with their signature Fried Rice with X.O. Sauce. (I even made sure to take out what we weren’t able to finish so I can enjoy it back home in Iloilo—thankfully, we dined right before we caught our flight, and the airport was so close to Hilton Manila).
The Fried Rice with X.O. Sauce (P488) is my other favorite. This signature dish of their Shanghainese chef is basically your yang chow fried rice made with spicy X.O. sauce and mixed with pork, but it’s so good! Each spoonful I ate brought back memories of my trip not just to Shanghai, but to the two other parts of China I’ve ever been to: Macao and Hong Kong. This is probably the best Chinese fried rice I’ve ever had. I also asked to take the leftovers home so I can still enjoy it with the Cantonese Beef Tenderloin. I must say that when I reheated it back home in Iloilo, it retained its moisture and great flavor!
Out second main dish is another signature of the Shanghainese chef: Sweet and Sour Pomfret Fish with Pine Nuts (P1,498). Served in a beautiful, unique dragon cut that they reserve for fried fish, it’s thankfully already deboned, so I wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of picking on fishbones amidst the richly sauced fish meat. The fish is satisfyingly crispy on the outside, with its fresh-tasting meat so soft and flavorful. I love how balanced the sweet and sour sauce is—it’s neither overwhelmingly saccharine nor too acidic.
There’s a yellow croaker version of this dish, but at the time we ate at Hua Ting, they didn’t have the hard-to-find fish on stock. I was happy to learn Hua Ting only works with sustainable suppliers, mostly local fishermen, so there’s less guilt when you enjoy their one-of-a-kind seafood dishes.
The star of our feast—at least as far as fanfare and my husband are concerned—is the Fragrant Tea Smoked Duck (P2,588 for a whole duck), a Shanghainese dish that you can only find in Hua Ting. It’s marinated in tea for 12 hours, fried and smoked, then served whole but sliced for you to enjoy conveniently. The duck meat is so moist and succulent, and the smoky aroma made it even more appetizing. You can see the fat melting right before you as the dish is uncovered. It’s flavorful and smoked so perfectly, it’s good even without sauce, although I personally prefered it with the hoisin sauce served on the side. I don’t usually eat duck because of its gamey taste, but I like this one because it didn’t have that, perhaps because it’s been marinated in tea.
To balance out all the luxurious dishes we enjoyed, we had some Sauteed Choysum and Mushrooms (P458). Hua Ting used black mushrooms for this light-tasting Shanghainese vegetable dish.
For dessert, we had Red Sugar Glutinous Rice Roll (P258), their best-selling Shanghainese dessert that comes in three pieces. The deep-fried red sugar dessert rolled in rice (like sushi) has a well-balanced flavor that satisfied our craving for something sweet to cap our meal without overwhelming our palate. I love the texture on this festive-looking dessert and its variety of flavors in one bite from the crunchy crushed peanuts and sprinkled sesame seeds, and the lightly sweet sticky rice. As we say in Filipino, “masarap na pantanggal-umay.” It’s great to pair with a hot drink like coffee or their Blooming Teas.
Blooming Tea bud
Blooming Tea in “full bloom” after steeping for five minutes
The Blooming Tea is so named because the freshly made green tea bud blooms like a flower in hot water after steeping it for five minutes. It’s served in a clear glass teapot so you can see this happen. There are four types: Marigold Flying, Love at First Sight, Royal Lily, and Double Dragon. We tried the latter, which is light, floral, and soothing, perfect for calming our active stomachs after that feast.
Red Date Fruit Milk Tea
We washed down our grand meal with two must-try cold drinks: Red Date Fruit Milk Tea (P240), a creamy and fruity iced tea with milk—mix it well so the syrup at the bottom is balanced evenly in the milk tea; and the House Blend Iced Tea (P200), an oolong-based tea brewed with peach and strawberry syrups that make it taste fruity. Both are sweet and really refreshing, perfect to cool the heat on your tongue from eating spicy dishes like the Cantonese Beef Tenderloin and the Fried Rice with X.O. Sauce.
House Blend Iced Tea
Each time a dish is served, the staff explains the dishes so guests have more knowledge and appreciation of Shanghainese cuisine, which is but a small percentage of Chinese cuisine as we know it.
The member of the Hua Ting staff who took care of us is Carl, who’s amazing at explaining the dishes, the restaurant, and the whole experience. We saw him do this for other guests, too, so it’s not only because my husband and I were there to try the restaurant for my blog. Carl is very efficient. He offered pillows for our backs. He presented the dishes well, and this made us appreciate the delicious dishes more. He was also open to suggestions on how the dishes and their service could be improved, although there really wasn’t anything we could think of for them to work on because we had an excellent dining experience.
I can’t wait to return to Manila to dine at Hua Ting again, this time with my family in tow because the food portions are really meant for families. I’m definitely coming back for the Xiao Long Bao, Cantonese Beef Tenderloin, Sweet and Sour Pomfret Fish with Pine Nuts, and the Fried Rice with X.O. Sauce. My husband’s already looking forward to getting his fill of the Fragrant Tea Smoked Duck again.
Carl also recommended we try the Special Fried Pork Buns (P318), Pork Dumplings with Crab Roe “Shao Mai” (P228), and Shanghainese Lion’s Head Soup (which I didn’t see on the menu so it’s probably a new dish). I didn’t get to try it, so next time, I’ll also order the Iced Tea Chrysanthemum Flower Tea (P250), made of chrysanthemum and ginger tea with elderflowers—it sounds so soothing.
Hilton Manila is located at 1 Newport Boulevard, Newport City, Pasay City. For bookings and inquiries, call +632 2397788, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for restaurant reservations. You may also visit hiltonmanila.com.
Photos by Trixie Reyna