The older I grow, the more I appreciate the art of fine dining. A lot of people turn away from it because they look only at the monetary aspect, but they forget that the best food always comes with a price. It’s only fair after all. When you use the best cuts of meat, the best kinds of seafood, expel so much effort to make the smallest things from scratch, it’s worth so much more than things you can buy from a supermarket.
However, the promise of a fine dining experience is not always worth it since many restaurants sadly do not execute it well. And that is the biggest test for Xiu Fine Cantonese Dining.
Xiu Fine Cantonese Dining is yet another brainchild of HTCG Premium Food Concepts, which over the years has found much success with their always packed mall restaurants: Lugang Cafe and Tuan Tuan Chinese Brasserie. This time they’re venturing into the fine-dining arena, and with what I’ve experienced in their other restaurants I was quite optimistic about this one, to say the least.
Their goal is simple: To give you a fine and authentic Cantonese dining experience without the need to fly all the way to “Gourmet Paradise” Hong Kong.
At a glance, you instantly know HTCG have really stepped up their game with Xiu Fine Cantonese Dining. Every inch of the restaurant is exquisite, embodying its name– Xiu 秀– which is the Chinese word for ‘elegant’.
Of course, the mark of a restaurant more than its decor is the food, as well as the service. I saw that there was a healthy number of staff milling about the tables while the guests slowly came in this evening. They were attentive and quick on their feet, moving with a grace that befitted the restaurant’s ambiance.
I spent quite a bit of time photographing the picturesque ground floor. The paintings and the wall decor all came together to exude refinement and luxury while not forgetting to lend a bit of warmth at the same time. Old-World charm was successfully combined with modern elements, and Asian elements like the Chinese phoenix make an appearance as well, to symbolize harmony and virtue.
At the end of the room is a beautiful liquor display, but behind that is actually the dessert room where, as the name suggests, desserts are prepared. The whole of the basement downstairs is reserved for the eight Cantonese chefs to have ample space to do their thing. Imagine that kitchen!
The second level was even more impressive than the first, and it makes me wonder how the third floor looks like. (It was still closed during our preview.) The first and second floors alone can easily seat over 230 people while still giving each table privacy. Since this is a fine-dining setting, they don’t want to overcrowd the restaurant with too many patrons at a time.
The second floor is mostly for reservations and private functions while downstairs is for the walk-in guests. Up here they have sound-proof partitions covered in black silk murals to separate the space into five rooms, while the wall decorations are all made of leather. Most HTCG restaurants have chandeliers, and of course this one has a lot of them too.
The main VIP room is called the Emperor room, and in it is a painting modeled after HTCG President Peter Chua. Notice that the chairs and tables in certain areas up here are different. That’s how they are able to identify which area makes up which private function room.
The really unique touch they added to this restaurant is the display of suspended glass leaves; giving the impression that they’re being swept along a current of wind and falling down towards the ground floor. Stunning!
I’m sure you’re all toured out at this point, so let’s get started on the food shall we?
We sat at our places with Xiu’s beautifully customized chinaware before us. I noticed how the smallest details to complete the feel of the place were painstakingly thought out, and that’s one of the things I appreciate about fine-dining establishments like this. Even the menus are leather-bound and simply classy. It’s like a magazine when you look into it.
Our table of bloggers and photogs from Inquirer and GMA were graciously hosted by Mr. Andew Dee, Managing Director of HTCG. As the food came up from their basement kitchen, he told us stories about the origins of certain dishes as well as the painstaking process of preparing them.
The meal started with two appetizer dishes which are usual crowd favourites everywhere else. Sir Andrew told us that we were welcome to compare their version with others we’ve tried and his confidence was a positive sign.
Honey-Glazed Prime Cut Char Siu (Php 680)
My first thought upon seeing this dish: I don’t think I’ve ever been served char siu sliced in such proportions. Typically, Chinese restaurant adobo is sliced in very thin pieces, served in a platter alongside other cold cuts. But Sir Andrew explained that slicing the pork in thin cuts allows restaurants to get away with serving just any portion of the meat.
Here, the slices of pork are thick on purpose to highlight that it’s the prime cut. Regardless of whether the restaurant buys a big slab of pork, only the prime cut will be used for the char siu. It is then marinated with sauces made from scratch (no store-bought hoisin sauce in any of the dishes at Xiu Fine Cantonese Dining!) and roasted to get that perfect juicy tenderness.
The verdict: The thick cuts are a smart idea. It really allows you to take a bite into that meat to experience all the promised tenderness and juiciness, which it delivers. Plus, it doesn’t taste like melted sugar. Char siu in some places are so shockingly sweet that the savouriness of the meat is sacrificed. (And the very red colour seems unnatural!) You can definitely taste a world of difference here.
Cantonese Style Crispy Pork Belly (Php 680) 🌟
More commonly known as Lechon Macao, Xiu’s take on this roasted pork belly dish is served with a unique dipping sauce that’s mainly made with spicy mustard. (I tasted wasabi too though Sir Andrew neither confirmed nor denied it haha!) Very neatly cut into squares and arranged to highlight the contrast between skin, fat, and meat, you’ll need just a little dab of the sauce to enjoy this.
The verdict: The skin up top is crispy while the meat underneath is tender and not dry at all. The sauce has a tendency to overpower so I suggest restraint, but otherwise a really unique meat-and-sauce combo. Wish there was more to go around though.
Double Boiled Fish Maw and Almond Soup (Php 1,980 for small / Php 3,880 for large)
This soup is a specialty of the house, and it takes 6 hours to prepare so it’s something you have to order in advance if you plan to have it on your table. The ingredients are placed in a ceramic jar and submerged in boiling water for several hours. This process is called double-boiling, and it is a traditional Cantonese cooking method that helps ingredients preserve their natural essence by preventing contact with water.
The most important ingredient here is the precious fish maw (or air bladder). It has very little fat, but possesses healing, energy-boosting, and anti-aging powers. This fish maw is mainly what you’re paying for when you get this soup, so savour it! The meat and innards used to flavour the soup is served at the table with soy sauce, so you can enjoy that with some rice too.
The verdict: For lack of a better term, I think this is a very complex soup that’s created using a lot of ingredients. I get that delicate hit of almond, and I can taste varying degrees of savory flavors from the broth. I’m actually very impressed because the taste of this soup is not something you can create using shortcuts. Although this type of soup is not my personal favourite, I can’t say I don’t appreciate it.
Now that the appetizers and soup are done, we get to the main dishes. There are a lot of them so you might want to grab a snack. I take complete responsibility for making you hungry. 🙂
Baked Stuffed Sea Conch (Php 480 per piece) 🌟
A shell that’s chock full of surprises! My first impression was that this seemed like a fusion type of Cantonese dish thanks to the presence of cheese. At the side is a small portion of veggies with sesame dressing. I had no idea what to expect from this one but I dove in excitedly.
The stuffing is a combination of conch meat, chicken, and even bacon, chopped very finely and cooked with curry. It smells amazing, and I was surprised to find that after you finish with the meat there’s some mashed potatoes inside. It’s like an inverted shepherd’s pie stuffed inside a sea shell. There’s definitely a bit of novelty involved here.
The verdict: My favourite from the spread! The night of the media preview, I shared on my Instagram that I wanted to come back for this sea conch and I wasn’t joking. When I got home I told my Mom all about this dish and how much I wished she could taste it right then and there. I thought the presentation of this dish was exactly the kind you would expect from a fine-dining establishment, but the taste was a total hit too!
Stewed US Beef Short Ribs (Php 2,280) 🌟
Hello you beautiful piece of meat. To be honest with you, the moment I laid eyes on this dish I already knew they used some premium quality beef. It looked to good to be anything but! This is one of the more traditional dishes on the menu tonight, and at a glance it looks like your usual sliced beef stewed in a flavourful sweet sauce with hints of spices. This crowd pleaser would go well with a piping hot bowl of rice.
The verdict: Wow. Now this is melt-in-the-mouth beef! Non of that difficult to chew, getting stuck on your teeth kind of beef! The short ribs are incredibly tender without being fatty, plus the distinct flavour of expensive beef was not lost in the sweet sauce. Really good!
Baked Tiger Lobster with Cheese (Seasonal Price, per 100 grams)
A ginormous dish of fresh lobster meat swimming in cheese. You can see that they made it a point to extract every bit of lobster meat, even from the legs. The head and tail are used to decorate the dish to good effect, I think. The cheese sauce is composed of a secret combination of cheeses, cooked into an oozing sauce that coats each generous piece of lobster meat.
As you would expect, it’s a dish that’s very rich, but not cloyingly so because the cheese is not salty at all.
The verdict: This dish is very unique, but I personally prefer to eat lobster cooked in a different style– the sort that allows the natural sweetness of fresh lobster to shine through more. Or something spicy! If you do like cheese and you also like lobster, I think this is a very interesting dish to order.
Steamed Lapu-Lapu, Traditional Style (Seasonal Price, per 100 grams) 🌟
When you eat steamed lapu-lapu in most Chinese restaurants, they normally bring the whole untouched fish to your table and proceed to expertly debone it. But actually, this is the traditional way to serve it in order to show off that white delicate fish meat. Right off the bat you can see and smell the freshness of the fish. There are several aquariums containing live lapu-lapu at the front of the restaurant so I have no doubt where this came from.
The verdict: Always my personal favourite in any Chinese restaurant set meal! The sweet fresh lapu-lapu meat was steamed to perfection, and the sauce was just the right hint of salty. I always eat my fish with all the cilantro. Yum!
Premium Soy Sauce Hong Kong Chicken in Claypot (Php 1,880 for whole / Php 980 for half)
Expensive yellow chicken is cooked inside a claypot with a soy-based sauce. The slices of chicken are generous and meaty, but not dry. There’s a good push and pull between sweet and salty with this dish, and the onions give it a nice savouriness. This is yet another of the more classical offerings of the restaurant.
The verdict: This one is a really straightforward dish. A little bit oily but the chicken meat is very tender. It’s not my favourite way to eat chicken though, so I thought this was okay but not something I would add in my must-order list.
Sweet and Sour Pork (Php 480)
Ahh, what’s a Chinese restaurant without the good old sweet and sour? Any Chinese restaurant worth their salt has this in their menu, but 80% of the time the pork is tiny and hard inside a big shell of breading. Also, the sour part is often forgotten in favour of the sweet. Sir Andrew encouraged us to think about all the other sweet and sour pork dishes we’ve had so we can compare their version.
The verdict: Definitely one of the better versions of Sweet and Sour Pork I’ve ever tried. The crisp shell clings onto the generous and very juicy portion of pork, making it a pleasure to munch on. The flavours are some of the punchiest I’ve ever tried on a sweet and sour pork dish, because you really get a hit of the sour with the bright burst of sweet pineapple. The serving is quite small though!
Chinese Lettuce with Shrimp Paste in Clay Pot (Php 480)
Here’s a clever way to make use of bagoong! Chinese lettuce is probably my favourite vegetable among them all, so I had very high expectations for this dish. It comes from the basement but is reheated before it is served, and for a moment I was nervous that it might turn soggy and not crunchy anymore. The smell of the fish paste as the lettuce is tossed made my mouth water.
The verdict: The biggest compliment I can give this dish is that I will try to recreate it at home. I loved how crunchy it was, and that shrimp paste really gave it a nice salty jolt that wakes up your tastebuds.
Wok-fried Crab with Garlic, “Typhoon Shelter” style (Seasonal Price, per 100 grams) 🌟
A long time ago, the people of Hong Kong would hide out in typhoon shelters when the weather got really bad. Apparently, this was where this dish was born, thus its name. While I have no way of knowing if that’s true, what I do know is that this is a very garlicky dish with a hint of heat from the chilies. I’m normally lazy when it comes to eating crabs, but the garlic-lover in me found it hard to resist the scent.
The verdict: Looking at it you’d almost think there’s nothing out of the ordinary, but this ended up as another favourite! The garlic flavour permeated every inch of the sweet crab meat; as in even the meat inside the shell. Drown your crab in more of that fried garlic and you’ll be happily eating this for the rest of the meal.
Baked Black Ink Rice with Seafood in Clay Pot (Php 580)
We have arrived at the end of the main course extravaganza, and following the traditional way it’s done in Hong Kong, we end with rice. But not just any rice, mind you. This rice dish is a different take on seafod rice in that squid ink is used to deepen the flavour of the rice some more. The pieces of seafood mixed into the rice is generous enough that you get some with each bite.
The verdict: This rice is flavourful on its own, but at the same it still makes you hanker for something to eat with it. I’m not sure if it’s just a natural impulse for us rice-eaters. I ended up adding some of the fried garlic from the crab dish into the rice.
Longevity Balls (Php 28 per piece, minimum order of 6) 🌟
Despite numerous visits to Hong Kong, I have never actually encountered these. At a glance they look like giant buchi balls, and at this point my stomach had no more room for a big sweet dessert. But when Sir Andrew told us the inside was empty, I suddenly became skeptical.
We were eating a ball of air? Would it have any flavour apart from what the sesame seeds give it? All these doubts were erased the moment I had my first bite.
The verdict: This is the perfect way to end a big meal. These glutinous balls are so thin and feathery-light it doesn’t feel as heavy in the tummy as traditional buchi. It’s not as sweet either. I’m curious how they make it so round!
The chewy, crunchy, slightly sticky texture really makes you want to keep tearing pieces off and popping them in your mouth! I’m hunting these down next time I’m in Hong Kong!
Hot Red Bean Soup (Php 480/portion, Php 130/bowl)
Because the Longevity Balls are not filled, they were served with bowls of warm red bean soup as a partner. The two do not necessarily have to be served together, but I have to admit they go well as a pair. I know a lot of people who don’t particularly enjoy red beans (or beans in general), but I’m quite neutral when it comes to this. What I do dislike is when beans are overcooked to mushy consistency in a soup dessert like this, but thankfully that is not the case here. The beans still have that certain bite and give off an earthy sweetness and scent.
The verdict: With just the right touch of sweetness, this soup dessert satisfies cravings for something sweet to end a big meal. It also gives your tummy some warmth. Chase down with some hot tea after!
You might’ve noticed I added some stars beside the dishes I recommend. These are the dishes I feel are different and very memorable for me and my tastes, but I’m sure you’ve formed your own ideas already after seeing my account of the different dishes. But of course, the ones we had this night are only a sampling of what Xiu Fine Cantonese Dining has to offer. There is plenty I am yet to try! For example, my love for taro puff has made me curious about this menu item:
I should also mention the very refreshing drinks offered on the menu, such as the Iced Fruit Tea (Php 148) and the Pineapple Coconut Shake (Php 148). These drinks are freshly made and contain real fruits!
You could also take your pick from their extensive collection of wines and liquor. I had just a bit of Merlot. The most important drink to have on your table is hot tea though, to wash down all the feasting you just did! 😉
Cantonese cooking traces its roots from the Guangdong province of China, but most people know it as the cooking style from Hong Kong that has taken the world by storm. In short, when a local restaurant says it serves Cantonese cuisine, expectations are sky-high. In this regard, I believe that Xiu Fine Cantonese Dining has delivered. In fact some of their dishes even have twists unique to the local food scene, and it effectively brings familiar dishes to a new light.
The team of chefs took a little timeout from the kitchen to greet everyone. All of them were trained at the highly regarded West Villa Restaurant in Hong Kong, and are headed by Executive Chef David Cheung also of West Villa and Lei Garden Fame.
Here is the team behind Xiu Fine Cantonese Dining, which includes their Hong Kong partner Mr. Lawrence Koo from West Villa Hong Kong. I really must congratulate them for a great concept. I believe their hard work will pay off. 👏🏻
I’ve never been one to engage in flights of luxury quite often, so when I do I am very picky about it. And to tell you honestly, Xiu Fine Cantonese Dining has made it into my list. Every dish was fresh and expertly prepared, and you can definitely taste the authenticity and the quality of the ingredients they used. Admittedly the price point is steep for regular visits, but you’ll want to keep this spot in mind for very special occasions. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Xiu Fine Cantonese Dining opens to the public today, July 29th! I hope you guys have as good a time as I did on your visit. 😉
Xiu Fine Cantonese Dining
115 Connecticut St.,
Northeast Greenhills, San Juan City
Contact Nos.: 650 7189 / 0947 7070228
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Full disclosure: I was invited to a media preview at Xiu Fine Cantonese Dining, but all opinions stated above are 100% mine alone.