I've been hearing praises about Hyatt's signature restaurant, Li Li, for quite some time now. A good friend of mine told me how his family had dined there and they found the food superb. He added that their dining experience was really something else. I only got more curious to try it out for myself when I saw Li Li once more in the pages of a book I've recently acquired, Manila's Best Kept Restaurant Secrets. Convinced by the words written in the book and the words spoken by my friend, I sought out to visit this 'best kept secret', and at an appropriate season, if I may add: Chinese New Year!
Getting to Know Li Li
My friends and I were all first-timers at Li Li, and when I was telling them about what I've read and heard about the restaurant, we were all getting excited upon entering Hyatt Hotel and Casino Manila.
Once we were inside Li Li, I found myself becoming silent, and whispered to myself, "wow". I looked back at my friends, and I could see them gushing and smiling as well.
While I have been to a good number of Chinese restaurants - from hole-in-the-walls, to grandiose ones known for hosting birthdays and weddings - Li Li seems to be in a league of its own when it comes to its architectural and interior design. Walking around Li Li and exploring its every corner is definitely a feast for your eyes.
Li Li's restaurant manager Alan Yan was our gracious host for lunch, and after all our 'ooohs' and 'aahhhs' while we wandered off the restaurant, we settled inside the Library Room to know more about the story of Li Li.
Alan Yan, Li Li's Restaurant Manager
The Chinese restaurant is inspired by a woman named Li Li, who is part of the elite and sophisticated Chinese and who was exposed to the distinctive Chinese hospitality at a young age. Her classy taste reflects in the restaurant's breathtaking interiors.
Start yourself, if you will, on the staircase by the elevator, to get that high-class residential vibe, rather than a restaurant feel. Then wander off to the different areas and rooms. Li Li has a dining area, living room, library, drawing room and a wine cellar. I quipped to my friend Cookie, "It's like we're in a house of a Chinese family... a very, very rich Chinese family." She agrees, laughing.
Each and every piece of china, glass and silver found in the restaurant was chosen by Li Li herself, and is an eclectic blend of Chinese and European wares.
The several rooms that can be reserved for private functions impressed me all the more because it felt very homey and high-end all at once. You get none of the air or feel of a typical Chinese restaurant with very bold colors (usually screaming in bright red or gold). None of that in Li Li. No overly boisterous, noisy crowds over at Li Li as well - maybe people seem to transform themselves into the hush-hush types when dining at Li Li since they feel like invited guests at someone's posh apartment or penthouse somewhere far from Manila.
Chinese Lunar New Year Specials
As the Chinese New Year is approaching, Li Li's Cantonese master chefs (flown in from Hong Kong) whip up a specialty menu for families to enjoy. The Chinese Lunar New Year Specials of the restaurant is a carefully prepared set menu, as Alan explains that the Chinese are very particular people when it comes to good luck and bad luck. Happiness, prosperity, money and harmony should be in all the details. Even the ingredients, the way the dishes are named and arranged in the menu to be read are all scrutinized to give more luck for the Lunar New Year.
Suckling Pig Combination with Jellyfish
Our appetizer was Suckling Pig Combination with Jellyfish, an easy favorite of mine as I've always loved the chewy texture of the Jellyfish dipped in a little soy sauce. The pork was also very tender. Afterwards, we were served Braised Shark's Fin Soup with Conpoy, Chicken and Bamboo Pith, a thick soup that warmed up my appetite. The waitress recommended to add in some red vinegar to the soup, which I let her do, and it surely made the soup tastier.
Braised Shark's Fin Soup with Conpoy, Chicken and Bamboo Pith
Our next dish was something interesting, as it was my first time to try out a dish of its kind: dried oyster.
Braised Dried Oyster with Hair Moss
The serving of Braised Dried Oyster with Hair Moss looked like mushrooms to me. The hair moss isn't really hair of course, as it comes from the sea. The texture and flavor of the dried oyster is very similar to liver, so I am sure this dish is not appreciated by everyone, especially the kids. Because of its flavor, this dish for many is an acquired taste.
Stewed Assorted Vegetables with Crab Coral
I found a more familiar dish placed in our table's lazy-susan: Stewed Assorted Vegetables with Crab Coral. While I only had one serving of the Dried Moss, this dish I had two.
Wok-fried Fresh Prawns with Chili Tomato Sauce
I found my lunch favorites in the Wok-fried Fresh Prawns with Chili Tomato Sauce and the Fried Glutinous Rice with Air-Dried Meat. The prawns were glazed with a sweet-sour sauce with the right amount of spicyness that won't send your tongue wagging for water. Just right for those who aren't fans of spicy food.
Fried Glutinous Rice with Air-Dried Meat The sticky rice reminded me of the texture of machang that is served with pieces of meat and wrapped in banana or palm leaves. The rice has a sticky-sweet thing going on, with bits of meat, vegetables and nuts. Eating the rice as-is will even do, but I chose to pair it with the prawns, which was a good combination for me.
And of course, what would a Chinese New Year set menu be without the perennial tikoy?
Pan-fried Glutinous Rice Cake Coated with Eggs
The tikoy over at Li Li is glamorized into what they call Pan-fried Glutinous Rice Cake Coated with Eggs. A mouthful to say, but it's still one of my favorite Chinese New Year food. At home, we have our tikoys in a thin rectangular mess, served atop paper napkins to absorb the oil. Li Li has their fried glutinous rice cakes in thicker chunks, cut in squares, not drowning in oil, neatly lined up in a clean plate.
After dining and experiencing Li Li first-handedly, I can say that visiting Li Li has been one of the most memorable restaurant experiences that I have. It is greatly recommended when you want to splurge your money on very special occasions. I must admit, the prices may make you say "ouch!", but before you do, perhaps a walk-through inside the restaurant will make you change your mind. Li Li is truly fine dining, and the price will definitely be worth it. And hope for the best that all the good luck food you've indulged in won't wear off easily, to bring in some prosperity along your way! Kung Hei Fat Choy!
Li Li's Chinese Lunar New Year Set Menu (offered from February 6-10) is priced P21,888 per table for 10 persons, or P30,888 per table for 10 persons, depending on the combination of dishes. Celebrate Chinese New Year at Li Li and enjoy activities that include colourful Lion Dances and Lucky Raffle Draws. Also from February 6-10, dine at Li Li with a group of eight and more, and enjoy two hours of entertainment in the Music Bar. Sing along to Mandarin songs while enjoying free-flowing soft drinks and beer. Reservations are highly recommended at Li Li, since they can be rather jampacked during Chinese New Year season.
Li Li serves lunch from 12:00 pm to 2:30 pm and dinner from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm. The restaurant accommodates up to 200 guests with tables for 2, 4, 6, 8, 12 and 14 persons. The restaurant is located on the 5th floor of Hyatt Hotel and Casino Manila. For further enquiries and reservations, please call 245-1234.