Stuart Beaton, our man in Tianjin, writes about dining in high style on Christmas Eve in China. (You can check out Stuart’s fabulous podcasts at http://rastous.podomatic.com/). Here’s Stu:
The name Raffles conjures up images of tropical Singapore, high teas, and gin slings drunk in a bar where the last tiger on the island was shot.
It probably doesn’t get associated with Tianjin much.
But all that may change, as in 2010 the Raffles group opened Tianjin Raffles in the heart of the busy shopping district – and it was there that my wife fell in love with buffets.
As Ellen is working on Christmas itself, we decided that we’d treat ourselves to a trip to SoU on the 49th floor. I’m not sure if this is one of the highest buildings in Tianjin, but you certainly can see an awfully long way from it.
There’s definitely something for everyone, with a fresh pasta and noodle station, teppanyaki grill, tempura fryer, Cantonese soups and dishes, an a la minute grill station for beef, pork, chicken and sausages, a salad bar, and an extensive range of desserts, fruits and ice cream. The buffet itself is spread around the entire level, so a walk to one end to get something can actually serve to improve your appetite.
The food itself is fresh and well prepared, with a lot of thought given to overall presentation.
But when it comes to the cheese platter, it all comes a cropper.
I am a huge fan of cheese, in all its myriad shapes and forms. When I lived in Japan, I had recurring nightmares brought on by the lack of cheese in stores, something which has never really left me. Some nights I wake in a cold sweat, having dreamt that Brie had been outlawed.
Spying the little card marked “Cheese Platter”, I was determined to have a nice spot of something with a piece of baguette. But when I lifted the cloche, my heart broke.
I have never seen such cruelty to cheese in my life. This sad, lifeless lot had been badly stored, and then blobbed onto a warm plate in a dry, cold spot. Of course, this had caused them to dry out and crumble. Brie should not shatter when prodded with a knife, and cheddar shouldn’t ring like a gong when tapped.
So great was my distress that I was led away quietly Ellen, as one might lead a witness away from an horrific traffic accident.
Mind you, the dessert selection more than made up for it. In a country where cakes are airy confections spun from sugar, and taste like nothing, the solid craftsmanship of SoU’s pâtissier is a true delight.
Pecan pie, chocolate mousse cakes, pannacotta and even chestnut tart grace the display, along with other things I couldn’t readily identify, and enough fresh fruit to keep a regiment regular for a month.
My waistline may never recover from repeated returns, capped with a small bowl of the best green tea ice cream I have ever tasted in my life.
As the clock ticked towards two, we got ready to leave, having eaten and drunk more than enough to see us through the Festive Season. Already the prep crew were wheeling in extra bain maries, chaffing dishes and tables of fruit for the five thirty sitting, while the Exec Chef and his Sous were prodding lobsters in a tank with a long wooden spoon.
It’d been another wonderful Christmas Evil at Raffles.