TEA AND TAPAS

A new cafe in Beijing’s Houhai of­fers din­ers a chance to ex­pe­ri­ence what hap­pens when foods with dif­fer­ent tex­tures and fla­vors come to­gether. re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

Beijing’s Houhai area is al­ways crowded with tourists, but the new lux­ury ho­tel VUE of­fers so­phis­ti­cated din­ers a place away from the hus­tle and bus­tle to sip af­ter­noon tea and sa­vor Span­ish tapas.

The noise of the crowds and honk­ing horns fade away as I stroll down the hu­tong (al­ley­way) in front of the Prince Gong’s Man­sion.

Hid­den among the sur­round­ing gray brick court­yard houses, the ho­tel’s Fab cafe and bak­ery sits along the al­ley be­tween the for­mer res­i­dence of the Qing Dy­nasty (16441911) prince and Houhai Park.

It’s a peace­ful oa­sis in this tourist hot spot.

Ig­nasi Prats is the chief baker and chef.

He grew up in a Span­ish fam­ily that has worked as bak­ers for three gen­er­a­tions. And he has worked in an ac­claimed res­tau­rant with three Miche­lin stars, El Celler de Can Roca, in the city of Girona in north­ern Spain.

“When my grand­fa­ther started the bak­ery in Barcelona in the 1950s, bread and pas­tries were grab-and-go food,” says Prats.

“Com­bin­ing a cafe with the bak­ery came later.”

The name Fab stands for flour and beans, the in­gre­di­ents for pas­tries and cof­fee.

The cafe pro­vides Euro­pean pas­tries such as Swiss rolls, rose rasp­berry mac­a­roons and blue­berry cheese­cake, at 30 to 40 yuan ($4 to $6) each. A cup of a dou­ble espresso costs 19 yuan, and a cup of Amer­i­cano is 25 yuan.

“We want to be part of the lo­cal com­mu­nity,” says Andy Mok, vi­cepres­i­dent of the ho­tel, ex­plain­ing that they want the cafe to be a place where ho­tels guests can so­cial­ize with lo­cals.

I had a cup of Amer­i­cano with Mont Blanc, which is a cone­shaped pas­try coated with ch­est­nut cream, and stuffed with blue­berry and sponge cake. A caramelized ch­est­nut is on the “peak”.

The ho­tel’s Pink Rab­bit res­tau­rant in the back­yard is more up­scale.

With Prats in the kitchen, the res­tau­rant fea­tures in­no­va­tive Span­ish cui­sine.

Be­fore ar­riv­ing in Beijing in 2016, Prats worked in El Celler de Can Roca, which was twice se­lected as the world’s best res­tau­rant by Res­tau­rant Mag­a­zine, and then in the Ritz-Carl­ton in Barcelona. Prats likes to cre­ate new dishes. He says that part of the rea­son he left the Ritz-Carl­ton ho­tel is that: “Five-star ho­tels don’t give you the free­dom to cre­ate some­thing new.”

For me, eat­ing Span­ish tapas is a jour­ney full of fun and sur­prises.

To start, I had The Cone, which is goat cheese put in mini basil cones with pis­ta­chios in­side and straw­ber­ries on top.

It looks like an ice­cream but tastes salty at first, and then leaves a sweet fla­vor in the mouth.

The sec­ond dish, Ly­chee Toma­toes, is not a new type of to­mato. Rather, it is pre­pared by mar­i­nat­ing peeled cherry toma­toes in ly­chee juice, mak­ing it a re­fresh­ing sum­mer snack.

“Ly­chees are my fa­vorite food in China, but they’re not very com­mon in Spain,” says Prats. “So, I used this tech­nique to change the fla­vor of the toma­toes.”

Pig Bite is an­other sig­na­ture tapa by Prats.

It’s small bits of roasted suck­ling pig put on corn crack­ers with smashed av­o­cado and cran­berry jam un­der­neath.

The crispy pig skin and the crack­ers sand­wich the ten­der pork.

If those dishes don’t sat­isfy the stom­ach, you can or­der Span­ish seafood rice ($42 for two peo­ple) or Aus­tralian rib­eye steak ($57 for 350 grams).

For dessert, I had a Pina Co­lada, a white choco­late pud­ding named af­ter a cock­tail.

A pineap­ple cap­sule, a co­conut marsh­mal­low, al­mond flakes and mango jelly con­sti­tute the dif­fer­ent lay­ers of the “cock­tail” pud­ding.

“I like to put food with dif­fer­ent tex­tures and fla­vors to­gether,” says Prats. “It’s about the bal­ance of dif­fer­ent tex­tures and tastes.

“Par­ents al­ways tell us not to play with your food, but here you can play with dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents to get your own cre­ative bite,” he says.

Con­tact the writer at xingyi@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

VUE, a new lux­ury ho­tel, of­fers so­phis­ti­cated din­ers a place away from the hus­tle and bus­tle of the Houhai area where it is lo­cated.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED AND BY XING YI / CHINA DAILY

Fab cafe and bak­ery is a peace­ful oa­sis at the ho­tel. The Pink Rab­bit res­tau­rant menu fea­tures Pig Bite, Ly­chee Toma­toes and The Cone.

Clock­wise:

Rose rasp­berry mac­a­roons are a high­light of Fab’s menu.

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