I love Chinese New Year in Metro Vancouver, surrounded by family and everyone eating a whole lot. A limited-time event that piqued my interest was the Chinese New Year afternoon tea ($34/person) at the Xi Shi Lounge in the gorgeous Shangri-La Hotel in downtown Vancouver. It ends this weekend. (Follow Me Foodie has an in-depth writeup here.)

I figured it was the perfect place to take my visiting mother-in-law for a ladies lunch. The modern lounge looks like it’s a business-lunch, after-work drinks kind of place. The grand piano adds a touch of elegance.

We had called ahead for a table, so it was already set with a pretty tea service. I wasn’t the only one struck by the china, as I saw more than one customer flip them over to check out the pottery marks.

Xi Shi Lounge, VancouverWe chose our loose-leaf tea from a delicious-sounding list of 15. I got the Wild Cherry (black tea blend with aroma of Japanese wild cherries) and Pam got the Shangri-La Blend (black tea blend with pineapple, kiwi and plum). Both were lovely.

They came in their own large teapots which we poured through individual silver strainers over our cups. Very civilized.

Instead of cucumber sandwiches and scones, the three-tier tray of food was all Chinese-inspired. The bottom plate held:

    • Two plump prawn dumplings: good and meaty
    • Vegetable spring rolls: quite tasty stuffed with carrots, cilantro, shiitake mushrooms, cabbage and celery
    • BBQ pork puff pastry: some nice lean meat but I would have preferred the pastry a bit hotter.

They came with condiments of lemon plum sauce, soy sauce and hoisin sauce.

The middle plate was a carb fest. The green onion pancake had a nice chewy/crispy texture, but they’ve never been my favourite. The mini sesame balls had black sesame seeds, which gave it a fragrant nuttiness that I liked better than the traditional white sesame.

The “steamed buns,” which are a northern Chinese staple, were my favourite. But that’s because they’re deep-fried and then you can dip them in condensed milk. I loved the inclusion of these.

The top tier was the sweet stuff. If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you know my stance on Chinese desserts. But this is a very restrained take on Chinese sweets. The egg tarts were OK, but they have nothing on the traditional egg tarts hot out of the oven at a Chinese bakery. The crust just wasn’t the same buttery flakiness.

The red bean mochi (technically more Japanese than Chinese) was not offensive because there was just a smidge of red bean instead of the disgusting wallop that’s usually stuffed in there.

Lastly, the lychee and osmanthus flower shooter was an ambitious take on the traditional osmanthus jelly. It nailed the fragrant fruitiness but not the delicateness (is that a word?) as I found it a tad too sweet. And it’s more jello in a shot glass — with goji berries suspended in it — than an actual shooter that you drink.

When the tray arrived, I know my MIL and I thought the same thing: we’re going to need a second lunch because this isn’t enough! But we were totally wrong. Sipping tea and savouring the treats actually filled us up quite well.

Sunday is the last day for this Chinese New Year version of afternoon tea. After that, Xi Shi (yes, it is hard to pronounce even for someone who speaks some Chinese) returns to its regular afternoon tea on weekends.

Xi Shi Lounge, Shangri-La Hotel, Lobby level, 1128 West Georgia St., Vancouver, (604) 689-1120. Chinese New Year afternoon tea (11:30 a.m.-5 p.m.) ends Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012.