Article by Stephen Robinson
6F, LAFONCE, No.37,Feng Cheng 2rd Road.
(029) 8633 6000
10:30am – 10:00pm
Average Price per Person /人均消费: Tea/198RMB Food/398RMB
The word traditional gets thrown around a lot here. It’s a word that is used so often as to lose its meaning, rending the awe and reverence that the word is meant to evoke a moot point. Nevertheless, when it comes to the tea café and restaurant True Blue, traditional is the word that first springs to mind, but in the most positive of ways. Located on the 6th floor of the LAFONCE center on Fengcheng Er Lu, it’s not a place that you would immediately know was there looking from the outside. However, once you arrive, you are instantly transported from the world outside to a place that feels different. Soft lighting and a delicate fragrance fill the space. And it is spacious. The restaurant and tea house fill what seems to be the entire floor, with dedicated rooms for both tea and dining. Upon entering the main reception area, you will find a long table, topped with various relics and statues, including a replica of a carriage of the first Emperor of Qin that becomes animated when a crank is turned.
The space winds around from the main reception area, ducking in to alcoves that contained all the instrumentation for the performance of traditional tea ceremonies, artfully divided through various tricks of architecture, yet still giving the impression of being open. Some of the tea areas were divided by thin strands of bamboo, while others had screens or sections cut out from the walls which allowed one room to fold into another. Across the rooms and upon the walls were various accents and art pieces that were carefully selected in order to add character to the room. The mastermind behind this venture, Wang Zhihui, formerly worked in a museum that dealt with antiquities and is an expert in the field. Each of the pieces he selected were either whole pieces that hugged the walls or key parts of pieces of furniture that were hung up in an artful display. There were also several pieces by a local artist who does enormous hanging wooden sculptures that are carved from a single piece of wood. Additionally, there were a large number of tea pots, cups, and other accoutrement that are on display. It was if the entire tea house was an art gallery. And, as it turns out, many of the pieces on display are also available for sale, should you want to take something home with you.
Near the back of the tea area was a full-sized koi pond, surrounded on two sides with some truly unique tables. It was revealed that the tables were actually massive planks that were formerly used as the deck on ships, and had been refitted for the purposes of the tea house. Each board was several meters long and quite wide, each one having been center cut from a large tree a long time ago. Just near the pond is an entrance to a small auditorium that they use for classes and other activities. Once again, the design had much thought put into it. The circular room, while spacious enough to hold 35 or more people, also felt quite intimate. The room had also been acoustically designed so that, when standing in the middle of the room, a natural amplification of your voice will allow you to speak as if you were using a microphone, without needing to raise your voice at all. Rear entrance led once again to the entrance and the elevators.
The same considerations of design that is present in the tea area is just as present in the restaurant area. Each private room, of which there are four of varying sizes, is entered through a curved hallway that leads into an enclosed dining area, further along the circle you will come to the private restroom that each room has and following the hallway further will bring you back to the front, as the whole thing is a circle. On the walls are various drawings of the different varieties of fish that you can find in China, done in the style of a textbook. The centerpiece of the tables is a beautifully sculpted rock garden, and each place is set with a stone tray, on which the food is served, and very fine cutlery and drinkware.
The chefs at this restaurant specialize in what is becoming a dying art of Chinese cuisine, the 满汉全席 or Manchu-Han Imperial Banquet. This has mostly fallen out of fashion due to the extreme care and attention to detail that must be undertaken in order to be done properly, as well as the time that it takes to do so.
The first course served was a series of nine small bowls that each contained a different cold dish. One set was a selection of cold salads and pickles meant to open up the palate, mushrooms, cucumber, and some kind of aquatic vegetable; another a selection of cold meat dishes, cold sliced donkey, spicy duck tongue, and pork aspic with walnut kernels; and yet another with desserts, fresh mango and date, a small pastry, and a red mean filled mocha dessert. This was followed by a clear soup that was absolutely delicious, a concentration of flavor. Following this was a special dish of fish gelatin in a porridge of wild rice, which had a subtle flavor to it. Next was a single large shrimp that had been fried and dipped in a wasabi mayonnaise with banana chips and a dried strawberry. The next course was a simple dish of tender bamboo shoot in a savory sauce, and then a simple dish of absolutely gorgeous miniature bok choy. There was also a rich stew of beef and peppers with butter, and then a small bowl of tiny dumplings in soup, served with a crispy red bean croquette. Finally, dessert was a bowl of simple sweetened jelly with a goji berry. All of this was served with plenty of pu-er tea and a tart rice wine that was continually refilled throughout the meal.
After the meal, we retired to one of the tea rooms for a bit of tea. This restaurant and tea house is part of a larger project that the owners are working on in order to promote more traditional Chinese culture and especially cultural tourism. The host several events that invite speakers on various topics to give lectures and also host other events for the same purpose. Partaking in a tea ceremony here will cost you 189 per person, and meals packages start at 398 person. While this may not be a place that you can visit every day, if you are looking to experience something more, or would like try a cuisine that is rapidly disappearing before it is too late, then you should try out True Blue.
Stephen Robinson is the editor-in-chief at xianease and would love to get your thoughts on everything we are doing. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org