During my last weeks in Shanghai, I made a valiant effort to cross things off my unrealistically long wish list. Even after two years in the city, there were still an abundance of experiences yet to be had. One such experience was enjoying afternoon tea at the luxurious PuLi Hotel and Spa, located in the heart of Shanghai’s central business district.
I had walked by the bamboo-shaded entrance to the PuLi many times and was intrigued by an understated tropical elegance that seemed to emanate from within. As it turns out, the PuLi is part of Urban Resorts Concept which is headed by folks who previously worked at the Raffles hotel in Singapore, where we enjoyed a spectacular lunch last year. I knew I was in for a treat!
Afternoon tea is served in a long, light-filled lobby. Plush couches you can sink into and gracefully curved chairs are arranged cozily around low tables, while a 32-meter long bar stretches the length of one wall. I didn’t make a reservation beforehand but easily found a seat. After ordering a set with a pot of chamomile tea, I was quickly served by smartly dressed staff.
Rather than the standard three-tier affair found at other afternoon teas around town, the PuLi’s snacks are served inside a lacquered Chinese jewelry box lined with vintage paper. The effect is glamorous and evokes the feeling of being transported to a more stylish Shanghai, circa 1930.
I started with the savory morsels, though they wound up being so delicious I wished I had saved them for last! The three mini-sandwiches on soft pretzel bread were the stars and I relished every delectable bite. If I had to pick a favorite, the Reuben sandwich might win by a crumb. The caramelized onion tart topped with a dainty dollop of chevre cheese featured a shortbread crust that segued wonderfully into the sweeter flavors.
The desserts were sadly a little less successful. The lemon meringue pie was tasty, but the custard tart and cream-filled doughnut lacked flavor. True disappointment came when I bit into what I thought was a chocolate and hazelnut pastry. To the dismay of my taste buds, which were primed for a Nutella-esque delight, this snack actually consisted of foie gras bespoiled by a bitter tamarind-date sauce between pieces of papadum. Normally I love foie gras and Indian flavorings, but they do not mix well together and should never be disguised as chocolate!
Fortunately I still had three gigantic moist and crumbly scones to smother with Devonshire cream and fresh strawberry jam. These I lingered over with a good book for some time. I saved the petite fours for last and was favorably impressed with the fluffy passion fruit marshmallow and blood orange jelly square. The other two were less memorable.
Though some of the snacks left something to be desired, afternoon tea at the PuLi as an overall experience was a satisfying way to spend one of my last days in Shanghai. The pretzel sandwiches alone were worth the price of admission!