Monday, 4 November 2013

Hillbilly Tea

In a city as international as Shanghai, you see countless restaurants that seek to combine the cultures of their chefs with Chinese cuisine into a form of 'insert-cuisine'-Sino fusion.

Others just hold fast to their roots and dare to be different because they fill a gap in the market.

And sometimes you see a concept and wonder - how the hell did you get here?

Although I had been hearing great things, I had this question of Hillbilly Tea, a relatively new restaurant centered around the leafy brew and accompanied by a down-home menu of Southern American classics.

What makes it indisputably credible and simultaneously confusing is that the seemingly singular spot is actually the second branch of an original in Louisville, Kentucky. Beyond a quite tenuous mutual affection for tea, I didn't quite see how Kentucky two-stepped in time with China, so we went to investigate.

The space, a lovely and light-filled glass box perched in the upper decks of Taikang Terrace, is a straight-outta-Brooklyn hipster hangout, complete with a be-flanneled host sporting sleeve tats. Not that I'm complaining - I'm a huge fan of the aesthetic - but it did little to quell my confusion.

We were all feeling fairly fragile, so we forewent the boozy "tea hooch" cocktails, and fortified ourselves with mason jars (natch) of unlimited coffee or iced tea (either "blank" or tooth-suckingly sweet) before getting stuck into the menu of Southern comfort classics.

Split into sections based on origin ("kettle", "creek", "pit", etc.), we were overwhelmed with the bounty, so we just stuck to "brunch".

Unable to choose, the majority of us plumped (literally) for the Hillbilly Deluxe, which combines everything you would want into one: scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage patty, cheese grits, AND a skillet pancake. It's an amazing deal for 85 of your finest RMBs - the portions absolutely honor Southern hospitality.

One friend went for the steak and eggs (again, a steal), and we got the roasted sweet potatoes and chow chow (a red cabbage slaw) on the side. An order of corn pone went MIA, which was unfortunate mostly because no one knew what exactly a "pone" entailed and caffeinated imaginations were running high.

We might have needed a bigger table...

Everything was super-solid, especially for the price - the eggs were well-seasoned and served with toast soldiers, the sausage patty was savory (a better bet than the bacon), and the pancake - oh, the pancake. Although slightly underdone in the center, its vast fluffy body and crispy edges were just waiting to be smothered with "tea butter" and pumpkin syrup. The sweet butter was good enough to eat alone, and I'm not naming names, but some of us just might have.

The sides were good enough, although small, and the only real disappointment was the grits, milled roughly enough to be risotto and very gluey. Needless to say, the pancake more than made up for them.

By the end, we were stuffed like trophy bucks, and didn't have room to even think about desserts like the bourbon bread pudding or apple layer cake. But that, along with the promise of hooch and many mains, makes a return trip all the more necessary.

It is beyond me how these self-proclaimed Southern "hillbillies" decided to literally bring tea to China, but I'm sure glad they did.

Hillbilly Tea
2F, Building 1, Taikang Terrace
171 Jianguo Zhong Lu, near Ruijin Er Lu

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