Valentine’s Day dinner at home (without parents) is much more relaxed and intimate than dining out. Ruby Gao suggests easy, elegant dishes, takeout and fancy home chefs.
Valentine’s Day is supposed to be the big night out for lovers and very good friends, but the red-letter day in China is a huge commercial event for restaurants where privacy and intimacy may not be on the menu.
Waits, crowds, lack of space, busy staff and prying eyes make that candlelit dinner less than the romantic and cozy event it’s supposed to be. Then there’s the tab.
“Dining in is more exclusive and intimate. We choose the food, music, even tableware. We can also shop together, creating a sweet memory,” says Monica Li, who will have a romantic dinner at home with her boyfriend tomorrow night.
Newlywed Bamboo Li will also celebrate at home. Last year’s restaurant dinner was a disaster.
“The price was incredibly high, while the food was disappointing and the restaurant was fully booked, crowded and noisy,” she says. “There was no romance at all.”
A Valentine’s dinner set menu in Shanghai ranges from 500 to 2,000 yuan (US$82-330) per person.
Of course, young people who live with their parents or parents-in-law usually prefer to go out.
“I can’t have any privacy since I live with in-laws,” says newlywed Jasmine Zhao, among many married young people who choose to save money by living with parents.
“Dining at home lacks privacy, while a restaurant evening takes the edge off nervousness in a new relationship,” says Amanda Li who plans dinner tomorrow night with her new boyfriend in a restaurant.
If the relationship becomes long lasting, she would prefer a more relaxed Valentine’s dinner at home.
Preparing an elegant dinner at home is difficult for busy young people who seldom cook, but food delivery, simple dishes and even hiring a chef can make dining at home a pleasure.
Shanghai Daily presents home dining options.
Quick and easy
Not all foods are suitable for delivery, especially when plating, presentation and serving temperature are important. Avoid soup that can be spilled. Foods that needn’t be served at a precise temperature are best, such as tapas, sushi, sashimi, pizza, salad and cakes.
Many expats choose Sherpas, one of a few take-out services with English service. Its website lists around 200 restaurants and their menus, covering a wide range of cuisines, and promises delivery in 45 minutes when it’s not a special day. Valentine’s Day is peak, so it’s best to order before 6pm.
Cooking yourself shows sincerity, even if you don’t really know how to cook. Find ingredients in premium supermarkets, so the so-called cooking is actually cutting and serving.
Roast chicken, which can be a main course, is available in many supermarkets. Heat it for minutes before serving.
Sliced bread spread with a thick layer of foie gras is a nice way to start. Dice Parmesan cheese and arrange it with pieces of sweet melon to make a classical, sweet and savory appetizer. Serve slices of fresh tomato and mozzarella, drizzled with garlic and topped with fresh basil.
Caviar, considered by some people to be an aphrodisiac, is easy to serve, but it must be chilled in advance and kept chilled. Serve on buttered toast with Champagne.
A plate of biscuits and assorted cheese, hard, soft and aged, makes a nice dessert, served with nuts and honey.
For lazy lovers who can’t cook but want to impress, home chefs can be hired from hotels. The culinary team does everything, from preparing dinner to setting a romantic table.
Pasquo King, executive sous chef at Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai, tailor-makes the dinner.
“Women seek delicate and refined taste and I suggest seafood, pork, veal and seasonal pheasant,” says King. Whimsical touches such as gold dust swirling through duck consommé and pop rocks candy with a sorbet course are recommended.
“Men look for masculine food so dark meat with rich sauce and powerful flavors are preferred,” the chef says, recommending a terrine of foie gras and black truffle and seared fillet of wagyu beef.
A shared dessert, such as a melting chocolate sphere makes a harmonious conclusion.
The tab isn’t small. Take Pudong Shangri-La. It costs at least 20,000 yuan for a two-person set.
Wine, music, flowers and candles — a perfect table setting — also create a romantic mood.
“I choose a nice bottle of wine and an elegant decanter to complement the table and make the dinner more entertaining and relaxes,” says Bamboo Li, a wine lover.
Saint Amour from Beaujolais is perfect for Valentine’s Day dinner, says Alvin Gho, an advanced sommelier at Three on the Bund.
Music critic and writer Shen Qihua recommends Edith Piaf and Beethoven’s “Romance for Violin and Orchestra in F Major.”
“Beethoven starts with a dialogue between violin and orchestra, gentle and soft, and ends with an ornamented melody that seems like a beautiful relationship,” he says.
Roses, red and pink, are usually considered the perfect Valentine’s flower, but French hydrangeas are recommended by Emily Zhou, chief florist at Park Hyatt Shanghai.
Valentine’s foods are predominantly pink and red so pale blue or light purple hydrangeas build harmonious color on the table, she says. And they are easy to arrange.
Sherpa’s English service, on-time delivery, diverse choices
Contact: www.sherpa.com.cn or call 6209-6209
Pizzahut Pizza and pasta, English service, affordable
Contact: www.4008123123.com or call 4008-123-123
Mr Choi Patisserie Napoleans, opera cake, chestnut cream
Contact: www.thechois.cc or call 400-0979-788
Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai French cuisine, luxury, personal service
Tel: 2828-6888 (Usually reservation three days in advance is required, but urgent booking can be managed too.)
Cost: At least 20,000 yuan
Le Royal Meridian French and Italian cuisine
Tel: 3318-9999 ext 8036 (Booking a week in advance is required.)
Cost: At least 20,000 yuan
City Shop Cheese, ham, bread, chocolate, wine
Address: B1/F, Shanghai Centre, 1376 Nanjing Rd W.
Wild berry cobbler with vanilla ice cream Florence Dalia, French executive chef de cuisine at New Heights of Three on the Bund, shares her recipe for Valentine’s desert that is pink, sweet, feminine and balanced.
1. To make cookie crumble, mix butter, sugar and cake flour together like dough. Break dough into very small pieces and refrigerate.
2. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
3. To mix berry compote, cut strawberries in half, mix with orange juice, raspberries, blueberries, sugar in large sauce pan. Heat until boiling. Add corn starch and a little water. Heat until boiling.
4. Remove pan from heat and pour into a big, deep, oven-proof plate. Add cookie crumble on top. Warm in preheated oven 15 minutes.
5. Add two scoops vanilla ice cream on top and serve.