Choi Yuin Yi on opening Lady Yi’s tea house and her afternoon tea menu of Peranakan favorites
It was Henry James who wrote in The Portrait of a Lady how “there are few more pleasant hours in life than the hour devoted to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” Taking words to heart, Choy Yuin Yi raises the stakes several notches, elevating said ceremony to a positively Peranakan experience at his family’s hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton Kuala Lumpur.
Lady Yi’s tea house, named in her honor, is a labor of love from her father, Datuk Choy Wai Hin, executive director of the Masteron group of companies and CEO of Federal International Holdings Bhd. While dad takes care of the design of the place and the furniture and fixtures, Choy, who is Masteron’s hospitality manager, is responsible for bringing the space to life.
The tea room is located on the seventh floor of the hotel, opposite the reception. Eyes are immediately drawn to a stunning oil on canvas painting of a double phoenix – a symbol of virtue and grace for the Peranakan Chinese – by local artist Alice Chang. Choy selected a team of artisans and designers, including batik designer Fern Chua, who created Peranakan’s tile-inspired cushions exclusively for the venue, to work on Lady Yi’s tea house, whose opening was originally scheduled for March this year to coincide with Choy’s birthday.
The inevitable delay due to the various lockdowns means that Lady Yi’s is about to welcome its first customers this week. “We opened the hotel in December 2019 with two F&B outlets – Jann Bar and Quan’s Kitchen All Day Restaurant, named after my younger sisters, Yuin Jann and Yuin Quan,” says Choy. “It was always planned to dedicate this space to a tea house. And we only wanted to launch Lady Yi once [overall] operations had stabilized, since it was intended to be an exclusive outlet.
As quite possibly the first Chinese afternoon tea experience dedicated to the city straits, diners can expect to be served contemporary interpretations of classic Peranakan dishes. “The menu fuses my love for Malaysia’s rich culinary heritage and my exposure to some of the best afternoon teas in the western world,” she says. The result? A modern and refined version of the Baba-Nyonya classics.
A tiered tray duly arrives, carrying an assortment of delicacies served on colorful Nyonya ceramics. The classic soy pudding or taufufah is expressed through a feuilletine and a dab of mango gel; while hitam pulut, this wonderful black sticky rice porridge served thick with coconut cream and palm sugar, is made into dacquoise and served with coconut pannacotta. Onde-onde, another Melaka classic, is reinterpreted and adorned with gold leaf.
For savory, ditch the boring cucumber sandwiches and instead let your palate indulge in an otak-otak sandwich or maybe a kuih pie t-shirt topped with chili shrimp and cilantro. And for those who can’t imagine afternoon tea without at least one crumbly scone coated in curdled cream and jam, know that Lady Yi’s versions – plain and sprinkled with cranberries – are served with kaya instead. , the ubiquitous Malaysian coconut jam, and an addicting adzuki bean butter.
“Wave-wave, otak-otak sandwich and kaya spread are definitely my personal favorites on the menu,” says Choy. “My grandmother and I share a common love for these three treats. There would always be kuih when he visited and it was our favorite way to share an afternoon. We both love our wave-on-wave with extra gula Melaka, our otak-otak should always be lightly charred while kaya should be made with extra coconut and pandan. I have personally worked with our Executive Chef Gerald Chong, to polish these items to make sure they are exactly what I want them served at Lady Yi.
Snacking aside, the most pressing question remains: What teas can you find at Lady Yi? True to her defense of local culture and heritage, Choy stumbled across a young Malaysian brand named Roleaf and decided to showcase their teas. “They are mainly importers of premium Pu Erh. Of course, we had explored other high-end brands, but I wanted something that could bridge East and West and, better yet, customize blends exclusively for us. The result? Ten uplifting teas ranging from a calming chamomile to Lady Yi’s special “11 treasures” blend and a visually striking Roleaf blooming flower tea.
Given that the hotel is in the heart of Chinatown, it makes perfect sense that the offerings served at Lady Yi’s pay homage to the locality. “I like to think that everything we do, in some way, promotes Malaysian and Chinese culture and heritage. I would love Lady Yi’s to be seen as an inclusive space where all Malaysians can come and make more memories… the same way I bonded with my grandmother over kuih tea time.
The Masteron group of companies own another stunning property – the Ardoe House Hotel & Spa, set in a 19th century Baronian mansion on 30 acres of beautiful grounds in Aberdeen, Scotland. So if you are based in the UK and are unlikely to be heading to Malaysia anytime soon, Choy says there are plans to offer Peranakan Afternoon Tea at Ardoe House, very probably on a pop-up basis. Baba-Nyonya culture in the North Sea? We can hardly wait.
Peranakan Affair Afternoon Tea launches on December 16 and is priced between RM98 + and RM128 +. To book, call 03 2035 7333.
This article first appeared on December 13, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.