As a Filipino, I’m used to eating Chinese food at home, in restaurants and in the streets (and don’t forget the fact that my father only enjoys steaks and his beloved Chinese food when we’re eating out). Most of the Filipino food are influenced greatly by Chinese dishes. Chinese food is comfort food: delicious, convenient, and affordable. In Riyadh alone, there are so many Chinese restaurants and they’re such a hit that most of the Chinese restaurants here are from the same or sister companies. You can see one in every major thoroughfare because one can never go wrong with Chinese cuisine. It came as a surprise to find a new Chinese restaurant in Tahlia Street though. It’s named Hualan. At first I thought there’s a new stand alone restaurant tucked somewhere in the busiest street in Riyadh but I couldn’t remember ever seeing a new Chinese restaurant built in that area (and hello, I as a Pink Tarha has a great sense of seeing what’s not there before). More thinking ensued and that’s when I realized that hey, maybe Hualan is not a stand-alone restaurant with it’s own infrastructure but a restaurant inside Centria Mall! And yes it is. (I blame Foursquare for the slightly off pin in their location map, haha! It’s corrected now.)
I’m surprised that it’s only now that I knew that La Vela is no longer existing in one of Riyadh’s poshest malls. We used to go to Le Vela to have coffee in their terrace, one of the handful of restaurants in Riyadh that has an outdoor seating for families. It was replaced with Hualan, a high-end Chinese restaurant. Okay, I’m not used to eating “high-end” Chinese cuisine because I’ve always known Chinese cuisine as affordable so my expectation of this new restaurant is a bit low. Anyway, I decided to try it with friends on a lovely Saturday afternoon.
Hualan means “flower basket”, at least that’s what my research came up with. And I think it’s correct because the interiors of Hualan took inspiration from a traditional Chinese garden where nature meets geometry. That’s according to design group Central Design Studio who did the interior design of the restaurant. The outcome is an “organic flowing shell, punctuated with pockets of privacy and calm.” I can see what they mean when I saw Hualan from the inside. The lighting and furniture evoked symmetry and balance. I like the patterns on the wall and the way they used glass walls so that natural lighting pours in the restaurant. I also like their outdoor dining area but the weather was already a bit warm so we opted for an indoor table. The kitchen is also open for anyone who wishes to see the chefs cooking on the other side of the glass window.
We asked our waiter to suggest what’s their bestsellers so that we can try them and he was really helpful. For drinks he encouraged my friends to try some of their mocktails which has fancy-sounding names. One is Blushing Dragon.
And for their fanciness, they got these small glasses of juice mixes with crushed ice. They look refreshing and pleasing to the eye but for the price? Ugh, better to order soda or water. Don’t waste your time in these sweet, fruity drinks. They’re overpriced.
For starters, he suggested we try their most popular dumplings, Golden Prawn Ball Dumpling, Fried Crispy Aromatic Duck Roll, and Steamed King Prawn and Scallop Shumai.
We were smitten with the way these dumplings are presented. The Golden Prawn Dumpling came in this pristine white plate. It looked like a balled up little nest; below is a slice of lemon and on top is one teeny tiny pomegranate seed. The crackle the nest made when we dug into it made us yelp in delight. I didn’t want to break it but I need to see where the golden prawn was! Haha! It turned into a ball and was hidden in the center. It was chewy and heavenly and I wish I had more of this delicious dish. At SR 39 a plate, it would take me a few minutes to decide if I’m getting another plate but I would whole-heartedly agree that this is worth ordering just for the wonderful play of texture this appetizer brings.
The Fried Crispy Aromatic Duck Roll is one of the most disappointing appetizers I’ve eaten in a Chinese restaurant. It came looking like… wait, an ordinary spring roll. It appears like four pieces on the plate but in reality, they’re just two pieces cut in the middle so we can all say it’s good for sharing when ideally, it’s not. You know how many spring rolls I can eat in one sitting? More than five. And I’m not even being modest. So this one is lackluster; it has a sweet taste to it and also crunchy and tasty but I can’t ignore the fact that this is SR 37. Yes, SR 37 a plate!
The Steamed King Prawn and Scallop Shumai was just okay. In other words, it’s not. Because you see, shumai (or siomai to us) is one of the most affordable dumplings in the world and when I’m paying SR 41 for it, I want my shumai to be mind-blowing, pulse-racing, EXTRAordinary piece of greatness! So for this to be “okay” in my book of siomai, then it means it’s not worth its SR 41 price tag. You’re probably better off ordering the Fried Mango Scallop Roll because it seems like an interesting combination or the Baked Eeryngil and Morel Mushrooms Vegetable Puff because eeryngil sounds exotic or the Creamy Avocado Seafood Pastry Dumpling because avocado + seafood is a new combination that might work better.
We ordered rice with our main course and also because this is a Chinese restaurant and if you don’t order rice, you’re missing half of your life! Their viands need RICE! So our Spicy Fried Rice with Taro and Spring Onion is not just your simple run-of-the-mill fried rice. It was indeed SPICY. But we acctually like it because the grains and big and fluffy. And it went really well with our chosen savory dishes.
The Signature Dish of Hualan is their Peking Duck priced at SR 380. What?! We’re not sure if we wanted to part ways with our SR 380 on a dish that we’re not really sure of so we ended up getting the Mango & Kiwi Roasted Duck which is just SR 98. We figured out it’s not too expensive and it will satisfy our curiosity to try their signature dish. It came to our table on a half moon plate and boy does it look gorgeous! They sliced the mango, kiwi, and duck into bite-sized pieces and arranged them alternately on the glass plate (which looked like the plates you only display at home and not actually use). The whole dish was shiny and colorful, especially with the major ingredients swimming in a iridescent yellow sauce. We were afraid to touch the dish, it might lose its shine and brilliance. Haha!
So this dish turned out to be another “okay”. The Peking Duck was tender and flavorful, the mango was luscious with a tinge of sourness, and the kiwi was sweet and grainy. But eaten together, I’m not sure what to make out of it. Also, the sauce was really sweet that we were wondering if we were eating dessert already. Also, there were only 7 tiny slices of duck in there and for us to pay SR 98 for it… hmn, I kept on reminding myself I am eating in a high-end Chinese restaurant. Haha!
Last on our choices for early dinner that day was the popular Stir-Fry Black Pepper Canadian Rib Eye Beef Basket. Again, they plated this dish really well that we spent 30 minutes just photographing it. Kidding, more like 15 minutes. Haha! The marinated beef came in a bowl (okay, basket) made with some kind of white noodle (I think this is hardened sotanghon [rice noodle]). It’s genius! It’s surrounded by three pieces of the most expensive onion rings ever! I enjoyed this dish. The beef is well-marinated and tender. It’s sweet with a hint of spice. If this is not SR 145 a plate, I would have ordered another one.
We didn’t try any of their desserts so I can’t say anything about them but in Foursquare, people are abuzz about their frozen popcorn but it seems like it’s no longer available. The Jasmin Teacake looks appetizing though.
So, as an Asian who grew up eating Chinese food, I can honestly say that it’s bad for me to eat at a high-end Chinese restaurant because no amount of flavor and explanation would satisfy my question of “Why soooo pricey for this?!?” I’m quite familiar with dumplings and peking duck and shumai and I have actually eaten in Chinese restaurants that offer them at a cheaper price and they taste really good (high quality ingredients be darned haha). Also, for the price of these dishes, I expect them to be “good for sharing” already as most Chinese dishes are. So I cannot imagine why Chinese food would be this small of a portion but with humongous price tags. Of course, this is just me.
If you’re into high-end restaurants that offer good food (because most Chinese food are good-tasting in the first place), then this is for you. They have unique dishes in their menu that might tickle your taste buds and elevate your appreciation for Chinese cuisine. Their ambiance is also great and the service is impeccable.
Hualan Chinese Restaurant
Second Floor, Centria Mall,
Tahlia Street cor. Olaya Road,
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia