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Report on Hong Kong Trip in progress

I'm back in Hong Kong, just at the exhilarating phase where the jet lag has worn off and the meat of the trip lies before me. Literally.

I've already had some great meals. My initial ambitions to explore the worlds of clay pot rice and snake soup have run headlong into the fact that it's not the right season for those (though I think I saw some clay pot rice on an outdoor table in the Temple St area). Not a problem in Hong Kong, though. Lots of alternatives:

Yung Kee (32-40 Wellington St, Central), of course. Roast goose and barbecued pork, juicy and fatty and savory and fully up to my expectations, whatever others may say about the goose. I might admit that the goose flesh is a tad less flavorful than some years back, but it's still really good, and the skin and the fat, which is what it's really all about, still send me into rapture. The barbecued pork should not be missed in a mad rush for the goose. Stir-fried pea vines in garlic, tender even late in the season, still representing for me a kind of perfection in vegetable cookery. Yang chow fried rice, sure it's ubiquitous, but they do a nice job with it. It's fluffy and not greasy, the egg is cooked just right, the shrimp are big, and the barbecued pork has flavor, unlike some.

Yunyan Szechuan Restaurant (4/F Miramar shipping center, 132 Nathan Road, TST). I think I've come here at least twice on every Hong Kong trip. It's my favorite Sichuan, though I plan to try Yellow Door and one other that's been mentioned here. Taking a suggestion from another hound's post, I ordered the ma po tofu, which was intense and lip-tingling and dark and rich and silky and terrific, but the dish that really got to me was a braised yellow eel in a very dark spicy sauce (not the best menu planning on my part, two dishes with dark sauces, oh well). Eel is sort of unctuous, so the interesting question is what you do with that. The Japanese brush a sweet thick sauce on it to emphasize and complement the unctuousness. This dish went the other way. There were mung bean sprouts, the big, more bitter version of bean sprouts, and freshly chopped raw garlic, very very finely chopped and very sharp and bitter. In any other context, these influences would have been unpleasant, but as an offset to the rich, spicy sauce and the almost cloying texture and flavor and mouthfeel of eel, it was stunning culinary art. Stuff like that is why I keep coming back to Yunyan. I also had a couple of glasses of some sort of red herbal drink, "Zi Bel Tian Kwai Juice." I don't know what it was, but it was sweet and refreshing and complex, sort of like Hawaiian punch for adults, minus the artificial taste of Hawaiian punch. Nice thing to have on hand to cool the burn.

Mak An Kee Noodle (77 Wellington St, Central). One of the perfect soup noodle places. Any attempt to decide whether I like this place more or less than Wing Wah (89 Hennessey, Wan Chai) would be merely an excuse to eat lots of noodles at both places. First a bowl of noodles with wontons and beef tendon (love what the tendon does to turn the broth glossy and rich); then one with just noodles and wontons, for purity and simplicity. Firm, firm, lively noodles, little wontons with perfectly fresh bouncy shrimp, tasty broth as background, noodle heaven. People tell me I have to try the place up the road and across the street a bit, the one with the large wontons, but I'll have to force myself, because I know this delightful place is waiting so close by.

Lin Heung Tea House (160-164 Wellington, Central). This is one of those places I'd not likely have discovered on my own; perhaps even ducked into and ducked out again, confused about the protocol. It's an extremely Chinese place, and a fascinating one, bustling and noisy, serious and fun at the same time, which is fitting for a foodquest. At busy times, you wait for a seat at one of the tables by finding someone who looks nearly done, and standing behind their chair until they vacate. You're given your own large gaiwan (lidded bowl) of tea, and they come around with giant kettles of water to refill whenever you show you're ready by leaving the lid off. I (OK, my Cantonese-speaking friend) ordered pu-erh (bo lay in Cantonese), and it was really good tea, in whole leaves, and apparently aged, not "cooked." The dim sum was in a homey style (barbecued pork rice is a specialty; duck in soup is another) and really fantastic if you like the style, as I do, very much. Besides being delicious, it was ridiculously cheap, and a very interesting experience. I'm told they open very early, so I may try to hit this place for breakfast at some point, and I have noted it down as a candidate for when I wake up, jetlagged and starving, at dawn on my first day in Hong Kong, on a future trip.

Loong Yuen (basement of Holiday Inn Golden Mile, 50 Nathan Road, TST). This has been a favorite in the past, and I hope it will be again, but I think I picked the wrong thing – a set dinner for 1 which seemed a bit too conventional, but which I agreed to in a moment of hungry weakness, dazzled by the prospect of getting 8 courses as a solo diner. There was one superb dish, a corn and scallop soup. The stir-fried tender beef was excellent, and the mango pudding was very good, if a bit underflavored, perhaps due to high gelatin content. But the lobster did not sing, the broccoli and mushroom was well-executed but too conventional to be interesting, and no other courses have remained in my memory. Next time I'm ordering from the regular menu. I've had some amazing food here, and I'm definitely not ready to give up on the place.

That's most of my meals so far. Now, a few questions:

1) Someone recommended a noodle place that specializes in beef tripe noodles. 15A Austin St in TST. I love tripe, so I went there. I found a 15 (a residential building), and a travel agent to the left, and a clearly higher-numbered address to the right. So where's the noodle place? There's a tripe-shaped hole in my appetite.
2) Walking along Lockhart in between Causeway Bay and Wan Chai, on the side of the street toward the water, I spotted a ground-floor Sichuan restaurant (the only Chinese character I can remember consistently is the one for Sichuan, that's how I knew) with dark brown wood and reds and not a word of English to be seen anywhere. The address is somewhere around 393 Lockhart. Anyone know anything about this place?
3) Is that under bridge spicy crab place any good? http://www.underspicycrab.com. Why are there two of them, a few doors away from eachother? Does it matter which you go to?

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  1. UPDATE. Yesterday (Easter Sunday), around lunchtime, I went to Causeway Bay with a plan: to check out Man Jiang Hong, the Sichuan place at 482 Hennessey, 1/F, recommended by multiple Chowhounds. And, I had a backup plan: to eat Goose Web with Abalone Sauce at Chung's Chinese Cuisine, at the Food Forum in Times Square, on 10/F, also as recommended here.

    Both ambitions were thwarted. First I tried to find the entrance to Man Jiang Hong. I could see the restaurant, up there one floor above ground level, but couldn't find an obvious entrance, at least not one indicated for English-only speakers. Finally I fell back on the one Chinese character I can consistently remember, the one for "Sichuan" It's just three vertical lines, representing the three rivers. I saw it above a door that looked like a residential apartment door, and decided that had to be it. But it was locked. Either the place was closed, or I was missing something about how to get in there.

    So, backup plan. Chung's. First, wait in line for the elevator to the food forum. Long line. Seems I was violating two of my rules:

    Rule 1 for the Solo Diner in Hong Kong: eat at off hours, like right when a place opens for lunch or dinner. Only exception: places you know won't be packed.

    Rule 1 for any diner in Hong Kong lacking reservations: Try to avoid super-popular restaurants on the weekend.

    Finally got up there, and Chung's was packed to the rafters, people were waiting, and the system for managing the waiting people seemed likely to be hard to navigate for non-Chinese speakers (I think they were calling numbers in Cantonese). And, I was super hungry, and in the midst of three floors of restaurants; waiting just didn't seem within my capacity under the circumstances. So I wandered around, seeing some interesting things, glaring at Tony Roma for its profaning presence in my personal culinary heaven, and finally settling on a Shanghai restaurant:

    Shanghai Xiao Nan Gou, 12/F, Food Forum, Times Square, Causeway Bay. On the table was a stunning table snack of fresh-fried peanuts (I suppose they could have been roasted, but they seemed fried) with a thick, delicious sauce containing that wonderful aged Shanghai vinegar. I ordered the following:

    Beancurd and Preserved eggs (& picked vegetable)
    Sticky rice dumplings
    Special Crab XLB
    Mushrooms and ?? Loofah? Some sort of green veggie with seeds

    I'm not sure what to conclude about this meal. Texturally, everything was stunning, from the delicate, silky slices of tofu, the glutinous quality of the rice buns, and the pillowy texture of the veggie stir fry. It was a sensual experience for sure. But everything except those peanuts seemed underflavored. Was I just having an off-palate day? I don't think so, but I can't be sure. So the meal was sublime and vaguely disappointing at the same time. I walked out happy, but something was missing. I might go back sometime, if I feel particularly attuned to textural subtleties, but it's not going on the main list of places to go. Also they seemed to be using Sichuan vegetable as the pickle influence in the tofu dish, which seems less apt than the dark, leafy pickle I've had in this dish in other places.

    Of course I didn't give up on my primary objectives that easily. Noticing from other posts that Chung's opens early, and feeling seriously hungry at 10:30 this morning (Monday), I returned to the Food Forum. Now I was within my rules, eating at an off hour, and during a weekday, and I got a table without any fuss. The seating is very comfortable, incidentally.

    Some places will give you the full menu as well as the dim sum menu during dim sum hours; Chung's does not. So no goose web with abalone sauce for me this time, I figured. But there on the dim sum menu was the next best thing: Chicken feet w/abalone sauce. I ordered that, the "assorted rice rolls," and "Deep-fried Soft Shell Crab w/Chili."

    The meal was stunning. The rice rolls dish consisted of three rolls, one of shrimp, and I think the other two were duck and pork). Nice choice for a solo diner. The texture of the rolls was perfect, just the right saggy feel without being overly sticky or indigestibly flat. Very delicately done. The Soft-shell crab, which was not actually covered with chili, but instead presented with a sweetish chili sauce as one of the dipping sauces, was perfectly fresh and decadent, very clean-tasting. I actually preferred the non-chili dipping cause, which contained 5-spice. I usually shy away from 5-spice, because I find it sort of leaden and excessive, but in this case, it was used very subtly, and livened with vinegar, so that the 5 spice produced just a slight Chinese medicine tone to the sauce . It was a perfect match for the crab. The serving size was generous, about the equivalent of two crabs of the size I'm used to.

    But the glory was those chicken feet. There were about 10 of them, perfectly cooked, nicely tender without losing their textural character, and the abalone sauce was absolutely incredible, a grandly luxurious, glutinously clingy sauce of indescribably good flavor, lingering in the mouth for a long time. I am so grateful for the hounds that directed me to this place, and to the abalone sauce here.

    After dining like a king, I braced myself for the bill, and was pleasantly surprised. HKD 130. I'd do it again in a second. And maybe I will.

    11 Replies
    1. re: SoupNoodles

      I am glad you like Chung's Cuisine (as I am the one who introduce to Chowhound). I have not been back there for the last 2 years, and never went there for lunch or dine solo either. It is never easy to dine solo for Cantonese food (except noodle or congee) as the selection is rather limited. So I think you have done very well as it is obvious you have done some research here.

      Like you, another Chow has the same problem finding Man Jian Hong. I have recommended Da Ping Huo instead, which has a fixed set menu for individuals so it is easier for dining solo. You have to make reservation though. I left the address and tel no in the past thread: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/376798

      Underspicy looks interesting. If you eat there, please write a review; I maybe interested on my next trip. The seafood place I normally try is Sang Kee at Wanchai, which has been a favorite for 2-3 generation of some Hong Kong residents.

      1. re: FourSeasons

        Ah, so I have you to thank for the Chung's tip, and now also for the additional tips. I hadn't imagined that Da Ping Huo was an option for the solo diner; my only private kitchen experiences have been with table-filling groups. It's going right into the plan. Sang Kee (which is also the name of my favorite congee place) looks really promising too. I'll definitely write up the crab place if I do visit it.

        I'm aware that solo dining is considered just a bit odd here, or at least limiting. But I've just jumped in and done it, over many visits, and it has worked out quite well. And in most places, it seems to be taken as quite normal for a solo diner to bring a book or newspaper, though I don't do that at the fancier places. The only pitfall is being tempted to order so much that I don't have room for anything but soup noodles for the next meal. But there are worse fates, considering the quality of the soup noodles here. And one of those solo dining experiences, at a crowded set of tables, led to a conversation, and a tip, from a local couple, regarding a place in CityPlaza at Tai Koo that served me the best XLB I've ever had. It might be called Wong Tai Sin, if my notes are accurate; in any case, it is, or was, the only Shanghai restaurant in CityPlaza 1.

        1. re: SoupNoodles

          I don't know if Da Ping Huo accept individual reservation, but their set menu is fixed at 8-9 courses for everyone, so you may as well check with them.

          Sang Kee Seafood is not the same one as Sang Kee Congee but in my opinion, Sang Kee Seafood has the best congee in Hong Kong.
          Website : http://www.sangkee.com.hk/profile.htm
          Sang Kee Seafood's congee site (if you can read Chinese, you will read that its congee is brewed for more than 10 hours) : http://www.sangkee.com.hk/congee.htm

          Generally speaking, the difficulty for solo dining in Chinese food is that the dishes are cooked for many individuals, not single person. If you dine solo, that means the option and varieties are limited to just 2 dishes, but most Chinese prefer to have more varieties than that when they dine out. But some restaurants, especially in hotels, nowadays are offering single set menu so that is a welcome change.

          1. re: SoupNoodles

            Having just returned from the Shanghai restaurant in CityPlaza mall at the Tai Koo MTR station, and eaten what are still the best XLB I've had, along with my benchmark version of the tofu/preserved egg dish and a nice bowl of fish soup, I need to update my reference above.

            The restaurant's correct name is Wang Jia Sha. The most straightforward way to get there from the Tai Koo MTR station is to take exit D2, which will take you up an escalator. Turn left, go out the door to the street, cross, and enter the building. This is a continuation of the same building you were in when coming up out of the escalator, but it's easier to tell you to just go outside and back in, than send you two floors up to the bridge. Anyway, once you're inside go up one level, using the esclators to your left (I think), and it's right there, next to one of the escalators that goes up to the next level.

            They have an English menu, and, on it, on the dim sum side, the first dumpling listed is an XLB. During hairy crab season, they offered a crab roe-flavored version, but right now there's just the one.

        2. re: SoupNoodles

          Funny, we also tried to find Man Jiang Hong last night. Upon finding them closed, we called and they've moved to Central, somewhere near the US Embassy (Consulate?). We ended up trying to find Yellow Door in Central, but couldn't find it, either, so we ended up having really crappy Mexican instead.

          1. re: prasantrin

            If I'm remembering correctly, I saw the Yellow Door sign right at the beginning of Gage street, just at that multi-way intersection with Lyndhurst Terrace and Cochrane. Haven't eaten there yet but plan to.

            1. re: SoupNoodles

              Yes, you do remember correctly. Here is one poster's description of how to find the Yellow Door (don't know if you had these, pasantrin, but thought they might help):

              Yellow Door (Sichuanese, SoHo-ish, on a side street off Cochrane nearly under the mid-levels escalator)-
              A little hard to find, it's on an upper floor of an office building, but you can see the sign from the escelator if you look for it.

              Good luck!

              1. re: wiselindag

                Those were the instructions we tried to follow, but they were too vague for us (and one of my party was born and raised in HK). I wish I had had SoupNoodles direction, too. I think it would have helped a lot!

                As it is, I'm leaving tomorrow, so no Sichuan for me this trip! But perhaps next time, and I'm sure there will be a next time :-)

                1. re: prasantrin

                  For reference on this thread, Yellow Door actually has a website. Menu, map, and everything. Didn't even think to look for one, but here it is (I've linked to the page with the map): http://www.yellowdoorkitchen.com.hk/e...

            2. re: prasantrin

              I believe Man Jiang Hong moved to Coda Plaza on Garden Road, next to YWCA. Yellow Door is difficult to find.

              1. re: Peech

                Thanks for the tip!! The place is called San Xi Lou but the business listing calls it San Xi Lou Man Jiang Hong and is on the 7th floor of Coda Plaza. It also happened to be across the street from where I was staying. We went and had lunch there once - they have an extensive menu - including Sichuan classics on their dinner menu, dim sum and hot pot separately (Interesting column in the hot pot menu called Other meats that included frog and tripe etc). The food tasted excellent, fresh and well flavored. I could not do a through chowish exploration as I went with my brother who was not hungry and a 5-year and an 8-year old.

                We ordered a whole bunch of shrimp and pork dumplings (including the rice flour rolls but with a crispy fried layer and then shrimp inside, spare ribs in black bean sauce and some har gao), some soup with pork dumplings, congee for my brother and I managed to get a one person hot pot for myself. I ordered the non-spicy one which was probably a mistake but then found some sichuan chillis in oil to eat with the oyster mushrooms, crown vegetables and lamb slices and mian noodles (asked if they were hand cut and not sure if i was understood) that i ordered for the hot pot. The broth had apples and celery and lots of other veggies as far as I could make out.

                Very tasty but wish I knew what to order as I have only had hot pot once before with knowledgeable hounds who helped out that time. The best part was the noodles at the end like a soup.

                It was quite busy and lots of the sichuan classics headed for the other tables. Sigh. Next time!

                Oh and there seemed to be an interesting place called "The Folks" on the 22nd Floor of the same building which had a lot of very interesting meats on the menu. They did not have a menu to go and the sign said it was Members Only but were very willing to seat us and show us the menu. Any ideas as to what that was about?

          2. SoupNoodles,

            Do you read Chinese? There is a online reference called Openrice that will give you everything you need for Hong Kong restaurants.

            2 Replies
            1. re: kobetobiko

              Alas, no, I do not. I'm aware of Openrice but I can't make use of it. I rely on Chowhound, word of mouth, the annual WOM guide, and the annual Best Restaurants guide, as well as some semi-random experimentation.

              1. re: kobetobiko

                I'm currently spending 1 week in Hong Kong, and was looking at OpenRice. It seems like a valuable resource...until you see that Burger King in Tsim Sha Tsui is listed as the 13th best restaurant in Hong Kong. Or am I not utilizing this resource correctly?

              2. UPDATE.

                Tsim Chai Kee, 98 Wellington St, Central. A soup noodles place, and one I've been meaning to try for a couple of annual visits now, because everyone kept telling me about their giant shrimp wontons. But every time I'd pass the place, even during the 11:30-12:30 hours I usually have lunch, to avoid the insane 1:00 lunch rush in Central, it was seriously packed even at that early-bird hour. Finally I noticed the sign in the window, saying they open at 9:00. Still wary, because some soup noodles places only offer congee at that hour, I ventured in, and found that here, it's soup noodles from the first moment. They don't even do congee, as far as I can tell. You get a nice-sized bowl of noodles (three noodle choices, but I always asked for the "yellow" wheat/egg noodles that are the norm with soup noodles), with three big shrimp wontons, each bigger than a golf ball. Terrific wontons, really good. Good noodles. The broth, though, is not up to the standard of other places, such as Mak's across the street. Still, it makes a darned tasty breakfast, and I'll go back. And the price is amazing: HKD 15. Less than two bucks U.S. I don't know how they can do that. Actually, I have to go back -- tonight, a local told me that the big wontons were all very well, but what this place is really known for is their fish ball. So of course I have to try it now. Probably with rice noodles; I think that makes more sense.

                Mum Chau's Sichuan Kitchen. 5/F, Winner Bldg, 37 D'Aguilar St, Lan Kwai Fong, Central. This is a private kitchen I'd never heard of. It's sort of downscale in decor, but who cares? In company with two others, I had a dinner which consisted of:

                - A spicy chicken dish, loaded with Sichuan peppers (not Bon Bon Chicken, something else with no sesame).
                - A spicy dish of transparent wide flat rice noodles and thin cucumber shreds
                - A non-spicy corn dish with red pepper, that turned out to be an excellent palate cleanser
                - Ma Po Tofu
                - A magnificent shrimp dish, whole small shrimp in shell in a big pile of seeded chilis, some burnt.
                - A spicy cold noodle dish, as a finisher, that was just topnotch.
                - A dumpling dish, that my dining companions, who speak Mandarin, requested, melt-in-your-mouth pork dumplings/fat wontons in a non-spicy soup.

                $200/person. Very good meal, with the shrimp and noodle dishes approaching transcendence (the dumplings/wontons, too, but I have no idea how you can arrange for those). They're open for lunch, too, at 12:00. It says "reservation only" on their card, and the phone number is 2522-0338. The woman who says she answers the phone speaks only a little English, but seemingly plenty to take a reservation. I plan to go back for lunch at some point, if I don't run out of opportunities before my trip runs out. I'm told they do a great dumpling/hot oil dish at lunch, and if it's the same dumplings I had tonight, I can easily believe it's great.

                Oh, and I have not mentioned:

                Wang Fu. 65 Wellington St, Central. This is a Northern Chinese place, with great prices and a specialty in dumplings. Be warned that their selection of dumplings is more limited at lunch, and some of the dinner dumplings are quite elaborate and quite wonderful (one has shrimp and scallops and other stuff in it). I wouldn't say the food here is transcendent, but it is very good, and it is comfort food of a sort that keeps me coming back when I'm in this sort of food mood. The dumplings are well-executed, with the typical Northern thick skins; other dishes I've tried have also been good, from pork with a hoisin like sauce, to a wonderful, and wonderfully priced, whole fish in a dark sauce with pork shreds.

                3 Replies
                1. re: SoupNoodles

                  Hi SoupNoodles,

                  Thanks for your report. I have been to all three places and the latter two are targeted more to the Central crowd (Westerners and people who like better decor) and hence the price was higher than you can get for similar dishes in other areas. Tsim Chai Kee, however, is a standard for many locals, and are particular popular in Central for the office crowds due to the cheap price. When you order the fish ball next time, make sure you order the greyish fish ball (Lan Yu ball and not the regular whitish fish balls. They are indeed as big as a tennis ball!

                  1. re: SoupNoodles

                    A word of caution on Tsim Chai Kee's fishballs - the famous ones are made from Ling Yu - and they always contain bits of scales. I find this annoying and therefore avoid these. However most of HK seem to like it.

                    I am amazed that you can rack up a bill of $200/head at Mum Chau's, since their noodles are $40/bowl!

                    1. re: SoupNoodles

                      I just went to Mum Chau's last week and it totally trumps Da Ping Huo imo. and i agree, the decor there is really... well, there is no decor, but it's totally about the food. Not everything was perfect (ma po tofu was surprisingly bland) but the 1st dish - spicy chicken (it might be called kou shui ji/hau sui gai?) is awesome. dinners are set at $200/head.
                      i hear their dan dan noodles at lunch are good too

                    2. Just ate at Under Bridge Spicy Crab last week. First of all, both places belong to the same owner and serve the same food. The crab is fantastic, but very, very fiery, but oh so succulent. If you can't take fire, don't bother going. They have other dishes, as well, but the crab is the reason you go, IMO.

                      Anyone else eaten there? Would love some input and opinions as I don't live in H.K. but travel there twice a year.

                      Thanks,

                      Cerise