Inspired by this thread, and wondering to myself why I hadn't returned, for so long, to a restaurant I used to be so fond of, I wandered in to Yan Toh Heen for lunch today.
I did notice HKD165 pork on the menu, but it was barbecued suckling pig, a very different sort of pork. I have not had it here, but elsewhere that has meant a thick fat layer and very crisp skin, as well as a higher price than ordinary pork. Considering the high level of quality or both ingredients and preparation at Yan Toh Heen, it's hard to imagine that it wouldn't be worth it.
I had forgotten just how much I loved this restaurant. The peaceful atmosphere, the luxury of widely separated tables, the jade and ivory place settings, and the incredible view. Even before I sampled the caramelized sesame walnut snack on the table with my ivory chopsticks, I felt vaguely decadent, sitting inside in such luxury, watching people on the harbor walkway struggling against the wind and the rain, through the continuous horizontal window..
But I wouldn't love all that if the food weren't up to the expectation set by the decor. And it is. I opted for the dim sum set menu, at HKD298, which is available to the solo diner, and a very nice old pu-erh (Bo lay) tea from the tea menu. The meal consisted of:
A bowl of incredible pig-tail soup, consisting of mostly broth and some chewy shreds of pigtail. I suppose one could say "is that all?" but having done stock- and soupmaking at home, it seemed the equivalent of a high-wire act, a "nowhere to hide" dish, much as with cold soba is in a Japanese restaurant: yes, they're trying to impress you with something that's mostly just a broth. And they did. It was amazing, essence of pork, and I could not discern other influences. I know they were in there, because just pork doesn't taste that good, but it seemed as though everything else just contributed by hiding itself and making the pork broth taste better. I was pleased to see that the soup was deliberately cloudy; in my own stock-making, I've found that a more vigorous simmer, and no clarification, results in better-tasting stock, however unacceptable that may be considered for presentation of many Western soups.
Then some dim sum: a pastry containing duck, with chopped pistachios on top (very good), a siu mai with a piece of abalone on top, and with abalone sauce (wonderful), a shrimp dumpling shaped like an open boat (wonderful).
A stir-fry of shrimp and pea pods, which came next, probably sounds boring. Standard stuff, right? No, at this place it's like they're using the classic stir fry as a reference point, and then showing you what it can be if you take incredible care with the ingredients and preparation. The shrimp tasted better than any shrimp I've had, and even bouncier and livelier than I've come to expect as the high Hong Kong standard; the pea pods were fully crisp and perfect without any rawness.
Fancy Japanese beef with red/green/yellow bell pepper in a mild black bean sauce, meltingly tender, veggies again perfect.
Choy sum, cooked perfectly, not too much, not too little, with some great oyster sauce on the side
e-Fu noodles, soft and savory -- but this is the one dish that I thought could have used a little more flavor and character. Maybe more mushrooms or something to introduce more of a smoky element.
And, for dessert, a rich bowl of hot red bean soup, thicker than what one usually gets, a perfect foil for the wet weather we're having right now.
Basically, noodle quibbles aside, it seemed like a perfect meal. It won't take me two years to go back to Yan Toh Heen, next time.
Thanks for your beautifully written account of your meal at Yan Toh Heen. After reading your piece, I had to suppress the urge to book a flight to HK just to dine there.
Yan Toh Heen
InterContinental Hong Kong
18 Salisbury Road
For reservations: +852 2313 2323.
Open: Lunch: 12:00 noon - 2:30 pm (Monday to Saturday)
11:30 am - 3:00 pm (Sunday & Public Holidays)
Dinner: 6:00 pm - 11:00 pm (Monday to Sunday)
Oy! Now I have to find an excuse to eat there soon!
You are so right about the "decadance"...the tables are spaced so far apart - it's rare to get that kind of privacy in HK. And the jade place settings, as well as the wooden rack on which the petit fours are placed... and the view is also fantastic.
My favorite Chinese in a hotel has to be Yan Toh Heen at the Inter-Con. I have been a fan ever since I moved to HK more than 10 years ago, and the restaurant continues to deliver even after its name change as a result of hotel changing hands.
Second fav would be Golden Leaf at the Conrad. Haven't yet trid Long King Heen at Four Seasons.
Would avoid One Harbour Road at Grand Hyatt - heard many poor reviews lately. My last meal there in December wasn't great.
I agree with HK traveller's recommendation of Long King Heen in the 4 Season. Very nouveau and innovative with some of their dim sum items.
For Cantonese, I'd like to add Golden Leaf in the Conrad and Ming Court in the Langham Place Hotel to the list. Both I find serve better tasting food than Spring Moon. Yes, Soupnoodles, I also think Springmoon has gone downhill or may be, they are just the same as before but got eclipsed by some of the up and coming ones like T'ang Court?
re: Charles Yu
My first post!
T'ang Court at the Langham Hotel actually opened up over 17 years ago.
Unfortunately, the hotel has changed names 3 or 4 times since I've been living here. If memory serves me correctly, they were one of the 1st restaurants to serve a whole chicken cooked the same way as Peking Duck!
Most of the staff have been there since day one and they always make you feel very welcome. It's our favorite restaurant to go to when we like to 'splash' out and buy dinner for a few friends.
We did visit Four Seasons last Easter Monday but didn't enjoy one little bit. Some dim sum dishes came out cooler than one would have expected for this class of establishment. They were quickly replaced though without any fuss.
Some of the customers though did tend to have 'pigeon eyes' thinking that they were better than the rest of the guests. I have no time for these people!
Love reading all the posts here and look forward to trying out Chicago eateries when I relocate in May.
I've had good experiences with the following: Yan Toh Heen in the Inter-Continental, sort of new-wave high end Cantonese, for both dinner and dim sum, though most of my visits were before the name change; dim sum at the Island Shangri-La, and, one of my favorites, T'ang Court at the Langham hotel in TST (not sure that's a 5 star hotel, but it seems fancy), for dinner. I've also had great dim sum at Spring Moon in the Peninsula as recently as last January, but there has been some word that the place has gone downhill of late, and have not returned to check it out.
I think you'll find that northern and Szechuan is rare in the 5 star hotels.