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Hong Kong: Dining with a Small Group

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My wife and I will be visiting HK in October, after many years’ absence. We are looking forward to the trip, and started browsing this board to get familiar with the current dining landscape. In the past we always dine out with a big group, but this time it will be just 2 of us. These days we avoid eating Chinese food unless there are at least 4 persons to order enough variety of food. I am seeking advice on dining ideas (other than Dim sum and noodles) with a small party of two. I am wondering if some of the favorites on this board (such as Lei Garden, and Fu Sing) is suitable for 2 of us. I would love to hear suggestions.

Two days before we leave HK, a friend will arrive from Japan to join us. While not a Chinese descendant, he is nevertheless a passionate fish lover. We shared many meals in sushi bars, and he also loves Chinese style steamed fish. He did some research and asked us to arrange 2 evening meals:

• A high-end restaurant with good view (his first time in HK) and good food. His initial proposal is Man Wah in Mandarin Orient, with set menu. I am not convinced set menu is the best way, as HK is not omakase kind of place. The online menu does look enticing, but can we do better by asking the restaurant to design a “tasting menu” within a budget? Is Yan Toh Heen a better venue for this purpose?
• A restaurant specializing in fish, preferably steamed. I know steamed fish is on the menu everywhere, but I want to satisfy a fish connoisseur. Any suggestion? At this point I assume money is no object and ambience irrelevant. Just best ingredient and precise execution.

Thanks.

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  1. My recommendation for the dinner for the two of you is The Chairman, they will happily adjust the portion sizes to allow you to sample a range of dishes on their menu. It is a tough table to book for dinner so do book early. It is good Cantonese food with a quality driven ingredient focus.

    1. For great food, great view and attentive service, the Michelin star Yan Toh Heen is hard to beat! IMO. better than Man Wah.
      PhilD's suggested a nice choice in the Chairman. However, it lacked 'ambience' and can get noisy when busy due to a rather cramped space. For a higher end setting but without a view, the 2* Ming Court and the newly relocated Tim's Kitchen are great choices. The garoupa dish of Ming Court is top notched!!
      As for fish/seafood, Xin Dan Ji on 18 Cheong Lok street in Jordon has its own dedicated fishermen and live fishes are added to the aquarium size fish tank every day. Most impressive array of fish to choose from. Tons of crustaceans and bi-valves too!

       
       
      8 Replies
      1. re: Charles Yu

        Charles, whilst I liked Yan Toh Heen, I'd always felt more comfortable with Man Wah - but maybe it's just me. Each time I stepped into Man Wah, I felt like I've come home ... to perhaps the best Cantonese restaurant in the world (he-he), and a special feeling seemed to come over me, it's like being embraced by the whole place in a blanket of sheer comfort & luxury: the absolutely beautiful dining room, the stunning view from the 25th Floor of the Mandarin Oriental, the stellar service from the wait-staff who're able to accomodate even unusual requests from me or my family.

        So, foggy_town - yes, you can give a certain budget to the restaurant and they'll be able to tailor a bespoke menu which can satisfy you.

        Personally, I felt that the Michelin inspectors were either hoodwinked into giving Lung King Heen 3-Michelin-stars (INEXPLICABLE!!) or even Mandarin Oriental's Pierre 2-Michelin-stars, whilst seemingly forgetting about Man Wah!

        But then, my biasness in favor of Man Wah is perhaps because I'd been going back there for decades, so familiarity plays a part. The other bit is that I'm more a HK island sort of person, and crossing over the Kowloon sometimes makes me feel out of sorts.

        -----
        Lung King Heen
        Finance Street, Hong Kong , HK

        1. re: klyeoh

          Hello klyeoh,
          Interesting you touched on the 'HK Island vs Kowloon peninsula' mentality! I understand, before the MTR days, when crossing the harbour was like an Amazon expedition, people really did have a phobia going to the 'other side' for food.
          When, I was young, I lived in TST. I can still recall the one time we celebrated my mother's birthday at the Mandarin Grill in 'hot' late June. Even though the hotel is in Central, however, for a group of us, all dressed up, and then having to take a few taxis to Star ferry, crossed the harbour, then walked to the hotel ( too short a distance for a taxi ride ) in 30+C temperature was indeed like a 'tropical expedition'! To this date, I still cannot understand why we didn't pick the Peninsula instead?!
          BTW, another decent place with a great view is 'Prince' on the 11th floor of 1 Peking Road. Impressive unobstructed view of the harbour and HK Island.
          Lastly, regarding your Michelin star rating comment. Like yourself, I too have always been puzzled by the ommission of a star rating for Gaddis, One Harbour Road and Man Wah! Surely, their food, service and ambience are more superior than the star rated Din Tai Fung or the hole-in-the-wall One Dim Sum!

          1. re: Charles Yu

            Yes, whilst the Victoria Harbor is a rather small (and ever-shrinking) physical divide between Kowloon and HK Island, it is a psychologically large barrier for many of us since childhood. My HK relatives all live on the island (Mid-Levels, Central, Happy Valley) and even back in the late-80s/early-90s, the efficient, all-knowing Kowloon taxi drivers who'll pick us at Kai Tak, once they cross over to the island under the tunnel will be totally lost, and needed specific instructions from us. It's the same for HK taxi drivers - they'll know every little street in the island, but will be like fish out of water when they get to Kowloon.

            It's always a challenge for me to ask my HK relatives to cross over to Peninsula Hotel for its famous afternoon tea - they'd wonder WHY I'd want to choose that venue when Mandarin Oriental will do perfectly fine :-) And these are the same people who, when we were living in London, would suggest a day-trip to Paris just for lunch. I'd travelled with these cousins throughout Europe for food, but they'd never crossed over to Kowloon in the past 25 years when they're back in HK!

            Another thing about Tsimshatsui in Kowloon is that, sometimes, you cannot simply walk a straight unimpeded line between 2 points, e.g. if you walk from Harbour City in Canton Road to Nathan Road, there'll be some parts along the route where you'll be forced to make a detour, or use an underpass (with no escalators!), etc. So, I usually ended up relying on taxis to ferry me from door to door :-D

            1. re: klyeoh

              Totally agree with you about those 'forced' zigzag routing in TST. This March, my attempt of going to ' Kowloon's Jimmy's Kitchen' from Nathan Road was like an Indiana Jones adventure! After all those effort and frustration, at least the food was damn good! Thats why I ordered the English Triffle for dessert to replenish! Ha!

              1. re: Charles Yu

                Jimmy's Kitchen - I LOVE that place! Probably one of the very first "Western" restaurants I'd ever dined in in Hong Kong (its outlet in Central) - I must have been 6 or 7 at the time, and it was over 40 years ago. Good to know that some old dining institutions are still going strong in HK's ever-evolving culinary scene.

                1. re: klyeoh

                  Me too! And I really missed their 'Dutch Steak' which is no longer on the menu! The pile of sauteed minced garlic on top of the steak was soooo addictive!
                  Together with the Jordan branch of Tai Ping Koon and Luk Yu Tea House, they must have the 'oldest' waiters in town! Ha!

                2. re: Charles Yu

                  Your comments about the island and Kowloon are interesting to me. The first time I stayed in HK it was in Langham Place, far into Kowloon. Since then, I have always stayed at that side for hotel and somehow I also like the busy Nathan Road and side streets more than the business district Central. I also like to go there and have a walk, take the sights and shoot away with my camera, but I feel "better" in Kowloon. I also find it easier to navigate TST with its many underpasses than Central with the many small roads. But that may also be because I have stayed there for more time. Next March I want to take a better look at Central, so I will stay a day or two longer than usual, but I also have a business partner with me for one day, his first trip to HK. So I will have to try to show him as much of HK as possible in one day.

          2. re: Charles Yu

            Thanks for the great ideas, and I will definitely look into private kitchens. Do they require reservation many days in advance?

          3. For a group of two, it is perhaps better to go to a private kitchen that has set menu since they can adjust the portion and you can have varieties as well. I will recommend Da Ping Huo (for Si chuan), The Chairman and Yi Yang (both for Cantonese). If you want to go to Cantonese restaurant, Lei Garden (at IFC), Tim's Kitchen and Golden Leaf are the better option for couple. As to Fu Sing, I think it is better to go with a bigger group.

            For high end with good view: Charles Yu is absolutely right: Yan Toh Heen is an excellent choice.

            For steamed fish: if money is not an issue, then order Su Mei or Lo Shi Pan. You need to go a high end restaurant if this is the type of fish you are looking for since the execution is very important. I had a very good Su Mei years ago at Victoria Harbor in Sun Hung Kai Centre but not sure what the standard is now. I would think restaurants like Lei Garden, Fu Lam Moon, Celebrity Cuisine are the restaurants to go for such steamed fish.

            -----
            Lei Garden
            IFC Mall, Hong Kong , HK

            3 Replies
            1. re: FourSeasons

              Su Mei 蘇眉 actually has a proper English name called Humphead wrasse (just found this out). I'm not sure if I ever had this in HK in the last 20 years and it looks like an aquarium exhibit fish!

              Lo Shu Bahn 老鼠斑 is also referred to as 青斑 sometimes, generically "spotted grouper" but more formally called Humpback Grouper. It is worth noting that unless you go to a very reputable restaurant, and if you yourself can tell, most of the time the humpback groupers are farmed. Wild ones are extremely rare (supposedly even in restaurants) as well as insanely expensive. I remember reading that a live wild one at a retail fish market could set you back HK$600 to $800+, and that was maybe in 2002 to 2004 prices, so who knows how much a high end seafood restaurant would charge nowadays (even if they claim their live in the tank spotted groupers are wild). It seems that from some local HK bloggers, they would rather just seek out a fish vendor and develop a relationship with them, and to get first dibs on one if they are lucky, then bring it over to a seafood market canteen to have them steam it at a fraction of the high end restaurant price.

              1. re: FourSeasons

                Is there a particular reason the IFC location is singled out for Lei Garden? Better food, or better for a couple?

                I will keep the fish advice in mind. There is no need for us to seek something rare and exotic for long time HK residents. We will be more interested in fish that is relatively common in HK (and hence likely to be prepared well), but hard to find in San Francisco,

                -----
                Lei Garden
                IFC Mall, Hong Kong , HK

                1. re: foggy_town

                  Lei Garden (@Wanchai) has better food but IFC branch has better ambiance. And for lunch, some of their portions are quite small.

                  -----
                  Lei Garden
                  IFC Mall, Hong Kong , HK

              2. Can I have some idea how much earlier one should make dinner reservation for the likes of The Chairman, Tim's Kitchen and Yan Toh Heen?

                Do we need to make reservation for dim sum lunch (say FLM)? We will be in HK on weekdays.

                1 Reply
                1. re: foggy_town

                  When the Chairman first opened about a couple of years ago, the wait time was over a month. Now, with the initial hype over and the global economy impacting everywhere, I guess a week ahead is suffice. To play safe, same should apply to Tim's and YTH. Definitely make a reservation for Dim Sum at FLM due to the office crowd!.