Hong Kong & China Comments (HK, GZ, Chengdu, Chongqing, Shanghai)
I am just finishing a two week trip to China and Hong Kong, and wanted to add to the relatively limited comments on here. By way of reference, I live in Los Angeles and grew up in San Francisco. I speak no Chinese (so I largely only went to places with English menus, or at least pictures), but I have had the benefit of eating some really good Chinese food in San Gabriel Valley (thanks to the brilliant Chowhound reviewers in that part of the world) and in San Francisco and Millbrae. I was unfortunately too busy before leaving to plan anything at all.
In Hong Kong, I really enjoyed Loong Toh Yuen (3/F, 1881 Heritage, Hullett House, 2A Canton Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui. 3988-0000) for dim sum lunch (HK$300 - I eat a lot). Some might eschew this spot because it is in a new hotel complex, which is otherwise a bit lame. But I suggest it. The food was refined and excellent, down to the edamame/soy beans, dressed in something delicious. The room was quiet and subdued, but I did get to listen in on a business deal between three hong kong dudes and thai guy, so they had to speak in English. It was just what I was in the mood for.
Also in Hong Kong, to celebrate a big day, and thank my host for having me, we went first for drinks at Ozone (which is silly and fabulous) and then for dinner at The Chairman in Sheung Wan (close to Central on HK Island). Do not let this douche-bag name scare you off, this place is fantastic. Check out the website, they are obsessed with organic, high quality ingredients and it shows in the food, which is refined, subtle and delicious. This place is down a lane in a quiet little corner, and is done up very simply in white. Good service, but nothing pretentious. It is all about the food. On a side note, they squeezed me in for a late dinner at 9:30 when I practically begged, and when we arrived the other tables were a family of 10 and what appeared to be a boy band with their manager - everyone drinking very expensive wine, including some 2000 Dom. The wine list starts at about $100 USD, so we had beer. We had shrimp cakes , pork ribs (sweet and meaty), soy braised chicken (subtle, spiced (not hot), and delicious), shelled snap peas with ginko nuts and mushrooms (dreamy), and the 320 HKD tiger prawns (4 prawns, separated into fried bodies and poached tails cooked off the shell, and worth every penny). This place was fantastic.
Guangzhou has good food, but I missed it. The center of the city was actually a delight to visit for an afternoon though (untouristy temples, a good park, walkable lanes). If you are gay, you might try Wilber’s which we did for a gin and tonic late on a Sunday night, and had a nice conversation with a Chef and a few patrons.
Chengdu. Wow. The air is redolent with numbing peppercorns. It is amazing. Just walking in this city is an epicurean experience (unlike Chongqing, where everywhere I went smelled like rot, death, poison, or urine). I missed out on a homerun dinner, but had a good time at Mantingfung (15 South 3rd Section, 2nd Ring Road, Wuhou, Chengdu, Sichuan, China, 610041 – across from Music House). This place has an English menu with pictures, and is pretty good Sichuan, including the numbing, hot situation. This is not a hot pot place. Having never been to Sichuan province before, I was somewhat thrilled because unlike at the best Sichuan restaurants in California, this place uses not just the dried red numbing Sichuan peppercorns, but also green peppercorns and listen, it was a whole new experience of numb and smell and beauty. I am kicking myself I decided not to smuggle that green dope back into the states... The neighborhood surrounding Mantingfun is a great walk at night - it appeared to me to be a nice middle class neighborhood of undestroyed low-rise buildings, lots of people out and about. Yulin street north from the ring road, and Nijiagiqiao Road east from Yulin street are a great walk at night and full of markets and hot pot restaurants packed to the gills.
Chongqing. I suspect this is a place with great offerings for those who know. I, however, did not know, and did not speak a lick of Chinese, and it is an intense big ass non-international city. If you are in Chongqing and confused and hungry, you could head to Metropolitan Plaza (a number of decent places on 6/F and 7/F it looks like) near the center. Next door to that is a pretty good, pretty spicy place call Shunfeng123 (or something like that). The menu is not in English, but has pictures. It is a nice room. Spicy. I went to Quanjude my first night because I wanted something familiar and easy. It was very boring. I don’t suggest it. The duck just doesn’t have much flavor. They do make the skin very crispy and nice however. The room and location is also overall rather drab and depressing.
Shanghai. Yum! There is plenty of info about Shanghai on TimeOut and in guide books, so I will just focus on two experiences: (1) Whompoa Club. Whomp. Whomp. This highly touted place on the Bund (recommended even in the recent Wallpaper Phaidon book (2012) , as well as the most recent Time Out guide from 2008, left me nonplussed. I should preface this my saying that I am traveling alone at this point, and this does seem to confused most restaurants quite a bit. I didn’t find Whompoa’s atmosphere to be terribly rarified or amazing. The service is catering to rich Chinese people who know what to get, and dumb business people who don’t know anything. The waiter aggressively steered me to things that would not offend, and hurried the food out (five plates arrived in 10 minutes). The asparagus with ginko nuts was good. The beef with scallions was fine, but it was not “filet” as advertised. It was also not very interesting. The service was either terrible or terribly confused by me being a single diner. Either way it was a whomp, not a whompoa.
Thankfully I was able to experience (2) Fu1088 (375 Zhening Lu by Yuyuan Lu, Jingan). This place was amazing. It is in a colonial mansion in Jingan, with only one table per room. Again, I was a single diner, so I had a room to myself – with a pianist, who played throughout my dinner. The staff was attentive and helpful, and let me order what I wanted. I had a lot, and it as delicious. To start Drunken Chicken with frozen wine (much better that Whompoa’s version, which had too much iced wine, so it was overwhelming and also practically froze the bottom pieces of chicken), also a soup spoon full of potato mash with pine nuts and fantastic soy radishes. So good - I ate the entire plate, of everything. Then for the main course I ordered sauteed pea shoots and a pork, chicken sweet shrimp sautee with mushrooms. Damn. Amazing. The little shrimps were so sweet and small and delicious - thrown on top of the dish rather than sauced with rest. Yum!
For good measure I also had a few shrimp pork dumplings, which were fantastic.
Tomorrow I am finishing my trip with Jean Georges on the Bund - hopefully it is great.