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Hong Kong recap

c
cabking May 6, 2013 06:19 PM

We finished up our recent Asian cruise adventure in Hong Kong, ready to hunt down some superlative dim sum and other culinary delights. We did quite well (for the most part).

Ming Court

Based on the recommendations of many Chowhounders, we ate our first Hong Kong lunch at Ming Court in the Langham Place Hotel in Mongkok. A beautiful setting and fantastic meal. Accompanied by a nice pu er tea, we ate the following:

Green onion rice pancake with dried meats. By far, the best version of this dim sum standard I’ve ever tried, especially when paired with the house XO sauce. Crunchy, savory, onion-y and not greasy. A fine start.

Steamed Shanghainese pork dumpling. We had versions with and without the addition of Alaskan King Crab. Interestingly, the "plain" version bested the "upscale" version for overall yumminess (both were good, though!).

Steamed bamboo shoot shrimp dumpling (har gau variation). Really great fresh seafood flavor and perfectly cooked wrappers. I think the “pleating” may not have been up to a traditionalist’s standards, but there was no complaining here.

Steamed seafood dumpling with pea shoots. Somehow, they manage to get the seafood, veggies and wrapper perfectly cooked unlike in the US, where one or more typically suffers the steaming process.

Steamed chicken with Cordyceps mushroom at Ming Court. We ordered this dish so we could try the Cordyceps mushrooms for the first time. Little did we suspect that it would be the best tasting chicken we had ever eaten. It was so “chicken-y” it was almost like a psychedelic flavor version of chicken. WOW!!!

The Chairman

Our first diner in Hong Kong was at The Chairman, a small restaurant serving “modern” Cantonese food. We stuck to the best known dishes here, and were happy we did so. Accompanying was an excellent very dry Kilikanoon Riesling.

Cherry Tomatoes Pickled in Basil Reduction with Lemongrass Pickled Yam Bean. A very fresh preparation with intense tomatoes and an edgy herbal yam. Very different, with pure and complimentary flavors.

BBQ Chicken Liver with Chinese Bun (Gold Coin Chicken variation). Note: must be ordered in advance (they actually checked our e-mail to verify this order!). My advice: order this in advance. WOW! Sorry we only got one each.

Wild Clams Stir Fried with Chilli Jam and Basil. This was amazing, as the sauce was quite assertive, yet allowed the flavor of these most excellent clams to shine. One of the pinnacle dishes of the trip, for sure. I could have eaten at least two more orders!

Steamed Fresh Flowery Crab with Aged ShaoXing Wine, Fragrant Chicken Oil & Flat Rice Noodles at The Chairman. One expensive crab. But a very good one, enhanced by the rich, slightly wine-bitter sauce. The accompanying rice noodles were a nice touch, allowing maximum sauce appreciation.

Osmanthus & Wolfberry Ice-cream. Terrific floral and fruity ice cream, not strongly flavored or overly sweet, but well balanced and a nice small send off to a great meal.

Lung King Heen

We had to try this Michelin three star for dim sum, as we had heard it was very inventive and well executed. We had heard correctly, apparently. Whereas Ming Court was all about the beautiful décor, LKH had the added benefit of a fantastic view. Fairly pricy, though (about double the price of Ming Court).

Assorted Appetizers, Chef’s Choice – Our chef’s choice was char siu (a bite each, but succulent and tasty), spring roll (crisp and enhanced by a shiso leaf wrap) and a fringed jellyfish (crunchy but a bit unfamiliar, for sure)

Baked Pork Buns with Fermented Bean Paste - A savory/sweet balancing act. An almost short dough-style pastry with a salty slightly funky pork filling. Very unique and flavorful.

Steamed Racan Pigeon Dumplings with Vegetables. The best single piece of dim sum on the trip (and, quite possibly ever). The veggies were perfectly cooked and complimented the rich, gamy and well spiced flavor of the squab. And, they're nice enough to put a thin carrot round beneath to prevent sticking. Superb!

Baked Whole Abalone Puff with Diced Chicken. The abalone had the approximate texture of shitake mushroom, but a deep savory seafood flavor which was perfectly complimented by the buttery pastry crust.

Steamed Shanghainese Pork Dumplings with Crab Meat. Very cute presentation in individual baskets, but bested ever so slightly by the pork version at Ming Court. Still, highly recommended for sure.

Steamed Fried Rice wrapped in Lotus Leaf. Rice with perfect wok har complimented with dried ham and sausage, egg yolk and mushrooms. No greasiness whatsoever. So glad the server pushed us to order this rice.

Double-Boiled Egg White Milk Custard with Bird’s Nest. We had wanted to try bird’s nest for the first time, and selected this dessert, as we had heard it was difficult to nail this type of custard. This was really nice, with the toothsome birds nest contrasting with the perfectly velvety smooth texture of the custard. One thing we noticed consistently is that desserts in Hong Kong are much less sweet than similar desserts in the US. Which we prefer.

San Xi Lou

Living in the SF Bay Area, we do get some tasty Sichuan food (Z&Y, China Village, Spices III). My partner is always anxious to try new Sichuan places, so we decided to eat a dinner at San Xi Lou based on favorable reviews on Openrice and Chowhound. And, we’re sure glad we did. One suggestion – take a cab. It’s not only public transportation inaccessible, but the pedestrian route we took from the Midlevels was pretty convoluted due to a lot of complex intersections. And, it’s hilly. Definitely earned the dinner!

Amuse Bouche – Crunchy nuggets of meat with chilies, which turned out to be chicken knee cartilage. Great flavors and textures. A winner.

Marinated Cold Chicken with Peanut in Spicy Sauce - Very high quality and fully flavored chicken in a savory ma la sauce. Really tasty.

Hot and Sour Soup - A great version of an often mundane dish. Even served with extra excellent black vinegar and white pepper on the side for self-seasoning.

Ma Po Tofu with Shrimp - Creamy delicious tofu and very high quality shrimp combined for a unique version of this classic. Delicious, especially the fried (and well-manicured) shrimp heads.

Spicy Sichuan Style Stewed Mandarin Fish - Very fresh fish stewed with bamboo shoots, zucchini, radically thick and vibrantly green mung bean noodles in a spicy spicy stock. YUM!

Above & Beyond

We had spent the day hiking on Lamma Island, and lunch consisted of a $10 HKD bowl of fish balls and another of dou fu faa. The tofu was very soft, not too sweet and perfectly perfumed with ginger.

Hungry for dinner, we decided on Above & Beyond for a number of reasons (great Chowhound reviews, a great view of the light show, it was in our hotel). We were very excited because this restaurant sounded like it was ready to hit the big time. Don’t hate us, but we were REALLY disappointed, sad to say….

Very nice fried peanuts for our amuse bouche. We ordered our food and a nice bottle of Chablis (after the first two wines we ordered were the wrong vintage!).

Hokkaido Scallop with Crab and Sea Urchin – a beautiful presentation, with perfectly cooked succulent scallop well accompanied by the other fresh and rich seafood flavors. A promising beginning….

Shrimp with Sichuan Style Chili Sauce – On the recommendation of our server, and bolstered by our great experience with the clams at The Chairman, we ordered this dish. Overcooked and bland shrimp in a ketchup-y sauce. Almost tasted like a hot shrimp cocktail from a hotel buffet. Really disappointing.

House Special Crispy Skin Chicken – another recommendation from our server. The skin was interesting – not like the crackling skin one expects from chicken, but kind of an unfatty Peking Duck-like texture. Not as satisfying as anticipated, but interesting. HOWEVER, the chicken underneath was dry and bland. Granted, after the Minf Court über-chicken, my standards were set high. But, this did not even rise to Safeway chicken. Meh.

Wok-fried Garoupa fillet with Garden Green – We had wanted to try a garoupa belly preparation, but our server convinced us this would be better. Well, this was basically, some well-prepared fresh fish slices on a plate with broccoli, served with oyster sauce on the side for seasoning. Just OK at best.

Noodles with shrimp wantons in abalone sauce - Surprisingly floury-tasting and somewhat pasty noodles, mediocre dumplings and a slightly acrid sauce. Not good.

We would have ordered dessert, but had spent enough money already for a bad meal. So, we left. Sad. And, of interest, both versions of the congee served in The Market for breakfast were the best congee I’ve ever tried. Ate it happily every morning.

Fook Lam Moon

Or final per-flight lunch was taken at the Kowloon branch of Fook Lam Moon, as we were looking for “perfected” versions of “classic” dim sum standards. We were very pleased with our meal!

Char Siu Pie – Straddled the fine line between sweet and savory, with fine sweet dough surrounding a lush porky filling.

Pan Fried Cured Meat and Radish Cake – I love it when this dish has toothsome strands of radish and is still creamy delicious. Really tasty!

Deep Fried Shrimp and Vegetable Glutinous Dumplings – I’m more familiar with the pork version. This was a bit more oceanic/umami filling, but perfectly fried and not as sticky on the teeth as some versions. Not greasy, either.

Steamed pork dumplings with crab roe (shui mai) – a classic rendition, notable for the great texture and flavor of the meat filling and the well-cooked wrappers.

Steamed lotus leaf wrapped glutinous rice with Chinese dried scallops and chicken – Fragrant sticky rice steamed perfectly and studded with tasty goodies. What could be bad?.

Steamed chicken wrapped in Chinese wild yam – This dish was a new treat. The very waxy/starchy yam exterior contained flavorful chicken, mushroom and ham. Interesting and flavorful.

Steamed Prawn Dumplings (har gao) – A classic rendition, with nicely seasoned prawns and perfect pleats in the wrapper (or so I’ve read). The skins were perfectly steamed and texturally excellent.

Fresh Coconut Milk Pudding - Very intense coconut flavor, creamy and not too sweet. More like a very soft jello or blancmange than a pudding per se. A great finale.

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  1. Charles Yu May 6, 2013 06:59 PM

    Sorry to hear about the bad experience at Above & Beyond! You win some, you lose some, I guess!!

    6 Replies
    1. re: Charles Yu
      k
      klyeoh May 6, 2013 10:21 PM

      Charles - quite worrying with regards to consistency at Above & Beyond, don't you think? Chef's night off?

      1. re: klyeoh
        Charles Yu May 7, 2013 07:41 AM

        Interesting scenario, considering I had two great meals there within one week?!!

        1. re: Charles Yu
          k
          klyeoh May 7, 2013 08:27 AM

          Well, I've liked Executive Chef Joseph Tse ever since his Man Wah @ Mandarin Oriental days. But isn't Hotel Icon also a hospitality school? Maybe the students were cooking during that off-day :-(

          1. re: klyeoh
            Charles Yu May 7, 2013 08:57 AM

            School only teaches 'service...etc', not cooking. For that, you need to go to the Chinese Culinary Institute near Aberdeen! ( No! They don't teach making Haggis!! Ha! )

      2. re: Charles Yu
        c
        cabking May 7, 2013 03:23 PM

        I hear you. It isn't the first time this kind of unexpectedly poor meal at a well regarded place has happened to us (Benu in SF, Eleven Madison Park in NYC, e.g.). It is especially vexing since it was not only the good reviews from Chowhounders and on Openrice, but also the great breakfast congees that convinced us it would be good. And, the scallop was really quite excellent. Oddly, the dishes that proved sub-par were the recommendations from our server. My partner is convinced that if we had ordered what we had initially intended, the meal might have been better (although we have no way of knowing that for sure).

        In any event, I was kind of sorry I switched Ming Court from a dinner to a dim sum to accommodate this meal, but at least we gave it a shot. Hopefully just a one off....

        1. re: cabking
          Charles Yu May 7, 2013 04:12 PM

          Well, frankly, by having dinner at Ming Court might not guarantee you a 'wow' dining experience!!

          Fellow chowhounder Nilescable attended chowmeets at BOTH Ming Court ( 2* ) and Guo Fu Lou ( 1* ) and thought the food at GFL was way better in a few comparable dishes!! I also attest that my dinner chowmeet at Above & Beyond was better than my Ming Court dinner gathering!...??!!

          Also, IMO, my dim sum meet with Nilecable at Above & Beyond was one of the best Dim Sum lunch I had in Hong Kong during my 1 month stay. During which time, I beleive I must have had at least 8 or 9!! So!! Anything can happen??!!

      3. k
        klyeoh May 6, 2013 10:12 PM

        Well, you sure knew your way around - those you went to were certainly some of the better restaurants in HK at the moment.

        BTW, just curious - which is your fave Chinese restaurant(s) in the SF Bay Area? The reason I asked was because I started my CH life on the SF Bay Area board.

        2 Replies
        1. re: klyeoh
          c
          cabking May 7, 2013 03:33 PM

          We're in Vallejo, so don't get down to try the good places in the South Bay, unfortunately. For dim sum, we will make the trek to Koi Palace, which does have some nice eats (rice rolls with fried fish, seafood dumplings in chili peanut sauce, XO radish cake, crab Xiao long bao, concubine clam congee), or if we're lazy settle for Asia Pearl in Richmond (XO rice rolls, crispy skin pork, soy sauce noodles, a good version of siu mae) - all significantly greasier and less consistently well cooked than in HK.

          For dinners, we'll inevitably eat Sichuan - Z&Y is our current favorite while China Village is remodeling. Spices III in Oakland is also pretty good as well. We've also enjoyed Jai Yun in the past, as well as Beijing Restaurant but have not been to either in a while. That's about it. Which is why we try and gorge when we're in HK (which has been exactly twice).

          1. re: cabking
            k
            klyeoh May 7, 2013 04:28 PM

            Thanks, cabking. My own faves for Chinese (though I'd usually opt for other cuisines) in Oakland were Peony and Legendary Palace. Spices III's chilli-spice level was actually beyond my tolerance level!

        2. l
          Lau Jun 24, 2013 11:23 AM

          great reviews! im dying to go back to HK right about now

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