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hong kong dining report -- high end, solo dining (mostly)

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i'm visiting hong kong this week, and trying to eat lots of great food -- mostly high end, mostly solo dining. i thought i'd give a brief summary of the places i went.

i've visiting from san francisco, and mostly trying to find things significantly better or unavailable in sf. will also compare to some favorites i've found in paris or tokyo.

all meals are solo dining, and dinner time, unless otherwise stated. all prices are iirc. sometimes i ate more than one lunch or dinner on the same day.

sorry for spelling errors or forgotten details. i'm about to head to tokyo for part 2 of my eating trip, so don't have time to go over everything.

====

fook lam moon - 2ppl
- fried frog legs -- excellent, unique. i don't remember the fried frog starter at alain ducasse plaza athenee (1 year ago) in paris being any better.

- kale with ginger -- good, a bit better than similar dish at hakkasan sf.

- fresh abalone -- excellent, unique, noticeably better than the same dish at manor last trip (1.5 years ago)
- chicken with crispy skin -- excellent, way better than similar peking duck at sf's r&g lounge, or similar goose dish at manor or shanghai's fook lam moon branch.
- fried rice with preserved meats in lotus leaf -- excellent, unique
- almond and egg yolk dessert -- excellent, unique

Certainly not inexpensive at 1100hkd for 2 people, but i thought it a fine value. i'll consider returning again later this week to try some other dishes -- they were out of the garoupa belly, daily herbal soup, custard bun, and didn't have walnut cookies -- perhaps because we visited right before closing. overall, the best cantonese meal i've ever had.

i've heard reports you only get good service if you are a tycoon -- this was definitely not my experience. service and setting were near perfect -- and we were definitely nobodies. (two 30-something caucasian guys booking a table 30mins ahead at 9:30pm on a saturday night.)

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seafood restaurant on po toi island - lunch, 4ppl

we tried the least expensive set menu at ~140hkd pp which included prawns, clams with black bean, fried squid, sweet+sour pork, gai lan, ried rice.

not bad, about the same level of cooking you would find at a decent place in san francisco's chinatown (say, yuet lee or great eastern), but definitely not better than this. and i love eating on a beach. service was fast and friendly. island is beautiful.

====

summer palace in the shangri la

hot and sour soup was fine, a bit bland for my taste, but expensive at ~140hkd pp. gai lan with garlic was excellent. service was friendly, though slow and inattentive.

duck was served in two courses. the first course, skin in pancakes, was just excellent. on par with the best in beijing, and on par with some of the best things I've had in hkg. the second course though, minced duck in lettuce leaf, to me was a bit bland, the lettuce overpowering the meat, and a bit too much like PF Chang's lettuce wraps for my taste.

overall, a fine price at ~680hkd for a whole duck, and certainly much better beijing duck than can be found anywhere in the bay area. but i prefer the overall experience at more casual spring deer. and the best of beijing is a lot better (eg made in china, or aman summer palace), so i may skip peking duck on future visits to hkg.

====

tin lung heen in ritz carlton
- garoupa and crab dumpling - great, interesting
- abalone and minced chicken - great, interesting
- dumpling with fish mah in soup - good
- double-boiled soup with wild chicken, ?deer horn? and cordecepts -
great, interesting, not sure worth the $50usd.

service, space and food were great. view was obviously really amazing.

====

yung kee 4th floor - 2ppl

- preserved egg and ginger - great, best version i've had
- abalone in sake - great, unique, but really worth the $100usd price?
- roast goose - good
- spinach in soup - okay
- deep fried scallop - not good, frying job definitely could have been
way better.
- crab roe and egg white - very good, unique
- mango pudding - okay
- egg tarts - great, best i've had, significantly less sweet than
other versions i've had.
- black sesame soup - great

they were out of fried sea cucumber, and didn't have steamed dumpling with crab roe. also didn't notice goose liver sausage on the menu, unfortunately.

service and space were good, but not the same level as fook lam moon.

i will definitely return and try some other dishes -- perhaps i'll try pre-ordering some things. if i were a local, i'd consider trying to join the club on the 8th floor, as clearly the potential is there.

====

Ah Yat Abalone Forum
I ordered the set menu at 3200hkd, total bill with service was like $500usd -- so crazy expensive. I had:

- supreme shark fin soup in dark brown stock
i think they actually gave me a lighter shark fin soup with fish maw. okay, but this was not my favorite bowl of shark fin soup. i haven't had a lot of shark fin, though, so i am not a good judge. i would have preferred a larger "chunk" of shark fin in a heavier broth.

- abalone with goose web and stir-fried vegetable
the vegetable was good. i was surprised to enjoy the goose web as well. sauce was nice. i enjoyed the abalone, but haven't really had it enough to judge it. it was definitely better than other versions i've had (koi palace, a random place in hk for $20usd, from a can in chinatown, etc.)

- chicken with crispy skin
amazing -- significantly better than the same dish at fook lam moon (which was itself pretty awesome.) probably the best chicken -- maybe poultry -- i've ever had. at least as good as poulet de bresse at taillevent in paris. i had poulet de bresse at robuchon macau the next day. this dish blew it away.

- rice in leaf with prawns
very good -- same level as similar dish at fook lam moon. the wine went really well with this.

- almond milk with bird's nest
i really loved this dish. favorite dessert i've had in hong kong, on par with favourites anywhere.

- fruit

- glass of red wine -- it was a 2005 bordeaux. i had a second glass at 150hkd.

when i walked in, i was not only the only caucasian, but some of the other diners and the staff looked at me like i was the only caucasian who had ever been in there -- though to be fair, i guess it is usual for people to visit solo.

service was good and friendly, though, and they definitely made me feel welcome by the end. they servers i dealt with later spoke english. a part of me suspects this is the best cantonese in hong kong -- slightly better than fook lam moon -- just judging by the dishes i felt i could fairy judge (chicken, almond cream). that said, fook lam moon is certainly the better restaurant in every other dimension (service, setting, price, etc.) take this with a grain of salt, though, as i've only been to each one time. i'll definitely return, though, to try some of the lower-priced menu items.

====

random place with tanks (don't remember exactly place) downstairs from a hotel on nathan road - early lunch

steamed small live garoupa - very good, $30usd
fried chili live prawn - very good, $15usd
steamed live lobster - very good, $30usd
stewed dried abalone in brown sauce -- good, $20usd

I was wandering down nathan road, and wanted to try a random place that had live seafood in tanks. overall, this was an excellent meal, and a great value. i don't really understand why the same dishes at fook lam moon etc are priced at 4x. maybe the seafood here is farmed? don't know. clearly the cooking is more careful at ah yat, FLM, but i still don't completely understand the price differential.

====

tien heung lau

hue dao wine -- delicious, a must order
fish lip - good
smoked yellow croaker -- amazing, as good as i remember it from last year. best fish i've ever had in hong kong
crab roe noodles -- amazing, as good as i remember it from last visit. also a best ever hong kong dish

====

hoi king heen (4ppl)

mixed bbq platter with suckling pig and eel - good, $20usd
soup with whelk and black truffle - i'm allergic to whelk, so can't judge., $20usd/bowl
shrimp toast - okay, $20usd
portugese rice with avocado - very good, unique, $20usd

service and setting were the best i experienced in hong kong. we ordered a bottle of red wine, and the top-off service was flawless. i had wanted to pre-order the fortune chicken, but made reservation same-day so couldn't. from my one experience, i wouldn't rank this alongside the other "greats" of hong kong, but nonetheless is a great place for a large family or business dinner.

====

sheung hing - early lunch
chiu chow style shark fin soup - great. my favorite shark fin dish of the trip. though that is mostly just because there seemed to be a lot of shark fin in there, and it was reasonably priced at $20usd.

chiu chow cold crab - great. so i thought i had been to this restaurant before, but i had actually accidently visited the one of 29 queens road west. the roe here wasn't runny, it was solid, and tasted a bit like foie gras. they found a small crab for me for $75 usd.

coconut milk with birds nest - great. while not as good as the bird's nest at ah eat, a better value at $30usd. about the same level as almond cream at fook lam moon

====

ah yat forum -- 2nd visit, late lunch

sea cucumber in shrimp roe sauce - $100usd -- great, but would be (much) better to be shared with (at least) 2 other people. would love to try this dish with wine. reminds me of a cantonese version of a rich french red-meat dish with a dark sauce.

wontons with foie gras - $30usd. i wasn't a fan. broth was kinda flavourless, and i didn't think the foie gras went well in the wantons. i'd only get this dish again if there were 4 or more people sharing. actually, i probably wouldn't get this again.

walnut cream -- $6usd good/great. i could tell the execution of this dish was flawless, though i prefer almond cream to this dish.

steamed cake -- good. very not sweet.

====

tien heung lau -- 2'nd visit (this trip)

tried some new dishes tonight.

drunken crab -- great, and unique, but tiny. worth the $50usd?
soy duck -- very good, good value at $10usd

sea cucumber -- $100usd. very good, unique, HOWEVER this is the exact same preparation as the "fish lip" dish i had the night before, which frustrated me. was listed on the menu as something that starts with
"b". i had to ask what this was. i'd choose the fish lip dish at half the price.

shark fin with crab -- very good, but very similar to crab meat noodles which i prefer. regular noodles stand up much better to the richness of the crab meat.

i don't understand why dessert wasn't served at either meal.

====

fook lam moon -- 2'nd visit, lunch, 2 people

braised shark fin soup -- $100usd -- okay, but i actually prefer the version that used to be served at r&g lounge in sf. maybe the flavors here are too mellow for me.

fried crab in shell -- $20usd -- okay, not my favorite crab preparation. worth a try, though, i suppose.

xlb -- very good. my friend didn't like, though.

beef balls -- great, a favorite dim sum dish.

siu mai with pork and crab roe -- very good. definitely better than any i've found in sf.

steamed bun with egg yolk and lotus root -- amazing. a best dish of hong kong.

steamed chinese vegetable (not kale, not gai lan) -- good, but i preferred the kale served at FLM.

wish we'd known that shorts and sandals were okay here, as we changed into "smart casual" before going in here. though the dining room was kept very very cold, so perhaps better to bundle up.

====

casual eats:

egg tart, and baked pork bun at famous place in central - utterly delicious. the pastry of the pork bun was so delicious. great cheap eats.
mak's noodles on wellington -- amazing.
various juice at 7-11
various pandan chiffonade cakes i stumbled upon

wonton place across the street from mak's on wellington -- good. nice
that it is open 9am to 10pm -- most places were open 11-8.

crystal jade ifc -
- xiao long bao - weaker than yank sing's in sf at about the same price.
- steamed mandarin fish in yellow wine - good, about the same level
as a decent steamed fish in sf at yuet lee, at about half the price.
though i don't think you can find that wine sauce anywhere.
- service was so-so, but they were in the lunch rush, so it is understandable.

====

so overall, i'd rank the "hong kong" greats as

1. ah yat forum
2. fook lam moon
3. tien heung lau
4. yung kee 4th floor
5. sheung hing

with the caveat of i'd only go to ah eat with 4 people, or order one of their (very) expensive set menus.

i wouldn't be surprised if yung kee is the best, if you know what to
order, go with a group, and are on the club level.

sheung hing and fook lam moon were the most accessible and best values, respectively.

tien heung lau is amazing, but their menu isn't very deep, so i wouldn't return too often. interestingly, i saw a young japanese couple come in and just order two bowls of crab noodles at $50usd each -- not a terrible ordering strategy, actually.

====

i'll post more notes / corrections if i think of them, but wanted to
get this up while fresh in my mind. feel free to shoot questions my
way if i can help.

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  1. Wow!! Impressive list!! How much weight did you put on after that??!! Ha!
    You should have taken the stairs after eating at Ah Yat Forum and Tin Lung Heen to work off some calories!!
    Would be lovely if you have photos to go with some of those meals!!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Charles Yu

      i have photos of (almost) everything, though i'm notoriously bad about sorting photos... still have all my pics from last year's africa vacation sitting on a memory card on the floor in my bedroom...

    2. That's a *lot* to take in in one week! HK's really the *best* when it comes to Cantonese fine dining.

      I agree with you that Peking duck in Beijing is better - they're at another level altogether compared to HK.

      No desserts at Tien Heung Lau? How come?

      So, how would you rate dining in HK *overall*, as compared to SF, Paris and Tokyo?

      3 Replies
      1. re: klyeoh

        don't know why they weren't serving their fruit soup at Tien Heung Lau -- i didn't ask for it, but last time they just brought it out for free. didn't see anyone else get it either.

        for top-end, paris is #1, tokyo #2, hong kong #3, and sf doesn't really rank imo.

        for mid-range (say, $20-$100usd), maybe hong kong and tokyo tie for #1, but sf is not too far behind.

        i don't know paris mid-range or low end.

        but i don't know if these comparisons / rankings mean much, as cantonese, french, and japanese food are all so different.

        1. re: Dustin_E

          Thanks. Good to know your take on dining out in these cities.

          Paris mid-range can be *very* interesting, too, but you'll need local friends to bring you to their favourite neighborhood bistros, etc., here the food is hearty and the atmosphere convivial.

          1. re: klyeoh

            interesting, thanks -- i need to check out paris mid-range sometime.

            i have a good friend from college who lives in paris. maybe i'll hit him up later this year.

            it's worth mentioning that i suspect hong kong meals can be world-class (ie as good or better than top paris or tokyo), but i think this requires having lots of foodie friends and knowing a chef who would put together a feast -- neither of which i currently have.

            i also generally think of french, japanese, and chinese as the "great" cuisines of the world, italian as good for comfort food (and maybe the world's most popular cuisine), indian having some interesting aspects, and most other cuisines just good for casual dining or inspiration for fancy french dishes (ie moroccan, etc). though spanish is on my 'to-explore' list. reductionist and elitist, i know, but that's the perspective i'm coming from...

      2. amazing meals
        you should've tried Char-grilled Barbecued Iberian Pork at Tin lung heen - the best "cha xiu" I've ever had

        steep price indeed at ah yat forum
        where was the abalone from? dried version? and 'how many heads version' did they give you for that price?

        7 Replies
        1. re: Bu Pun Su

          hmm -- cha xiu iberian pork does sound good -- maybe next time. i'd certainly consider returning to tin lung heen -- very nice place.

          the abalone was definitely from japan. i think yokohama, but i'm not sure. yeah, definitely dried version. fresh versions were ~1/10 the price.

          it was the 2'nd to least expensive 'heads version' they gave me. i don't actually understand the 'heads' thing -- is it a unit of weight? can you explain?

          the menu was definitely expensive, especially considering how many other amazing feasts hong kong offers for a fraction of that price. they did, however, offer another separate set menu with no shark fin and no birds nest for about half the price of the menu i had. i'm pretty sure the abalone was the same on that one, and i think it had the same fried chicken. i'll likely give this menu a try next time i'm in hong kong.

          1. re: Dustin_E

            Yes, the "heads" is kind of the system used. In short, the smaller the number of "heads", the larger and the more expensive the abalone is. Also, many believe that the bigger and older abalone is, the better the flavors.

            Japan arguably produces the best (dried) abalone since it's from cold waters.

            1. re: Bu Pun Su

              Bu Pun Su - can you help throw some light on the origins of the "heads" measurement for abalone?

              I was once told by the owner of a shop specialising in abalone in Sydney Chinatown that the "head" referred to the size of a British pound sterling coin! It sounded quite implausible, but is it true?
              http://www.leftovercurrency.com/coins...

              1. re: klyeoh

                FYI, klyeoh:

                "We often hear retailers or restaurateurs speaking of abalones in terms of number of heads. Number of heads refers to the size of the abalone. One head is considered the biggest. “Restaurant standard” is about 200 to 220g per head. Abalones in restaurants range from two to up to 16 heads. The bigger the number, the smaller the abalone. An abalone from a can is about 1.5 head although this year we’ve seen a proliferation of canned “baby” abalones. Another way of looking at it is this: a four-head abalone means it takes four pieces of similar size abalone to make one Chinese “jin” ‘ (500g) or 125g each so a five-head abalone means it weights 100g."

                1. re: Charles Yu

                  Thanks, Charles - that makes more sense :-)

                2. re: klyeoh

                  Hi klyeoh,
                  I agreed with what Charles said below and I think he's doing a fantastic job to explain this "heads' thing in the abalone

                  Generally only Chinese restaurants do that perhaps since they will serve the "whole" abalone to the customer

                  In Japan kaiseki/sushi restaurants, I once saw a big abalone but the Chef cut them into smaller pieces for several people - kinda the size of what I had at Yoshitake or a few chunks inside a chawanmushi

                  1. re: Bu Pun Su

                    so for dried abalone:

                    small "heads" == bigger abalone
                    bigger abalone == better / more expensive

                    does anyone know if this bigger == better formula applies to fresh abalone served in hong kong as well?

                    what about served in tokyo? some of the high-end places i went to in tokyo were serving slices of particularly large abalone, whereas smaller ones seemed to be in abundance at the fish market.

                    what about to abalone caught by divers off the california coast? those things are huge -- like a foot long.

                    and does the drying process shrink the abalone?

                    so i have a rough idea of dried abalone prices, both served at restaurants and at the chinese dried-goods (abalone / shark fin / sea cucumber / birds nest etc) specialty stores.

                    does anyone know what fresh abalone at the fish market in tokyo sells for?

                    thanks.

          2. Nice report. I'm passing through HK soon. Making up my list.
            Will definitely hit Ah Yat. I want to hit some other restaurants I haven't been to.

            Any thoughts on Celebrity Cuisine or Summer Palace? Any other high end suggestions closer to Mong Kok or TST?

            8 Replies
            1. re: Foodnut8

              In Mong Kok, nothing compares to the 2* Ming Court. Food, decor and service all top notch. Also, only Chinese restaurant with a wine room and offers 'wine-pairing' option!
              Stay away from the 1* Lei Garden! Overprice, run down decor, underwhelming food.
              Between TST and Mong Kok, There's the 1* Seafood place Xin Dau Ji in Yau Ma Tei. Awesome roasted baby suckling piglet as well!!

              Dozens of great choices in the TST area. Old favorites include Hoi King Heen, Yan Toh Heen, Ye Shanghai. Some new outfit wortha try include Above & Beyond, Guo Fu Lou and, may be, Tin Lung Heen ( view is more spectacular than the 2* food ).

              1. re: Charles Yu

                ming court is also on my to-try list.

                tin lung heen has good food -- better than any bay-area dim sum, certainly -- though not as good as fook lam moon. but worth going for the view / space / service.

              2. re: Foodnut8

                if you haven't been to tien heung lau or yung kee 4th floor, i'd highly recommend them. here are the dishes i'd strongly recommend:

                tien heung lau
                - drunken crab
                - soy duck
                - 'fish' lip (i think shark)
                - fried eel
                - smoked yellow fish
                - crab noodles

                yung kee 4th floor
                - century eggs
                - abalone in sake
                - crab roe steamed with egg white
                - roast goose
                - egg tarts

                i'm sure this is only the beginning of yung kee's menu, though. tien heung lau, otoh, i think this about sum's it up -- although i did see a couple tables ordering more casual dishes like sweet+sour pork, etc.

                1. re: Dustin_E

                  A great dish that is seldom talked about at Yung Kee 4th floor, because it really caters for the Cantonese palette, is their ' Wok fried 'Cho-Bak' preserved salted fish '. Sprinkle some sugar on top and one can eat it like a snack without rice and all! The crispy 'fish scales' are awesome!! Cost about HK$120 for a small piece!!
                  This salted fish is becoming a really expensive delicacy!! I recall my father bought a couple of 12" ones from some dried food market in Sheung Wan over 5 years ago for HK $700 per fish!! Now, the priced ones goes for at least $1000+!!!
                  Also, not a well known fact, but Yung Kee's 'Yang Chow Fried Rice' is one of the best in town and their make to order 'Won Ton/Shui Gau shrimp dumplings' even beats Mak's version, down the road, hands down. The 'wok-hay' of the former and the broth/fillings of the latter are un-surpass!

                  1. re: Charles Yu

                    thanks -- i'll definitely try these three dishes on my next visit. any others you like?

                    1. re: Dustin_E

                      I'll have to give these recommendations a try.

                      I'm also going to Singapore. Any favorites there? Is Cantonese food a step down there compared to Hong Kong?

                      Seems like they are into buffets!

                      1. re: Foodnut8

                        Whether its Singapore, Taiwan, Toronto, Vancouver, San Fran, LA, NYC, Sydney, Melbourne....etc, there always bound to be a few Chinese restaurants that stand out from the crowd and offer one or two stupendous tasting dishes that can leave a lasting impression.

                        However, when it comes to Cantonese food 'in general', for overall consistency, quality and choices, IMO, nowhere beats Hong Kong!! A quick tour of www.openrice.com and you will be amazed and swarmed by the myriad number of high quality choices!!
                        Its just like Japanese sushi. Every major city on earth has a few standout establishments be it Masa or Yasuda of NYC, Urasawa of LA or Tojo of Vancouver. But, when it comes to the 'real deal', one has to head out to the Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo....etc.

                        So, for really great Cantonese food, IMHO, stick with Hong Kong!!

                        1. re: Foodnut8

                          I'm sorry. Who's into buffets?!