HK trip report Dec 2013-Jan 2014
Just back from HKG and been to far too many different places. Pretty much all of them very very solid.
The most upscale Cantonese place I went to was The Chairman, but the rest were literally mom and pop off the radar type local places, plus a mix of some Japanese food (had to switch gears!).
妹記生滾粥品 Mui Kee Congee - Arrived on Christmas day (7 am pretty much) and after dropping off luggage, made it here before 10 am and savoured a steaming hot bowl of grass carp belly congee. Absolutely heavenly. This is upstairs from the Mongkok Fa Yuen street wet market, and is easily the busiest of all the food stalls. Family run business, with congee chef Mr Choy at the helm (really gracious and awesome fellow). Pretty much working non stop using 30 year old brass pots that retain heat to quickly cook the congee with whatever raw materials per order. Fish congee has a fish base stock that has a nice smokey carmelized flavor from using cheap wild boney local fish that was pan fried with ginger, scallion, and maybe some rice wine. It is said they start prepping from midnight and cook for hours before serving customers at 7 am. Crullers are presliced and cold, but once you dunk them into the congee they sponge up all the goodness. Don't miss the grass carp skin where they blanch it, then serve it up with scallion, ginger, soy sauce, oil. Wonderful crunchy texture. Even the original owner's younger son has come up with a line of milk tea and coffee that is acceptable, if you want a hot beverage despite a liquid meal. I had a taste of my friend's "cup dai" congee which has pork offal (kidney, liver etc) and was just absolutely blown away from the freshness and quality. The placard menu is in both English and Chinese and you cannot go wrong ordering signatures marked with a star. You can also more or less customize the contents, like if you want to pair beef with fish or pork offal with beef etc.
Mak An Kee (Wing Kut street) - My intent was not to try wonton noodles in particular, in fact very low on the totem pole. But I had to try the dried tilefish shavings lo mein! They call it "po yu lo mein" 甫魚撈麵 where po yu is just another name for dried flatfish/dried tilefish. It comes topped up in a soy sauce dish portion, along with brothless noodles on the side, and of course sufficient lard inside the lo mein. This is unlike prawn roe noodle in texture, and maybe a bit more closer to eating Taiwanese style pork floss, but more finer, sugar like raw grains, and smokey/crunchy. You really cannot find po yu lo mein anywhere else in town. I did have a side bowl of plain wontons and found them to be quite decent. But I have come to accept the fact that I've preferred shui gow dumplings more since I was a kid (and have had two versions in town elsewhere). Due to inflation, this meal was already in the HK$70s, and is rather astronomical by local standards. Also lo mein dishes tend to be more pricier as they give you a larger portion of noodles by default. When I ordered the lo mein, the waiter specifically asked me "you know this is dried tilefish right" and I said "yes and I want this". And later he asked me if I wanted some oyster sauce or brisket sauce in addition, to which I graciously accepted his offer (brisket sauce of course). The broth of course was excellent, and you can see shrimp roe at the bottom. But felt rather thirsty afterwards....umami overload.
At that point I had some business to take care of, and that was to secure the dishes for the following week at the Chairman. But before that, a stop to Kung Lei on Hollywood Road for sugar cane juice. The juice was already pre-grinded and circulating in the cooler but was still extremely refreshing and delicious, especially after working up a sweat getting up the hill towards Kau Yu Fong area (Gough street). Got lucky and was also able to try sugar cane jello, which I was surprised how firm was the texture but when you bit into it, it still had a very decent bite. Wish I could have taken this home on the plane. The Wanchai outpost however, the juice doesn't quite taste the same, and in fact seemed a tad sweeter in the plastic bottle (HK$30).
Ginza Iwa - Perhaps just a hair cheaper than Shikon, and on Christmas day I was still able to get a reservation (though not until a little past 8 am). Got a seat in front of the head chef and noted a Cantonese 5+ to my left with kids, all from Canada somewhere. This was certainly as close to a Ginza style experience as any, and the meal got progressively better with one or two minor misses (e.g. the sashimi could have been better). The new head chef, Daisuke Suzuki had worked under head chef Iwa-san (who runs the flagship) for at least 8 years before being chosen to head the HK restaurant, and is very young, energetic and professional. We had a pretty good chat and he was very helpful with answering questions (his English is good but couldn't understand one or two things I asked, but that was ok). The progression of the dishes seemed a bit too much like last year's meal at Ta-Ke, where there were multiple courses with only about 12 to 14 pieces of sushi. The highlights included wild Bluefin caught off the coast of Hokkaido (marinated), ethereal anago (I'll never eat a piece like this again), a super meaty piece of line caught aji, and a tamago that was neither dashimaki or the spongecake version, but somewhere in between, and of course the gohan (rice) mixed in with ensui (saltwater stored) uni, with more uni and ikura on top. Even a slight re-take on hamaguri (no sauce but just yuzu zest and yuzu juice) was supreme. Pleasure to have akagai as well. And the sushi rice texture was just sublime. Dessert was a plate of a slice of cantaloupe from Fukuoka, and honeydew from Shizuoka, just too good for words. The price was of course astronomical
Chong Fat (Chiu Chow) Kowloon City - Truly excellent, probably the most classical of all Chiu Chow restaurants in town, true to form. Styrofoam tanks of seafood on the ground, with a few more inside actual tanks (shrimp) and lots of cooked giant lobsters and crab hanging from hooks. On the inside by the kitchen, two chefs handling soup and small appetizer type dishes (like a tapas bar). After you sit down, walk up and maybe chat with the manager (I ended up chatting with the owner) to decide what to eat. Of course can't deviate from pork stomach, peppercorn, pickled greens soup. For vegetables he recommended a spring vegetable stew that was more traditional Chiu Chow in a stock that was heavenly. For cold fish it turns out threadfin was in season, and they actually heated it up again, and it was hands out one of the best dishes of the entire trip. Pan fried pomfret was also a super delight, with a fantastic pan fry job by the female chef who was humble after I complimented her, where she said it was all because of the amazing ingredients. Marinated trio platter of goose breast, goose intestine, and goose liver. The liver was ridiculously good, there were four of us, and the manager carefully had this plate so we had a piece each more or less (there was excess intestines left over), but the liver stole the show. Couldn't help but wonder that if we had wine what this would pair with! I am not a fan of foie gras, but I would gladly eat more of this.
Star Seafood (Yau Ma Tei) - this is on Nathan Road, not far from the temple (Temple Street). You cannot miss the crazy big tanks of sealife, especially when one tank holds maybe 30+ Alaskan King crabs. There were fish big enough to feed maybe 20 people, a stingray, and lots of other varieties that would make North American Cantonese seafood restaurants drool. We had an Alaskan King crab two ways, legs steamed, and the rest of the body done with egg white and huadiao sauce (super smooth) but most of the liquor had evaporated and couldn't taste much liquor. Even their roasties were pretty good. Family friends brought over red and white wine and it was one crazy feast even for a set menu with a crab added on. Star Seafood is actually a chain, but for a place like this to keep such a high quality is commendable.
Gonpachi (Causeway Bay) - Official branch of the one in Tokyo. Pretty solid yakitori as they are a handful of places in town that actually have permits to run charcocal grilling in house. In house made soba, was quite weak and a big disappointment. Guess it's all machine done, and there's no traditional stone grinder. Kurotaki in the World Trade Center (next to Excelsior) had better soba, but theirs tasted more like made off site and flown in. Guess this is the best HK can do for soba, which is a dying market since the kids love pork bone soup ramen and their spinoffs way more.
Sham Shui Po dai pai dong - Did both back to back, there are four on Yiu Tung street, on the north side, not too far from the more northern exits of the MTR. Hon Fat does noodles, and their signature soy sauce and lard noodles lo mein is pretty good, though the flavors are a bit more on the sweet side. Across is So Kei, which does instant noodles (local brand, not Doll) with marinated pan fried pork chops. I felt theirs was very average, but the locals will disagree with me. The milk tea is otherwise very solid. For snacking this area is quite excellent. Hei Hei snack shop you can get ground to order sugar cane juice (you have to specify or they will sell you the pre bottled stuff). Hop Yik Tai continues to deliver quality plain cheung fun with sauces (even though the cheung fun rolls are outsourced it is uber fresh and smooth). Kwun Kee store near one of the MTR exits still does some very high standard traditional Cantonese desserts, like fermented white sugar cake (bak ton go), and even the 9 layer black sesame cake is awesome, ditto for the red bean cake. Their steamed sponge cake is vastly superior to the version offered by Yuen Kee dessert in Sai Wan by the Eastern street tram station.
Hung's Delicacies - Mindblowing meal. Heavy duty marinated eats...good goose, and super super solid marinated pork intestines. Nam Yu sauce veggie platter, mustard chicken feet tendons, stewed/simmered daikon with Chinese ham shreds, signature lo mein. I can see why they are packed every night with no reservations allowed. Prior to the meal I had a stellar beef offal skewer at 13 stall not too far away. Hong Kong offal cuisine culture is really out of this world.
Hikari (Causeway Bay) - one of the great sleeper surprise Japanese meals. High end kappo ryori style approach, and these guys are affiliated with another restaurant in Tin Hau, but somehow they changed names and put a Japanese chef in charge. The seasonal tasting menu is $880 and gives you a good idea of their strengths. The meal includes two pieces of torafugu nigiri (no worries it is farmed) but you don't want to miss the mini shabu shabu of kinmedai (alfosino). Even the sashimi is very high quality despite a smaller selection (Tsukiji fish market is closed around New Year's). Top notch service to boot. Numata-san is a very skilled chef, speaks some Cantonese and was absolutely a delight with chat with. The two Japanese expat directors who sat to my right and work locally both really loved their meal. Stellar kinki shioyaki (sad that I won't get to have this again unless I fly to HK, Japan, or Taipei) and they had a whole kegani (Hokkaido hairy crab) available for about $500, close to retail. A4 Miyazaki wagyu was heavenly (doesn't have to be A5)... blows away so called A5 served in the USA as steaks or purchased frozen then seared with really coarse marbling.
Youka - new Japanese restaurants right next to Fook Lam Moon Wanchai. Black unmarked door that's easy to miss. Not cheap, but
their saba bou-sushi (Osaka style pressed sushi) is very tasty. Properly done rice, Japanese mackerel (looks like masaba), and feeds two to three to share (one person can finish it all but is a big portion).
Chairman - too many details to remember but every dish was very solid and spot on, with the most memorable one being the flower crab with huadiao liquor sauce (best and most memorable of the night). We had a set tasting menu but I swapped out a few things just to be able to try them. Pan fried pork patty with salted local threadfin was another memorable one for me. The large fried prawn with prawn roe we all agreed was overcooked and weak, and possibly the only downer of the night. Everybody loved dessert (almond tea, goji berry ice cream). Our waiter was trying to explain why they lost the Michelin star, and shared with us a story of how he met Seiji Yamamoto but still did not know who he was. I half jokingly said to him that he's the Aaron Kwok of the Japanese food world (3 Michelin star Ryugin executive chef), and he missed out an opportunity to get a photo together. Turned out Yamamoto loved his meal so much he left a super generous tip. Pierre Gagnaire and one of his apprentices (Richard)? also ate there once. So who cares if they have a Michelin now or not, the meal was enjoyable all the way through (minus the prawn dish, but the prawn head....oh my!!!!)
Ap Lei Chau seafood - contrary to what ckshen reported, Sunday lunch upstairs cooked food market was packed during brunch and the two or three stalls were also serving seafood brought up from downstairs. We had our pick of the litter for seafood, but this year's selection seemed a tad less lively. Fish and prawns were sadly sleepy. But one vendor dubbed "Asian fairytale" in the market came to the rescue. Took out bundles of large wriggling Scottish razor clams! Abalone from South Africa we got from another source. Babylon whelks. It was a hearty delicious shellfish themed meal. Yiu Kee was our choice for cooked foor stall vendor and they did not disappoint in the steamed or stir fry department. For those who want to go during dinner, Chu Kee in the corner opens in the evening till maybe 1 am or so and was also recommended by a local friend.
Lau Fau Shan - never thought we would hit it during our trip, but the key is to go very early if you want to catch the fishermen dragging their catches off the boat. By 10 am it's a lot more quiet, but the street leading up to the waterfront is also an interesting site nonetheless. We ended up at Happy Seafood by the roundabout for lunch, with prior knowledge that it is not cheap. The seafood tanks in the front are the most impressive of the lot, with many imported. But of course a visit to Lau Fau Shan is not complete by trying the local offering "nine stripe shrimp", just having it blanched. Incredibly sweet and delicious, particularly the juices in the head. This is the restaurant where the executive chef is a very young looking guy and got some Cordon Bleu ribbon award (without having actually attended French culinary school). His mantis prawn prep is also quite excellent.
If I have time I will post some more summaries.
re: Charles Yu
Since you asked so nicely :-)
1) Mui Kee grass carp belly congee
2) Grass carp belly side dish
3) Mak An Kee dried tilefish lo mein
4) plain wontons from Mak An Kee
5) sugar cane jello from Kung Lei
6) Ginza Iwa aji
7) Ginza Iwa uni gohan with uni and ikura
8) Chong Fat threadfin (Ma Yau) "fish rice"
9) Chong Fat marinated goose breast slices, goose liver, goose intestines (covered) platter
10) Chairman signature crab dish
great report...except you're killing me
mui kee - i love fish congee...that looks so good
mak an kee - interesting, never heard of 甫魚撈麵, i want to try it
chong fat - high on my list of chiu chow, i opted for tak kee over it last time, but sounds like i need to try....man i love chiu chow food
sham shui po - last time i tried hitting dai pai dong since they'll all probably be gone sooner than later, but i didnt get to sham shui po, next time for sure
hung's - ohhh you got to try alot of the stuff i wanted to, but i was solo so couldnt do it!
Fellow ex-hound Klyeoh just contacted me and suggested the following:
"Could you post separate threads for *each* of the restaurants - that will facilitate readers in searching for write-ups for a particular restaurant. Otherwise, all the excellent tips & write-ups are "hidden" from the Google search function."
re: Uncle Yabai
HK is quite the epicenter now for Japanese food. There are hits and misses, but the effort is far greater than San Francisco Bay Area and to some extent, Los Angeles. Plus you cannot top having fresh ingredients flown in so frequently, no contest. But you pay an obviously higher price compared to Japan
There is also an Okinawan themed izakaya called Meikki no Ginji that does more fusion stuff. Kurotaki, also by the world trade center in Causeway Bay downstairs from Ginji, does probably the best soba in town but most of the time the noodles appear to be flown in and cooked at the premise (not made in house), with at least 4 varieties to choose from which is already admirable, and you get soba-yu at the end.
re: K K
Epicenter or not, I find Japanese food in Hong Kong to be pretty mediocre overall. There a few good places here and there, and I know there are some outstanding places as I've heard from people I trust. But given the prices these places command, I'd rather get on a plane and just eat the real deal. All-in the cost isn't that much different.
re: Uncle Yabai
It's the exact same thing with Taiwanese food in Hong Kong....generally quite pitiful for the most part, and there is a place in Wanchai that supposedly does somewhat replicate the beef noodle soup experience, but the price tag of HK$150 for a bowl is just plain ridiculous. But is also reflective of that area of Wanchai that is slowly starting to become a trendy dining destination (not far from La Creperie which requires reservations, otherwise you are SOL with walkin) where rents are going to command a premium as a result of these trendy restaurants.
And you can say the same thing about certain French cuisines as well....just because Akrame is affiliated with a one Michelin star restaurant in Paris, doesn't mean diners are getting the same deal (actually higher priced, fewer courses and less pow wow, but the locals and celebs are eating it up simply because of the "wow" factor).
Ditto for Vietnamese food...it's even worse. I don't even want to bother with what they pass around as pho, and "An Nam" which is a higher end Vietnamese restaurant that supposedly focuses on Central Vietnamese food, looks little to nothing like high end but low to mid tier dining environment restaurants in Orange County/Westminster California.
But these kind of places still offer some level of variety, assuming you want a change of pace from Cantonese/local food, or if you are stuck in HK and cannot fly over to Japan (or Taipei) for J-food fixes.
The Akrame comment is from a trusted friend who is based in HK who actually has been to the sister restaurant in Paris (and has dined internationally at some of the finer restaurants). Not saying it is not good, but the value seems to be lacking, just like how great my Ginza Iwa experience was, but ultimately can't help but lament the high cost of the meal.
There are some exceptions to the French scene locally, but the Vietnamese food scene is definitely lacking in the traditional and variety department (basically whatever is available is dumbed down for the locals). I mean I grew up eating Perfume River (they were in Wanchai before they moved) in the 80s, and that was my first exposure to Vietnamese style food, not knowing it was adjusted for locals.
re: Uncle Yabai
Hello Uncle Y!! Belated Season Greetings!!
My memory of Gonpachi wasn't the food or the architecture but those 'old' Japanese Business men with their young blond Russian companions on the upper sushi floor!!
But not as bad as the Russian patrons sitting next to my table at Paris La Tour d'Argent, with their equally gorgeous blond female companions but pumping cigar smoke across and spoiling my meal!!
ah, I guess my friend was probably referring to weekday when he said no vendors cook live seafood in the Ap Lei Chau market during lunch. it makes sense they are open for lunch during the weekends with all the hungry people dining out.
KK, Do you know if the Aberdeen Fish Market canteen reopened in some other form yet?
We went on a Sunday and it was packed....if you had no reservation you would essentially be out of luck. I am not aware of whether the vendors do seafood cooking on weeknights, but 珠記 I think when they open at night, entertains crowds with stir fry and their own seafood offerings (or you can bring it in). I've a friend who strongly recommends it, and it is a family run business by a group of sisters.
Openrice shows that the canteen is open in the same spot but perhaps a different name
The reviews clearly show that they are just serving the low to mid end stuff that you can also get at neighborhood stir fry seafood restaurants and cafes on the main street at Ap Lei Chau. But that stuff can still be very delicious if done right.
Though I am guessing that if you know someone who is good friends with the head honcho of the Aberdeen Wholesale Fish Market some arrangements could be made to procure better high end catches and have the canteen cook it for you, assuming they have the same chefs (that I do not know).
re: K K
OK, did some more research. An owner of a dai pai dong in the Western District wet market upstairs food court took over the Aberdeen wholesale market canteen spot, and that guy grew up in Aberdeen, and is also a member of some fisherman's association, owns his own fishing boats, and is involved in the seafood wholesale business.
But it no longer appears to be a place where one would want to bring high end catches over to cook. But if you want milky fish soup cooked for three hours using a medley of local wild cheaper boney fish that fishermen love, soy sauce fried noodles, lamb brisket clay pot, fried lion head fish, this may be an ok place.
re: K K
We went on a week night and both Pak Kee and Chu Kee were open. friend reserved a table though it wasn't crowded that night.
its so odd that the new place in the fish market is not targeting the fame that space has generated. the old canteen seemed to be pushed out by escalating rent. one would have thought that the new place would then be paying more for the rent and thus has to cook fancier seafood to break even.
I'm sure the current owner who obviously is very street smart and savvy, has thought this through. We don't really know what happened behind the scenes with the signing of the lease. But let's be realistic here...who is going to come out to that location for jewelry, high end motorsports, let alone a fancy restaurant when it is right next by a wholesale a fish market. They will get business nearby, people in the know, those who live further away, including those who work at the wholesale fish market. It's always some voodoo secret magic formula about how they break even, let alone a profit. Best guess is that they have to do a lot of volume, and sell more beer.
And on a side note, Charles's "favorite" overpriced Italian restaurant, Da Domenico has resurfaced at G/F., 8 Hoi Ping Road, Causeway Bay. And The Forum relocated to 1/F, Sino Plaza, Jaffe Road, Causeway Bay.