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Restaurants & Bars 22

HK trip report Dec 2013-Jan 2014

K K | Jan 12, 201411:17 AM

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.

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