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Kwan Kee Claypot Rice 坤記煲仔小菜 is a famous claypot rice (bao zai fan / bo zai fan 煲仔飯) restaurant located in Western District in Hong Kong. My friends have been raving to me about it for years, so on this trip I finally got to try it although it happens that I actually came here many years ago, but it was well before my blogging days so I never used to keep track of where I was going back then.
Bo zai fan (claypot rice) is one of my favorite Cantonese dishes so that’s what I came here for, but when I told my friend that I wanted to go she told me that she actually doesn’t even really like bo zai fan as it’s too much rice, but she really likes the other dishes a lot, so that piqued my interest as I hadn’t really thought about their other dishes.
The restaurant is located in an alley right off Queen’s Road West. There is an indoor section and an outside area with picnic tables and plastic chairs; it’s on the border of being a dai pai dong based on the way it’s laid out and the general atmosphere. The restaurant is fairly cramped with an open kitchen and there are specials written all over the walls. The open kitchen is interesting as you can see they cook the rice using both a regular grill and a charcoal grill; I believe they switch the claypot rice from the regular grill to the charcoal grill or vice versa at some point during the cooking process although I didn’t ask them about their technique. Traditionally charcoal fire is the way of cooking claypot rice although I’m not exactly sure what the difference is between using a regular versus charcoal grill.
The service was fine as it was fairly quick and efficient. I’m not sure if they speak English or not, but it’s likely that they don’t or if they do not very well. Also note that you need to make a reservation here; you can walk in, but it’s a crap shoot as to how bad the wait will be.
Here’s what we got:
- Imperial Chicken (Gui Fei Ji / Ba Wang Ji 貴妃雞 / 霸王雞): This was boiled chicken served with minced ginger, garlic and scallion oil. The meat was nicely tender and had a great chicken flavor that you don’t get from most chickens in the U.S. The skin was really nice as well and was fairly similar to Hainan chicken although it wasn’t served quite as cool as Hainan chicken is and the skin doesn’t separate from the meat as easily. I thought it was great, but my friends said that normally it’s even more tender and that the skin is more yellow as opposed to the slightly off yellow color of the chicken we had. The waiter said that they used a different chicken that day, but that it was the same quality. I’d love to try it when it’s on because I thought it was great on an off day. 8.75/10
- Lamb Belly and Bamboo Pot (Zhi Zhu Yang Nan Bao 枝竹羊腩煲): This was a big hot pot with chunks of lamb belly, bamboo, fried tofu skin, corn and green vegetables. My friend told me it’s one of their specialties. The broth was light and clean tasting and it got heavier as the lamb cooked longer and the fat was rendered into the broth. The lamb was really nice; it was fall apart tender and not gamey at all. While it was a simple dish I thought it was excellent. It was definitely a surprise dish for me especially since lamb is not used very often in Cantonese cuisine. 9/10
Beef in Satay Sauce Over Chinese Broccoli (Sha Die Niu Rou Chao Jie Lan 沙嗲牛肉炒芥蘭): This was strips of beef stir-fried with sliced bamboo shoots and peppers in satay sauce over boiled kai lan (Chinese kale). The beef was stir fried nicely; it was silky and tender. It had decent wok hay, which is the flavor you get from cooking stuff at a high heat in a wok effectively smoking it. The satay sauce was a light flavored brown sauce, which was pretty good although I thought it could’ve been a little more flavorful. Overall, this was good although not amazing. 8.25/10
- Salt and Pepper Fish and Squid (Jiao Yen Jiu Du Yu Xian You 椒鹽九肚魚鮮魷): You can get the squid or fish separately, but we got the combination. It’s the typical salt and pepper batter, but it was very nicely executed. The exterior was crispy without being oily and had a good salty flavor without being overly salty. The squid and fish meat was very tender which was great. This is one of the better version’s I’ve had in a while, I especially liked the fish which was called “nine stomach fish” in Chinese (no idea what it’s called in English). 8.75/10
- Eel, Spare Rib And Liver Sausage Clay Pot (Bai Shan Pai Gu Run Chang Bao Zai Fan 白鱔 排骨潤腸煲仔飯): Bo zai fan (claypot rice) is rice that is cooked in a claypot, various meats are added on top and the flavor from those meats runs into the rice while the bottom of the rice is very crispy from being cooked in a claypot over a hot fire then a special soy sauce that is darker, thicker and sweeter is poured on the top and you mix it all together. We got the eel, spare rib and liver sausage as toppings. My friends said they are known for their eel here. The eel was really good, very tender and clean tasting; even though I love eel I normally only like Japanese style eel, but this eel was definitely a pleasant exception. They also add some black bean sauce onto the eel, which was a nice touch. The spare ribs were really tender, but weren’t overly fatty like some places and the liver sausage was really nice, which I guess tastes somewhat similar to a blood sausage, but a little more firm if you’ve never had it before (it’s not metallic-y or very liver-y in case you’re wondering). The bottom of the rice was the best crust I’ve ever had, it was literally perfectly crispy all throughout the claypot and while it was crispy none of the rice was burnt. Having tried to make bo zai fan at home, I’m amazed at how they could get such a perfect crust. The soy sauce was great too, very flavorful and a bit on the sweet side; it complemented everything very well. As a side note their claypot rice comes in somewhat of a small bowl, so I found the best way to eat it is to take all the toppings off, scoop up the bottom of the rice to break up the bottom crispy parts and then put the toppings back in, pour the soy sauce on top and mix it all up. Overall, this was definitely the best claypot rice I’ve ever had. I don’t know if this is the right word to describe it, but I found it to be more refined than other versions as everything was so perfectly cooked and nothing seemed overly heavy or oily. 9.25/10
- Eel, Chicken and Chinese Sausage (Bai Shan Hua Ji La Chang Bao Zai Fan 白鱔滑雞臘腸煲仔飯): This was the same as the other bo zai fan, but had chunks of perfectly tender white chicken meat and regular Chinese sausage, which is slightly sweet and is one of my favorite things to have in bo zai fan because the combination of the sweetness of the sausage combined with the salt from the soy sauce and the rice has to be one of the best combinations ever. Overall this was unbelievably good just like the other one. 9.25/10
- Chinese Kale Sauteed With Garlic (Suan Rong Chan Jie Lan 蒜蓉炒芥蘭): This was kai lan (Chinese kale) that was sautéed with garlic, oil, fermented black beans and salted fish. It was nicely stir-fried and I liked the extra flavor that the black bean and salted fish gave the dish; very good version of this dish. 8.75/10
Overall, this was a wonderful meal and probably one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve had in Hong Kong as I love simple comfort food like this. I was also pleasantly surprised at how good the non-bo zai fan dishes were; I’d come here even if I didn’t want claypot rice. I highly recommend this restaurant.