Hong Kong Round-Up: Australian Dairy Co, The Peninsula, Roast Goose

October 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Now to round up the rest of our Hong Kong eats.

First up, afternoon tea at the Peninsula. Lovely, relaxing, overpriced. We waited in line for 30 minutes, which I found excessive. By the time we were done they had actually put candles on our table and we were so full we skipped dinner. The scones (bottom) were perfect, the clotted cream and jam similarly immaculate.  The middle tier, which contained savory bites, was enjoyable. I especially liked the puff pastry with mushroom filling. The top tier was hit or miss. The cake with layers of curd, cream, and gelee was really perfectly balanced with bright notes of lemon and mango. The chocolate dessert, on the other hand, was too sweet and lacked real depth of flavor.

The following day we had an early breakfast at Australian Dairy Co. before heading out to Mui Wo for a day of bike riding. Wonderful, satisfying, cheap. Creamy eggs, the best HK coffee I’ve ever had, perfectly buttered toast, and macaroni soup.

Our final breakfast in Hong Kong and you better believe my heart was set on roast goose. We wandered around Kowloon for probably an hour before finally finding this place. Who thought roast goose could be so elusive? We grabbed half a goose and some rice and headed to the park.

Here he is, preparing to make me nauseous. This was honestly a pretty big disappointment. Maybe you have to be more careful about where you get your roast goose, but I thought any place with a bunch of gooses hanging in the window was fair game. The goose, however, wasn’t crisp enough, wasn’t tender enough, wasn’t flavorful enough. And it was so fatty we both felt sick after eating it, Fortunately our following meals at Bo Innovation and later in Vietnam provided us with ample opportunity to cleanse our ailing, fat-saturated palates.

Fu Sing Shark Fin Seafood Restaurant, Hong Kong

October 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Fu Sing is a relatively upscale Cantonese restaurant, not your standard, cart-style dim sum place. My expectation of the quality of the food (which was to be sorely disappointed) was based on a few sources but mainly on chowhound (at this point I am convinced that chowhound is as untrustworthy as yelp). I read that there is generally a several hour wait, so we made a reservation, but when we got there (Sunday morning), we found ourselves virtually alone.  We ordered a variety of dishes, which were generally edible, but by no means outstanding.

On the positive end: the egg tarts. Yes, the egg tarts were warm and creamy with a flaky crust. They were perfect, really, the best egg tarts I’ve had. They were also my first egg tarts in Hong Kong. I am inclined to believe that all HK egg tarts are vastly superior to their NY and SF brethren, so without a more thorough knowledge of them, I will hold off on finding these remarkable. That said, they were exceptionally good.

Secondly, the pork buns (right). These had a standard barbecued pork filling but the bun, instead of being the traditional steamed or baked variety, was something akin to Japanese melon-pan. It was sweet, crunchy, slightly caramelized. My initial reaction was that these were too sweet. The filling is already sweet, so they’re a bit of a sugar bomb. I’ll admit, I was eventually won over. They are intensely flavorful, if only the sweetness had been scaled back they would have been perfect.

The other dish we liked was the pork belly (which I believe is Hakka cuisine, specifically a dish called Mui Choy Kau Yuk, I could be wrong). I think that we liked the dish by virtue of the pork belly and the nature of the dish itself rather than any particularly good preparation by Fu Sing (it was a little greasy). Like the egg tarts, I think this dish would be as wonderful (or better) anywhere in Hong Kong. Pork belly is, in my opinion, a bit of a cheater’s meat anyway (i.e. it’s delicious no matter what).

On the less than satisfactory end of things we have a variety of greasy, flavorless dumplings (including a taro dumpling and a rather tough liver dumpling), shark fin soup with almost no shark fin but a distinct lack of flavor, and unremarkable lo mai gai (lotus leaf wrapped sticky rice).

This place has somehow managed to drum up seemingly universal rave reviews, which concerns me. If you are looking for the best dim sum in Hong Kong, like I was, do yourself a favor and look somewhere else.

Bo Innovation, Hong Kong

October 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Our last and most satisfactory meal in Hong Kong was at Bo Innovation, known for their deconstruction and subsequent re-imagining of classic Chinese dishes. I had the Bo Set Lunch, which is a great opportunity to get a taste of what Bo Innovation does so well.The Bo Set Lunch comes with a choice of 2 dim sum or classic ‘bo’ dishes, a main course, starch, and dessert du jour. My first choice was the cauliflower risotto with black truffle and duck jus. I was expecting something rather heavy, but was pleasantly surprised by the refreshingly light, yet satisfying nature of the dish. The richness of the duck jus is nicely cut by the creamy tartness of the risotto.

Next up was the foie gras potsticker (I never say no to foie gras). The foie filling was nice, well seasoned, and the wrapper was crisp, if a bit on the thick side. All in all a well composed bite.

I opted for the slow-cooked suckling pig with Chinese vinegar and egg for my main. The creaminess of the egg and the tartness of the vinegar were well balanced but I would have liked more texture contrast in the pig. I was expecting some of the fatty crispness suckling pig is known for, but the meat was uniform in texture, nicely tender. A nice crunch of pig skin would have made this dish perfect.

Dessert was the weakest link. I believe this was a take on an apple crumble, but it wasn’t memorable enough for me to be certain. The texture of the apple ball was strangely chewy, a little mealy. The foam component simply couldn’t hold up to its denseness. The texture balance was my main issue with the dish, but the flavor palette was also off (too sour) and I was dubious about the green sprigs, which I suppose were intended to balance the color composition of the dish rather than add anything to the flavor experience. All in all an edible dessert, but disappointing after the compelling appetizers and main.

Before coming to Bo, I was honestly not expecting to finish lunch. I had eaten half a fatty goose for breakfast and was feeling nauseous. It was, then, a true pleasure to find Bo Innovation’s use of traditionally heavy, fatty ingredients light, refreshing, and interesting.

Yan Toh Heen, Hong Kong

October 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

Alright, so. Last night in Hong Kong. Planning the trip, I thought to myself, best food city ever! Let’s totally splurge on some awesome food since who knows when we’ll be in HK again. I did my research. NY restaurant research is easy. I know what websites and critics to trust, I know about the chefs, the locations. Foreign restaurant research, at least in Asia, hasn’t been easy. Except for HK. HK is a city of foodies (or so I had been lead to  believe). There was no shortage of seemingly reputable information. Well, the clear answer, in hindsight, was to go to Caprice, which my brother recommended. But I thought, we’re in HK, I can get French food in NY, we should do Cantonese! I looked into a few options. We couldn’t get a reservation at Lung King Heen (three Michelin stars) so I ended up making a reservation at Yan Toh Heen (one Michelin star).

Atmosphere: Yan Toh Heen is located on Kowloon Peninsula in the InterContinental Hotel.  While the restaurant faces Hong Kong Island, unfortunately it’s located on the ground floor. So despite the restaurant’s name (meaning ‘breathtaking view elegant dining establishment’ according to this), the view was unimpressive. In its other aspects, the room was perfectly adequate.

Service: Friendly, a little informal, a little absent-minded. All in all, a little less than I expected. The tasting menu wasn’t brought until several courses into our meal and then only the Japanese version was brought for my friend. When they brought the wine (what turned out to be a very nice Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon), the waiter poured a taste, and then actually swirled the wine for us. I’m unsure if this is standard practice for them or if he just assumed we didn’t know anything about wine. I was a little offended.

Food: The important part, of course.  While perfectly edible and reasonably enjoyable, this is not what you expect from a $150 tasting menu. The food itself was well-executed but there was nothing to distinguish it from any other, cheaper Cantonese food except, perhaps, the choice of ingredients (abalone, truffles, etc), which I assume makes it ‘fine dining.’ When I order a tasting menu, I expect a point of view. I expect the chef to show me their skill and creativity through a unique understanding of the cuisine or ingredient or method of cooking. This food had no point of view, no creativity. Ultimately, at the very least I expect striking flavors and textures. While the food was, no doubt, made by a perfectly accomplished chef, it lacked excitement, that essential ability to surprise with flavor.

What is the broccoli for? Why is it there? Why doesn’t it taste like anything? These are some of the many questions I am unable to answer.

Of the several items we tried, none were memorable or particularly worthy of note. The fried rice (below) is what you would expect at any Cantonese restaurant anywhere in the world (and even then was only likable after liberal application of hot sauce). The pork and eggplant (above) was another, somewhat offensive, example.

Really, I paid $150 for this?

On the more negative end, the ‘fresh fruit salad’, which came with the prawns, made no sense as an accompaniment and tasted exactly the same as a similar ‘salad’ we got a few days later on an airplane.

A quarter of a strawberry? Sprig of some unmentionable green? What does it mean?

While the two desserts on the menu were nice, we also received this monster, complimentary:

The butter cookies were nice, tasted like what you get in a box, and the other items — well I don’t think I’ve ever tasted their like before and I’m uncertain what they were made out of (some kind of chalky-tasting flaky crust that I am certain was achieved without the help of any fats), but I would be happy never to have them again.

The experience, as a whole, was pleasant, a welcome relaxation after a few stressful days. Then again, one can enjoy wine and food and friends in a well-appointed room at most every fine dining establishment in Hong Kong. In the end, the food needs to make it worthwhile, and that is where Yan Toh Heen ultimately missed the mark.

You can view the full tasting menu here.

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