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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