Mid Autumn Festival fireworks
Many of the London Dim Sum restaurants are Cantonese in origin, with Hong Kong being a heavy influence. With this in mind, I was fully expecting Hong Kong to be a dumpling fuelled nirvana but for the most part, I couldn't help but think that a lot of the stuff we can get in London is actually of a pretty high standard.
One of the places on my must visit list was Tim Ho Wan, famously awarded a Michelin star and subsequently recognised as the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world. You clearly don't get this sort of acknowledgement without doing something right, and since their award, they have opened a few branches across Hong Kong. I was told the best branches were located on the mainland, but as I often found myself shuttling through the IFC mall (it's en route to the ferry terminal), I opted to give the newer branch under Hong Kong station a go.
Being situated on a mezzanine level under the main entrance to the station, I found it remarkably tricky to find, although after going up and down a few escalators, I managed to locate it, mainly by the small huddle of people outside waiting for a seat. As a solo diner, I was sat almost immediately and ticked a few boxes on their short English version menu. Service is brusque but efficient, and the rate at which the food is churned out is remarkable, and probably one of the reasons why the end product was ultimately so disappointing. Asparagus dumplings with shrimp and wasabi was terrible to eat, mainly owing to the thick dumpling skin, beef and egg rice was incredibly bland, and (normally one of my personal favourite) Wu Kok (or yam croquettes) were given the THW twist with a filling of salad cream. Mental.
Not everything disagreed, as their cheung fun (erm, like Chinese canneloni?) were light and good to eat, whilst their siu mai were packed with pork and prawn. To be honest, I'm not sure what happened here, as their were plenty of people eating and plenty of people waiting, but this was definitely not my cup of tea.
[Tim Ho Wan - Shop 12A, Hong Kong Station (Podium Level 1, IFC Mall) , Central]
One of my lasting memories of eating Dim Sum as a child would be New World in Chinatown, a vast three storey dumpling spewing beast with trollies containing through the aisles laden with fried and steamed goods, coursing like lifeblood through the building. The minute I entered Maxim's, I drew many paralells. Massive banqueting-hall-esque room with trolleys snaking their way around the tables.
The food itself was ok, but really nothing amazing. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but there was no wow, just mediocre grunts of "mmm". The steamed stuff was nice enough, but lacking in seasoning, the fried stuff also decent, but it all tasted quite...normal. In fact, the thing that amused me the most were the little video screens on the front of certain trollies. I was beginning to wonder if this vision of a dim sum nirvana was just some sort of pipe dream.
[City Hall Maxim's Palace - 2nd Floor, 5 Edinburgh Place, Central]
The minute I entered Din Tai Fung in Causeway Bay, all this ennui dissipated. This place rules. Now, to add a bit of context, Mr Noodles has been banging on about this chain for as long as I have known him, and has even created an online petition to try and bring this restaurant to London. After my visit, I couldn't agree with him more.
The thing that DTF is renowned for are their Xiu Long Bau (or soup dumplings). As you enter the building, walk past the cheery little XLB man and enter the waiting area (it is highly likely you will have to queue). You can peer into a big window showing all the staff studiously churning out dumpling after dumpling. You get given the short menu stub and start ticking away. Although it is clear this is not a devoted dim sum restaurant, there are plenty of dumpling options.
The XLB were one of the best I have eaten anywhere. Thin, almost translucent dumpling skin, strong enough to hold in its contents while delicate enough to sag with its juicy cargo when lifted. I loved that there was a little instruction guide on how to eat these, but I favour the "bite the top off, let it cool (for a bit), suck the soup, eat the rest" method. A portion of 6 may have been a bit excessive for just one man, but I snarfed the lot in record time.
Other dishes included one of my favourites, a simple but perfectly executed fried rice. Eat this with the battered pork chop and it will soon be one of your favourites too. Siu mai (pork and prawn steamed dumplings) came with their own little prawn hats and were meaty yet delicate, lesser places will turn these into stodgy meatballs wrapped in wanton skin.
So there is much to love about Din Tai Fung and if you look closely at Mr Noodles' petition, my name should be down there amongst the many many others. It would be great if they did make a trip into London as I think out of all the wonderful food we have here, it would be great if we could get an affordable Cantonese restaurant here serving good quality, consistent and most importantly of all, delicious food.
[Din Tai Fung - Shop G3-11, 68 Yee Wo Street, Causeway Bay]
Lung Hing Keen is one of four three Michelin starred restaurants in Hong Kong, but the only Chinese one. I've often wondered what makes Chinese food worthy of such rewards and was ultimately intrigued by Lung Hing Keen and wanted to give it a go. Through some strange and very lucky circumstance, I was invited to meet the lovely head of marketing at LKH along with my friend who organised it all, and proceeded to work my way through one of the best meals of the whole trip.
Sticking mostly to the dim sum menu, plate after plate of the most delicate and flavoursome dim sum hit the table only to be scoffed seconds later. Lobster and prawn dumplings served elegantly with the tail skywards, the prawn as eager to get in there as I was. Perfectly steamed scallop dumplings with the lightest dumpling skin clinging to the succulent seafood. Even the siu long bao came with their own little baskets, so to avoid any of the deep broth inside escaping the hefty touch of a wayward chopstick.
Best of all were these tiny abalone and chicken dumplings. The pastry so short that they just crumble on your tongue, and a glaze of meat juices so glossy you can see your happy face before devouring each one. Baked char siu (BBQ pork) buns were light and packed with meat, not crimson red as I'm so accustomed to in the UK. Every single thing was so wonderfully executed that I wanted to avoid all chat and just eat.
Finishing off this most decadent meal with tiny custard puffs (another outstanding piece of pastry), I couldn't help but lean back and think what a lucky boy I really was. As you would expect from a 3 star restaurant, the bill would be very steep, and in a city where so much great food is available at a fraction of the price, I would feel pretty guilty in doing so. But the thing is, as with anything in life, you get what you pay for and you can't put a price on memories and those abalone puffs will live in mine for a long time to come.
[Lung Hing Keen - Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, 8 Finance Street, Central]
So there it is, part 2 of my Hong Kong roundup, from the ridiculous to the sublime, although sadly not even scratching the dim sum landscape in Hong Kong. Next stop, a few words about my stay in Hanoi.
[More pics this way...]
[More pics this way...]