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Hong Kong: San Hing 新興食家

16 Dec

As we had a morning flight to catch out of Hong Kong, we planned to do an early morning Dim Sum breakfast in San Hing as it opens at 3am and was rated on CNNGo as having very good Liu Sha Bao 流沙包 (golden custard bun). The stars were aligned too, as we bunked over at our friend’s pad in Kennedy Town which ended up being only 200m away from San Hing. This is the view we got when we left her pad to trot to San Hing – it’s really cool to be staying just a few steps away from the harbour.

Totally random but I spotted this pretty Body Shop Tram on our way there.

The moment we entered, we felt all eyes on us as we were the only odd ones out. At 7am, everyone there was a retiree clutching newspapers and Yum Cha-ing as part of their morning routine. You probably get the clubbers post-clubbing in the wee hours of the morning; but at daybreak, retirees rule at San Hing. It was packed to the brim but we managed to squeeze past the crowd into a corner of the back section and shared a table with an elderly man.

There was no menu so we just ordered the usuals and scanned the many media clippings on their wall for recommendations. Let’s start with the Liu Sha Bao that even Eason Chan recommends.

As its name dictates, the filling of the Liu Sha Baos at San Hing really gush out out, unlike the almost-solid ones we often get in Singapore. I quite liked it as it wasn’t overly oily, didn’t have too much salted egg, and had a fragrant coconut milk taste. A pity it wasn’t served piping hot so by the time I snapped a few photos it was already cold.

We also ordered the Shrimp Dumpling (Har Gao), Glutinous Rice Wrapped in Lotus Leaf (Luo Mai Gai) and Rice Roll with Prawns (Har Cheong Fan). All were pretty good! I especially liked the skins of the cheong fan and har gaos, they were thin, fresh and moist enough. The glutinous rice could have done with a bit more sauce/flavour. On hindsight I should have ordered the Quail Egg Siew Mai too but I completely blanked out as we rushed to order.

For “dessert”, I wanted the Osmanthus Jelly, but was told they only serve it in summer. So I ordered the Deep Fried Milk which is also one of their signature dishes and the waitress said they don’t have that either. But anyway it popped up on our table like 1 minute later, so I’m not complaining. I’ve not eaten this before so I didn’t know what to expect. Unfortunately this was served cold and hence felt very greasy :( But it was still semi-crispy on the outside, and the inside was basically a milk-flavoured custard. Not exactly salty or sweet, just milk-flavoured. Still I could imagine that served piping hot, it would have tasted 10 times better.

San Hing to me, felt like a neighbourhood Dim Sum place catering to the nearby residents and probably the clubbing/night shift crowd who want supper (given the weird opening hours). It isn’t exactly a place for refined Dim Sum, or to sit and linger as it has extremely uncomfortable surroundings. But that said, the retirees there seemed to have no qualms about zen-ing out and reading their newspapers over copious amount of tea. If you do enjoy a good Liu Sha Bao or are looking for a late night/early morning Dim Sum feast, it’s worth a trek.

Price: $ (<30 SGD for 2 pax)
Location: 10 Hau Wo St., Kennedy Town, Hong Kong Island (nearest MTR is Sheung Wan/Central, you can take a cab from there)
Open daily: 3 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Hong Kong: Tsim Chai Kee 沾仔記 (~) vs Mak’s Noodles 麥奀雲吞麵世家

15 Dec

Tsai Chai Kee and Mak’s Noodles are popular Wanton Mee shops in Hong Kong that interestingly, sit directly opposite each other in the Central district.

My first review is on Tsim Chai Kee.

I opted for the Wanton Mee with Dace Fishballs. The thin noodles were springy and crunchy to the bite, and the wantons big and stuffed with a few prawns. Though the fishballs were weirdly shaped, they actually tasted much better than they looked. In addition to dace, it also contains minced pork and tangerine peel which gives it a tinge of zest (it’s a bit of an acquired taste). However, I found the soup far too alkaline for my liking (alkaline water is used to make the noodles to give it that much sought after “Q” quality), so we were a little disappointed in that aspect.

My second review is on Mak’s Noodles.

I had the Wanton Mee, which was served in a small bowl the size of a soup bowl. This is definitely not a place for a proper meal because of the serving size, maybe that’s why it’s empty at dinner time. We were told by a friend that the locals actually eat wanton mee as a snack. If you’re wondering where the wantons were, they were actually hidden under the pile of noodles. I read from other food blogs that Mak’s serve the noodles on the top so that it doesn’t get soggy. Smart move. The noodles were good too, but I’m not a fan of the small one-bite wantons. Overall, I preferred Mak’s Noodles simply because of the fact that the soup, which is made using powdered dried flounder, dried shrimp roe and pork bones was delicious. And it wasn’t masked by the taste of alkaline water.

[Edit: I was informed by my reader that best wantons in Hong Kong are supposed to be small and one bite, and they also test the skill of the wanton maker with its diminutive size. But I guess it’s a matter of personal preference – I still prefer mine a bit larger and there are many other shops that cater to this.]

The waiters also recommended the Beef Brisket Noodles, claiming that they are actually famous for this. I must have missed the memo somewhere as the shop title says “wanton mee specialist”! Anyway we got a bowl to satisfy our curiosity. While the beef was tender and flavourful, the rich brown soup in this one was a bit too salty for my liking. I would go back to Kau Kee anytime for a more balanced soup.

So what’s my final verdict on this wanton mee taste off? If you’re looking for a proper meal and don’t like the authentic small wantons like me, go for Tsim Chai Kee. But I’ll go with Bourdain on this one, Mak’s Noodles is overall better because of its tasty soup but it’s size would only make for a good snack. I actually think you can find better/other good wanton mees elsewhere in Hong Kong. 正斗 which I wrote about is pretty good too, which you can thankfully find in HKIA. You can also read more about the Best Wanton Mee in Hong Kong by CNNGO here.

Price: $ (20-30 HKD per bowl)
Location: 77 (Mak’s) & 98 (Tsim Chai Kee) Wellington Street, Central

Hong Kong: Tai Cheong Bakery 泰昌餅家

13 Dec

Look who got a new coat of Tiffany blue-ish paint? Tai Cheong Bakery, my go-to place in Hong Kong for egg tarts recently renovated and I almost couldn’t recognise its super modern facade and interior of its Central branch. Famous for Hong Kong’s last governor Chris Patten proclaiming them the “best egg tarts in the world”, I’ve been hooked on them since first bite though “best in the world” is probably a tall order.

This is a photo from summer with the old interior – Chris Patten’s picture is proudly displayed. While I come strictly for the Egg Tarts, the hubs will always buy the Chicken Pies (displayed next to the egg tarts) and eat one on the spot. The pie uses the same pastry as the egg tart, and has a delicious and juicy chicken filling.

Tai Cheong’s Egg Tart has a rich egg custard flavour that has a silky smooth consistency and I adore the buttery pastry. Best consumed straight from the shop’s oven, but I’ve had them 1-2 days later while desperately trying to preserve the last vestiges of my Hong Kong holiday.

Price: $

Location: 35 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central. Many other outlets but this location is quite convenient for tourists.

Hong Kong: Sift Desserts Patisserie

13 Dec

I had this sudden craving for cakes and cupcakes. Since there’s a dearth of good ones in where I live in China, I was looking forward to Sift Desserts Patisserie in Hong Kong. I first encountered Sift while shopping in Horizon Plaza in Ap Lei Chau this summer and stopped by for coffee and a cupcake. Only after that did I realise it’s actually quite popular and has a few branches and even a Sift Desserts Bar on Graham Street which serves plated desserts and wine.

This time we hopped over to the Prince’s Building branch after lunch at Man Wah so it was just next door. It’s mostly takeaway but they have a few tables for those who want to eat on the spot. Traffic was quite high at this branch  – customers bought cupcakes for takeaway non-stop, and things were running out fast.

I like the way Sift does its branding and presentation of their desserts. It’s elegant, simple but not too pretty until you don’t feel like eating them – that’s the feeling I get for many French/French-Japanese desserts – if you know what I mean. It also doesn’t try very hard to be a “French”/ “American” dessert place since its not, which I also like. Plus their selection is pretty awesome – I actually want to eat almost everything!

This was maybe less than half of their pastry selection. Gorgeous!

This was also about half of their cupcake selection. Ahh so confused – one stomach, too many choices!!

Since I was mad full from lunch, I started with something zesty – the Lemon Meringue Tart (30 HKD) made of Italian meringue, lemon cream and pate brisee. The lemon cream was just perfect in flavour and texture, and the meringue melted like a dream. The only thing was since we were eating with plastic fork, it was a bit hard to cut through the rather hard pastry. Loved this.

Next dessert was the Signature chocolate cake (40 HKD), which was made of praline crunch, Valrhona 40% cremeux and chocolate fudge cake.

This was surprisingly good too. The fudge cake was very moist and even though the creameux wasn’t dark chocolate, it wasn’t too sweet and in fact very delicious! With the praline crunch and the cornflake like topping, it was a great chocolate cake.

We got cupcakes for takeaway instead since I couldn’t ingest anything after this. The Banana Foster (25 HKD) was a fresh banana cake with Madgascar bourbon vanilla infused cream cheese frosting, salty caramel filling and drizzle; and the Salted Caramel (25 HKD) was a Valrhona dark chocolate cake with salty caramel filling and drizzle. Sadly the Banana Foster didn’t quite survive the journey back and it was a mess when we ate it, but we still loved the flavours. I liked the cake in the Salted Caramel one (pictured below) but the filling was a bit too sweet after a while.

On the whole, Sift gets a return trip in my book. I’ve also deduced that I’m more of a pastry than a cupcake/macaron person, and henceforth also prefer their pastries. The portions here are quite small so it may be considered pricey for some, but Hong Kong is not really a cheap place to eat anyway. Would love to try its dessert bar next trip!

Price: $-$$
Location: Shop 240-241, Prince’s Building, 10 Chater Road, Central


Hong Kong: Man Wah 文華廳 (*)

11 Dec

I must admit that I haven’t exactly been too wowed by Dim Sum in Hong Kong yet, though Tim Ho Wan comes the closest because of its sheer value and excellent baked char siew baos. Hence for this short trip, I aimed to venture into the higher end of the Dim Sum resty spectrum, but not Lung King Heen or Fook Lam Moon since I read quite polarising reviews. Man Wah, located at Mandarin Oriental Hotel has been highly rated by foodies and on OpenRice, many long proclaiming that it’s deserving of at least one Michelin star which it just received. Interestingly though I only made a reservation the night before our Saturday lunch, there were still tables available.

Although you can’t see it (the sun was very bright and my photography skills are lacking – sorry about that!), Man Wah overlooks Victoria Harbour. The view is simply gorgeous! A postcard perfect view of Hong Kong, really.

And the decor is lovely too, very elegant and classic oriental without being too old fashioned and opulent.

I also liked the pretty tableware. We ordered Pu-Lei tea which was at the right intensity throughout the whole meal, not too bitter. We waited for our friend who was late for almost 40 mins before we ordered but not once did the staff hurry us to order or made us feel uncomfortable (though I personally did as it was quite a posh/old money place). In fact they were quite warm and friendly.

We were served a very generous portion of their awesome Signature X.O. Chilli Sauce, and during the meal they actually gave us a new serving and cleared our half eaten one (ahh what a waste!).

We were served an appetiser of Deep Fried Anchovies and Peanuts. The anchovies were lightly dusted with flour and deep fried. Quite yums.

The Beef Tenderloin Puff with Black Pepper Sauce 黑椒牛柳酥 (98 HKD) is one of the signature dim sum dishes. It was quite good, the beef was tender and I liked their black pepper sauce.

The Tiger Prawn with Bamboo Shoot Dumpling 筍尖蝦餃皇 (88 HKD) was different from other Har Gaos I’ve had because of the addition of bamboo shoots. And it works because the sweetness and crunchiness of the shoots complement the prawns quite well. Skin was also thin and moist, a must in my book for Har Gaos!

The Pork Siew Mai with Truffle 松露菌燒賣 (88 HKD) didn’t fare as well for me because the truffle didn’t taste as strong as it should have been. Still, it was an okay Siew Mai.

I can’t remember much about the Barbequed Pork Bun 蠔皇叉燒包 (68 HKD) so it must been okay. I guess nothing can beat the Baked Char Siew Baos of Tim Ho Wan!

We ordered the U.S. Pork Neck, Kuei Hua Flavoured Pear, Chin Kiang Vinegar 桂花梨黑醋脆豬柳 (198 HKD) as it seemed quite raved about (it was on the more pricey a la carte menu). Pork neck sounds potentially yucky but I can assure you its texture is like nice fatty pork, but without the big jiggly fatty bits that I usually tear away. The osmanthus flavour was infused into the pear and I guess you were supposed to eat the pork with bits of pear but I don’t think my dining companions bothered. I did like the tangy pork neck on its own though. Essentially, IMO it’s a very nuanced and classy take on 糖醋排骨 (Sugar and Vinegar Pork Ribs).

Another signature a la carte dish, this was the Double Boiled, Silk Hen, Pearl Clam, Wolfberry, Chinese Herbs 竹絲雞石斛杞子燉珍珠肉 (208 HKD/bowl). I admit I ordered it partially because of the words “Silk Hen” and “Pearl Clam”. It was super flavourful in the nourishing no-MSG way, and it better be with that price tag I guess :P Definitely not your average chicken soup.

We were surprised that we were served complimentary petit fours – Mango Coconut Custard Pudding and a Baked Walnut and Lotus Paste Pastry. Both were delicious, especially the walnut pastry! We all agreed on this one. The pastry was so buttery and had a nice, slightly burnt smell if you know what I mean. We didn’t order more dishes since we were saving stomach space for Sift Patisserie next door, but after this course I was really very full.

Even the toilet is gorgeous, I couldn’t resist a picture.

Overall all the dishes we ordered were quite good, and very sophisticated in quality – there was none of that greasiness/lard in a lot of the Dim Sum in Hong Kong which I really don’t like. Service was just excellent. But I guess to me it was a little pricey for the quality (especially dishes on the a la carte menu), since you can get similar quality dishes at a fraction of the price in Hong Kong and even Singapore. You are definitely paying for ambiance, service and location; since the lower end experiences in Hong Kong usually have none to speak of. Still, there were still other interesting sounding Dim Sum dishes like Roast Goose Puff in Yanmin Sauce and Minced Pigeon with Chinese Celery Dumplings that I would love to try next time…after I’ve tried Fook Lam Moon and Lung King Heen ;)

Price: $$$-$$$$ (300 HKD per pax for the above)
Location: 25th floor, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 5 Connaught Road, Central

Hong Kong: Tasty Congee & Wantun Noodle Shop 正斗粥麵專家

11 Sep

Let’s face it, airports are never a destination of choice for food as airport food is often expensive and insipid. But if you are ever transiting in Hong Kong International Airport, please do yourself a favour and check out 正斗 (you won’t see the English name so just look out for that). I randomly ordered the Wanton Mee, not knowing that it was famous for it. It was actually a good bowl of wanton mee, much better than what I expected and even better than some of the supposed famous wanton mees in town. The noodles and wantons were good, the broth wasn’t overly salty and even the portion was just right. To wash it down I had a Honey Osmanthus Tea, which was delicious and very cooling too. With that in my belly I was ready for another round of insipid airplane food.

Price: $
Location: 7/F, Departures East Hall, Terminal 1, Hong Kong International Airport. They have other branches in the city, including IFC Mall.

Hong Kong: Kau Kee Restaurant 九記牛腩

10 Jun

When I asked a friend who had worked in Hong Kong for food recommendations, he only told me about Kau Kee, a beef noodle restaurant near the Central area. So I guess that only means that it is something special. We came here for an afternoon snack so we didn’t have to queue, so I would advise coming at an off peak timing. There are only a few options to consider when you order – type of beef, type of noodle and dry/soup/curry soup.

We ordered a Dry Beef Brisket with Flat Yellow Noodles that came with a bowl of soup on the side. I’m not usually a fan of dry noodles when I can get soup options, but I think the husband liked it. The texture of the yellow noodles were very good.

This was the Beef Brisket with Flat Rice Noodles in Clear Soup. The soup was immensely flavourful and rich and the brisket very tender. The rice noodles here are very thin and I really like the taste of it since it’s not starchy and soaks up the flavour of the soup very well. Delicious!

The Sliced Beef with Flat Rice Noodles in Clear Soup was the almost the same as above, except that it had beef slices instead of brisket. Definitely not as tender as the brisket – it was a little chewy – but lower in fat content.

We also couldn’t resist not trying one in the curry soup, so this was the Beef Tendon with Flat Yellow Noodles in Curry Soup. The soup was quite thick and had quite an intense curry flavour, but wasn’t spicy like Indian curries. Very interesting! Like the beef brisket, the tendon was also well tender and surprisingly had quite a bit of lean meat too.

Were the noodles delicious? Most definitely. I washed it down with some Ice Lemon Tea and was a very happy camper. I also quite like the chilli sauce here though it’s not necessary since the soup is already so flavourful. The portions here are very small so you might need more than a bowl each for a proper meal (especially for guys). Please note that there is no ambience or service to speak off – we got squeezed into a corner and had to share a table with other people (realised it’s quite common in Hong Kong) and they didn’t give us time to think of what to order (also quite common).

Price: $
Location: 21 Gough Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island