[Hong Kong] Tasting Court 天一閣. Outstanding traditional Cantonese banquet

Tasting Court the private kitchen in Jordan closed a few months ago. It has recently reopened in Happy Valley. It focuses on classic, traditional and nostalgic Cantonese dishes cooked with high quality ingredients and deemphasizes pricey Cantonese banquet ingredients such as shark fin, bird’s nest, deep-sea fish, etc.

Originally I thought they were still closed but found during the trip that they reopened. So I booked a table to see how it compared with a favorite meal I had at The Chairman 3 years ago. The following is a report of a meal in August. The restaurant hasn’t officially reopened yet. But their facebook page is up. Word is beginning to get out, but its still possible to book a table with short notice.

Overall it was a very enjoyable banquet meal for me. Exquisite mastery of sauces and broth. Delicate handling of high quality ingredients made for a great value for its price even though, obviously, its not cheap.

1- Crispy Enoki Mushroom 酥 炸 金 針 菰- well fried, no grease leftover.

2- Wild Clam Scalded with Sake 日 本 清 酒 浸 蜆. The outstanding sweetness of the very fresh Filipino clams was balanced by the aromatic sake broth infused with ginger and scallion. I drank the broth, with had plenty of sake still in it. My favorite dish of the evening.

3- Char siu made with spanish iberico pork tenderloin- with the char siu sauce made with dau si, meen si and ‘olive’ si in the traditional manner, with no preservative that is common in most char siu places. A good mix of fatty and lean meat. My wife’s favorite dish.

4- Steamed Fresh Flowery Crab with Aged Shaoxing Wine & Red Yeast Rice Noodle 古 月 龍 山 蒸 花 蟹 配 紅 麴 粉. The hua diao wine brand was Gu Yue Long Shan 古越龍山, with the wine made in Shao Hsing. The wine containers were visible in the downstairs dining room. The manager emphasized that here they used 25 year hua diao vs 10 year at the chairman. The manager asked me how it compared with the same dish at The Chairman. Its hard for me to say since that meal was a while ago but I would say this dish was at least on par. Crab was obviously sweet and the ‘noodles’ soaked up all the wine sauce goodness. My wife said may be the Chairman dish was a bit better but it could be memory playing tricks. A couple of my dining companions were not huge in general on traditional Chinese wine sauces prep so while they found this dish good, they were ok with it. The manager emphasized that the 25 year hua diao was smoother.

5- Slow-cooked Chicken Soup with Fish Maw & Conch 花 膠 螺 頭 燉雞 - Very intense chicken flavour in the soup base from chicken (and bones), with pork, and outstanding sweetness from the conch. There were also a few pieces of conch edible in the soup. I love double boiled soup and I thought this soup was delicately balanced and was an exemplary version of such soup.

6- Slow-cooked Mini Meat Balls in Chicken Soup 葵 花 斬 肉 . Even though I was only ok with this dish, I admired the skill that went into the prep. To call it a meat ball was a big disservice to the dish. It used no tendon and was simmered in chicken broth for 7 hours. It was just melt in the mouth tender. This dish originated in the Tsui dynasty amongst the royals and later inspired the Shanghainese lion head meatball dish. The manager mentioned that the dish was also in the Chinese state banquet this year. One of my dining companion’s favorite.

7- Luffa squash with cloud ear mushroom cooked in fish broth. First the caveat on my comments in the next paragraph on this dish- the manager sped up the pacing of the dishes because there was a lull between this dish and the prior dish and our little ones were getting restless. So it arrived with the soya chicken and the fried rice.

My problem was that this dish was very light (and probably quite delicate) in seasoning by intent so eating it along with the soya chicken and fried rice meant that those two dishes’ more pronounced flavours overwhelmed this dish (and my palette) so I couldn’t taste much. Good fish broth. The squash was a bit raw.

8- Traditional Herbs Soy Sauce Chicken 天 一 養 生 雞/ 當 歸 黃 芪 黨 參 川 芎… 豉 油 雞. With dong guai, etc. Fresh chicken local from HK. Bouncy skin, unlike normal chicken with somewhat limp skin. Flavorful chicken-y meat. The soya sauce was the highlight, however, with it being intricately balanced amongst the many components and was a salty, a little sweet and aromatic. I was contemplating bringing the leftover sauce home in frozen form when the server took the plate away while I was looking in the other direction. Oh well.

9- Fried Rice with Ginger, Dried Scallops, Sakura Shrimp & Egg White 薑 米 瑤 柱 櫻 花 蝦 蛋 白 炒 飯. The Taiwanese shrimp introduced a complex briny sweet flavor that elevated the typical egg white fried rice dish to new heights. The manager also brought the left over crab hua diao sauce. Added to the fried rice, it lost the fried rice texture but gained a complex crabby winey taste.

10- Blended Jujube Coconut Juice Pudding 椰 汁 棗 茸 糕 and Huadiao with Dried Jujube Dessert Drink 花 雕 紅 棗 飲. The middle layer was cononut while the top and bottom layers were jujube. The dessert was gelatin-y and sticky and steamed. The jujube drink was made with the same hua diao in the crab dish. I have never been a fan of jujubes growing up so while I found it tasty, I didn’t ‘like’ it. But someone else may find it appealing.

Overall, a great version of traditional Cantonese cuisine, with time consuming and delicious prep and outstanding technique. I debate whether it reached the heights of the Chairman meal last time because I still dreamed about that ginger scallion chicken, but then the overall quality of this meal was excellent, and the kitchen was obviously very capable. One must enjoy the traditional wine sauce preparation to enjoy this meal, however. A couple of my dining companions liked the meal because of their preference on wine sauce but didn’t love.

There were 5 tables in the space. 4 upstairs and 1 downstairs. The manager (Andrew) said that the Jordan space was too big and was able to sit 200. They didn’t need such a big space and the rent was too high so they closed the Jordan location. They began renovation of the Happy Valley location at the end of June, started service at the beginning of July.

I inquired the source of the kitchen staff and they said that they were peers of those at The Chairman. I didn’t have a chance to inquire further later in the meal what ‘peers’ meant. The most knowledgeable server was the elderly gentleman. Get him if you want to learn about the dishes, the ingredients and the history.

Pacing of the meal was a little off with a bit of a wait for the red date dessert. Could use work there.

HK$728 per person for 10 courses. They didn’t charge us the customary 10% service but we added that anyway.

Other dishes seen- Baked Chicken Pickled with Sea Salt, Prawn Roe Stirred Noodle with Prawn & Shallot Essence Oil.

The first restaurant note on the left was ours. For those who are interested, you can see what the other tables had as well.

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BTW, here’s the al la carte menu. Not that I expect them to ever let people just order al la carte in the room without preordering given their small size. But there are a lot of other dishes in there. Any favorites among all the items?

Yeah that was a great dish at Tasting Cort. I’m actually kinda fond of the home classic of steamed clams with eggs with a dash of shaoxing wine. They do a great job at yum’s bistro, but I find most places in the bay does a good job (usually the bad issue is if the clams weren’t that fresh).

When I went to HK a year and a half ago, Tasting Court relocated to their location around Happy Valley. They weren’t open for too long so I think I basically had the same set menu as your link though we were not able to try the soy sauce chicken (we only had 3 people in our party). The funny thing, I actually booked dinner at The Chairman a week prior to our meal at Tasting Court and enjoyed seeing the differences in the crab dish. Yes I agree with the manager that the 25 year dish does make a difference, the Chairman’s version had a little harsher bite (still delicious, but I’m giving the sauce nod to Tasting Court). The rice noodles I think were a touch better with the Chairman, but the sauce was definitely smoother and to me, more delicious.

In regards to the order posted. The Enoki mushrooms were really well done. I’m surprised that the strands were not bound together as I typically see the Enoki mushrooms in a big pile.

I really enjoyed the char siu, but I would consider this a different variation than the traditional red-maltose version. Tender, well marbled I’d say with a very savory flavor if memory serves me correctly.

The crab I already mentioned, but for the double boil soup, I cannot recall exactly if it was the fish maw version. I’ll have to double check the menu and pictures, but I really enjoyed the soup was all I can recall.

I really loved that meatball dish though. As you mentioned it was extremely tender but capable of holding up in a ball shape. The broth was excellent and the napa cabbage was very sweet. I’m rather curious how they make it.

I am unable to currently check or recall on the vegetable dish, so I can’t say much there.

Fried rice was excellent, and the crab juice poured over the rice had a delicious impact as well.

I only really never cared for the dessert that was provided in Tasting Court. The little jello puddings were … well chewy and bouncy, but not a big fan. As with you, I was never really a fan of jujube, so the drink didn’t wow me. I actually enjoyed the Chairman’s version of the almond tea much more.

Overall simply superb meal at Tasting Court. They have a revamped website and I’m linking to the gallery right now. Menu seems to be uh… partially updated/updating so no idea what’s going on there: https://www.tastingcourthk.com/gallery

When I ever get back to HK I’m definitely booking dinner here. There are some new dishes I’m really tempted to try out.

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Speaking of Yum’s, I need to head there more regularly. The bridge across the Bay seems to be a large enough deterrent for me. I’ve never had clams there. Preorder?

I am actually quite impressed that they were mostly able to scale down and offer the set menu for a party of 3. Now that they are open for longer, I wonder if getting reservations are harder now, especially for a smaller table. But if they can accomodate smaller tables, that means the next time I am in HK I can actually go there without having to assemble a big group every time.

How did you like the Chairman after the rumored exodus of the kitchen? I had the crab dish there. But it was 3 years before Tasting Court’s version so wasn’t able to compare the two. I still remember fondly the ginger scallion chicken at the Chairman. Still the best version I ever had. The fragrance.

While we were there, we saw some salt-baked chicken made the traditional way that looked fantastic, and some noodles. I have to dig up the old pictures.

Budget permitting, I’d eat there much often. Its certainly not cheap, but for the quality, Tasting Court offers I think great value compared to many banquet/ hotel restaurants.

Ah, I usually go with a large group. Scamper up family and friends. I quite enjoyed their double boiled watercress soup. The sturgeon one was a little more medicinal for my taste, but still quite good. They do a pretty good wintermelon soup as well.

I’ve only ever tried preordering 3 types of clams. I’ve attempted the empress (surf) clam and the geoduck and was successful with both though my preference was always the bean sprouts stir fried with the empress clam (with xo sauce is a great version as well). We asked for razor clams once, but they just said no to that haha.

They did a great job (well, I was over stuffed, but… that’s a good thing right?) on portion and weren’t going to charge us for that 4th person. The overall atmosphere seemed quite accommodating though it might be because we were eating by bay area standard time (5/6ish). But yeah, early reservations, we got slotted onto a wednesday night (though, my dad was happy to jump to Happy Valley racetrack after dinner lol).

Frankly, I quite enjoyed the Chairman both times I went (2ish years apart). There is one problem with the comparison; I don’t think I really tried it before the exodus, and my standards are really the SF Bay area. My take is that the Chairman is trying to give a little more modern twist to the HK/Cantonese cuisine that’s a little more Californian style than say the modernist take by Alvin Leung at Bo Innovations. Tasting Court feels more of a throwback to more traditional dishes done exceptionally well. I haven’t ate at Fook Lum Moon so no idea how that goes (well… I did have that crab rendition at In Situ haha), but maybe in that vein?

I never tried that ginger scallion chicken at the Chairman, nor have I tried the soy sauce chicken at either places :confused: Sadly it was too much food for three people haha. I will say, I think I enjoyed the meal at the Chairman and Tasting Court more than I did at Yan Toh Heen. Not that it was a bad meal there, just the Chairman and Tasting Court seemed more memorable. Also per cost basis, Tasting Court was a much better deal haha (it has raised its price since my visit last September).

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The Chairman’s philosophy is a bit like Chez Panisse. Take the highest quality ingredients and prep it skillfully. Tasting Court, like you said, applies more traditional techniques on top of that.

How much is the pre fixe now?

Sounds about right!

When I last looked online (prior to whatever is going on with the website) seemed like an additional 20-30 USD for the set menu that we had. I think they considered it more of a soft opening in their Happy Valley location

I want to try their salt baked chicken. Saw it at another table when I was there.

Picture from Openrice.

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Wow, I wonder how that tastes. Did it smell fragrant when you were next to the table? I wonder how it compares to the Hakka Restaurant’s salt baked chicken in SF.

For some of the stuff at Tasting Court, I’d like to see how their preparation of Pan Fried Whole Crispy Chicken Stuffed with Shrimp Paste. I had a similar (if not the same dish) at Embassy Kitchen in LA.

This Steamed crab meat and scallop seems interesting as well.

I enjoy winter melon probably too much but I’d like to see how this tastes: Steamed Lotus Seed in Winter Melon Roll with Broccoli

I honestly can’t quite figure out what’s in this dish : 清酒煮蜆

Same goes with: 日本雞蛋焗魚腸

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I am curious about this dish too. Lotus seeds winter melon, looks like a challenge in the balance of taste and texture.

Some sorts of whelks, sea snails?

I was a few metres away when I saw it. So its too far away to smell anything. Probably should just invite myself to that table…

I wonder how the citrus-y taste will affect the crab meat and scallop…

That is a lot of work to wrap all that thin winter melon around the lotus seeds…

Yeah it looks painstaking to make, but curious how it’ll actually taste.

Ohhh that makes sense. Huh, interesting.

Ha!

I’m thinking that the acidity might give it a nice burst. Though not too certain when its steamed with the items and not added after.

I have a suspicion it doesn’t taste all that stellar. Both ingredients are pretty subtle.

To me, I will group this dish with other dishes such as the sticky rice-stuffed/ deboned chicken dish that’s a pain to make but don’t substantially taste better.

Ah that’s true, by themselves they’re not exactly flavorful.

You don’t love that chicken though!? Haha, I really liked that at Yum’s when I got it, though my preference still goes towards that steamed dungeness crab with glutinous rice.

Their current default menus for those who are interested (and can read Chinese):

Menu 1:

酥炸金針菰
桂花茶燻雛鴿
西班牙黑毛豬叉燒
花膠響螺頭燉雞湯
廿五年陳花雕蒸花蟹(配陳村粉)
葵花斬肉
天一養生豉油雞
薑汁生炒芥蘭
蝦子蝦油蔥油拌麵
椰汁紅棗茸糕
黑糖花雕凍飲

$698pp+10%service charge

Menu 2:

意大利陳醋拌燒椒皮蛋
蜀香鮑魚拌東風螺
自家農場煙燻臘肉
花膠響螺頭燉雞湯
廿五年陳花雕蒸花蟹(配陳村粉)
九製陳皮話梅一字骨
天一養生豉油雞
鮮魚湯腐皮浸時蔬
蝦子蝦油蔥油拌麵
椰汁紅棗茸糕
黑糖花雕凍飲

$748pp+10%service charge

Menu 3:

陳皮蒸鮑魚仔
三日熟成牛肉
西班牙黑毛豬叉燒
花膠響螺頭燉雞湯
廿五年陳花雕蒸花蟹(配陳村粉)
五椒炒海蝦
家鄉醬碌獅頭鵝
鮮魚湯腐皮浸時蔬
薑米瑤柱櫻花蝦蛋白炒飯
椰汁紅棗茸糕
黑糖花雕凍飲

$798pp+10%service charge

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I went last month when I was in HK. I will post my experience soon. I was only given the option of 2 menus. They emailed them in English, we picked menu B. The pigeon and the crab were the stand out dishes.

Menu A(Table for 2)
1.Crispy Enoki mushroom
2.Smoked Chinese Bacon Home Style
3.Wild Clam Scalded with Sake
4.Slow cooked Chicken soup with fish Maw & Conch
5.Sautéed Prawn with Egg Yolk Paste Sauce , Deep Fried Prawn Head in Spicy Salt
6.Slow cooked meat ball in chicken soup
7.Stir fried Kale with ginger essence
8.Prawn roe stirred noodle with prawn & shallot essence oil
9.Blended jujube coconut juice pudding
10.HUADIAO with dried jujube dessert drink
$598 p/p +10%service charge
Corkage fee $100/per bottle

Menu B(Table for 2)
1.Wild Clam Scalded with Sake
2.Dried Sliced Beef marinated with house-made soy bean sauce
3.Slow cooked Chicken soup with fish Maw & Conch
4.Steamed fresh flowery crab with aged SHAOXING Wine served with rice noodle
5.Baby pigeon smoked with osmanthus & Longjing tea
6.Stir fried Kale with ginger essence
7.Prawn roe stirred noodle with prawn & shallot essence oil
8.Blended jujube coconut juice pudding
9.HUADIAO with dried jujube dessert drink

748 p/p +10%service charge
Corkage fee $100/per bottle

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I think the ones they sent me are likely for more people. The ones they sent you are for two only. There are some common dishes but it seems the menu for more people are a little more elaborate.

Please do!

I would like to know more on this dish, Longjing is a delicate tea, would know if they brought much to this dish.

I had dinner there some years ago, I remembered the dishes clam with sake, flowery crab and iberico pork char siu. The soup conch maw chicken was good too, very refined.

Which of the menu are you going to choose?

The dessert is the same since 2016. They must be very proud of that.

None of them probably. I was inquiring something else when they sent me the menus.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold