We arrived in HK on a Sunday, and left on the following Saturday. My partner attended a conference at the Kowloon Shangri-La, and we stayed there; I had nothing to do but shake off jet lag from having arrived from the UK via SF, ignore the work piling up on my laptop, and keep myself fed.
The first meal was not auspicious. A work colleague of hers wanted to meet both of us and pay for the meal. I didn’t want to go too upscale or downmarket. I thought Ye Shanghai, in the Marco Polo HK Hotel (one Michelin star) might do the trick. Normally I pay no attention to Michelin stars. I have eaten at a few starred places in the French provinces, possibly never in Paris (where, if you look in the appropriate subforum here, you will find that I ate really well). But I will mention them in this account, because it is unusual for me to run into them so often.
I perhaps should have been tipped off by the corporate website, “elite-concepts.com”. The decor at Ye Shanghai is supposed to be 1930’s, but really it just looked like generic upscale. I tried to order classic preparations: sweet-sour fish, stewed pork belly, drunken chicken, river shrimps, sautéed minced chicken in sesame pockets.
The colleague asked the server, who could barely speak English and was quite brusque, for a wine recommendation. She said, in total: “Chardonnay”. I grabbed the wine list, and with about five seconds to do better, noticed a Tavel Rosé. All the bottles that weren’t crazy expensive were HK$450 (about US $56). At least it was respectable.
The fish was “market price”; I have no idea what it cost, but it came almost immediately, and was room temperature (and the room was air-conditioned). The drunken chicken was poached chicken that had spent about three seconds in nondescript rice wine. The pork belly, shrimps, and chicken-in-pockets were at least decent. And the conversation was nice. I apologized the next day for not having found a better place.
Lunch the next day with my partner, on our sightseeing day, at Fu Sing, recommended by @klyeoh. We arrived at opening, 11:00, because we did not have a reservation. But it was a Monday, and by the time we left just after 12, there were only a few other tables occupied. No one spoke any English. There was an English menu with some pictures. I ordered the baked BBQ pork buns, char siu, har gow, XLB, wontons in chilli soy. And I wanted to order @klyeoh’s favourite dish, the noodles with crabmeat in Hua Diao wine cream sauce, but there was nothing like it anywhere on the menu, and the server could not understand my queries. I was dripping sweat from the walk from the MTR, and wishing I had done more research. Finally I got enough bars on my mobile device that I could pull up a photo from this forum, and the server understood. She went away, came back with a piece of paper that said “148” (the price in HK dollars: about US $18.50) and I nodded.
The XLB were larger than at DTF, and with thicker skins, but within bounds; wrappers, soup, and filling all excellent. The char siu was really good. I am not used to it being that good. Har gow were perfectly steamed, wontons were tasty. The baked BBQ pork buns were wonderful. And that crabmeat dish. I understand why it is @klyeoh’s favourite dish. The wine was quite noticeable, and yet the dish was balanced. Thinking about it now, I can conjure up the taste. I’m glad that I persevered. This meal made up for the one the night before. I was tempted to return several times in the days that followed, but stuck to my resolve to try new places.
The hotel lounge had free wine and cocktails at happy hour, along with nibbles that were substantial enough for a light meal, which was about right after a day of hiking at the Peak. My partner had an offsite company meeting in Causeway Bay the next afternoon, so I suggested lunch at Ho Hung Kee (one Michelin star), the upmarket flagship of the Tasty Noodle and Congee group, in Hysan Place close to her office. The hotel also provided a cooked breakfast, so we were not looking for a big meal.
Brisk service. I was pretty impressed with the wonton noodle soup. We had a bit more room, so we went to the nearby Via Tokyo, where we had matcha soft-serve in a small air-conditioned space. This was also done well; intense flavour and not too sweet.
I was on my own for dinner, so I thought I’d try a place that got a good writeup in the SCMP, an outpost of the Singaporean chain Teppei Syokudo. I ordered a hotate kaisen don.
Alas, this was merely okay. The hotate was good; the tuna chewy; only a few pieces of salmon; and the texture of the rice suggested it had been sitting around all afternoon. I drowned my sorrows at the hotel lounge.
I was on my own for lunch the next day, and I decided to go to Chachawan, serving Issan Thai food in Sheung Wan. I was seated at the bar (there were only a few seats left in the whole place when I arrived at 12:30, because Google Maps flat-out lied about the bus transit time). The lunch menu offers two dishes from a selection of several, plus tea/iced coffee and rice, for HK$138. I chose larp moo (chopped pork salad) and yum makaur yaw (grilled eggplant salad). Vivid and distinct flavours. So nice to have real Issan!
Dinner was at Spring Deer, close to our hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui. We were seated back in a corner away from the noisy groups, along with another Asian English-speaking couple. We were there for the Peking duck, though I had to resort to my phone again to get them to understand that we wanted a stir-fried second course.
This was merely all right, for about HK$500. The portions were generous, but the skin was not as crispy as I’d like, and the second dish was underseasoned. The pancakes were clearly handmade, but also thicker than I preferred. I’ve had better ducks in Toronto and Vancouver. But my partner had never had it before, the place was clearly old-school, and the servers were gracious and friendly despite the communication barrier.
The next day, my partner was busy all day with her conference, but it was my birthday. I don’t really care about birthdays, but it was a good excuse to visit Shang Palace (two Michelin stars) in our hotel, literally steps from her meeting. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a two-star place before, and as I mentioned, I don’t really care about the stars, but I have to say that the atmosphere and service was impeccable: attentive and friendly, never haughty, obsequious, or forced.
And the food was really good. Baked BBQ pork buns (not quite as good as Fu Sing, but quite respectable); deep-fried turnip pastry with 60-mo ibérico bellota; steamed rice roll with scallops and black truffle paste (both of these could be viewed as gilding the lily, but they really worked); fried bean curd puff stuffed with minced dace and served in laksa broth; fried turnip cake with crispy shredded egg and XO sauce. Tables were widely spaced, and the atmosphere was serene. Maybe I should start caring about birthdays more.
I was on my own for dinner (partner was at a reception on the 100th floor of the ICC tower) so I hit up Butao Ramen, which was close to the hotel. There are branches of several major Japanese chains in HK, but this local operation sounded special. I was not mistaken.
I had the Black King, coloured with squid ink. I’d had Toyama Black ramen in Japan (and passed on a burnt miso version in Kyoto) but this was different. Not a subtle dish but deeply satisfying.
When my partner returned, we shared some pastries from Patisserie Jeffrey Koo in the K11 Art Mall off the underground walkway between East TST and TST stations (which I spent quite a lot of time in, given that the easternmost entrance was right by the hotel and I could get all the way to Nathan Road in air-conditioning).
These were quite well done – better than many similar places I’ve tried in Japan. (Mango-orange, coffee-blood orange, and 74% Vietnamese combo).
At lunch the next day, I went out to Sai Ying Pun to visit Krua Walaiphan, started by two people who worked at Chachawan. I wanted the pad Thai on their set lunch menu. I know it’s kind of a recent and artificial dish, but it’s too labour-intensive for me to make at home, and it’s often too sweet and ketchupy in restaurants. Unfortunately, the menu I saw on OpenRice had been changed, and it was off (and none of the other options really appealed). It was still on their full menu, but at about twice the price. I ordered it anyway.
It was good – very generous on the non-noodle ingredients, including those two massive prawns, and only slightly sweet – but this and a fresh lime soda cost me HK$200, which is a bit much. I found myself wishing I had gone back to Chachawan to try other dishes. But getting a glimpse of Sai Ying Pun was worthwhile, a part of HK that seems poised on the brink of gentrification. On the way back to the MTR, I walked through the Central Market, including the cooked food centre, and wished I had had a guide to help me eat there.
For our last dinner in HK, my partner and I went up to Olympian City, which is where the original Tim Ho Wan moved. It’s on the outside of the shopping centre, with no way to get there from the inside, and no maps to help; I wouldn’t have found it without having a phone with a data plan, and even then, trying to get out of the interior without having to walk all the way around the entire building was nontrivial.
Technically this is not a Michelin-starred place (North Point and Sham Shui Po are) but I wasn’t about to buck rush-hour traffic and stand in line for an hour for that distinction. No one spoke a word of English, but the place was half empty, for which we were grateful, and there was enough English on the tick-off menu. The couple next to us put their phones on top of the condiments, but moved them when we picked them up. Food arrived promptly.
The BBQ pork buns. Different from Fu Sing (chunkier) and I would say a touch below them, but of course cheaper, and still very good. Har gow and ham sui gok, I could not find fault with. Turnip cake was unadorned, but light and tasty; I inhaled it. And the steamed egg cake was a perfect ending; I will probably search for it without success in North America. HK$101 (about US $13) for two people. Overall, pretty impressive. If this were near me by public transit, I’d be there every week.
That’s about it, except that Olympian City has an impressive Muji which has ceramics, which is unusual. I bought two small sake cups and a soy sauce container.
And on the way out the next day, we spent time in the SilverKris Lounge at HKG (accessible to Star Alliance Gold members), which featured Moët et Chandon Imperial and made-to-order laksa, and the buffet items were quite respectable, also.
I had roast goose places on my list, but decided not to brave lines and rudeness for an overly-rich and unbalanced meal that would knock another place (if not two) off my list. I didn’t go for egg tarts; I am too much a fan of the Portuguese originals. I didn’t go for Sichuan, in the end, because my partner can’t eat it, and I couldn’t find varied enough options for a solo diner (possibly I could have managed lunch at Sijie, but definitely not dinner, where the menu doesn’t even acknowledge the possibility of fewer than two diners).
Overall: I liked Taipei a lot more than Hong Kong. HK seemed more crowded, more commercial, less friendly. I am an academic, in part because it insulates me from the worst of capitalism, and HK revels in that. But I cannot deny that I had some very good meals, and appreciated being able to work in a fancy hotel lounge, looking up periodically from my laptop to watch boats plying their trade in Victoria Harbour, and the buildings on the island flashing at me.